By Susan Wilson
Guest Columnist
Oak Bluffs, MA, USA

A number of weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of getting one’s book turned into a movie. I was in very good company: an Academy Award-winning screenwriter/novelist, who moderated the discussion; a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist; and, a director-producer of a very successful high-budget action film. We sat in the sun-filled gallery of our local arts center, a gorgeous blue-sky August day behind us, an enthusiastic audience before us. To start the discussion, our moderator threw out a question to the audience: “Have you ever thought that the book you’re working on would make a great movie?” A show of hands revealed just how pervasive that dream is. 

You may be wondering how little old me got asked to be on such an illustrious panel. Well, oddly enough, I’ve been hit by movie lightening once, and grazed by it another time. Let me explain. In 1996, my first novel, Beauty, was released to underwhelming acclaim. Nonetheless, through the good offices of my agency’s LA co-agency, it was picked up by a production company. (I’m a little vague on the details, so bear with me.) Beyond receiving the check for the option, we never heard another word. If I asked about it, and I’m sure I did, I was told that most of the time nothing happens and the option lapses. No harm no foul. Sometimes the option will be picked up by someone else, sometimes it just goes to where options die. 

Beauty - Movie Poster

Except!! One afternoon my agent called to say that the darn thing had not only been made into a film, but Beauty would be featured as a CBS Sunday Night Movie! Not one word from the producer prior to this announcement. If I’d been expecting or hoping for something along the lines of: “Hey, wanna check out the screenplay, give it your approval?” Or, “Maybe you want to visit the set?” Or, even, “Want to be a walk on? Meet the actors? Schmooze a little in LA?” Nada. Bought, made, and about to be broadcast. I thought this was normal. Another, nicer, check arrived. 

As television movies don’t have red carpet premier nights, I made one up. We invited a bunch of friends, dressed up, bought Champagne and I even donned my daughter’s Junior Prom Queen’s tiara. Now, this was 1998, and normal folks didn’t own television sets larger than refrigerators at that time, so we rented as wide a screen television as we could find and set it up on top of a cabinet so that everyone could see it. We ate; we drank; we waited. This was Sunday night in the fall. This was football season. There was a particularly long game being played (again, this is 1998, football could take six hours what with all the huddles). It was nigh unto ten o’clock in the evening when Beauty the movie was finally on. In the meantime, the Champagne was gone, everyone was a bit tiddly, and I found myself too nervous to actually watch the thing. These were friends, but was I about to embarrass myself in front of them with a schlocky made-for-TV movie? 

About midnight, the homegrown premier party wrapped up. (As an aside, my 102-year-old Cuban refugee neighbor was the last to leave. God rest her soul; she was a party animal.) I realized then that I had no recollection of any of the show. Was it good? Did I look like a fool trying to retell the beloved Beauty and the Beast fairy tale? Did Janine Turner and Jamey Sheridan and Hal Holbrook inhabit the creatures of my mind with verisimilitude? I have no idea. I went to bed.

Susan Wilson
It might have been three months later when I chanced to be home alone. I slipped the tape that the production company had sent me into the VCR (again, it’s 1998). Without commercial interruption, without anyone else there to broadcast a false thumbs up or, worse, a flinch, I sat and watched my words, my story, my vision come to life and breathed, finally, a sigh of relief. It was just fine.

A postscript to this once in a lifetime experience. When I wrote the book, it ended a bit happily ever after because, after all, it was based on a happily-ever-after tale. My editor at the time, highly respected, and a goddess to me because, well, because she liked my work and gave me a chance, decreed that it was too H-E-A. I tacked on an unhappily ever after ending for which I received many an angry letter. Even friends berated my going for the tearjerker. To my everlasting joy, the producers of “Beauty, the CBS Sunday Night Movie,” ended the film at exactly the point I had ended my original manuscript. I was validated!!

Lest you think that once a novelist hits the Holy Grail of book-to-film it happens on a regular basis. I’m living proof that is a false notion. Eleven books in, only one other has ever been optioned. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “option,” it means your work is held in the clutches of someone who really really wants to make it into a movie and is willing to keep giving you some money to prevent anyone else from doing it. They are renewable resources, these options. An annuity of sorts. One Good Dog has been optioned, and that option renewed several times over the last seven years. My option holder is sincere and working toward the ultimate goal of production. The obstacles to that goal are many and varied and pretty expensive. I get updates annually, always upbeat, always optimistic. A new producing partner has been found, a new screenwriter, a discussion with a high-profile, yet unnamed actor has been had. One more year, maybe two. Let’s just say that I’ve stopped planning my outfit for the Academy Awards. 

I am patient. I am sanguine. We have a motto in our family: What will be will be and if it’s meant to be it will happen.  



Susan Wilson is a New York Times bestselling author. Her latest novel is Two Good Dogs.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.