The dwindling market for original screenplays in Hollywood has left aspiring screenwriters looking to the literary market to find an audience for their stories. But the process of adapting from a screenplay into a novel presents unique storytelling issues that have yet to be formally addressed.

This blog is the product of a year-long partnership between Jon James Miller, an award-winning screenwriter, and Charlotte Cook, publisher at KOMENAR Publishing, to develop one of Jon's award-winning scripts into a publishable novel.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wondering What's Next (Charlotte)

Last Sunday Jon and I finished our manuscript for the book Adapting Sideways. A stressful and fatiguing week to accomplish a final sorting out of ideas, graphics, concepts, rewrites. Even a 90-minute presentation of the material in front of an audience of fellow writers--thank you, Redwood Writers California Writers Club!--looking for any surprises. Well, we still have surprises ahead of us, I’m sure. But at that point, everything worked, fit together.

Different factors come into play at different moments in a partnership such as ours. Up until deciding to do Adapting Sideways, we’d worked as writer and writing teacher/editor, fellow students of film and fiction, filmmaker and filmgoer, screenwriter and fiction writer, and fellow fiction writers. We’re also friends because of our shared values and ambitions. And now we’ve become co-authors and workshop partners.

So we proofed and printed out a clean copy. Wrote cover materials. Annotated a table of contents. Assembled a statement of the market. Filled out mailing documents. Only the post office was left. Then the package was in the mail. We were done. Or were we?

When we mailed out our manuscript that morning, I had this familiar sense of false closure. I’ve been here before with new ideas and material--certainly other manuscripts, my own and that of the novelists I’ve published or edited. Even previous partners. Once again I knew something had been achieved--but nothing had ended. In fact more had begun than concluded.

Jon and I were at the start of a partnership more than at the completion of a shared project. We had come to agreement. The book and the workshop seemed to “seal the deal.” That was as big a deal as the completion of the manuscript. Awesome is the word that best fits my overall take--simultaneously inspiring and daunting.

Particularly daunting regarding what Jon calls “The Waits.” How do I occupy my time while we await word from our agent? What revisions will she want? What publishers will she contact? What will be their response? More and more screenwriters are being directed to write novels. Right now we are the only ones with a methodology track record--aren’t we? And all we can do--at one level--is to wait.

But, having been here before, I know that “The Waits” is valuable time too. All I have to do is turn to my calendar and stack of things on my desk to find valuable occupation. I can’t just wait. There’s so much work to be done. What if--worst possible case--our agent doesn’t take the manuscript? Then waiting is wasted time, lost momentum, a frivolous use of precious creative juices.

First, the Redwood Writers audience gave us an opportunity to realize we were fine together. Our timing and shared perspective could be informative, maybe dynamic. So, we need to look for tweaks to pursue. We need an alternative opening. We may have to revise the handout. We certainly need to capture any new concepts and ideas. Again, thank you, Redwood Writers. The event was rich for us.

Then there’s postings for our blogs. More concepts awaiting attention and consideration. Calls and emails to answer. Marketing materials, workshop logistics, clients . . .

And “The Waits” calls for something else as well. Rest and restoration. I’ve slept long hours the last few nights from fatigue. Enough fatigue to manifest dreams of sleeping within dreams while I sleep. And I need to put healthy food back in my refrigerator, meals again cooked from scratch. And then a little vacuuming and a stack of dishes . . . I need to be fresh to keep being creative.

After posting our manuscript to our agent, I realized that Jon and I had come together in thought and effort in less than eight weeks to produce a 250-page book. Being nonfiction, the word count is incidental. Not like publishing a novel where word counts range from 65,000 to 210,000 words. And not someone else’s writing that I had brought to publication.

This co-authored book was equally my work and experience. Two hundred and fifty pages of writing, several pages of graphics, a table of contents that lists some one hundred plus topics explored. And all accomplished with an equally committed, experienced and articulate partner. Lots of discussion and revision. No arguments, no ego.

What we did to get here needs to be kept together and nurtured because, as the book is our future, so is our partnership. The ideas and resources that combined for the book need to keep integrating and challenging us. If nothing else, we need to keep talking and keep writing--moving forward.

But it’s easy to look at what’s passed. Other opportunities and rites of passage hover before us. I must admit, awaiting our agent’s response to the manuscript casts a huge shadow on my life right now. Behind that is a tickling sensation that having now collaborated with Jon on the manuscript and preparing for our up-coming presentations and workshops, I’ve entered an important new phase of my own creativity as well as a new world of people and ideas. And just like the tension in a good novel or film catalyzes questions about the story, I’m wondering: And then what happens? Where are we going?

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