By D.G. Martin
Chapel Hill, NC – Why aren’t more North Carolina books made into movies?
We ask ourselves even though the film, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” based on the popular book set in North Carolina was a great success last summer. Thanks in part to the movie, the book’s sales continue to make the best-seller list. According to a July 14, 2022, article by Carrie Wittmer and Elizabeth Logan on the glamour.com web site, “as of January 2022, the book sold 12 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.”
But we miss the days when every Nicholas Sparks book and every John Grisham book was made into a blockbuster film. Sparks lives in New Bern and Grisham has close family connections to Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
Both authors rank high on the list of “The Living Authors with the Most Film Adaptations” compiled by Lit Hub (https://lithub.com/the-living-authors-with-the-most-film-adaptations/). Sparks with 11 was topped only by Stephen King with 34. Grisham had nine and was topped only by John le Carre (10), Ian McEwan (10), and tied with J.K. Rowling (9).
Why are not more North Carolina books turned into movies?
One of the reasons is explained by Jen Doll in an article republished on the Atlantic web site.
“But any way you look at it, the movie version of a widely successful book is bound to go wrong. Has any book lover ever truly been fully satisfied with the big-screen adaptation? The relationship we have with the book is personal and special; the relationship we have with the movie is more distanced from that, more passive, and certainly less demanding of us.
“We sit back and watch it play out, and we do so with a changed eye, having read the books. We’re not going in as innocents but as experts; we know how the story goes, and we know what we expect. If we were more naive, new to the plot and characters, things might be different, but since we’ve read the books, and read them emphatically, possibly more than once, we can’t know that for sure. We can only compare to what we do know, and already love.”
Acknowledging these difficulties, I would still like to see more North Carolina books made into movies. At the top of my list would be Wiley Cash’s recent novel, “When Ghosts Come Home,” set in southeastern North Carolina near Wilmington, in 1985. The action begins at 3:11 a.m. when Sheriff Winston Barnes and his wife hear an airplane crash at the nearby airport. He rushes there, finding only a deserted airport, a crashed airplane, and the body of a young Black man shot in the chest. No fingerprints or other clues can be found, but almost certainly drugs were involved.
Race, small town politics, and international drug trafficking plus the common problems of ordinary people drive a mystery that captivates and leads to a completely surprising ending that would have movie goers holding on to their seats.
A book by respected North Carolina author Nancy Peacock, “The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson,” had me holding on to my seat just the way a great movie would. The story begins, “I have been to hangings before, but never my own…” Beloved North Carolina author Lee Smith explains the power of the book, “From this riveting beginning to the last perfect word, Nancy Peacock grabs her reader by the throat and makes him hang on for dear life as the action moves from a Louisiana sugar plantation to life among the western Comanches, bringing to blazing life her themes of race and true love caught in the throes of history. ‘The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson’ is as deeply moving and exciting an American saga as has ever been penned.”
What a wonderful movie this story would make.
There are many more action-packed North Carolina books.
Think of your favorites and how you would adjust them to make great movies.
D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.