Then it hit me with a lightning bolt of genius: every dramatic production is improved if the characters are played by dogs.
Thankfully I had access to a full stable of actors, since there are always between eight and twelve dogs hanging out at my sister’s house. Some are hers, some are fosters, some are fosters that become hers.
I do have my own dog, but Holly usually has other plans.
I decided on Charlotte’s Web, since it’s a favorite of mine and it allows for interactions between several characters.
As a bonus, my dog-niece Jellybean wouldn’t even need a costume to play Templeton the rat.
So, after gathering props and costumes, I headed to Nacogdoches, Texas to set up a backyard Zuckerman’s Farm.
Some actors wanted to barge into scenes that weren’t in their scripts…
…but it all came together by the end of the day.
Here’s the long version, with music. It’s actually about six minutes too long for a “90 second” film festival, but it’s hard to edit such good dogs.
I did manage to make a shorter version, and added voiceovers so the younger members of the festival audience would be able to enjoy the dialogue. Nephew Dylan and grandniece Grace provided the voiceover talent.
Check out more examples of 90-Second Newbery videos, and maybe even make your own to send in!
Don’t forget to save your receipts for those “literary character dog costumes” tax deductions.
Exciting new book news!
Here’s the announcement from Publishers Weekly:
The writing of this book was quicker for me than most; I just got the idea for it last year when I saw this image fly by on Twitter:
Thankfully I was online at the right moment, and that I scrolled back to read the description. After a little research I found that it’s likely that the whale is a male since they’re the singers, and that other whales can probably hear him, but don’t understand what he’s saying. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the 52 Hertz whale, and finally gave up trying to get back to sleep and got up to start writing about the kind of kid who would run away to try to track him down.
I found that character in 6th grade Iris, who’s the only deaf student at her school. When she learns in her science class about this whale who can’t talk to anyone else, she decides she has to find him.
I decided to fictionalize the whale for a couple of reasons. For one, there’s a documentary in the works about “52 Blue,” so there’s no telling what we’ll find out from that or future research. For now we don’t know much, but writing about a fictitious “55 Hertz whale” gave me the freedom to write the story without worrying about the novel having inaccurate information about the real 52. Also there’s some deaf poetry in the book, and the repeated “5” handshape worked out well with that. (The feeling of “rhyme” in deaf poetry is conveyed by similar handshapes instead of similar sounds like in spoken or written English).
About a year later, I had a manuscript that was revised and ready to submit. And now it will be a real book!
If you’re as fascinated with the 52 Hertz whale like I am, here’s more information:
52-Hertz Song of the World’s Loneliest Whale – includes a song recording!
I was reading the first post of Darcy Pattison’s month-long series on author websites, and when she mentioned that one thing readers like is access to exclusive content I thought, “Hey I have that. I should put it someplace people can actually find it.”
I’d added a subdomain for Chained a long time ago so I
could add more content about the book without overwhelming my author site. (If you have a website already, it doesn’t cost anything to add a subdomain, and it works like another website). I hadn’t made it public yet because I wanted to work on it more, but I was reminded of it whenever I spoke to a class about revisions, because I’d been meaning to add a deleted scenes page for all the cool stuff that had to be cut from the final book.
When I took a gander at it again I realized it was closer to presentable than I thought. I opened an older draft of Chained, copied some deleted scenes, and pasted them to a new page on the subdomain site. In addition to the deleted scenes page, there’s more in-depth information about the setting and why I chose it, a page for the foreign editions and covers, and the activities and curriculum guide that are on the author site too.
So, hop on over to The Chained Site if you’d like to check it out. I’m hoping it’ll be a good resource for classrooms and a fun place for readers to get some behind-the-scenes information.
I’d love to hear what else would be good to include on the site, if you have some ideas!
Last week the nice people at Project Mayhem posted the CHAINED trailer release, and I wanted to write a longer post today about how I made the trailer, for those who are interested, and there’s also a version of the trailer here that’s a bit longer. Like a director’s cut.
Here’s the trailer on YouTube if you haven’t seen it yet, or if you want to see those adorable frolicking elephants again:
I love book trailers and knew all along I’d want one for CHAINED, but since the book is about an elephant keeper in India, a live-action trailer wasn’t really feasible. You can hire someone to do your trailer for you, but after finding out what that costs I slinked back to stock photo sites. (And I don’t mean that the professionals are overcharging; it just was out of my price range).
So here’s how I made my book trailer, and how you can make your own. It was a bit time-consuming but not as difficult as I thought it’d be, and certainly cost-effective.
Images and video gathering:
Even before I knew what I was doing or what the trailer would look like, I saved some photos and videos on sites like istockphoto, Bigstock, and Dreamstime. There are many stock photo sites, where you pay a small fee for the rights to use the image or video, so if you don’t find what you want on one, search on another. A Google search for “stock photos” plus your topic will bring up a lot of options. If you’re not ready to buy images yet but want to save them for later, you can save them into a personal “lightbox” on the site so they’ll be there when you go back. Many sites allow you to download a comp so you can try it out before deciding you want to purchase the image for real. (Or just take a screenshot of the photo you want to use; it’ll have the website’s logo on it, but it’s a good way to try it out to see if it works with your trailer). You’ll notice different sizes of photos when you’re ready to purchase; select 400×600 pixels or larger so it’ll look clear on the screen.
You can also find photos on Flickr and Google Images, but to make sure they’re okay to use, select “Advanced Search,” then “Creative Commons” on Flickr, and “Free to use or share” on Google.
Video clips cost more than still photos, of course, but they add a nice touch to a trailer and make them more movie-ish, so it was worth it for me. The clips of the elephants playing and of the elephant trying to pull away from its chain seemed perfect for my trailer, so I bought those and used a few seconds of each one.
