Posted at 4:12 PM on June 8, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Andre Dubus III says he wishes what happens to him on all the writers he knows. His 1999 novel "The House of Sand and Fog" floated out to critical acclaim, but then went through the stratosphere when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club. It then had yet another life starting in 2003 when Vadim Perelman's film adaptation starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connolly hit the multiplexes.
When asked about whether he was concerned about the adaptation of his book, it reminded him of something his father used to say.
"He would look at you and say 'Sounds like a first world problem to me,'" Dubus says. "And most of our problems are first world problems. If a big studio buys your book and gives you a lot of money and then you don't like it - boo hoo! It's not a problem. But, yeah I got lucky there too."
reportedly there were more than 100 producers interested in making a "Sand and Fog' film. Dubus went with the Dreamworks offer and actually has a small role in the production.
He does admit to some nerves after the film was done. He remembers the company arranged a special advanced screening of the film in Boston area where he lives for his friends and family. About 190 people turned up.
"And I was really kind of nervous because 'Oh my God, what if I hate it? The director is here!' Well, I loved it. One of the weirdest things, at one point, there is actually a scene where Kathy Nicolo, played by Jennifer Connolly, is standing in a phone booth, and the light with which it was filmed, that scene was filmed, was pretty much the light I remember when I imagined it with my pencil in a notebook and tried to capture the words. It just felt fortunate. Really fortunate, and I am grateful for it."
Dubus is in the Twin Cities for a reading of his new novel, "The Garden of Last Days," which has just come out in paperback. It's the story of the the people in a Florida strip club a few days before the 9/11 attacks, including a young man who is part of the terrorist team. Dubus says work is already underway on a possible film adaptation, led by a prominent actress who wants to play the lead role of one of the dancers.
It would have been really interesting to get Andre Dubus and Shawn Lawrence Otto together in the Twin Cities to talk more about the evolution of "House of Sand and Fog" from novel to film. As a young and "unlisted" screenwriter Otto was selected in the late 1990s to adapt the novel to film before all the accolades and Oprah's selection of it for her book club.
Shawn has told me about how he wrestled with the story, trying to adapt the novel and particularly the difficulties he encountered with ending the film because it was so different than the book. He told me how much he worried about how Dubus would react to his interpretation and in particular when the drama peaks and then ends. Legally speaking, as per the contract, the screenwriter does not have an obligation to the author of the book but it often looms large in the screenwriters mind.
Shawn was thrilled Dubus liked his adaptation of the book. It is an interesting non-contact creative collaboration of ideas and it can either go bad, very bad or it can be magic. I think that "House of Sand and Fog" turned out to be magic and it had to do with the sensibilities and sensitivities of both literary authors.
The trouble with the Twin Cities is when opportunities for this kind of close-up look at the literature of film come along, we don't take them when we should. Shawn Otto lives here in Minnesota and Andre Dubus III is here before the press to promote a book -- you'd think someone could put two + two together just for creative intelligence sake.
I read the book before I saw the movie, and I loved both. The shots in the movie of the fog over San Francisco were perfect.