No, one of my books hasn’t been made into a film, although a girl can dream. But I recently had an exciting trip to Hollywood, my first. A couple of years ago, I happened upon an announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a documentary film called Showrunners, about the creative forces behind the development and running of television programs. These include names like Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Ron Moore and Jane Espenson, among others. As I read about the project and the perks available at different funding levels, I felt myself becoming more and more excited. Anyone who knows me or who even follows me on social media knows that I’m a big fan of quality TV programs. I derive not only pleasure but also inspiration for my own writing from well-written TV shows, things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Doctor Who.
In fact, though I’ve never met Joss Whedon, I credit him for preventing me from quitting my journey to become a published novelist. Several people have heard my “Summer of Buffy” story, but for those who haven’t it goes like this: It was the summer of 2006, and I’d been trying to get published for a decade. I’d left my full-time position as a magazine journalist the year before to pursue the dream full-time, but those intervening months had continued to be filled with rejections from publishers. I was at an emotional low, wondering if I should just quit and start applying for journalism jobs again. After all, I couldn’t make myself write. Why bother? It was just going to be wasted effort anyway, right? Instead, each day after my husband went to work I stretched out on the couch and watched TV. I’d borrowed the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD from my friend Jody Wallace. I’d never seen the show (I know, gasp!), but it seemed every writer I knew talked about it in worshipful tones at writing conferences. Let’s just say that when you’re watching 8-10 episodes a day, you start going through seasons quickly.
That summer, I ended up watching all seven seasons of Buffy, all five seasons of Angel and the first season of Eric Kripke’s Supernatural. And even though I wasn’t thinking about writing, a writer’s brain is never truly not thinking about writing. Somewhere in the back of my brain, an idea started to form. By the end of the summer, that idea wouldn’t leave me be, so I sat down and rough drafted a young adult novel called Coven. That novel eventually got expanded into the opening trilogy in my Coven series, which was bought a few years later by Bell Bridge Books. Though that wasn’t my first book sale, it was the book that kept me going, got me excited about writing again, and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award the next summer in the Young Adult category.
So, yes, I credit TV and excellent TV writers with the eventual achievement of my dream of becoming a published author.
Now, back to the Kickstarter campaign. In my mind, I was thinking two things: 1) If I donated at one of the top levels, I could go to a Hollywood premiere and meet some of the showrunners as well as the forces behind the documentary, and 2) It couldn’t hurt to meet people in the TV/film industry if I wanted my work to eventually be translated to TV/film. It might not help, but it couldn’t hurt. I talked to my husband about it because it wasn’t an insubstantial amount of money for a writer who isn’t hitting the New York Times list on a regular basis. J.K. Rowling, I am not. At least not yet. :) He, being the awesomely supportive guy he is, said he was okay with it. So with my heart beating rapidly, I hit the donate button.
The premiere was initially projected to happen the next May. But as often happens with creative endeavors, obstacles presented themselves (sort of like how my current book is progressing). The director and producers were apologetic, but I was like, “Dudes, stuff happens.” I’m sure they got tired of my periodic questions about timing when I was trying to make sure I didn’t schedule conferences, speaking engagements or vacations that would conflict with the premiere. There was no way barring severe illness or me croaking that I was going to miss that event.
Over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve communicated via e-mail with Director Des Doyle and Co-Producer Ryan Patrick McGuffey, two really nice guys from Ireland. By the time I found out a couple of months ago that the premiere was going to take place in October of this year, I was looking forward to meeting them as much as anyone else. I appreciate dedication to and passion for a creative endeavor, and they had it in spades. Through nothing more than e-mail conversations and Facebook posts, I could tell how hard they were working, along with the rest of their team, to bring Showrunners to the screen. It wasn’t unlike the months or years of work that go into developing an idea for a book, writing that first draft, several rounds of editing, providing information for the cover design, etc.
When I found out the premiere date, I booked my trip via Amtrak (I like sitting on the train watching the world go by and having time to write without interruptions). I also grabbed my friend Lara Hansen and headed to the mall for something to wear to the premiere. I am a girl after all. Since I was going to be going all the way to California from Tennessee anyway, I decided to go a couple of days early and visit Disneyland. I’ve been to Disney World several times and love it, but I’d never been to Disneyland. So I spent two days walking around Disneyland’s two parks, riding rides, eating ice cream and enjoying the Southern California sunshine.
Then it was up to Hollywood from Anaheim and dinner with Des; Ryan; two other Kickstarter backers; Tara Bennett, who wrote the companion book; and Executive Producers Jason Rose and Jimmy Nguyen. We went to Cafe Med on Sunset Blvd. As I sat there and chatted with everyone, all very lovely people, I thought about how a young girl growing up in rural western Kentucky in the 1980s could have never imagined eating at a restaurant in Hollywood with filmmakers. It was sort of a surreal moment, which would be followed with more surreal moments the next evening.
Finally, the big night came. The red carpet premiere of Showrunners was held at the Television Academy, complete with big Emmy statues on the sides of the theater. Prior to the showing, I got to hang out in the “green room” and met Janet Tamaro (showrunner for Rizzoli and Isles), Hart Hanson (showrunner for Bones, and a really nice, fun guy) and the fabulous Jane Espenson, who has written for or been the showrunner for eight wonderful shows of which I’ve been a fan, including Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood and Once Upon a Time). I kept thinking about how good friend and fellow writer Tanya Michaels would possibly pass out if she were there. She adores Jane (and the writing sprints she does on Twitter) as well.
At the appointed time, we were led into the theater, which was already nearly full with guests, many of them Television Academy members. I ended up sitting on the end of the second row next to Jane, across the aisle from Damon Lindelof (showrunner for LOST and currently The Leftovers). I did mention surreal, right?
The film was a great mixture of behind-the-scenes truth telling and humor. I and the rest of the audience laughed out loud many times at what the showrunners had to say. The next “I can’t believe this is happening, and if I’m dreaming don’t wake me up” moment came as the credits rolled and I saw my name listed with the other Kickstarter backers. I might have uttered an “Awesome.” I can only hope that Jane Espenson didn’t think she was sitting next to a dork. But seriously, when is my name ever going to be in the same credits as Joss Whedon again?
After the credits finished, several of the showrunners involved came out onto the stage for a panel discussion moderated by Tara Bennett. In addition to Tamaro, Hanson, and Lindelof, the panel included Matthew Carnahan (House of Lies), Ali LeRoi (Everyone Hates Chris), Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age and the cancelled-too-soon Enlisted), and Steven S. DeKnight, showrunner for one of my all-time favorite shows, Spartacus (yes, I’m the girl who had a pendant made of Agron’s shield). It was a great panel, and I soaked up every moment, knowing that the magical Hollywood evening was coming to an end.
As I went back to my hotel and packed to head home the next day, I thought back over the entire experience. I’d met some really interesting, talented and nice people, and I came away newly energized to write really good stories and to finally try out that scriptwriting software I bought to adapt one of my books. After all, a girl can dream, but the dreams have to be accompanied by hard work. Luckily, I’m used to both.
If you’d like to learn more about Showrunners or get a copy for yourself, visit the official site here.