An interview with author Steven Gould
Steven Gould sat typing on his white, Linux laptop—just another customer at Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill enjoying a leisurely Friday morning. His fingers flashed over the keys, preparing a post for his blog, An Unconvincing Narrative. The topic: A review published on Salon.com analyzing the political undertones within the multimillion-dollar film based on Gould's novel, Jumper. "Now I've arrived," the Albuquerque-native jokes, closing the laptop before giving the Alibi a moment of his time. His T-shirt, perhaps, best encompasses the tone of the interview to follow. "Don't judge a book by its movie," it reads. And that's exactly what Gould is banking on.
How long ago were the rights to Jumper purchased by New Regency?
The book was published way back in ’92, but it was optioned multiple times over the years. This one—the one that mattered—was a very decent option in the summer of 2003. ... They went right up to the wire to exercise it.
What does that mean?
When you option a book, you're paying a small amount of money that doesn't say I'm going to make the movie, but for the period of the option you’re not going to sell it to anybody else—I have an exclusive option. If they exercise the option, they actually purchase the rights. ... Then they start hiring actors and firing actors.
How much say did you have during the pre-production process?
None. None, whatsoever. Other than to say you can make a movie based on my book. But it's their movie. I don't have any record of making successful, multimillion-dollar movies—Doug Liman does.
Did you have a say in whether you liked the script?
Oh, no. They gave me the script because [I was writing] Griffin's Story, essentially the backstory of the Jamie Bell character who's in the movie, so I would know what was going on. But, no, they were not going to give me any say.
Going back to when you originally wrote the book, and your multiple other books, did you ever start writing with the idea of translating them into movies?
Absolutely not. Jumper is a first-person, very interior novel. An emotional novel, a novel about internal change. Teleportation is a metaphor for escape in the book—dealing with some moderately heavy issues. Dealing with an alcoholic parent, dealing with parents who've abandoned you when you're 5. I hadn't thought of it as a movie at all, but it was optioned several times over the years so it must have struck some chord.
Does making a sequel to Jumper depend on how well the movie does?
Right. From what I heard at the premiere, if it does $50 million domestically over the opening weekend and $100 million worldwide, there is a good chance of sequels. Then I've got a mass-movie publicity machine, which is only interested in pushing their movies, but every time they push those movies, it's good for me. No book gets this sort of publicity.
Are any of your others novels being looked at or optioned?
My second novel, Wildside, which has been optioned before, is not currently under option; but it is something that has been discussed. In fact, I've literally had one [producer] say, "So, what other books of yours would make good movies?" And we talked about Wildside a little bit. Something could come of that, or something could not. The more successful [Jumper] is, the more chance there is of that happening.
And you'd go along with the deal if it came up?
In a New York minute. I've gotten a lot of criticism from fans of my books because I have "not exercised enough control." They all seem to think, for some reason, that since J.K. Rowling has that sort of control—because, as my friend put it, of her orbiting network of laser satellites that will kill anyone who does anything she doesn't like—that I have that sort of control. And I don't. Because I'm not a New York Times bestselling author over and over again; I'm not the richest woman in England.
Yeah, she has clout.
She has clout that I don't have. But then the fans say, "Well, then, you shouldn't have sold it." And I say, well, my daughters would like to go to college sometime. I would like to have some form of retirement. I'm sorry—I'm not going to turn down movie offers if they come along. It's very, very much like winning the lottery. You bought a ticket by writing a book, but so many good books out there never get films made.
What do you have to say about the movie?
I really do like it. It was hard to have any opinion after the first showing, because I was simply sitting there contrasting what was and wasn't in the movie, not only based on my book, but also based on the screenplays I'd seen. ... You have to infer an awful lot in the movie, and there have been lots of reviews that say that, some in very unkind ways.
Do you think lovers of the book would enjoy seeing the movie for the experience of being in the world Jumper created?
It's not really the same world. It's got some major differences. When I was writing Jumper, we'd just come through a decade of some terrorist activity that was not particularly considered a huge deal. In the late '80s, the worst terrorist event was the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, and a lot of hijacking like the Achille Lauro cruise ship. [The producers] decided to stem away from the terrorism angle from the first book and go with the conflict with paladins. It would be a different world, but I am getting e-mails from people who went to the books because of the trailer and, hopefully now, I’m also going to be hearing from people who went to the books because of the movie.
I'm definitely one to discover a book through a movie, and then I usually enjoy the book more.
Books give a totally difference experience than movies. They are both immersive, but there is a reverie in a novel. In a movie, you are not as active a participant. I think novels and short fiction, prose fiction, is actually the most interactive form of entertainment there is, because the amount of stuff you have to fill in as the reader is just astonishing. You are actively building the world around it. You aren't making choices about story direction, but you are participating by bringing both emotional context and physical context to the reading. There's a wonderful example by John D. MacDonald, who wrote the Travis McGee books. He was talking about writing and how to describe a hotel room. He said,"OK, there's a noisy window air conditioner, which has obviously overflowed in the past and put this stain on the wall underneath it, and the carpet is peeling up at one corner.” With just those details, we all know how to fill in the rest of that particular hotel room because we've probably all stayed there. But they're going to be different hotel rooms for everyone.
I heard something the other night I hadn't heard before about Tony Hillerman. [He receives] complaints that in the movies made from his writings the characters are physically nothing like the characters in his books. At which point he says, "I don't describe the characters in my books." They're totally different from the character the reader has built in his head, but [Hillerman] doesn't actually describe them.
Are you working on any new novels?
Yes, I have a book about the American Southwest I'm writing.
It that a topic you've covered before?
There's been settings in the American Southwest—even in Jumper there are parts in the American Southwest, though it's all over the world. This is sort of a disaster novel, or a post disaster novel—an alien infestation thing. These little metal bugs start appearing and they start eating all the metal, then they split through fission, and there are more bugs and more bugs and more bugs. They go after all metal. They go after any electromagnetic frequency, so radios, computers, any sort of electronics. And they'll go through anything to get to those. Here's the worst situation: Do you have metal fillings? Do you have a replacement knee? Do you have a pacemaker? You don't want ’em. It's less about the disaster than this society that forms using technologies that are not metal-based to escape what is really a Homeland-Security-gone-wild place.
Steven Gould will be at the Wyoming Library (8205 Apache NE, 291-6264) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. to give a free presentation titled " Jumper : From Book to Movie" full of unprintable Hollywood tidbits.
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