Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Review of my Cagney and Lacey book that is being reissued now that the series is being redone.

Cagney and Lacey - Serita Deborah Stevens

It's been a while since I've talked about my Beach House Books project...

That was my ongoing, endless project to read the novels I've collected over the years and formed into the To Be Read Mountain...

Well, even though I've not talked about it so much, the project has been going on and on... and just lately I've been reading a bunch of TV and Film Tie-in novelisations that have been awaiting my attention. I've been thinking a lot about the whole phenomenon of the tie-in, and it seemed like a good time to write about what i've been reading recently...

In some ways it’s almost the perfect Tie-In novel. It gives us stuff that the TV show never did and never could. It segues perfectly with everything we saw on screen and, as we read it, becomes kind of indispensible: I can’t picture those people without these histories now. Serita Deborah Stevens’ 1985 novel, ‘Cagney and Lacey’ is one of those Tie-Ins that gives us the origin story of its protagonists, beginning two decades before the TV show ever did. It provides us with stories not necessarily too ‘broad and deep’ for TV, but too early and too youthful.
            There’s a special joy in getting to know the principal characters of Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Zmgrocki in their early years. In alternating chapters we meet very recognisable versions of the women we know from TV. Before their lives are twined together they are in very different circumstances: Chris having a high old time in Paris and then London in the Swinging Sixties as a society photographer; poor Mary Beth is struggling along as a secretary living alone with her ailing, abandoned mother.
            In some ways it’s a very simple story, leading us through the life changes that bring both women to enroll in the NYPD’s training program. We get set backs and triumphs, first and second loves, first collars… and we get smashing, snarky dialogue – especially when the two women are first assigned to the beat together and don’t particularly hit it off.
            There’s so much to love in this short, readable volume. I loved the scenes dealing with Mary Beth’s falling in love with Harvey – the much put-upon house-husband familiar from the show. When she first walks the beat with a nightstick and a gun she finds him tailing her in their car, trying to bring her coffee and a corned beef sandwich. It’s a very touching scene.
            I also really enjoyed the early scenes with Cagney in London, living in a kind of racy Danielle Steele novel, before what she decides she really wants is a Ed McBain kind of life. It’s a novel about back stories in which two women decide what kind of story they want to be living their adult lives inside and, what we get, by the end, is a rather gritty crime story involving hookers, pimps, concentration camp survivors, Nazis and diamonds. In fact, though some later chapters are based on early episodes it’s rather grittier in places than the TV show would get.
            By the very end, with the women’s promotion to detective status, and the shifting of their desk to the space beside the coffee pot, we dovetail neatly with the beginning of the TV show. It makes me rather sad that there were no print sequels from Stevens or anyone else. There were TV movies to tell us what became of Mary Beth and Christine in their later careers, but a TV movie isn’t quite the same as a novel. TV movies fly by so quickly and they don’t give you the dull little moments of downtime that novels do so well.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Accuracy – The Writer’s Dilemma

As a forensic nurse, I often work with attorneys as an expert witness. I instruct the jury to listen to what the evidence tells you not what the people involved say.  Everything must be accurate, and the smallest of details matter in solving a crime or proving a case.

One of the problems we often have is that because of the fictional depiction of investigations where DNA is always present and can be processed in 45 minutes juries now expect DNA to be presented. Not only is that difficult at times but if not processed properly and kept from contamination it can be useless and confuse the issue.  This issue called “the CSI effect” can destroy a case and cause the jury to vote innocent when they believe DNA should have proved the case. 

An argument I had a few years ago with my friend who wrote the movie Déjà vu.  He had the detective put the evidence in plastic bags but as I pointed out plastic bags usually deteriorate evidence. In forensic investigations, we use paper bags with each item carefully separated to keep it from contamination. His director had chosen to keep it in plastic, so the viewers could see the clues and didn’t care how inaccurate it was.

 Now most viewers and readers, especially those who are untrained in investigations, wouldn't notice this problem nor would they care.  But there are a few for whom these inaccuracies not only destroy the moment but the enjoyment of the whole story (not to mention the influence they have on those few people who take everything they see or read as fact.) In fact, my doctor husband used to forbid me to watch medical based shows because so many of them were wrong.  For those of us who do care, inaccuracies destroy the total enjoyment of the story and many of us dedicated readers vow not to read that author again because their research is so shoddy.

