Monday, August 27, 2012

Driving in Reverse - Turning a Screenplay into a Novel, Part I

If you're a screenwriter who’s been thinking about turning one or more of your specs into a novel, I hope this post will encourage and inspire you. Due to its length, I’ll be posting Driving In Reverse in two installments. 

When I began the journey of transforming my screenplay, Delta Legend, into a novel in 2009, I struggled to find any books or even blog articles on the subject. I knew it had been done, but no one was addressing the process or breaking it down in clear how-to fashion. 

A recent search, however, yielded slightly better results, the most popular being, Adapting Sideways - How to Turn Your Screenplay Into A Publishable Novel by Charlotte Cook and Jon James Miller. 

A couple weeks ago I purchased and read the ebook version of Adapting Sideways. This was akin to finding the missing instructions for a complicated piece of play equipment you assembled without them—one the kids have been climbing on for the last 10 months. Still, you just have to check it out; make sure none of those leftover parts were vital to the structure as a whole and hopefully weren’t load-bearing. 

Using Adapting Sideways as a litmus test, I’d say I managed to execute about 85% of their methodology. The rest I’ll claim as personal style. Would I recommend finding your own way or getting the book? Get the book or take their WebinarWhile Adapting Sideways isn't perfect, it's a solid place to start. Their methodology makes sense and probably would have jump-started the process, getting me to think (and write) like a novelists a bit sooner. Had the book been available in 2009, I would have happily snapped it up, grateful for any advice from people who’d actually done what I was attempting.

Ms. Cook comes from the literary world as a publisher/editor/writer and Mr. Miller is an award winning screenwriter, now novelist. Their different backgrounds provide a nice balance as both perspectives are represented and they explain the differences between the two platforms. They then present the transformation of screenplay to novel through samples of their own writing (mostly Miller's Garbo's Last Stand). Unfortunately, the final product, the novel version of Garbo's Last Stand, has yet to be published—traditionally or otherwise. Having it available as a sample of their applied methodology would complete the circle. 

I like that Cook and Miller place the two mediums on equal, though separate ground—hense, “Adapting Sideways.” Back when I was slugging it out on my own, I came to refer to the process as learning to drive in reverse. Sure we all know how to back down the driveway, but now imagine cruising all over town in reverse. It's not commonly done and requires a serious change in perspective—but it's still driving.

My first experience as a writer was creating character monologues for myself as a way to stand out in auditions, followed shortly thereafter by sketch comedy and one-act plays. A few years later when my then-husband took a post sound position at Fox, we relocated from Northern California to Los Angeles. I took this move as a sign from the gods that I should transition to writing for screen. Which gods would be so fiendish, I'm not sure. 

Since television was closer to stage, especially sitcoms, I started there; buying up books on writing for the small screen, learning the craft, and cranking out specs for popular TV shows. Soon after, I made the leap to features. I won't lie, it took the playwright in me a while to learn how to tell a story with slug lines,  an economy of description, and severely honed down dialogue—especially after all the unrestriced speech of plays. (Death of a Monologue.)

After seven years of giving Hollywood my best shot with minimal results, I threw in the towel and returned to real life, searching for my substitute calling. (I never did find one by the way.) But of all the stories I'd created during my never-was screenwriting career, Delta Legend was the one that continued to haunt me. I imagined the characters calling out to me whenever I walked past the drawer of unwanted specs, "Hey, don't forget about us. Don't let us die in here!"

Oh I talked about turning the story into a novel but never did anything toward that end. Then my life entered a time of loss: divorce, subsequent sale of our home, job outsourced—all things I could slog through and keep going, that is until my incredibly dynamic sister-in-law died of breast cancer. She was only two years older than me and her passing rocked our family's world. For weeks after, I did nothing but lie in bed, listening to the rain on the roof of my tiny Sebastopol cottage while comforting myself with every episode of Ballykissangel on Netflix. Then, almost two months to the day after Sandy died, I decided to act upon the heartbreaking “life's short” reality check I'd been given. I got up, opened my laptop, and made a start.


