Writing a book is a complex process. Creating movies based on books is even more complicated, especially when the source material has been around for decades and has a legion following. The filmmakers must be able satisfy longtime, diehard fans while still attracting newcomers. Furthermore, the filmmakers must also know how and when to stray from the books in order to adapt to a visual medium. With the book The Lord of the Films, author J.W. Braun takes on the ultimate difficulty of writing a book about films that are based on books. Yet the book, acting as a companion guide to the films, reads fluidly, is never confusing and is engaging to the end. (Read Working Author’s review here.) Braun was kind enough to entertain a few questions and share his experiences as a writer.
Working Author: How long have you been writing?
J.W. Braun: If you mean writing just for fun, I began to write a lot as a teenager back in the early 90s, including several Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) style stories, which I hope to polish up someday and share with the world. (They’re very good!) When I was in college I created and wrote for several dormitory newsletters, which gave me hundreds of readers and was a great experience. Then, between 2000 and 2004 I wrote a lot about The Lord of the Rings for my (now defunct) website. All that said, I don’t consider myself a really good writer; I would say I’m a hard-working writer.
WA: What got you interested in writing?
JWB: Certainly J.R.R. Tolkien’s books deserve all the credit. When I finished reading Tolkien’s stories as a boy, I wanted to write stories of my own that were just as good. (I found that a challenge to say the least.)
WA: Have you written any fan fiction about The Lord of the Rings?
JWB: I don’t like writing original stories about other peoples’ characters. It’s like cooking a meal with somebody else’s groceries. The other problem for me with doing that sort of thing is that I want to slip into parody.
“The red sun rises,” Legolas said quietly. “Blood will mar the day.”
“Aye,” Gimli said.
“Tomorrow,” Legolas continued, “cloudy with a chance for scattered showers.”
The D&D style stories I wrote included original characters but were certainly my “homage” to Tolkien, who is sort of the grandfather of Dungeons and Dragons, and they were my way of letting my mind run around in a Middle-earth type land.
WA: Have you written or considered writing about something unrelated to The Lord of the Rings?
JWB: Yes! But we’ll get to that in a bit.
WA: Why write The Lord of the Films? What was moment you decided this book had to be made?
JWB: When I was about eight years old and Star Wars was all the rage, a friend of mine showed me a book on the school bus that caught my eye: it was a Star Wars trivia book written by someone our age. My friend and I both loved Star Wars, so we thought the book was the coolest thing ever despite the fact that it was absolute rubbish. (I remember one of the trivia questions was, “When is Mark Hamill’s birthday?” Keep in mind, this was well before the Internet caught on, and I just had to wonder how we were expected to know this stuff off the top of our heads!) Anyway, it was then I realized that a regular person could write a book about something he or she loves, even if the person wasn’t associated with the product. When The Lord of the Rings films came along and were so mind blowing, the thought popped into my head that this could be my chance to do just that. By that time I had read many more “unofficial” books of this type for my various interests, and I liked the idea of doing my own book and doing it the way I thought was right. I also liked the idea of having my thoughts about the film preserved for posterity. Beyond any of that, I thought this book would be something I’d like to buy, and in that way it’s sort of my gift to The Lord of the Rings fans. The moment the prequel films were announced by the film studios, I knew I had to go for it.
WA: When did you decide on the format? Why choose this format over others?
JWB: I really didn’t have a good format in mind when I proposed the book to publishers. The publisher I went with, ECW Press, deserves credit firstly for seeing through my disorganized query letter, and secondly for giving me the structure I ultimately used. Once I began to reorganize the book into the format ECW suggested, everything fell into place, and the book was ten times better. The format makes it easy to read the book cover to cover while simultaneously making it easier for the reader to browse and find a specific scene or bit of information he or she is interested in. Meanwhile, the structure also allows the interviews, photos, illustrations, and the rest of that good stuff to be spread throughout the book and be organized more logically than if I had chosen another way. I will always be grateful to David Caron, the one who gave me the suggestion as to how I should organize the book.
WA: What was the greatest obstacle in writing The Lord of the Films?
JWB: Accuracy and language – no doubt about it. I was dealing with a very, very complex universe that Tolkien had created and Peter Jackson had borrowed, and a fanbase which knows it forwards and backwards. (Beyond that, I’m such a Lord of the Rings fan, it was important to me as a fan not to screw anything up.) I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about Tolkien, Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings, or the like that slip up, such as mixing up Moria and Mordor – not because the author doesn’t know the difference, but because they sound so much alike. And some authors don’t even make the effort to be faithful to Tolkien’s languages, not using the foreign symbols Tolkien employed in names such as Éowyn, Théodred, Barad–Dûr, and Thrór because they’re inconvenient. I wanted to make sure all my “Tolkien” – from names to descriptions to language – was absolutely accurate. That meant a lot of proofreading; and knowing, for example, that Éomer is spelled with an acute E while Edoras is not. That Khazad-dûm has a circumflex on the U but Minas Morgul doesn’t. I had to be sure my Elvish was accurate and that words such as palantír and mithril were always italicized. I also had to know my way around Middle-earth and Tolkien’s books like the back of my hand. I had to be sure if, for example, I was talking about the western flank of Mount Mindolluin as it pertains to chapter 3 of Book V, that my geography and references were correct.
My publisher deserves some more credit though, because I did make one slipup, and one of my proofreaders, checking against Tolkien’s books, caught it. I received a note one day saying, “On page 134 you refer to Emyn Duath, but I can’t find this piece of geography. Do you mean Ephel Duath?”
I was impressed.
I’m really looking forward to working on a project where I can at least stay within the boundaries of the modern English language. It will make things so much simpler.
WA: What is your process? Do you pre-write or do you shape your work as you go?
