How My First Novel Became a Movie

Yeppers, kids, it happens. Sometimes first novels turn into very big scores. And/or big stories.

Or not such big scores and/or stories. As the old saying goes, “You don’t need to be smart if you’re lucky. But even if you’re smart you still need lots of luck.”

No, this TVWriter™ minion isn’t all that certain of what she’s saying, but Caren Lissner, author of Carrie Pilby sure is, and it makes good as well as very helpful reading.

by Caren Lissner

Five years ago, I got an email from two Hollywood producers who wanted to turn my first novel, Carrie Pilby, into a movie. I was thrilled, but reminded myself not to expect much. After all, in the years since the book’s publication in 2003, two other production companies had paid me a few thousand dollars each to option the rights for a year, and nothing had come of it. Should I really fantasize about my characters living and breathing on the big screen?

The novel tells the story of the nerdy 19-year-old Carrie, who graduated from Harvard three years early and has no idea how to date or make friends in New York. It was published in the middle of the “chick lit” craze, when offbeat single-gal books like Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing were taking over the publishing industry.

Luckily, reviewers said mine was one of the more original novels in the genre, and it went on to sell 74,000 copies worldwide. But nearly a decade later, I was struggling with revisions to a new book, still living in a tiny apartment in the town I’d moved to after college, and about to turn 40. I really wanted my writing to reach a new audience. Actually, I really wanted to be able to afford furniture.

Another colleague, a best-selling novelist, saw her project green-lit and script completed, but the project fell apart when, supposedly, two of the main producers became romantically involved and ran off together. Neither story was a complete tragedy; the authors got a little extra publicity for their books and some option money, usually $500 to $5,000 for each year the producers held the rights. But these stories had taught me to manage my expectations….

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