Friday, April 16, 2010

An ITW debut Musical? Strangely Beautiful indeed!


Hello, thrillers! I'm class of 2009 author Leanna Renee Hieber, author of the Strangely Beautiful saga of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels. (Dorchester) And I've just scored some pretty interesting news that doesn't happen every day to a mass market paperback writer and I'd like to share with you a bit about this unique process...

As seen 4/14/10 on Publishers' Marketplace:
Report of Option Agreement Sale:
"Musical stage rights to Leanna Renee Hieber’s, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker described as a Victorian “Ghostbusters” about an eerie young woman whose skin is white as snow and the cadre of characters who believe she may be the key to an ancient prophecy, sold to Mt. Clair Entertainment to be adapted by the author with music and lyrics by Kenny Seymour, Jim Abbott and Nicholas Roman Lewis."

Further press details on the option agreement, care of Mt. Clair Entertainment:
"The ghostly, Gothic Victorian fantasy novel The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is heading for the legit musical stage. The author Leanna Renee Hieber will write the book of the musical with music and lyrics by Kenny Seymour (Broadway credits include music direction for Memphis and arrangements for The Wiz) and Nicholas Roman Lewis (creative development for The Alchemist and They Call Me La Lupe) with additional orchestrations and arrangements by Jim Abbott (Wicked, Bombay Dreams, Disney’s Tarzan)."

From agent and creative developer Nicholas Roman Lewis:
"Kenny and I had been looking for a musical project for at least two years. Leanna's book had enthralled me from the moment I first read it as a manuscript so it was literally always on my desk staring at me. I knew this would make a wonderful musical but perhaps slightly daunting, after all, the book is full of ghosts, magic and murder. And then I thought, "the book is full of ghosts, magic and murder...this MUST be a musical." The characters and epic nature of the story lend themselves to song and I knew that Kenny shared my desire to incorporate sweeping cinematic themes with traditional musical theater styles. The icing on the cake is I think every writers dream, a lead character white as snow and strangely beautiful....I think I hear a song."

What's so thrilling for me as the author is that this is the culmination of all my childhood dreams and all of my professional pursuits. I began my first novel when I was 12, a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera because I was obsessed with the show. For me, theatre and books have always gone hand in hand. For the ten years I was active as a professional actress and playwright, I was always writing books. I still do background work in film and television in NYC and remain an active member of AEA, SAG and AFTRA. And yet I couldn't quite have dreamed this confluence of talents and forces; of everything I love and have pursued, all into one project. No matter what happens - as there are worlds of struggle between beginning a show and seeing it come to fruition on any sort of stage - it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And it couldn't be better timing! My sequel, THE DARKLY LUMINOUS FIGHT FOR PERSEPHONE PARKER - releases April 27th!

I've gotten the questions: 1. How did this come about, and 2. what happens next?

The how: It's all my agent. I signed with him liking the fact that he represented playwrights and had sold film rights. Little did I know I had signed with a theatrical producer as well as an agent - what a lucky break! This possibility to use my work for his next project was clearly in his (and Kenny's) head for a long while before it was brought to me and presented for option sale. And it really took some imagining and faith for the team to say - I think we could do this... Now let's be clear, it's a long and hard, often heartbreaking road from option sale to show. But everything is possible with faith in the project, diligence, flexibility, community and a healthy dose of dreaming big.

So then I'm asked: What happens next? What's the process for something like this?

Now I'm set to storyboard the book. I'll lay down the 'must have' scenes and dialogue from the book. I plan to pick out overarching 'theses statements' from chunks of the book - becoming more intimately acquainted with the broad, overarching themes of my book than ever before. I've already begun thinking about how disparate scenes can bleed together into a flowing, cliff-notes whole. This will be a different product than the book and I have to look at it with an entirely different lens. Challenging but fun to put on different hats. In the meantime the rest of the production team will be going through the book on their own and thinking through their own 'must have' list, each of us respectively brainstorming from our own perspectives of script, lyrics, music, vision. We'll come together within the next couple of months to make sure we're all on the same page, and I turn over my must-have dialgoue for use in lyrics and refrains. And then we'll see something begin to come together, with the hopes that within a year it could go into a workshop production in some festival or regional venue. It needs time to grow and bloom (and gain development and investment) before heading to the Great White Way.

But I'm learning this as I go. And I'll take you all along for the ride if you're as curious as I am to see it unfold! You can join me on the journey on Twitter, Facebook and my blog! Of course, all details on my Website.

Strangely Beautiful blessings!

Leanna Renee Hieber

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chevy Stevens is the debut author of Still Missing (St. Martin’s Press, July 2010). Rights have been sold to Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, and Australia. Brilliance Audio bought audio rights for Still Missing and Chevy’s next two novels, and St. Martin's Press has sold book club rights.

Carla: Chevy, your story is about a realtor, Annie O’Sullivan, who is abducted and held for a year, as told in narration to her therapist once she’s freed. It’s a fascinating concept. How did you dream it up?