As a nurse, my friends in MWA (Mystery Writers of America) often asked me what this or that meant, how this procedure worked in medicine, and what symptoms they would find if someone did this.  I realized that all the available literature – often difficult for the non-professional to access – was written in medicalese.  There was nothing written for the ordinary, well-educated reader, It was for this reason that I wrote the Book of Poisons (formerly called Deadly Doses) for Writer’s Digest and with that, they started their “How To” series.  

The book has not only been used by numerous writers, producers, and directors but also been featured on shows as Law & Order and Discovery Channel episodes.  In fact, I have consulted with them on several programs.  I am always happy to explain the medical procedures, the symptoms or the forensic facts so that scenes can be correctly written. 
It’s true that at times, for the sake of fiction, we have to fudge some facts.  Often, however, we can explore alternatives to our scenes or if we ask around to the experts we can find the few exceptions where the answers we want can be used.  But as I stated above people are influenced by what they read or see and believe the fiction. This causes problems for law enforcement in proving their cases. 

Check your facts and, if you can, use the correct ones – or at least in your epilogue explain what you did and what the real situation might have been.  And if you are doing research, don’t take another fictional author’s scene as fact be it in medical, historical or even location information.

Verify things with at least two sources or more if you can.  Almost always there is a way to get the scene you want and still make it accurate.  It helps your credibility in the end and once you lose the credibility of your reader or viewer, once they close that book, they will hesitate to pick up anything else you have created.  Trust once lost is not easily regained.  

Besides, most people enjoy learning something new when they are reading. 

For more information, check out my site, my IMDB is Serita D Stevens, my site is, and my email for questions is  (Please indicate in subject line that this is a question for me since my mailbox sometimes gets filled up and things get ignored.)  Looking forward to helping you in the future, to making stories that will not only bring up emotions but educate people on ways to change. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The One And Only - Why some writers are stuck

Many writers value their ideas and words so much so that they can’t understand why others don’t see their genius.  They are not open to changes or suggestions and refuse to move to other projects.

I asked one writer friend who attends numerous networking events - always pitching his one and only script to anyone who would listen okay - why he hadn't developed another story so he would have something else to offer. He claimed his script was perfect and should sell on its own.  He did not need to spend time marketing something else.   “Besides, once this story sells everyone will be knocking at my door.”
I tried to tell him that his attitude was counter-productive.  "Agents and managers are in the business of selling.  Even if they like your script, they’ll ask what other projects you have. If you only have one script they have nothing else to sell."
He defended his decision. "My story is unique as are my characters. Any agent or manager will be lucky to have it.”
"But this is your only script."
"My story is based on a real life situation."
"Do you at least have rights to the story?"
He looked askance.  Why would he need rights?  It had been in the news and wasn’t that available to everyone?
 I tried to explain that doesn’t work in the real world.  He continued to insist that his story was great and he was not concerned
 "Okay have it your way.  You still might have difficulty selling if –“
"It's a true story."
"Even true stories need some buffing when being written for publishing or film.  And you never did any rewriting?"
"Why?  It doesn't need any.  Anyone who suggests revisions are wrong.  They’re jealous of my work.”
 Yet for ten years my friend has continued to pound on doors and hit the pavement in search of some to buy his single masterpiece. “My words are golden.”  He continued to spout names of various producers who “loved” his story and claimed interest in it, but “no one wants to write me a check.” 
He wouldn’t even show his script to anyone unless they were willing to sign a non disclosure agreement (which few professionals are willing to do.)
“So you won’t consider a touch up?”
 “It was a great story then and it's a great story now.  My characters are true to life. I even chose the perfect outfits to match their blond curls and blue eyes."
I wanted to say something about character description, but I didn't.   Like most novice writers he failed to understand it is not the physical description but the emotional journey of the character and the impact on the audience which counts but I’ll save that for another blog.
“Maybe if you started something else …if you didn’t obsess on this story..”
“I don’t need to.  I told you. When the agents see how talented I am there and how unique my writing is there won’t be any need.”

