Thursday, September 22, 2011

IAMTW Suspends Annual Dues for 2012

Gse_multipart38023 These are tough financial times...and writers, particularly those in the tie-in field, are hurting. 

We want to do our small part to help out.

The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers is suspending annual dues for current and new members effective immediately and on through 2012...dues will be re-instated on January 1, 2013.

That doesn't mean we'll be shutting down and riding out the economic storm...quite the opposite. 

We'll continue to introduce our members to tie-in editors and licensing execs with our quarterly mailing of member credits and contact info...we'll continue to put out TIED-IN, our newsletter about tie-in writing...we'll continue to give out the Scribe awards for excellence in media tie-in writing...and we'll continue to moderate our highly popular private discussion board for media tie-in professionals.

And over the next month or two, we will also be renovating our website, freshening up our Facebook presence, and adding an audio category to our Scribe Awards.

We hope this will not only help our current members but also draw some new professional tie-in writers into the fold.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tied-in to terror - John Passarella on Supernatural: Night Terror

Cavan Scott braves things that go bump in the night to talk to author John Passarella about his new Supernatural tie-in novel, Night Terror

What can you tell us about Night Terror
Night Terror is set late in season six of Supernatural, which followed the huge apocalypse arc that concluded in season five. I was told right up front by the editor that my book should be a "monster" book, not anything dealing with the angel/demon mythos that had ostensibly concluded.

The premise of my novel is that a sleepy town in Colorado becomes terrorized by nightmares that come to life, which includes everything from B-movie monsters to natural disasters to Nazi zombies.

I tried to include classic psychological and anxiety-driven nightmare situations along with the type of fantastical nightmares young sleepers might have. My family brainstormed with me around the dinner table a couple evenings in a row to help me come up with assorted nightmares. 

Of course, the Winchester brothers head to the town to stop whatever is causing the nightly mayhem, and soon realize that because of their horror-filled personal histories (for example, one brother has spent time in hell; the other was possessed by the devil), they had better not fall asleep, perchance to dream.

How did you come to write for Supernatural
I've been a Supernatural fan since the first season's first show and my enjoyment of the show has grown as the mythos has become richer. My wife is a huge fan, as are my two sons, so my writing Night Terror was almost as exciting for them as it was for me. I reclaimed some of the cool factor father's tend to lose in the eyes of their children once they hit their teen years.

Do you think you have to be a fan of a show to write a successful tie-in? 
Every writer would probably have a different answer to that question. My answer is yes, I need to be a fan of the show. That might limit my options for writing tie-ins, but I need to feel the same elevated level of excitement and intensity for tie-in projects that I have when I'm writing my own novels. I would never want to take on a project where I felt I was going through the motions of writing just to earn a pay check.

Did the storyline change much from the original outline during the writing process?
Not a whole lot. The biggest changes were subordinating the ultimate cause of the living nightmares in the overall plot, accelerating the story and expanding the scope of the nightmares.

I talked to [show-creator] Eric Kripke's assistant on the phone and she suggested adding a town-wide tragedy to the mix to expand the "reason" for the monster's appearance. She also told me to take a "no censors, no budget" approach to the novel, meaning I should show more violence than they are allowed on network television and take advantage of the cost-free special effects afforded by printed words on the page.

One fansite said Night Terror has the feel of a Supernatural feature film, so I think I succeeded on that front.

How did you first start writing tie-in books?
After my first, co-author novel, Wither, came out, the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed it and said that it "hits the groove that makes TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick."

I was a huge fan of Buffy and reading that review, I thought, maybe I could write a Buffy tie-in novel. I approached Lisa Clancy, the editor of the Buffy books at the time with that quote and my stated enthusiasm for the show and asked how I should go about being considered to write one of the novels.

She told me to write a complete 10-12 page outline and a scene featuring all the main characters, which would ensure I could write their voices. That was the first time I wrote a complete book outline from start to finish in such detail before writing the book itself. I decided if I couldn't nail the characters' voices in the sample chapter, I wouldn't bother submitting the proposal.

Members of my family were also fans of the show, so I asked some of them to read my sample chapter and let me know if I had accurately captured the voices. They thought I did, so I submitted my proposal and it was accepted.

