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From her novel a movie blossoms

Janet Fitch, author of 'White Oleander,' has watched the adaptation process in wonder.

October 20, 2002|Renee Tawa | Times Staff Writer

Janet Fitch is trying to slink back into the Writer's Life -- working unnoticed on her novel in a downtown Los Angeles studio, grabbing meals out of a can -- the life she had before her bestselling book, "White Oleander," was turned into a feature film.

The movie, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Peter Kosminsky, is one of several upcoming big-screen adaptations of literary fiction that have the potential to introduce vast audiences to writers who are known in relatively small circles. (The paperback edition of "White Oleander," which originally was published by Little, Brown, in 1999, hit No. 9 on Amazon.com after the movie's publicity blitz.) Also slated for production are film versions of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones"; the movie "The Hours," adapted from Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is scheduled to open in Decem- ber.

"White Oleander" -- adapted from Fitch's debut novel about a mother-daughter relationship and a teenager's journey through foster homes in Southern California -- debuted in September at the Toronto Film Festival. "When we went into the press conference," recalled Fitch, 46, "it was John Wells, the producer; Peter Kosminsky ... click, click, a few random [photographer's] shots, then Michelle Pfeiffer came in after me. It was like a lightning storm. I couldn't see the rest of the time. It is such a funny experience as a writer. It was, like, this is not my beautiful life."

Fitch had no formal association with the movie but served as an "informal voice," offering suggestions to screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue, Kosminsky and Pfeiffer, and visiting filming locations in the Los Angeles area. Still, she is avoiding the movie reviews and box-office returns.

"It's been unbelievably fun," Fitch said, "but just a little bit distracting. It's a matter of trying to get back to work and not getting all the trades and listening to every Hollywood TV show that's covering box office and following all the reviews."

Fitch, who has seen the movie three times with her husband and 12-year-old daughter, said she watched the on-screen story unfold as a separate work of art. "I was able to just enjoy seeing things I had imagined built in real space and time by someone else responding to my book. The way they reacted to the book, their creation ... was just a fascinating experience to me."

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