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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Novelist and Screenwriter Mike Donald

Mike Donald is a UK-based novelist and screenwriter. His current novel, Louisiana Blood, started out as a multiple award-winning screenplay that earned him some great attention in the Hollywood scene. Mike adapted the screenplay into a novel, and Louisiana Blood was published late last year. The novel is an incredible and thrilling mystery involving alternate history (more specifically, an intense conspiracy involving Jack the Ripper never having existed), and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike about how his novel came to be and his perspective on writing. Enjoy.

When did the idea for Louisiana Blood first strike you?

Louisiana Blood was really an amalgamation of ideas. I’d been filming in New Orleans and found the whole place really atmospheric, so subliminally this is where the location came from. I went to quite a famous restaurant there called The Court of Two Sisters, which became Crawdaddy’s in the Novel. I’d also loved the film “There will be Blood”, and “All the Kings Men.” Which gave me more atmosphere, and the governor Huey Long as an important figure who believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done…a big picture man, not bothered by the niceties of sticking to the law.

I was working with a couple of producers at the time and from them I knew that a lot of productions were being set up in Louisiana so that gave me a nudge to that location for more practical reasons. I had recently read a book about one of the main Ripper suspects called Tumblety who fled England to the US and wound up in St Louis…so he became the way of linking Victorian London to modern day Louisiana. With all of these components whirling around like some sort of creative tinder, it only took a creative spark to ignite the fire that would end up being my crazy idea. That being…What if Jack the Ripper never really existed? At which point I imagine it was around 2008.

Once I had the general idea in my head I read as many Jack the Ripper books as I could get my hands on. My idea was to absorb all of the theories and suspects and blend perceived reality with fiction to produce a dramatic story, rather than to try and add to the supposed canon of authors claiming to have discovered the Ripper’s true identity.

How long did the process take to get from idea to novel?

Between 2007/2008 I was working on the research and screenplay. My producers were involved with a large Canadian film fund with access to around $600m in funding. As well as setting up a project with Ferrari to do the life story of Enzo, they were also budgeting $10m and $30m for two of my projects. I had written a supernatural cop film called DEADEYE in conjunction with a Jake West a director friend of mine who produced cult hits like Razorblade Smile and Evil Aliens.

Along with Louisiana Blood I had been commissioned to write a screenplay re-imagining Pumpkinhead as a militarised character to relaunch the franchise for producer Brad Krevoy (Dumb and Dumber.) So things were busier than normal. As happens all too often in the screentrade, the Canadian film fund fell out with our co-producers and this coincided with the 2008 financial crash which hit the fund badly. This left the project in hiatus.

In 2010 I took Louisiana Blood the screenplay to Hollywood via many contests and film festivals. It won or placed in about 20 of them and I got invited to L.A to tout my wares. Despite numerous meetings I couldn’t get anybody to option the script and so it went on the backburner. A few years passed and I decided that Louisiana Blood was too good an idea to for it die on the vine, adapted it into a novel. I’d heard about a new publisher called INKSHARES which was a mix of traditional publishing and crowdfunding. You had to demonstrate public enough interest to convince them it was a worthwhile project and they would publish. It took six months to raise the money and I finished off the manuscript in 2016. I had the cover designed to my spec and submitted the whole package to Inkshares. The novel was published in Dec 2017.

I’m hoping the success of the book will help me back-engineer the book into a film and I’ll get a second chance to get it onto the big screen. The feedback so far is amazing, mainly from female readers which is very satisfying as in my experience women are looking for a more emotional experience from a book than men. I think they are surprised that it isn’t as graphic as the word BLOOD in the title might imply. The phrase Louisiana Blood cropped up in my research as a description of the oil business as it was back in the days of the first oil strikes where money was made and lives were lost. One of the most fascinating images I saw during my research was of Huntington Beach…all along the coast oil derricks soared into the sky giving it a sort of demonic feel and bringing to mind the phrase Satanic Mills.

What is it about your characters that inspired you to carry them into a series of stories?

