Galactica, Bye Bye Birdie, and Joint Compound

Between being busy at play performances, and being up to my elbows in joint compound at home, I think I forgot to mention that Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries has been approved by the studio—so I think I can say with reasonable confidence that it’s on track for publication by Tor Books in February of 2006. (That really means January, in case you’re not familiar with publishers’ calendars.)

The girls were on Channel 4 TV here in Boston Friday night (late night news), only we didn’t see it because we hadn’t gotten the word about when it was running. We heard about it from friends who happened to watch the news. It was a short piece about online learning through the Virtual High School, and their experience taking month-long courses this last month. Hope we get to see it sometime.

Galactica One Step Closer

I finished correcting the proofs for Battlestar Galactica today. A book always feels different when you see it typeset, and I’m happy to say that it I was pleased by the way it came out. I enjoyed reading it (not always true of reading my own stuff), and I got excited in the right places, and felt for the characters in the right places. So my hopes are high. Still no official word from the studio yet, but assuming nothing goes wrong there, it’s in Tor’s schedule for February 2006. If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

At the same time, life just got busy on another level: we started dress rehearsal for Bye Bye Birdie at the Arlington Children’s Theater, and as I’m the head sound guy, I have to be there a lot, trying to get the sound to work out right and training a couple of new people—other parents who want to learn sound. That’s going to take up a lot of time for the next two weeks. My own kids are in four performances of the blue cast, plus there are four other performances by the red cast. It’ll be fun, but tiring.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to write about rewriting, per Harry’s query. Just haven’t had time to do it yet.

Writing Question #6: What’s It Like to Write a Movie Novelization?

Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries was my first movie novelization, and a refreshing experience. First off, it gave me a welcome breather from working on the long-delayed Sunborn, coming as it did just as I finished the first draft of that book. Secondly, I enjoyed the miniseries and loved the acting (Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were terrific, and so were the others). It was just plain fun to work in that world and sort through the details of the story. (Sidelight to that: my daughter Julia is homeschooling, and we made it an assignment for her to watch the DVD with me, and compare the action onscreen with the written script. Many differences.) Third, it forced me to work at a fast and furious pace, which was good. I didn’t have to make up the story—it was already there. Many of you have probably already seen it. If not, I recommend it, from the SciFi Channel.

But that doesn’t mean it was all easy-sailing, either. I found some unique (to me) challenges in writing this book. Turning a story on screen into a novel is not a simple matter of transcription, even though I was working from the actual show on DVD—and even though I tried hard to be faithful to the story as it appeared, including the dialogue.

When you’re writing the novel, you have to flesh out things that go by quickly onscreen, or get left out altogether, perhaps due to time constraints. This was a 4-hour miniseries—3 hours, without commercials. They had to work very hard to squeeze the story into 3 hours, and a lot wound up on the cutting room floor (either literally, or figuratively—in scenes not shot or perhaps not even written). This meant writing new material to bridge gaps or abrupt transitions, and there were many. Or to fill in background.

What surprised me more was the amount of… how shall I put it?… re-imagining needed to tell on the page a story that’s already been told on the screen. Things happen fast onscreen, and as a viewer, you don’t always have time to think about what you’ve just seen, and whether or not it makes sense. I’m not talking about large plot elements, so much as details and pieces of dialogue and motivation. The show’s writers are trying to compress the action, and sometimes the results—which might be perfectly acceptable to a viewer—are less persuasive when you see them laid out on the page. (This is not a criticism; it’s a fact of life.) Things have to be explained. Motivations for even small actions have to withstand a reader squinting at the page and going, Hmmm.

The challenge, then, is to tell the story without changing it (much), reproduce the dialogue without changing it (much), and tweak it or bolster it in just the right ways to make it work on the page as well as it worked onscreen (or better, if possible). It’s not always easy. But it’s generally pretty interesting.

Oh—and it gave me an excuse to write about flying. I always love writing about flying.

Galactica’s Done! Plus Other Cool News

That’s all she wrote: Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries: the Novel is finished and turned in. Big sighs all around. Initial reaction from my editor is very positive. (He’d read the whole thing less than 24 hours after I sent it to him—a first for either of us.) The book is going into an accelerated production schedule for publication next winter. I’ll post more definite details as they become official. The publication stuff is all tentative right now.

Meanwhile, the other cool news is that my younger daughter, Julia, just won national ranking in the middle-school category of an international SF short-story writing competition. The competition is sponsored by Eurisy, which as far as I can tell is an educational consortium of many European space organizations, including the European Space Agency. Students in 18 nations are submitting SF stories depicting life in space, each to go through a selection process at the national level, with each nation’s top two in middle school and high school going on to the international competition. The U.S. entries were judged through the National Space Society. Julia’s story is one of two selected by the U.S. judges to go on to the international competition. Excited she is, yes. And so are we.

Deadlines, Deadlines

I’ve got deadlines looming, particularly with the Galactica book (oops! I didn’t say that!), so I probably will be posting less for the next few weeks.

But let me leave you with a few cool links. In preparation for the new Star Wars, you should all first watch Store Wars.

And you must, by all means, see George Lucas in Love, if you ever get a chance. (I don’t think you can watch it online, unfortunately.)

Finally, for a more serious look at real space travel—the current state of the U.S. space program, and prospects for the future, there’s an excellent recent article from the Washington Post. (You might have to register to read this. But that’s worth doing anyway.)

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow—Unless You Videotape

Well, the play is over, and I am reaaally tired. The play was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by our local children’s theater. (“Children” being defined as from about ages 7 to 17. A wonderful chance for kids of various ages to work together, become friends with each other, miss each other when it’s over, and look forward to the next time they’re together again. This group draws from a number of towns, so it really does break down boundaries. And because most of the work is done by parent volunteers, it’s affordable for everyone.)

