Movie adaptation breathes new life into The Glass Castle

The New York Times bestseller was written by Jeannette Walls and released in 2005.

Brie Larson stands in for Jeannette Walls in the movie The Glass Castle.

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Jake Giles Netter / Lionsgate

Brie Larson stands in for Jeannette Walls in the movie The Glass Castle.

It may have been 12 years in the making, but author Jeannette Walls knows that there’s no guarantee the adaptation of her bestseller The Glass Castle will be a box-office blockbuster.

“If you have a book that you love, of course you want to see the movie but it doesn’t always work. Some really good books have been turned into mediocre movies,” admitted the former-gossip journalist-turned bestselling author recently. “(But) if it’s done well, it gives a sort of tangible quality to the characters.”

Lucky for Walls, the forthcoming film version of her hugely popular memoir The Glass Castle has met the accumulating hype. Directed by newcomer Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), the film retraces Walls’ (played by Brie Larson) unorthodox upbringing under the guidance of a wildly dysfunctional father (Woody Harrelson) who was either stimulating his kids with inventive wonder or tormenting them with a detrimental drinking problem.

“Woody Harrelson was just phenomenal. He breathed life into my father in a way that I didn’t expect,” said Walls, who recalled being blown away watching the twice-Oscar-nominated actor work. “Woody was saying things that my father said that I had not told him and it kind of freaked me out a little bit.”

It’s that level of authenticity that Walls hopes most of the five million readers who have purchased her novel will identify with. After all, if anyone understands the challenges of distilling a complex life into to an affecting story arc, it’s Walls.

“That’s one of the things I applaud Destin for and he had even greater limitations. He had to reduce (my book) to a very limited number of scenes,” said Walls, who admits it took her five years to perfect the paperback version. “Even though its non-fiction, we shape our truths by which stories we tell and how we choose to tell them.”

Now that her truth has been told and The Glass Castle is about to hit screens, it would seem that one chapter of Jeanette Walls’ life is finally about to find closure.

“That’s not the word I would have chosen!” laughed Walls. “It isn’t closure at all because it’s a new beginning. This book, it’s been out there plugging away for 12 years (and) the book is going to get a whole new life through the movie so it’s not closure. It’s a great big new adventure.”

We asked Jeannette Walls to offer three tricks for writing a successful memoir:

1. “Tell the truth,” said Walls. “If you worry what your parents are going to think about it or your neighbours or your employer, it’s too inhibiting.”

2. “If anything that you’re looking to write is too weird and too painful and you can’t imagine putting it down on paper, then you must tell it because that is pivotal.”

3. “In telling truth, a funny thing happens because you also find your voice. I think that a lot of us hide behind somebody else’s voice.”

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