Well, it was part my love of the characters belief their longevity, and part fiscal prudence in wanting them to live on maybe in the small screen arena. Nowadays there is more money spent on Netflix and Amazon than some feature films. The budgets for boxed sets such as Westworld, The Man in the high castle and Game of thrones is huge. Looking forward to the second in the series, Bruges Blood, with Detective Hoog and Katja, I think it’s high time to plunder the ashes of Van der Valk and kick start a Bruges based detective series.

When I started writing Bruges Blood I imagined a series of catacombs beneath the police station where Hoog decimates cardboard cutouts on the firing range to the sound track of Dua Lipa’s “Be the one.” No one was more surprised to discover that there really are catacombs beneath the station! The police were very generous in letting me nose around.

 

And on that note VENICE BLOOD is another series I’d like to spin off. I’ve never heard of a Venice based police series and the place is really atmospheric. Controlling the interaction of all the detectives and countries they live in will be a challenge, but that’s all part of the fun.

Are there bits of yourself in your characters?

Mmmm, difficult to say. I think there’s parts of me reflected in Chandler and maybe the technical side of Roxie. But I generally try to remain omnipotent. I suspect that most writers are under the skin, control freaks.

Give us an idea of what your writing process is like.

I generally try to be down at the gym by 04:00, do some cardio till 05:00. Then back for breakfast, before going to the cabin down by the lake where I’ll write until the sun comes up which is when I do a jog round the lake. Then I’ll usually write straight through until I’ve done my 5000 word total for the day…is what I’d like to say! In reality my day is totally unstructured. I usually have around 2 Hrs a day during the week and longer over the weekend, but that is unfocussed time. I’m marketing Louisiana Blood at the moment and itching to continue with Bruges Blood and research Venice Blood. Once I can dedicate a specific time to write I’m pretty fast. When I was writing Pumpkinhead I was on holiday in Scotland and I was told they needed the script done in 2 weeks…I remember sitting down by the loch which was the only place I could get Wi-Fi at the time and sending stuff back and forwards. Once I’d finished I was told that the project was for the Sci-Fi channel…as a result my epic was way over their budget and they ended up doing a story which was pretty much featured an actor in a rubber suit. Like most writers it’s a constant battle to get momentum on a finished project while getting the next one up and running.

You are a screenwriter as well. What is the greatest difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?

The greatest difference between a script and a novel for me is the amount of description and backstory you can add into a novel. That and the time scales. By that I mean in a script a man pulls up outside a house and we cut to the gun battle or whatever inside. In a book we follow our character as they head to the house, maybe ruminating about what he thinks he’s heading into. Show what the weather’s like, what the traffic’s like, show him checking his weapon, maybe a bit of internal thought on his choice of gun etc…on the one hand this is great because you can really give an atmosphere to the piece…on the other hand you have to write three or four times as many words as a script. Louisiana Blood was way too long as a script, probably around 130 pages, and I had to cut that down to 100 once I started showing it around L.A. This meant I had to lose a whole sub-plot that I was able to reinstate in the novel. Also because I was writing a book I was able to plot in all sorts of clues and characters that were going to interweave through the next two books in the series. But if I’m blunt the most important difference is that if you write a novel and get it published, that process isn’t governed by budget or an actors availability. It’s also a piece of creativity that is more permanent than a screenplay. A screenplay is like a blueprint to build something. It gives birth to a film and it’s the film that lives on through history. The script that begat it is consigned to the vaults and held in awe by nascent writers who read the work of their peers so they can see the nuts and bolts of the master at work.

Who are some of your influences?

From a screen-writers point of view, I’d say Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) and Christopher Nolan, (The Prestige, Inception.) From an author’s perspective, I’m going through a Jack Reacher phase, also Michael Connelly and his Bosch series on Amazon. Growing up I devoured everything Sci-Fi, and was a big fan of William Gibson, Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. I’m also dipping into some of the more recent novelists that I’ve been introduced to on Inkshares. Sync City published by Pete Ryan, and another one he has in the works Destiny Imperfect, are both great reads in the hard boiled sci-fi genre.

What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?

I always have a selection of screenplays going out to producers and on top of that there’s obviously the Trilogy of novels Louisiana, Bruges, and Venice Blood.

