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Most authors dream of seeing their books turned into film/TV, so millions of people can experience their worlds. In today's show, J.A.Huss and Johnathan McClain tell the story of how they worked together to turn Julie's books into a successful TV pitch.
In the intro, I talk about my writing progress with Valley of Dry Bones, and some tips for moving books over from Createspace to KDP Print.
Plus, I have updated all my main landing pages on writing fiction, writing non-fiction, publishing, marketing, making a living with your writing, and the author mindset. You can find everything on my Resources page here.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
J.A.Huss is an award-nominated New York Times and USA Today best-selling romance author with millions of copies of her awesome books sold around the world.
[Julie was previously on the podcast talking about writing and marketing romance.]
Johnathan McClain is an award-winning stage actor, screenwriter, and film and TV actor, appearing in programs like Grey's Anatomy and Mad Men. He's also an award-winning audiobook narrator.
Julie and Johnathan co-write as Huss McClain.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How Julie and Johnathan initially connected through audiobook narration
- How the relationship grew from narrator and author to producing partners
- The challenges of adapting a world that is so large in scope
- How things fell into place when Julie and Johnathan were pitching their idea
- The differences between creating and pitching an idea
- Pitfalls to be aware of and tips for success in the Hollywood arena, including have a good entertainment lawyer
- The importance of gut-check moments
You can find Huss McClain at HussMcClain.com. Julie is on Twitter @JAHuss. Johnathan is on Twitter @MisterJMcClain
Transcript of Interview with JA Huss and Johnathan McClain
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with two guests. Welcome, Julie and Johnathan.
Joanna: So just a little introduction.
Julie Huss is an award-nominated New York Times and USA Today best-selling romance author with millions of copies of her awesome books sold around the world. Julie's been on this show before. She's a fantastic guest.
Johnathan McClain is an award-winning stage actor, screenwriter, and film and TV actor, appearing in programs like “Grey's Anatomy” and “Mad Men.” He's also an award-winning audiobook narrator.
I have superstars here today. Julie and Johnathan now co-write romance together as Huss McClain, and their latest book is “The Sexpert,” and they have lots of stuff going on.
So, guys, welcome. And you met through audiobook narration. Let's talk about that first. Lots of authors have fantastic narrators.
How did you move from that into co-writing?
Johnathan: I made the initial overture, just to say “thank you” for finding me. Because Julie had heard something I had narrated and asked her audiobook publisher to track me down so that I could do some narration for her.
When I finished, I always, if I have the opportunity to thank someone for a job, certainly I wanted to do that. But then in the case of Julie, I was also just struck by the complexity of the writing and some of the complex themes she was exploring.
Also she has the incredible ability to get right to the heart of a scene when she's writing, and I think that I was really struck by the poetry combined with the efficiency. There was just a lot about it that really took me by surprise and made me really pleased and thrilled to be a part of her work. So when I reached out to her I said, “Hey, thank you so much, and also, compliment, compliment, compliment.”
And she wrote back in kind. And then, well, you should talk about how I then reached out after that, because it was months after that when I approached you with my idea.
Julie: We connected on Twitter at first, and then we moved into email. It was basically just, “Thank you. I love what you do.” And he said the same thing back.
And then he did the narration for “The Company,” which is a compilation of three books that I wrote in 2014. And then he emailed to say, “I really enjoyed that.”
We started talking a little more and then he sent me this long email asking, “Hey, just bear with me for a minute. I'm going to like spill a whole bunch of words out into this email and ask what you think at the end.”
At the end he was like, “Do you want to write a screenplay for this Company book?” Right? So, that's how it started. A teleplay, I guess, is the correct term.
Johnathan: Yes. For television. I thought it was a TV series and as it turns out it is a TV series because, not burying the lead too deeply for anyone who doesn't already know, this is ultimately how we jumped ahead before we started writing books together. She said, “Great.”
I have a relationship with the executive producers of Handmaid's Tale, and so I approached them and said I have access to this really interesting best-selling property, and I think that I can convince the author to work together to try and adapt it.
