“...American Novelist...” by Julie Phillips
TO THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE ME ABOUT THE SCI FI CHANNEL MINISERIES
I get a fair amount of letters from readers, and as some of you know, I try to answer them all.
This doesn't mean what a lot of people think it means that I have a secretarial staff of twelve all devoted day and night to answering my mail. It means this: once or twice a month Delores comes over with her steno pad and we sit around and after some tea and snickering, I get out this pile of letters and start dictating answers. Sometimes I read a really neat letter from a kid out loud, and sometimes I say "I don't know what to say to this guy!" and Delores tells me what to say, but usually I can figure out something myself. Then she types the letters, and I sign and mail them.
This system is not as glamorous as the secretarial staff of twelve, but it has functioned, more or less, up till now.
One reason it's functioned is that I don't do email with fans/readers/question-askers, which leaves me some bits of time to answer written letters in.
But just now I have to use email to answer my letter-writers, because I'm swamped. If I tried to answer the mail I've been getting, I'd lose my voice, and Delores would get Carpal Short-hand Tunnel, and I'd spend all my royalties on postage stamps.
So: Here's my inadequate thanks to you, dear readers, truly dear to me, for the invaluable support your letters have given me.
It was hard keeping silence for months while I knew how bad the script was. It was hard watching them spend all that money on PR and hype, and still keeping silent. It was hard, having seen the thing, knowing a lot of people were going to tune in to the Sci Fi Channel that night expecting to see Earthsea...
But I tell you, it was almost worth going through it all, to get such an outpouring of anger, grief, indignation, outrage, and sympathy from you ever since.
That a book is a collaborative product of the writer and the reader, I know is true, seeing you take arms against the Invasion of the Hollywood Hacks, to defend our Earthsea.
And you understand what even some critics don't: the powerlessness of the book-writer once the contract is signed. I did get one letter that said, "If you didn't like the way they did the movie, why did you sell them the rights?" which reminds me of the Thurber cartoon, "Well if it's a wrong number, why did you answer the telephone?" But most of you seem to realise that most book-movie deals are made solely on the basis of promises by the film-makers promises which even wellmeaning film-makers may have to betray in order to get money to fund the production, and which the book-writer has absolutely no means of enforcing or ensuring. The contract makes sure of that.
It's time that the standard Hollywood contract is changed.
I've heard the usual advice to the book-writer, "Take the money and run," all too often. I'm sorry I ever said it myself it's sell-out talk. The statement "They didn't wreck my book: there it is on the bookshelf!" even that, though proud, is defensive. How about this, right at the start: "Forget the money up front, forget the fancy promises, pay me a decent share of the profits from a decent effort to make my book into a movie, with my participation in essential decision-making and script approval written into the contract then maybe I'll talk to you."
Oh, I can hear the producers screaming like Fay Wray!
Gee, have I just made sure that nobody in Hollywood will ever ask for the film rights to one of my books again? Gee, am I going to worry a whole lot about that?
But all you who wrote me: thank you from my heart for standing up for the books. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for proving to me that there is a true community of the book. And that it counts.
Copyright © 2005 by Ursula K. Le Guin