Handbook for Mortals: Takeaways from Idobe Interview with Lani Sarem

So Lani Sarem did an interview with Idobi Network, an Internet radio station last night. The only reason I listened to it was because I checked her twitter and it was happening in like five minutes, and I had nothing better to do than listen along. In my defense, it’s been a while since we’ve heard any developments on the HfM movie front, and I was thirsty for answers.

EDIT: To listen to the interview yourself, click HERE

1: Lani is going HARD on the #feminism thing

Right off the bat, the interviewer asked Lani about her history as a creative person, and, unsurprisingly, she brought up her history as an amateur screenwriter. As you probably know, Lani Sarem began writing her own screenplays (in which she would naturally cast herself as the lead) at the age of 11. However, instead of saying “why wait for someone to write a role for me” as she did in her ThreeGeeks interview, this time, she said something about how even at the age of 11 she knew there weren’t a lot of great roles for women, and therefore wanted to write her own:

My dream and desire as a child was to make movies and I began writing scripts at 11 because I knew that there weren’t a lot of great female roles. As an 11 year old, way before this was like a bog topic of discussion, so that’s why I started writing scripts (3:48)

Later, while talking about the production of the film that is supposedly actually happening (color me skeptical), the interviewer followed up on Lani’s assertion that there would be a female director by asking if there were any directors officially attached to the project.

The official answer is. . . No. This movie does not yet have anyone attached. They are, however, “in talks” with a few female directors, one of whom, according to Lani, has directed a female-led movie in a franchise before. No names were specifically mentioned.

But Lani is super psyched about her #feminist movie, say something along the lines of

“When have we had a brand-new project with a female character? Probably Hunger Games.

I don’t have the interview on-hand, so I don’t know if that’s an exact quote as of yet. I wrote it down as she said it. It was in the context of how Wonder Woman just came out, but Wonder Woman’s been around forever. What I love about this bit though is that it shows how narrow Lani’s cultural radar is. The first Hunger Games film came out in 2012. Since then we have had three female-led Star Wars, a female-led Pixar film, Hidden Figures, HBO’s Big Little LiesWestworld, and the last two seasons of Game of Thrones have been really fucking big on Stronk Empowered Wimmin. Lady Bird has been nominated for best picture, as has Three Billboards(. . .). There was Atomic Blonde, and then this year we’ve got Ava DuVernay doing A Wrinkle in Time (GET HYPE). Not all of these were feminist works. I didn’t even like all of them. And I’m not even saying that women have reached equal representation in film. My point is just that having a female lead isn’t exactly novel.

2: Fun Fact: The Plain White T’s were originally 100 Monkeys

And this is how we ended up with Jackson Rathbone as the lead vocalist in the Plain White T’s:

Originally (as I FUCKING CALLED), Jackson was not a significant character. In fact, Jackson was initially ACTUALLY JACKSON RATHBONE.

You see, originally, Jackson Rathbone and his band 100 Monkeys were imagined to have a cameo role in Lani’s screenplay. Then, I guess when Lani went on to manage the Plain White T’s, she changed the cameo band to that. I guess Jackson had a minor role, though, so Jackson Rathbone was kept in. BUT THEN the Love Triangle was introduced (again, as I FUCKING CALLED) and that must be when Jackson Rathbone became Jackson Milsap. She didn’t even bother changing his first name:

If I’m gonna write a script, why shouldn’t I—originally I’d written it kinda a small cameo idea, and then really like the idea of—originally it was less of a love triangle and then just kinda really liked the idea of—once you start writing, characters kind of have a life of their own, so as I kept writing and writing they kind of became their own sorta characters. And then actually when the band became no longer 100 Monkeys I had changed that character’s name from Jackson and then just really changed it a couple times and then realized that his name was Jackson, that this character was supposed to be Jackson, so I changed it back. So at that point it wasn’t really related to Jackson Rathbone at all anymore. (9:03)


When the interviewer asked if the Plain White T’s would have a cameo in the film, Lani replied that she thinks so, barring “scheduling conflicts.” (7:57)

3: We got to hear a defense of the cover art plagiarism

Finally, someone asked her about the conspicuous similarity of HfM’s cover art to Gill Del-Mace’s The Knifethrower. 

Lani’s rationalization:

“We didn’t do anything illegal”

According to Lani, she had the idea of a girl sitting in front of a “death wheel” and thought that Del-Mace’s piece looked better than other reference images she could give to her artist (or something?). She talked about how there are only so many ways for someone to sit on a stool (or something) and about a heuristic for figuring out if you’re veering too close to plagiarism (make a list of similarities and differences, if there are more differences than similarities you’re good? Something like that), and how she’s talked to lawyers and they’ve all given her the OK. Then she said something about it being an intentional homage. She also said something about how comic book artists rip each other off all the time, so yeah.

She also said that she doesn’t think anyone would have cared if the book hadn’t gotten such negative attention.