Myself, as an established writer, I usually have several projects in different stages of development that can interest my representatives and producers. 
It's always a good idea to take a break from your one story, especially if it's not selling.  Start working on another idea - if only to give your mind a break. You might even come up with a new twist for that first story. 
I don't blame my friend for wanting to sell his one script but a good writer needs to pay attention to the current trends and what the audiences want now. Do your homework.   What is being bought now and why?
Maybe your story is past it's time.  Maybe with some changes you can revive it later.  Or maybe it is time to move on. (One of my books was sent around 21 times -seven to the same publisher - before I added some twists and sold it.)
The fact is - as I have told many of my students - all of you can have a story about five people on a desert island. All the stories will be different because it is who the characters are, their emotional journeys, goals, flaws and how they overcome the obstacles that count. 
 Many writers can have similar stories –even true stories -- but the execution of a story that matters. 
How unique is your story really?  Again it is the characters and not the beats of the plot that matter.
 How can you change it to make it more emotional?
What courses are you taking to improve your craft? 
Now what new project are you working on now while trying to sell this?

If you have a story or script that is not selling, put it away for a bit and take a break.  Look for other projects that interest you.  Who knows maybe in a few months – or even a few years – that news story which made up the core of your script will find an opening even if you have to add a few twists.   

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Top 50!

Just found out I'm in the top 50 of the Capital Funding Competition for my true historical script/book The Master's Will - about a slave who -after her master/husband is murdered by the Klan - ends up inheriting her master's plantation.  She must fight the nephew who planned on inheriting and post-Civil War South to win what is rightfully hers 12 years later.  (The script was also a Page Awards semi-finalist.)   Anyone interested in reading it either as feature or possible limited series can reach my agent

Sunday, November 27, 2016

You Only Need One

It’s frustrating to wait.  But it is a trait we all must adapt to – especially those of us in the creative business.  So much seems to be hurry up.  “We need those rewrites immediately!”  “Your deadline is coming.  Hurry.  Write faster.” 

And then we sit in front of the computer, or maybe at the kitchen table stuffing our faces with comfort food, as we wait and wait for some word.  "They're busy on another project. They'll get to you soon.  Yes, your work is great," my agent assures me. 

"But if it's so good, why is no one snapping me up.  Look at all the material I have.  Look at what I've done."

I don't know. Maybe because I'm an Aquarian.  They say that we're ahead of our time.   One of my young adult novels - Against Her Will - about teens in a psychiatric hospital (based on experiences I had as a psych nurse, myself,) I had written almost 15 years before.  (Well, I'd penned the outline and first four chapters because at that time as a selling writer I was able to get a contract on just that.  Now, however, unless you are a Kellerman, King or Koontz you have to write the whole novel on speculation before the publishers - big or small - will look at it. ) 

When my now fabulous agent Italia Gandolfo asked if I had any young adult stories, I hesitated and then mentioned Against Her Will (so saying because the protagonist learns that nothing in life is really against her will) I sent it over.  Drama had always been a tough sell.  Readers wanted action, mystery, comedy, I thought.  She assured me we could sell my book and so with the assistance of partner (Jo Schaffer) since I was deep into another project then, we finished the book. 

It’s not like I haven’t had some success, but as my parents told me in college – writers don’t make money.  Be a nurse or a teacher. So I became a nurse.  Still, it was my writing that I wanted to fuel my retirement and provide for my family.   But patience, it seems, has to be practiced in this business no matter how badly you want something.

Another book – My Sister’s Shadow, an unusual Gothic novel at a time when gothics were supposedly hot - took me over twenty submission (seven to the same publisher with actually very little rewriting) before it was finally accepted.   Of course, being "just a writer" at that time and not really conscious of audience cycles, I didn’t realize the reason that while readers were snatching them off the bookstore shelves, the publishers were seeing a decline in their sales.  Topics go in cycles.

Vampires were hot for a while…and then Zombies.  But if you tried to write a book with their focus at the peak, you would have been lucky to get an editor to read it.  I soon learned that when publishers think a subject is in vogue, they buy everything they can get their hands on -- and many of those manuscripts poorly written and poorly edited.  Then when the readers wise up, they stop their purchases…for a while. 

 My script Dragon Seeds (now being called Mark of the Dragon) which I started twelve years ago with my friend director Sean McNamara, won some awards, and then was rewritten numerous times with notes from a variety of sources. It now looks as if it  will now become a trilogy of books and then scripts with the assistance of Amy Miles to partner on the first of them.   Apparently, with the change of times, studios now really like it if you have an IP (Intellectual Property) behind your script since that gives them a modicum of relief that the book audience will head for the movie.  

