There's a reason people say, "The book was better."
When we who love to read get involved in a story we see things a certain way, we experience the book individually. I've heard that the same book is never the same to various readers, and I believe that. Reading is a unique, usually solitary experience and the reader finds herself living that book in her own way until she discusses it with others and broadens her perspective on it. Maybe she'll agree with other opinions, maybe she won't, but she comes away from the book with her own feelings about it.
J.K. Rowling once said that a young girl standing in a signing line was a little upset that there were so many other people there, that she felt Harry Potter was her book. I love that! And it's one of the reasons that I sometimes have a hard time with audio versions- it's like the reader is intruding on my experience or something. I know, weird.
The reason I bring all of this up is because I was thinking the other day about one of my very favorites, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the movie version that came out in 2002. I have loved the book for ages. I suggested it for my local book club, we read it, and then went and saw the movie together. (Should have seen us all, a bunch of married Mormon women, staring at the screen with our mouths agape at James Caviezel).
But other than the eye candy, I was really unhappy with the way the story had been totally altered.
I mean completely.
Why does it have to be that way? Monte Cristo gets a happy ending in the book! Why couldn't Hollywood have stayed true to the story?
It's funny to listen to my kids say, "That didn't happen in the book," when they watch movies. And one of my favorite memories along those lines was when I was first married and my husband had read John Grisham's The Firm. When the movie came out, we sat in the theater with him muttering the that-didn't-happen litany through the whole of it. The reason I was so tickled by this is because my husband isn't a reader.
So, I'd have to say that overall, the book is better than the movie. My Junior English Seminar teacher at Ogden High School once told us that this was true for every movie she'd seen except for the movie adaptation of A Separate Peace. I hated both the book and the movie, so I can't say I agree with her.
What about you? Can you think of any movies out there that are better than the books? Have you seen a movie adaptation that made your blood boil because it was such a shame they slaughtered your favorite book so much?
When I was 17 years old, I had my wisdom teeth removed over a long weekend from school and my parents rented the movie, "Amadeus." Imagine me bawling my guts out with a swollen face as they dump Mozart's body into a common grave and then poor that guck all over it to make it decompose faster.
Yeah. Nice wisdom teeth memory.
But what has stuck with me from that movie is the whole concept of Greatness vs. Mediocrity. Here we have Salieri, a nice enough composer, who is forever coming in second, (or third, or fourth), to Mozart, who was lecherous and scandalous. Salieri was a God-fearing man who couldn't comprehend that God would put such incredible talent into what he perceives as such a sinful vessel.
At the end of the movie, we are led to assume that Salieri poisoned Mozart and Salieri is in an "insane assylum" for trying to end his own life. He is wheeled down the hallway with his throat all bandaged and is basically calling himself the king of mediocrity as all of the other unfortunate inmates are running around half-crazed.
For YEARS that scene has haunted me as a writer. At times I have found it almost paralyzing as I try to write stories knowing full well that there are so many works of genius in the world that the best I can ever hope for is to be someday wandering around with a bandaged throat and calling myself the Queen of Mediocrity.
Somehow I've managed to stumble through this funky mind block and produce a few books. Some have been well received by readers, others have not appreciated my efforts so much. I've reached the point where my skin has thickened a bit and I'm able to try to focus my attention on all of the people who have said positive things about what I've tried to do.
But still! I'm no Chaim Potok. I'm no Dickens or Austen or Bronte. I'm no Barbara Kingsolver or Kaye Gibbons or Sandra Dallas. I'm no Tom Clancy or Stephen King or my personal hero, Frederick Douglass. So where does that leave me? What am I to do with that?
I'll tell you what.
I had an incredible epiphany a couple of years ago. I was thinking about classical music and how much of it leaves me in a real downer. I've played piano since the age of 8 and had a mother who loved classical music, so I'm no stranger to a lot of it. But man, some of it depresses me so much. Mozart is rarely an exception to this, for me. So as I was loading some music onto an iPod a while back, I loaded Vivaldi, some Handel and three select pieces of Grieg for their sentimental value, having grown up with a Norwegian mother who was often homesick.
