the film/book disconnect: My Sister’s Keeper

I believe I have said this before, but I can’t find it so I’ll repeat myself:

If you have a novel and you sell the film rights, you have to divorce yourself from the story. Because it isn’t your story anymore, and what’s up there on the screen has very little to do with you. Unless you’re John Irving and you can negotiate a role for yourself in writing the screenplay and the production.

If there’s a novel you adore and you hear that the film rights have been sold, then you have two choices (1) never see the film; (2) see the film and forget the book. Don’t compare the two. The film might be quite good, on its own.

There are some novels which have translated to film very well: The Godfather, Angels and Insects, Brokeback Mountain, Lonesome Dove, the Shawshank Redemption, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman are some examples.  More often people are disappointed or even outraged by the changes to the story. I personally could not stop laughing all through the tv movie version of The Stand, I found it that bad.   And then there’s the ultimate example of wrong done to a good book: Beloved.

Jodi Picoult’s novels either work for me in a very big way, or not at all. I feel the same way about Anne Tyler, so she’s in good company. I liked My Sister’s Keeper a lot, and now the movie is out there. And I’m not going to see it (option one above), for a very specific reason.

The filmmaker reinterprets the story, of course.  A huge novel cannot be put on film unless the whole thing is taken apart and condensed. It is possible to do this and still keep some sense of the theme of the novel.  The French Lieutenant’s Woman (novel) has two endings, one very dark, the other happier. The filmmaker handled that by assigning one of those endings to the current-day actors who are making the movie (this is a movie about making a movie of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you see) and the other to the fictional Victorian characters. I was very impressed. I still am, when I rewatch it.

But imagine these films with new endings:

Gone with the Wind

Scarlett: But where will I go? What will I do?

Rhett: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Come here, sweetums. Let me show you what to do, and where to do it.

Batty old Actress in Sunset Boulevard

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
Young man, send everybody away and help me look for my marbles. I lost them just about here.

Tale of Two Cities

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

Ain’t this a kick in the head.

Wizard of Oz

“Oh, but anyway, Toto, we’re home! Home! And this is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all! – And oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”

Auntie Em, I don’t think those were Chanterelle mushrooms after all.

Casablanca:

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Louis, I’ve missed you so much. Come sit next to me.

——————–

At the end of the novel My Sister’s Keeper there is a twist that took me by surprise. It was a gutsy thing for Picoult  to do, but it did work. The filmmaker was not as courageous. In the movie, that unusual, challenging ending has been dumped and its very opposite, a cliché as big as the movie screen itself, was substituted.

What I am wondering is this: when the DVD comes out, will it have the original ending as an alternate? Because that, I would watch.

in which Alison Kent winkles a confession out of me

I guess I have to thank Alison Kent for her confession because I feel compelled to follow her example. I’m sure I’ll feel better after I admit to all the books I’ve preordered from Amazon. So here we go, in no particular order:

The Serpent’s Tale (Ariana Franklin); Change of Heart (Jodi Picoult); Evermore (Lynn Viehl); The Girl Who Stopped Swimming (Joshilyn Jackson); Duma Key (Stephen King); Dreamers of the Day  (Mary Doria Russell); Phantom Prey (John Sandford); Nothing to Lose (Lee Child); Elvis Cole untitlted (Robert Crais);  LA Outlaws (T Jefferson Parker).

Still Summer

I’ve talked about domestic drama before. I think of it as the genre that-dare-not-speak-its-name, because it flies under the radar of the litcriterati. A genre written mostly by women and read mostly by women — one that doesn’t get trivialized or bashed (for the most part) — that’s something to nurture. The bigger names (Jodi Picoult and ELinor Lipman, for example) get serious reviews in the big name places. And that’s good. In fact, that is excellent.

[asa book]0446578762[/asa] Jackie Mitchard is one of my favorites in this select group of women who produce well written, intriguing stories about women who live what might seem to be traditional or even boring lives. Many of the subjects are no surprise: divorce, sick children, unexpected violence, family dysfunction. But as is ever the case with a story — it’s not where you end up, but how you got there.

Mitchard’s most recent novel is Still Summer. This is a novel that took me by surprise — and excuse me for sounding know-it-all, but that is hard to do. Still Summer breaks out of the genre in an unexpected and interesting way.

Instead of a small town or a suburban neighborhood or a farm, we have four women on a sailboat. Three of them are old friends who charmed and rabble roused their way through high school together twenty-five years earlier. Tracy, Holly and Olivia as well as Camille — Tracy’s 19-year-old daughter –set out on a great adventure.

There’s enough material right there for a novel, albeit a quiet one. The backstory is chock full of conflicts, enough to power the four women all the way to the Caribbean and back again. But Mitchard doesn’t stop there. The four women set out on what was meant to be a lighthearted adventure, but it turns into a struggle to survive the elements, the sea, predators (some of them human), and twenty-five years of personal history.

Still Summer is a rocking good story, one that pulls you along. I picked it up thinking I’d just read the first few pages and didn’t put it down again until I finished. What Mitchard managed to do here is to take the best of the domestic drama genre and an adventure story and interweave them so that they support each other beautifully.