I'd never even taken a creative writing course in college and I wasn't what you'd call a voracious reader of novels. I’d authored and co-authored a few humor pieces and one mockumentory-style book, but nothing of this magnitude. Yet there I was, about to tackle what seemed like an impossible task: turning a visual story into a narrative one. 


The screenplay of Delta Legend had been my swan song in Hollywood—a desperate last-ditch effort to break through as a screenwriter. Teen Horrors were all the rage back then and I was chasing the genre. What I failed to take into account was that the bulk of these were shot on shoestring budgets. (Insert clip of teens running around in the dark woods with flashlights under their chins.) By the time I finished the spec of Delta Legend, it was such a budget-busting behemoth, no one in their right mind would have touched it. Tons of shooting in and on water, loads of SPFX (at a time when they were far more expensive) not to mention a cast of thousands—okay, I'm exaggerating but more characters than advisable. Thank god I was deep enough in denial to complete the screenplay, otherwise I never would’ve had the blueprint for what ultimately became the novel. Notice I didn’t call it an outline, because a screenplay is so much more than that. 


Back to my "how the hell am I going to pull this off" moment. I knew the novel version would require far more research, character development, and back story than the screenplay. But with no how-to books and no formula to rely upon, I felt lost. I realize some of you just cringed at the term formula, but I cling to it like a life raft. Once I'm out of the choppy waters I can always abandon it, but initially, I crave that rigid structure.

Fortunately, the thing that kept coming back to me was this concept that great storytelling remains the same regardless of the medium. And the story was neatly imbedded in the spec, all I needed to do was extract it and expound upon it. So maybe I wasn't a brilliant writer of prose, I was still a damn good storyteller and continually reminding myself of that fact gave me the courage to try. As far as writing sparkling narrative—I was just gonna have to learn.

For more of the "nuts & bolts" of turning a screenplay into a novel, Part Two of Driving in Reverse can be found HERE.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Going Free on Amazon Results

Now that was a fun and wild ride. I highly recommend it.

Delta Legend went FREE Wednesday, August 22nd and Thursday, August 23rd, and for most of the time it held the #2 spot for Free Children's Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror AND Children's Science Fiction, Fantasy & Magic AND Spine-Chilling Horror! 

Though I do wish Amazon would separate Young Adult from Children's. What kind of freak writes "Spine-Chilling Horror" for children? According to Amazon, that would be me.

But to see your title listed beside a bestseller like Catching Fire, is quite lovely really - even if yours is free.

I won't lie, it was a considerable amount of work ramping up to the day and on the first day. Thankfully, there are other indies out there who've blogged about their experience - what they did to promote and who they queried.

Here are three posts on the subject that I found really helpful.

And I took author Ruth Francisco's advice and got up really early on the first day (2:30 a.m.) to start the chatter on Twitter, Facebook, and promote on those Free eBook sites that want you to post on the day.

The sites for Free eBook Promotion who picked me up on the first day:

Addicted to eBooks
AppNewser Free eBooks of the Week
Bargain eBook Hunter
Free Kindle Books & Tips
Flurries of Words
Kindle Daily Nation

Two other sites:
Mrs. Wizard

Book Bloggers 

Laura Thomas of       
Sherry Fundin of
Heather of    

- all did wonderful posts about Delta Legend and the Free Promo on their blogs. Laura and Sherry kept up the Twitter campaign all day both days and countless others re-tweeted my tweets, "liked" or "shared" my Facebook posts, and/or linked to my blog post about it (537 visits). All of this helped considerably.

By the end of day two, Delta Legend had slipped to #3 and I thought for sure it would continue to free fall. But by the next morning, it was back up at #2, holding strong just under the #1 Free eBook in the same categories, Cold Kiss, which happens to be traditionally published by HarperCollins.

