Sunday, December 22, 2013

Adapting a novel to a film

Last night I saw Saving Mr. Banks and understood completely how protective Mary Travers was of her characters as Walt Disney adapted her book into the wonderful film Mary Poppins.  As she said, the characters in her novel are family.  I feel the same way about the characters in my novel The Conspiracies of Dream,s, and I know how I want the cast to interpret my words, and the cinematographer to film the scenes.  I know how a cast can change the entire tenor of a film.  Do you know that originally Ronald Reagan and Anne Baxter were to star in Casablanca and Shirley Temple and W.C. Fields were the first choice to play Dorothy and the wizard in The Wizard of Oz?  What different films they would be.

The same is true of readers who peruse my book.  I have had about 15 presentations of my novel, and at the end of each talk I ask the attendees what they think the theme of the novel is.  So far, the audience has given me 8 different answers, and while each is valid,  none is the one I have in mind.  Therefore, literature is a two way path:  the writer writes and the reader interprets what he or she will.  Sometimes the reader understands all that the writer intended; sometimes the reader surprises the writer by surmising more than the creator realized he had imparted in his work.  That has happened to me when someone in my audience says something about my book that I did not realize I had implied.  Serendipity!

But the play is not the thing.  So much depends on the cast, the director, the cinematographer, even the music, and especially the publicity, the marketing, and the distribution.

So, I will write away this winter break and who knows?  Perhaps I will finish the script; someone will be interested, and my dream of seeing The Conspiracies of Dreams on the screen will come true.  Will the film be better than the movie?  Perhaps they will both be excellent.  A girl can dream, can't she?  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Although I am a teacher,I am the one who is learning from my students

My class of college freshmen and sophomores are extremely diverse.  My students' ages range between 17 to mid 50's.  Some of them have only been in America for two years, others claim Cherokee and Taino  heritage.  A few can barely read English, but they know how to solve an algebraic equation with two unknown quantities. One young man, who was persecuted for his Ba Hai faith in Iran, told me of his harrowing escape through mountain passes during many dangerous nights, while another told me how she and her family were threatened by the Tonton Moucoutes in Haiti. Despite their disparate backgrounds and lack of the cultural and educational opportunities people who belong to the upper middle class take for granted, they have insights many of the privileged do not have.  One girl broke down in class when she analyzed the poem "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver because the poet compares the snake to "a beautiful dead brother" and her brother had just died.  Another boy analyzed "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen  because he had returned from Afghanistan and saw the horrors of war.  Now he will be redeployed to that forsaken land the day before his wife is due to give birth to his first child.

Despite their lack of knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary they have an immense hunger to learn.  They are amazed that "gh" in the word "enough" and "ph" in the word "physician" and "f" in the word "farm" all have the same sound.  Why does " a part of" mean "belong" when the words are written separately, but "apart" when written as one word means "separate?  The word  which completely confuses them is "sanction" since it has 2 completely opposite meanings.  If one plays in a sanctioned tournament, the match is approved by a  board, and one acquires a ranking.  If the United States applies sanctions to another country, we do not approve of that country's actions.

I was born in a very homogeneous town, went to colleges whose student bodies also were very homogeneous in the Northeast, and lived in a community where everyone was my race and religion. To read about other cultures or see them portrayed in movies or on television is not the same as interacting with people of different races in a very intimate setting..  Until I began to teach in Florida, I was not aware of the myriad linguistic, cultural, racial, and religious difficulties that our diverse populations confront every day. These problems are major obstacles to getting an education, a job, even an apartment. 

The most wonderful moment, however, happened this week.  I did not teach my class last Saturday because it was the holiest day in my religion, and a professor who is not Jewish covered for me.  On Tuesday, a concerned Haitian student inquired why I did not come to class.
"Were you sick?" she asked.
  I told her I did not come because it was the most sacred holiday in my religion. 
 "You're Jewish?" she exclaimed.. 
 I nodded, and she gave me a big hug and yelled out to the rest of the class, "Hey, everybody wish Professor Didner  La Shanah Tovah." 
"How did you know how to say "Happy New Year" in Hebrew?" I asked her in astonishment.
"I work for Jewish people" she  replied. "Boy, Jews have great food on their holidays."
I told her that my definition of a Jew is someone who feeds you before you sit down to eat, and the entire class roared with laughter.
"Is that why you always bring us Dunkin Donuts if we answer a hard question?" someone asked.  (I always ask a difficult question at least once a month and bring the donuts if someone finds the answer).
"No, I bring you donuts, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries because I want you  to know that learning is sweet," I smiled.
The class applauded in appreciation, and then we settled down to analyzing Langston Hughes poem "A Dream Deferred."  

