Writing a book is one thing. But what happens when people wish to take that book and turn it into another form? Film, audio, theatrical play?
Over the years books of mine have been turned into plays, and audio books. There have also been efforts to turn the books into film, but none have ever materialized. I have been asked for permission to reshape some of my books into operas. Nothing came of those ideas, either. A school requested permission to turn Poppy into a ballet. That happened. It was, shall I say, curious. And there have been adaptations of some of my books into theatrical plays.
I have no doubt that there are authors who fully engage in such projects. I have generally declined to become involved 1) because I don’t usually know the form, 2) I fear it will take up a lot of my time, and 3) nothing much happens anyway.
When Nothing but the Truth was first published, because of its format, I had many requests to turn it into a play. At first I said yes, but then was burdened with the need to read these many stage-revisions. What I did then was go to a playwright friend of mine, Ron Smith, and asked him to do an adaptation. That he did, and it was made available to the public as an “authorized” script. It’s still available, and from time to time it’s performed. Not that I have ever seen it on stage.
Other books have been turned into theatrical form. In most cases these are adaptations, not very close ones, either. Crispin was once staged. I never saw it. I did see a stage production (professional) of True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. It seemed as if I was seeing a cartoon of the book, a musical comedy without the music. Other such adaptations have been made and from time to time they are performed in schools. I’ve never see one.
Film is another matter. When I have signed such contractual options, I am not given script control, but usually have the right to react to the film script. When I first see these scripts, they are usually pretty close to the book. Revisions have proved far less connected to the book. In any case, the projects have not gone forward.
(Note: when you sell a book to film folk, you are also selling the characters. So that if a film is successful the option holder is allowed to make another film with the same characters without ever engaging the author.)
Audio books are a whole different matter. Such recordings are usually presented as unabridged, complete texts. Indeed, they are. Moreover, the readings are professionally done, indeed, very well done. Nonetheless, I find them hard to listen to. They seem so very different than the book that is in my head. Very fine, but different. Different cadence. Emphasis. Emotional tone. I recall that the first time I listened to such a recording, my thought was, that seems better than what I wrote. They’ve done some rewriting.
I checked, but it was all my words. It just sounded so very different.
Could I refuse all these projects? Well, yes. But the thinking is always, it can’t be that bad. And the most important thought is, at least it might bring people to the original book.
Which is where I began.