They got on board, and funnily enough last week is finally sort of the full culmination of it. We went through the process of pitching it, we closed the deal, we got them to agree to produce it, etc. And then last week I finally brought in the fully realized version of what we're going to take to Netflix and Hulu and all the other places we're going to try and sell it.
They're really excited about it. So it's a momentous time to talk about it.
Julie: It's like almost one year that we finished. We finished that screenplay pretty fast, don't you think?
Johnathan: The pilot? Yeah. Well, television moves fast. I hadn't done the thing you're supposed to do in Hollywood, which is check with your agents and so forth, and say, “Do you think this will sell?” Because I just don't care what they think.
But you never know who's got similar ideas percolating, and even though Julie's world is pretty inimitable, sometimes you'll take a thing out and they'll say, “Well, we're working on something that sort of resembles this.” So I wanted to get into it as quickly as possible.
We moved swiftly through that. But then you should again talk about this because you were the one who had the next idea, which knocked me back a few paces, when you suggested it.
Julie: When he sent me that long email about asking about writing the screenplay together, the teleplay, and then I said, “Yes.” And then he wrote back with a sample scene. So that's where it started, right, Johnathan?
Julie: The sample scene that you sent me of the very first book; just a quick imagining of what my book could be. And it was beautiful. It blew me away. Like it literally blew me away.
I wrote back and I said, “I might not know a lot of things in this world but I know good writing,” and I said, “You know how to write.”
I'm not a collaborator; I'm not one of those people who collaborates. But I thought, if I'm going to collaborate with somebody, I think maybe he's the guy. Because we got along so well.
And the screenplay was super fun, and super easy, it just went so great. And so then I was like, “Maybe we should write some romance books,” or whatever. It didn't even need to be romance. It was like maybe we should write something else together. And so we did end up doing the romance.
Joanna: Wow. Okay. We've jumped right into the Hollywood. Now nobody cares about your books, everyone wants to know about the TV series. I have a couple of follow-up questions from that.
First of all, can you talk a bit more about the adaptation process. So, Julie had a book. Johnathan narrated it, but all the rights at that point sat with Julie. And then you co-wrote a screenplay together and the rights of the screenplay now belong to both of you jointly?
Everyone needs to know that when you co-write that, that is a different property. And then you moved into selling it. We'll come back to selling it.
What were the challenges of adaptation, Julie, of your own work, and Johnathan of someone else's work?
Julie: For me I don't think it was challenging at all, because the world is big; it's a huge world with so many characters. And there was so much story that I never got to write, because it's a romance.
So this was the thing. I had to keep the world in a romance kind of book and plot. And so there was so much of it that never got told, that I told Johnathan, “Let's just remake it. Use these characters and use this plot, but just remake the whole thing.”
I didn't care what we did, as long as we were doing it in the world. And so I think it went really easy, don't you, Johnathan?
Johnathan: Yes. The answer to the question, “What were the challenges?” There were very few, but that owes to the fact that Julie was not precious, as she just described, about preserving every bit of minutiae, because things simply don't work sometimes in translation.
You can't translate someone's inner monologue onto the screen. It's a visual medium. And so what struck me was how amenable she was to me suggesting, “Can we move this around? Can we change this? Can we motivate this?”
The only challenge for me, would arise when there are 13 books that comprise the series, that comprise the world. I did not narrate all 13. I did not have time to read all 13. And Julie is so prolific that the only time we would really bump up against challenges would be when I would say, “Now why did this happen, because I don't know if I read this?”
And Julie would be like, “Give me an hour. Let me go back and re-read my own books and figure out why I had this happen.” Those were some of the challenges.
It's just the density of the material. I'll tease a little bit of the epicenter of the pitch, which is one of the key lines that I make when I'm selling the show is, “The best analog for this show isn't another romance novel. The best analog for this series is ‘Game of Thrones' just in terms of scope and depth.”