I hope their dreams will not be deferred.

By the way, my book The Conspiracies of Dreams will be featured on the web site  It is available until December 31 at the discounted price of $2.99.  Also, look at the other books featured on this site.  They all are good reads.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Incredible Rescue

I had a near death experience last Sunday and a marvelous man helped my husband and me. As I was driving south from Pa to Florida in our Honda Civic, a deluge suddenly fogged up my windshield and totally blinded me. I could not see one inch in any direction. Before I could put on the defroster, my car hydroplaned and made a 180 degree turn. I knew my husband was following me in our Honda Odyssey and I was sure I would hit him in a head on collision and he and I and our 2 dogs would die.  
     Somehow, my car swerved and backed into the steel guard rail which separates the north and southbound lanes on I 95 and my husband drove safely by me. A few seconds later the rain stopped as quickly as it began, and I saw that he was able to drive to the shoulder on the right lane which fortunately was in front of an exit ramp. Although the rear fender and trunk of my car were badly damaged, to my surprise the engine and transmission worked perfectly. I was able to drive across the highway to join my husband, but both he and I could hear that my fender was scraping against the right rear tire and would quickly tear it to shreds.
      A man in a white pick up truck saw us looking at the wrecked car and he stopped on the side of the exit ramp and asked if he could help. My husband asked him if he knew where we could get a crowbar to lift the fender off the tire so I could drive another 200 miles. I had to be in college the next day, and all my insurance company would do is pick up the car with a tow truck and no mechanic would look at it on a Sunday. The man said he had a crowbar and would be back in 20 minutes. He did come back, but his crowbar was too small. He told us he would return with a larger one, and twenty minutes later  he brought a larger crowbar which enabled him, my husband, and 2 policemen to pry the fender away from the tire. I tried to give him money and thank him, but his attention was focused on a pamphlet which he could see through my rear window entitled "The Beauty of John Keats' Hyperion" by Sandy Didner.
"Who is Sandy Didner?" he asked.
"I am," I replied as I still tried to pay him for the tremendous favor he had done for us.
"I don't want any money," he said.
I could see that he appreciated the poetry of John Keats who is one of my favorite poets and wanted to read my article, but both rear cars were so badly damaged I could not open them.
  He then asked my husband, "What kind of accent do you have?
"Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Pennsylvanian," my husband replied. "If you won't take any money, will you take a copy of my wife's book which is about an Egyptian spy who fell in love with my sister in Israel during the 1956 Suez War?"
He assented, but I could not open the rear doors and give him one.
"Just tell me the name of your book, and I"ll buy a copy from Amazon," he offered.
I wrote down the name of my book, and then I apologized for taking up so much of his time.
"Where were you going when you stopped to help us?" I asked.
"To church," he replied.
"You don't need to go to church; you are an angel already," I replied.
He told us his name was Jason, but I don't remember his last name; all I recall is that it started with the letters "Ph."
The next day Goodreads notified me that someone had bought a copy of my book. I am sure Jason who lives near Exit 358B on I 95 in Florida bought it. What a wonderful person! My only regret is that I cannot give him the reward he truly desires. The media is always full of the evil that people do; I would love to publish the good that this stranger did for us. Not only did he help people he did not know, he appreciates John Keats, is tolerant of faiths different from his own, and instead of taking money from me, bought a copy of my book.
Oh brave new world, that has such people in it!



Monday, July 8, 2013

A Search for Lost Time

Tonight I am trying so hard to accomplish a great deal,  but as Woody Allen said, "In 100 years the complete cycle changes, and a new generation begins all over again."  I tried reading some classic books which were written many years ago, ( one of which was Remembrance of Things Past, and shortly thereafter I read a savage satire of the first 40 pages in The New Yorker Magazine in which the writer mocked how anyone could spend 40 pages hoping that his mother would give him a good night kiss)  and I marveled how much our language has changed, and  how our culture, morals, and sensibilities have deviated so much from the past.  I just received a notice that I cannot teach any work that has been written before 1945 in my Contemporary Literature Class next semester.  Not F. Scott Fitzgerald, most of Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, nor Sinclair Lewis can be in my syllabus.  And in 50 years will all the works we hold sacred by contemporary writers be as outdated as Pearl Buck is today?  Will someone have to translate every word we write to future generations the way I translate Shakespeare to my students?

