Sisters in Crime meeting

Want to get out of the heat Sunday, September 8? Come hear me interview retired Capt. Paul Duryea at tomorrow’s Sisters in Crime meeting! Capt. Duryea spent twenty years in the Glendale Police Department in Vice/Narcotics, Robbery/Homicide, Intelligence and Internal Affairs. If you’re an aspiring mystery writer or just want to hear fascinating stories about the Hillside Strangler and Paul’s work as an undercover cop you’ll learn a lot during our interview.

The meeting starts at 2 pm (snacks will be served) at the Community Room in the South Pasadena Public Library, 1113 El Centro St,, South Pasadena. Attendance is free. For more information go on line at http://www.sistersincrimela.com.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Killer Ratings signing at LA Times Festival of Books

Thanks to everyone who dropped by the Sisters in Crime booth on Saturday–it was lovely meeting you all. And a special thank you to those who bought “Killer Ratings.” I hope you enjoy it!Festival of Books signing

Killer Ratings Book Signing

I will be signing “Killer Ratings” at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on the USC campus on Saturday, April 20 from 10-12. Please look for me in the Sisters in Crime Booth!

http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

Throw Out Your GPS

When I bought my Honda Hybrid, I insisted it come with a GPS navigator system. It was so easy to plug in the directions and let the oh-so-proper woman behind the speakers direct me to my destination. What I discovered, however, is that I would automatically plug in directions to a destination I’d be heading for at least once a week–without ever really getting to know how to get there on my own. So, one day, I didn’t use my GPS, using my brain instead to lead me there. That first trip was actually kind of nerve-wracking, given that I had taken the route at least twelve times before.  For the first time I really had to pay attention to where I was going and how.

I realized that writing a script or a novel is similar, especially when you rely on the many “how to” books that proliferate the writing market. When I started my first screenplay, I eagerly bought a number of books on how to write a screenplay, using them as I would a GPS system, to help me navigate the best and easiest way to get to my destination–a completed script.

But when I finished the script, thanks to those many “how to” books which told me my inciting incident needed to happen on page ten and the end of the first plot point on page thirty, I discovered I had written the most boring screenplay imaginable. It was purely by the numbers–page numbers. With no inspired character moments or out of the blue plot twists to engage an audience.

I threw out the “how to” books and went back to the beginning of my story, deepening character and coming up with new incidents, ignoring the exact pages on which they should occur. The revised screenplay was optioned several times and even landed me a job on (the original) “Dallas.”

When I stopped using my GPS, I discovered interesting side streets that still led me to my destination–in some cases even faster than if I had stayed true to my navigator’s directions. Why don’t you try throwing out your GPS, those “how to” manuals, and rely on your own instincts? You never know what interesting side streets your imagination will take you to.

The Importance of Mentors

When I was six, in a race to finish homework in order to watch Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, I did a sloppy job of coloring and ended up with a C.  When Dad saw the grade, he asked me why my work was so sloppy.  When I told him, he gave me advice I’ve never forgotten: If you want to succeed in whatever you do, do it well.  I took those words to heart, not realizing at that moment that Dad had become my first mentor.

Mentors are important to our work as writers because they not only point out where we’ve gone off course but never fail to support us.  It’s that combination of criticism and encouragement that every writer needs to not only do his or her best but to keep writing, even when the odds seem against us.

As you begin your journey as a writer, keep an eye out for your mentor.  It could be a supportive high school teacher, or college professor, who gives you helpful criticism while cheering you on.  Perhaps it’s a successful friend who is willing to give you the benefit of his or her experience.  Or even a parent, who, despite wanting something else for you (my dad wanted me to be a lawyer) will still do his or her best to make sure you do yours.

On each show I’ve written for, I’ve always taken away something helpful about writing from my boss, be it Len Katzman on “Dallas” (who taught me how to embrace every character and find something to love even in the most dastardly like JR Ewing), Ann Marcus on “Knots Landing” (who knows more about how to structure a show in her pinkie than most of us do after decades in the business) or Gary Tomlin on “Sunset Beach” (who insisted that we protect our hero, even if he’s in the midst of losing the girl).

In Killer Ratings, I thanked several teachers who, in some way, contributed to my becoming a professional writer.  They were all my mentors and I will always be grateful to them.  Now it’s time for you to start looking for yours.

Killer Ratings book signing!

For those of you who live in the L.A. area or its environs, come to my Killer Ratings book signing at Book ‘Em Mysteries on Sunday, February 10 at 2 pm. Book ‘Em is located at 1118 Mission Street in South Pasadena, CA 91030. Phone number: 626-799-9600.

I’ll be discussing my life in the TV biz. Hope to see you at Book ‘Em!

Killer Ratings Now in Paperback!

Ignition Books, an imprint of Endpapers Press, is pleased to announce that Lisa Seidman’s acclaimed mystery, Killer Ratings, is now available as a trade paperback.