But I digress. The play was terrific. Both my daughters had a great time—one as Philostrate, and one as Quince—both parts usually for guys, but who cares. I’m the only one for whom it’s not over, actually. I videotaped it, and now I get to make DVDs for all the families. I bring this up mainly as a lead-in to a future blog entry, which I don’t have energy to write now. (I’ve got that book to finish, you know?)

People keep asking me how I get from tape in the camcorder to video DVDs, just using my computer. So that’s what I want to write about next.

Acting and Theater

My younger daughter is passionate about acting in theater, and last summer played the part of Huck Finn in our local theater group’s production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We were all amazed by the way the kids (who came not just from our town but surrounding towns as well) gelled, after spending six weeks working together. The camaraderie was astounding. They cried by email for weeks afterward, when it was over. We just had a fun reunion: a bunch of the group got together to see another kids’ theater put on the same show. The spirit hasn’t diminished a bit since last August.

It was interesting to see how differently two theater groups can put on the same show. For me, it was the first chance I’d had to compare two productions like this, in a close time frame. The differences in the sets, in the selection and presentation of songs and live orchestra, the interpretations of characters by the actors (our group had 2 casts, and both Hucks were played by girls). And, since I ran the sound board in our theater, some of the technical tricks! (I’m definitely an amateur, but I’ve now done sound for several of our big shows, and I enjoy it.)

For a change, this weekend, I’m doing lights—both daughters are performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I can’t wait to see it.

Wrestling Tournament in Maine

We spent the day at the Hyde Wrestling Tournament in Bath, Maine, another girls-only tourney, this one smaller, as it was a first-time event. All three girls from the Arlington team went, plus the one girl who wrestles for Lexington High school, plus (assisting with the coaching) one of the graduating captains of the Arlington High School team. Lexi placed second in her weight class, with two pins to her credit and one loss by decision. Her first-year teammate Anjali, wrestling in her first official competition, came back from losing two matches to pin her final opponent. (Pix to come, when I have a chance to look at the video.)

It was a great group of people, and I continue to be impressed at the way wrestling is developing as a sport for girls.

This tournament was directed, by the way, by one Lisa Nowak, a young woman who paved the way for girls’ wrestling in Maine by taking her case for her right to participate in the sport to the Maine Human Rights Commission. She now is a wrestling coach at the Hyde School, coaching both boys and girls—and was a delightful person to meet.

April Near-15th Blues

How anticlimactic. After neglecting my other work for several days, not to mention the blog, in order to do my taxes, I find I have to file for an extension. An arcane problem with the reporting on a retirement account, which will require an even more arcane solution. (And time.) Blast. Frak. Whatever.

I think I should take up juggling. I’ve got a new piece of consulting-editing work to do (algebra, data analysis—how exciting, I can hear you say), and I’m running somewhat behind schedule on the novelization. I’m up to about page 80 on the manuscript, which is projected at about 400 pages. Lessee—I’m 43 minutes into a 3-hour miniseries (4 hours, minus the commercials), which means….. (don’t rush me, I’m thinking) …………………. I’m not quite one-fourth of the way through the story.

Better get cracking.

What’s Wrestling Got to Do with Writing, Anyway? (Writing Question #2)

I’m glad you asked. The answer is, more than you might think.
I wrestled all four years when I was in high school in Huron, Ohio, and during my first year of undergraduate school, at Brown University. During that time, I learned that wrestling requires enormous dedication, self-discipline, and conditioning. Also, that stepping out onto the mat as a young adult, to face an opponent one-on-one, calls on all your reserves of courage and poise. And that in the long run, the experience goes a long way toward developing self-confidence. (I was a pretty shy kid, really—kind of geeky, afraid of girls, and not terribly good at sports in general. This sport represented a major area of growth for me.) Coached properly, wrestling also develops a sense of good sportsmanship, respect for the opponent, and the ability to win and lose with equal grace.

Writing, for anyone who hopes to do it professionally, requires if anything even greater dedication and self-discipline. My wrestling experience probably did more to prepare me for the long, tough haul of making it as a writer than any other single thing I did as a student, including taking writing courses. As an aspiring writer, I put in endless hours of work with zero promise of reward, only hope and determination. Like just about all new writers, I met setback after setback, and had to choose between quitting or plugging ahead. (This process is ongoing, by the way. It doesn’t just happen to aspiring writers. There are lots of professional writers out there, including me, who are engaged in an ongoing struggle to keep their careers alive and healthy.)

Courage and poise? Well, for a lot of people, putting a manuscript in an envelope and sending it off, unsolicited, to a publisher takes about as much courage as stepping out onto a mat. And you have to learn to lose with grace if you’re going to make it in the writing business. The poise and the self-confidence come with time. And come in mighty handy the first time you step up to a podium to speak to an audience as a “guest author.”

(Momentary digression: if you’re unfamiliar with the sport of wrestling and think I’m talking about anything even remotely related to the stuff they show on TV under the name “professional wrestling,” no. Don’t. No resemblance. Don’t even talk to me about it.)

A surprising number of wrestlers turn out to be good students, as well. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising; the same self-discipline comes into play. Some pretty well-known writers were also wrestlers. And also some less-well-known writers.*

Here’s a short SF story I wrote about wrestling, originally published in the anthology Warriors of Blood and Dream, edited by Roger Zelazny. It’s called Shapeshifter Finals.

Here are some books by wrestlers-turned-writer:

*It pains me to acknowledge it, but a well-known thug who is also our current Secretary of Defense was also a wrestler and coach. Oh well, no sport’s perfect.

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