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What’s It Like for an Author to See Her Story Turned Into TV?


ADAPTATION People go to readings for many reasons, including the occasional free cookie and a chance to ask an author for advice about how to get published. So Celeste Ng knew something was afoot when she started visiting bookstores to talk about her second novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” and found rows of folding chairs filled with enthusiasts who had already read the book. She says, “It had only been out for a week. I thought, Maybe this story is going to resonate.”

She was right. “Little Fires Everywhere” spent 48 weeks on the hardcover fiction best-seller list and is now approaching its 40th week on the paperback list. And, on March 18, Ng’s tale of race, class and belonging will make its debut as an eight-episode Hulu series starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon. The book grew out of Ng’s desire to locate a story in her hometown, Shaker Heights, Ohio: “I’d been away for about 10 years and I recognized both the weirdness of growing up in this community that was very socially oriented and race-conscious, yet still had blind spots. It shaped me into an idealist and a person who believes you can have an impact on the world. I was thinking about how I could personify this place with its wonderful aspects and its faults.”

Watching her story come alive in its newest incarnation has been a rewarding experience for Ng. She explains, “When you’re a writer, you control everything. You write the dialogue, you are the actors, you decide what everyone looks like and what the scenery is. Screenwriters think about structure and plot in a whole different way; you can’t have a character sit there and remember something and have an epiphany.” The Hulu team included Ng at every stage — from scripting to character development to driving around Los Angeles to find houses that looked as if they could fit into the neighborhood she envisioned. They even made a letter jacket that looks like the ones Ng remembers from Shaker Heights High School.

Still, there are differences between page and screen. Ng says, “It’s been a joy to watch somebody else take the story and run with it. I’ve been really happy they decided to bring the racial elements up to the surface in a way I didn’t. The analogy I keep coming back to is a cover song; my favorites are always the ones that have a new spin.”

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