And what I say is, “If ‘Game of Thrones' is a big, sweeping show about the pursuit of power, which it is, ‘The Company' is a big, sweeping show about the destruction of power.” And so that just gives context for how vast what we're dealing with is.
So that was the only challenge, was just size. But the advantage to having the author in my corner was that she was so keen to green-light every necessary change that it made life a lot easier. Easier going forward, too.
When we get into a network, they're going to want to change everything, because that's what they do. And Julie's very good about knowing what to fight for and what to not fight about.
Julie: And the other thing is, is that Johnathan never had a bad idea. I will say that. He understood everything I was trying to get out of that story. And all the ideas were great, and so, it was just super fun.
Joanna: Let's talk about that process of selling. You said it's been a year already, for example, so timing is one of those things with screenplays and adaptation and all of that, in that it takes a long time.
But Johnathan you also mentioned that you have relationships, so you already have someone to pitch. You also have an agent, although they weren't necessarily involved.
Julie's super famous in a small way but not massively famous. Is that offensive? Hopefully not.
Julie: No, it's not.
Joanna: Somebody who the producer is aware of but might not have heard of, to these people, and the fact that Julie is an indie author, which some people have an issue with.
What were some of the relationship things that you went through there, and were there any hurdles?
Johnathan: The first thing I would push back on just slightly: you're absolutely right that she is not in the cultural zeitgeist, but there are very few people who are, I would say.
To answer your question specifically, the comparison I made is, I said, “Think of ‘The Walking Dead.'” Because “The Walking Dead” was a very successful commodity in that graphic novel readership, Comic-Con community, but the broader public had never heard of “The Walking Dead.”
That had started off I think as an independently published affair that Kirkman was creating. And so to me the comparison to other precedent products like “The Walking Dead” made it easy for people to wrap their minds around, “Oh, I might not know this but there is a subgenre of people out there who are rabid and enthusiastic, and in that world this person is a big deal.”
So the idea that that's true was helpful. The fact that within her sphere, inside of her orbit, Julie is a big deal is also helpful. I can point to very specific measurable metrics. She is in the top 50 best-selling romance novelists on Amazon's ranking system. She has made “The New York Times” best-sellers list. She has been on the “USA Today” list 18 times. Those things catch attention. She has sold over a million copies of her books. That's a nice round number that people can easily get their heads around.
The other thing that I was not expecting and that Julie's invitation to me to write romance novels with her helped immeasurably, is that now we are part of the narrative. The idea that actor narrates romance novel, approaches author, author invites him, now they write romance books together, and in three days we're going to be having our coming-out party and book bonanza in Denver.
The narrative is so interesting to people in Hollywood. I've been around a long time, and people know me, and they're like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing.” It's a great cocktail party story, and so that really sets the table in an intriguing and interesting way, because the story behind the story is just as entertaining.
The way it happened does not happen, which is you take something out 50 times and you get a bunch of rejections. I went to the executive producers of Handmaid's Tale at MGM TV and I said, “I have this idea,” and within three months they said, “Okay, great. We're in. We'll do it.” And I think it was just a perfect storm of opportunity.
Julie: Or it was meant to be.
Johnathan: Or it was, as we say in Yiddish, “It was bashert.”
Joanna: I don't think anyone should think that this is a first-time rodeo for either of you, right?Johnathan, you've had this very long career in acting. Julie's had multiple careers, but has written a ton of books.
You two are not just first-time people out, first screenplay sold to a big producer. So it's really important that people realize how much experience you both have, and how many relationships you both have with all the different people.
You both talked about mutual respect for each other's writing, but you both are very good at selling, clearly.
I've written a couple of screenplays, a couple of adaptations. Lots of people listening have too. But it seems to me that the selling part of screenwriting is just as important as the actual writing.
What would be your comments on that?
