'October Baby' novel mirrors movie's phenomenal impact

Randall Murphree - Guest Columnist

Novelist Eric Wilson's latest screenplay-to-novel project is October Baby, now available at booksellers. Wilson co-wrote the novel with Theresa Preston, also a co-writer of the screenplay. The story is captivating, and it handles numerous issues superbly -- forgiveness, life issues, over-protective parents, and other relationship challenges.

When 19-year-old Hannah Lawson's parents tell her she was adopted, her first response is shock. That reaction is followed immediately by a storm of anger and disillusionment, plus the feeling that her whole life has been a lie.

Ironically, her parents had expected to wait even later to reveal this bit of her history, but Hannah's severe asthma problems escalate, and they are compelled to share a secret they had kept since her birth. A part of Hannah's hidden past is that she survived her birth mother's abortion attempt. And there's more.

Hannah's gripping story is told in the novel October Baby by New York Times best-selling author Eric Wilson (see interview below), who novelized Sherwood Pictures' movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof. This latest novel is based on the screenplay of the same title, a film written and produced by Jon and Andrew Erwin. Credits include some noteworthy names: Chris Sligh (American Idol, 2007) and John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, I Am Gabriel, Hidden Secrets). Dave Johnson (Sue Thomas FBEye, Doc) is executive producer.

As tension grows between Hannah and her parents, more conflict arises between Mom and Dad as to how much and precisely how to fill in more gaps of Hannah's life. So it's evident that there's more to her back story than just an adoption.

Unfortunately, they don't act quickly enough. Against their wishes, Hannah joins Jason, her best friend since childhood, his girlfriend and a few quirky friends on a road trip. Jason is the only friend to whom she has told her life-shattering story.

Jason steers the trip through Mobile, where Hannah was born, in an attempt to help her find her birth mother. She runs into an apparent dead end when they discover the hospital where she was born is closed. But she pushes a door open and finds some old records. Unfortunately, the two intruders wind up in jail on a breaking-and-entering charge, but the information they gather leads them to the nurse who delivered Hannah. Eventually, she finds her birth mother, but it is, at best, a bittersweet encounter.

October Baby is a captivating story, and it handles numerous issues superbly -- forgiveness, life issues, over-protective parents and other relationship challenges. Anyone who has seen the film will be entertained and encouraged anew by Eric Wilson's superb novel, a literary form which allows him to flesh out characters more than a film has time for. The novel is available at booksellers, and the DVD is available through the American Family Association.

Novelist adds depth, details to screenplay


Novelist Eric Wilson's latest screenplay-to-novel project is October Baby, now available at booksellers. Wilson shared the following insights in an exclusive interview with AFA Journal.

You've written four screenplay-to-novel projects now. How did you come to be the go-to guy for this kind of novel?

The process is sort of a new process. Even now, people will say, "Did you write the screenplay for the movie?" They assume the movie is based on my book. This process of doing it in reverse is fairly new. What's happened -- and this isn't just in the Christian market -- is that a lot of visual arts turned back into a written form have built-in marketing based on the fact that a lot of people have seen a movie.

It's sort of a sign of our times that the visual arts are so much more prevalent than literature, but they're finding a way to keep literature alive that way. So I got connected to [Sherwood Pictures] through Thomas Nelson when I was under contract with them, and I realized this was a process I enjoy and would want to pursue.

Are you a big film buff?

I love movies. My wife and I have two daughters 18 and 20, and we've always watched movies together. That's definitely been a part of the enjoyment of it. It's always nice to find movies that are uplifting or have a good moral foundation. That alone is nice, but on top of that, having something that points to Jesus out of it all is pretty rare. To find films that do that is always a blessing.

Christian fiction is growing along with Christian films. Do you have favorite novelists?

I'm a huge reader. I was actually in the top 100 reviewers on Amazon over pretty much the past decade because I review so many books and I've endorsed a lot. A lot of those have been Christian novels.

I tend to like darker stuff because dealing with dark issues or deep struggles that people go through and seeing redemption come out of that makes the redemption that much more amazing. I love Stephen James and Mike Delosso. I like Athol Dickson; he writes a little more literary stuff. Tricia Goyer writes really great WWII historical novels that I've enjoyed.

