As a media tie-in author, I’m always interested in what other tie-in authors go through. When I heard that John had a new GRIMM novel out, I just had to know more. GRIMM is a favorite show of mine. John and I talked and this is what he had to tell me about his experience writing tie-in novels.
WRITING LIFE IN THE FAST LANE: MEDIA TIE-IN NOVELS
GRIMM: THE CHOPPING BLOCK is my sixth original media tie-in novel, and eleventh novel overall. I was offered the opportunity to write a Grimm tie-in by one of my several editors at Titan Books. I’ve worked with Titan before, on two Supernatural tie-in novels, Night Terror and Rite of Passage, so the folks there are familiar with my work. With regard to tie-in novels, I’ve been fortunate in a couple ways. Five of the six tie-in novels I’ve written have been the result of editor requests. Only my first tie-in, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble was the result of my pursuing the work. I was a big fan of the show, and one of the reviews of my first (co-authored) novel, Wither, compared the book favorably to the TV show: “hits the groove that makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick.” Armed with that quote and my love of the Buffy show, I contacted the editor at Simon & Schuster and eventually landed that gig.
Later, my Buffy editor suggested I submit a proposal for an Angel novel. Then, the next Angel tie-in editor sought me out for an open spot, leaving a message on my home phone. And my first Supernatural novel resulted from the editor at Titan finding my website and noting my experience with supernatural thrillers and previous tie-ins.
The other way in which I’ve been fortunate is that I’ve been a big fan of the shows for which editors have offered me tie-in work. Why is that important? Simply because it allows me to proceed with the dedication of a professional writer and the enthusiasm of a fan. So, I’m working—but also having fun playing in these various universes.
These types of writing jobs are fast-paced from start to finish, so it’s definitely a springboard if you already know the show, its setting, history, tone and characters. The alternative is to go in blind, maybe binge-watch and hope you catch on to how the show works and, more importantly, enjoy what you are watching. Because of the hectic proposal and writing schedule, I find it helps me through the process to ride my affection for the show all the way to becoming a participant in the show’s universe and its collection of stories.
To give you an idea of the pace of this kind of writing assignment—and in all six of my personal tie-in experiences, the pace has been surprising similar—I’ll walk you through my Titan Books proposal timelines. I have about a week to come up with four or five three-line pitches. Mentally, I have to adjust from being a show viewer, to someone who needs to think of ideas for stories in the show’s universe. Usually under some constraints: set in a specific place in the show’s continuity, with some characters or situations off-limits. Once I submit my pitches, I wait and hope at least one will get approved by the licensor. (Fortunately, I’ve always had at least one approved.)
Next is the complete outline, start to finish, of a specified number of pages. I will often write a longer outline for my own writing benefit, then trim for submission. Witten in about a week, then I wait and see if I need to revise. Once the outline is approved, I usually have about 60 days to write an 80,000 word novel. I say 60 days, but actually it’s less. I need a week to ten days to both set aside the draft manuscript to gain fresh perspective, then come back to it, to clean up typos, tighten the prose, etc. I break he word count required down to a daily word quota, then try to write over that, every single day, without taking a single day off, because if I skip a day, the next day’s quota is now doubled. Two days off? The next day’s word quota is tripled! Otherwise I’d fall too far behind and possibly miss my deadline. And that would be unprofessional. For GRIMM: THE CHOPPING BLOCK, I wrote every day while away on my only week of vacation for the year. Having that complete, detailed outline in hand is how I get through the fevered pace of writing. On a 60-day schedule, there’s no time for writer’s block!
After I submit my “first” draft, I wait for revision notes. Usually I have a couple weeks for the revision. The most relaxing period is between revision acceptance and publication day. Long, peaceful months—until the next tie-in opportunity presents itself!
John Passarella (www.passarella.com) won the Horror Writers Association’s prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel for the coauthored Wither. Columbia Pictures purchased the feature film rights to Wither in a prepublication, preemptive bid. John’s other novels include Wither’s Rain, Wither’s Legacy, Kindred Spirit, Shimmer and the original media tie-in novels Supernatural: Night Terror, Supernatural: Rite of Passage, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble, Angel: Avatar, and Angel: Monolith. In January 2012, he released his first fiction collection, Exit Strategy & Others. Grimm: The Chopping Block is his eleventh novel.