Johnathan: I have this conversation a lot. I had lunch with a very successful writer friend a couple of days ago and we were chatting about the fact that, if you want to call it an advantage, I've been acting and have been performing for 30 years, and so getting in a room and standing with a light-board behind me, with a character map of all the characters, and then doing basically a 27-minute monologue, is something that I feel very comfortable with and I think is incredibly helpful.
I love that you said this, Joanna, because pitching is not writing, right? It is not even creating. It is not anything to do with the creative part. It is sales entirely.
Some people have a skill set with that, that gives them an advantage. But I will say that while all of that is true and you want to charm the room, when all is said and done it really is about the underlying product.
Vince Gilligan who created “Breaking Bad” is a terrific storyteller. But the truth of the matter is that he just had a great story to tell. And even inside of that he famously didn't sell it in many, many, many places and then finally AMC said, “We'll do it.”
At that point in time I think his joke was, “AMC? Why don't I just sell it to the Home & Gardening Channel? Who cares?”
Or more currently, “Stranger Things” was passed on by 19 different outlets before they finally found a home at Netflix. And that's not because the Duffer Brothers got better at pitching. It's just because, like Julie said, the stars may have aligned in this case.
The stars have to align to sell anything, but Julie helped me with something, to be quite candid, that I've always hiccuped on, which is that I buy into the artist mythos a lot, and I have for years struggled in Hollywood, coming from a stage background in New York, with the idea that I am commodifying my art.
Julie is the one who has helped me in the last year overcome the notion that salesmanship and creation are not mutually exclusive.
Julie's genius is at marketing. And so the other thing that's to my great advantage when I go in to sell these things in the room, is that I have very beautiful, successful intellectual property existing content that Julie made, that I can hold up and say, “Look at this beautiful artwork.”
She has a natural gift for understanding how to catch people's attention. And so, I would argue that even though you kicked this over to me because you're like, “This is all you.” But you set the table for me to go in and be able to like bring something that's worthy of being sold.
But look, if there were a formula, if there was something that any of us, and you know this very well, then it wouldn't be special and nothing would matter because everybody would be doing it. Because I have not sold. I said this to my agent the other day. He was like, “You feeling good?” I was like, “I feel great.”
I've not sold plenty of things. I know how to do that. That part's easy. I'm excited to do this new thing, which is to sell a major hit and to get something on the air. That's going to be super fun, because I've really gotten good at not getting things on the air.
Joanna: Just to reiterate to everyone who's listening, obviously you've been on the show before talking about marketing, but also I've known you for a number of years now and you are a blooming genius on marketing as well as a fantastic writer.
I've read a number of your books as well, which I can't say for everyone who comes on the podcast. And I know how smart you are as well. I think people underestimate how smart a lot of romance authors are; there's definitely that opinion amongst literary types sometimes that's not generalized. You are very experienced at many things.
Julie specifically, what have you learned, because you're a newbie as well in this space.
What have you learned from Johnathan? Has the process been eye-opening?
Julie: I've learned a lot. As far as the screenwriting thing goes, because I thought that was something I wanted to do, so when he approached me I was like, “Yeah, let's do that.”
And after doing it I realized I'm really not a screenwriter, like at all. I'm the idea girl and he's the screenwriter. So that's kind of like how it worked out. Because he's just so good at it, and I think it just comes natural.
I think people should really do what comes natural to them because me writing a script is like fighting a battle. And him writing a script is like doing a dance. It's so different. So I learned that about myself, that I'm not ever going to write screenplays without Johnathan. That's not going to happen. That's not where I'm headed.
I'm really happy that he's my partner and that we can do this together. And also, I learned a lot about writing in the romance because he's so focused on the art, right, Johnathan? I am focused on the art, too, but I'm always willing to sell out for commercialism.
Joanna: So am I.
Julie: But he keeps me focused on that. I learned a lot of things about myself, and it's really helped me grow. Because I think I was a little bit stagnant. I've been doing this six years now, and it felt a little bit like just doing things on repeat.
Now it doesn't feel that way at all. It feels like we're always doing something new and clever, and we're always discussing new ideas. It's pretty exciting.
