“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pitch Meeting”
I’ve wound up wearing a lot of different hats over the course of my writing career. I started out doing comic book scripts, but over the last two-plus decades, I’ve written professionally for kids’ books, licensed-property novels, movie novelizations, original novels, and video games.
One hat I’ve been trying to wear for a while is “film/TV writer.”
I’ve done it once. Sort of. Shawn deLoache (a good friend and occasional writing partner) and I managed to sell a live-action pilot last year to a major children’s programming outlet. Following a purge of top-level executives by the parent company, however, that project is not moving forward. (Not at the moment, anyway. We have further plans.)
Part of getting involved in the Hollywood scene in the marginal way that I have is that I’ve been doing rounds of pitch meetings. I don’t live in L.A., much to the frequent vexation of my manager, so about twice a year I fly out there for a week and stay with friends and do what I’ve heard described as “the couch and water tour.” That’s where my manager, Alex, reaches out to a bunch of studios and production companies and schedules meetings, and when I get there, I always have to sit on the couch in the waiting area, and an assistant brings me a bottle of water.
I’ve been through two different kinds of meetings so far.
The first is what’s known as the “general” meeting. “I’ve got you set up for a general,” Alex might say. That’s where I’m meeting some people for the first time, really just a get-to-know-you kind of thing. Generals are easy. There’s not much in the way of pressure. I mean, yes, you need to make a good impression, but it’s basically setting up groundwork and building relationships. I try to be charming, they’re charming, everyone says lots of nice things to each other. Occasionally it involves lunch.
The second kind is the actual *pitch meeting*. That’s where you try your damnedest to sell a specific project. You have a tight, cohesive, exhaustively-rehearsed pitch ready to go; sometimes there’s a little bit of small talk before you launch into it. Other times, you walk into the room, shake their hands, and they immediately say, “Okay, let me hear what you’ve got.” That’s much more nerve-wracking—though, to my intense surprise, I’ve discovered that I’m actually pretty decent at the formal pitch.
A year ago, during a week of generals, after I told people about my Middle-Grade Urban Fantasy novel trilogy (“Five Elements”) and my Urban Sci-Fi novel trilogy (“Gray Widow”), I frequently got asked, “So, Dan, what else are you working on? Any pet projects?”
And as it happened, yes, I did have a pet project I wanted to develop. It was called “The Storm,” a mystery-thriller set in a small Southern town, and it was directly inspired by a massive tornado that ripped my hometown in half in 2011.
Turns out people in Hollywood *love* a solid personal connection to a story, and they all wanted to hear more. I went on: in the story, a tornado causes a huge amount of damage and suffering, but it also rips a long-thought-abandoned house off its foundation and reveals a recently-used torture dungeon.
That had them hooked.
I continued: the protagonist is the town’s first-ever Black sheriff, and on top of trying to find this predator who’s been dwelling there for years undetected, the sheriff also has to contend with the town’s supremely deep-seated, baked-in, systemic Old South racism. I told them about growing up in a very similar small town myself, and about the kinds of horrible racist jokes I had heard all my life, and the examples of racism I had witnessed, and about the Saturday afternoon when my Youth Choir director kept us all inside the church so we wouldn’t see the KKK march taking place on the main street.
A couple of the executives I was talking to, I’m pretty sure, just flat didn’t *believe* me.
The rest of them were hooked *hard*, and more than one of them said, “This should be Season 3 of ‘True Detective.’”
Then, to a person, they all said, “It’s too bad this isn’t based on something!” And they passed.
You see, for a while now Hollywood has been head-over-heels in love with source material. As long as a concept is based on a book… or a comic book… or a magazine article… or a podcast… or a Twitter feed… as long as it has existed previously *in some form*, that seems to justify taking further interest in it. A concept that begins its life as a screenplay? It’s not impossible, but it’s much, much more difficult, and when you’re not an established screenwriter, well, good luck.
Then one of the executives said, “Dan, if you came in here with this *as a book*? That’d be a slam dunk.”
I flew home, thinking about that. I hadn’t considered writing it as a book up to that point. It seemed like a TV series to me. The ideal situation would have been that one of those executives would have taken such a shine to it that they’d *hire me* to write the pilot.
But the more I thought about it… the more I considered how difficult getting anything off the ground is in Hollywood, how big a gamble… I found myself thinking, “You want a book? *You want a book??* Sheeeee-it. Hold my beer and watch this.”