While writing that novel, Ghoul Trouble, the editor said I would be a good fit for the new Angel tie-in novels and asked if I would consider submitting a proposal for one. That book became Angel: Avatar. A few years later, the new editor called with an open slot for another Angel novel, and that turned into Angel: Monolith.

For Night Terror, Cath Trechman, the Supernatural tie-in editor at Titan Books, found me through my website, saw I had written other tie-ins and wrote supernatural thrillers, thought I would be a good fit and asked if I'd be interested in submitting. So, other than my first inquiry for Buffy, each tie-in book has resulted from an editor contacting me, and that's always a good feeling.

What was the biggest lesson you learnt when you first started writing tie-in material? 
As I mentioned, if I hadn't been able to make the characters sound on the page the way they sounded on the screen, I would have stepped away from the tie-in world. I had heard stories of otherwise successful writers who had tried and couldn't do it. I hadn't tried before so I didn't know.

I think that's the first thing you have to learn about yourself as a tie-in writer. Can I capture the character voices, then the tone of the show, then develop a story that feels compatible with the show's universe? 

Also, the deadlines are much tighter than for general fiction -- two to three months is very common -- so you have to work fast. That's where having the book completely outlined is invaluable. No worries about writing yourself into a corner or experiencing writer's block. Any logistical, story structure problems would have cropped up much earlier, in the outline stage.

You also write non tie-in material. How important is it to you that you create your own sandpit rather than just playing in someone else's? 
Obviously, with your own novels, you have complete creative freedom and expression. It's your creation, your spell to weave. You can kill off any of your characters, take the story in any direction you want. Your story's success equates to your success.

With a tie-in novel, you have to return everything the way you found it. You can't kill off lead characters (unless you can resurrect them convincingly) or alter the show's canon.

I always describe media tie-in novels to readers I meet as having the feel of lost episodes. It doesn't change what you know from the show, but if you enjoy the show then the book is something you should also enjoy.

Creatively, with tie-ins, the setup work – character development and world-building – is already done for you so you can jump right in to the story. On the publication side, the tie-in novel will have a limited readership. By that, I mean it will be a tough sell to anyone unfamiliar with the show.

And, since tie-ins are work for hire, you basically get your payment up front and there's little chance of earning much else from a title no matter how successful it is.

Of course, odds are the show has more fans than the average mid-list writer. So you hope fans of the show who do read the tie-ins will like your work enough in that world that they're willing to venture into your own worlds.

All of my tie-ins have been for supernatural properties and since my own novels are supernatural thrillers, my odds for crossover readers are better than they'd be if my own novels were westerns or romance novels. Even with Night Terror, a few early readers have already emailed me and said they want to try out some of my own novels, such as Shimmer. So that's the best case result.

What's the biggest challenge of writing a tie-in novel? 
Nailing the voices and tone of the show. You have to be a good mimic in your writing. Writers strive to develop their own voice, characters and style. When you tackle a tie-in project, the licensed property's characteristics take precedence. It's not necessarily harder or easier, but it's a different skill set. Being a fan of the show certainly helps when you're trying to fit something into the existing show's continuity without repeating something that has been done before. Supernatural was in the middle of its sixth season when I began work on Night Terror and I was familiar with all that history. Even show, I flipped through the show guides to refresh my memory of previous episodes.

What top tip would you give someone who's desperate to become a media tie-in writer? 
What works for me and what always comes first is being a fan of the show for which I want to write a tie-in. When I can't wait for the next episode to air, I know I have enough enthusiasm for the show to translate that energy into a successful tie-in novel.

What helped a lot with Supernatural: Night Terror was having access to current scripts. For a while I had access to scripts that were five or six episodes ahead of what had aired. As a viewer, I was very accustomed to hearing the characters on screen. The scripts showed me those voices on paper, which is where I had to create them. Initially, this was to show me how Sam's soul would be restored to his body, since my novel would take place after that event and I needed to be cognizant of the details. But it soon became apparent to me that the scripts were a great asset to have to immerse myself in the voices of the characters. I referred to them often during the writing process.

Supernatural: Night Terror by IAMTW member John Passarella is available now from Amazon US, Amazon UK, B&N and all good bookshops. 

