Novelist Peter Rock Comes To Park City

Oct 11, 2018

Cover of Rock's 2009 book "My Abandonment"

An award-winning author whose book was adapted into a Sundance film last year will be coming to Park City on Wednesday as the keynote speaker at the Park City Friends of the Library Luncheon on Wednesday at Silver Lake Lodge.

Peter Rock will be speaking in part about his book “My Abandonment” which was adapted into the film “Leave No Trace”. The story is based on real-life events. When in 2004, a man and his daughter were found by Portland police in a nature preserve where they had lived for four years.

“The first step for was just to figure out why the situation was so interesting. The girl seemed to be sort of ahead of where she should have been in school because he was homeschooling her and the two of them seemed to be relatively happy. So, there was this kind of romantic read on the situation. Of course, the very progressive thinking people in Portland believed that it was a little bit of a judgment on the materialistic life that we lived. The paradox was that they were showered with things. They were showered with bicycles, computers, phones and everything else that they didn’t have or want. They were moved to a place where the father was given a job and the girl was supposed to go to school and then they disappeared. I was interested in telling the story to find out where they went but I was also interested to find out how they did it. How they lived for four years in this way. Where they came from, who they were. I wanted to tell a story that conveyed my wonder. I didn’t want to tell a story that was just about homelessness or PTSD. Pretty early on I realized that I would have to tell this story from the girl’s perspective; that took a lot of work.”

Rock says that he did a lot of research to prepare to write from the girl’s perspective.

“I spent a lot of time in Forest Park near where they were found climbing trees and just imagining things that could happen. I surrounded myself with things that I thought she might have, and I kept them with me when I was writing. I also read a lot of books that I thought she would have, and I incorporated that into her thinking. Then I looked carefully at the way that I had been writing in my other books and I recognized tendencies that I had. For instance, I was very dependent on semi-colons. So, there’s a section early in the book where she talks about grammar and she’s kind of anti-semi-colon so there are no semi-colons in the book. As someone who’s ostensibly an English professor I should have realized that you take something like that away from yourself the sentences shapes change, and the paragraphs start changing the way that they move. If a paragraph is a thought the way that the thinking works changes also. There’s a lot of small and large changes. I think people get hung up on questions of gender. I clearly was never a 13-year-old girl but her concerns when I step back, I recognize. She has a father who she doesn’t always understand who has a lot of rules, she wants to have friends. These are all things that are, if not universal, definitely part of my experience as a human.”

Rock says he was conflicted about the film adaptation.

“Four or five years ago that Debra Granik became involved in the project. She came out to Portland and we walked around, and we talked about the story and we talked about changes that she might like to make. I was just trying to be as amenable and as helpful as I could. I mean I have plenty of misgivings, there are a lot of times when my feelings were hurt but I feel like it’s a really good film. I feel like that’s the important thing. It’s such a blessing to have someone who’s very talented in what they do take something that I made and make it into something else. I think there were some concerns that some of the changes were so drastic and that I have such strong feelings about things that I would be unhelpful perhaps. Before they showed it at Sundance they were really anxious about getting me to see it because I think they were afraid that I might stand up in the theater and start yelling at the screen. It wasn’t that dramatic really. You know people always say ‘the book is better than the movie’ when they read a book and see a film made of it. That’s because we put so much of ourselves into imagining a scene that we read in a book. When you write something for four or five years and you see someone put it into three dimensions in a limited way through their reading, it’s just very uncanny. Intellectually I could sort of process what was happening but emotionally it was kind of harder than I expected.”

Rock says he won’t just be speaking about the film at the event.

“I think I will also be talking about librarians, I’ll be talking about growing up in Utah. I’ll be talking about praying at pinewood derby races that kind of thing also. I’m coming back to say a lot of things but I’ll talk a lot about the film.”

That’s author Peter Rock. For more information about the ticketed event you can visit Park City Library dot org.