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Dave Eggers' Monster Project: Behind 'The Wild Things'

Screenwriter and author on his inspirations ('E.T.,' 'The Wizard of Oz') and the secrets behind Carol and Co.

April 5, 2010 4:35 PM ET

It took years to bring the adaptation of Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's book Where the Wild Things Are to the big screen, and this weekend the Spike Jonze-directed film cleared another hurdle: the thoughtful and visually stunning picture opened at Number One at the box office. The film's co-screenwriter, Dave Eggers, was so absorbed in the project he agreed to write a novelization of the book, titled The Wild Things, at Sendak's request. At Rolling Stone's request, Eggers agreed to a rare interview about the project.

What's the relationship between The Wild Things book and screenplay, and how did the novelization come about?
I think it was late 2005 or early 2006 when Maurice called me and asked me to write a novel based on the movie. Normally, I wouldn't think of doing a novelization of a movie or screenplay — my only association was when I was a kid I read a novelization of E.T. — but in this case Spike and I had written so much material that we knew wouldn't end up in the script, let alone onscreen. I had been thinking about it so much on my own so I thought of it as a good chance to create my version of the story. It was just one of those things that if any two friends tell the same story of even the night out together, those versions are going to be different. So Maurice has his version, Spike has his version and I would be able to take it in the direction that I wanted to go in the novel.

Did you take any cues from the E.T. book?
You know, it was written by William Kotzwinkle, who is a really good writer. It might have been one of the first full novels I ever read. It turns out, like, everyone I know has read this book. It's very strange. So that was the only one I knew of and it was actually good. I think it had some literary elements. Often when you do a novelization, like if you did a novelization of Speed 2, it would be less ... artful.

Is that your next project?
[Laughs] I don't know, it's a thought. It keeps coming up in conversation lately.

What was the biggest change you wanted to make in the novel that wasn't represented anywhere else?
First of all, there's no word limit or page count limit. That's one of the many ways books are better than any other medium. If you transcribed the script, it would wind up being 100 pages or less. Here, I was able to fill in a whole lot of back-story and get into Max's head. I had maybe 30-40 pages on Max's home life before he left for the island and that was the place where I explored a lot of thoughts I had about boyhood or childhood generally.

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