Two weeks ago I spent an hour and a half discussing Romeo and Juliet with my 15 year old grandson and I was thrilled that he understood every word of the play and, more than that, he realized how Shakespeare developed the  psychological motivation of each of the characters.  One of the reviewers of my novel said she didn't like the Romeo and Juliet plot similarity, but such love does occur.  I fell in love with my husband at first sight, with two of my dogs at first sight, and knew instantly that some women would be my life-long friends at first sight.  But, as in my book, and in real life, sometimes we say and do things that hurt the ones we love.  Or the ones we love hurt us.  Often, the pain can be forgiven even though it is never forgotten.   Infrequently, I hurt someone I care about a great deal, even though I mean well and never dream that a statement I think is innocuous or well meaning may cause someone pain.  But the essence of love is as Shakespeare said  Love....looks on tempests and is never shaken."

I love the last line of Woody Allen"s movie Annie Hall.  Woody frequently ends his films with a brief speech to the audience and in this film he says, "II have a cousin who's crazy.  She thinks she's a chicken.  I'd take her to a psychiatrist, but I need the eggs."  Isn't that the way we often feel about those we love or admire? I have a dog  who has cataracts, is arthritic, neurotic, and drives everyone crazy.  Yet I adore him, and I "need his eggs."

Many cultural ideals or the "eggs we need" change with the times:  Fortunately, slavery is outlawed, at least in this country.  Women have more rights than ever before in the Western world.  Some people are more aware of how inhumanly humans treat animals, although I  have a neighbor who kills the chipmunks who dare to eat his basil  and tomato plants and there is no way I can convince him that he is cruel. Are humans becoming more loving, more accepting of other people's mistakes, and more forgiving? The daily news does not convince me that we are.  Paul  McCartney said, "All we need is love."  Also, we need empathy as well.  Sometimes we say or do an act with the best of intentions and do not realize that it may hurt another person's feelings.  The characters in my book do this to each other and  only too late they learn the consequences of their actions.  Unfortunately, my book is 80 per cent true, but then so is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. 

I think I will ask my students this fall semester to define these terms:  morality, moral ambiguity, and moral bankruptcy.  I think it will be interesting to see how we (and by we, I mean everyone) obtains a moral code.  Is it created by our family, by our culture, by our national mores, our religion or lack of religion, or our peers?

Now with these thoughts in mind I'm returning to adapting my book into a film script.  The script is so different from the book out of necessity.  An agent told me no one looks at a script that is more than 120 pages long.  So, I will have to hope that the actors' faces will express in a few seconds what I say in a few paragraphs.  That is I will be able to write tonight if my neurotic dog allows me to do so.

Live long and love faithfully.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Perfect Day for a book into a Film Script

Rain has pelted our area since early morning.  Instead of going to my Writer's Group I am sitting at my desk, staring at the waterlogged trees which are bowing their branches since they are too full of moisture to stand erect. My dogs have decided that it is a great day to sleep, and for once, they are not begging to go on a five mile hike.  I do feel guilty about not going to the Group, but I think I will have a more productive day writing here at home than listening to those authors brave enough to venture out in this damp, dank, dull day (I love alliteration).

Changing a book into a movie script has been a revelation.  Now I know why the book is usually better than the film.  Dialogue is all important and metaphors, alliteration, and symbols are employed  in a visual manner which is up to the director, cinematographer and actors to interpret..  When an author writes a book, he or she has full control of the media,  The creative process is limited to the author and his or her readers  which still allows for considerable variations in communication.   In fact, when I gave the last presentation of my book I asked the group what they thought the theme of the novel was, and I received 7 different answers, none of which was the one I had selected.  All of the 7, however, were equally valid.  But the communication was still between the readers and me.  So many different variables are involved in film.  For instance,  I read somewhere that Casablanca was originally going to star Ronald Reagan and Ann Baxter, and Shirley Temple and  WC. Fields were goiing to play Dorothy and the, twitter.comizard in The Wizard of Oz. If these actors had appeared in these films the movies would have been quite different, even though the scripts would be the same.  Thank goodness,  The Great Gatsby will always be the same book no matter who plays the various roles.

