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Cloud Atlas Author David Mitchell Discusses Hollywood, literary influences, and Ursula LeGuin

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt 

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, discusses how an 8-year-old book brought him to Hollywood. Thanks to the film version by the Wachowkis, the directors also responsible for the Matrix trilogy, the book is now a bestseller.

“Writers are so used to books being optioned and then it never happens,” Mitchell says. “It’s a beginner’s mistake to assume oh, great, it’s optioned, when will it be at the multiplex? That’s usually never.… I’m a novelist, that’s how I make my livelihood, and I concentrate on the novels…When you live in the west of Ireland, Los Angeles feels like a very, very, very long way away.”

Unlike many authors, Mitchell was included in the process by the directors. Even getting input on changes made in the adaptation. For a man used to spending time alone in a world creating, it was a different process. In talking about his own approach, Mitchell says: “It’s all about decisions – you make a thousand decisions, at different levels. Structural ones, those are more macro decisions about plot, character, cliché avoidance, better still, cliché inversion, or cliché implosion. They’re wonderful. Also, micro decisions – about where the comma goes, words. You must have noticed sometimes, you know when to use maybe and when to use perhaps. There’s no way on earth you could codify that rule or how you know, but you know….”

Citing his own writer influences, Mitchell says, “Ursula LeGuin is a fine example of a writer who is not highbrow, not lowbrow, not middlebrow, not nobrow. She’s allbrow. She, more than any other writer, is probably why I am a writer. Not because we write in a similar way, but because she made me ache to do what she had done. I’d read The Disposessed or Earthsea books by her and I’d just [breathes in] – I’d just feel this kind of a lust to make something that would do to other people what that had just done to me.”

For the full text of the interview, including more insight on Mitchell’s process, the movie, books he enjoys and more, see:,0,4898986.story


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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s science fiction, fantasy and humor books, short stories and articles. A frequent contributor to blogs like SFSignalAdventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and To Be Read, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat under the hashtag #sffwrtcht on Twitter and blogs about writing and creativity on his own blog at Connect With Bryan On Google+

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