My Book Club had the wonderful opportunity to interview Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay when we chose their recent collaboration, Never the Bride, for our final selection for 2009. I am delighted to share the interview with you, starting with Rene's take on our questions. I will post Cheryl's responses to some of the same questions and others just for her, tomorrow.
A big thank you to my members for contributing these questions.
RBC Book Club:~ How long did it take to write the book?
Rene:~ About seven months. It went a lot faster because I was working from Cheryl’s script. I had the whole concept laid out in front of me and I got to play. It was really fun that way.
What joys and challenges did you encounter as you collaborated on this project?
There were a lot of joys. It was fun working with such a giving artist like Cheryl. She really trusted me and let me play with her baby. She understood that there were going to have to be some changes made for it to work as a novel. It was always exciting to send her pages, because she was so excited to see her screenplay as a novel.
What was most challenging about turning a screenplay into a novel?
They are really two very different mediums. So you have to understand why a screenplay is written the way it is to appreciate its art form. Then you have to understand how a novel functions. After that, you decide how to change it to make it work, and what to keep so that the integrity of the story is still in place. Sometimes in a screenplay you’ll have a scene that lasts literally ten seconds. That won’t work in a book, so I had to look at those scenes and decide how to rework them or whether to cut them. Most of the time I ended up fleshing them out to make a scene. Also, in order to make it a full-length novel, I had to add quite a bit to the story, so I was nervous about that. I wanted Cheryl to feel like her story stayed intact.
How did the geographical distance between the two of you impact on your ability to work together?
It was never a problem. We worked primarily by e-mail, with a few phone calls in there. Since I did the majority of the writing, it wasn’t a problem. Cheryl and I didn’t actually meet in person until the entire book was done. By coincidence (or by God’s great design!), we ended up meeting the DAY our book came out, at a writer’s conference, and got to do a book signing together!
Is it easier to write a novel based on a screen play or vice versa (screen play from a novel)?
I think it’s easier to adapt a screenplay into a novel. It’s much harder to take point-of-view and make it work as a visual medium, when you’re adapting a book into a movie. That’s why so many people are disgruntled when they go see a movie and they’ve read the book first. Because the mediums are so different, and have to be told differently, readers often feel cheated. But there is no way to capture the intimacy of point-of-view visually. If someone hasn’t read the book, they typically like the movie because they haven’t experienced the story in another art form. I’ve watched my novel Boo being adapted into a screenplay, and the amount of change that had to occur to make it work as a movie is astounding. It captures the heart of the story, but it looks very different than the original book. Not in a bad way, just in a very different way. I actually love the adaptation that has been done with it, but probably because I understand that it has to be told visually, which means there are going to be a lot of changes. Adapting a screenplay into a novel is much easier because you can expand and add, and take the visual, keep the visual, then add the POV, which makes it an entirely rich experience. Nobody feels cheated!
Do Jessie’s OCD tendencies reflect our society’s heightened anxiety levels? How do you think we combat the demands on our time and people’s expectations of us?
It’s hard to do. I’ve fallen victim many times to the pressures of pleasing others. The older I get, the less likely I am to be a people pleaser, though. You start realizing what is important in life, and it’s not that everyone likes you. In your twenties, that can seem so important. In your late thirties, early forties, you start wondering, “What is the point?” I think Jessie’s OCD tendencies are very reflective of her anxiety.
Did Jessie’s snappy, quick wit take a lot of thought, or did that part of her character come to you ‘snappily’?
Jessie was a lot of fun to write. Cheryl, of course, had written much of her snappy dialogue in the screenplay. Then I had to match that wit inside her head. That was challenging, to keep the wit going in her point-of-view. But it also made it fun because Jessie was fun to hang out with. I love her one-liners!
How do you both experience God speaking into your lives?
God speaks to me in so many different ways: through His Word, through nature, through other people, sermons, books, in the deepest part of my heart, in my mind, through my children…the list is endless. I am always listening for His voice, and I find it quite often. There have been times when He has been silent, and those are very difficult times for me. I hate not hearing Him speak.
I loved how the main character was able to see, talk and dance with God; did you get any negative responses to this concept and how did you handle that?