JWB: I start with the big picture and make an outline. After I have this I start to work on the pieces. If I have trouble with a certain part, I might leave it for another part and come back to it. I keep trying to make each piece as interesting as possible, and when I finish with all the bits I read it and see how they all fit together as a whole, then (perhaps) reorganize and reshape slightly, like working a Rubik’s Cube.
Want to know something funny? This one time I was writing, and I had a deadline coming up; I knew I’d still get to work on the manuscript after the deadline, because this was still early in the process, but I had to turn in my draft to my copy editor to work with by a certain time. So, rushed and tired in the middle of the night, I wrote out the final bit I hadn’t yet finished while thinking, “Well this will have a ton of mistakes and will probably need to be completely rewritten.” And then I turned the whole draft in. As it turns out, there was not a single mistake (not even a typo) in that last written section I wrote rushed and half asleep, and it was so good it ended up being published just as I wrote it. Meanwhile, parts I proofread and rewrote a million times were pointed out by my publisher as having problems and needing a rewrite.
WA: What is your writing space like?
JWB: I have an L shaped desk with a computer on one side and a work space on the other. When I was writing the book, I did a lot of writing and a lot of typing, so I needed both.
WA: Do you have any writing rituals or habits?
JWB: The actual typing or writing down is only the end of the process of writing; the real magic happens in the mind beforehand. I don’t like to rush this part of the process. So something I like to do is stop typing or writing and just think while doing other things; the laundry, errands, walking the dog, whatever. Let things swirl around in my head and look at them from different perspectives; and then jot down a note to later expand upon.
WA: Are there any equipment or books you would recommend for writers?
JWB: Not anything specific. A computer helps!
WA: Do you have any advice for would-be authors trying to get published?
JWB: There are two things to keep in mind when trying to snag a publisher.
Firstly, it only takes one. If someone isn’t interested, keep trying. A good way to find publishers is to search for books similar to yours at amazon.com and then check out the submission sections at these publishers’ websites.
Secondly, publishers aren’t usually going to be interested in reading your entire manuscript. They’re going to want something they can read quickly to determine whether readers would be interested in your book or not. (And if you think publishers are hesitant to give your full manuscript a chance, they’re a lot more patient than the regular Joe Schmo on the street, who will determine whether he wants to buy your book based on the cover art and a few words from the back cover.) So don’t try to write the greatest story ever and then try to get a publisher; try to get a publisher and then try to write the greatest story ever. Focus on selling the book, then focus on writing it. If a publisher is only going to read a table of contents, a synopsis, and a sample chapter, write just that, and keep working on it until it’s as enticing as possible. Then explain to the publisher why a complete stranger who has no idea who you are will want to plunk down his hard earned money to buy your book. And hope the publisher believes you!
WA: Do you have any books on the horizon? What are they about? When can we read them?
JWB: I’m glad you asked! I have just begun work on a book which I hope to be the follow-up to The Lord of the Films. It’s similar in style, but it’s all about the Star Trek films, and will be much longer and have much more depth.
Something I enjoyed about covering The Lord of the Rings films was that they are a reinvention of an earlier incarnation. Peter Jackson and his people didn’t just take what was in the book and transfer it to movie theaters, they spent years breaking the story in Tolkien’s LotR books down to its essence and then reinvented the tale to tell it in a new way that was more appropriate for the big screen. As I was writing The Lord of the Films, I asked myself, “where else has this been done?” The Harry Potter films are more or less straight line adaptations of the books, so they didn’t really reinvent the franchise. The Star Wars films, while very good, are original stories, so they don’t really fit the bill either. Then I looked towards Star Trek, something I’ve always been a fan of. Here was a franchise that not only had a similar depth but had just been reborn through a 2009 reboot film! It was something that was crying out for a movie guide book! Like The Lord of the Rings movies, the Star Trek films are a reinvention of an earlier incarnation, with the filmmakers taking the pains to deconstruct the original version to figure out what made it work and then re-synthesize it to reinvent the franchise for the big screen – all the while having a devoted fan base in place making demands and waiting for the resulting product. And yet the Star Trek films are different than The Lord of the Rings in synthesis because instead of the film’s universe being based on an old book by a deceased author, the “Final Frontier” on the big screen was based on an old television series with many of the original creators still alive. This was exactly what I was looking for: something I could do that would have the same depth as The Lord of the Films but would have a new twist and lead to a very different final product.
But it gets even better! Unlike The Lord of the Rings movies, Star Trek, with eleven films spanning thirty years, is a far greater thread; film’s only unbroken link to the days before computer help and home viewing. From popularizing model work and CGI to pioneering the profitability of the home video and DVD market, following the story of the making of the Star Trek films gives you a front row seat to witness the enormous changes the film industry has undergone since the 1970s when the business began to change from its traditional roots. And as such, the book isn’t just about Star Trek, but about the film industry as a whole. In fact, I’ll be dealing with eleven “how it came to happen” stories that all connect to tell a greater story nearing fifty years old. I can’t wait.
That said, I still have to find a publisher willing to pull the trigger on it. So it will be a while before you see it. But you will eventually!
WA: Where else can we read your work?
JWB: Right now you can visit my pages at Amazon and goodreads:
Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll have a website up and running, featuring a blog, photos, videos, deleted chapters from my books, updates on my current projects, and odds and ends. I’m still working out the details.
(Editor’s Note: J.W. Braun’s blog can be found at: http://jwbraun.com/.)
WA: Did you do anything special when Gary Gygax passed away?
JWB: I tried throwing a saving spell. No, just kidding. I didn’t do anything special, but Gary actually lived just down the road from me, and I was saddened to hear the news.
WA: Is there anything you’d like to add?
JWB: Just that I appreciate this opportunity!