Joanna: On the business side, and obviously we can't go into lots of detail, but there are lots of myths that people have around TV stuff, agents, Hollywood, and there are some very, very bad stories that happen of writers signing bad contracts and obviously things disappearing into drawers.
Do you have some thoughts on how to navigate this world? With Johnathan by your side, Julie, you have someone who knows a lot about the pitfalls, but again, both of you have not been in depth in this world. So it's new.
What are some of the pitfalls that you're watching out for that people should be aware of?
Julie: I'll just say one thing and then I'll hand it to Johnathan.
Get a good lawyer. Johnathan has a good lawyer, so I didn't have to go looking for a good entertainment lawyer. I just got handed one. And this guy is amazing. So if you have a good lawyer, I think that's step number one.
And then, what do you think, Johnathan?
Johnathan: My two cents on it is a little less teachable, but it is achievable. It is a learnable skill, and it requires a lot of internal rumination. Keeping your own counsel, and trusting your vision, and knowing what you want.
And again, this is where Julie has helped me, knowing what's important to fight for and what's okay to lay down on. And being very clear about that for yourself will help you navigate these things.
I'll tell a little anecdote very quickly. One of my best friends is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter. He wrote “The Imitation Game” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. And I was reminded of this with him just the other day.
Ron Howard wanted to direct that film before it actually wound up doing what it did. And at that time Ron was committed to a couple of other projects, and he wanted to attach Leo DiCaprio and Leo had a couple of other things.
So it maybe would have been, just to your point about things getting put in a drawer or shelved, it could have been three or four years. It could have gone into turn-around, who knows. And Graham at that point was not the Graham Moore that he is now, Academy Award-winner. He was a guy who had a screenplay that he was hopeful to get made but he knew that he wanted it done that year.
He took the temperature of how enthusiastic people were, and made the calculated decision that, “I think people are excited enough about this that I can find somebody else, even if it's not Ron Howard,” and told Ron Howard, “No.”
That is a massive gut-check moment. But he was very clear on what he wanted and for him it worked out. He also has a few other stories where that has not worked out. But I do think that keeping your own counsel and trusting your own instincts is…because you're the only one who is with you all day every day, and you have to live with those decisions.
I know that's not an X, Y, and Z, one plus one equals two answer, but it is the best answer I can think of.
Joanna: I think it actually ties into what Julie said, because in a way I agree that sometimes it's about the commercial aspects, like you want something to happen and you want to do whatever you do.
But there are some things that aren't negotiable…or negotiable but things that you want to happen and that you're happy to compromise on. So, like you say, Ron Howard, everyone's like, “Wow. That would be amazing. I'd say yes to anything.”
But of course we all know plenty of projects that have disappeared into the timeline or have happened and then they've been wrong for that.
I do want to follow up on the entertainment lawyer aspect, and also circle back on the agent thing.
I pitched one of my screenplays to someone, and they said, “Why don't you get your literary agent to pitch us?” He was an agent. And I said, “I'm an independent creator. I don't have a literary agent, and I'm pitching you, so what's the problem there?”
Can you explain Hollywood agents versus entertainment lawyers versus literary agents from both of your perspectives because you're coming from different angles.
Johnathan: I'm curious to hear what you think, how it looks from your perspective.
Julie: I don't even really know what an agent is. I've got no opinion on that. I know he has one. I know he has a manager. He's got like a team of people, but I have no idea what they do.
The only one I talk to is the lawyer, and he's the only one I really care about. The lawyer is a rock star. Get the best lawyer you can.
Here's something that I don't think a lot of people know about the Hollywood entertainment lawyers, is they don't charge you by the hour. They take a percentage of your contract. They take 5% or whatever. So, it's not like I had to give him any money either. I don't even know what it's called, Johnathan. What is it?
Johnathan: They're commissionable. They commission off of the deal. And the other thing is, of course, if you negotiate a deal in television a lot, on the acting side specifically, they negotiate the deal before you get an acting job, if it's a big job.