Los Angeles is no stranger to glamour, celebrity . . . and murder. When Susan Kaplan moves to L.A. to become a TV writer, she’s thrilled to be hired as a writers’ assistant on the well-regarded but low-rated TV series Babbitt & Brooks. The last thing she expects, however, is that she’d find herself working for the beautiful yet seriously neurotic Rebecca Saunders, the show’s less-than-competent associate producer who may or may not have gotten the job by sleeping with Babbitt & Brooks’ demanding creator and executive producer, Ray Goldfarb.

And Susan definitely doesn’t expect to find murdered Rebecca’s body in her office at the studio early one morning. When the police learn that Rebecca torpedoed Susan’s writing career shortly before her death, Susan becomes their number one suspect. Determined to prove her innocence and find the murderer, Susan discovers that all her colleagues have secrets they would kill to protect.

From producers to writers to stars, it seems that the hopes and dreams of nearly everyone associated with the show were being threatened by Rebecca.

Despite the danger to her own life, Susan remains determined to find Rebecca’s killer and in the process unmasks the dirty little secrets behind the making of a primetime television series. She learns that real life behind the camera is far more dramatic than the fictional one in front of it.

Lisa Seidman draws on her thirty years of experience as a successful television writer to take the reader behind the scenes and show how the struggle to achieve high ratings truly can lead to murder.

“Lisa Seidman weaves together vivid characters, delightful mystery, and the wry wit of a true TV insider to create a delicious tale of reckless ambition and literal and figurative backstabbing that will not only entertain you, but change your relationship with your television forever.”

—Sheryl J. Anderson, author of Killer Heels

 
“In Killer Ratings, Lisa Seidman, a television writer herself, provides a thrill ride through the ambition-ridden and ego-saturated world of TV production, where there is more death and drama behind the camera than in front of it.”

—Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of the Odelia Grey mysteries
and the Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries

 
“Take an edgy TV production team, add a sprinkling of fierce ambition, and finish off with a large handful of paranoia and you have the perfect setting for murder. TV writer Lisa Seidman, who’s been on that set, skillfully does it all in Killer Ratings.”

—Annette Meyers, author of the Smith and Wetzon series

 
“Fascinating. Fast-paced. Fun. Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter Lisa Seidman’s debut mystery goes backstage at a TV production company where pride, passion, and peril lead to Killer Ratings. A Killer Mystery!”

—Carolyn Hart, author of the Death on Demand series

 
“Lisa Seidman’s page-turning whodunit, Killer Ratings, perfectly captures the backstage world of a struggling TV series where appearances are deliberately deceiving and ambition can be absolutely criminal.”

—Mimi Leahey, script editor, All My Children

 
“The drama going on behind the scenes at a TV show is always juicier than what’s on the screen, and Lisa Seidman masterfully combines three of my favorite things: TV, mystery, and a good story well told.”

—Paula Cwikly, writer, The Young and the Restless

Lisa Seidman began her television career writing for the primetime serials such as Falcon CrestDallas, and Knots Landing, as well as Cagney & Lacy, and Murder, She Wrote. She received an Emmy nomination for her work on Guiding Light as well as Writers Guild nominations for Guiding Light and Sunset Beach.

Lisa spent two years as an elected member of the Writers Guild of America, West Board of Directors and wrote for the daytime serial Days of Our Lives for which she was awarded an Emmy. She is currently teaching TV writing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, in addition to writing.

Killer Ratings is available via Barnes & Noble’s website,  CreateSpace, an Amazon company, as well as directly from Amazon.  It can also be ordered via any bookstore’s Ingram account from Lightning Source (ISBN: 978-1-937868-13-0). And, of course, it is also available as an eBook from all major eBook outlets.

It’s not about the kasha

When I was headwriting “Poor Anastasia” in Russia, I created a scene for an episode in which the core characters (the show’s anti-hero Korf, his best friend Repnin, and Anna, the beautiful serf both men were in love with) were eating breakfast.  I told the writer of the episode that the scene needed to be about the tension between Korf and Repnin, with Anna in the middle of their tension.  Repnin, who was in love with Anna, didn’t know she was a serf.  His best friend Korf did, and Anna was plotzing with anxiety as she wondered when and if Korf would reveal to Repnin the truth about who she really was.  (In 1862 St. Petersburg, it was not only illegal to fall in love with a serf but it could shatter Repnin’s love for her.)

Instead of the tension, subtext and anxiety, I got kasha.

My writer wrote the entire scene about Korf offering Repnin kasha, explaining it was excellent kasha.  Anna, who was eating the kasha, agreed, so Repnin helped himself and also agreed that the kasha was excellent.

That was the scene.

Now, maybe, the subtext got lost in translation, although to her credit, when I told the writer what I found missing from the scene, she went on to write other episodes with the subtext and tension and stakes I found missing in the “kasha” scene.

