Four years ago, in the surreal, dream-like weeks right after I had a baby, I was contacted by someone interested in making The Sign for Drowning into a movie. Novelists dream of this, and it often means the difference between a novelist making a living as a writer or not. Or to put it another way, I wasn’t opposed to my book being made into a film. Not at all.
So this dialogue began, but on some pretty uncertain terms. For one thing, I had a brand new baby and I’d only been sleeping 2-3 hours at a stretch, for another the woman pursuing our collaboration was deaf and we started off by exchanging rather cryptic emails, which finally gave way to slightly clearer phone calls. (She turned out to be hard-of-hearing and a good phone communicator.) But the problem lay in our differing goals. She wanted me to write the screenplay with her. Oh, no problem, I thought, I just have to inform her I’m not a screenwriter. No such easy exit. She didn’t care. Neither was she. But still, she thought the two of us were the right team for the job. The Sign for Drowning is about a girl, Anna, who embraces sign language as a way to communicate with her younger sister who drowned. As an adult, Anna teaches deaf children and adopts a deaf little girl. Mothering this child becomes an integral part of her healing from the loss of her sister.
So my potential collaborator’s thinking was that a lifelong hearing-aide wearer and television producer (she) and the author of this novel (me) were the most likely team to make a go of this project–even without the necessary experience. To be fair, my husband, who is a screenwriter, thought she could be right. He urged me to not rule out the possibility of spending a year or so writing my first screenplay with someone I didn’t know, who had less experience than myself even. In retrospect the way I handled the whole situation was a lot more post-partum than I realized at the time. I was communicating with this potential collaborator before I’d even left the house from bringing home our new baby, and in those ensuing weeks I got out maybe twice a week. Everything I used to do outside the apartment including wearing shoes, taking a subway, walking my dog, going out for a pint of beer seemed other-worldly. So you can imagine how other-worldly I found this mysterious woman sending me emails about potential scenes, extended metaphors, and an interested financer seemed.
We made a clandestine plan to meet at Grand Central Station. (In twenty-three years of living in New York City, at no other time have I made a plan to meet a stranger in Grand Central Station.) We picked a Starbucks, then a H&M, then another Starbucks. She said if I couldn’t find her to just keep calling her cell phone, reminding me she was deaf and didn’t always hear it.
We met. It was maybe the third time I’d left the baby. We talked about him, and her children, and both our professional backgrounds. We got along just fine. If it were a sanity check- which was partially on my mind- we both passed. (Four years later, I’m not so sure about either of us.) We talked about meeting again on her next trip to New York. We talked about working together for a year, every weekend, on Skype, or travelling together to a retreat to outline and write this screenplay. We both said we needed to decide if we would take the plunge or not. Would we go against the odds of our lack of proven ability, of our not knowing each other, of our limited time?
Well, the decision went unmade. We never spoke again. Perhaps it was a dream, in a year full of new and dreamlike happenings. Looking back, I see so many ways I’ve awakened since that meeting in Grand Central. One reason I hesitated to begin a screenplay adaptation of my novel was that I was really wanting to finish my next novel. The new baby, the novel, the particular way I approached the potential screenplay collaboration all seem now rather full of uncertainty, with an air of flailing about. I feel so much more grounded now. The baby is four. We understand each other very well. Having him is not otherworldly at all, it’s my life on Earth and my whole solar system and constantly focuses me, rather than spins me. The novel, which is in yet another revision, I think it’s final one, I see with very clear eyes these days. This time around I think I know what’s making it uniquely worthwhile and what needs to be excised. I’m pushing it in the right direction, after having tried all the other directions. And The Sign for Drowning? It’s a novel, not on its way into a movie, but continues to have its own quirky life, where new friends in Ireland and Amsterdam occasionally reach out to let me know they’ve opened its pages and read it.