Science fiction could use a heart and those of us who write SFR are generally in the business of giving it one. We have a kindred spirit in filmmaker J.J. Abrams, whose SF television series (“Lost” and “Fringe”) and movies (STAR TREK) focus on the people caught up in the strangeness of his slightly twisted worlds.
But Abrams’s latest effort, the spectacular SUPER 8 in theaters now, should join films like ET, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, AVATAR and the nearly forgotten ON THE BEACH in setting the standard for science fiction with a heart. SUPER 8 is an instant classic, worthy of multiple viewings and a spot on the DVD shelf or in the permanent queue.
Abrams’s film is partly a coming of age film a la STAND BY ME, partly an open tribute to his mentor Stephen Spielberg a la ET and a little of the weird darkness that is all his own. For those of us who are also fans of Stephen King, Rob Reiner and Stephen Spielberg, this is not such a bad combination. And Abrams has done a masterful job of weaving the elements together to produce a film that is both touching and taut, sensitive and suspenseful.
Before I go too far over the top, let me say that the movie does have some weak points. None of what Abrams does here is new or innovative. The effects won’t knock your socks off (though the train crash is pretty impressive). But who cares? Does every film have to blow your brains out with SFX?
What is truly memorable here is what happens between the characters—13-year-old Joe (Joel Courtney), struggling to recover from his mother’s death and his father’s emotional distance; Joe’s friends and the movie they’re making; the beautiful and mysterious Alice (Elle Fanning), who has more than one connection with Joe. Then, of course, there is what happens the night the friends are filming at the train station and the train crashes and something escapes into the night.
The kids, largely unknowns, who play the leads in SUPER 8, do a fantastic job with the material. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, in particular, light up the screen. Kyle Chandler, one of my personal favorites as an actor, (previously of “Friday Night Lights”), provides sterling backup as Joe’s grieving father who, as the deputy sheriff in the town, must also deal with the aftermath of the train crash.
Often when people ask me to describe my style I answer that I’m like “J.J. Abrams meets Linda Howard.” I used to have to clarify that with, “You know, J.J. Abrams—‘Lost’?” Now I have no fear that people will know who he is. I agree with Stephen Spielberg that this movie will make his reputation. The only problem is, how am I going to measure up to that?
Actions I've taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?
Well, kiddies, the Romance Writers of America National Conference is coming up in a little over a week, and you know what that means! Time to polish those pitches until they sparkle and shine so as to wow the agents and editors we’ll be meeting, either officially or unofficially at the conference. What? You don’t have a pitch for your book? Yikes! Time to get cracking!
I will be meeting with two agents in New York (for which I send thanks to the heavens), one of which has my manuscript already and one of which doesn’t know me from Adam. My approach to Agent A will obviously be different than my approach to Agent B, less of a true pitch than an exploratory meeting, I hope. In that meeting we may actually talk in some detail about the story itself, since she’s read it. She may want to know how I feel about changes or how the story relates to others in my projected series. If things are really going well, she may want to know what my plans are for the future—how I see my career unfolding, how many books per year for what market and so on.
My meeting with Agent B is a true pitch session, to be conducted amid the chaos of a grand ballroom full of other agents, editors and prospective authors. I’ll have to find a way to make my story stand out from all the others this agent has heard about all day (and all week). Concepts and ideas are the key here, not details (unless and until she asks for them). I have to distill my story down to its essential idea and get that across in a few words, then expand to a few key points: the hero and heroine, their goals, who or what must they overcome to reach them, what are the stakes, what happens in the end.
In my case, I’m breaking a rule or two. (So what else is new?) My books are easier to explain in the context of my series. So I’m going to pitch the series, then explain books one and two (both complete) in that context. I believe things will go quicker and easier that way. I’m planning to have new business cards made up with the series pitch and the book titles (debuting in this space next week!) to replace my old cards with the Unchained Memory pitch.
For those of you working on pitches, you may find this “A Pitch in Five Questions” format helpful. I came across this online months ago. (I can’t remember the source now, my apologies to whoever came up with it.)
1) Who’s your main character?
2) What’s her challenge?
3) Who or what is assisting her?
4) Who or what is working against her?
5) What’s at stake?
I know Laurie’s been working on her pitch, too. Maybe she’ll be willing to share some insights in her journal on Monday.