It is in fact Still Summer, so I suggest you get a hold of this book. Except maybe not on a sailboat. Another one of Mitchard’s novels that I like a lot: The Most Wanted.

open communication

There’s another (yet again) clash in one very small, limited corner of the internet, but as it happens to be the corner I inhabit, and as I would prefer this not blow out of all proportion, I am going public right here and now. My hope is that it can all be settled immediately. If you are tired of all this (and I am, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were) please feel free to pass on by. (WW, I’m looking at you.)

There’s a Yahoo discussion group to discuss Diana Gabaldon’s books. It’s a great community of readers who like to talk about the Outlander series. I have been lurking on that board for years, but I’ve never posted, and there are also longer periods where I’m off doing other things and don’t check in.

A few days ago somebody posted on the forum here to ask a question. I’ll refer to this person as WB. It was a simple question. Had the title of the next book in the Wilderness series changed? Because there was a discussion to that effect on the Yahoo Gabaldon board. Also, the person who had started the discussion seemed pretty critical generally of my work.

So I popped over and indeed, the title of the thread included the words “Donati” “Body Snatchers” and “Spoilers”. Once I read the post I understood: RK (as I’ll refer to her here) had just finished Into the Wilderness, and she disliked it. A lot. She was voicing her opinion on the Gabaldon board, which of course is her right. The “Body Snatchers” reference had to do with her claim that ITW is populated by characters I have borrowed or stolen or adapted from other sources, mostly Diana’s books, and that there’s nothing original or interesting in my work.

Let me be clear: RK is entitled to her opinion. I can’t pretend that it’s nice to be accused of plagarism and lack of originality but I am also comfortable enough in my skin to let my work stand on its own merits.*** So let’s take RK’s opinion at face value: she prefers Diana’s books for a lot of different reasons, one of them having to do with the fact that she feels my characters are uninteresting and recycled.

Back at this forum I answered WB’s original question about the title confusion (no, Queen of Swords was not changing title to Body Snatchers). I clarified what I thought was going on, and I responded to the review, very briefly. As was my right.

Now this is where it gets messy. This is where you really need to pay attention. Fact: WB did not email me me the text of RK’s posts or comments on my work. The Gabaldon discussion forum is public, and anybody who has a Yahoo identity can join the group and read the posts. It’s true that WB mentioned RK’s posts, but that’s it. I see nothing wrong in that; she was asking for clarification, and I provided it. Some of the fen over at the Gabaldon forum were upset, however, and WB heard about it from RK and from others as well. I know this because WB told me.

I am a little confused why RK should be surprised that something posted on a public forum might indeed be more widely read. It also seems less than logical to me to accuse WB of bad etiquette for sharing posts from the Gabaldon forum. After all, RK got hold of my post on this whole mess somehow, most likely because somebody pointed her to it.

So let’s be clear.

1. WB did nothing wrong. She likes Diana’s books, she likes my books, she was confused and taken aback by the tone of something she read and so she asked about it. I went and had a look, and answered.

2. RK is entitled to her opinion about my work. The tone of her review is not what I would call professional or balanced or respectful, but it is certainly strongly emotive. Again: that is her right. She can be as vocally negative as she likes; she can stick her tongue out at me and blow raspberries, if it makes her feel better. Following from that, it’s also true that other people are free to agree or disagree with her, on that board or this one. I have to point out though that anyone who publically reviews a book is in fact opening up a discussion, and that in judging, they will also be judged.

3. I defend RK’s right to be negative about my books, just as I defended Beth’s right to post a negative review of one of Diana’s books. And I must point out again: Beth’s review did not appear here. I did not endorse it because I haven’t read the book. I did open up a discussion on the topic of negative reviews, pointing to Beth’s website. I did make it clear that I admired her for her willingness to put her neck out, and for her obvious love and admiration of the early books in the Outlander series. Apparently some few Gabaldon fans are still angry at me for supporting Beth’s right to post her opinions. I wonder if they will also be mad at me for supporting RK’s negative evaluation of my work.

I harbor no deep resentment toward RK, no anger or need for revenge. On the other hand, I feel no need to try to win her over, as she suggests I should. If anything at all was offensive in her posts, it was this idea that it is somehow my obligation to convince anybody of the value of my work. I suppose I could email authors who have written books that didn’t work for me. I could get in touch with John Updike or Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult or Stephen King or Toni Morrison and offer them the opportunity to pitch their books to me, but then that would be presumptuous and less than respectful.

Finally, a point I need to make: In the course of all this back and forth, bits were copied from my website onto the Gabaldon forum boards. And I’m fine with that — I make the material public, and people are free to share it as long as it’s not done in a misleading way.

***I will point out that it has been postulated that there are only so many plots out there, and everything is a rehashing of something else. Certainly time travel has been done before, as have novels about Scotland, Revolutionary America, and the War of 1812. I have always said quite openly that I got the idea for ITW from an exercise where I put some of Jane Austen’s characters in the same room with some of Fenimore Cooper’s characters. Sparks flew, and ideas sprouted, and here I am five books later.