I'm pretty sure the reason I was able to hold on to the #2 spot was because one of the top two Free Ebook sites, eReader News Today, promoted Delta Legend in their first marketing blast of the day. And I know without a doubt that Dave Williams' brilliant cover inspired more than a few to hit the download button.

I kept up the Twitter and Facebook posts during day two, but not as heavily. I felt really good about all the legwork I'd done ramping up to the promo and by day two, it was pretty much rolling along under its own steam.

The promo ended at midnight last night, and as I crawled into bed (couldn't make it to midnight to see how it all played out) I felt like I'd run a marathon, and a pretty damn good marketing campaign. I also felt like I'd just handed the keys to Calvin and it was now up to him (and the rest of the DL posse) to drive this thing for a while. Oh, I still have plenty to do to keep the momentum going, but the power now shifts to the reader - 3,627 of them to be exact.

With hundreds of ebooks going Free everyday, I quickly dropped off the charts once the Free Promo ended, but I don't mind at all. Time for others to have their moment in the sun. 

3,627 new readers have Delta Legend in their hands and they will undoubtedly have an impact on where we go from here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Giving It Away For Free ...

When I was a young adult, one of my mom's favorite proverbs was: "Why buy the cow when milk is free?" I always bristled at that one - not that I was a promiscuous teen. I was however, a smart-ass, and my standard retort was always, "Why be the cow when you can be the farmer?"

Fast forward too many years than I care to admit, and here I am - giving it away for free. 

That's right, Delta Legend will be FREE, Wednesday, August 22nd and Thursday, August, 23rd on!

What better way to celebrate and savor the dog days of summer than with a book that takes place in summer and is chock full of the things we love about this time of year: boating, fishing, water sports, outdoor parties, summer romance, s'mores, and of course, carnage. There's something about summer carnage that just tastes sweeter. 

So what are you waiting for, go get yours here:

And I really don't mind if you tell everyone you know. But please, I do care about my reputation, so be sure to brag that the chick who's giving it away for free is a really good ... writer.   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Switching Gears For A Moment

Being self-published means you, and you alone, are the marketing team. I liken this endeavor to being a street performer. Sometimes the fact that I'm juggling a chainsaw, a bowling ball, and a flaming torch all at the same time attracts a small but enthusiastic crowd. Other times, I'm just out there performing for myself and maybe one homeless guy wandering by. 

Needless to say, it's easy to get burned out. Sometimes it's good to take a little break from the whole Indie author scene and create something completely different.

Traditional Mexican paper mache is known as cartoneria. I learned the craft from master cartoneria aritist, Ruben Guzman, at the Crucible in Oakland, California. 

Initially, I made Day of the Dead figures known as calacas but my first Corazones Apasionados (passionate hearts) were inspired by the huge thorns that grew on the roses in our yard in San Rafael, California. I harvested and dried the thorns then painted them gold to make my first heart with thorns for an altar installation I was asked to provide art for.

In addition to thorns, I often incorporate other found objects and I'm currently making good use of a small lot of tin I came across. I love the way these pieces of metal accent the hearts. I'm a huge fan of three dimensional art and I like that these pieces are ready to hang on the wall. 

As we come into fall and Day of the Dead draws near, I will likely return to making some of my calacas. But for now, I'm enjoying crafting these Corazones Apasionados. They are keeping my hands busy and my mind free to come up with the next creative marketing strategy. Or better yet, a new chapter in the next "Legend" installment. 

Each one is handmade - I never use mass-produced paper mache forms, so each heart is unique and perfectly imperfect. What's inside? Any kind of recycled paper that's around, be it newspaper, a grocery bag, or even shredded pages from a manuscript.

Unlike writing a novel, with folk art there is perfection in imperfection, which provides a nice balance to being an Indie author and all the marketing that goes along with that gig. 

Okay, back to juggling the chainsaw, bowling ball, and flaming torch.