The first time I was ever one a TV series and they negotiated my deal and showed me all the numbers. I was like, “Oh, my God. This is amazing.” And then everyone said, “Well, yes, if you get the job.”
They prenegotiate the deals so that they can't desperately want you and then you're in the position to have the bargaining power. If they desperately want you and then they negotiate the deal, they lose the power position. So things are prenegotiated.
And the attorneys do all that work, and if you don't wind up closing and getting that job, they've done all that work for zero dollars exactly. But when you hit the home run, they get paid.
As far as the agenting side of it goes, forget the talent stuff, I'll just focus on the literary side. If you're a big agency like CAA for example, or William Morris Endeavor, these are names that people tend to know, you have someone who handles your book stuff, and someone who handles the TV side, and someone who handles the feature side. So you don't have one agent who handles everything.
And, correct me if I'm wrong, both of you maybe know more about this than I do, but even in the literary world, on the novel-writing side, there are agents who handle romance novels, and there are agents who just handle sci-fi, so everyone's sort of niche and specialized, right?
I think that as far as the film and TV side of it goes, what I said earlier is the way that I prefer to operate, which is I don't like to run things by them first and find out whether or not they think it's a good idea.
Because, again, I use my friend Graham as an example all the time, because he was told repeatedly, “Don't waste your time writing a movie about a British, gay, Morse code-cracking scientist spy. No one gives a shit.”
And another friend of mine who's a very successful screenwriter said to me recently, “I just write everything first. I don't even pitch.” He said, “I actually write the whole thing, hand them the completed version, and say, ‘This is what I want to sell,' and then tell them what to do.'”
And then he said, “When I sell it, it's nice because then no one's ambiguous about what my vision was, because I've already fulfilled my vision. It's on the page.”
I know other writers who are like, “I won't write a word of script until you've paid me. I have no interest in giving my talent away for free.” I think that again the agent relationship, and Julie and I actually just took on an agent for international sales for the books, and I think that the agent relationship, it's crucial because they have access that you don't.
They do a lot of the work that I don't want to do. I don't want to make the phone calls. I don't want to hustle. But I think it's important, and especially for anyone who's just stepping into one, to set the parameters of how you want that to look very clearly at the beginning.
For me the parameters are, “I don't want to be subject to you. I don't work for you. You work for me. You make your money if I make money. As a consequence, I will take your counsel and advice.” But again, this goes back to keep your own counsel. But I encourage them to do the things that I want to see done, although they don't know it.
A lot of people make the mistake of looking at these people as somehow they're antagonists, like, “Oh, my agent's so blah-blah-blah,” or, “If I just had a better agent everything would whatever.”
You are the product. You are the content creator. And so you are the responsible party. And to foist off successes or failures onto the shoulders of someone else is to deny your own individual agency. And to bring it back around that's the agent that I listen to the most, is the one that I feel like is responsible for being inside me.
I could say a bunch of bullshit that's also true, but this is the difference between, “I sold a thing,” or, “I had this opportunity and I'm going to build a career that I can have longevity in.”
Julie is a great example of consistency in her success and sales, and it all rises and falls on the shoulders of what she does or doesn't do as an independent author. And so she's learned how to be accountable to herself in a way that she can trust her own instincts.
I think that that's going to, as we move into this next phase of stuff for the two of us, is going to serve both of us in great stead anywhere.
Joanna: Julie, can I ask, did you have a literary agent before this?
Joanna: That's what I thought. You said earlier, “I am not a collaborator.” So now you have a co-writer.
Joanna: And you laughed because you know.
Joanna: You have a co-writer. You have an agent. You have now producers calling yourself.
Julie: I have the foreign-rights agent, and I do work with Podium Publishing, as you know. But I still don't have an agent. He has the agent.
Joanna: I'm circling back now to your books because you are also both now doing books together. So from what it sounds like with the script, you have the books.
Johnathan is actually writing the actual script but you have the IP originally, and you're working together.
