Author to share insights on Hollywood at Stephens

Judith Guest is the latest speaker in the Citizen Jane series, presenting women in film.
Sunday, November 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:27 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Judith Guest, whose novel “Ordinary People” was made into a movie, will be in Columbia this week to talk about the difficulties of working in Hollywood.

But she doesn’t want students to get discouraged by her presentation.

“You need to know what the business is like before you go out into it,” Guest said.

She will appear as part of the Citizen Jane Women in Film Speaker Series at Stephens College. The series began in September with Barbara Wiener, founder of TVbyGirls.

“The concept of the Citizen Jane series is to bring women that have been involved with films at any point and talk about their experience,” said John Blakemore, chairman of Stephens’ mass media department.

“Ordinary People,” a novel discussing depression and teen suicide, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film directed by Robert Redford in 1980.

The novel’s adaptation and Guest’s experience in Hollywood will constitute her presentation, which is titled, “One Writer’s Story: Thoughts on the Making of a Novel and a Film Script.”

In an interview, Guest cited a quotation by novelist John Fowles — “You have to decide what is real, you or Hollywood” — saying it’s significant for students who want to work in the industry.

“It is easy to become disillusioned or confused when you are out there,” Guest said. “You have to keep remembering who you are.”

“Ordinary People” was Guest’s first novel, but its publication didn’t happen overnight. It was rejected by two publishers before being picked up, after an eight-month wait, by Viking Press.

If a writer wants people to read his or her books, it’s necessary to put up with the obstacles one will encounter along the way, Guest said.

She said losing faith with your material is an obstacle, but she does not consider writer’s block to be one.

“If you are stuck, there is a reason for it,” Guest said.

In addition to the public presentation, Guest and her co-writer, Rebecca Hill, will conduct a small weekend workshop for students, “Character Development in Fiction and Film.” Guest said they will discuss collaborative writing and character and plot development in a screenplay.

Blakemore said he wants students in the workshop to learn how to adapt a novel into a movie and what it is like for a woman in the industry to go through that process.

Guest’s other novels are “Second Heaven,” “Killing Time in St. Cloud,” “Errands” and “The Tarnished Eye.” She is working on “White in the Moon,” the sequel to “The Tarnished Eye.”

Guest has been writing since she was 10.

“I think that if (writing) is a field that you love,” Guest said, “you have to be ready to give all your creative energy to it.”

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