The Novel

I always loved the idea of writing a novel, but was also terrified of it for a long time.


A script is a tool. A blueprint, upon which other people will add their talent and creativity to make a finished product. Scriptwriting itself is kind of invisible. Nobody reads scripts (including producers, half the time). Most people only have a vague sense of what they are -- I can't tell you how many people I met over the years who, when I told them what I did, responded:


Oh, I thought the actors just made up their words?


🤯


While that's maddening, it's strangely comforting too, especially if you're not very sure of yourself. I remember thinking was that it was okay if I wasn't a great writer, because the directors and actors would make it better anyway.


This is entirely wrong, just so we're clear, but it was how I felt at the time.


A novel, on the other hand, is THE WHOLE THING. You have to do everyone's job! A novelist is the director, the actors, the art department, the cinematographer. We decide everything.


It's brilliant.


And terrifying.



One of my many random day jobs was at an oil refinery, in Toledo, Ohio. Long story. (Yes, that is why Toledo randomly shows up as a location in a lot of my books. I grew up in Connecticut, but for some strange reason, my brain snaps to Toledo when I think "somewhere random in the US").



There was a novel on a shelf in the office. The old fashioned kind from the seventies or eighties, the smaller ones you could hold in your hand (why don't they make that size any more?). The cover was hand drawn, and it was a bit battered and dog-eared. A proper book.


I've no idea what it was about. I never read it. Never even touched it. It sat on its shelf, staring down at me, as I wrote copy for project management software.


And it got under my skin.


Don't get me wrong, I'd met many a novel before. I'd been a book worm ever since I learned to read.


I painstakingly picked my way through my first proper book, what my nieces call a "chapter book," at age six. Upper Fourth at Mallory Towers. I don't remember now why I read the fourth one first, but I did go back and read the whole series from the beginning. When I was bullied in seventh grade, I was that actual cliché who spent every recess hiding in the library, pretty much just reading my way through it, one book at a time.


I was in my mid-twenties by the time I worked at the oil refinery, so I have no idea why that book got to me so much, but it did. Maybe because it was a particularly miserable day job. Maybe because it was the exact type of book that had been such a comfort to me as a kid. Maybe because, a couple of years after film school, I was getting my first subconscious inkling that screenwriting wasn't for me.


Who knows.


But it called to me. Whispered in my ear. Taunted me with what it would feel like to hold a book like that in my hands, knowing I had made every word up in my head.


It was something to do with the solidity of it. The fact it existed. One of the most soul-destroying aspects of being a screenwriter is the fact that a script isn't a thing in and of itself. It's a design. A blueprint for a thing. Spending your life pouring your heart and soul into designs that never become things... sucks.


I was almost starstruck by the book. I would glance shyly at it as I entered the office. I would be aware of its presence out of the corner of my eye. I would spend lunch breaks and evenings dreaming of the moment that my book would be plonked on shelves in random places.


Took me another ten years to actually do it, but the seed was planted...


This summer I'm running Letters from Callie on Substack. It's a series of fictional letters from an aspiring screenwriter in Hollywood in 1922: Downton Abbey meets Entourage if you will!




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