Meanwhile, with several scripts - some from my books and some stand alones  - sit on my shelves, so I kept bugging my agent.  When are we sending these out?  When are they going to sell?  If I am so good--
Well, you know the writer's self-doubt cry.   Yet I see others, whose work I believe is not as good or as professional as mine, being picked up.  Why?  What am I doing wrong, I ask?

And yes, I have had some accomplishments – maybe more than most writers I know.  Over forty books, scripts and adaptations have been sold.  (Many of the scripts optioned and even a few made.)  I have also been able to mentor other writers by teaching at various colleges and seminars or conferences as well as a workbook –The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts – to help them.   But somehow I still hunger for that big bite, that major acknowledgment from the entertainment world (and reluctant family members, too, who still think I live in a fantasy world.)

"Stop focusing on your old material right now.  Don't pay for people to help you pitch them." My agent says.  “Your time will come.” She repeats that with my new current projects - The Master's Will - a great true Civil War that I was hired to write both as a book and script, and Nursing The Evidence - my television series concept and pilot about forensic nursing (which I was trained in) -- that things will sell soon. She assured me that once I get one bite, others will soon gobble up my works. 

Intellectually, I know she is correct. When you are hot, you are hot.  Yet one can't be help being anxious when sending one's "children" out into the world and wanting them to succeed.   I long for my other projects to fly off the ground, too.  Well, I waited years for some of these other books to be accepted and then published when the "time was right." 

So now I return to my revised book/ script -The Unborn Witness – a former award winning short story and short film - and make it greater than before as a feature and full length book! 

Onward and upward, writers. And I will trust in my agent's superior knowledge of the market.

The pen - or in this case - the computer - shall overcome - and maybe with a little help of some Xanax!   Stop watching that clock!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What do we believe?

Oxford English Dictionary just announced the new word of the year “post-truth” meaning supposed truth without the use of facts.  Something we noted quite a bit throughout the recent election campaign.  However, as writers, we often stretch facts and truth for the sake of our stories. 

I hadn’t planned on blogging about this but on a writing topic, but listening to the news constantly it is hard to separate things at time.  As many of my readers know I am not pleased about Trump’s win – mainly because a lot of his campaign seemed to run hate mongering against Mexicans, Muslims, disparaging women –especially those who stood up to him, and others without really giving us any facts about his plans for tax reform, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrants, and many other issues including climate change as a Chinese hoax??  (He says he will not touch Medicare and social security but his friend Paul Ryan vows that he will make changes.)   Then he hires someone as his main advisor a man who has spearheaded a white supremacy movement.   Despite some saying that Bannon is not anti-Semitic, actions speak louder than words.  

Already there have been a huge increase in hate crimes and scrawlings across the nation like notices that this is a White Christian Nation and pictures of the Auschwitz death camp with the notice “Wait for the trains” beneath.  Kind of scary. 

 No Hillary was not perfect, but who is?  Many of her decisions in the past were indeed flawed and as a Jew, I was concerned about her continuing Obama’s coolness toward Israel.  

Many of the “facts” that Trump presented were exaggerated or flawed.  According to one poll, he lied 54:3 (Hillary).   He has indicated he wants revenge on the media that showed him in a negative light and talked about removing their FCC licensing.   He forgets all the free publicity he received that pushed him into the limelight when his boisterous words echoed.   Now, he is banning reporters from certain places.  He slammed and made it appear that Hillary wanted the Muslims to overrun the country while not taking any of his own flaws into consideration.  (Oh wait – he doesn’t have any flaws.  He doesn’t use charity donations for his own use or glorification, right?  He doesn’t sue people on the drop of a pin for a perceived sight or cheat people?)

Today he is receiving accolades from various dictators around the world as Putin, Syria’s Assad, and others.  Do they see a fellow demigod in front of them?

However, a lot of people, especially in the middle of the country are angry and some with good reason.  And we have to give them some credence which apparently the Democratic party did not. (Though as you recall it was the Republicans who shut down the government not one but twice because they did not want to pass the budget. That hurt a lot of people.)  This country is great for many, not so good for others, but still probably better than most countries out there.  It still shocks me at whom I know that voted from Trump, that they did not consider the possible consequences of his words.   But it doesn’t do any good to argue. 

Trump did win the electoral college, though not the popular vote, which I still do not understand.  Nevertheless, according to our laws, he is now the President-Elect.  I heard him say that as a businessman many of his stands were part of negotiations.  But now he seems to be taking those backs.   So what really is his bottom line? Will we ever know?  Will he set off nuclear weapons in a temper snit?  Will he be able to control the hatred that seems to have increased with his own license to speak?  Will he keep any of his good promises like more jobs for higher pay and lower taxes?  He does have a majority of the Congress as Republicans now – but how many will support that?