How does the co-writing on a book work when you have been so in control of everything up until now? How is co-writing from your perspective, and how is it working?
Julie: Here's where it gets real interesting. Look at Johnathan. He can't wait to hear this.
As great and easy as the script went, that's how hard and difficult the books went. It was totally different. I wouldn't say it was all me. I think it was 50/50 for both of us trying to wrap our heads around this process of collaboration from what each of us wanted out of it. And so it was pretty difficult, the first four books.
We finished that series. And then, once that was over, it was like a huge relief because we had all these deadlines. They were all of them pre-ordered. We had contracted Podium to do the narration. And it was really stressful.
And then when it was over, when we decided to write the next book, which we almost didn't know if we were going to do, but we did, and then this last book was like writing in the screenplay, don't you think, Johnathan?
Julie: It was so much easier. It's like the first four books, that series was like growing pains and learning and everything. And then when we finished it, it was like we accomplished something. We understood each other better.
And then like writing this last book, “The Sexpert,” was a totally different experience. It was back like how things were last summer, writing the screenplay.
Joanna: How are you actually doing it? Is one of you drafting and the other one re-writing, or how are you doing it?
Julie: No, we do chapter by chapter. He does his chapter and I do my chapter, and then we send back and forth.
Joanna: Different points of view?
Joanna: Okay. Sorry, Johnathan. You were going to say something?
Johnathan: I was going to just say part of the reason that that's true is that, I said this in the author's notes, they were my first books and I've wanted to write books for a long time. And so talk about being precious, it was very precious to me.
I had really lofty literary aspirations for what I wanted to put on the page. Julie was constantly reminding me, “That's fine, and that's great. We are writing genre fiction.”
To which point, I don't know that a collaboration like this, from a novel-writing standpoint, works outside of genre. Because genre has rules and it's like television.
There are certain things you have to hit, and there are benchmarks, and so forth. If you were writing some allegorical fantasia in which you wanted to write the great British or American novel, it would be much harder to write with somebody because that's such a deeply personal thing.
But writing romance or sci-fi; I have some sci-fi friends who write in tandem, you find what the tropes are and you obey the rules of the genre, and then you just stamp your imprimatur and your voice onto that.
Fortunately, it had gotten easier again because what Julie and I think maybe lost sight of, or I certainly did, is that we actually share a voice. Part of the reason this works well is our world views in terms of the way we tell story lines up really nicely, and we are very good mimics so we can imitate each other's voices. She'll go into chapters I've written and tinker a little bit and vice versa, and then we'll find that way to make it synergistic.
It's gotten much easier because this most recent book wasn't a big, sweeping epic. It was a fun, really funny, romcom, and I think that we may have found our sweet spot in terms of what we're good at.
Joanna: That's fantastic. We're almost out of time.
Julie, what is next from your perspective? What's happening next in terms of the books? Are you still just JA Huss? Are you Huss McClain? Is TV now the thing? What's going on?
Julie: I don't really know what's going on. I know I'm definitely Huss McClain. Everything else is up in the air, so I don't know. I'll keep writing books as JA Huss, but I usually have my next year planned out and I do not have 2019 planned. So, I don't know.
Joanna: It's great to talk to you about this actually, because when we met a few years ago, I felt the edge of this beginning. I felt that you were feeling, “I'm doing everything.” You really have done everything it feels like, in what you were doing before.
And now you're moving into this next phase. I really respect what you do, and to hear you say you haven't planned out next year because you're going to see what's happening, that's awesome, that's actually awesome.
Joanna: That's great. That's really good.
Tell us the timeline on “The Company.” What's the timeline on that? Do we know?
Johnathan: Now that we have gotten a sign-off from our producers, they will start setting these meetings. We have tiers of outlets that we want to approach. We want to hit X, Y, and Z place first, blah-blah-blah. And then we'll work down the line.
There comes a point where you sort of surrender if you don't get a thing sold, so I'm not thinking about that yet, but it could be as quick as two weeks from now that we could have it sold and be writing off the script. Or it could be several months from now.
