Preparing For The End

A Shock to the System (1990) starring Michael Caine is an adaptation of the novel by Simon Brett, published in 1984. What makes this adaptation particularly interesting, is how the main character has to change for the two different endings to work. At the end of the novel, Graham Marshall is about to be arrested for three murders; a homeless man, his wife, and his new boss. At the end of the movie, he gets away with those three murders and the murder of a company executive. Graham Marshall’s transition is from a completely despicable character, to a likeable scoundrel.

For the first murder, Graham is approached by a homeless man. Graham has just been passed over for a promotion and he’s now answering to a younger man he hates. In the novel he acts out of pure rage, so even though he doesn’t intend to kill the man, he has no justification for his actions. In the movie the homeless man threatens him, so when he pushes him onto the subway tracks, at least he’s acting in self-defence.

The second victim is his wife. In both the novel and the movie it’s a matter of using his wife’s death to pay off the mortgage. What distinguishes the two, is in the novel they have two children, and he’s happy to send them to live with his sister-in-law and be rid of them. The fact he doesn’t love his own children makes the reader despise him. In the movie they have two dogs. He doesn’t keep the dogs, but it doesn’t produce the same emotional reaction.

The third victim is a younger executive that gets promoted instead of Graham. In both the novel and the movie he pretends to be interested romantically with a younger woman in office, then drugs her. His plan is that she’ll think he’s been in her apartment all night, providing him with an alibi. While she’s unconscious, he leaves the apartment and rigs the propane tank in a yacht belonging to his new boss. In both cases you’re disgusted by his behaviour, using someone who admires him in order to commit murder. Graham’s new boss isn’t described positively in the novel, but he’s portrayed as extremely arrogant and condescending on screen. It doesn’t justify Graham’s actions, but it’s easier to understand why Graham hates him enough to want to kill him.

At the end of the novel, you’re glad that Graham Marshall is going to finally face justice. At the end of the movie, when it’s clear he’s just killed an executive because he wants his corner office, you laugh. From a writer’s point of view, it’s interesting to note how subtle changes influence how the audience reacts to a character. And when it comes to portraying a likeable scoundrel, no one is better suited for the role than Michael Caine.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

If you’re curious about whether I can actually apply the advice I offer in this blog, my new eBook Hunting Teddy Bears is now available to purchase. Just visit the “Published Writing” section and click on the link.

Hunting Teddy Bears

Caslem, Earth’s first deep-space colony is attacked by a pair of assassins. A small DNA sample proves they belong to a species known as Therloxians, nicknamed Teddy Bears by humans. To provide them with an alibi, Karzon, the planet that hired the assassins, has them registered as prisoners at a mining complex on the Karzonian home planet. 
Fearing that Earth computers have been hacked, the Earth Security Divison has to find and train someone who is off the grid. Coulter Hazlow, a student at the Western Canadian Space Academy in Calgary accepts the assignment. All Coulter has to do is travel into deep-space, get thrown in prison by a brutal totalitarian regime, find and kill two professional assassins, and escape from a prison no one has ever escaped from before. He’ll need some help.   

I’ve just self-published this eBook using Draft2Digital. The ISBN is 9798201994990

Making History

If you’ve ever listened to motivation gurus, one of their favourite techniques is to begin by talking about regrets. They ask you to imagine what it would be like to grow old, your memories filled with nothing but remorse for all the things you didn’t do when you were younger. Unfortunately, whether they intend it or not, the message they’re sending is that unless you do amazing things all your life, you’re insignificant. It’s a lie.

It has been five years since one of my best friends died at age fifty-one. He came to Canada from Laos in his early teens, after spending two years in a refugee camp in Thailand with his family. He struggled learning English, which may have been due to a hearing impairment that was discovered later in life. He had a hard life, and never achieved the kind of success that most people would describe as “making history.”  But, he did make history, just as we all do.

You can think of time as a river, and each of us is a stone in that river. As each person is born, he or she is added to the river. When someone dies, he or she is removed from the river. My friend was in the that river, influencing how it flowed for fiftfy-one years. One of my aunts, if she survives just two more weeks, will have influenced the flow for one hundred years.

If you look at a river, the larger stones may be more visible, but where the river flows is ultimately determined by the influence of all the stones in the river combined. When we think of great battles, we often focus on the leaders, but aircraft don’t fly unless someone fills their tanks with fuel, soldiers don’t have the energy to fight unless they have been fed, and ships don’t head to sea, unless someone keeps the egines running.

