About Utah: Film screenplay ends up as novel from Utah County writer

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 10:49 p.m. MDT

SPRINGVILLE — In a sharp vice versa from the usual, Eric Hendershot, renowned writer of family-friendly films, has taken a screenplay and turned it into a book.

Normally it's the other way around.

But these are not normal times, and after running into closed door after closed door these past few years trying to negotiate a movie deal in Hollywood during the Great Recession, Hendershot went to plan B and turned his screenplay into a full-length book.

"At Season's End," appropriately enough, tells the story of a family in the Great Depression that did what it had to do to make ends meet when making ends meet was no easy proposition.

Talk about life imitating art and art imitating life.

"I almost got the movie made in L.A. but it fell through, and I loved the story so much that I decided to write a novel from the screenplay," says Hendershot, who lives with his family in Springville and easily qualifies as the town's most famous filmmaker.

The novel is classified as fiction, but the inspiration comes from a genuine Depression-era journal that Hendershot came across in his own travels. Written by a young man named Tim, the diary tells about the experiences Tim and his family had while moving around the country picking cherries and other crops.

As soon as everything was harvested, off they'd go to somewhere else.

The book has a "Grapes of Wrath" feel to it — a family with strong parents and resilient children negotiating harsh times together. It's the Joad family all over again, although without Steinbeck's socialistic, anti-establishment commentary.

But Hendershot says "The Grapes of Wrath" was not the inspiration for the book, and while the 1930s Great Depression setting is the same, the moral of the book is timeless.

"The moral is that a country's survival is not always because of named heroes," he says. "It is because of unknown heroes like the family in this book. It is about the strength and will of the human spirit. As Richard and Linda Eyre state at the front of the book, 'At Season's End' reminds us that nothing is more important than having a strong family."

Hendershot tells the story through the eyes of Sal, a girl at the center of the plot that threads throughout the narrative.

The plotting is clever, but perhaps most impressive is Hendershot's ability to not just write, but to write in the voice of a young, uneducated teenage girl growing up in the 1930s.

As an example, at the start of Chapter 6, "Thirty-one-cent Miracle," Sal sets this scene:

Leavin' Hood River and goin' south, you climb up and up till you are several hundred feet above the giant pines, lookin' way, way down on the trees. Once we got to the top and started down the far side, we were goin' faster and faster.

"Slow down, Honey," Maw said.

"Can't," Paw said, "Our brakes are gone!"

To prove it, he stepped on the brake several times and each time he did, the pedal banged against the floorboards. He tried to put it in a lower gear, but the car was goin' too fast. All's Paw could do was put it in high and shut off the motor. … I looked over the edge. I could just see us a tumblin' head over heels and just knew that this was the end.

"Are we gonna crash Paw?" Tim asked.

"Can't tell," Paw shouted. "Let you know later."

Hendershot says some of his movie friends have told him the book reads like a screenplay — a very long screenplay — which is fine by him.

"It can't be helped," he says, "I've been writing screenplays since 1978." Writing screenplays is harder than writing books, he adds. "It takes longer (to write a book) and unlike scripting you have a lot of editing, but I find I really enjoy the process."

And then there's the added fringe benefit. If a movie producer reads the book and likes it, it could make its way to the big screen.

(To order the book or learn more, go to www.atseasonsend.com).

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

EMAIL: benson@desnews.com

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