I’d like to thank Mike Donald for the interview. Please visit the links below to explore more of his work or to purchase the incredible “Louisiana Blood”.

Mike Donald standing by Hollywood sign

Related Links:

Mike Donald’s Websites: www.touchwoodpictures.com www.louisianablood.com

Mike Donald’s blog: www.louisianablog.louisianablood.com

To Purchase “Louisiana Blood”: Via Amazon Via Inkshares


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Guest Post Writing Life

Adapting Books to the Screen (And Vice Versa) by Liz Kerin

“Adapting Books to the Screen (and vice versa)”

by Liz Kerin

“To be honest, I liked the book a lot better.”

Adapting books to the screen is always tricky business.  When we read, we’re given the freedom to imagine something that fits perfectly into our preferred worldview. Violence is as visceral as we want it to be. We might picture our romantic lead with a few personalized characteristics. The world just feels a certain way in our minds. A good author allows their audience imaginative space to do this. But a good screenwriter or director needs to make bold, specific visual choices. And sometimes, those choices come at the expense of something you might have really loved about that book. It’s always a balancing act.

A few months ago, I was asked to put together a pitch to adapt a series of YA novels in which the main character’s inner monologue really drove the narrative. Because of this, there was a distinct “voice” in the book, and a lot of the practical information about our world and how people felt about each other was conveyed this way. It was all very internal. My job would ultimately be to make that internal external—to make the story cinematic. And it turns out that can be really, really tough sometimes.

Sometimes you just can’t capture the essence, the voice of a good book. Hollywood loves mining IP from literally anywhere, and if a book is popular for any reason, someone is likely to snatch up the rights. Producers and studios don’t always consider the challenges of the adaptation.

camera and coffee in front of a screenplay

It’s a strategic dollars-and-cents move: fans of the book will come out to see the movie. The property has a built-in audience. The writer (often writers plural) and director of the project often participate in a “bakeoff” of sorts. The person with the most cinematic, exciting take on the material gets the job. And, by the way, that’s not the “most exciting take on the material” as determined by fans of the book. It might not even be a decision the author has any say in. Tweet about your dream cast/director all you want. This decision is being made by whoever bought the rights to your favorite book.

Okay so, you’re an author. Cool, so am I! Nice to meet you. If you’re anything like me, you want your book to one day become a beloved movie that defies the odds and is received just as warmly as your book was. If that’s an end-goal for you, keep your future screenwriter and director in mind as you pen your manuscript. Make their job easier. Make sure your book feels cinematic.

“What does that even mean, though? How do you make something feel cinematic?” Well, simply put, it’s externalizing the internal. Novels, particularly literary fiction for adults, are often deeply introspective and character driven. They run the risk of meandering and feel more like a rhapsody on a theme than a hard-and-fast narrative. But take, for example, something like “Gone Girl,” a novel for adults whose suspenseful twists and turns translated perfectly to the screen. Gillian Flynn is a master at this, and she’s got a successful dual-career as both an author and a screenwriter.

Now, I’m not the authority on what goes on inside Gillian Flynn’s head when she writes, but I’d imagine it has to be similar to my own process. If I can’t write a book that also feels like a movie, I can’t write it at all. I consider setting—is this a world we’ll want to live in, onscreen? I think about my characters and how they move about this world—are they active and motivated at all times? Do they have a key objective, and is that objective something we can get invested in? Where’s the drama?

Three-act structure is king in screenwriting, and I also apply it to my book writing. The most successful book-to-screen adaptations I’ve seen are successful because the book and the screenplay had the same structure, the same DNA. It just makes sense.

“Well, what about when screenwriters go and change everything about a book that I liked! What gives?” This one is tough. We change things for all sorts of reasons, but you can usually trace it back to this whole question of what makes a story cinematic. Here’s an example: I was hired to adapt a book (and this project is still in progress, by the way, so you’ll forgive me for not naming it). The producers purchased the rights to this book not because the book itself was insanely popular, but because they saw potential in a very specific demographic.