Let’s not forget that just like every stone in a river has an impact on the flow of water, every one of us has an influence on the flow of history. You don’t have to be on the cover of an entertainment magazine, have a bestselling novel or an Oscar winning screenplay to be significant. If you’re reading this essay, then you’re still in the river, influencing the flow of time. Keep writing, make some history.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Masterful Storytelling

I enjoy watching disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), San Andreas (2015), Geostorm (2017)and Greenland (2020). In an instant you’re immersed in a life and death struggle as the protagonists put their lives on the line to protect their families. Because of the amazing CGI special effects, you feel like you’re right there as skyscrapers collapse, meteors crash through the atmosphere, tsunamis flood coastlines and massive volcanoes erupt.

There’s no doubt these movies are entertaining. As a Writer, however, I wonder if I’m drawn into these stories because of great writing, or am I just overwhelmed by cinematic shock and awe. Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), written and directed by Dan Gilroy is an example of a movie based on great writing, which does not rely on expensive special effects to overpower the senses. Denzel Washington, who portrays Roman, once again demonstrates his amazing versatility as he creates a character you can both pity and admire in the same instant.

Roman J. Israel Esq. incorporates many of the ingredients required to develop great characters. Roman, is flawed, vulnerable, and doesn’t have the self-confidence or physique of a military special forces operative. That’s why he’s someone the audience can relate to; when Roman hurts, you hurt.

Suddenly forced to transition from a backroom research position to the courtroom, due to the death of a legal partner, Roman struggles to find his place in the new environment. Many people can relate to his situation, as every day they are forced to go to jobs where they feel like they’re trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. And that’s where the magic happens, when someone watching the movie thinks to themselves, I know just how you feel Roman.

And then Roman makes a life-altering decision. He has lived a lonely life on the edge of poverty and when he finally sees an opportunity to break free, he gives into temptation and rolls the dice. I found my emotions were tied in knots, because I was happy that Roman was finally enjoying the life he had dreamed of, but dreaded what might happen if someone found out what he had done. The complicated, contradictory feelings that this story produces, demonstrates that this is truly masterful storytelling. If you’re reading a book or watching a movie, and you find yourself wondering what you would do in a similar situation, that means the writer has made the story personal. Special effects can keep your attention for a couple of hours, but only a great story can reach your heart.

I highly recommend that you first read the screenplay, before watching Roman J. Israel Esq., so you can truly appreciate how great the story is, before you see Denzel Washington bring Roman to life on the screen. I found the screenplay at Script Slug www.scriptslug.com.  

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

An Excellent Pairing

In this post, I would like to be your literary Sommelier and offer you a tasteful book/movie pairing. Both offerings are from 2019, an excellent year, and concern the creation and influence if the iconic media company Netflix.

My first suggestion is the memoire, That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph. What I really appreciate about Randolph’s writing, is the way he describes how success was achieved at Netflix through hard work and innovation, without it becoming a mutual admiration society. He doesn’t try to make anyone, including himself, seem like some godlike, flawless, all knowing genius. Instead, he gives credit where credit is do, and acknowledges failures as he describes how much effort was required to stay the course in the early years of the company’s development. Although it’s a memoire, it is as enjoyable and enlightening as non-fiction narrative works by Ben Mezrich, Stephan Talty and Erik Larson.

Although it isn’t an adaptation of Randolph’s book, the documentary film Neflix vs The World directed by Shawn Cauthern and written by Gina Keeting is an excellent pairing. As well as describing the company’s early years, Netflix vs The World goes on to explain the epic battle between Netflix and Blockbuster for the video rental market and how it came to a surprising conclusion. If you’re old enough to remember renting VHS tapes at a video store, this documentary will offer you a clear explanation of why the industry has changed so dramatically. The mix of interviews, news reports and television commercials over that time is both entertaining as nostalgia and informative as history.

The real significance for writers, however, is served up in the latter segments of Netflix vs. The World as it describes Netflix’s foray into producing original material and how that has influenced other streaming services to start their own productions. If you’re a screenwriter, the market for your work has just expanded. And since short stories, plays for live theatre, and novels are adapted for feature films, it has the potential to impact all writers. That Will Never Work and Netflix vs. The World remind us how fast the media landscape can change, and writers like you and I need to be paying attention and be ready take advantage of those changes.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Nine Hundred Libraries

I was facing the same dilemma as every other author of a self-published eBook. How do I make my eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat, stand out? Was there anything I could do to bring it to the attention of readers and perhaps receive some positive reviews?

When I released my first eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper in 2016 I had some success with libraries, but unfortunately, the title was too long, and the cover was boring. I was convinced that the cover of Jack: A Lady’s Cat was much more eye-catching, thanks to a cat who looks great in a bow tie. Sometimes a decision is based not on guaranteed success, but just because you can’t think of a better idea at the time. So, I decided to commit.