There's so much great Christian fiction, but unfortunately a lot of readers don't discover it because all they know of is some of the Amish novels. They'll think, "I'm not into that."

Tell us about the process of writing a novel from a screenplay.

I basically take the bones of the story, and get those all down, and then start adding description and that sort of thing. But as I write, there usually are sub-plots that come to mind that weren't in the story but will end up working seamlessly [into the novel]. What happens usually with my novels is that people will read them and think all the stuff I've added was stuff that was never able to be filmed because of time or money constraints. They don't realize how much I've added.

How do you flesh out characters? Did you add any characters in 'October Baby'?

The main stuff I added was background -- Hannah's childhood, the connections with the different characters. I wanted to show a little more of the birth mother's story -- not to go into it too much, but I did try to show a little bit more of that. Of course, I added a lot more in the humorous scenes of Truman, the red-headed guy. I had fun with his character.

I also wanted to be able to convey the abortion nurse, what she's gone through and make her a sympathetic character, not somebody that we just instantly have a prejudice against. I ended up loving that character [because of] what we talked about earlier -- redemption from dark places. That's partly why it was important for me to capture that, to show this lady who's been through some hard times and bad decisions in her past, but is now trying to make some right choices.

What are the challenges of taking a screenplay and creating a novel from it?

The first challenge I had with October Baby came from the publisher and editors saying, "We know you can write, and you can meet deadlines and all that kind of thing, but are you the right person to write a 19-year-old girl's story about adoption and abortion?"

I said, "Well, I'm a middle-aged guy, but I have a 19-year-old daughter. And my wife was adopted, so that really touches my heart. I feel like I can capture that. In my own background, my parents weren't married when I was conceived. They were teenagers, and they eloped and got married. They had that choice to end the pregnancy and have an abortion -- and I wouldn't have been here." All those things I was passionate about.

Then, when it comes to the actual writing, the movies raise the bar. I think, "How am I going to capture that really powerful scene?" In film, there's something about the visual aspect of it that can capture you in different ways.

An example of a visual scene that was hard to put on paper was in Facing the Giants -- the death crawl. You hear the tone of the coach's voice, and this football player groaning, struggling through this thing and he's blindfolded. All these things really work in film. I thought, "I don't know if I can write this to satisfy readers in quite the same way."

But as I wrote it, I prayed, "Lord help me to capture this." That's probably one of the favorite scenes I've written in one of those books.

Did you alter the setting in any way?

The movie script didn't have a specific location to tell me where the story is set. They had filmed it using things that were economical and locations that worked. But they described going to Mardi Gras and said it was a 12-hour drive. So where are they that's a 12-hour drive from there?

The screenwriter and the director said, "I guess you can just choose what you want." On the other hand, people have seen it, and they're going to kind of know what it looks like so it has to match that. I spent a couple of days trying to decide where it was going to be located. I came up with Wilmington, North Carolina, which actually looked quite a bit like it, and there were some things that tied in. For example, Wilmington has a Butterfly Room -- you know the butterfly is kind of a symbolic thing through the movie.

What is your biggest hope for 'October Baby'?

I hope people read it. I hope people who think it's just some story with a big pro-life stance from a preachy perspective will give it a chance and realize it's a great story we can all relate to. I would hope that people who aren't pro-life would read it and their hearts would be changed, that they would be moved to realize that life is valuable, of course specifically that there'd be people who are on the verge of making a decision that's going to alter eternity, that they would step back from that decision and change their minds because of October Baby.

Ultimately, it's God who's got to change people's hearts. I think legislation and all those things are important, but it really becomes an individual issue, God changing hearts and minds and opening our eyes to see.

Randall Murphree is editor of AFA Journal, a regular publication of the American Family Association.

This column is printed with permission. Opinions expressed in 'Perspectives' columns published by OneNewsNow.com are the sole responsibility of the article's author(s), or of the person(s) or organization(s) quoted therein, and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or management of, or advertisers who support the American Family News Network, OneNewsNow.com, our parent organization or its other affiliates.

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