When I first met to pitch, I was told I had free range to alter anything I wanted in the adaptation. The buyers weren’t satisfied with the story as it stood, and once I read it I agreed with a lot of their misgivings. It felt “soft,” which is a Hollywood way of saying the stakes were too low. I knew we had to up the ante and the tension. Our main character (who was super intriguing and cool!) had to face some really serious obstacles. It had to feel dramatic and dangerous. You know—cinematic.

I’m not sure how this project will be received once it’s produced, but I have faith that fans of the book will feel like we did right by our main character. We gave her an engaging world to inhabit with serious, emotionally complex challenges. Fingers crossed.

clockwork gears on screenplay

As for my book, I’m hoping I’ve managed to follow my own rules. My forthcoming novel “The Phantom Forest” was actually written as a screenplay first, when I was in my early 20s, new to LA, and knew nothing about anything. I saw it as a darkly whimsical animated film, like Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Upon completing a first draft, however, I knew it needed to be a book before it could be a film. IP rules Hollywood, and I had the potential to create my own IP instead of waiting for a producer to dump somebody else’s into my lap.

I’m now writing my second book and planning for “Phantom Forest” sequels, as well as watering my screenwriting garden. For me, it’s been hugely beneficial to play both sides. If you’re an author, try adapting 10 pages of your book to screenplay form and see what sticks. If you’re a screenwriter with a script that just isn’t gaining traction, maybe that script is meant to exist as a book first. Try both! Try them at the same time! Wear all the hats! Worst case scenario, you’ll conduct a fun creative experiment and become a stronger writer.

Photo of Liz Kerin

Liz Kerin is an author and screenwriter. Her debut novel The Phantom Forest will be released by Inkshares in late 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript competition. To pre-order, visit: https://www.inkshares.com/books/the-phantom-forest

She’s also the co-founder of Script Prescriptions, a story consulting service. More info at www.ScriptPrescriptions.com

Twitter: @Liz_Kerin

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Author Interview

Interview with Jason Pomerance: On Writing and Marketing

Today, Jason Pomerance is here to talk about his journey publishing his debut novel, Women Like Us.

Welcome Jason. First, I want to say congratulations on the release of your novel, Women Like Us, which hit shelves on July 26, 2016! How does it feel to be a published author?

Thank you for having me! I think pretty much almost nothing compares with holding your book for the first time. Most authors spend untold amounts of time — years most likely — thinking about his or her book, writing it, rewriting it, editing it, editing it some more, so that when it actually is a physical thing that you can leaf through it’s pretty astounding. Here it’s almost two years after pub date for Women Like Us, and sometimes I’ll pick it up and leaf through it and I still can’t believe it’s actually in my hands. Then other cool things happen — you see it on the shelf of a bookstore, or you see it’s been shelved at a library, or you look at reviews that pop up on Amazon or Goodreads, and if somebody really connected with it, that’s another totally sweet thing. Oh, and when it crossed over from hundreds sold into thousands. That was a nice moment.

Can you tell us a little bit about Women Like Us and what inspired the story?

The book actually began its life as a screenplay. I had in mind to write a mother/son road trip movie, but when I was outlining it, I just kept writing and writing until it began to feel more like a novel. So I just went with it and kept writing. But I have to say the whole thing didn’t really take off until the character Edith Vale started to take on a bigger role than originally envisioned. She sort of sprung to life fully formed; if you read the book you’ll see she’s quite bossy, and it’s like she started telling me what to do!! Anyway once she took on a life of her own, it became not just a story of a mother and son, but a story of a mother and her ex-mother-in-law. And people seem to love Edith, even though, quite frankly, she’s a little bit crazy. But probably everybody knows a person like her.

Is there a primary message in Women Like Us?

I believe there is. Women Like Us is really about family. Oh, it’s a fractured family to be sure, but it’s a family that comes together in a time of crisis. In any family good things happen and bad things happen, and I think the message is that even though bad things might happen, good can also come. It’s sort of a circle-of-life kind of thing too.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

I think all authors put something of themselves into their characters. And of course often we’re writing from experience, even if the experience may be altered a little (or even a lot!).

Have you ever incorporated something that happened in real life into your story?

Yes!

If given the opportunity to start over, would you change anything in your book?

I still look through the book and find things I wish I could say differently — you know, a different word in a sentence, or a different sentence altogether. When it came time to turn the book in after the final edit, they pretty much had to pry the book from my hands. I love to tinker with words and sentences.

