WMW Introduces Lorna Suzuki
Lorna Suzuki is the author of the fantasy series IMAGO. We met on Twitter, and I respect her professionalism and support for other writers. I am honored that she allowed me to interview her today on how she went from self-publishing her novels to optioning a movie deal, and yes, you read that right. There are no longer any limits for the self-published.
PLEASE NOTE: THE GIVEAWAY DEADLINE HAS COME TO A CLOSE: JULY 9, 2011 AT 8:30 A.M. EASTERN TIME. And, please know that Lorna has decided to award one random commenter a free e-book copy of "Imago Chronicles: Book One, A Warrior's Tale" and another, one free e-book copy of "The Dream Merchant Saga Book One: The Magic Crystal ". Yes, you read that right - two books up for grabs. So be sure to comment and leave a way she can contact you. :)
So without going on any further, here's the interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
There’s really not much to say that most would consider interesting. I call the west coast of British Columbia home. I’m a mother, wife, ‘accidental’ writer and martial arts practitioner/instructor. Prior to becoming a writer, I was immersed in the corporate world. Also, with a back ground in zoology, botany and wildlife management, I worked as a law enforcement for the Federal Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans before you were born, way back when women were just breaking into this field and headed up the education dept. of some local zoos, training the docent staff and writing educational guides. More to the point, as I grew older, I became as boring as hell!
Tell us about the Imago Series.
The Imago Chronicles is a nine-novel epic adult fantasy series. The executive producer who optioned the first three books pitched them to those in the film industry as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘300’ meets ‘The Last Samurai’. It has an ensemble cast of characters, but the central protagonist is a half-human/half-elf female named Nayla Treeborn. Being the only Halfling of her kind, she is shunned by one race, denied by the other, and to make matters worse, she immerses herself in the male dominated field of warriorship. Unlike many fantasy novels that feature female protagonists gifted with supernatural or superhuman powers to defeat much larger opponents, Nayla is small, unassuming and must rely on her years of training in the warrior arts and her smarts to survive. I wanted to create a real ‘kick-ass’ heroine who was not above getting her own ass kicked from time to time. I wanted a heroine my daughter could read about who did the rescuing, not a helpless damsel-in-distress waiting for a man to rescue her!
Did you self publish the Imago Series?
I started self-publishing with no thought AT ALL of going traditional, as I initially wrote these books as a gift to my daughter when she’s all grown up. Even at that, I intended on writing two, three at most, books for her until readers kept asking for the next adventure and began faithfully and loyally showing up to my annual book launch!
I had the president of one Canadian publishing company follow my career over three years via my website, TV interviews and newspaper articles. He offered me a multi-book deal that I turned down. I also had the wonderful Jessie Finkelstein, former editor of Raincoast (yes, the publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada) ask if I’d be willing to rewrite Imago for a YA audience, but I chose to remain indie. Ironically, she was the one who insisted I find a literary agent as she felt my books had merit and should be available to a readership eagerly seeking a great female protagonist. I did just that, and found representation that very day after speaking to her and taking Ms Finkelstein’s advice. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that a literary agent, no matter how good the track record is, does not guarantee a sale.
Eventually, I released my agent as I was receiving more offers on my own. I opted to hire a local entertainment attorney (one of the best in Hollywood North) to negotiate the option agreement. Kim Roberts also happens to be a producer at Sepia Films, so he has an intimate knowledge of the film industry and knows how to interpret the ‘fine print’ of any contract.
When you self-published Imago Series, did you ever imagine they would be optioned for a movie?
Ten years ago, I had no idea I’d be writing epic adult and YA fantasies and I’d have 12 of them under my belt! Now, if you told me a movie deal was in the cards when I started writing, I probably would have laughed. In fact, when a former screenwriter for one of the big studios in Hollywood offered to critique my first Imago novel, he contacted me a week after he picked this book up. At first I thought he was going to rake me over the coals and tell me to keep my day job. Instead, he said, “There’s a movie here. Would it be okay if I pitched it to some studios?”
I was stunned… and then I laughed, telling him to go ahead. Within a week, he had favorable responses from about five major film studios. The production company I seriously considered eventually delivered an option agreement. It was an introduction to the harsh reality that you really do need a knowledgeable literary agent or entertainment attorney to scrutinize every detail of an agreement. In the end, I walked away from the very first deal. Some thought I was crazy, but I had no regrets, for in the end, a producer who had read my works and was truly passionate about my stories and characters stepped up.
