Ask a Smart Guy

Time for another Q&A session.  The people ask, and I answer because I like to keep in touch with the common humans.  At the end of the day, my career lives and dies by their affections, and it helps me when I can’t come up with a topic on my own.


@badrobotbrain:  “Cake or Pie?  Coffee or Tea?”

In the eternal struggle between pro-cake and pro-pie factions, I have to side with pie.  But only barely.  Truthfully, I’m not much of a fan of cake or pie.  I don’t like many varieties of either, but in the list of possible desserts they can offer, my favorite in pie (cherry) edges out my favorite in cake (carrot).  So there you have it.

The coffee tea debate is a bit simpler.  I’d go with neither.  I drink soda.  If pressed though, tea beats coffee because I don’t often drink tea, but I never drink coffee.  Mostly because I worked 7-11 for a year and had to make coffee as part of the job.  While I wasn’t a fan of coffee before that, coming home reeking of it turned me away from that accursed beverage forever.

Fie on thee, coffee!  Fie!


@BigHeath2099 asks:  “Which of your novels do you think would work best as a Pixar film?”

All of them.  Every single one.  In fact, if anyone who works at Pixar happens to be reading this, please feel free to contact me anytime to make this happen.  I’m sure we can work something out.

To get more specific, it’s not something I’ve thought about in detail before.  I love that Pixar does original stuff, and that they don’t feel the need to go look for already popular properties to make into stories.  It’s that sort of daring that I really respect.  That, and their ability to make amazing movies.  Still, if they came knocking at my door, I wouldn’t try to discourage them.

The book I would probably like to be adapted most would be The Automatic Detective. Not because it would necessarily be the easiest to adapt but because it would have the potential for the most visual distinctiveness.  Detective was already optioned by one animation studio, and although that option has expired, they sent me some truly amazing concept art that blew me away.  Empire City and its retro-future is just screaming to be made into a visual feast, and I still hope that somebody figures that out some day.  If that somebody is Pixar, I wouldn’t mind one bit.

For the same reason, I think Emperor Mollusk could make an awesome film too.  But the evil genius market has been tapped with both Despicable Me and Megamind so the odds of a Mollusk film getting made are pretty damn slim.  Too bad really because if it was even remotely true to the book, we could have mutant dinosaurs, giant robots, kung fu, fungal monsters, and stone men from Saturn.  While I enjoyed both those previous films, they are both too narrow in scope to be truly amazing supervillain adventures.  They are personal character studies that just happen to feature supervillains.  The true supervillain / hero epic has yet to be made, and Mollusk and his world of Terra would be the perfect candidate for that.

My third and most viable choice is probably Too Many Curses, but while it could make an outstanding animated film, it might be deemed a little too “traditional” nowadays.  There’s no twist to it.  It’s a straight fantasy featuring an unlikely group of misfits who rise to the challenge to save the day.  Not that I consider it a traditional book, but it’s surprises and thoughtful ideas don’t stem from a questioning of fantasy conventions, but of looking at those conventions from different angles.  It’s a great story (probably my most underrated if I do say so myself and I do), but while it would be the most family-friendly of anything I’ve written, it also probably lacks that surprise that makes people take notice.

Finally, I’d love to see a version of A Nameless Witch done right.  But that’ll never happen, so that’s about as much as I’ve thought about it.


A two-fer from Samantha and Aaron from Facebook:  “Have you seen Prometheus?  If so, what did you think of it?” and “Why are the characters in Prometheus so annoyingly dumb?”

No, I haven’t seen the film yet.  I have little interest in it because, as previously mentioned once or twice, I have absolutely no interest in prequels.  Not even vague prequels that have very little to do with the original films.  Prequels answer questions I never even bothered to ask, and almost always, those answers are stupid and disappointing.  INSERT NEGATIVE PHANTOM MENACE REMARK HERE.

But I especially have no interest in this particular prequel because I don’t want any origin for the xenomorphs.  Like most terror, they work best when they remain mysterious and unknown.  The true terror of the Alien film has never been the monsters, but the notion that, out there, in the unexplored universe, there is something very nasty waiting for us.  It has nothing to do with us.  It’s not even hostile.  It just doesn’t give a damn, and it’ll eat us all in an orgy of madness and death.

Alien has always been about the unknown.  It draws on the same primal fear ancient mapmakers called upon when writing “Here be dragons” at the edge of the known world.  Telling me where the xenomorphs came from and, even worse, giving them an origin related to humans, robs them of their Lovecraftian core.  It intentionally or unintentionally makes humans prominent and important, which is kind of counter to the entire point of the monster that lurks in the dark and eats you because you’re easier to catch than the cat.

As for why the characters might act stupid, I can’t say much on that since I haven’t seen the film.  Characters in prequels usually act stupid because they seem to know, subconsciously, how the story should end.  They and the writer who create them have surrendered these characters’ free will to service the needs of a predetermined conclusion.  And it almost always shows.  INSERT TIRED COMMENT ON THE LABORED “LOVE” STORY IN STAR WARS PREQUELS HERE.


Finally, Jeremiah asks: “When brainstorming ideas, how do you determine when an idea is good enough to pursue?”

You don’t.

Rather, you don’t worry about it.  Ideas are strange and wonderful things.  Some great ideas run out of steam fast.  Other seemingly stupid or silly ideas can easily support themselves once you start working on them.  There’s usually no way to know in advance.

Since I write standalone novels, it’s a little simpler for me than many other writers.  I don’t have to come up with ideas that can sustain a long-running series.  I only need something that’s good for a single novel, but because that’s what I’ve chosen to write at this stage, it also means I’ve come up with a lot of ideas.  I’ve discovered most ideas are only as good as the amount of work you put into them.  So I don’t worry about whether an idea is good enough to sustain a story.  I just write the idea and determine to give it my best shot.

I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  The idea is meaningless.  Anyone can come up with an idea.  Some great and popular stories have sprang forth from the most uninspired ideas.  There is nothing innately unique or innovative about Harry PotterTwilight is a generic tale of serious teenagers being serious because love is serious!  Both created multimedia empires.  We might argue about the merits of either, but if a young J.K. Rowling had walked up to you years ago and said, “Hey, I have this idea about a boy wizard that is going to make a billion dollars”, you might be justifiably skeptical.

The best thing to do is just sit down and write your story, paint your painting, sing your song, etc.  Whatever you’re doing, remember how important DOING is.  Anyone can have a great idea for a book or come up with a cool guitar riff or neat sketch.  It’s in the execution, in the act of creating, that artists are made.  And the best thing about it is that anyone can be an artist as long as they keep this in mind.  Maybe not a great artist.  Maybe not even a good one.  But more of an artist than anyone who has ever just come up with an idea and been satisfied with that.


Thanks for the questions.  Until next time.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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One Comment

  1. Posted June 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know you had a twitter, and still don’t, I’m going to have to find it

    you should… put it on your front page or something

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