As I determine things about writing about which to write each week, I have thought, and stated, it might be interesting to talk about the origins of one of my novels, Deadly Lessons. I keep threatening to talk about where it came from, lest it inspires soomeone with the kernel of a story to grow it into a cob.
Yeah, I heard it too. I'm not convinced of the efficacy of that metaphor either.
Each time I mention it, and I recognize I've promised/threatened to do so in a number of previous columns, I wonder about how much I should tell, worrying, given the original intent of this weekly blog column is to drive readers to my books, that I might give away too much of the story in my description of its creation process and thus make people not bother to read it.
That said, the other day I received a statement about how many books I've sold (much more about that next week) and it may be a moot point. Thus, with no further ado, Deadly Lessons:the genesis.
I've talked before about some of my early writing days, fancying myself as a television or movie writer before I ventured down the novel path. In those days of yore before we even owned a laptop, I wrote by hand on yellow legal paper (I can't bring myself to write on white paper - surely an early OCD sign I didn't recognize at the time), often times while substitute teaching in classes I was either unqualified to teach or in which the teacher had left me absolutely no work to do with his or her students (it happens). One can only watch so many videos about single cell mitosis (that may or not be a real thing - I wasn't paying that much attention and I failed eleventh grade biology) before one's head is ready to explode.
As I settled into a full time teaching career my written output diminished for a few years while I found my teaching legs (I like to think I eventually found them - there are probaly at least dozens of former students who would challenge that assertion). As I became at least somewhat more efficient I found I could carve out time to return to creative endeavours and I developed a number of scripts and teleplays.
An old improv friend of mine became a screenwriters' and directors' agent in Los Angeles. We chatted frequently by phone about stories I was developing, which ones showed promise, which ones needed a whole lot more work. At the time, Fox had a show set in a Boston high school. My agent friend thought this seemed like gold: here was a series set in a high school and here was I, a high school teacher who wrote. I, of course, wanted to agree with her, refusing to believe there could be many frustrated writer-teachers out there; Paul Giamatti's Sideways character and I must surely be the only ones.
While Laura tried to get me a pitch meeting only with David E. Kelley, the uber-producer of the time with three television series running concurrently on major networks, I kept plugging away at story ideas, including one that contained the basic story elements of what would become Deadly Lessons. To be sure, I originally envisioned the story as an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, then in about its third season. But if David Kelley wanted it, I could make it happen; it was, after all, set in a high school.
As Laura ran into roadblocks on the road to my screenwriting fame, it occurred to her as we discussed the story idea that it was too involved, too complex for an episode of a television series. She asked where the story had come from and I told her. "You know," she told me. "You'd be so much easier to sell as a writer if you had written a book. Telling producers you were an author who wanted to write for television would be so much better than just pitching you as a baby producer. Can you write that as a book?"
"I'll give it a shot."
Next week: a sales pitch.
Two weeks from now (that's right - I'm thinking two weeks ahead!): Deadly Lessons origins - Part II