Chevy: When I was a Realtor, I spent hours at open houses reading books or scaring myself with horrible thoughts of what could happen to me. One of the most terrifying scenarios began with being abducted. That led to other thoughts like who would abduct me and what it would be like to try to fit back in your life after such a brutal experience. Was it even possible? The idea hovered in the back of my mind for a while, then one day I heard my main character’s voice telling her story to a “shrink.” I walked up to my office and just started writing. The basic structure and story line has never changed from that very first draft.

Carla: How long was it from that point until you felt it was ready for submission?

Chevy: Almost four years.

Carla: What made you stick with this particular story? Did you always want to be a writer?

Chevy: When I was a child growing up on a ranch I dreamed of being a writer and carried books around with me everywhere, usually with a cat under the other arm and a dog following behind. There were a few attempts at early novels, one featuring a detective mouse and another where a wife poisons her abusive husband—obviously I had an early tendency toward thrillers! I took writing in school, but I planned to be an artist. Then I started working in business and got sidetracked.

Shortly before the idea of Still Missing came to me, I’d stayed on a remote gulf island and started writing a memoir. I didn’t stick with that piece, but I fell in love with writing. Then I started dreaming in prose. I would see sentences landing on a blank page. Not long after the idea for Still Missing came to me. When I started writing, I became consumed with Annie’s story and connected with it deeply on a personal level. Although the exact events that happened to Annie did not happen to me, her story is a metaphor for my life growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. Annie’s emotional growth after her abduction is very similar to what I went through during the process of writing this book.

As to why I stuck with it for so long--that’s a hard one to explain. Despite the slim odds of being published and the fear of failure--especially when I left Real Estate in the middle of a hot market!--it was something I had to do. It wasn’t a choice, it was a compulsion.

Carla: What do you hope your reader will get out of Still Missing?

Chevy: I hope they see that it’s okay to talk about your pain, that there’s no shame in feeling emotions and being vulnerable. I hope this book gives people permission to tell their stories and the courage to reach for happiness.

Carla: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

Chevy: This is a very emotional story so I had to dig deep into my own fears and pain. I often struggled to avoid going “there,” but when I did it was always enormously cathartic. From a technical perspective, it was difficult to tell this story authentically and share the nightmare that Annie endured--that women endure every day--in a way that wasn’t too horrific for people to read. It’s a fine line and I tried my best to be sensitive to the subject matter I was working with. It was as hard for me to write as I’m sure it will be for many to read. But I feel the book’s message is important; these are things that need to be talked about.

The book’s structure--told in sessions with Annie’s therapist--allowed me to dive into Annie’s psyche, but it was confining at times and very challenging to show her growth as she progressed through her therapy. I spent several months working just on the session intros, trying to get Annie’s voice to reflect her emotional state at each stage of her healing.

Carla: What was the easiest?

Chevy: I probably had the most fun with Annie’s sarcasm. I have a very dry sense of humor and it was fun writing some of her lines!

Carla: It’s unusual for a debut novel to garner so much international interest. What do you feel is its particular appeal?

Chevy: Although Annie went through a horrendous experience--every woman’s worst nightmare--she survived. Her spirit is shattered, but she doesn’t want her pain to win. Somehow, through it all, she’s trying to rebuild her life and find happiness again. That’s a human desire people can understand all over the world. There are many victims of violence and abuse who are struggling to heal. I believe Still Missing says that it is possible. You can overcome. You may never be the same person again, but you can end up a stronger person.

Carla: Could you describe an average writing day?

Chevy: I’m up by 6:30am and have my first cup of tea while I return e-mails and read blogs--all that good Internet junkie stuff! Then it’s out for a walk with my dog, Annie. When the second cup of tea is in hand, I start writing. I can’t retain focus for long periods of time so there are usually several tea, e-mail, and puppy cuddle/playtime breaks. And once in a while I make it to the gym! But that’s mainly just damage control.

Carla: If you could pick one author to meet, who would it be?

Chevy: If I were to pick one author, it would have to be Bryce Courtenay. The Power of One resonated with me in a way that no other book ever has, and I identified with his main character Peekay completely. He also has an incredible body of work and is just brilliant at capturing intricate family dynamics, usually playing out their stories in an incredible setting. His stories have strong themes of survival, which I really connect with.

Carla: Can you share anything about your next novel?

Chevy: I’d love to! Sara has a much different energy than Annie and it was interesting to see how that shaped the novel. Here’s a little teaser. Hope you like it!

"Sara discovers her biological father is an infamous killer who’s been hunting women every summer for over thirty years. She tries to come to terms with her horrifying parentage--and her fears that she’s inherited more than his looks--with her therapist, Nadine, who we first met in Still Missing. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out your father is a killer is him finding out about you."

Carla: That sounds like an excellent follow-up to Still Missing! When will it be out?

Chevy: July 2011.

Carla: I can't wait. Thanks for stopping by our debut blog.

Chevy: It was fun! Thanks for having me.

Carla Buckley is the debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here (Delacorte Press, 2010) and Chair of the ITW Debut Author Program.