Today’s Tumblr – March 27, 2014

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Interview: Me, My Shelf, and I

Over at Me, My Shelf, and I, they asked me participate in their “25 Things About Me” feature to celebrate next week’s launch of Lucky Day.

I was happy to do it, but like a good serial killer, I couldn’t tell the whole truth. See if you can guess which of the 25 Things are true and which are lies!

Today’s Tumblr – March 25, 2014

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Making Movies from Books

There’s a question I’m asked at pretty much every school and library I visit, as well as online via Twitter, Tumblr, the contact form, what-have-you. So I figured maybe it was time to write something up that I can point to from now on.

The latest iteration of this question came via email the other day:

hello Mr. Lyga i was just wondering and if you think this is stupid you don’t have to respond but why don’t you make a movie out of some of your books (ex the fanboy and goth girl series) they all seem to have the potential to become a movie just saying oh and just for the hell of it i’m adding peer pressure here it comes all the cool authors are doing it =)

It’s not a stupid question, but it does point to a basic point of information that apparently has not filtered into the public consciousness. I get this question from kids as young as ten and adults much, much older.

It is, of course, enormously flattering that someone loves a book of mine enough to want to see it translated into a medium (film) with a much wider audience. But there’s a problem with this question.

To wit: I don’t get to decide to make a movie out of my books.

I’m not trying to pick on the asker — I get asked this exact same question in this exact same fashion dozens and dozens of times a year. The question seems to assume that there would be movies of my books at a cineplex near you right now if only I weren’t so recalcitrant.

Ain’t so.

Movies happen because movie studios make them. Not authors. I can’t look at, say, Boy Toy, and say, “Gee, that would make a great movie! Let’s make that happen!”

A book becomes a movie when someone in Hollywood — an actor, a producer, a director, a studio executive — says, “Gee, that would make a great movie! Let’s make that happen!”

At that point, they get in touch with me and say, “We’d like to make a movie out of your book!”

And yes, I’ve gotten that phone call. Every single time, I’ve said, “Okay, sounds cool. Do it.” And they give me some money and they go off to make a movie.

Also every single time, the movie hasn’t been made. Why? I don’t know, exactly. Making movies is a tough, expensive, complex business. With a book, it’s basically me and my editor. With a movie, you have to wrangle hundreds or thousands of working parts. Someone once told me the rule of books made into movies. It is:

Of the books published, only a few are actually optioned. Of the ones optioned, only a few are actually set up to be filmed. Of the ones filmed, only a few are actually released. Of the ones released, only a few are actually good.

Sounds about right to me.

So, people in Hollywood have to be willing to do what’s necessary to make a movie out of one of my books. I can’t just pick up the phone and call Spielberg and say, “Stevie! I’ve got a new book coming out. Get on the movie-making, will ya?” It doesn’t work like that.

Now, it seems that once you get something on the screen and it does well, it’s easier to get more of your books turned into movies. Stephen King probably sells his movie rights at the same time he turns in his manuscripts. And if The Fault in Our Stars does well at the box office, I’m willing to bet a decent sum of money that you’ll see Looking for Alaska in theaters within a couple of years.1

There are no movies of my books because as of yet, no one has managed to clear all of the various hurdles to get one made. Not for lack of trying. The movie screenplay to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl was drop-dead hilarious and — believe it or not — even geekier than the novel.  WBTV has been working for a couple of years now to try to bring I Hunt Killers to the small screen.

Movies (and TV) are tough. And expensive. And complicated. Tens of thousands of books are published each year in the U.S. Mere hundreds of movies are made.

Do the math. Not all of those books are going to become movies. Thus far, mine are among those not to be anointed by Hollywood.

The good news is this: If someone wants to make a movie out of my book, great, but I don’t attach any sort of self-worth to it. I’m happy to keep writing books, and fortunate enough to have readers like you who care enough to keep reading them.

  1. Probably John’s other books, too. Although how much do you want to bet they rename An Abundance of Katherines to simply Katherines or The Katherines?

Male Guilt, Hugs, and More

Tl;dr: I’d rather be known as the author who doesn’t hug readers than as the author who hugs too many of them.

Okay, I didn’t expect that!

I’m really amazed that anything I could say would touch off so many responses. As it turned out, I was traveling all day yesterday, so I couldn’t respond to comments as they came in. But I hope to tackle at least a couple of possible misunderstandings here…

This is going to be long. Because apparently last time, in my desire to be brief, I left room for misinterpretation, which was certainly not my intention.1

Many people wrote and tweeted to thank me for my post and to discuss the ugly issues it raises. Some, though, were perturbed by a few specific issues. So I want to take a moment to discuss them.

This bit in particular seemed to bother some folks:

Grown-ass men do not put their arms around underage girls to whom they are not related. Period.

In making this statement, I raised the specter of the presumption of male guilt, and this upset some people. I am humbled and truly touched that the people it upset most seem to be women. Whenever the oppressed rises in defense of the oppressor, I get a little misty.

So, this presumption makes some feel uncomfortable. Guess what? Me, too! I don’t like this aspect of the world right now, but until it changes, it would be feckless and clueless to pretend it’s not the case.  We can work together to fix things, but first we have to admit to the problem. We can’t wish it away.

