Five Fortunes (Gutcheon)

Author Bio 
Birth—March 18, 1945
Where—Sewickley, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University
Currently—New York, NY

Beth Gutcheon grew up in western Pennsylvania. She attended the Sewickley Academy, Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, and Harvard College, where she took an honors B.A. in English literature. She has spent most of her adult life in New York City, except for sojourns in San Francisco and on the coast of Maine.

In 1978, she wrote the narration for a feature-length documentary on the Kirov ballet school, The Children of Theatre Street, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and she has made her living as a full-time storyteller (novels and occasional screenplays) since then. Gutcheon's novels have been translated into 14 languages (if you count the pirated Chinese edition of Still Missing), plus large-print and audio formats. Still Missing was made into a feature film called Without a Trace and was also published in a Reader's Digest Condensed version, which particularly pleased the author's mother. (From the author's website.)

From a 2005 Barnes and Noble interview:

"When my second novel was in manuscript, a subsidiary rights guy at my publisher secretly sent a copy of it to a friend who was working in Hollywood with the producer Stanley Jaffe, who had made Goodbye Columbus, The Bad News Bears, and Kramer v. Kramer, run Paramount Pictures before he was 30, and met the queen of England. My agent had an auction set up for the film rights of Still Missing for the following Friday, with some very heavy-hitter producers and such, which was exciting enough. Two days before the auction, Stanley Jaffe walked into my agent's office in New York and said,

"I want to make a pre-emptive bid for Beth Gutcheon's novel."
"But you haven't read it," says Wendy.
"Nevertheless," says Stanley.
"There's an auction set up. It'll cost a lot to call it off," says Wendy.
"I understand that," says Stanley.
Wendy named a number.
Stanley said, "Done," or words to that effect.

To this day, remembering Wendy's next phone call to me causes me something resembling a heart attack. When, several weeks later, Stanley called and asked me if I had an interest in writing the screenplay of the movie that became Without a Trace, I said, ‘No.' He quite rightly hung up on me.

I then spent twenty minutes in a quiet room wondering what I had done. A man with a shelf full of Oscars, on cozy terms with Lizzie Windsor, had just offered me film school for one, all expenses paid by Twentieth Century Fox. He knew I didn't know how to write screenplays. He wasn't offering to hire me because he wanted to see me fail. Who cares that all I ever wanted to see on my tombstone was ‘She Wrote a Good Book?' The chance to learn something new that was both hard and really interesting was not resistible. I spent the rest of the weekend tracking him from airport to airport until I could get him back on the phone. (This was before we all had cell phones.)

I was sitting in my bleak office on a wet gray day, on which my newly teenaged son had shaved his head and I had just realized I'd lost my American Express card, when the phone rang. "Is this Beth Gutcheon?" asked a voice that made my hair stand on end. I said it was. ‘This is Paul Newman,' said the voice.

It was, too. The fine Italian hand of Stanley Jaffe again, he'd recommended me to work on a script Paul was developing. Paul invited me to dinner to talk about it. My son said, "For heaven's sake, Mother, don't be early and don't be tall." I was both. We did end up writing a script together; it was eventually made for television with Christine Lahti, and fabulous Terry O'Quinn in the Paul Newman part, called The Good Fight."

• I read all the time. My husband claims I take baths instead of showers because I can't figure out how to read in the shower, and he's right.

• I started buying poetry for the first time since college after 9/11, but wasn't reading it until a friend mentioned that she and her husband read poetry in the morning before they have breakfast. She is right — a pot of tea and a quiet table in morning sunlight is exactly the right time for poetry. I read the New York Times Book Review in the bath and on subways because it is light and foldable. I listen to audiobooks through earphones while I take my constitutionals or do housework. I read physical books for a couple of hours every night after everyone else is in bed—usually two books alternately, one novel and one biography or book of letters.

• I have a dog named Daisy Buchanan. She ran for president last fall; her slogan was ‘No Wavering, No Flip-flopping, No pants.' She doesn't know yet that she didn't win, so if you meet her, please don't tell her.

• When I was in high school I invented, by knitting one, a double-wide sweater with two turtlenecks for my brother and his girlfriend. It was called a Tweter and was even manufactured in college colors for a year or two. There was a double-paged color spread in Life magazine of models wearing Tweters and posing with the Jets football team. My proudest moment was the Charles Addams cartoon that ran in The New Yorker that year. It showed a Tweter in a store window, while outside, gazing at it in wonder, was a man with two heads.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is her answer:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Dickens often manages to be both dramatic and funny, while telling a thundering great story, but in Great Expectations, in spite of the unforgettable gargoyles like Miss Havisham and charming Wemmick with his Aged P, it's a very human story about the difference between how things look and how they really are. When Pip recognizes how he has fooled himself, and what he must accept about reality, you see that while Dickens has been amusing you with any number of major and minor melody lines that all seemed to be tripping along by themselves, he has in fact been in perfect control, building up to a major chord, every note right and every instrument contributing at just the right moment. I understood that to make a novel pay off like that, you have to know from the get-go what story you are telling, how it ends, what it means, and exactly what you want the reader to feel and know when it's over. It was the book that made me start thinking like a writer, not just as a passionate reader, about how stories are made. (From Barnes and Noble.)

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