While searching the internet I found extensive lists of libraries in Alberta and Ontario, so that’s where I started. By the time I finished those two provinces, I had contacted over two hundred libraries. I then continued e-mailing smaller number of libraries in the other provinces and territories. I also contacted libraries in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

I wanted to contact libraries in all fifty states of the United States of America, and decided that the best approach would be to pick the top ten largest cities and towns for each state. So, how do you work your way through five hundred libraries? On weekdays I’d contact ten libraries, on weekends I’d contact thirty or forty libraries.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned through contacting nine hundred libraries: Many libraries will not consider self-published books or eBooks, unless it’s written by a local author, or it’s about a local subject. Some libraries don’t have any room in their budgets for self-published authors, they only purchase books and eBooks by established, best-selling authors. Some libraries will only consider your book or eBook, if you send them a copy to review. Libraries are more likely to buy your self-published book or eBook, if it already has some positive reviews.

The bottom-line? Jack: A Lady’s Cat was released at the end of November 2020. So far, I’ve sold seven (7) copies to libraries. Surprisingly, I don’t regret the effort I invested in contacting libraries. Regardless of the disappointing sales results, at least nine hundred library employees now know about my eBook, and also know that I’m a Writer.

Life often comes down to a simple decision to try something, with no guarantee of success. To start moving you have to overcome inertia, but since you don’t know where you’ll end up, the decision to start moving takes courage. So, what are you going to do today, to start your next literary journey? Write an outline for a novel? Write the first scene for a screenplay? Submit a short story to a literary journal? Start doing research for a non-fiction book? Let the words flow….

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

The eBook Anthill

It feels like you’re an ant, standing on the top of an enormous anthill, screaming at the top of your lungs, “Look at me! Look at me!” A tsunami of self-published eBooks has changed the literary landscape forever. 

In one sense the arrival of the self-published eBook has been beneficial for society; many writers who could not afford to self-publish just a few years ago, can now have their voices heard. And, their voices are heard on a global scale as eBooks are distributed through online bookstores. My latest eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat, was available through online retailers in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan within a week of its release. It has also been added to the digital collections of libraries in the United States, one in each of the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska and Texas.     

The greatest problem is the issue of quality; a book that’s released by a publishing house will be seen by an editor, and checked for grammar and spelling before it enters the market. If you edit your own manuscript, a basic program that checks for spelling will note if you’ve made a mistake by typing “therre.” It may not consider the misuse of “their” or “there” a problem, since they’re both spelled correctly. Whether a writer can afford to purchase a more advanced program to check for errors, will depend on his or her budget. 

Another consideration is the quality of the writing. Although all editors, to a certain extent, are influenced by their personal tastes, they strive to acquire manuscripts that are well written and have compelling prose. If a self-published author has relied on the responses of family and friends who don’t want to hurt their feelings, they may have a misguided assumption that their writing is much better than it actually is. It is true that many self-published authors hire freelance editors, but that isn’t affordable for all writers. Other options include sharing sharing you writing with a critique group, or a writer-in-residence at a library or university.   

One of the greatest challenges faced by writers who author self-published eBooks is trying to create a cover that stands out. Potential customers may never see the full size image; only a thumbnail, alongside dozens of other thumbnails on the same page. Once again, cost is an issue; not every independent author can afford to hire a graphic designer. Joining a writing community is essential for independent authors, because members of the group may be able to help you with the cover art, and provide beta readers to review your manuscript before it’s published.  They can also offer you advice regarding the best self-publishing platforms to use, and pitfalls to avoid. Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

A significant change for self-published authors in the last fifteen years has been the rise of social media, and the ability to reach thousands of people almost instantly. Unfortunately, new authors soon learn that when you post an announcement about your eBook, a “like” doesn’t mean they’re going to buy a copy. It’s really just a “good job” pat on the back. Social media is a good place to start, but it won’t replace other marketing efforts.

The self-published eBook has resulted in the democratization of publishing, because now just about anyone can be an author. That said, the playing field will never by truly level; self-published writers who can afford to hire freelance editors and graphic artists to help them create eBooks, will have better products to offer. Like traditionally published writer, however, self-published authors have to accept that regardless how much heart and soul they’ve poured into an eBook, regardless of how much money they’ve spent on editing and cover art, there is no guarantee the eBook will become popular. Fortunately, sales figures don’t keep writers at their keyboards, the love of writing does. 

As more authors enter the marketplace with self-published eBooks, the anthill is becoming overcrowded. I guess I’ll just have to jump higher, and yell louder. “Look at me! Look at me!”