And in the meantime, while I am happy to discuss the issue of male guilt and work toward a solution, the fact of the matter is that on my list of things wrong with the world, it’s down pretty far. I am vastly more concerned with a woman’s right to choose, marriage equality, institutional racism, the way we treat our veterans. In short: My money goes to NARAL or the USO long before it goes to an organization to root out the presumption of male guilt.2

I appreciate the concern for me and my brethren, but… I’m a middle-class, straight white dude living in the U.S. Don’t worry too much about me: I think I’m gonna be okay.

The conundrum I face regarding the presumption of male guilt is nothing compared to what women and people of color and the LGBT community go through every day, so rather than rail against it, I acknowledge it and plan my life accordingly. Given the advantages my DNA and the geography of my birth afford me, it would seem churlish to complain overmuch about such things, when there are deeper injustices in the world.

That said: No, I don’t like that I feel uncomfortable hugging fans. But there it is.

Some people asked if it was really necessary not to do so in public, in full view of other adults. All I can say is I just find it easier to have a simple, iron-clad rule. This way, I don’t need to assess each situation. I’m a simple guy, so that works for me. It’s the internet: YMMV.

Why do we presume men are guilty? Dunno, but here’s the thing: until it changes, I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t changed. Change comes first — then hugs. 🙂

A teen chimed in on Twitter to castigate me, saying:

as a teenager and feminist, I take resentment not only to the assumption that men are inherently guilty, but also to the idea that we are “just kids” and ignorant to implications & boundaries to which I ask, at what age do I stop being ‘just a kid’ and can be treated with adult respect?

I can only reply that as a middle-aged man and a feminist, I resent the assumption, too. I also resent that my wife is sexually harassed when she walks down the street and that my workout partner at the gym has been handcuffed on the subway five times for the crime of being black. I care about all of these issues, but like I said above, I care about hers and his much, much more than my own.

The next part of this Twitter comment seems to be simple confusion based on a word with more than one meaning. The usage of “just kids” seemed — to some people — to imply that teens are somehow less than adults: Less deserving of respect, in particular.

Nothing could be further from the truth and this was and is absolutely not my contention or my belief. I was using the word as an intensifier and in its sense of “actually” or “really,” not in its sense of “merely” or “only.”

Here is the sense of it: “We work hard for our readers and we respect their intelligence, so we sometimes think they’re adults but they’re not.” Full stop. Statement of pure fact.

Why does this matter? Let’s discard every possible variable and assume that any random teen in a situation is just as mature, intelligent, rational, and capable as an adult. We still can’t treat that person precisely the same as an adult because in the eyes of the law, s/he isn’t.

When will you, Twitter teen, be treated with adult respect? The parental answer is probably “when you earn it,” but that sounds like I’m saying you haven’t. I don’t know you, so I have no idea if you have or not. So let’s stipulate that you have.

As I alluded to in my original post, I think that the work YA authors do shows the enormous respect and esteem with which we hold teenagers. Would I spend years of my life writing books to show the teen side of issues if I didn’t respect them? Would I work hard to create characters that transcend teen stereotypes if I didn’t respect them? Would I spend my non-writing time traveling all over the country to speak to them in schools and libraries if I didn’t respect them?

You have my respect already. You don’t have to wait for a special day on the calendar. You have my respect and you deserve it.

But since you’re not an adult yet, you deserve to be protected, too. Even though I know you don’t think you need to be. Yes, that undoubtedly seems unfair to you. It seemed unfair to me, too. It’s not Barry Lyga declaring this — it’s the law. It’s society.

The event that prompted me to write my original post was about a fourteen-year-old girl who became embroiled in a sexual relationship with an older man. Maybe she thought it was okay. But in the eyes of the law, it doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the law, it’s up to him to say that it’s not okay.

And he didn’t. And the people around him didn’t think anything was amiss because the girl was cool and smart and mature, so they forgot that none of those things matter when boundaries are broken.

A part of respect in a relationship between an adult and a minor is acknowledging the power imbalance and setting reasonable boundaries. We can quibble about the nature and tone of those boundaries, but I don’t think we should quibble about their necessity.

There was a time when fourteen year olds were married off, but we don’t do that so much any more.

I feel strongly about this. I have friends who were molested as children. I spent time with the detectives of the Baltimore City Child Abuse Unit, learning things and seeing things that I will never unlearn, never unsee. Hell, I wrote a book about this!

I’m talking about setting boundaries. Set your own, if you Iike. But just think about it.

I’ve been stalked. I’ve been harassed for years by people who think they have a relationship with me that exists only in their heads. I won’t apologize for deciding how far I’m willing to go.

Ask anyone who’s seen me at a school or bookstore: I will stay until I’m pulled away. I will sign everything you’ve got. I will answer every question honestly and forthrightly. I will listen to you. I will shake your hand and fist bump you and take a picture with you. I will, as Bill Clinton once promised, be with you until the last dog dies.

But I won’t hug you. I don’t think that’s a big deal, in context.

  1. Attention editors: this is why my books are too long!
  2. Does such an organization even exist? If it does, I bet it’s one of those men’s rights groups. Sigh.