April 26, 2014
Despite trends and statistics, books will always be superior to film. There is an exercise I like people to try whenever I speak at a creative writing class or an author panel. Give it a try.
There is a man standing in the doorway. He has his arms crossed and the wooden frame supports the bulk of his weight where his shoulder rests. Long swimmer’s limbs suggest he could easily add on muscle, but the mischievous glint in his eye hints that there are more important things to occupy his time than lifting weights. A few days stubble and hair that seems perpetually in need of cutting are slovenly attributes he uses to his advantage. A smirk travels up one side of his face, crinkling and bunching at the corner of his eye. He chuckles, and shaking his head, walks away.
All right, you have this man firmly pictured in your mind, correct? One paragraph of description that makes him wholly unique to you – the reader. Your experiences, attention, and memory make him distinct. Perhaps your man had a scar? Blue eyes? Was he black or white? All of those details were filled in by your imagination.
Now. Lets take that paragraph and make it into a movie. Are you ready for the Hollywood screenplay?
Brad Pitt stands in a doorway.
There may be minor alterations, but for the most part you are all picturing the same thing. If it were on the screen you would all be seeing the exact same thing down to the same shirt, shoes, jeans, face, build, and every little detail that can be spoon-fed to your mind.
Everyone born with the sense of sight can watch a movie. Reading is a skill we are taught. Since skill is required, a book will always be superior to a movie.
I cannot imagine where my career can go from here. Today, as I was walking into the library that was holding an authors’ expo, a woman grabbed my hand as I was barely in the door. I looked down at her and she was in tears. She leaned into me and I balanced hugging her and steering my pushcart dolly. I asked, “Can I help you, darlin’?”
Through the tears she said, “You saved my life.”
Uh, well, okay. So, I said, “Here let’s sit down and you can hopefully explain that a little better to me.”
She laughed and pulled out a tissue. We sat down and she said, “My ten year old son is severely autistic. I can’t even give him a hug without him screaming. I hate my life. How can I love someone that doesn’t show me any affection back, or freaks out when I touch him? My husband took off years ago. We don’t even know where he is. My parents help watch my son when he isn’t at school and I have to work, but it’s hard. It’s too hard.”
I sat on a bench, holding a stranger’s hand as she poured her heart out to me. I could see the lines around her eyes, the red-rimmed, discolored hanging bags that most women fret and fuss over covering. She didn’t care. Her life had pushed her beyond caring. I nodded my head to let her know I was listening. She continued, “I, we, my parents and me, we had the paperwork ready. We were going to give him up. Let the state have him, have my son, because he was too hard for us to take care of. I had the paperwork signed, Nick. It was ready to go. The part my parents didn’t know was that after I had given up my son, I planned to kill myself. I had failed and my life wasn’t worth living anymore. I was watching TV last week and I saw you on Fox 8. I was mad at first. I thought, ‘Why did this guy stick it out when my asshole husband couldn’t?’ I was so mad I bought your book, because I wanted you to be wrong. I wanted to read it, let it fuel my fire to commit suicide and just end all the shit. But…”
And she started crying again. I won’t play the badass card. I was choking back the tears at that point myself. When she was able to she finished, “I could see the Fog in my son. I could see that he IS in there. I could see all the things you put Megan through in the book in my child. I couldn’t give up on him after reading your book. I couldn’t give up on myself. You saved my life.”
What the hell does a person say to that? I almost didn’t write the book because it hurt too much. But, if I hadn’t that woman would probably be dead right now. I hugged her again and she left so I could go to work, but I tell you readers and fans, I cannot imagine being able to look at my career the same. I still don’t know how to feel about it. I probably never will.