Nos4a2 author Joe Hill is well-acquainted with mysteries: before he became a full-fledged thriller, fantasy, horror, & mystery writer, he was a mystery himself. The son of Stephen King, Joseph Hillstrom King chose to rise to the heights of his career with his parentage kept secret. Hill is a genre-bending whirlwind of a novelist, whose works have found mass-market success both in airport bookstores and on screens large & small. Hill’s Horns stunned audiences with its star, Daniel Radcliffe; the terrifyingly original premise; and all the moral quandaries that come with it. Nos4a2 is currently airing on AMC Sundays at 10 PM, thrilling (and chilling!) viewers with its whimsical nightmare of a setting—the inside of its protagonist’s (and villain’s) minds. At BookCon, Hill gave fans an insight into something almost as scary as Charlie Manx… actually writing your novel.
For many genre fiction writers, one major challenge is explaining how the world got to this point—whether ‘this point’ is a society in which alien clouds hold skydivers captive (“Aloft”) or one in which Polaroids can steal people’s memories (“Snapshot”). Sure, you could have a drunken NPC stumble up to your protagonist and describe the mechanics of the world in meticulous detail… or you could NOT do that and have a better story for it. Hill distinguished what needed to be explained in a story and what could be left alone:
It depends on what the reader needs. In The Fireman, I never got around in the book to explaining where [the human combustion plague] came from. John and Harper have a conversation about it, and one says ‘I like the idea that the ice shrunk and a pathogen got out from under the ice.’ One character thought it was weaponized athlete’s foot… they don’t know, so why does the reader have to know?
Image Via Sharp Magazine
One of the things Hill recommends avoiding is bombarding the reader with a lengthy villain backstory. While we know it’s suspect to wave away a villain’s actions with one depressing childhood anecdote, according to Hill, it can actually slow down the plot. He opened up about the role of Charlie Manx in Nos4a2, perhaps his most ambitious work to date:
I went into the backstory of Charlie Manx and it was an info-dump, a giant dump of information, and it brought the story to a screeching halt… no one cares what life was like for the shark in Jaws when it was a baby. No one cares if the shark’s mom didn’t love him well enough. They just want the shark.
Image Via Tell-tale TV
Of course, that isn’t to say that explanations are the devil (nope, that’s actually Daniel Radcliffe in Horns). Hill merely suggests that they’re something to be cautious about. There are aspects of the story that the reader does have to know, and then there are aspects of the story the AUTHOR needs to know: to clarify, everything. “Only a jackass would publish a book and create these mysteries without knowing [the answers],” Hill explained, “and I realized I was that jackass… I began building more of a history [in my stories] so that I would know for me, so I wouldn’t have to do a lot of shovelling later.”
In Hill’s own words, “explanations suck.” But he’s still pretty damn good at them.
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Any adaptation is only as good as its source material—though good doesn’t exactly cover what we love most about Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. ‘Tremendous’ is the more appropriate word: a behemoth of 700 pages, the novel is an undertaking as imaginative as its characters, a complete reinterpretation of the vampire mythos we know. And, in the end, which is more terrifying? The devil you know—or the devil you don’t?
If Joe Hill were to describe his novel, and the AMC adaptation, he wouldn’t use the word ‘good’ either (and not just because he’s far cleverer than that). In an exclusive interview with Bookstr, he described the show in three words: “suspenseful, heartfelt, feminist.” But on AMC’S BookCon panel, he had far more to say.
Image Via Channel Guide Mag
The panel began with the above image projected onscreen. Wielding his classic wit, Hill remarked, “it’s nice that they thought to put a picture of me in the middle.”
While it’s true that Nos4a2 has been everywhere for the past few weeks (in the news, advertised several stories high among all the Times Square neons), AMC’s involvement is hardly a new development. According to Hill, AMC voiced its interest only a year or two after the book came out in April 2013. If that seems like a long time, know that it’s because the network is especially “methodical” about bringing a story to the screen. “They know the game,” Hill emphasized, “and they know how to do it.”
Fans who tuned in on June 2nd may have noticed some changes (major change: you can SEE Charlie Manx menace you from the comfort, or discomfort, of your darkened room). Most notably, Vic McQueen is a high school student rather than a young child. This choice allowed for an older, more skilled actor to take the role—but it also made room for a storyline with the freedom to incisively analyze gender and class. In the novel, Vic starts off in the wood, staring down the Shorter Way Bridge that will soon become the shape of her mental inscape, a bridge that allows her to travel with the power of her mind. In the show, Vic starts off in a bedroom: light-filled, meticulously tidy, Yale brochures on the duvet. And then comes the plot twist—it isn’t her room at all.