Much like searching for images and video clips, you can browse through stock music sites and click on samples of royalty-free music. I found mine on Shockwave Sound, but there are many other similar sites, and it’s worth the time to look around till you find the right song. Before purchasing, download a trial clip to make sure you the music is a good fit for your trailer.
Here’s the part I had the most trouble with. I could picture in my head how I wanted the trailer to look, but what in the world do I say? The elephants are so adorable, maybe I could get by with just stringing together some clips of baby elephants playing in the water, but I figured I should probably make it follow the book a little more and then add some text. To get some help, I signed up for this great online course about making book trailers. Working from our book blurbs, we came up with 20-25 phrases to use as a script.
In writing your own script, mention something about your book’s setting, including the time period if it’s historical fiction. Trailers are short, so make sure every phrase is strong enough to let viewers know who your characters are, what they want, and what’s standing in their way. The last frame should have the information about your book and direct people to your website or blog.
Once I had the script written, I looked through the photos I’d saved and found a good image or video clip to go with each one. It helped to write down on paper a frame-by-frame plan for how the text and images would come together.
Putting it all together
After I had the music, the pictures and video clips, and wrote the script, I was ready to make the trailer. You’ll need some kind of software for this part, but there are a few options that are free or inexpensive. I used iMovie, which comes on Mac computers and is similar to Windows MovieMaker. After opening the new project, I just dragged the saved photos and videos into the window, then added a text box to each frame to type in the text from the script. Lastly, I dragged the music file to the window. After previewing the trailer, I decided I wanted the music to start a few seconds into the song instead of at the beginning, so I used iMovie’s Clip Trimmer to adjust.
Another option is to create your trailer as a PowerPoint presentation, then download Powerpoint to video conversion software to turn it into a trailer. An online user-friendly program for creating videos is One True Media; sign up for free to try it out, then upgrade to a premium membership for about $40 if you like it.
The final product, sort of
Since most of us have the attention span of a crackhouse gnat, it’s best if book trailers are about one minute long or less. So the new challenge was making the trailer short enough while leaving the text up long enough to be read. After many tweaks and previews, getting some feedback and tweaking a little more, here’s how the trailer looked:
The painful cutting and the final product for real
So I was pretty happy with how it turned out. Before releasing it, I wanted to show my agent and editor, so I sent it to them for feedback. They killed the crying elephant helped me find places to cut the video to get the length closer to a minute. Other than cutting out a couple of the pictures, there were a few frames where I could display two phrases on the screen at the same time, instead of delaying them by a couple of seconds, so it wasn’t necessary to keep the pictures up as long. After making those edits, I ended up with the trailer you see at the top of the post.
Sharing with the world
When the trailer was ready to share, I uploaded the saved file from my computer onto YouTube, then passed along the link to the trailer release on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, and wherever else I’m running around the Internet so the friends who live in my computer could share the trailer with others. I’ve also uploaded it to TeacherTube for easier viewing in schools.
Another resource I found to be super-helpful is Darcy Pattison’s The Book Trailer Manual, which goes much more into depth than is feasible to go into in a blog post.
Book trailers can be a fun project for students to make too!
Elephants have always been my favorite animal, but when I was doing research for CHAINED I learned a lot of cool things about them I didn’t know before.
This weekend I went to the Houston Zoo’s Elephant Open House. I’d gone to the event before, but I always love getting a closer look at the elephants and watching how they interact with one another.
They seem to be really smart, so here are some lessons from the elephants!
Don’t try to do it all yourself
Elephants are very protective of their calves, but they aren’t frazzled moms trying to take care of everything alone. All the elephants in the herd help take care of the babies.
|New baby elephant at Chester Zoo|
|Hapoor Dam Meet & Greet|
Be loyal to your friends
Elephants develop lifelong friendships, and even remember friends they haven’t seen for years. And your friends don’t have to look like you, right? I think Maximus the Elephant Dog gets as much attention as the elephants do during the open house events. And when Bella the dog was recovering from a spinal cord injury in the office of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennesee, her buddy Tarra hung around outside the office the whole time instead of wandering around the grounds as usual.
…and remember those who came before you
I find this fascinating–elephants are really interested in the bones of other elephants. If they come across elephant bones they’ll often pick them up or touch them with their trunks. Researchers have given elephants the bones of other animals to see if they’ll respond the same way, but they show interest in only the elephant bones. I’d love to know what they’re thinking!
Eat what you’d like, but get plenty of exercise
Asian elephants in the wild eat about 650 pounds of food a day, but they’re working for it by walking around almost all day long. Of course, food is readily available the zoo, so they don’t have to go around looking for it. The Houston zoo elephants have a pretty big yard to walk around in (soon to be a much bigger yard), but since they’re not walking for miles and miles each day, they eat about 100 pounds of food. (But somehow poop 150 pounds).
Make that long-distance call
Elephants use infrasonic communication to talk to elephants who are far away. Some of the sounds they make are too low for us to hear, but an elephant a couple of miles away will respond to these sounds that they hear or feel with their feet.
Take time out for yourself
Here’s a lesson from the bulls, really. The female elephants stick together in a herd, but the male elephants keep to themselves most of the time. You don’t have to run off to the jungle and live on leaves, but I think it’s good to take a little time away from everyone and have some quiet time alone.
|African bull elephant|
After a bath, an elephant usually rolls around in the dirt. It seems counterproductive, but they know what they’re doing–the dirt protects them from bug bites and acts as a sunscreen. Plus, it looks like a lot of fun, which as elephants know, is also important.
|Bath time joy|
Speaking of bath time, here’s a video I made of Tess and her daughter Tupelo at the open house. Remember to get plenty of water, everyone–it’s hot out there!