After repeatedly rewriting what was supposed to be a quick, short, scintillating piece about commingling with other North Carolina writers whose books were made into films, I’ve finally set it loose into Storyteller Inkpot Land. Why did I struggle so?
The heart of this piece I thought would involve who said what and why to whom about having one’s book(s) adapted for the screen.
But I couldn’t seem to write about it the way I’d felt about it. My inner editor (stamping around in my gut) said it still didn’t feel quite right. Know what I mean?
The event was the Ninth Annual Eastern North Carolina Literary Homecoming, held on the campus of East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, Sept. 21-22. Hamline grad Melissa Dempsey teaches children’s literature there, too, so I was able to see her again. Hooray!
I was invited to the Literary Homecoming (second time) because my book Just an Overnight Guest (Missouri setting) had been adapted into a made-for-television film (California setting!) starring Richard Roundtree and Rosalind Cash. Dr. Margaret Baur, North Carolina Literary Review Editor and Literary Homecoming chief, insisted. She encouraged and inspired me when the demons peeking over my shoulder urged me to give up.
My children’s lit partner was Lois Duncan, a truly congenial writer who’s written over 50 books, especially beloved for her YA mysteries. Eight — yes, eight! — films have been made from her books, like her Hotel for Dogs and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
She and I upheld the children’s and YA literature world through our panel and our workshops, surrounded by supportive audiences, delicious meals, and probably a dozen featured writers of adult novels and poetry. Yes, poets were there, too — James Applewhite ( recipient of the 2012 Roberts Award), Sarah Rosen Kindred, and North Carolina Literary Review poetry editor Jeffrey Franklin.
Among the other writers were keynote speaker Charles Frazier, whose book Cold Mountain (1997 National Book Award winner) was adapted into the movie of the same name, nominated for seven Academy Awards;
Timothy B. Tyson, whose book and film Blood Done Signed My Name set folks’ blood to boiling, at least the book did in North Carolina when it was published;
Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish, adapted into a film directed by Tim Burton;
Dante James, Emmy-award-winning independent filmmaker and producer of the PBS series Slavery and the Making of America;
Former Random House and Alfred A. Knopf editor Randall Kenan, whose short story collections garnered him a Guggenheim Fellowship, and whose short story Foundations of the Earth became a film; and
Distinguished journalist and memoirist James Dodson, whose book Faithful Travelers became a made-for-TV movie Dodson’s Journey.
The Literary Homecoming’s panel titles explained their contents: “The Blockbuster, the Independent Film, and the Made-for-TV Movie: Different Venues, Different Audiences” with Frazier, Tyson and Dodson.
“Short Stories into Short Films” with James, Kenan, and script consultant, filmmaker and teacher Elisabeth Benfey, which included showings of James’ adaption of Charles Chesnutt’s short story “The Doll,” and Kenan’s short story to film “The Foundations of the Earth.”
Now it was Lois’s and my turn: “Pop(corn) Culture: How Youth Audiences Shape Literary and Film Industries.” With children increasingly being exposed to films, television shows, and video games, and thus immersed in visual media that reflect a changing world, “How could children still be interested in books?” was the moderator’s first question.
Being sleep deprived, having just completed my writing workshop, and striving to remember my snappy answers to questions already given to us, I’m not sure what Lois said, but it was passionate and spot on.
I said something like, “Though circumstances have changed over the eons, children’s emotions have not. And it’s young people’s emotions that our books speak to, through our characters and their journeys.”
We also both said, in our own ways, that video games and films lead children to books, and vice versa, and that’s the way it should be.
Now you know what I spent the last two weeks trying to write. Having reached this last sentence this moment, I finally realize that what I’d said about emotions was the heart of what the conference meant to me then, and to this writing now, so I guess I’m finally done.