Oh yeah. Not a lot, but some. And they were very adamant about their views. We’ve been called blasphemous more than once. In fact, my own mother called me to tell me she was not happy with how God was depicted. For me, it is a message about how much God loves us, and God himself used many parables to depict himself. When I first read the story, I knew some people would be unhappy about it. But I hoped that for most people, they would see the story of a God who loves them and is jealous when we get caught up with the things of this world. I set my imagination toward the bride and the bridegroom as Jesus describes it in the Bible.
Could you please share some of your faith journey, maybe with regards to this book?
For me, this book challenged me in my relationship with God, especially in regard to how much time I give Him during my day, and also how intimately He knows me and wants me to know Him. It made me think long and hard about our relationship, and that was a good thing in the end.
Who was your favourite character and why?
Jessie, of course! It was so fun to get in her head. She was hilarious. And so raw!
Did you consider what the story may have become if Jessie Stone never actually found her man ? I know the story would probably not be as satisfying to the popular market… but maybe it would answer the question for all those women who don’t find their ‘prince’.
We actually heard from a woman who totally got the message…that God is her “one”. And I don’t’ think this is a story for just single gals. You can be married and lonely too. Nothing can fill our hearts like God, and I think that message comes through in the story. God answered Jessie’s prayers. He doesn’t always answer every prayer in all the ways we want. But He will never leave or forsake us.
What is the one thing you would like readers to take away from this story?
Definitely that God loves them fiercely and intimately and powerfully. That is what matters in life.
Rene, was it difficult to incorporate your writing style and personality into this book without altering the feelings and ideas that Cheryl had for the storyline or did you find you were both very much on the same wavelength?
We were pretty much on the same wavelength. It took me a bit to convince Cheryl we needed to do first person present tense. But once I got the story going, she saw that was going to work. Her screenplay was so strong that it wasn’t hard to follow along. I knew Jessie very well before I ever started the book.
And completely unrelated to anything literary but something I always find interesting: What is your favourite homemade meal to have for dinner?
So hard to choose. I’m such a good cook! ;) But probably my shrimp scampi. It’s super easy and very yummy! But I also make great gourmet burgers. And pretty terrific Mexican food. And omelettes!!
Who was your favourite superhero as a child? (I know you had one!) (This question came from one of our member's hubby - we know who you are, Dave!)
Well, if you count Magnum P.I. as a superhero, then he was mine!
Rel:~ Sorry Rene, we decided Magnum doesn't count (one of our members was too young to know him!!). Everyone knows to be a superhero you have to wear your undies on the outside ;-)
Do you have a favourite book?
Not one favorite. I’ve enjoyed many throughout the years. My most recent favorite is Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee.
Rel:~ Here's a look at the new cover for Demon: A Memoir being re-released by B&H Fiction in 2010 - looks great.
Are you someone who reads the same book more than once?
Nope, though I have gone back to read some classics I read as a child but would appreciate more as an adult.
What is your favourite genre to write for? and perhaps read?
I like to write comedy and suspense. I like to read those genres too! I like legal suspense, end times, really a lot of genres. Don’t read historical or romance too much.
If you have a husband (or significant partner) do they read your books?
Yes! But only after they’re published. I don’t let him read them before then.
Rel:~ Really?!?! We were divided on whether we would let our husbands read our books prior to publication if we were writers ;-)
Which TV shows and movies do you recommend due to the quality of the writing?
Well, if we’re going ONLY by quality of writing, my favorite TV shows right now are The Middle and Modern Family. Modern Family doesn’t line up with my beliefs, but the writing is amazing. I’m a huge fan of The Office, and will always love Frasier, which I think it the best written comedy series of all time. I also like Grey’s Anatomy, though it’s gotten preachy lately.
Movies, well, what can I say…The Ultimate Gift by the ultra-talented Cheryl McKay! (I also recommend The Blind Side).
Do you have another collaboration in the works?
We do! Another romantic comedy that I think is wonderful!
What dreams do you have for your writing career?
I would like to keep working as a novelist, but I’d also like to work as a screenwriter, which has always been my dream. Somehow I got side-tracked on this novel writing thing! (But it’s fun!)
We are very glad you did, Rene :) Thanks so much for sharing with our Book Club and my readers - can't wait for more to come from you both, in either novel, screenplay or movie form!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Book Club interview tomorrow, when we put screenwriter Cheryl McKay under the spotlight :)