She’s cleaning it.
When he encountered this in the initial script, Hill said, “it showed such a depth with character.” Hill knew then that he wanted to team up with executive producer Jami O’Brien. “The room represents the things [Vic] is never going to have,” he addressed Jami, “[the scene] was one paragraph long, but it showed… this is someone who gets how to draw out a character.”
Image Via AMC
Jami O’Brien went further into her own analysis of Vic’s character and the choice to make Vic an older teenager, focusing on this period of her life rather than those adult years that the novel also covers. “The portion of the book that covers Vic’s youth, I love, because it sets up her family dynamic,” O’Brien raved. “She’s encountering her powers for the first time, and it’s the first time we see the thing that I love most about her: her tremendous courage.”
The bridge, shown above, was another challenge. Given the novel’s creative settings, the AMC team had to get creative with its depiction. “It was hard convincing people of what the bridge looked like. I did think I’d just literally lifted it from the book,” she explained, “but when it comes to a magical bridge encased in static, everyone has a different idea about what that is. I just kept trying to steer everyone… back towards the descriptions there.”
The novel is as rife with complex physical landscapes as it is with challenging psychological terrain. A topographical map of these characters’ heads would certainly be populated with all the monsters & chimeras that demarcate danger and uncertainty. Jami O’Brien was keen to address not only trauma, but also its familial legacy. “Vic has to come to terms with who her parents are,” O’Brien explained, which doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving them. “You can still love somebody and accept somebody and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Hill delved into the myriad reasons why Nos4a2 is really an unpacking of mental health “in the guise of a genre novel:”
The difference between Vic and Charlie is her empathy and capacity to forgive, which makes her more powerful. When Charlie describes what he’s doing, he sounds like he could be considered the hero. There’s almost no mother by his definition that would not be abusive. With his old-fashioned and sexist beliefs… the very act of making a child excludes, in his mind, a woman from being decent.
Image Via Amc
One of the most important things in conveying Manx’s character was nailing the voice. “If you figure out how a character talks,” Hill said, “you can get the rest of who they are.” Given that Manx was born in the 19th century (yes, that is where the whole vampire thing comes into play), his voice reflects not only his age but also his “out-of-date morality, the way he thinks about women and children.” By emphasizing the characters’ distinctive voice, actor Zachary Quinto has
But the panel wasn’t all business—O’Brien and Hill laughed as they delved into some of the series’ Easter eggs, little references to Hill’s father Stephen King’s work. An audience member asked whether or not references to the Pennywise Circus implied a shared universe… to which Hill replied, “‘shared universe’ does sound sexier than ‘joke.'”
But it was a little more than a joke, and Hill enthusiastically told us why:
Why do people love the idea of shared universes so much? Well, we’re all walking around with a shared universe in our head. Spider-Man is jostling around with Harry Potter and Charlie Manx. We like shared universes because that’s how our imagination works. When you’re a kid playing pretend, no one says ‘you can’t be Captain America because I’m Batman, and they don’t exist in the same universe.’
“If there’s something you hate about it,” O’Brien interjected, “you gotta watch anyway so there’s a Season 2 and we can change it!”
Nos4a2 airs Sundays at 10PM on AMC!
Featured Image Via AMC.
Vampires are climbing out of their coffins and onto our TV screens—and we’re rushing to invite them in. For centuries, vampires have been both monster and metaphor, a representation of anything from immigration, to capitalism, to homosexuality. These creatures have been whatever we needed them to be… including sexy, sparkly, teen heartthrobs when the cultural zeitgeist demanded it. But mostly, they’ve been damn entertaining. Whether they’re scary or scary seductive, vampires continue to be the subject of our collective fascination. Here are five phenomenal onscreen adaptations of the most unique vampire novels out there.