For more information about the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers go to

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When You Write About A Spy: Lessons Learned From Having Michael Westen In My Head For 3 Years

[Reposted from Tod Goldberg's blog] My latest Burn Notice book -- The Bad Beat -- came out this summer and since it's also my last Burn Notice book, after five of 'em, it feels like a good time to put a bow on the experience by talking about it a bit. First, since I've done it for all the previous books, a little behind the scenes info about the new book:
1. I completed the book on October 7th of last year and though it's the longest of the five books by about ten thousand words, it's exactly the same number of pages as the previous books...276 pages. Which either means I used very small words in the previous books or the people at Penguin are really good with margins and white space. Anything you happen to see in the current season of the show was written after I finished the book, as usual. So that means, as usual, for the fucktards who persist in writing to tell me I'm not keeping canon, uhm, and I mean this with all due sincerity, please, eat a bowl of dicks. 
2. As usual, I like to use people I know in the book. The client in the book is named Brent Grayson, which is the combined names of my two nephews. There's a character named Marci, named for a woman who won a contest on the USA Forum. She wanted to be bad ass and I feel I've done her justice. One of the villains in the book is named Mark McGregor, after a childhood friend who asked to be in the book and what better way than to make him an evil genius? One of Michael's aliases is Kurt Riebe, which is the name of a former student of mine's boyfriend. Again, he asked, so he got in. Rest assured if someone has a name in the book, they're named for someone. It turns out a lot of people want to see their name in a spy novel. Who knew? 
3. The book touches on one of my current obsessions: do we need notaries? I mean, really, aren't they all just fronts for illegal actitivites? There are three businesses I do not quite understand still existing in the 21st century: notaries, piano stores and waterbed repair shops.
4. I decided, since this was going to be my last book, that it would be fun to use Sugar, who appeared in the first episode of the show. It's one of the coolest things about the show, in my opinion, in that Matt Nix and the writing staff have always recognized when they have really good secondary characters who can be reused. I've used Barry in every book because he's fun to write, but I always like it when the show reuses villains as clients or as sources. I like the idea of shifting allegiances, which seems particularly fun when dealing with criminals.  And as luck would have it, Sugar appeared in last week's episode, too, so it's good I didn't kill him off or make him into a post-op trannie or something. 
5. The first line of the book begins "When you're a spy..." and then you'll have to figure the rest out for yourself.
Since I finished the novel 9 months ago, I've had some time to think about what it was like to spend three years with Michael Westen rattling around in my head. I learned a few things, like I now know how to blow up a lot of shit using common household items. I know so many capers and scams and ways to illegally make money that I'm actually a pretty good person to know if you want to start a criminal enterprise. I know how to, uhm, Burn Notice anything, which is a pretty decent bar trick. So those are good things to know just generally, as a human. As a writer -- which I recognize makes me at least partly human -- writing Michael Westen taught me how to write series fiction and, beyond that, how to pace commercial crime fiction. See, previously, the crime fiction I wrote was decidedly not series and decidedly not commercial, really. (And I would argue that I never really set out to write crime, specifically, even if Living Dead Girl and Fake Liar Cheat and a bunch of my short stories are, you know, stories about crimes.) At any rate, writing the books required a completely different skill set -- the deadlines alone required that they be almost completely plot and voice driven, which is somewhat different than my other work which tends to be character and setting driven. Writing Burn Notice has changed the way I approach crime fiction, which is good since the novel I'm writing now -- more on that in a moment -- is a pretty straight crime novel. 
A bit about the deadlines -- I typically had three or four months to write the books, which was truly grueling and, at times, more than a little dispiriting, because I knew if I spent more time on the books that they'd be better. I wrote the first two books right after each other, the first in 60something days, followed by a month off and then I wrote the second book in 90 days. And, I regret to say, the second book sucks. I had a terrible cold for pretty much the entire writing of the book, which is why, uhm, it doesn't make any sense. Again, sorry about that. I had much longer breaks between books after that point -- and by that I mean three months or so -- which made them better, I hope. But because the deadlines were so close, I also had to learn to not be an obsessive rewriter, which meant I had to keep a pretty tight plot, which meant I did more outlining than usual...and by that I mean I outlined anything at all, which I typically don't do. I also ended up trusting myself more. Usually when I'm working on something new, I show drafts to my wife or to my agent or trusted friends to get some feedback, but I just didn't have the time to do that with these books and the result is that I ended up needing to be honest with myself. Not an easy thing for any writer. 
When I first wrote about this endeavor in the LA Times, I said that I'd come to the conclusion that "I had to start thinking of myself like a musician covering a hit song -- in order to make it my own, I had to tweak it a little, give something of myself in the process and make it fresh and new to the fans who already love the original by adding additional elements they might not be expecting. Think "Walk This Way" by Run-DMC versus Aerosmith's original. Same song, different experience." By the time I finished this final book, my feelings were unchanged. It's hard to write about a character that belongs not just to the creator of the show, Matt Nix, but also to the show's writing staff and, most importantly, to the millions of people who have an experience with that character on TV each week. So I tried to do what I could to carve out my little piece, which I was grateful Matt let me do, by adding my own flourishes here and there. 
One of my other goals with the books was purely personal: I wanted to increase my profile as a crime writer, because I knew what I wanted my next novel to be and I thought having a few hundred thousand new fans wouldn't hurt that project. My plan all along was to write a novel based on the main character in my short story "Mitzvah" (which first appeared in Las Vegas Noir and then later in my collection Other Resort Cities), a hitman hiding out in Las Vegas as a rabbi. Then a funny thing happened along the way to that plan: the producers of Justified optioned the story and then sold it to FX for a potential series. Now who knows if the show will ever happen -- in my career I've sold a lot of things to Hollywood, some big deals, some small deals, some medium deals and I've learned not to get too excited until such time as I see my name on a movie or TV screen -- but what it made clear to me was that if I was going to write that novel, well, I'd be wise to get on it. So since I finished writing my last Burn Notice book, that's exactly what I have done. I hope to be done in October and then, well, we'll see what happens. 
Nothing is assured for any writer, of course, so leaving the security of writing the Burn Notice books -- I was offered the chance to continue the series -- was a calculated risk. But the fact is, also, I was ready to move on to other things. I've written 11 books in the last 11 years, plus another book I couldn't sell because it wasn't very good, plus countless short stories, plus essays and book reviews and, and, and, and...which is to say I've always gone on to something new and its worked out well. The other truth is that every character I've ever written still visits my mind periodically -- you spend enough time pretending to be someone else, it's the least you can expect -- and as I've written my new novel I've had to tell Michael Westen to pipe down a few times and that, well, is actually pretty damn cool. 

