Novel’s Mother-Daughter Thing Makes it to the Screen
Add Carleen Brice to the very long list of native Nebraskans who have found success as authors. She plied her craft for years as an editor and journalist before taking the plunge as a novelist a few years ago, and her first two book-length works of fiction, Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters, did very well with critics and audiences. The following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) appeared on the eve of the Lifetime Movie Network‘s premiere of Sins of the Daughter, the made-for-television adaptation of her first novel Orange Mint and Honey. Carleen was quite pleased with how her work was transferred to the screen. The better-than-average Lifetime movie stars Jill Scott and Nicole Beharie as the mother-daughter figures who reconnect after years of estrangement. The pic is steeped in 12-step philosophies and principals because the mother character is a recovering addict, but the movie never steeps to cheap sentimentality or simplistic cures. It is also quite mature and real, just like Carleen’s book. She got to spend some time on the movie’s set in Vancouver, British Columbia. In addition to her books, Carleen is an active blogger and contributor to various online sites. Check out her The Pajama Gardener and White Readers Meet Black Authors. You can also find her work at Girlfriends Book Club, SheWrites, and The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog. And, of course, she’s on Facebook and Twitter. It seems that a girl (or boy) author just can’t get by these days without putting themselves and their work out there in the social media world.
A NOTE: Carleen’s later grandfather, Billy Melton, was a friend of mine. On this same blog I have several stories in which I quote Billy. One piece profiles his love of music, another recounts the experiences of Billy and his comrades in an all-black Quartermaster battalion during World War II, another has Billy and friends waxing nostalgic on the Ritz Cab Co. they drove for, and still another has Billy and others weighing in on what makes soul food, well, soul food. I will also be adding another story I did about Carleen and her writing life.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Omaha native Carleen Brice often doubted she’d complete, much less get published, her first novel, Orange Mint and Honey (One World/Ballantine). She did. It broke big in 2008 and now a Lifetime Movie Network version of it is premiering.
The movie, Sins of the Mother, stars Jill Scott and Nicole Beharie as a mother and daughter struggling to heal their broken relationship. Scott is a powerhouse as Nona, the mother in recovery from alcoholism. Beharie is intense as Shay, the resentful daughter whose childhood was stolen by Nona’s drinking and carousing.
Long estranged, the two end up living together when Shay’s unresolved turmoil sends her back home from grad school. She finds a changed woman in Nona, who works a steady job, keeps a tidy home, stays sober and cares for a new daughter, Sunny. Her 12-step recovery infuses her life — from affirmations taped everywhere to meetings to sponsorship.
It’s all too much for Shay, who’s come for an apology, not a crash course in serenity. She doesn’t buy Nona’s sobriety as real. After some false-starts she accepts Nona’s healthy transformation. The wounded Shay’s finally able to confront her own hurt and learns to trust and love again.
There are big emotional moments, especially a church scene in which Scott and Beharie tear it up. There are some small, closely observed moments, too, like in the prayer garden where Nona and Shay surrender their fears. It all rings true and cathartic, not sappy or coy. Director Paul Kaufman makes Nona’s house and garden charged characters. Sunny represents the happy child Shay never was but also the hope of her and Nona’s new lives.
Scene from Sins of the Mother, with Jill Scott (L) and Nicole Beharie (R)
Brice, who resides in Denver, is pleased how her work was translated. “I was really happy they stuck so closely to the book. I definitely feel my book is the source of the movie,” she said.
Fans of the novel would have to agree it’s a faithful adaptation, although they may quibble about some deletions. Count screenwriter Elizabeth Hunter (Beauty Shop) a fan. She tried staying true to the novel as possible.
“The book was great. If it’s rolling I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel and this one was rolling. Carleen just created all these very rich characters I hadn’t seen before,” Hunter said.
She hated losing some of the novel’s leitmotifs, such as Nina Simone appearing to Shay in moments of crisis. Hunter, like Brice, is a huge Simone devotee.
“The Nina Simone of it all hooked me into the book,” said Hunter. “Unfortunately, it was very expensive to get the rights to her music.”
Other story elements didn’t make it in the script due to time constraints, but Hunter’s satisfied “the characters and the emotions track really well.” Brice is, too, saying, “I feel very good about how the screenwriter and everyone involved approached this adaptation.”
Brice visited the movie’s Vancouver, British Columbia set, where as an extra she anxiously watched the crucial church scene filmed.
“It was THE big scene in the story, so, yes, I was worried about it,” said Brice. “But I also had always thought of it as the scene that would attract movie people. It’s meaty, you know? It was the last scene they filmed with Jill so it was really special for many reasons to be a part of it.”
In an essay Brice’s written for thedefendersonline.com she describes a coming-full-circle experience of listening on her iPod Scott sing “Try” prior to meeting the Grammy-winning singer and star of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The same song and message carried Brice through the angst of writing the novel. Seeing Scott and Beharie bring it to life moved her to tears.
The author writes she once steeled herself at the thought of others interpreting her work by repeating, mantra-like, “The book is mine, the movie is theirs.” By the end of the shoot she’d changed her mind to the point where “the movie feels like it’s mine, too.”
Brice’s acclaimed 2009 novel, Children of the Waters (One World/Ballantine) is being considered for a movie adaptation. Might she adapt it herself? “I would consider it, but I understand that adapting is more difficult than it seems. We’ll see.”
Her in-progress novel, Calling Every Good Wish Home, is about a woman long estranged from her father who becomes close with his widow.
As for “her” movie, Brice will be watching with a Denver book club that won a contest she sponsored. She’s bringing champagne.
- Randy Susan Meyers: Lit Versus Commercial Fiction: Writer Wars? (huffingtonpost.com)
- BlogHer ’10 Speaker Spotlight, July 20, 2010: Writing Inspiration – Stoke Your Creativity (blogher.com)
- First Listen: “Shame” by Jill Scott featuring Eve (loft965.com)
- Last.fm Trends: Jill Scott Back In The Frame (wdok.radio.com)
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Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
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