Thursday, June 21, 2012

From Book to Screen (and back again): An Interview with Y.A. Author Holly Goldberg Sloan


It’s my Thursday of the month again, which means another interview with an awesome author who’s managed to bridge that chasm between books and film. 

I could go on and on about author Holly Goldberg Sloan.  From her generosity and charm to her "can do" attitude.  She welcomed me in with open arms (into her gorgeous Spanish style home she built herself I might add) and imparted much knowledge and wisdom to me (some of which is only to be shared after a few glasses of wine).
But I digress.  Let’s focus on the interview at hand shall we?  Holly’s first YA novel I’LL BE THERE was published by Little Brown in 2011.  Since then, the book has garnered numerous accolades and awards including the prestigious 2012 Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature.   But don’t let that “first YA novel” fool you.  Holly is a veteran screenwriter having written a number of family friendly films including ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD, THE BIG GREEN, MADE IN AMERICA and COLLISION COURSE: THE CROCODILE HUNTER MOVIE.  Holly also wrote and directed the children’s film HEIDI 4 PAWS.
Author Holly Goldberg SloanI asked Holly what made her decide to write her first novel.  I expected a pretty standard answer.  Boy was I wrong.
HGS: That was actually just an accident.  A friend of mine had asked my husband and I two years earlier to go to Mexico for his birthday.  When the time came, we went.  We didn’t realize it was a vegetarian yoga resort that didn’t have television, phone service or the Internet.  At the time I was working for Dreamworks Animation and I didn’t have any of my notes with me so I couldn’t work on my script.  Then my husband got food poisoning.  I had nothing to do.  I couldn’t go on Facebook endlessly and look at my friend’s pictures so I started writing a story and that became my book.
JP: Do you feel your background in writing family films steered you towards writing YA?
HGS: I am a screenwriter and that marketplace has become harder than it used to be ten years ago.  They make fewer films and the films they make aren't the kinds of films that I necessarily write.  I write smaller family stories and those don't attract big Hollywood stars.  So it's harder for someone like me to do what I did before.  
But there's this other way to be a writer and tell stories - so that was a natural thing for me to do - to take a story I was interested in telling and just write it in book form.
Angels in the OutfieldI didn’t know I’LL BE THERE was a young adult book until I was told it was a young adult book. I love to cook so I make a lot of analogies to cooking.  If I made a dish and I thought it was stew and you told me it was soup I wouldn’t care.  As long as you liked it and ate it, I’d be happy.  That’s how I feel about the category.  It’s a way to position the material so people understand what it is.  It all has to do with niche marketing and how crowded our marketplace is.     
JP: What do you love most about being a writer?
HGS: The best thing about being a writer is that no one can stop you.  If you want to be a director, you can’t just wake up in the morning and between breakfast and lunch do a lot of directing. But as a writer no one stops you.  The only person that’s stopping you is you and time constraints.  It’s like painting a room, you can use a spray gun and do it in one day, or you can get a little tiny toothbrush and you can do it a little bit at a time.  But if you do it, it will get done.  So the first thing is commitment to doing it.
JP: I'm really excited about this tidbit of news.  You're currently writing the adaptation of I'LL BE THERE.  How has that process been - adapting your own work to screen?
International book covers for I'LL BE THERE
Marketing at it's best: I'll Be There international book covers
HGS: I'm working with producer Donald DeLine (The Italian Job, Green Lantern) and producer Paula Mazur (Nim's Island) and her partner Mitchell Kaplan (Independent bookseller) on the feature.

Writing screenplays and writing novels are two very different things.  And in some ways, being good at one doesn't help the other skill set.  In a movie you work to keep the train on the track heading with increasing steam toward a destination.  In a book, the train can go all over the place.  It can even simply sit still and people can come to observe and report on the condition of the locomotive.  Movies require a great deal of visual thought and interpretation.  And books require internal understanding and description.  Both ways of storytelling are dependent on tone.  Tone and character are everything. 

JP: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
HGS: I tell everyone believe me, no one is going to steal your great idea because there really are no great ideas. It’s all execution dependent.  The more people you can get to read your work and the more people you can get to respond to it, the more you can look for true advocates who really do believe in you...or believe that they can make money off you which is the same thing in the world of commerce.

In addition to adapting her debut novel to screen, Holly is busy completing not one but two novels.  The follow up I'LL BE THERE TOO for Little Brown and COUNTING BY SEVENS for Dial Penguin.  
To find out more about Holly Goldberg Sloan and her adventures click here.




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