Monday, August 1, 2011

An Artistic Cross-Training SAT with Hilary Graham

by Mindy McGinnis

On my personal blog Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, I've been hosting a series of interviews focused on gleaning the secrets of success from writers who have been there, done that. I call it the SAT—Successful Author Talk.

In the course of my internet wanderings I came across Hilary Graham, a screenwriter turned YA author whose artistic journey fit in so perfectly with our philosophy here at From the Write Angle that I thought I might relocate an SAT to my second blogging home.

Hilary Weisman Graham is a screenwriter, novelist, and director whose work spans nearly two decades. Her debut young adult novel, REUNITED (Simon & Schuster), is due out in June 2012.

Hilary's essays have appeared in The Sun, Utne Reader, and Imagine Magazine. An Emmy-nominated television producer, her broadcast credits include WMUR's Chronicle, the nationally syndicated television show Wild Web (CBS/Eyemark), as well as freelance work for The Discovery Health Channel, Access Hollywood, A&E's Biography, and PBS's Zoom.

In the summer of 2007, Hilary was selected as a contestant on the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg produced reality series On the Lot: The Search for America's Next Great Director. Out of a pool of 12,000 submissions, Hilary made it onto the show as one of the eighteen finalists and stayed in the competition until only nine contestants remained, making her the longest-standing female director.

MM: What skills do you find come in useful in both screenwriting and novel writing?
HG: One of my most prized skills as a writer is my ability to allow myself to write crappy first drafts. It took me YEARS to learn to do this, but it's really an invaluable part of my process. RARELY do I get it right the first time. As in basically never. So it's nice to be able to let myself off the hook for getting it wrong and so I can give myself the space I need to work it out in rewrites.
I am also a very disciplined writer, a skill that gives me the benefit of creating lots of new material (and occasionally gets in the way of my self-care). i.e, there are times my writing (and my sanity) would probably be better served by stepping AWAY from the computer and going to yoga class. ;)

MM: Are you a Planner or Pantster? Do you find that you use the same approach in both screenwriting and novel writing?
HG: I'm a Planner with Pantster tendencies. I ALWAYS outline my fiction, though in the past, I have written screenplays without outlines. As I've matured as a writer, I've learned that it's crucial for me to know where I'm going plot-wise before delving into a screenplay or a novel. That being said, I view my outlines as malleable things and use them with the assumption that there will be changes. A strong structure also gives me freedom to explore my characters and plot without worrying that I might go off the rails. Some of the best moments in my work are the result of discoveries I've made along the way.

MM: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multitasker? Do you tend to focus on screenwriting all at one time, then novel-length works? Or do you mish-mash?
HG: In a perfect world I'd focus on one project at a time, but since this is reality (sigh) I've learned to live as a multitasker. Luckily, I do it quite well. Of course, there are stretches of time when I'll only work on my book, or a screenplay, and I feel that's the ideal way to work. However, there have been weeks when I've juggled my book, a screenplay, a treatment for a TV show, AND a pitch for a new screenplay. And yes, it was exhausting as it sounds. But if I can get myself into the right frame of mind, it can actually be creatively stimulating to have multiple storylines rolling around in my head, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, the various plots and characters end up informing each other. Though I might not be the most pleasant person to be around when I've got four different projects in my brain. ;)
And I will say that in the screenwriting world, it pays to be a multitasker since the ability to generate new material is so important.

MM: Have you ever quit on a project, and how did you know it was time?
HG: I have a really hard time letting go of a project and I almost never do it. In fact, the only project I can recall giving up on is a recent effort to make a video trailer for a completed script I've written. I wanted the video to be hilarious and have the potential to go viral, but it just wasn't gelling. So I tossed it aside and I haven't looked back.

But typically, I'd rather work myself to the bone to try and fix something I care about and make it great than to give up on it. However, there are TONS of ideas in my filing cabinet that will never even get off the ground, because the concepts don't seem appealing to me anymore, or because they fail to excite me in the way they (presumably) did once. But even then, I still can't bear to throw ANYTHING away.

MM: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? Did you consciously choose an agent who repped both screenwriting and novels?
HG:I signed with my amazing manager—Seth Jaret of Jaret Entertainment—after I was on the FOX reality show ON THE LOT: THE SEARCH FOR AMERICA'S NEXT GREAT DIRECTOR (which aired on FOX the summer of 2007 and was produced by Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg). Seth represents my screenwriting efforts and he hooked me up with my book agent, Steve Malk at Writer's House. I think Steve and Seth share quite a few screenwriter/YA novelist clients.

MM: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog/site/Twitter?
HG: It's funny you should ask because I'm doing it all right now! My website (which currently only details my film career) should be updated in the next couple of weeks. I also have a brand spankin' new blog, an Author Page on Facebook, I'm on YouTube, and of course, I'm on Twitter.

As REUNITED's release date gets closer (June, 2012), I'm planning to do a HUGE online campaign to promote interest in the book. I've already shot a killer BOOK TRAILER (since I'm a filmmaker, too) and it will be released as soon as the book's available for sale. (But watch for teasers on my YouTube page & Blog.) And as June 2012 gets closer, I plan to start doing contests and giveaways on my blog on my blog as well as creating a big web presence for the band in the book, Level3.
Because REUNITED focuses so heavily on music (it's the story of three ex-best friends on a cross-country road trip to see their old favorite band, Level3, in concert) I figured there was a huge opportunity to promote REUNITED using Level3's music.

So, I've actually gone and created the band!
Level3

A professionally produced version of Level3's hit single “Parade” is already in the works! This song will be available for download on my website (for free) and possibly even in the e-book version.

I'm really hoping to attract a following for the band, and Level3 Myspace and Facebook pages should be live within the next few weeks.

MM: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
HG: Hmmm. I'm not sure I know the answer to this one. I think these days, it never hurts to “brand” yourself if you've got something to sell.

MM: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
HG: Gosh, after all I'm planning to do, I sure hope so. ;) But going to the Book Bloggers Convention in NYC this past May meeting so many wonderful bloggers really helped me understand the power the internet has to foster a book's success. And on a personal level, I'm really looking forward to being able to connect with my readers online.

A big thanks to Hilary for participating in the SAT here on FTWA!

Do you have other artistic outlets that help inspire your writing? What are they?

5 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Great interview ladies! Love the creative ideas you've got Hilary - unique!

I tend to use music as one of my inspirations - although I'm not talented enough to write my own music! :)

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks for bringing us a great interview, Mindy. And thanks, Hilary, for stopping by!

I'm fascinated by the fact that you created a band to go along with the book. That cross-promotion seems like an excellent way to boost readership/sales when the book is released.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Exactly - I think cross promotion like this is a perfect avenue when it comes to enhanced e-books. Thinking of other ways to sell yourself - and your book - is not easy, but Hilary's got a gift!

Leslie Rose said...

Super interview. I can feel Hilary's energy jumping off the screen. I think she takes multitasking to a new level.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoy hearing what Hilary Graham is up to. I'm a huge movie fan of hers. Can't wait to read Reunited!