Gail Carson Levine Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Gail Carson Levine

Gail Carson Levine

How to pronounce Gail Carson Levine: le-veen (rhymes with seen) - Levine says that Carson is her maiden name, which she started using when she was published in the hope that old friends would find her - and they did!

An interview with Gail Carson Levine

Gail Carson Levine discusses how the movie version of Ella Enchanted differs from her book, whether she was involved in making the movie, and if she's happy with the result. In an earlier interview she also discusses how she got started as a writer and the workshops she runs for aspiring young writers.

When you started writing Ella Enchanted did you imagine that it would one day become a movie?
No. I didn't think it would get published. Everything I'd written till then had been rejected. If it was published, I thought it might sell a few thousand copies and go out of print. I thought if I was lucky I could write more books and get them published, too. I still pinch myself over the way things have worked out.

As the author of the book, how involved were you in the production of the movie?
Not very. I had what are called consulting rights, which meant that the producer had to send me the script. I had the opportunity to comment, but the producer and director had no obligation to act on my comments.

The script is very different from the book, and so is the movie. My comments about plot weren’t acted on. But my comments about obedience were. I said there had to be consistency in the way Ella responds to orders. She could follow commands figuratively or literally, but it needed to be the same throughout. In my book, Ella follows the meaning of commands. If she were told to hold her tongue she’d be silent. In the movie Anne Hathaway actually grabs her tongue and holds it. So it goes the other way in the movie, but it’s consistent.

My husband and I were given the opportunity to go to Ireland to watch three days of shooting. We were just observers, although Miramax did have my very own director's chair ready for me! The filming was fascinating, and I'll never watch a movie in exactly the same way again. They only shoot the tiniest pieces at a time, only a few lines, which they film over and over until the director is satisfied. We were told that the director and producer were happy if they got a minute of usable film out of a whole day of shooting. And, since it was Ireland, the film crew had to stop frequently in the middle of a scene to wait for the weather to go back to what it had been at the beginning.

A mime was brought in to help. The idea was that Ella's body would process a command before her mind caught up. The mime helped Anne Hathaway reflect that idea in her movements. Isn’t that interesting?

When did you first see the movie? Were there any changes to your characters? If so, how did the changes make you feel? Did they make you think about the story differently?
I've only seen the movie once, in November or December, I think, and not all the special effects were in place then. The movie is so different from the book that it’s hard to compare them. There are new characters. For example, Char’s parents are dead in the movie, and he has an evil uncle who has a talking snake as a sidekick.

The changes made me remember some of the choices I’d made when I wrote the book ten years ago. For example, I had thought of adding a political dimension. I’d thought of having Kyrrian policies toward the exotic creatures be inhumane. But ultimately I decided not to. Interestingly, the movie does just that.

What part of Ella Enchanted was your favorite to write? Was this also your favorite portion of the movie?
I loved writing the letters Char and Ella exchange when Char is in Ayortha, but they’re not in the movie at all! I loved writing Ella’s flirtation with the Earl of Wolleck when Ella’s under the influence of the torlin kerru, but that’s not there either.

The movie is fun, and the book is fun. I wouldn’t have wanted a somber interpretation, so I’m glad about that, and I love Anne Hathaway’s performance. If I’d had the choice of anyone in the world to play Ella, I don’t think I could have chosen better.

Do you have any suggestions for fans of Ella Enchanted the book before they see Ella Enchanted the movie?
To fans of the book, I’d suggest regarding the movie as a separate creative act. You might want to think about the choices the screen writers made and why they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.

For those who haven’t read the book, I hope you’ll start reading!

And to everyone, don’t be too obedient!

Gail Carson Levine discusses how she got started as a writer

How did you get started as a writer?
I wrote as a kid, but I never wanted to be a writer particularly. I had been drawing and painting for years and loved that. And I meditate, and one time when I was meditating, I started thinking, "Gee Gail, you love stories-- you read all the time. How come you never tell yourself a story?" While I should have been saying my mantra to myself, I started telling myself a story. It turned out to be an art appreciation book for kids with reproductions of famous artworks and pencil drawings that I did. I tried to get it published and was rejected wholesale.

That book led me to a class on writing and illustrating for kids, and when I went into it I thought that I would be more interested in illustrating. But I found that I was much more interested in writing and that I didn't like the illustrating at all. I had always been the hardest on myself when I drew and painted. I am not hard on myself when I write. I like what I write, so it is a much happier process.

That's how I got started. And then everything I wrote was rejected for nine years.

What are the differences between writing fiction, fairy tale, and historical fiction.
Contemporary fiction is the hardest for me because I am not really in the popular culture-- I don't watch TV. I had to go to an eighth grade class and follow them around, asking a lot of questions before I wrote The Wish. I was never certain about getting it right. I was aiming for a timeless contemporary book. For example, I used the telephone in the book, and phone technology changes so much. All the music at their grad night is oldies, which is just as well because whatever is playing now is also going to be an oldie. In spite of myself, it will probably be dated.

Making up one's own world is complicated. You have to keep track of it; you have to make sure that you are clueing the reader in. But working in the real world is very hard, for me anyways. For other people it's not.

Historical fiction, in a way, is not as hard. It's all about research. I have a very vivid memory of the way my parents spoke and the 50's that I grew up in are closer to the 20's, I think, than today in many, many ways.

What advice do you give the aspiring young writers in the workshops that you lead?
Save everything you write.

I think kids abandon stories all the time. They start stories and get frustrated or get a different, better idea. I think that it is more worthwhile to stick with a story and revise it and try to finish it than abandon ship. Revisions, for any writer, are the name of the game.

I want to write a book. In fact, that's kind of getting high on my list of things I want to do-- I want to write a writing book for kids.

What is your workshop like?
Oh I love the kids. I love doing it. It's great. It's the best thing I do I think.

These kids are getting kind of sophisticated. This summer they blew me away because they decided that they were going to bring enough copies of their work for everybody to take home, so that they could read each other's work over the next week. I couldn't believe it. They did this all on their own.

What do you enjoy most about being an author or going to the schools?
I love it all. I love having written. Sometimes I love writing. I love to revise. Revising is my favorite part of writing. I love working with kids.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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