First Do No Harm

King's River Life Magazine recently interviewed IAMTW member Dr. D.P. Lyle on his new ROYAL PAINS tie-in, "First Do No Harm." Here's an excerpt:
DPLBy profession I’m a cardiologist and I practice in Orange County, California. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I grew up in Alabama where I attended the University of Alabama for college and the University of Alabama College of Medicine for medical school and internship. I then moved to Houston, Texas where I did my residency in internal medicine and then my cardiology fellowship at the Texas Heart Institute. After that I moved to California and have been here ever since.
Marilyn: How you came about being chosen to write the Royal Painsnovels based on the TV series.
 DPL: This came about from my friend Lee Goldberg. He writes the Diagnosis Murder and the Monk media tie-in novels and he was approached about doing the Royal Pains series. He suggested me to the publisher and that’s how it began.
Marilyn: Will you tell us a little bit about the process of putting a TV series into book form?
DPL: Basically when you write a tie-in novel you are using someone else’s characters and creating stories based on the series. This means that there are restrictions regarding what you can do since they control the characters. You can’t go too far afield. So basically you’re taking someone else’s characters and creating a story around them, which of course must be approved by the creators from the beginning and throughout the project. It’s been an interesting and challenging process. I’ve learned a lot, which was my main goal in taking on this project. It’s a new type of writing for me.

What We Do To Keep Ourselves Interested

[Reposted from Lee Goldberg's Blog]

I write books more for myself than for my readers. I figure if I am not entertained, my reader won't be, either. Author Christa Faust feels the same way...
A reviewer recently accused me of creating a “Mary Sue” character in my Supernatural tie-in COYOTE’S KISS. For those who don’t know what that means, a “Mary Sue” is a too-perfect wish-fulfillment character that represents the author’s own idealized persona.

While I freely admit that the character in question is a wish-fulfillment character, it’s a completely different kind of wish. I created that character not because I’d like to be her, but because I’d like to fuck her. After all, we tie-in writers have to do something to spice up the daily grind.
I don't think I've ever created a character in a book or a screenplay that was a personal fuck fantasy figure. I'll have to try that one of these days...but I doubt it will be in a Monk novel.