An Insider’s Interview with
Jack Weyland, Author of Charly
When Jack Weyland published his first novel, Charly, he had no idea that it would become the best-selling, word-of-mouth phenomenon it did. Now, twenty-two years after Charly first captured the hearts and minds of a generation, it has inspired the production of a major motion picture. Starring Heather Beers and Jeremy Elliott, the tale of Charly and Sam’s enduring love will open in theaters across Utah and Idaho on September 27 (with additional openings in Arizona on October 11).
Here, Jack Weyland gives us his perspective on both writing the story and finally seeing it portrayed on the big screen. It’s a first-hand account of the thoughts and experiences of an author who has become a favorite for hundreds of thousands of readers around the nation.
Q: Charly was wildly successful, especially for a first novel. Did you anticipate that kind of reception?
JW: No, not a bit. I had no clue. Money was so tight then, our hot water heater was going out. The mattress on our bed was so shot that my wife’s back was hurting, and she was sleeping on the floor. I was so new to the publishing business I wasn’t even sure if I would get paid for writing Charly. Deseret Book asked me to come to Salt Lake for my first book signing, and that’s when I found out they had already sold 8,000 copies of Charly and expected sales to continue. I called my wife and told her about the new contract – she had a headache when she answered the phone, but it was gone by the time the conversation was over. Needless to say, we got a new mattress and a water heater.
Q: What inspired you to write Charly?
JW: I was at a physics conference in New York City, and I could only stand to stay at the conference maybe two or three hours a day, then I’d sneak out and go to museums. I had always wanted to go to a Broadway play, but I never had any money. I was at Times Square my last night out, and I ran into this booth that sold half-price tickets. It was a quarter to 8:00, but they still had a ticket for Neil Simon’s Chapter 2 play. I ended up on the third row, in the center of a Broadway theater! I was blown away by the dialogue, and I thought, “I can do this. It’s true I have a Ph.D. in physics, but I’m going home and writing a Broadway play!” That play was Charly, but of course nobody wanted it. I thought that if you’d attended a play, that was enough qualification to write one. When I got nowhere, I turned it into a novel.
Q: Did anyone in your own life influence the novel’s characters?
JW: Yes, Charly’s sort of a composite of my wife, Sherry. Sherry’s a New York native who converted to the LDS Church, and her parents have always been rather amused by her conversion. My wife has a great sense of humor, and she has that pure Christian love. I’ve learned so much from Sherry – like Charly, she sees every person as someone to be loved. I think in the book, you can tell at a moment’s glance that Sam tends to compartmentalize people into being acceptable and unacceptable; I suppose that’s a feeling I had about myself. For the storyline, I also drew from the experience of watching a good friend lose his wife just after having their first child. I was so impressed he could speak at his wife’s funeral and testify that they would be together again some day. And after my father died of cancer, I guess I transferred some of my own grief and hope to the story, as well.
Q: How does it feel to have your first novel go to film?
JW: It’s amazing–to see it, to see the result of so many people working toward the same vision that I had for the book. It gives the story new life. It is just an incredible experience.
Q: How did you feel before you saw a cut of the film?
JW: Fear. Just total fear. What if I didn’t like it? I prepared myself by thinking, “It’s okay because authors aren’t supposed to like their movies.”
Q: What were your first impressions after you saw the film?
JW: I was overwhelmed by the movie. Janine [the screenwriter] and her husband and I screened the film in a small room. The film ends, and I’m crying; Janine’s crying; and her husband’s crying. We were just so amazed that it’s able to generate that kind of emotion, especially in me, because, wait a minute, I wrote this!
Q: What about the film most pleases you?
JW: It is a story for anybody, because lots of people have a crisis of faith; lots of people suffer the loss of a loved one; lots of people have to learn to be more like the Savior. I think this moves beyond a Mormon experience to be more universal.
Q: Did you get involved in casting any of the roles?
JW: No, because I am a person who is more auditory than visual. I hear characters’ dialogue; I don’t see them. The visual stuff of filmmaking is better left to the experts.
Q: What is your opinion of the people who were cast?
JW: I was very impressed with the entire cast. In fact, the actors have already replaced the original mental pictures I had of the characters.
Q: What approach do you take when you begin writing a novel?
JW: I start by writing dialogue for pages and pages. It’s how I become acquainted with my characters – at first I don’t even know what they look like, but I can hear their voices. I also get a lot of help from my editors – Eleanor Knowles was very helpful with Charly. The book was not very good at first. In fact, one writer was talking to Eleanor and said, “It’s too bad Charly isn’t publishable.” The editors just kept working with me, and I got better. Eleanor knows I’m greatly in debt to her.
Q: What are your favorite novels you’ve written?
JW: My favorites are, of course, Charly, A New Dawn, Jake, and Megan.
Q: Any plans for your next novel?
JW: I’m working on a piece that is something of a mirror image of Charly, with a young woman who goes to New York and meets a conceited, impossible young man. It’s exciting for me to be delving into this next novel.
Jack Weyland’s CHARLY opens in theaters across Utah and Southern Idaho on Friday, September 27. To watch the trailer for the film or get more information, please visit the web site www.charlythemovie.com.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.