Dreaming big is a disease among writers, and I’m afraid it’s contagious. I would say that almost every writer who has sat down and put chisel to stone, ink to papyrus, pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard has—at some point—had dreams of wealth, fame, and Oprah dancing in their heads. Oh sure, when friends and family put the spotlight on our ambitions of being published we say something deflective like, “it’s all about artistic integrity” or “I’m not trying to kick Harry Potter’s wand waiving butt in sales.” In reality, many of us would be so jazzed to have someone in our neighborhood read an article we’d written for the annual Boy Scout newsletter that we’d immediately start planning a tour and signings in our minds. If our writing income bought our next latte we’d start surfing the web looking for that perfect summer home in the Hamptons or Tuscany.
Jo Rowling likes foie gras you say? Perhaps I’ll just have to purchase my own obese goose farm when my article “10 Ways to Help the Elderly in Your Community” gets picked up by the New Yorker, Forbes, and Maxim magazines. We’ll have liver fat morning, noon, and night!
For authors in the modern industry, to attain such notoriety almost always means some form of crossover success on the silver screen. If your book or characters are going to truly become household names, an industry unto themselves if you will, then a deal with Hollywood (i.e. the devil) will surely have to be made. If you’re going to enter the authorly stratosphere, you’re going to have to get by the tuxedo wearing movie guy at the gate who’s smoking a cigar made of hundred-dollar bills and waiving a contract in your face.
This ‘partnership’ doesn’t always turn out badly for the author or the work. The movie industry is full of folks just like us who are inspired by the things they read and see, and aim to lovingly recreate them using the puzzle pieces of their own imagination. There have been many Hollywood adaptations of fiction that have matched or exceeded the glory of their paper-bound muse. I would argue that the movies Stand by Me, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption all stand toe-to-toe with the stories Mr. King originally dreamed up. Unfortunately, for every one of those gems you’ll find fifteen made-for-TV monstrosities that would send Cujo back under the porch with his tail between his legs. Alas, for every Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone there is a Golden Compass, and for every Lord of the Rings there is a Scarlet Letter. Oh Demi Moore, if only we could see in you what Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher see in you …
That brings me to my latest escapade. When I learned that the Percy Jackson & the Olympians book The Lightening Thief was coming to the big screen I let out a school girlish giggle that any TwiHard would be jealous of. A book I loved getting the blockbuster treatment, what could go wrong? As I nestled into my over-priced seat I found my author’s mind starting to wonder, “How cool would it be to sit down in a theater to watch a movie based on something you wrote?” To have someone interpret your words into a spectacle of sight and sound that would be seen by millions seemed like it would be such an overwhelming honor!
Then I watched the movie.
It wasn’t horrible. There were cool special effects, some of the actors did a very good job of bringing the characters to life, and I laughed at a couple of the jokes. In the end, however, it just didn’t live up to the story I’d read. They’d gotten the tone all wrong (there is no overt sexuality in the books, of which there is plenty in the movies), changed major plot points, and really didn’t convey the depth of the story at all.
You see, being an aspiring YA author, I love these books. They’re a great example of the kinds of stories I hope to write: action packed, fun-loving, and thoughtful reads with characters even the Wicked Witch of the West would cheer for. Plus, adults love them, too. I first took notice of the series last year when I kept seeing the middle school students that I work with toting around beaten up paperback copies. As I do with every book that I see them reading, I said, “Is that a good book?” To which they replied, “I guess,” which is eighth grade-ese for, “If I’m taking precious time away from video games, iThings, and texting to read it, it’s awesome.” Long story short I picked up the books, burned through them, and then proceeded to force every human I came into contact with to read them also. They’re that good.
Rick Riordan (author of said books AND fellow San Antonian – RICK, HAVE YOUR PEOPLE CALL MY PEOPLE, WE’LL DO LUNCH AND I’LL BRING THE SANGRIA!) is a master story teller when it comes to pacing and creating reachable characters. Percy is the flawed hero every author wishes they came up with. To top it all off, Mr. Riordan expertly blends Greek mythology into a modern context in such a way that you forget all about mythology being that hated semester of high school that you had right before you started Shakespeare. By the gods, it’s now cool to speak Greek!
In the end, I left the theater that day with a completely different thought than the one I’d entered with: How disappointed was the author watching this? It has to be incredibly difficult to see your idea, your baby, be taken and pulled in a direction that doesn’t seem to fit with the original vision. I realize that is the tradeoff authors make when releasing the movie rights for their stories (once you sign it away, it’s gone), but I can’t imagine Mr. Riordan was 100% pleased with the translation. I suppose I’d just be thrilled to have my story get the Hollywood treatment (many are optioned, few are made), but it’s the first time I really considered the compromise authors face.