I’m combining my reports on these panels, perhaps an indication only of a degree of personal interest. I hope what I remember is useful to some of you. The next posting will summarize what I learned about new writers attaining a place in the program.
Forgotten Fabulists – panel – David Hartwell, Daniel Olson. Jerad Walters, Chris Roden.
What are some of the great old tales (and tale tellers) that are out of print and should be reproduced?
The obstacles to reprinting older fiction lie mostly in the realms of avarice and pride. The first, economic, reason is that the stories never commanded a strong enough following that they were profitable to keep in print. In most cases the author has aged and moved on or died, so the holder of the rights may be difficult to identify – and without the agreement of these it is illegal to reprint the works.
In some other cases the family or descendants hold the rights and either expects too much money for them or is actually ashamed to be associated with the author and wants the stories to die with them. The example of one author who wrote stories of magic and witchcraft, whose Christian fundamentalist family actively sought out his writings to destroy them, was given.
The fact that some older works had been turned into money making movies meant that the present holders of the rights to contemporaries set their sights too high and priced the works out of range. The reprinters of these older works are all small presses who do not have large sums to hazard on single titles – which means it is more practical for them to republish anthologies of short stories, than to place the whole wad on a single larger work.
The reluctant consensus of the panelists – almost all involved in saving and reprinting these forgotten writings – seemed to be that having one’s works published originally was no sure way to create immortal fame.
Tie-ins – panel – Robert Shearman, Mark Morris, Chandra Rooney, Doselle Young
How do you make fiction out of a strictly limited process with a plethora of rules? Be it film to book or console to page, how much of the story can be your own invention and how much does the universe bible rule your prose?
The panelists included writers who had worked on the productions of Dr Who, Superman, and Tarot Café – as well as having written their own original works. They laughed off the accusations of pornography and prostitution of craft, but it was easy to see the underlying defensiveness born of many accusations where the screen had failed the promise of a book – as well as those of saddling themselves to trash in order to commercialize inferior originals.
As a writer who would be very reluctant to turn a novel of mine over to some production company who might reduce it to a Gilligan’s Island of inanity, I was somewhat reassured to hear the points of view of writers involved in creating works for the screen and other media. The panelists believed that in adapting a property the first task was to find the heart of the work and create a screen adaption that remained true to it. Not identical, because a film is not a novel.
Despite this it is unavoidable that many compromises have to be made in cutting a 400 page novel to a 100 page screenplay. Many of the technical methods of novel writing do not translate to the screen and so require a new treatment. I remember older movies where monologues were used to try to render the closeness of the written POV to the thoughts of the character – with varying success. As well, the screen can open up storytelling possibilities not open to the novelist – the plethora of special effects possible today come to mind – so their comment of finding and preserving the heart of the work was reinforced.
It was also interesting to hear accounts of what production crews were working to create or patch for new actors in certain series, of Dr Who for example, that had broken with past productions of the same series. The process is more complex than novel writing, if only for the many different specialists who must sign off on the project. It was clear to this listener that it seemed foolish for a writer to attempt to leap into this craft without having a solid background in the technicalities of the various production methods.