I do a lot of strange things. I’m the first one the acknowledge that fact. Even though I’m a long-time filmmaker, I just did a bit of a jump into a whole different field and published my first novel last month. But maybe I’m too used to my own craziness, because this doesn’t seem so off to me. Or maybe it’s the fact that I started off years ago writing short stories an even a novel (whose decade-old draft still sits on my shelf in my office). But I certainly can understand why for many people who know me as a filmmaker, hearing about me publishing a novel might come as a surprise. I hope it’s a good surprise.
Here’s the low-down on what I’m up to with that, and how that relates to what Stories by the River is doing. We have long been exploring the possibilities of producing our first feature length movie as we have continued to make short films and workout and tone our filmmaking and storytelling muscles. We’ve also been exploring options in terms of genres that might allow us to tell a story we’re very excited about and that can captivate an enthusiastic audience interested in something independently produced. In part, that’s how I ended up pitching Dominic and Kristina Stone Kaiser, my partners here at SbtR, on the idea of making a sci-fi/horror project, Unidentified.
If you’re curious about why the horror genre specifically, here’s an article I wrote a while back for Horatio where I explain my love for the genre. Here is also a short video where I talk about why I wrote this novel.
As I worked on the first draft of the screenplay for Unidentified, it became clear to me that there were aspects of the story, particularly the inner lives of the characters, that I wanted to have more time to explore. A novel seemed like the perfect venue for such exploration while still maintaining the fast-paced thriller momentum the story requires. In addition to this, I recognize that as a filmmaker who has written and directed many short films and even sought funding for other feature film projects that I needed to present my prospective investors with something more than just a cool idea and a gripping script. I need to present them with hard numbers on the audience for this specific story. What better way to connect with my audience than to get a book out there? This is an especially exciting notion in this new digital age where self-publishing is no longer looked upon with the same condescension of even just a few years ago.
Actually, self-publishing is the way to break into the publishing world today. Authors like Lisa Genova (Still Alice) and Andy Weir (The Martian) both self-published their first novels. It was no easy road, but Genova’s first novel went on to be picked up by a traditional publisher, became a New York Times Best Seller, and was made into a movie for which Julianne Moore won the Oscar for best actress earlier this year. Weir’s first novel was also eventually picked up by a traditional publisher, became a NYT Best Seller as well, and the movie version directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon comes out in
November (correction, it’s actually October 2nd). Obviously, these are some remarkable stories and by no means do most self-published authors go on to enjoy quite this level of success. But Genova (whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting a couple of years ago and shooting interviews with about her journey of self-publication) and Weir do demonstrate how publishing is changing today as self-publication has become the go-to option for new authors and is now a territory many publishers pay attention to in their quest to discover new authors.
Now I’m not at all imagining that I’ll enjoy quite the level of success that Genova and Weir enjoy (I think they’re far better writers than me, if I say so myself). But that doesn’t stop me form being inspired by them!
Back to my novel … So I used my feature length screenplay as a very detailed outline for the novel for Unidentified. And you know what? It was incredibly fun! I’m serious! Maybe it’s just nice to take a break from dealing with all the logistics of producing and directing films and constantly having to consider what can and cannot be done on a budget, but it was nice to just dive into a story and allow myself to be taken along for the ride even as the writer. Little pleasures as a storyteller can be quite fulfilling, such as how I realized that if I wanted it to be raining during a particularly dramatic scene in the novel, I could just go a head and do that without worry of how much it will cost me to make that rain or how to keep all the gear dry during shooting.
In the end, it is the ability to really dive into the inner journey the various characters are on that really made the experience so much fun. And so far, the readers who have been grabbing their Kindle copy of the book and sending me their comments or posting reviews on Amazon seem to be enjoying the journey as well. That’s exciting to me! And as a long-time lover of The X-Files, writing this script and novel feel kind of like coming home.
I invite you to check out Unidentified in novel form. Every sale is a hard number we can take to potential investors as we seek to tell this story in two mediums. You can be part of making this dream of ours a reality and help us tell a meaningful story that dares to explore some important, if scary, questions. Grab your copy here.