So have a good day everyone while I try to change my novel into a film script.  At least, until it stops raining and the dogs (who really are my muses) want to go for a walk in the rain forest.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A synopsis of my novel The Conspiracies of Dreams

My new book is about Chrisitians, Jews, Muslims, and Canaanites who all share an ancient dream of possessing the land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea which they hold sacred. In 1956 an Egyptian spy, Ishmael al Mohammed, is determined to gain information which will reclaim the infant state of Israel for the displaced Palestinian Arabs. While on an espionage mission posing as an Israeli, he falls passionately in love with a Jewish woman, Rebecca Silverman. He must decide if he will betray the only person he will ever care for or be true to Islam, Egypt, and his family. A Christian, Danny O’Halloran, dreams of walking the Stations of the Cross while the pagan donkey goddess Pal├ęs dreams of being worshipped again by the original natives of Canaan. Israeli politicians dream of making Israel a nuclear power while Britain and France conspire to regain the Suez Canal, which the President of Egypt nationalized. Against the backdrop of circumstances leading to the 1956 Suez War between Israel and Egypt a love story which encompasses the forbidden romance of Romeo and Juliet, Delilah’s betrayal of Samson, and the treachery of Britain’s MI6 double agents unfolds as Ishmael and Rebecca’s story spans three millennia of history. Title: The Conspiracies of Dreams Author: Sandra Biber Didner ISBN: 978-1-59299-784-8 Publisher: Inkwater Press Price: $12.95 paperback from Digital versions are $5.99 at, www.barnes&, and at the Apple store for the IPAD.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A cool late spring evening is a perfect setting for dreams to come true. My two dogs are snoring gently in front of the fireplace; I've practiced Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D for about an hour on the piano and am finally satisfied that I may be able to play it fairly well by August. Mr. Pachebel's fingers were much longer than mine are, but my heart is as romantic as his was. I will never be able to play it as well as Funtwo does on YouTube, but one of my dreams is to try. If you have not viewed this maestro of the guitar playing the Canon in D I urge you to do so. He is amazing. My other dream is to adapt my novel The Conspiracies of Dreams into a film script. I read the first part of scene I to my writing group and to a friend and they liked it. I now know, however, why a book is better than a movie. So many metaphors and literary techniques must be left out. In the film a young man will simply parachute from a plane; in my novel I write "In a heartbeat I become a pendant dangled by the gods of gravity, wind, and war." Whie the sight of many men dropping through the air suspended by mushroom shaped parachutes into battle can be exciting, the poetic effect of the words is lost. Also, viewers will be passive prisoners of the director, sound effects, and actors' interpretation of the dialog, while readers employ their imagination and can compose their own images. Have you ever liked a film better than the book from which it was adapted? I have only found one: The Wizard of Oz, although the chariot race in Ben Hur was more exciting visually than in print. To be truthful, I am adapting the novel into a film as a cerebral challenge. Since I have written a novel and sold a modest amount of copies, I want to see if I can write a screenplay before my college classes start in the fall. My dogs are my muses. We take 5 mile walks every day when the weather permits, and while they smell their smells and read their pee mail and send quite a few pee mails as well, I think about plot, setting and character. By the time we come home Pippen and Macduff are so tired, they lie at my feet while I pluck away at my computer. Then, every day I check Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and the Apple store to see if I have sold any copies. Sometimes my dream comes true. Tonight I may finish Scene 3. My goal is to complete the script before August 15. I hope to be able to do justice to Pachebel's Canon before that. Last year I practiced a sonata by Mozart the entire summer. By August I decided that I played it as well as I possibly could and tried a Beethoven sonata. Macduff started to bark amd bark. "Do you want to eat? " I asked. He turned up his nose at the food. "Do you want to go out?" I inquired as I went to the back door. He stood silently by the piano. I played Beethoven; he barked again. Finally, I understood his canine dialect. He wanted me to play the Mozart sonata again. I played the first familiar notes of Amadeus' Somata Facile in C and he lay happily at my feet for the next half hour. Thank goodness he likes Pachebel's.