So it seems the new word “post –truth” will now be part of our dictionary.  I hope that people learn to look beyond the post and read the real facts.  If you don’t believe the “liberal” media like CNN, New York Times, etc at least listen and take things with a grain of salt (as the cliché goes.)  I am trying to listen to places like FOX, etc to balance what I am hearing, but don't see much hope there.  

I guess we can only watch, wait and pray that somehow he will do what is right for the majority of the country – and be prepared to act, if we must, in some way to defend our rights for the next four years.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Persistence and Patience

Maybe it’s because I’m an Aquarius,  but they say it’s our “advanced”  thinking that keeps us from accomplishing things in what we believe is a timely manner.  Whatever it is, I’ve had to have patience and a lot of persistence with my ideas and especially my writing.
Living in Chicago with my first husband, who seemed to be jealous of writing even though he said he wasn’t,  I was pleased when he gave one of my manuscripts – a novel about Deborah the Prophetess (based on the 4 Bible pages of Judges 4/5)  to a literary writer friend of his father’s.  Her cruel words to me were “Honey, go home and do your housework.”  I cried for a few days before I fisted up and said “Hell no.” I was not going to give up despite the lack of support from my husband or my own family.   
While taking a class from Chicago writer in residence, someone asked, "When do you give up?"  His words to her were - "Honey if you can do so, you're stronger than me.  If it's in your blood,  then your screwed." Writing was in my blood and it could not be denied. 

I penned 8 books before the 8th was published and I was able to later revise and rewrite 4 of the 7 books. Going back to those original manuscripts I saw how poorly those had been written and how I had improved. The book about Deborah was finally published in 1990 – a good 10 years after the first draft – by Leisure Books as Lighting and Fire.

Other ideas also took their time to mature.  Sometimes I wasn't ready and other times, the market had changed before I could finish what I was writing.
Living in England while I obtained my masters in writing from Antioch, I became infatuated with the story of Boudicea, the Celtic queen who rebelled from Rome’s oppression in 60 AD. Destroying much of Roman Britain including London.  I wrote a historical romance using the events as a background with her fictional niece falling in love with a Roman centurion - great conflict there.  It’s been almost 28 years since the idea first percolated in me and will now finally appear in July as A Pagan Love by Oak Tree Press.

Persistence also proved to serve me with my Y.A. drama, based on my work with teens thrown into psychiatric wards merely because their parents couldn’t handle them.  Against Her Will was finally published 2015 by Motivational Press when my new agent asked if I had any young adult material.  I pulled out the half done manuscript, updated a bit and, because I was already deep into other deadlines, worked with another client of hers to finish the book. 

My western romantic suspense, Deceptive Desires, also published by Leisure has now been turned into a script - Logan's Land - with several options under its belt.  Since westerns are currently not in favor for the movie market, it might have to wait a bit longer before showing it's screen version, but the book will be re-released by Oak Tree Press in December 2016.

One of my gothic novels - The Shrieking Shadows of Penporth Island - went to publishers 21 times - 8 times to the same house - Zebra Publishers- who finally put it out when the time, they felt was right. 

My non-fiction book The Forensic Nurse  (St Martin's Press) about how we as nurses help police solve crimes and written for the ordinary public to understand what we do, took years to find the right home.  Then it was optioned for a TV series not once but several times, always with something spoiling the deal at the last moment.  (In Hollywood, one must have attachments - stars and directors - push projects forward and the studios want A-list writers whom they already know can produce shows.  So I don't know what went wrong.  But finally when the last option expired, I took it on myself to write my own speculative pilot  for Nursing the Evidence - and show bible, which, has attracted attention.  Fingers are still crossed on that.  

Now, in addition to my own writing, I teach at various universities and conferences and published a workbook based on my lectures - The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books and Scripts (Motivational Press.)  While there are some differences in writing books and scripts, you basically need an exciting story that will entice the reader and make him care about your characters.   I also assist writers with their stories, too. 
I can't say it has been easy watching my friends snap up quick contracts, but I realized that when the time is right for something, an opening will appear.  One just has to keep on writing, go onto the next project, and the next and know that if it is meant to be, it will.

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