Julie: Or never.
Johnathan: It could be never.
Joanna: That's the interesting thing, and I know we've got to go but I just have one more question.
We all would like to think about what if this does turn into “The Handmaid's Tale” or “Game of Thrones?” So we have to plan for failure and success.
If it is that massive success, will you two like become the head of the writer's wing? Will you ditch everything else? Have you thought about the ramifications for massive success?
Julie: Yes, we have it built into our contracts, actually. But we don't have to make a decision yet, right, Johnathan?
Julie: We get to wait.
Johnathan: I want to be very clear. No one's going to let us run this show. No one's going to let two people who have never run a show, especially the one…this is an expensive show. It's a big show. The scope is vast.
If we get it to the script order phase, Netflix says, “Yes, let's do this. Go ahead. Here's money to go write the script.” We write the script and we turn that in.
Even if they adore that script, it still doesn't get made until and unless they attach Celebrity A or Fancy Director B or whoever. Because of the sheer size of this thing, they're going to want to make sure they've got someone running the show who has a firm grasp.
And then there are a couple different scenarios. We could either stick around and be a party to this and give what they call “material consultation” on-set, in-person. Or if we're having too much fun writing books and I'm on a TV show right now, so if that sits in first position, if that's in production and I can't do it, there is also an option where we step back and take a more passive role.
And that would be the one where I would be interested to see how Julie feels. If we have to do that, and Julie would be turning over the reins to somebody who isn't even me, and saying, “Take this in whatever direction you want to go,” and trusting that they won't completely screw up everything that you've created. That would be the curious thing to watch out for.
Julie: I hope we don't take that path, actually. I'm hoping for the other one. But it's up to your schedule, so…
Joanna: I really loved talking to you guys about this. I think it's so fascinating to see two highly professional people coming together to create something new. I'm very excited to see what happens next. And obviously you too are, but everybody listening is now like, “Oh, my goodness. I hope it goes through.”
So, just tell people, finally, where can they find you and everything you do online, so that people can keep up with it, and also check out your books?
Julie: They can find me on Twitter @JAHuss. They can find me on Facebook at Facebook Author J.A. Huss. They can find me at my website at jahuss.com. And they can find us both at hussmcclain.com. And what's your Twitter, Johnathan, and all that?
Johnathan: I'm misterjmcclain, which I thought would be like easy but I still have to spell it.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, look, thanks so much to both of you for your time. That was great.
Julie: Thank you, Joanna. I'll see you again soon.
Johnathan: Thank you.
Martha Knox says
I tried to ask a question but the robot thingy at the end won’t let me. It thinks I’m a spanner (had to spell it like this). Re: the intro. Why are you switching your print options? I’m not talking about spark I’m talking the big A switch to the big K?
I’m worried, Will my print books be deleted? Reviews?
Joanna Penn says
Sorry you had issues with the comment thing 🙂 If it happens again, I can just approve comments if they don’t appear.
(a) Createspace is closing down various functions – they are not closing officially for books yet but the writing seems to be on the wall
(b) You can do Amazon Ads easily for print books once you move to KDP Print
Both good reasons to move, but you certainly don’t have to 🙂
Martha Knox says
Your robot thingy didn’t like me using the name of the big river in Brazil nor using the name of the e-book reader that the big river in Brazil sells. Once I deleted these references it accepted my question.
Why are you switching from the physical print options on the print side of the big river in Brazil to the print options of the electronic device that the bigg river in Brazil sells?
The print option of the big river in Brazil are beautiful why change something that works?
Per your advice, I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket from the big river in Brazil.
I used draft two digital for ebooks and plan to use spark for print.
Martha Knox says
Yes, I confirmed I wasn’t a spanner (my spelling).
Martha Knox says
Evidently, your robot doesn’t like it when I use brand names. But the human brain is mightier than any robot. PS I’m not a spanner (my spelling). Maw ha ha!