7 Best Book-To-TV Adaptations

Whenever I have a novel out (The Lemon Orchard in trade paperback, May 27) my thoughts turn to casting. I can't help it. A lot of writers dream of feature films, but television--by way of TNT, CBS, Lifetime, and Hallmark Hall of Fame--has always called my name. And after seeing True Detective can there be any doubt that the storytelling on TV is as genius as it gets? Much has been written about Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson classing up the small screen, but may I just say, in my own lucky experience, great actors and TV have long been perfect together.

The bar for my casting dreams has been set high. Here are a few of the actors who have brought my novels to TV life: Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter, Frances McDormand, Julian Sands, Gena Rowlands, Rob Lowe, Julia Ormond, Chelsea Hobbs, Tate Donovan, Anne Heche, Max Martini, Campbell Scott, Kimberly Paisley-Williams, Alexa Vega, and the late legends Richard Kiley and Kim Hunter.

As I light candles and chant in hopes the television deities will bestow kindness and a TV deal on The Lemon Orchard--I'd like a network to pick it up as a series set in Malibu, the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, and the harsh, lunar, bone-scattered desert along the Mexican border, with eight episodes ordered--let me reflect on a few favorite made-for-television-movies-and series that started with books:

  • 'Game of Thrones,' HBO, based on the novel by George R. R. Martin
    George and I had the same publisher and, in 1996, Nita Taublib, then deputy publisher at Bantam Books, pressed a galley into my hands and said, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!” I did and in spite of the fact it wasn’t my normal cup of tea was, of course, blown away, and I passed it on to my 12-year-old fantasy-loving niece, and instantly gained a cool quotient I’d never had before. Its fine and absorbing translation to television only makes my having given her that galley more heroic.
  • 'Love is Never Silent,' Hallmark Hall of Fame, was adapted from 'In This Sign' by Joanne Greenberg
    Hallmark makes beautiful films that feel as if they should be watched in a theater. The Hall family knows the power of stories, and they give us unforgettable movies with heart and depth and the resonance of classics. This film, about a young woman (Mare Winningham) caring for her deaf parents, is a favorite of all time. (I am honored to have had two Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions made from my novels—Silver Bells and Follow the Stars Home.)
  • 'The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler,' also Hallmark Hall of Fame, was adapted from 'Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Story of Irena Sendler' by Muza SA
    This is a wrenching portrayal of a member of the Polish underground who saves the lives of thousands of Jewish children before being arrested by the Nazis. It’s about love and sacrifice and unimaginable loss and the way we help each other, or should, and it made me feel the world is both shattering and luminous. Anna Paquin plays Irena in a vastly different role from the one she inhabits in True Blood.
  • 'True Blood,' HBO, adapted from Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels
    Sexy and mischievous vampires, skin-walkers, werewolves, and Fiona Shaw--whose Medea on Broadway still fills my nightmares with grief and dread--as a sorceress possessed by an ancient sexually tortured witch--inhabit a Southern Louisiana town.
  • 'Dexter,' Showtime, adapted from 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' and other novels by Jeff Lindsay
    My former editor gave me the Lindsay novels for Christmas years ago; I loved the voice, and enjoyed watching the character come to life each Sunday night, played so perfectly by Michael C. Hall. Dexter was mindful; as he gained awareness the disconnect between his thoughts and behavior dissolved. He was as Zen a killer as humanly possible.
  • 'Empire Falls,' HBO, adapted from the novel by the same title by Richard Russo
    This wonderful mini-series takes place in a crumbling New England factory town, like the kind I grew up in, and deals with the troubles of one family. Directed by Fred Schepisi, Empire Falls starred Paul Newman, Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn, and Joanne Woodward.
  • 'The Dollmaker,' ABC, a 1984 jewel of a movie adapted from Harriette Arnow’s novel of the same title
    The film starred Jane Fonda, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress and is still so affecting all these years later it makes me cry to remember the little girl crying out for “Callie Lou” as she approaches the train tracks.