In counterpoint, when I was teaching at UCLA, one of my students, Mary, wrote a spec “Six Feet Under.”  In her script, two of the characters were in the middle of a fraught relationship that was going south fast.   Mary chose to illustrate the tension in their relationship by setting a scene in a restaurant with a table that rocked.  All one character could focus on was the rocking table, which was annoying the hell out of her, while the other character was trying to get her to focus on what was wrong in their relationship.  By the end of the scene, the character obsessed with the rocking table was shouting for the waiter to come and put a matchbook cover under the table leg in an explosion of anger that was way bigger than the rocking table warranted.  But the message was clear.  The scene wasn’t about the rocking table.  The rocking table was a way of showing how the character couldn’t deal with the end of her relationship, and the anger and upset she felt as a result.

Kasha and rocking tables are great when they are used to highlight what a character is thinking and feeling without the character having to actually say what he or she is thinking or feeling.  Just make sure the kasha doesn’t become the star of the show.

You hate me, you really hate me

“I’m sure you’re a good writer on other shows, Lisa, but just not on this one,” were the painful words the headwriter of the daytime soap I had been writing for told me right before she fired me.  Ouch!

In the world of TV writing, getting fired is inevitable.  Bryce Zabel, a well-respected television writer and producer, once told my UCLA screenwriting class that if you weren’t fired at least once, you weren’t a professional writer.

Andy Zack, my literary agent, sent Killer Ratings to every publisher in NY only to have the novel rejected by every publisher in NY.  It wasn’t until the emergence of ebooks that Killer Ratings managed to find a home with Ignition Books, an e-publisher.

So, how do you handle rejection in a way that doesn’t cause you to spend years feeling bad about yourself and giving up writing forever? To face the disappoint when your book or your script is not met with overwhelmingly love followed by a paycheck?

First, take the time to feel bad.  But don’t take too much time.  Whenever I get a call from either the headwriter or my TV agent, telling me my contract was not being picked up for renewal, I call my mom and cry on her shoulder.  Then I call a couple of good friends and cry on their shoulders.  But I set a limit to my mourning.  Three days to a week of feeling sorry for myself but that’s all.  Otherwise, I’ll become obsessed with the bad feelings the firing (or rejection letters) engender and not get back to work at all.

And by “work” I mean my own writing projects, those I write during the times I’m unemployed.  I’ve written a first draft of an epic-romance novel, two TV pilots (one of which was bought by Russia) and even Killer Ratings, which, as you know, had its own happy ending.

Writing my own projects gives me control of my life.  No one can criticize what I’m writing except myself.  (But be careful of self-censorship–which will be another post in the immediate future!)  I may be unemployed but yet I’m not: I get up every morning, write my five pages and feel as if I’m accomplishing something.

And when I get a call from my agent that another show is thinking of hiring me and do I have something new to show them,  I usually have that fresh spec pilot I wrote while waiting for the phone to ring.

Rejection is tough but as long as you realize writing is subjective and you keep writing you won’t stay “rejected” for long.

A Twist in the Tale, Part II

A reason writers hit story roadblocks may have to do with whether or not they wrote an outline first.   When I write for television, I don’t start any script until I’ve written a complete outline.  On “Dallas,” I turned in a detailed outline of my episode that needed network approval before I could move on to the script.  On “Falcon Crest” and “Knots Landing” I wrote beat sheets, a one or two line description of each scene, gave them to the showrunner for approval before embarking on my script.  (If you read my previous blog, “Money, Money, Money,” you know writers get paid separately for their outlines.  If an outline doesn’t succeed, it tips off the showrunner that the story might not work either and she or he may therefore decide not to have you go to script.)  And, whether it’s a full outline or a short beat sheet, I structure every act,  know the number of scenes in each act and know how to resolve the story lines.

When I wrote an episode for “Murder, She Wrote,” the writer-producers did not allow me to proceed to script until we all knew exactly what the clues were that led to the “penny drop” scene for Jessica Fletcher, in which she gathered the suspects around her and told them how she knew the identity of the murderer.

In daytime soaps, breakdown writers write only outlines, or breakdowns, which are extremely detailed structures of what the individual episode is going to be about.  Whether writing for primetime or in daytime television, I never start writing the script until I have a strong outline in place.

Having an outline helps you understand the drive of your story, the characters’ goals, stakes and obstacles and makes those moments of writers’ block rare.  Yes, sometimes when I’m writing the script off my outline I realize a plot point doesn’t work, or I come up with a more interesting way of telling the story.  If that happens to you, don’t sweat it.  You don’t have to stick with your outline.  Absolutely go in that different direction.  Outlines are merely the template to get you started and keep you focused on the story.

It’s only when you leap into your script without benefit of an outline that you could find yourself stuck in the middle of your story with no idea on how to finish.