Fan Mail Wednesday #77

Let’s cut the preamble and get right down to it.

Dear Mr. Preller,

I am an English Major. Your novel, Bystander was brought back by my professor as a ‘prize” when she attended an annual English Teacher Conference. I didn’t get the book then, but I had a chance to read the inside description, and asked for it for Christmas.

I only just now began to read the book, and I’m on chapter 8.

In addition to having an interest in English/Writing, I’m a filmmaker also. And, I wanted to know if you have thought about selling the rights to your book. I’m pretty intent on writing a screenplay based on your book. But, in order to even show it to people, I need the rights to do so. This may not even be possible, as I know rights can be very expensive and after all, I’m only a college student.

But, it’d be really cool if I could write a screenplay of your story.  My family thinks I’m crazy, asking you, but I thought I could at least try.

If this request can not be fulfilled, I totally understand.

But, at the very least, I am enjoying your story immensely and think it really has the potential to make a great film.

Eric

I replied:

Dear Eric,

You flatter me. And if you think I’m vulnerable to cheap ploys like that, then you’re exactly right. I loved your letter.

Business first: I don’t have film rights to give. It’s something that’s handled by my publisher, Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. You can write to them at: Feiwel and Friends, Rights & Permissions, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. I don’t know how they handle that stuff, but I’m guessing you’re right, it’s probably involves money (but much less than you’d think).

Regardless of how the legal folks respond, I’m honored that my book inspired you. I’ve often had similar thoughts when reading stories, “Man, I can see this as a short film.” I think it would be a worthwhile project for you, going through the process of moving a story from paper to film. You’d learn a lot, I’d think. Even if you just tried to figure out one scene, made a little three minute film, it could only help you grow as an artist.

I recently visited a few schools and gave the older kids, grades 4-6, my quick “Show, Don’t Tell” lesson. We discussed how a successful writer attempts to paint a picture with words, and how as readers we see that movie in our heads. Good writing is extremely visual, concrete; it conjures images. Now I’m not saying that I’m an accomplished writer by any means — though I’m trying my best, and still learning — but your reaction really touches me because it speaks to my goal as a writer. I want readers to see it. And if they see, then they will feel.

I was an English Major in college, like you. I went through a phase when I walked around with a tape recorder, documenting conversations between different people. Then I’d go home and type them out exactly as I heard it on tape: people interrupting each other, speaking in half-broken thoughts, fragments, the conversation working in layers, backtracking and taking sudden leaps forward. I wanted to understand how dialogue really worked, Eric, so that I could one day write fictional scenes that sounded realistic, true. It was a great time in my life, feeling all those possibilities opening up to me. Maybe you feel some of those same things.

Oh, and hey, while I’m thinking of it, I’m LOVING the new Patti Smith book, Just Kids. It touches on those same feelings, the artist as a young man or woman. Recommended!

Back to my book and your film: I think you should do it anyway. Just a scene or two. Don’t get bogged down in the whole book. But go through that process, honor that inspiration, even if it only leads to nowhere much. Every time you make something new you learn from the experience; you grow. Don’t worry too much about where it will all end up. That’s not the job of the artist. Your job is to follow your enthusiasms, take that path into the deep dark woods. And let’s not completely forget food, clothing, shelter, all that good stuff. You’ll have to figure that out, too. And the thing is: you will.

Again: Follow your enthusiasms. And remember, like Basho said, “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

My best,

JP

P.S. Stay in touch!

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