Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Back Roads" author O'Dell awaiting film production

I've only read ... or shall I say, listened to on audiobook while driving across Pennsylvania ... one novel by Tawni O'Dell, and that was "Coal Run."

The work is memorable to me years later because it featured a fallen Pittsburgh Steeler as the protagonist, and he was someone who frequented an establishment known as Valley Dairy - a haunt of my ice-cream indulged youth with which anyone from central PA is probably familiar.

O'Dell, a native of Indiana, Pa., makes my hometown of State College her own now. All four of her novels are set in small Pennsylvania towns and are peppered with authentically recalled small-town details and references.

An article about her was recently featured in the State College paper, the Centre Daily Times. CDT columnist Stephanie Koons wrote that O'Dell's first novel "Back Roads," published in 2000, is a New York Times bestseller, an Oprah’s Book Club pick and a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection.

In a recent column she wrote for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on gender bias in publishing, O'Dell said "Back Roads" is "set in the coal-mining area where I grew up and was a dark, gritty portrayal of a family in crisis told entirely in the male first-person voice of 19-year-old Harley Altmyer." Read more of the excellent column here.

O’Dell is in the process of converting her book to a screenplay for a "major studio film production," Koons writes. She's collaborating on the screenplay with the film's director, Adrian Lyne, who also directed "Flashdance," "Fatal Attraction," and "Unfaithful."

Variety last month reported that the film is set to star Andrew Garfield, Jennifer Garner and Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden. Read the entire Variety article here. Production is tentatively set for June.

Garfield, who co-starred in “The Social Network,” will play the main character, 19-year-old Harley Altmyer, a western Pennsylvania coal town resident who is must care for his three younger sisters when their mother is sent to prison, according to the Post Gazette.

"Ms. Garner will play a neighbor who has an affair with Harley and Ms. Harden's role is a court-appointed therapist," the article continued.

The production has been in the works for about four years, O'Dell told the CDT, noting the process of writing a screenplay was arduous. “There’s so much you have to cut, and you hate to do that, especially when it’s your book,” she said.

O’Dell has a journalism degree from Northwestern University, but wisely left the business for more lucrative ventures. She told the CDT that "after working at a couple of newspaper jobs, she discovered that she preferred creating her own stories."
On writing, she added, "“The main things you need to be a novelist are you need to have an imagination and you need to be a good storyteller, and I don’t think those things can be taught.”

O'Dell (pictured at left in a photo by Pat Little from the CDT in her State College office) moved to Happy Valley after living in Chicago for many years in order to “raise my kids in the same type of environment I grew up in.” She has a son in high school (at my alma mater, State High) and a daughter at NYU.

O’Dell's new novel, “Fragile Beast,” was just released in paperback March 1. Here's an excerpt published last spring in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Read more about O'Dell and her books on her website.

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