Listen, feminism and horror don’t always coincide (we all know which sort of dalliance gets you killed first in a slasher film). But AMC’s adaptation of international bestseller Joe Hill’s Nos4a2 is changing that—and the conception of vampires as a whole. Is unforgettable villain Charles Talent Manx scary? Oh, hell yes. Sexy? Well, he certainly doesn’t sparkle… but he IS played by Zachary Quinto. Charlie Manx prefers souls to blood and children to waifish babes in billowing nightgowns. Pretty terrifying. But the children aren’t frightened when Manx spirits them away in his Rolls Royce Wraith. They’re going to Christmasland, Manx’s psychological lair packed to the brim with every child’s dreams—and every parent’s nightmare.
Enter Vic McQueen, a tough teenager from a blue-collar town in the capable hands of director Jami O’Brien, who has, according to author Joe Hill, delved deeply into the feminist themes inherent in the story. A kickass female protagonist AND a kickass female showrunner? Yes please. Not only does the show capture the essence of the 80s, but it also captures the precarious balance of hope and resentment in its protagonist and the nuanced portrayal of her adolescence.
Get ready for the premiere on June 2nd for a vampire adaptation with some real soul.
Tune in to AMC on Sunday, June 2nd 10/9c.
2. interview with a vampire
This Anne Rice adaptation absolutely killed at the box office, earning $100m+ over budget. Part of the reason audiences so often despise film adaptations is the lack of author involvement—not an issue here. Rice penned the screenplay herself, ensuring a distinct creative vision authentic to her iconic work. And there may be more where that came from. At seventy-five, Rice has reacquired the film and television rights to her works and plans to release a Game-of-Thrones-style television epic. Currently, she’s at work on a ‘Bible’ plotting out the first two seasons.
The film (and novel) is as dark as its origin: Rice penned the short story after the tragic death of her daughter, Michelle, at age 5. The nostalgia and emotion in the film is even more prevalent than any sense of terror, and that’s only one of the reasons why fans love it. Many have fallen for the rich portrayal of New Orleans, a city many consider to be the protagonist. Oh, and bonus: while Anne Rice didn’t initially intend Louis & Lestat as a same-sex couple raising a child, she says she is all for that more modern interpretation.
3. TRUE BLOOD
This charming Southern Gothic comes with a whole lot of the debauchery that HBO is known for. Charlaine Harris’ vampires might’ve hit the screen at the Twilight peak—pretty ironic, given that series is a Mormon author’s metaphor for chastity—but it’s overflowing with sex and blood. Campy, steamy, and utterly intoxicating, the show racked up 13 million average viewers per episode, making it the highest-rated HBO show that doesn’t involve the Starks of Winterfell.
Author Charlaine Harris has compared the vampires’ struggles for rights with that of the LGBT+ community, some allusions more obvious than others (“coming out of the coffin,” “God Hates Fangs”). Both the TV show and novels feature copious LGBT+ characters, and let’s just say the show is action-packed regardless of whether that action is fighting, or, you know…
4. let the right one in
Adapted from a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One in is such an effective vampire movie in large part because it doesn’t aim to be a horror. Director Tomas Alfredson had no background in horror, and so he chose instead to discard some of the darker parts of the novel (Håkan’s pedophilia, for instance) and focus on the main characters’ interpersonal relationship. Disinterested in creating an outright genre film, Alfredson commented, “I suppose the strongest elements of fear are the fantasies of the scary things that could happen… When scary things do happen, you tend not to be so afraid — it’s the fantasy that’s the scariest.”
The film is dominated by sparse sets and gray lighting, the murders that occur all the more sinister because of their strangeness. Audiences feel uneasy as a small girl takes down a grown man. And audiences feel even worse when they realize Oskar, a bullied child with violent revenge fantasies, may be more dangerous than the vampire. In Let the Right One In, childhood innocence is nothing so soft and harmless.
5. Vampire Academy
With taglines “Friendship is Forever” and “They Suck at School,” the franchise delivers on its implicit promise: that this is a campy teen story with all the debauchery you’d expect from a remote vampire boarding school. While Richelle Mead’s portrayal of adolescence may be classic, her take on vampires is anything but. The internationally-bestselling series depicts the social stratification between Moroi—rich, ambiguously European teens who drink human blood and can use elemental magic—and their mostly-human Dhampir bodyguards. Oh, and then there’s the Strigoi, who drink blood and, more importantly, kill their victims.
The series (and the movie!) is just as much ski slope shenanigans as it is international-murder-mystery, a romp across genres with a delightfully mouthy protagonist. Although the film was not especially high-grossing, the source material has sold over 8 million copies and topped the NYT Bestseller List on numerous occasions.
Featured Image Via AMC.