I started writing for the screen in 2015 while in the middle of writing my novel series, Ashes, Ashes. It’s a tale of a group of young people trying to survive the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Washington, DC. I was working on the third of the six books and struggling to build a fan base in spite of amazing reviews in the crowded field of dystopian novels.
Then my friend Tom suggested, “Why don’t you rewrite them for the screen?”
I thought, that sounds like one those random, utterly meaningless suggestions. Why don’t I just fly to the moon? Why don’t I just ask Keanu Reeves to drop by for tea? Why don’t I just change into a unicorn?
But this friend had a reason behind his suggestion: he runs a production company.
Tom Feliu and his partner Ward LeHardy run Rocket Media Group. Their company is small but mighty here in the Washington, DC area where I live. Much of their work includes government training films, but they are definitely not your average run-of-the mill instructional videos. They’re mini-movies with characters moving through terrifying real-life scenarios. There’s drama. There’s plot. There’s emotion. And they’ve won Emmys.
“Write it as a movie and we’ll make it,” he said.
The idea rejuvenated me. The truth was I had hit a wall with my writing career as an author. I was frustrated to the point of wondering if, after more than a decade,, it was time to give up and go back to the nine-to-five day job world.
Only a few weeks before this pivotal chat with Tom, I’d gone to Book Expo of America (BEA). It’s one of the most important, gigantic book sellers events in the publishing world. I’d spent thousands of dollars making sure that Ashes, Ashes was represented at multiple independent bookseller booths, and was eager to network and improve their traction..
It was a disaster.
There were thousands upon thousands of books at the conference, and hundreds and hundreds of wannabes– just like me. I was having a personal crisis and experiencing one of the lowest moments of my life while my husband and daughter visited the Central Park Zoo and helicoptered over the NYC skyline. My babies—the books I worked so hard and long on and had spent years learning how to write—were meaningless in this sea of content… and so was I.
So when Tom said, “Write it as a movie,” and offered to help make it real, it was like being offered a last chance—a last hope—to see my work come to life.
When we dove into the structure and time constraints of the various screen options (a feature film, a short, a TV show, etc), I couldn’t wrap my brain around condensing all six novels and only telling a piece of the story. Given our budget (next to nothing) and the sprawling episodic nature of the books, I surrendered to turning the first few chapters of the first book into 60 minute television episodes.
I was at square one again, having to learn a whole new set of writing rules. But I did it. With chapters from Book I of Ashes, Ashes in hand, I wrote the pilot.
And now on the other side of that pilot, with even more screenplays under my belt, I can confirm that ignorance is truly bliss. If I had known then what I know now—that writing a good pilot is one of the hardest formats to do—I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to start.