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, how true is that?

I’m pretty sure it’s glamorous if you’re lucky enough to get on a best seller list, but I think most authors toil away in a degree of obscurity that’s not exactly glamorous. But like many writers I’m sure, I’m not doing this for any other reason but to get a story out that I want to tell. For me, anyway, that’s the most important thing.

Do you enjoy book signings? And what is your setup?

I didn’t do a whole lot of book signings unless you count Goodreads Giveaways of signed books, which I actually love and did a lot of until Goodreads changed the price structure on giveaways. But I’ve been asked on a few occasions for signed copies, and I’m always happy to sign.

Tell us about an interesting encounter you had with a fan.

I posted about this on my instagram recently. I walk our beagles by several Little Free Libraries that have sprung up around our neighborhood. One lady had seen me leave a copy of Women Like Us in one, and after she read it she asked if I had written it. When I said, “Yup,” she said how much she enjoyed it and asked for a signed copy, So I was happy to oblige.

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

If you’re published under the Quill imprint of Inkshares you’re mostly on your own for marketing so, yeah, I’ve done tons of stuff. Closer to when the book was coming out, I did I whole bunch of guest blog posts — I reached out to a ton of bloggers really and got a good amount of responses but it’s a ton of work. I reached out to a bunch of local newspapers, big and small, and managed to get a little bit of press. Also, we decided to lower the price of the eBook, which I think is critical, unless you’re a brand — people are way more willing to take a chance on your book if it doesn’t cost them a whole lot. And if you want more readers, and you’re not a brand, I think there’s no other way. Then you have to get on a whatever discount ebook email blasters are best in your genre. I’ve had very good luck Book Gorilla and Ereadernewstoday. Promos on both got Women Like Us into the top 100 on Amazon in it’s top sub genre. Which was pretty amazing.

­Have you ever destroyed any of your drafts and started from scratch?

I started and stopped and restarted Women Like Us many times until I got the right tone but I’ve never totally destroyed a draft.

When can the readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?

Hopefully soon!! It’s written, although I’m still sort of tinkering and editing. I’ve been in a long agent query process and it’s down to about one or two agents who are reading. If they pass, I’ll go indie and put it out probably via Ingram Spark for print and eBooks. I’m hoping not to have to go that route, but I will if I have to.

Some details? It’s called CELIA AT 39, and it’s sort of SWEET HOME ALABAMA meets MOONSTRUCK. It’s definitely more of a Rom-com than anything else. It’s about what happens when a package mysterious shows up at a front door 40 year after it was mailed. When Celia Bernhart (successful in her career and engaged to marry her longtime boyfriend) decides to try to deliver the package to its rightful recipient, her whole life is turned upside down!

If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’ll say it again — I worship at the altar of Anne Tyler. I’m just such a huge fan of almost every one of her books, and I read and reread them over and over again (which I think any author should do). So Anne Tyler for sure. Charles Dickens, of course, because Great Expectations is probably one of my all time favorites, and then maybe one of the hard-boiled noir writers like James M. Cain, who was just brilliant.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

Readers can find me several ways!!

Instagram: @whowantsdinner

Twitter : @whowantsdinner

Website: http://www.jasonpomerance.com

Facebook: Women Like Us has its own page here: https://www.facebook.com/womenlikeusnovel/

Goodreads (author page): https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15205951.Jason_Pomerance

About Women Like Us

 

Order Women Like Us Today!

Susan Jones, a brash and ballsy chef who hopscotches from one demanding restaurant job to the next, was barely in her twenties when she married and had a son, Henry. But after her marriage to Andrew fell apart, she ceded most of the raising of the baby to her mother-in-law, the very opinionated Edith Vale, a woman as formidable and steely as her stiff blond bouffant, the veritable helmet that helps her soldier through life. Now, after letting Henry drift away, Susan is determined to make things right. But just as mother and son seem to make headway after embarking on a cross-country road trip, things take a dark turn. When the family reconvenes in California, everybody must fight to find courage and humor in the face of a situation that threatens to change them all forever.

 

 

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