Theresa Preston: Mom, Screenwriter, Novelist
One of my favorite films in recent months was the wonderful movie October Baby. Today, I’m happy to share my recent interview with Theresa Preston in celebration of the release of October Baby: A Novel. Enjoy!
Q: Theresa, thank you so much for your time. Would you kindly begin by introducing yourself and your family to our readers?
My name in Theresa Preston. I am originally from Newton, Mass., but I now live just outside of Birmingham, Ala., with my incredible and talented husband, Stephen, and our fun-loving 4-year-old, Sarah. We are thrilled to also have a baby on the way– another sweet girl due sometime in early February!! I am mostly a stay-at-home Mom, and my time is generally filled with brushing baby doll hair, doing puzzles and answering the many, many questions that our daughter comes up with throughout the day. I use her mornings at preschool and nap times to write and dream up stories. It is a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q: Your personal story of discovering your career sounds a little bit like a “fairy tale”! How did you come to find yourself in the world of screen writing?
I don’t think I actually found screenwriting. I think it found me. My parents and other family tell me that when I was little I did a lot of writing. They would find papers and notebooks filled with pages of stories that I made up in my free time. I always loved to write, but never realized that it was something I was particularly good at. I remember daydreaming in the backseat of the car on long trips with my family as a kid. It was back in the days before DVD players on the backs of car seats and handheld computer games. There was nothing else to do but look out the window and think. I would make up characters and stories in my head to pass the time. It sounds sort of silly, but I never knew until I started screenwriting, that other people didn’t do that all the time the way I did.
I went on to study other things in college, never really thinking of writing as being something I should consider. God had a plan all along, however, and He was working behind the scenes to merge things together in His perfect timing. When I met my husband, Stephen, we had no idea that a few days after our wedding He would move us to Alabama so that Stephen could be a Sound Designer for a budding film company. We had no idea that spending a ton of time on a film set with my husband would reinvigorate the story telling part of me, and we certainly had no idea that I would be inspired to write movies. But God did.
I started having ideas for what I thought would be good stories for film and I started to write them down. My husband encouraged me to write out an entire story from start to finish and email it on to Jon Erwin, one of the owners of the film company Stephen worked for (and later co-writer and co-director of October Baby). I did what Stephen suggested and it was my first official “film treatment,” and I didn’t even know that was what it was called in the industry. I was actually surprised when Jon liked my writing and even more surprised when he liked it enough to ask me to co-write with him. Working with Jon Erwin and his brother, Andrew, has helped me to develop my skills for writing for the screen. It takes discipline to write a film. You have to convey a lot of emotion without a lot of words. You have to let the camera do its work by showing what you aren’t always able to use words to convey, and you have to make every word that you do use count to drive the story forward. I studied screenwriting, read books, and Jon and I worked together on a couple of projects and my skills started to refine. It wasn’t much later that Jon came to me with the idea for October Baby and asked me to write it with him, and although I was still “new” to writing, I was eager to jump into story telling again.
I have no doubt in my mind that God was preparing me to write my entire life. My step-father, George, illustrated it best after he watched October Baby for the first time. He called me and asked, “Theresa, how do you go from studying education in college, to working at a coffee shop, to being an at-home-mom, to a screenwriting career?” It didn’t take long to reply. “You don’t. God does that. It’s the only explanation.”
Q: With the release of October Baby in book form, you are now a novelist and the author of an accompanying Bible study. How was it to make the transition from writing for film to writing in the longer formats?
While we were in the process of developing October Baby the novelization, I joked with Eric Wilson about how freeing it is to be able to use more words! There is a great deal of disciplines involved in novel writing, but the beauty is that you can use words as the medium to paint a picture. You can describe what is happening inside the character’s head. In screenwriting you have to show it with facial expressions, body language. In film, sometimes what the character does not say is more powerful than what they do say.