I realized that as brilliant as he was, and as much of a genius as he was, I didn't want him on my iPod. Other than his Queen of the Night Aria, he depresses the blazes out of me!
And I started to realize something else. If I had only a few reading choices left to me in this life, as much as I admire Dickens, I don't think I'd pick him. Don't even know that I'd pick Potok, whom I love. I'd pick some fun, escape fiction.
Genre fiction? That's my choice if stranded on a desert island? Yes. (Aside from the scriptures, which is a given. I mean, come on). I would choose something that would lift my mood and spirits, and for me, genre fiction- romance, thrillers, mystery- that does it for me.
So while Mozart is indeed a genius and beloved by so many, and he deserves to be, he's not my favorite. And it's ok. And it's ok that I'm not a writing genius. I've received a few emails and letters here and there from people who say I've given them some reading enjoyment and it warms my heart like no other. I've been able to give people a few hours of reading pleasure and provide for them the same kind of experience I love to have as a reader. I am at peace with my talents and my limitations. I hope to live another 40 or 50 years and continue to improve my craft. I absolutely love what I do and that is such a blessing.
I guess, in the end, even if I am wheeled around in a crappy old wheelchair and moving my hand in circles like the queen at my mediocrity subjcts, I can die happy knowing that for a little bit, I helped someone escape and have a fun reading experience. I lifted a mood for a bit.
Not long ago I read a discussion some fellow authors were having about how they see strangers in a crowd and begin to imagine stories about that person. I could relate to this author oddity, which is probably shared by a lot of other imaginative people as well, but I realized that even stronger for me than people is the setting.
How strange! When stories are all about characters, why is the biggest trigger for me the place? I don't really know. All I know is when I see an old Victorian home that could be fantastically beautiful but looks slightly eerie, I imagine all kinds of gothic romance. That slight twinge of scary along with the promise of a brave heroine and a tortured but dashing hero who will be ultimately emotionally saved by that brave heroine...Ah! Such good stuff!
The first four books I wrote are what I call Romantic Adventures. I don't know anyone in real life who would have these things happen to them. But so much of these books, to me, were the settings. I picked places I want to go see. The first, Love Beyond Time, was a Civil War time travel. (A noble enough first effort, but kind of hokey). The second, No Time for Love, takes place in London, Greece and South America. The third, (my personal favorite and is now, ironically enough, out of print), A Time for the Heart is set on an archaeological dig in Guatemala, and the fourth, Echoes, (recently re-released and available wherever fine books are sold), takes place in Savannah, Georgia and the Tuscany region of Italy.
Now, of course, I do extensive character sketching and back story in my personal notes before I ever even begin to write a book. I plot like crazy and make notes to myself to keep all the twists and turns straight. But oh, how I love the setting. And as a reader, with a delicious setting I can almost forgive weak characters or silly plotting. Weeelll, maybe that's actually stretching things a bit, but you see what I mean.
How about you? Where does setting fall in your list of priorities, either as a reader or a writer?
So my daughter, Anna, is 13 and is a football veteran. She's played for five years, began when she was 8. Last Saturday, she was knocked out cold and was unconscious before she hit the ground. Needless to say, I'm glad I happened to be sick and therefore unable to witness it.
Anna's football led our family to all kinds of changes. My husband's undergrad was in Sales, and when he began coaching Anna's team he realized how much he loved working with the kids. It led to a very nice midlife crisis where he changed careers, went back to school and got a Masters in School Counseling. He's a school counselor now, and we owe it all to football.
Anna has been a natural athlete since day one. I've not known her to look unnatural at any sport she's tried. The hard part for a girl is when your passion lies with full-on tackle football. When they were 8 it was no big deal, but now the boys are outgrowing her by leaps and bounds. She's an awesome hitter, (and I made my husband promise me she'd play ONLY DEFENSE this year), but we've known it's been coming to an end for some time.
Poor kid- she's having a hard time with it. But it's been a fun, fun ride for our family and I'm glad she's played 5 years and been knocked out only once. And I'm also really glad I wasn't there for it. ;-)