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'Wild' author recounts journey from book to film

Cheryl Strayed has watched her memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" turn into a bestselling book that is now the basis for a critically acclaimed film starring Reese Witherspoon. She described what the experience has been like.

Q. How did it feel to see your memories come to life during the filming?

A. It was so strange. It was surreal. It would have been strange enough if it was just a book that I wrote that was fiction. Authors create a world so vividly in their minds. But since "Wild" was based on my real experiences, it was very uncanny to watch these scenes being reenacted.

Q. Why do you think so many people have said they identify with your experiences and feelings as related in the book?

A. Because I was honest in the book and candid about my feelings and experiences and opening myself up in a ways that people don't normally do in polite society, it gives people the opportunity to say, "Yeah. Me, too."

People have had their own losses and struggles. They've had to gather strength to move forward.

I wrote about universal experiences in "Wild." It's about love and the beauty of wild places. It's about darker things — heartbreak, divorce and letting go of my mother after she died. I was writing about life.

Q. How has life changed for you since the book's publication and the making of the movie?

A. There's so much busy-ness. I've been talking about "Wild" full-time since before it was published. I call myself "the ambassador of 'Wild.'"

With the film, there's a whole other level. "Wild" the book has been doing fine on its own and staying in the top 10. Since the film came out in limited release, I've seen a jump in sales. A lot of people who've never read the book see the film and then go buy the book.

Q. Did you ever expect this to happen?

A. No. Obviously, I sent the book to Reese Witherspoon before it was published. I wasn't thinking of it being a film as I was writing the book. I just thought, "I've got this book and I'll see if anyone in Hollywood is interested."

Most books, even if they are optioned for film, don't become movies.

Nick Hornby (the screenwriter for the film) would say, "Don't get your hopes up. It probably won't be made."

He wasn't trying to be mean. He was trying to help me. We laugh about it now.

The night before shooting began, I sent him an email saying, "Nick, I think this movie's going to be made."

Q. What has it been like working with actress Reese Witherspoon, who portrays you in the movie?

A. We became great friends. I love her. She's a wonderful, smart, beautiful, kind, fantastic person.

(Actress) Laura Dern is wonderful as well. I couldn't be more honored that she is playing my mom. She has such a light about her.

We all became like a family and creative collaborators.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

A. When you make a book into a film, there's so much that's not in the film. You can't fit hundreds of pages into two hours. But I was really glad they left my days in Ashland in there. The character of Cheryl as played by Reese Witherspoon gets to have a shower, wear jeans and meet a nice guy.

My days in Ashland were a delightful, fun, whimsical time. It was the most delightful stop along the way.

Edited from an interview with Cheryl Strayed.

Cheryl Strayed