It was such a great experience to be able to let the readers of the novelization get more from each character about their inner dialogue and background. I really enjoyed working with Eric to think outside the 2-hour film-time-limit box and imagine more about where each of these characters came from.
Q: Why was it important that the film version of October Baby be followed up with a book?
The film left the viewers wanting to know more. They fell in love with Hannah and Jason and their relationship. They grieved with Cindy Hastings, the birth mother, and rejoiced with her in forgiveness. They went through the ups and downs of the story with Jacob and Grace as adoptive parents. They celebrated in the healing of Mary Rutledge, the nurse. There was so much emotion in the film that our viewers related to, that it was important to expand and give them more. The story is impactful, and somehow, God has enabled people from all different life experiences to relate to it. We can all understand the need to forgive and be forgiven. Expanding the story, I think, was an opportunity to highlight the beauty of the story even more and give viewers and readers what they crave — a deeper look into the hearts and lives of the characters.
Q: What parts of yourself are present in your depiction of the characters in October Baby?
I think the analytic and reflective parts of Hannah are a lot like me. I can relate to her journey of trying to find out who she really is and what His plan is for her life. I think I was somewhat like her as a teen as well — a little bit awkward sometimes, trying to figure out how to fit into a circle of friends. I think a lot of teenage girls have gone through that journey of learning how to truly be yourself and comfortable with exactly who you are with your peers.
I think I can relate to both Mary Rutledge, the nurse, and Cindy Hastings, the birth mother. I think most of us can. They both struggle with accepting grace and knowing that whatever wrong they have done in the past is just that — in the past. God’s love and mercy are big enough to cover us and it’s okay to forgive ourselves because we have been forgiven.
Q: You must have been overjoyed by the tremendous response to the film. Please describe your expectations, and then what type of feedback you received from people who were so personally touched by October Baby.
I was astonished by how the film was received. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect with a movie. You hope that people can understand your heart for the story and can relate to the characters and see something of themselves in the journey of the story, but you don’t know what will happen until it hits the box office. The night before the movie released in the theater I sat down and reminded myself that however successful it became was okay because I truly believed in what we put on that screen. We had put out whole hearts into it. I felt good about how we portrayed God’s message of forgiveness and I felt like it was a story that needed to be told. After that moment, I just laid it at God’s feet and trusted He would do with the film what He wanted.
I was just amazed at how people responded to October Baby. People really connected to the story of forgiveness. We heard from people who had survived abortions and were telling their stories for the first time. We heard from women who were post-abortive and were coming to terms with it and finding forgiveness at last. We heard from adoptive parents and children who were blessed by the relationship between Hannah and her adoptive parents. It was overwhelming and humbling and I feel so blessed that God allowed me to be part of something that still continues to touch people in a deep and sometimes life changing way.
Q: What’s next? Do you have another project underway?
I am still writing. I have story ideas, some on paper already, and some that haven’t made their way there yet. I think the journey of writing has just begun for me and I look forward to where God may take it. I trust Him completely to guide the way.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
Thank you! Thank you for your support for the film and for the novel and for getting the word out there. God had plans for this story all along. It was evident in every step as the film was being made. He used me, a new writer, and Jon and Andrew Erwin, new directors. He used Rachel Hendrix to play Hannah. It was her first feature film and she was amazing. He called Shari Rigby to be in the film as the birth mother and her personal story of God’s grace in her life as a post-abortive woman is strengthening and empowering women all over the country to claim that grace in their own lives. He brought Gianna Jessen on board, an abortion survivor herself, to share her incredible gift of music to sing on the October Baby soundtrack. He gave Eric Wilson a strong connection and love for the story that enabled him to know the characters well and it shows in the way the October Baby novelization has so much heart. Partnering with him was a pure joy as he loved October Baby as much as I did.
God’s plan all along for this story was to help change lives and to open up a dialogue about the power of God’s grace. I am so grateful that so many of you have allowed God to use you by sharing the story with others. I hope and pray that you have been blessed by October Baby as much as being part of it has blessed me.
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Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey