When I contacted Jack Weyland, asking him if he’d be interested in doing an interview for my blog, he responded to me the very next morning, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner. I’d expected to spend at least a few days worrying over whether or not he’d be interested in this, so I was pleasantly surprised by his quick, kind reply. He has been a successfully published author since I was three years old, and it isn’t every day that you get an e-mail from someone like that, so this was particularly thrilling for me.
Jack Weyland is the author of more than two dozen novels, over fifty short stories, and with his massively popular debut novel, Charly, he is often credited as being largely responsible for the popularization of the modern Latter-day Saint themed fiction genre. Along with a successful career as a novelist, he has spent much of his life as a professor of physics.
For more about Jack, check him out at: http://www.jackweyland.com/
Q: How did people respond when you first told them you wanted to write LDS fiction?
A: One of my English teachers asked, “You’re not serious, are you?” That was certainly a reasonable response since I was a graduate student in physics, had only taken a couple of classes in college that involved creative writing, and certainly had not impressed him with my writing. (For good reason I might add.)
Q: In your novels, we often meet mismatched couples trying to find middle ground despite their personal and extraneous differences. What is it about this theme that interests you?
A: That seems characteristic of most marriages. Husbands and wives often don’t think the same. It’s bridging those differences that brings greater appreciation of each other. And it’s good for their kids. If you can get a husband and a wife to agree on a set of actions for their kids, it’s probably the right choice.
Q: When I read Charly, I admit it… I cried. Was it as emotional for you to write it as it was for us to read it?
A: It was. At the time I was writing Charly, my dad was battling cancer. By the time I finished the book, he had died. My feelings of loss and grief were transferred into the book. I remember one scene, when Charly was near death, where I was crying as I wrote it.
Q: Charly was made into a movie in 2002. How did you feel about that? Were you happy with the movie?
A: Over the years before the movie was made, I had been contacted many times by people who wanted to do a movie of Charly. But for the most part they’d call, we’d talk, and that was the last I ever heard from them. So when Adam Anderegg contacted me, it didn’t occur to me that he might actually do a movie. He did one thing though that none of the others had done. He drove up to Rexburg and took my wife Sherry and me to dinner. So that set him apart from the others! And that was just the beginning. Adam and everyone at Kaleidoscope Pictures did an excellent job! They had me read sample scripts throughout the process of rewriting the script and always asked for my input. I am grateful to them for preserving the story. Janine Gilbert wrote all the versions of the scripts. I am extremely pleased with what she came up with. That’s why I often say that the movie is better than the book.
Q: Adam’s Story is the sequel to Charly and Sam, where we finally get to learn what happened to their only son. When you were writing Charly and Sam, did you know you would one day write Adam’s Story, or was it something you decided to do much later?
A: The thought that I should write about Adam came to me one time when I was watching the movie Charly. I asked myself, “W hat about Adam? What happens to him? How is his life going to be different having had such a remarkable mom as Charly? Or will he even know anything about her?”
Q: When I was in school, I always used to see these kids walking around with books like Charly, Sam, Stephanie, and Kimberly. I also saw a billboard on a freeway for Charly in Salt Lake City a few years back. What does it feel like to have garnered that strong of a response to your work?
A: First of all, we were at that time living in Rapid City, South Dakota when many of my books were published. Few of the people I worked with at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology knew I wrote fiction. Once a year, I’d fly to Utah to sign books. It was like I had a secret life. When I was in South Dakota, writing was my secret identity. When I was in Utah, being a physics professor was my secret identity. So it all worked out! But even then it did occasionally hit me that my writing had touched a lot of lives. I always cherished the letters I received from youth who said my books had helped them with some of their challenges.
Q: Many people have credited you for being largely responsible for the popularization of the LDS Fiction genre. How do you feel about that?