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Suggestions For 2021

Some of these suggestions are ones I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, but good advice is worth repeating.

I recently finished listening to The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin. I highly recommend this book, it offers practical advice and reminds artists of the importance of their work, and that sharing their work with the world is an act of generosity. The chapters are very short, so it’s ideal if you ‘re busy and need to fit your reading time into brief lulls in your schedule.

If you’re a new writer and want to learn more about the writing process, there’s no better description than a talk by Canadian science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. It was recorded, in three sections, at the Ontario Writers’ Conference in 2010. The three videos combined only take about twenty-five minutes to watch.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Start reading screenplays. Three online sources are the Internet Movie Script Database, Script Slug, and The Script Lab. Learning how the screenwriting format works is important, because it will prepare you for potential opportunities in the future. If you have a great story idea, why not be ready to present it as a screenplay to a local film company?

Have a great year, I hope that you’ll find writing success in 2021!

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

P.S. I would really appreciate it, if you would suggest my eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat to your local library.

How Far is Your Reach?

If you’ve never tried this before, here are a couple of methods for finding out how far your writing efforts have travelled across the globe.

Do a search on Google (www.google.com) using your name in quotation marks. The quotation marks are essential; if your name is George Anderson and you don’t use quotation marks, you’ll get all the results for George, all the results for Anderson and all the results for George Anderson. Next, do the same thing for the titles of your published books, anthologies you’ve been published in, and the titles of short stories, articles and essays that have been published.

It’s especially important to search for your ebooks regularly, so you’ll know if your ebook has been pirated and offered as a free download. I would suggest that you don’t click the link for the download, because it might be a hacker using a “free ebook” as an opportunity to plant a virus or tracking software on your computer. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t recommend what you should do, if a website claims to offer a free download of your ebook.

During a recent Google search I learned that one of my published short stories has been referenced in a government document about culture. Another time I discovered a quote from one of my short stories on a science fiction website. I also found that an article I wrote for a magazine, was on the front page of a website. Since your published work represents your personal brand, you need to know where it’s being seen and commented on.

Another great resource is Worldcat (www.worldcat.org). This site allows you to find out which libraries around the world are holding copies of your books (or anthologies you’ve contributed to) in their collections. I did a search earlier today and was shocked to find out that one the anthologies I was published in, is available through Harvard, Princeton and Yale university libraries. If you don’t get a result with a title, try doing the search with the book’s ISBN.

With so many inter-connected distributors, it’s amazing how fast your book or ebook can move across the globe. My latest ebook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat was published three weeks ago, and it’s already available through online bookstores in Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, Germany and Australia. There’s no guarantee it will become popular in those countries, but since it’s available, it’s possible.

Take some time during the holidays and find out where your writing can be found, you might be surprised by how far it has travelled.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

The Procrastination Deception

One of the reasons you may be having difficulty with procrastination, is because you’re not aware that you’re procrastinating. Here are some ways that writers procrastinate. I know, since I have mastered several procrastination techniques.

PERFECTIONISM This trap has the potential to prevent you from ever getting your writing published, including self-published work. The only solution is to accept that what you write will never be flawless. No matter how many times you read through a manuscript, or how many beta readers you use, there’s always the possibility that you won’t notice a grammatical error, or a misspelled word. So what? I’ve noticed spelling and grammar errors in books that have been reviewed by professional editors before publication. I still enjoyed the books, and I’d read other book by the same authors.

NEVER ENDING PREPARATION By this I’m referring to all the things you can do that are related to writing, without actually writing. You can attend (in-person or online) writing groups, watch interviews with your favourite authors, read blogs about writing, read or listen to books about writing, go to conferences, and listen to seminars, but never make a serious effort to write. That’s a waste. What’s the point of accumulating all that knowledge, if you never apply it?

FEAR A hard, cold reality of being author, is that some people will not like what you’ve written. I recently noticed that someone had given my eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper one star, out of a possible five stars. I also had someone who hated one of my short stories that was published by an online literary journal. Was the criticism justified? I don’t know, but it won’t stop me from writing.

Procrastination robs you of your most precious resource: time. If you’re serious about being a writer, you have to focus on doing the work. I recently had one of my short stories, “Just A Toonie” (A Toonie is a two dollar Canadian coin.) published on The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature website. The only reason that happened was because I wrote the story, and keep on submitting it, until I found an editor willing to publish it. Last weekend I self-published a young reader’s eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat through Draft2Digital. Will it be popular? I have no idea. Will readers find glaring errors? Possibly. What I do know is that I love writing, and it’s worth the risk.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper