What was your inspiration for Message in a Bottle?
Message in a Bottle was inspired by my father after the death of my mother. For more information, please visit the Background Information for Message in a Bottle.
Why did Garrett have to die at the end of the story?
Because the story was inspired by my father, I thought it best to end the novel as it did for me in real life. Romeo and Juliet had a far more tragic ending by the way, and I don’t read a lot of complaints about that story! At the same time, I thought the conclusion gave the novel deeper meaning. Had it been a “happily ever after” ending, the story would have felt too melodramatic, and I prefer bittersweet or tragic stories.
Will there be a sequel to Message in a Bottle?
Currently, there aren’t any plans for that, though I can’t say there will never be a sequel. I enjoyed writing Theresa Osborne’s character, and if a good story comes up that can feature her again, I just might.
Why was the film so different from the novel?
It wasn’t all that different, in my opinion. Yes, there were small changes: (a) the introduction of Catherine’s family; (b) Theresa was an assistant rather than a columnist; (c) the elimination of Deanna as a character; (d) the fact that Garrett didn’t teach diving anymore; and (e) having Garrett die rescuing someone instead of simply being caught in a storm), but other than that, the story followed the novel fairly closely. The major theme was the same, most of the major characters were the same, the story arc was essentially the same, and the ending was the same. The reasons for those changes have to do with the fact that films are a different medium than novels, and what works in a novel won’t necessarily work on film. I’ll go through those changes and give the reasons, just so you’ll understand the give and take in such a process. First, Catherine’s family was introduced to create conflict. In the novel, Garrett’s internal conflict could be explored with introspection, but that’s impossible to do on film, since we can’t simply shoot a scene of Garrett “thinking.” We had to “see the conflict,”—hence the introduction of Catherine’s family. In both cases, there was conflict; it was just done in a different way. Second, Theresa was demoted in the film because it was necessary to have her “complete a journey,” i.e., learn something from all she went through. In the beginning, she was an assistant, as her relationship with Garrett blossomed, she began writing for the newspaper. By the end, she had her own office. So, as in the novel, she “grew.” Third, Deanna was eliminated because Theresa’s job had changed. Her character was replaced with someone younger, but essentially the same: funny, sharp and someone who cared about Theresa. Fourth, Garrett didn’t teach diving because of time constraints—it was either teach diving or restore sailboats. We chose the latter because it seemed more original and interesting. And finally, Garrett rescued someone because it was important to show that he hadn’t gone out into the storm to commit suicide. In the book that was clear, but had someone not read the novel and just seen the movie, it wouldn’t have been apparent, since he was an experienced sailor. Hence, to make it plain that Garrett was ready to move on, he died actively trying to assist others.
Tell me about the letters in the novel. Were they easy to write?
No, each letter took about a day to get just right. There’s a fine balance between being too sweet and cloying, and writing something meaningful and memorable. Based on the response to those letters, most readers thought I achieved a good balance.
Why was it so much longer than The Notebook?
Because the story was more complicated. There were more relationships to explore, the contemporary relationship in the novel covered a longer time period, and there were a variety of settings.
Were the characters based on anyone you know?
Though Garrett was inspired by my father, the characters were largely products of my imagination.
Was it difficult to write from the perspective of a thirty-six year old divorced woman?
It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. With any character, authors try to imagine themselves as that person, and creating a character like Theresa simply takes the form of questions. How does she see her life? What bothers her about men? How does her son influence any relationship she might have? Does she feel overwhelmed at times? I simply answer those questions as the character might, and soon enough, the character begins to take shape.
Were the flashbacks difficult to work into the story?
Once I figured out I needed them in the story, they weren’t too hard (other than finding their proper placement).
Did you meet Kevin Costner, Paul Newman, and Robin Wright Penn?
Yes, no, and yes. Kevin and Robin were both very gracious, professional, and wonderful to work with. (And yes, Kevin Costner is that good looking in real life, too.)