Chris Bohjalian has given a lot of thought to the differences and similarities between novels and films -- and to the ones between big-screen movies and those made for TV. An Oprah favorite, the eight-time novelist has had a handful of his books broadcast on the small screen. Now Trans-sister Radio, Bohjalian's 2000 novel about a man who neglects to tell his new girlfriend about his impending sex-change operation, is currently in development with Miramax and Wes Craven's Craven/Maddalena Films."I don't think there is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between a terrific TV movie and a feature film," says the author, whose Past the Bleachers was an ABC-Hallmark presentation in 1995 and whose Midwives -- after reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list -- became a Lifetime production last year starring Sissy Spacek and the Bay Area's own Peter Coyote. Also reuniting Spacek and her Carrie costar Piper Laurie, it's the story of a midwife who is arrested for murder after saving a baby by performing a Caesarean section on a woman she believes is dead, but isn't -- yet. Spacek had read the book and liked it long before the filmmakers approached her and offered her a script.
"Craig Anderson, the producer, and director Glen Johnson understood the material and respected its integrity," says the modest and soft-spoken Bohjalian. "And of course Sissy Spacek was wonderful as my beleaguered midwife. I think the fact that she was selected for a [Screen Actors' Guild] award in Midwives and then received an Oscar nomination for In the Bedroom might represent the first time anyone has ever been up for honors in a TV and a theatrical film at the same time."
Bohjalian's latest book, The Buffalo Soldier, about an African-American foster child brought to live in a rural Vermont village, explores the ties between adults and children as well as ways in which community can become family. "I think it is my most autobiographical work," confides the author, who spent his youth in a series of New York City suburbs. "Because we moved around a lot when I was young, I was always the new kid on the block with my fingers pressed up against the window, an outsider." (No, he's not transgendered, either.) The book is in development with the same Lifetime team who made Midwives.
Despite a track record to the contrary, Bohjalian -- who says his writing "can be very dark" -- doesn't approach his novels with a view to seeing them in film.
"I never envision my work as a movie because it is driven by internal monologue and I also don't want to confuse what I am trying to do. My goal is to write a ripping good yarn, and I hope they are page-turners with the material that would interest a producer." But he draws the line when it comes to the script.
"I don't write the screenplays -- I could no more write a screenplay than be a neurosurgeon. I feel that, considering the number of years it has taken me to become an adequate novelist, I can't imagine how much longer it would take for me to become a screenwriter.
"There is a long and storied tradition of East Coast writers falling in love with Hollywood," he continues, "and I do love the movies, as much as I love watching my work being filmed while being given coffee and donuts on the set. It's a no-lose proposition.
"I love to see movies based on books," the novelist continues, citing Sophie's Choice and The Cider House Rules as two favorites. "It brings the books to life in a new way, giving them the director's vision, the actors' vision -- how they embellish the novel. Even a bad adaptation has no downside: the time lapse between a book's release and film's release is so long that it doesn't really hurt the book's reputation. Plus if it's really bad," he reasons, "no one will go to see it."
His next project, Hunters and Gatherers, is about an animal-rights activist and his brother-in-law, a deer hunter.
"I will offend everyone I know," Bohjalian says, not without a glimmer of glee: "my vegetarian friends and the deer hunters. I am a vegetarian myself and couldn't eat anything that had a parent, but I also recognize the importance of how hunters manage the deer population in New England."
And his pick for best picture? It was In the Bedroom.
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