“The Expanse” Gives “Leviathan Wakes” The Juice it Needed

People often complain that a movie or TV series isn’t “as good as the book.”

With SyFy’s The Expanse, the opposite is true: the writers have improved a dull, sometimes amateurish novel. Yes, I know Leviathan Wakes has a great cover blurb from George R.R. Martin. But that’s not surprising: one of the people who wrote it is his assistant (James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It also got a Hugo Award nomination. Again, anything with that kind of pedigree is sure to get noticed and generate sales.

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But it’s a long-winded novel that never really lives up to the clever premise of fierce rivalry between Earth and its smarter, classier, richer colony Mars. Their mutual pawn is the resource-starved Asteroid Belt, peopled by low-gravity creole-speakers who resent being looked down on.

There are some good action sequences in Leviathan Wakes, which tries to blend a classic PI novel with “space opera,” but the book rarely comes alive. That’s too bad, because the authors have come up with some great details like carpeting that’s more durable than stone and a colorful Belter dialect that blends many languages.

expanse shotThe overall problem might be the co-authorship. Chapters alternate between the third person point of view of an executive officer of a ship bringing ice to the water-starved Belt (Holden) and a detective on the Belt looking for a lost rich girl (Miller). That girl weirdly becomes a major third character even after she dies, haunting Miller’s imagination (and worse). It’s a shame, because she’s a bore and just won’t shut up.

The low-gravity Belters are tall and thin-boned, angry, underprivileged, resentful, and violent–but we don’t see and hear enough of them. Instead, we get lots of shallow characterizations throughout; sketchy settings; a thinly-imagined future where they still have bagels, sushi. and metal coffee pots; and writing that barely serves its purpose or even falls flat. What’s it supposed to mean that Holden walks with “uncommented athleticism”?

Expanse_ShipHolden and Miller don’t meet for a few hundred pages and when they do, the writers retell events from each protagonist’s shallow perspective, which gets tedious. Neither one is very compelling when it comes down to it, and as a team, they’re twice as dull.  Almost as dull as the flat ending.

But none of that matters in The Expanse, which revs the book up a sexy cast, excellent FX, and a tighter, leaner story line. Scenes that drag in the novel speed by. And you don’t have to deal with bad prose, just commercials which you can fast forward through.

Martin was more than kind to the authors of Leviathan Wakes, but they don’t even approach his mastery of the writing craft.

Lev Raphael’s books — from mystery to memoir — can be found on Amazon.

The New York Times Outs a “Blurb Whore”

This week Malcolm Gladwell was outed by the New York Times as a “blurb whore.” The Times didn’t actually label him that, but it’s the term publishing insiders use for an author like Gladwell whose name appears promiscuously on book jackets.

The Times article revealed how often Gladwell blurbs books totally outside his own areas of expertise and that his name “adorns scores of book covers not his own.”

If blurbing were an Olympic sport, he’d clearly get the gold.

“It’s hard to compete with Malcolm Gladwell,” said A.J. Jacobs, the author of four books, including The Year of Living Biblically, who was once such a prolific blurbist, his publisher demanded that he stop writing them. “He is always going to get the front cover. I get the back cover or, maybe, inside.”

Gladwell’s blurb helped make Freakonomics a best seller and publishers hope for similar success for their books when they enlist the nation’s Blurber-in-Chief.

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The Times reported that Gladwell hands blurbs out “like Santa,” though he doesn’t seem to care if authors are naughty or nice. No matter what the book’s genre, it does seem to help, though, if there’s a personal connection: “Many of the people for whom Mr. Gladwell has written blurbs he knows socially or has even dated.”

But the personal apparently goes deeper than that.

When Jacobs wrote about his “blurbing problem” a few years ago in the Times, he said that Gladwell told him tweeting and blurbing were “conceptually identical: the short, targeted judgment in which the initiator draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else.”

Blurbing is clearly an ego-boost and good publicity for authors writing blurbs, no matter how famous they are. Jacobs confessed in that article: “I get a thrill from seeing my name scattered throughout the bookstore.”

His tone was less serious than Gladwell’s, but the story sounds very much the same: “Me! Me! Me!”

Lev Raphael’s books–from mystery to memoir–can be found on Amazon.

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

How to Grab Attention as a Blogger

The best way? Write something that’ll really stir people up.

One approach is to be super negative.

For instance, Adele’s new album has been breaking sales records and she has zillions of adoring fans. Imagine writing a blog that says 25 is crap, she’s over-rated, and not remotely as good as Lana del Ray or any other singer of your choice.

You’d be sure to get lots of hits and people would RT like crazy in their rage. But then among that crowd would also be lots of people who actually agreed with you–so you’d get those readers, too.

Another approach: Defend a common target of ridicule.

Example? Blog that the Kardashians have been misunderstood. Say they represent the best in family values. Say they stand for everything that makes America great. Given their high profile, one way of another, anything about them is likely to generate hits, and that’s what you’re after: click bait.  A sexy title and photo or two helps.  And some funny gifs.

Now, what do you then do about the myriad badly spelled, contemptuous emails from people who think you’re a total moron and should be put down like a rapid dog? Or just think you’re uppity and should crawl back into your hole?  And the tweets that vilify you in worse terms? And the comments pointing out the smallest typo and trashing everything from your writing skills to your sanity?

Ignore them.

You’re not blogging to start a conversation or prove you’re God’s Gift to Blogging. Your aim is publicity, and the best way to generate that is by posting a controversial blog.  But beware, that can happen even by accident.

So.  Are you tough enough to handle it?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from mystery to memoir.

Shakespeare & A Writer’s Revenge

I’ve been publishing for a long time and I’ve dealt with all kinds of editors.  Some are laid back.  Some are very hands-on.  Some are hard to pin down.  Some are extremely helpful and supportive.  And a few–very few–are difficult or even opaque.  They tell you one thing but mean something completely different that you couldn’t have guessed at.

huhHere’s what happened a few years ago with one of those.

I pitched an idea to a magazine about the farkakteh theory that Shakespeare was a Jewish woman (yes!), which is just another bit of nutty Shakespeare Denialism that’s been a flourishing industry for way too long.  James Shapiro wrote an entertaining book about it: Contested Will.

The editor really liked my approach–at least I thought so.

Then he sent back my blog and basically told me that it had to be completely rewritten.  But that wasn’t all: he thought it should be re-shaped to say what he wanted, which was bizarre, since in our previous emails, he’d never told me any of his opinions.  If he had, I would have gone elsewhere.

Was I annoyed?  Of course.  I’d been publishing dozens of articles, essays, short stories, and books for years and dealing with editors who were much more professional than that.  Except for one, “and thereby hangs a tale….”

I sent the piece to The Huffington Post.  They took it right away, beginning my long relationship with that site, and you can read it here.  I waited till the blog was posted and wrote back to the first editor that I was sorry he didn’t like my approach, but someone else did.

I included the link.

Sometimes revenge isn’t just sweet, it’s swift.  This time it was so swift that it wasn’t even worth saving the editor for a character to put into my Nick Hoffman mystery series–appropriately disguised, of course.  I just brushed it off.

dirt off my shoulderLev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres which you can find on Amazon.  Follow him on Twitter at