January 10, 2011 ~ When I began writing the WFE film blog nearly a year ago I had planned on adding a page devoted to the beautiful and talented author of ‘Water for Elephants’, Sara Gruen. She is the person who brought the fascinating characters and circus world to life and authored one of my favorite books which is now on its way to becoming one of my favorite films… Like any good blogger I ‘Googled’ Sara Gruen and discovered countless articles and book reviews written about her, which wasn’t surprising considering her notoriety as the author of a New York Times bestseller. What did surprise me is how she came to write ‘Water for Elephants’… Ms. Gruen had not intended on writing a novel about circus life during the Great Depression, in fact she was a day away from beginning a new novel that she’d just finished researching… Fate took a different course that day in 2003 when she opened her edition of the Chicago Tribune Sunday newspaper and became intrigued with a vintage circus photograph taken by Edward J. Kelty and the accompanying article. She couldn’t take her eyes off the incredibly detailed photo and finally said to her husband, “There’s a novel in this!”, she abandoned her ‘other’ novel and began her research into the world of traveling Circuses during one of the most challenging eras: The Great Depression…
Sara began by ordering Kelty’s book, ‘Step Right This Way: The Photographs of Edward J. Kelty’ and another book of vintage circus photographs, ‘Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus as Seen by F. W. Glasier‘ (these books are, unfortunately, now out of print). After devouring both books she contacted the archivist at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin and asked about books on Depression-era circuses. Many of them were out of print, but she was able to find them through rare booksellers and a trip to the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida where they were selling off duplicate copies of their rare circus books. More research followed with trips to Circus World Museum, back to the Ringling Circus Museum, the Kansas City Zoo and an elephant sanctuary. Immersed in her detailed research Sara also read tons of articles about circus performers, visited circuses (went to Ringling Bros. twice) preferring the smaller shows since they were more like her yet to be written fictional Benzini Bros. Circus and they were the ones where she was able to meet the elephants. Out of all the elephants that Sara met during her research one very affectionate ‘lady’ in particular stood out. Her name was Nosie and she became the basis for our beloved Rosie… Sara became so attached to ‘Rosie’ while she was writing WFE that when she finished the book she suffered a bout of postpartum depression, Sara writes: “Rosie was probably the most real of the characters, to me. When I was done with the book, I had postpartum depression — I missed having an elephant in my life.”
It goes without saying that I, along with millions of other readers, am glad that she abandoned that ‘other’ novel and began writing ‘Water for Elephants’ instead…
Here is an interesting biographical article about Sara written by E. I. Johnson dated July 2010 ~ Quote: “Sara Gruen is the author of the award-winning best-selling historical novel “Water For Elephants” which won the 2007 Book Sense of the Year award, Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Fiction award, Book browse diamond award for the Most Popular Books, Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction award and Winner of ALA/Alex’s award in 2007. The novel instantly became a Los Angeles Times Bestseller, Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Newsday Favorite Book of 2006 and USA Today Bestseller. Water for Elephants, spent 12 weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list and sold 248,000 copies while being nominated for General Fiction slot at the year’s Quill Awards.
Ms. Gruen was born in Vancouver British Columbia but raised in London, Ontario. Her books deals greatly with animals, and a supporter of several charitable organizations for animals and wildlife. She graduated with a degree in English literature at Carleton University in Ottawa. In 1999, she became a technical writer when she moves to the U.S but was laid off from her work in 2001. Instead of looking for a job, she decided to write fiction full-time. Her first two novels, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, both enjoyed moderate critical success. “Riding Lessons” a deftly woven tale of tragic loss and redemption of a promising world-class equestrienne and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer. At eighteen she was thrown from the horse and had many injuries’. The accident leaves her struggling to recover from the hospital, being paralyzed with a broken neck, and her dreams are shattered. The freak accident ultimately destroyed her riding career and the death of her beloved beautiful Horse, Harry from a broken leg on a jump. The incidents sets off a chain of events that comes to a crisis point nearly twenty years later. Her second novel “Flying Changes” is the much-anticipated sequel to “Riding Lessons” which continues the story of Annemarie Zimmer, as she struggles to make peace with her daughter. It is a story of a family of equestrian women in New Hampshire who are stronger than they imagine.