A: lucky! A few weeks before I sent a copy of Charly to Deseret Book, they decided they would start publishing fiction. However, when they read my manuscript, it was painfully apparent it wasn’t good enough to be published, but since for ten years before that time I had several short stories published by The New Era, I had the reputation of being good at revising. So they decided to work with me. For a brief time I was the only fiction writer for Deseret Book! That didn’t last of course. I’m grateful for the experiences I have had as a writer.
Q: What is your writing process like? Do you write outlines beforehand, or do you just find a starting point and go?
A: I’ve done it both ways. When I’m looking for something to write, I often sit down and write dialogue. No descriptions. No plot lines. Just dialogue. It’s like getting to know someone by sitting next to them in a café and listening to them talk (which I also do). Occasionally I realize these fictional characters are interesting people and I should get to know them better. So I start a rough draft, again, mostly dialogue. Here are some novels came from that process: Jake; A New Dawn; As Always, Dave. Some of my books came about when a young woman who’d gone through a difficult experience wrote and asked me to write about her experience I’d hire her as a consultant then built a fictional story around her experience. Here are some in that category: Sara, Whenever I Hear Your Name; Megan; Emily; Brittany; Ashley and Jen.
Q: You are a best-selling author, as well as a professor of physics. Are there any similarities between those two lines of work? And which field of work do you prefer and why?
A: For me the good thing was that physics doesn’t tire me out for writing, and vice versa. They seem to require different parts of my brain. One carry-over for physics is that I wrote silly songs for every physics chapter that made it more fun for the students. The truth is I can write only about two hours a day, so the physics gives me something else to do with my time. Also, I was found that I was able to explain the principles of physics so that anyone can understand. Besides that, physics can be fun! I loved doing demonstrations in class. It’s like bringing a new toy to class every day.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?
A: Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Neil Simon and David McCullough. Neil Simon especially was a big influence in my life. The decision to write every day came after seeing a Neil Simon play on Broadway while in New York for a physics conference. I decided, “I think I’ll write a Broadway play.” It never occurred to me that seeing a Broadway play isn’t usually considered a preparation for writing a Broadway play. I tried to sell the play with no success and then decided to turn it into a novel. That novel is Charly.
Q: Of all your characters, do you have a favorite, and why is he or she your favorite?
A: Charly. Why? Because my wife Sherry is a convert from New York, just like Charly.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have written a Dr. Seuss-like Christmas poem called “Gerald Giraffe.” Natassia Scoresby, a talented artist, has illustrated the book. We are in the process of finding a publisher. Also, I am working with Steven Spiel to adapt my novel “A New Dawn” into a stage musical. I have also recently written a novel for married couples. “Heather 101″ can be downloaded from the Deseret Book website. In addition, I have a new self-published novel called “Mackenzie for Congress.” It can be downloaded from Amazon.com
Q: What do you consider the highlight of your writing career?
A: One of the great thrills has been to be in the audience when the movie Charly was being shown. Also, BYU-Idaho once did a comedy stage play of mine called “Jack Weyland’s Home Cooking.” I love to hear people laugh because of something I’ve written. Sherry and I attended every performance of the play.
Q: When you look back on your life, do you feel like your journey as a writer was pre-destined/meant to be?
A: I have no other explanation for what has happened to me than that. It seems so improbable to me even now.
Q: What makes you laugh out loud?
A: That’s not the right question. The right question is what do you most enjoy from your writing. The answer is: to be near Sherry when she is reading one of my manuscripts. I love to hear her laugh!
Q: What is something about yourself that people might be surprised to know?
A: I once had the calling of being the assistant stake bee-keeper in South Dakota. I loved it! It’s a great church calling because you didn’t have to call the bees together and tell them that the month is nearly over and they need to get out there and collect some pollen. Also, nobody came to check up on us when we were in the field with the bees. To this day I love bees!
Q: If you could pass on one piece of wisdom that life has taught you, what would it be?
A: “Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” (D&C 58: 27-28) It’s good to know that the power is in us to do the things we want to do which may be of some help to someone.