I called up Stephen Zimmer, the head honcho at Seventh Star Press, the indie press who’d put out my “Gray Widow Trilogy.” Seventh Star, up to this point, had done exclusively genre material: mostly fantasy, with a smattering of horror and sci-fi. I said, “Hey, Stephen—would you have any interest in publishing a thriller? No genre elements to it at all, it’d be something more like ‘Silence of the Lambs.’”
Stephen said, “Maybe. Probably. What’s the story?”
So I told him, and by the end of the conversation, he’d decided that not only did he want to publish the book, he was going to create a new imprint at Seventh Star specifically for mysteries and thrillers. We settled on a schedule, I got to work, and the book came out on December 14 of 2018.
A side note about going with Seventh Star, as opposed to trying to get it done through a major publisher like HarperCollins: for one thing, Seventh Star gives me *100% control* over the book’s contents. I can overrule the editor if I want to. (I very very rarely want to, but still.) I have final say over the cover, to the extent that I actually brought in a comic book artist I’d worked with for years to do it. Everything is exactly, precisely the way I want it. For another, they’re *fast*. If I had managed to sell it to HarperCollins, rather than coming out in December of 2018, it would probably have debuted sometime in 2020. Maybe. And I wanted it out a whole hell of a lot faster than that.
Another massive, *massive* benefit to writing “The Storm” as a novel is that, the more I got into it, the deeper I was able to go. Into the characters, into the town, into the social dynamics. I was able to plumb depths that there are simply no room for in a TV pilot script. I had intended the book to be a stand-alone project—which would have been quite the change of pace after finishing two trilogies in three years—but the further I got into the ins and outs of the fictional town of Red Springs, Georgia, the more I realized there was way too much story for just one book. Now I have books 2 and 3 percolating in my head, and I doubt I’ll stop there. Instead of being an intriguing concept, Red Springs has become an entire world to explore.
And in June of this year, after Alex and I do some back-and-forth about what the pilot script will actually look like, I’m heading back to L.A., where I’ll be able to slap the novel down on the table for everyone to look at.
We’ll see what happens then. Fingers crossed.
But y’know what? “The Storm”—the novel—has turned out to be the best thing I’ve put down on paper. Ever.
So the next time someone effectively dares you to write a book? Tell ’em, “Hold my beer and watch this.”
An intense tale that explores murder, mystery, and race relations in a rural area of modern day Georgia, The Storm delivers a captivating reading experience!
About the author: Dan Jolley began writing professionally at age 19. Starting out in comic books, Dan has worked for major publishers such as DC (Firestorm), Marvel (Dr. Strange), Dark Horse (Aliens), and Image (G.I. Joe), and soon branched out into licensed-property novels (Star Trek), film novelizations (Iron Man), and original novels, including the Middle Grade Urban Fantasy series Five Elements and the Urban Sci-Fi Gray Widow Trilogy.
Dan began writing for video games in 2007, and has contributed storylines, characters, and dialogue to titles such as Transformers: War for Cybertron, Prototype 2, and Dying Light, among others. Dan lives with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert felines in northwest Georgia, and enjoys connecting with readers via his website (www.danjolley.com) and on Twitter (@_DanJolley).
Book Synopsis for The Storm: RED SPRINGS.
A tiny town in Georgia’s northwest corner — ninety-five percent white. Five percent black. Utterly unprepared for the devastating tornado that rips and smashes through it one dark August day.
SHERIFF ZANDRA SEAGRAVES already faced an uphill battle. Elected by a fluke, Red Springs’ first-ever black, female sheriff leads the recovery efforts, despite knowing how much the townspeople–and her own department–loathe her. But Zandra has no idea just how hellish things are about to get.
Because one of the relief workers stumbles across a ghastly secret: the tornado tore a long-abandoned house off its foundations, revealing a grisly, recently-used torture dungeon below it.
A monster has been dwelling in Red Springs. Undetected for years. Preying on the unsuspecting populace. His atrocities only brought to light because of the storm.
Now, amid the tornado’s wreckage and surrounded by people who want her gone, Zandra has to hunt this monster down before he disappears again.
And to do it, she’ll have to peel back all of Red Springs’ dark, corrupted layers. One vile secret at a time.
Tour Schedule and Activities
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Amazon Links for The Storm
Print Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley/dp/1948042665/
Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley-ebook/dp/B07LC78379/
Barnes and Noble Link for The Storm: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-storm-dan-jolley/1130007043?ean=9781948042666
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