Jean Hegland’s journey ‘Into the Forest’
Jean Hegland finished writing her novel “Into the Forest” in 1996 and went on to write two more.?Now, after nearly 20 years, it has been made into a movie that will be released by DAS Films in September at the Toronto Film Festival.
The movie stars Canadian actress Ellen Page, best known for her role in “Juno,” and Evan Rachel Wood, who played prominent roles in “Thirteen” and TV’s “True Blood.”
While Hegland didn’t work on the screenplay, the Healdsburg author and SRJC adjunct English teacher said she is quietly excited about the fact that “the book had legs.” It has sold about 100,000 copies and has been translated into 11 languages, most recently French and South Korean translations.
Now the upcoming movie premiere is “stirring up little pieces of magic.”
Hegland’s science fiction drama is set in the near future and focuses on the relationship between two sisters who live alone in the Northern California forest. After their parents’ death and as society begins to collapse around them, they run out of gas and power and are forced to re-examine their place in the world, on the land and with each other.
Page has been the driving force behind the movie, Hegland said. “It was her passion for the book that made me trust her. She had a profound understanding of the story.”
“Into the Forest” is Hegland’s first novel but her second book, following “The Life Within: Celebration of a Pregnancy,” an extensively researched book about her pregnancy experiences that was published in 1991 by Humana Press, shortly after her second daughter, Tessa, was born.
“It was so hard to get published,” she said. “It was rejected by 50 small presses before it was picked up by Humana, which was a good publishing fit. It made about as much splash as a rose tossed into the Grand Canyon,” she said with a laugh.
Like many writers, she couldn’t find an agent without publishing credentials and, without an agent, found it challenging to get published.
When “Into the Forest” was finished, she again sent the manuscript to publishers sans agent. Interest came a little faster this time, after the manuscript had been rejected “only about 25 times.” It was published in 1996 by Calyx, a small nonprofit feminist press based in Corvallis, Ore.
“The Calyx editorial board spent a great deal of care with the manuscript and created a great cover,” said Hegland, 58. She was sent on a promotional tour and received an advance of about $800, compared with about $500 for “The Life Within.”
After Calyx sold American publication rights to Bantam Books in 1998, Hegland finally secured an agent, Elizabeth Wales, who continues to represent her. Calyx exercised its foreign language rights, and “the book cruised,” Hegland said. It spent several weeks on the San Francisco Chronicle’s best seller list and has been film-optioned twice before, once with an independent producer and once with a Hollywood producer.
In terms of money, Hegland said, “It’s not a life-changing amount, but it’s always welcome. This is a boost for the story that I love and a boost for my career.
“’I’m pleased’ sounds so understated, though I do get more satisfaction from individual feedback and appreciation of the novel, not the numbers.”
Hegland’s third book, “Windfalls,” explores the relationship between two young mothers and their capacity to love as their lives interweave. Bantam purchased the rights when it bought “Into the Forest,” but this time the experience was less satisfying.
The acquiring editor left Bantam, the second editor died, and the third editor canceled the contract because she didn’t like the premise of the book, motherhood ambivalence.
Simon & Schuster later bought the book and published it in 2004.
Hegland’s fourth book, “Still Time,” is about a Shakespearean scholar at the end of his life who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He only remembers Shakespeare, but his estranged daughter, now in her mid-20s, has never met her father. His fourth wife is trying to get them together.
“My family always loved Shakespeare, and we carried that tradition on with our children,” she said.
The book took about seven years to write. After several trips back and forth with her agent, it has been sold to Arcade Publishing and is scheduled for release in September.
“All my books have different fathers,” Hegland said, “and all my books took about seven years. I do a tremendous amount of research for each book.” It consumes about 40 percent of her time, with the actual writing accounting for the other 60 percent.
When Hegland is not teaching or writing, she cares for her sick mother, who lives in a nearby care facility. She is married to SRJC English professor Douglas Fisher, 71, and they live in the forest in the upper reaches of Mill Creek. Daughter Hannah, 28, is an assistant production editor at Rowan Littlefield. Tessa, 25, is finishing her master’s degree as a speech language pathologist. Garth, 21, is earning a graduate degree in microbial biology.
Even before the movie premiere or the release of her four book, Hegland has already begun something new.
“I’m always working on another book,” she said with a laugh. “Perhaps this one will have the same father as one of the previous books.”
Contact Healdsburg Towns Correspondent Ann Carranza at Healdsburg.Towns@gmail.com.