4: More of the same misrepresentation of her critics

So we’ve all heard Lani’s many retorts to her detractors. Basically, she doesn’t think that any of her critics have ever read her book. Or they’re specifically looking for reasons not to like it. Or they’re getting bent out-of-shape about a few typos here and there. And there are people who hate Twilight and 50 Shades, but those are still massively successful franchises.

Oh, but

“I get fan mail from girls about how they love Zade and want to be her!”


She also talked about the Facebook writer’s group drama, making it seem like people were looking down on her for having written HfM as a screenplay first, rather than, you know, publishing a book with zero redeeming qualities as a stepping stone to movie stardom:

I noticed sometimes that even in writer’s groups—I’m a part of one writer’s group on Facebook and there’s like 75000 members—and you know we all talk about our projects sometimes and I was talking about my project, and somebody got really angry and was like “SHE’S JUST A SCRIPT WRITER! She doesn’t belong in here” and the admin was like “this is for any kind of writers. We don’t care what you write. (11:50)

5: Babby’s first demarcation problem

As you may remember, there has been controversy over exactly what genre HfM falls under. Is it Young Adult? Is it New Adult? What is “Young Adult,” anyway? Is it “New Adult” if the most salacious it gets is a knee-popping kiss and the language puts it at a weak PG? Lani and the interviewer seem thoroughly perplexed. It’s kind of cute. It’s like watching people become postmodern Cultural Marxists in real time. Maybe one day we’ll get Lani Sarem’s woke views on how gender is a social construct.

Basically, Lani argues that the NYT classified it as Young Adult, but in her heart of hearts, she agrees. She talked about how, like, age of the character is super arbitrary. And like, if age of the protagonists defines the target audience, then isn’t Pixar’s Up for senior citizens? (Fun fact:  According to someone who went to her “How I Navigated the NYT Bestseller List panel at Agile Writer’s Conference,” she touched on this there as well. )

I’m not going to argue the point that genre is a horribly imprecise, ill-defined taxonomy. I’m fairly sure that anyone who has done much reading has thought about genre and how arbitrary it is, so it’s kind of funny to hear someone wrestling with it for the first time.

That was everything vaguely interesting from this interview. There was a lot of victim-complex-ing on display, and the only way anyone could ever hate her book is because they were prejudiced from the start, etc. She did a lot of rationalization about how people bought the books at cons because the just love Thomas Ian Nichols so much (I’d literally never heard of him before this drama started). But we’ve heard all that before.


12 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Takeaways from Idobe Interview with Lani Sarem

  1. Honestly, I can’t even begin to imagine the mental gymnastics Lani Sarem must do on a daily basis. She’d be win an Olympic gold medal with her outrageous and unbelievable dexterity when it comes to excusing and disregarding her shitty actions. I’m baffled at how wilfully ignorant, unwaveringly arrogant, and ridiculously self-confident this woman is. Anyone would at least feel a sliver of shame for being expose so much and so thoroughly by so many people but Lani Sarem? She just plows right through it all, spouting flimsy justifications, blaming everyone but herself. I’d be in awe of her nerve if she wasn’t such a terrible person in general.

    Thank you for listening to and taking note of the inane ramblings of a woman who is undoubtedly in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance. I’m not sure if I’d have the patience to keep listening. I can’t even push myself to watch Sarem’s sorry excuse for a “vlog”. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So My Little Pony is only for magic, pastel horses?

    I mean, I honestly get where she’s coming from. Just because the main character is a certain age doesn’t mean that’s the target audience, or even the audience the work will speak to most. But, every other single point of this book is a YA tropefest, probably because this is another thinly veiled Twilight fanfic turned “original” work, and making the character 25 doesn’t change how it was written. It just makes the character sound immature and stupid to still be dealing with this stuff at their age.

    Also, I doubt NYT just arbitrarily throws books in whatever category they want. This book had to have been labeled YA somewhere, most likely by the publisher, before they put it on their list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. God, I really hope someone uploaded this interview somewhere. I’m itching for actual quotes.

    No names were specifically mentioned.

    That’s how you know those women aren’t interested in directing this piss-poor script or Lani didn’t bother researching any. There aren’t a lot of female directors in the industry, and even less well-known, so it wouldn’t be hard for her to namedrop even if it was all a lie. XD

    I find it amusing how Lani Sarem is pushing the feminist angle and I’m sure it’s because that’s hot right now. If misogyny was more openly acceptable, she’d be loud and proud about its presence in her book. To be fair, she did say new properties, but you did mention a bunch of movies with good female protagonists and overall I think they are on the rise. It’s still a very slow process and I’m not sure where we’re at on a historical level (I’m too lazy to research as well) but there’s definitely more representation going on right now for minority groups in Hollywood movies and tv. 🙂