Her third release, “Water for Elephants” was initially turned down by her publisher at the time, Avon Books, which is a Harper Collins imprint, forcing Ms. Gruen to find another publisher. She interested Algonquin in the book, but they paid only $55,000 for the manuscript in 2004. The novel tells the story of a young man named Jacob Jankowski, who is about to take his final exams in veterinary medicine at Cornell University when his parents are killed in an automobile accident. Finding himself parentless and penniless, he drops out and joins a second-rate struggling circus world of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Shows on Earth–otherwise known as a train circus in 1930’s America. It is a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits making one-night stands in town after endless town become his home and family. As he learns the ropes of circus life, and how to navigate the strict and dangerous social pecking order of this strange circus life. Jacob finds himself making some unusual alliances and he befriended an elephant name Rosie, who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. Jacobs falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful, soulful, young star of the equestrian act, but married performer. Later Marlena works with Rosie, the elephant, with whom they both fall in love with. It is their love of animals that pulls both of them together. They have much in common – their love of animals, and their joy of life that it is hard for them not to be friends as their passion grows. Water for Elephants tells a story of a love between these two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford, and yearn for each other, but can’t grow old together. Many of the characters and incidents in the novel are based on real people and true stories gleaned from Ms. Gruen’s extensive research into the world of traveling circuses of the 1930s.
The movie rights for Water For Elephants were optioned (in 2007) by the renowned producer of the spy movie “Bourne” series, Andrew R. Tennenbaum. Mr. Tennenbaum appointed award-winning screenwriter and occasional film director Richard LaGravenese to pen the script. Mr. LaGravenese is best known as the writer of The Fisher King a comedy-drama film made in 1991, stars Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams. The film is about a radio shock-jock who tries to find redemption by helping a homeless man whose life he inadvertently shattered.
Ms. Gruen’s fourth novel is “Ape House” which will be released September of 2010. It is a riveting, funny, compassionate, and deeply moving novel about Bonobos, a Pygmy chimpanzee who ends up starring in a reality television show. She sold Ape House, on the basis of a 12-page summary to Spiegel & Grau, who paid $5 million and another for unnamed book. She, her husband and three children live in North Carolina.” (end quote)
Sara talks about her cameo in Water for Elephants, the film, in this USA Today article from September 2010 ~
Remembering a time with Tai the elephant
Sara Gruen gets a star turn in the film version of her novel Water for Elephants, now in post-production. She got to meet stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Just as thrilling was being lifted into the air by Tai the elephant, who depicts circus elephant Rosie in the movie, due April 15. (changed to April 22)
“Her trainer told me to hug her trunk,” says Gruen, “so I did, and suddenly I was 7 feet in the air. She gave me many kisses, probably because I always carry mints for my horses, so I was slipping her candy every time I got a chance.”
Gruen, her husband and three sons were cast as extras in a scene in which the circus performers and animals parade down the streets in Weehawken, N.J.
“We retook that scene I think 18 times,” Gruen recalls. “I’m the one Rob Pattinson (who plays veterinarian Jacob Jankowski) elbows past and says, ‘Excuse me, ma’am’ to.”
As for Christoph Waltz, who plays an abusive animal trainer, Gruen says: “I watched a scene being filmed when he was ‘beating’ Rosie. From the side of the road, it was very obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere near her, but from behind the bank of monitors, it was extremely convincing.”
Here is a collection of great articles/reviews that I found while researching Ms. Gruen ~
The first one is an Author Essay by Sara on Water for Elephants that is particularly interesting ~ Sara Gruen on Water for Elephants via www.harpercollins.ca (probably from 2006)
A fantastic interview with www.curledup.com dated 2006
Another good article from news.bookweb.org dated April 2006
Excerpt from a Powells.com interview dated July 2006 ~ “Chapter one drops you into small town, bygone America — not some ivied New England hamlet but, instead, the train of a traveling circus during the Great Depression. Sara Gruen hitches her driving plot to the fate of an orphan boy, and off you go…” (Click on the link to read more…)
Excerpt from a Writer’s Digest articledated April 2008 ~ “Water for Elephants seems to defy genre. It’s been dubbed a historical romance, a suspense novel and literary fiction…” (Click on the link to read more…)
Here’s one from blog.syracuse.com dated April 2010 ~ Sara talks about WFE film
And last but not least ~ RobPattzNews was able to attend an event held at Seattle’s Central Library last September (2010) while Sara was on a publicity tour promoting her latest novel, ‘Ape House’. She got a chance to ask her about Rosie, Rob Pattinson and her WFE set visit… Check it out!
Water for Elephants (trade paperback) is currently back on the New York Times bestseller list and as of this week, February 6th, 2011 it holds the #1 spot!! Over 4 million copies in print just the USA alone. Water for Elephants is published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
To purchase the film tie-in edition of Water for Elephants check out my Buy WFE Novel page!