Brandeis prof.’s novel made into French feature film

Brandeis prof.’s novel made into French feature film

February 27, 2015

Stephen McCauley, the associate director of Creative Writing and professor of the English Department, is no stranger to having his books adapted for the silver screen. His novel, “The Easy Way Out,” was recently adapted into “L’Art de la fugue,” a 2014 French comedy feature film. This is the third novel of McCauley’s that has been made into a film. In 1999, “The Object of My Affection” was turned into a film starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. Almost a decade later, another novel, “True Enough,” was adapted into a French film called “La vérité ou presque.”

What is interesting about these adaptations is that McCauley does not write plot-driven novels. “It’s seems a little strange to me there’s been so much interest … I have to assume it’s the characters,” he said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

His novel “Alternatives to Sex” is under option with ABC for a TV series. “I am about 110 percent positive nothing will ever happen with that,” he stated. “Studios buy options for many, many books, meaning they hold the rights to make it or not for a designated period of time. A tiny percent of those optioned actually get made.”

McCauley wrote his first novel, “Object,” while working on his M.F.A. at Columbia University in 1987. The novel was his thesis, but a professor of his handed it to a literary agent, and it was published shortly thereafter. “In publishing, a lot depends on timing, and in that regard, I was lucky,” admitted McCauley. Since then, he has received much attention. In particular, his books have been popular in France. “[It’s possible that] the French tend to like comedies of manners. Or maybe it’s just that the translator writes better than I do and improves the books. Who knows?” he joked.

Once the screenwriter had a first draft of the screenplay for “L’Art de la fugue,” he came to Boston and worked with McCauley for a couple of weeks on details of dialogue and character. According to McCauley, authors who sell the rights to a book have to understand that it becomes someone else’s project. Therefore, they have to relinquish control of all the final decisions. “My goal has always been to write novels, not films, so it’s easy for me to view them as two separate things and to accept that the director knows more about telling a story on the screen than I do,” he said wisely.

“The Easy Way Out,” published in 1992, was McCauley’s second novel. “I was about halfway finished writing a very different book when my younger brother called me to say that he was not in love with his fiancee. He was, in fact, seeing another woman and wanted my help trying to decide what to do,” McCauley revealed. “It seemed like an interesting premise for the start of a novel. It’s the only novel I’ve written based on something that happened in my life. Of course, once you begin writing, events and people take on lives of their own.”

Details are important and interesting to McCauley. “I have always been drawn to writers who write closely about the small details of life—families, relationships, friendships. Especially If they do so with humor, irony and wit,” said McCauley. Some of the authors McCauley loves are Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, E.F. Benson, Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym; he rereads their work continually. Among the contemporary writers whose work he buys the day it comes out are Peter Cameron, Richard Price, Jamaica Kincaid and Carol Anshaw.

His advice for aspiring authors? “I would advise undergraduate writers to read, read, read, read. And do whatever their creative writing teachers tell them, of course.”

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