From Mary Jo:
One of those questions that authors hear with some regularity is “Why don’t you make a movie out of one of your books?”
This is flattering. It’s also pretty funny because of the implication that writers have any control over such things. (Heck, the only thing we might have control over is the content of our books, and even then….)
The chances of a historical romance writer having any appeal to the great and insane dream factory called Hollywood are infinitesimal. As a writer friend who lived in Beverly Hills once told me, it was more likely that she’d be struck dead by a meteor than that a movie would ever be made of one of her books—and she writes fast-moving, sexy romantic suspense, which is more likely to interest movie makers.
Historical romance means costume drama, and costume drama costs more to make than a contemporary setting. Usually a lot more. So if someone wants to make a costume drama, they’ll probably pick a reliable classic with a built-in audience, which is why there are so many versions of Pride and Prejudice. Or else they’ll add elves and make it fantasy, which is hot these days. <g>
Now and then a movie will be made from a romantic book, but usually there is a great story hook, as with Meg Cabot’s delightful The Princess Diaries. Geeky San Francisco teen finds out she’s heiress to a small but charming European kingdom. Great story idea, great movie, and after she becomes a princess, she has great hair. <g> Or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Not only are these good stories, but they are YAs and their young protagonists are a good choice for the movie-going demographic.)
In general, though, romance is something that takes place inside people’s minds and hearts. While it’s an element in most movies, pure romance is seldom at the center of the story. Romantic comedy comes closest, but there’s still lots of comedy to entertain people while the relationship develops. In thrillers, The Girl is usually the reward to The Hero for being so brave and stalwart. Or worse, she gets killed to give The Hero an excuse for destroying six counties with his mega-weapons. Ugh!
The movie production process is long and beyond arduous. As with tadpoles that never live to become frogs, few ideas ever reach the silver screen. There can be any number of reasons that stories fall by the wayside, and many great stories disappear onto studio shelves, never to be seen again. (For a hair-raising insider view of Hollywood, you might read William Goldman’s very funny books, Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell You? Since one of my contemporaries, The Spiral Path, is built around movie making, I got to do lots of fun research.)
Romance tends to work better on television because it’s well suited to the intimacy of the small screen. Yet even there, with a few exceptions (two LaVyrle Spencers and one Penelope Williamson book come to mind), any romance novel turned into a tv movie is apt to be contemporary. Cheaper, and more people can relate so modern stories. Often the stories chosen are more women’s fiction/family drama than romance since soap opera has always been a staple of television.
Nonetheless, having said all that—my book The China Bride has just been optioned, for the second time—by a Hollywood producer. They first optioned the book several years ago, then allowed the option to quietly expire. Now they’re optioning it again.
Don’t think that an o ption usually makes an author rich! The initial money is small, though if a movie ever got made (HIGHLY UNLIKELY) there would be a good pay-out. Such deals are wildly complicated: with the first option, the deal memo was 10 pages, or maybe it was 16. And that wasn’t the contract, just the deal memo. It spelled out every conceivable variation, including theatrical film, tv movie, spin-off tv series, whatever.
I have no expectations of this—my agent warned me when it was first optioned that Hollywood is full of elephant graveyards littered with the bones of novelists who lost their wits and careers by becoming obsessed with the dream of movies.
Not to worry, I assured her. I’m too much of a control freak to play well with others, and movie making is a very collaborative process. If someone wants to give me money to make a movie from one of my books, probably distorting it hideously in the process, I’ll take the money and run. I have no desire to be part of the process, nor to chase will o’ the wisps when it’s hard enough to write novels. (William Goldman emphasized that in Hollywood, the writer is always at the bottom of the status heap. Who need that?)
Still, selling an option is found money, and the bragging rights are considerable. This is the only non-American set historical romance I’ve ever heard of to be optioned, and I’m pretty sure I know why there is interest: my kickass half-Chinese heroine. With martial arts popular, Troth might make a good story.
Do I expect anything to come of this? No, this will just be another deceased tadpole, I think. But the bragging rights are considerable. <G>