    Also, it must feel good to have your assumptions vindicated! The whole novel is super transparent about its origins so I suspect the other clear changes will hold true as well. I’m amused that Lani kept Jackson in it at all though… I don’t think he had a more prominent role in the original script but she didn’t think the singer for Tees was a hottie so she kept Jackson in. Why else would she use him as the other leg of the triangle? Yeah, she put no effort into his scenes in the novel but that’s because he actually exists and maybe when it came to the script she didn’t expect him to agree to kiss her or something? If she could even get the real Rathbone. Getting someone who resembles him was probably good enough and might seem like vengeance, hence Millsap. XD

    About the cover art… Eh. I see that as being in the same gray area as the classification issue. In all honesty, I think legally she’s probably okay or it’d be more effort than it’s worth to sue, even if Del-Mace has something to work with. The big issue is just how inferior the knock-off is. The novel’s quality is garbage and so is the mock-up of someone else’s art. I think people just get offended because the author is clearly trying to trick them and this is the first indication of its subpar quality. Lani is pissing on the customer’s leg and telling them it’s rain which would make anyone angry. The Pearls Book is way more offensive with its content but Lani presumes people are stupid, as well as racist, and no one likes being told they’re dumb, especially by a pompous idiot. 😛

    Also, I think people get up in arms about this book being classified as YA because it straddles the line too much to be enjoyable. Twilight managed to remain YA and scratch a natural itch for a lot of women… And I guess 50 Shades did too? Although I shudder more at that one for reasons Jenny and many others have gone over. Ahem, but yeah… Zade is a terrible role model and I think, ironically(?), that it’s adults who are offended at the idea this might be read by some impressionable teenagers and further confirm some undesirable notions in their minds… if those same teenagers aren’t so offended by the piss-poor writing that they give up before the shit hits the fan. Maybe they’re also offended by Lani’s ancient assumption that “it’s good enough for kids” which produces garbage entertainment for anyone. Many a child and their caregiver have painful memories of sitting through at least one godawful movie that was greenlit because of that ignorant thought.

    That she did this with the novel won’t win her any favors because even a patient teen won’t sit through 400 pages where nothing happens and there’s no sensual passion to make up for the lack of a plot. Besides, even people who don’t read much would recognize this level of bad quality. She really has no one but herself to blame and that’s why people got so upset. She keeps trying to gaslight everyone about the novel’s quality which is both laughable and infuriating. XD

    I think her statement that “people buy my book at cons because I know a celebrity” is a clear indication of its merits and her opinion on literature in general. Endorsement deals are the only thing that matter!


  4. When Skye Turner told us that HfM would be my new obsession, she wasn’t wrong.

    If Skye isn’t secretly like Lani and is, in fact, as tongue-in-cheek as I presume her to be (her own weak writing not-with-standing, although it’s also possible she opted for laziness because Skye knew Lani wouldn’t give a shit or even really read the forward), then I think Skye knew exactly what was going to happen. I suspect she’s as amused (and bemused) as we are. I’ll give Lani this much; she’s reasonably fascinating and she really should be on some reality TV show. She’d fit right in. 🙂


  5. And I guess 50 Shades did too?

    I wish I could edit my post. Ahem, I meant that 50 Shades doesn’t annoyingly straddle the line, not that it’s YA. It annoys in other ways but that isn’t one of them.


  6. I kind of doubt Skye Turner is a secret shade-throwing HBIC, but I don’t care. It’s my new headcanon that Skye Turner is the Trollmother who has bestowed upon us our Holy Text, Handbook for Mortals.

    God dammit, I why didn’t I call this blog Handbook for More Trolls???

    Also you are absolutely right about Lani being perfect for reality TV.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “You know nothing, Jackson Rathbone.”



    Okay, I’m done being pathetic now. XD


  8. I occasionally check out the reviews on this mess on Amazon, and I noticed an odd thing last week. Suddenly, starting on Wednesday, there was a spike of 5 star reviews. They were all the empty, sock puppet type, with the effusive praise but no mention of any of the content or what specifically the reviewer liked. It is enough it has bumped up the rating from 1.5 stars overall to 3 stars, and climbing.

    I agree on having an obsession about this book. It so bad and so unethically promoted that I cannot look away! It did kick in my competitive spirit and I finished my first novel, so that’s something. If this crap can get published, mine can, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It did kick in my competitive spirit and I finished my first novel, so that’s something. If this crap can get published, mine can, too!

    Hey, something good came out of this! I wish you luck in the publishing and marketing. Maybe you should check out Jenny Trout’s writer advice. I’m sure she has some posts regarding both. 🙂


  10. *goes to read the link* Oooh. Thanks! Haha, and I expect even if you hit a delay (though I hope not), your book will be out before H4M #2 comes out. I mean, she could have it out by next August but I have a hunch that all of Sarem’s inspiration went into the first novel and she’s only focused on the upcoming movie now. If she does put out a sequel, either she already had it mostly written (maybe she cut her original script in half, although it’s already pretty thin) or she finally hired a ghostwriter. 🙂


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