Do you know what the exact title of the movie will be, or what the working titles are?
I don’t know what the exact title will be for the movies, the only thing I know is that I will have a screen credit on a separate card in the main titles that will read: Based on the Imago Chronicles or based on a book by L. T. Suzuki, something to that effect.
How did this come about?
The producer who optioned my first three novels happened to see an interview I did on MTV where my book was being used as a weapon! She ended up buying the books and reading them. Thankfully, she fell in love with the stories and the characters. In the spring of 2008 she flew me across Canada to meet with her in Toronto to discuss the possibility of optioning my books for a major motion picture.
Describe what the journey of having your novels made into a movie has been like so far.
It’s a bit surreal, but overall, it’s a lot of work. Even with a great entertainment attorney to negotiate the terms of the option agreement, it still requires you to study up so you have a grasp of the various terms used in the business and what the industry standards and practices are.
Many authors fantasize about what actors or actresses can play the leads. Has this become a reality for you, or do you have a say in this part?
As the creative consultant, I’ve already been asked to forward my list of principles characters and the actors I envision in these roles. This list is not so much to say these are the actors I want or the producers can get, but it is more of a visual cue so the producers can have a reference in terms of the age, physical appearance, etc. of the characters. It’s to help narrow down the casting of specific characters.
When we spoke, you mentioned that you walked away from the offer presented from the first production company, and had to endure 3 years of negotiation through an entertainment attorney to secure the production company you are presently going with. Describe how that felt. Were you starting to wonder if it was going to happen for you?
The whole process was a regular emotional roller coaster ride! The first producer that approached me about 5 years ago made an offer that I walked away from. Needless to say, she was not happy, but I would have been a fool or bloody desperate to accept the terms. The second producer was prepared to negotiate a deal, but just as we were getting close to finalizing things, the economy imploded and investors were nervous and pulled out. A couple years later just as two other different producers who had been visiting my website; reading the excerpts and reviews contacted me about their interest, the second producer returned and negotiated a wonderful deal that I couldn’t say no to.
As for wondering if it’d ever happen?
If you think about it too much, you can’t focus on the other details in your life. I’m one of those who believes things happen for a reason. Whether it became reality or not, I tried to concentrate on my writing and what kind of adventure my fans might like to read about next.
What is an entertainment attorney, and how would an author go about getting one?
If your literary agent is not familiar with negotiating film option agreements, it’s wise to hire an entertainment attorney who is knowledgeable when it comes to the industry standards and practices (this must be established in your contract with your agent first if you plan to use an attorney to handle details of movie rights). In my case, Kim Roberts is not only an attorney specializing in entertainment law, he is also a producer with Sepia Films, so he has an intimate knowledge of the industry. Also, keep in mind that where a literary agent will receive 10-15% of everything an author earns, many attorneys will work for a set fee or by the hour. An author who has been offered a movie deal (if not already represented by a literary agent) should take the time to research and hire an entertainment attorney that specializes in option agreements and film industry related contracts.
When is the tentative release date for the movie?
The producer is looking at winter 2012, if production goes without a hitch, but even the great Peter Jackson can tell you it’s a volatile industry with many ups and downs.
When it comes to red carpet movie premiers, how does that work? Is this something the author is automatically included in?
No, it is not something that the author is automatically invited to. In my case, the executive producer has hired me as the creative consultant and she felt it was important I be a part of the premiers. If this is not included in the option agreement, an author can certainly request it and negotiate if it will include not just an invitation, but an inclusion of guest(s), travel and accommodations, etc. during these events.
I understand that a screenwriter would have to convert your novel manuscripts for the movie, how does this process work?
Initially, I was asked if I wanted a crack at creating the screenplay, but I turned the producer down. To me, it is a very different thing from writing novels and it requires a specific skill to translate what is in print onto the big screen. Though I’ve written scripts for TV, I haven’t written a screenplay. Looking at the A-list screenwriters they are considering, I prefer to leave it to the professionals who know that they are doing.
Advice you have for any other author about to enter this phase of their career.
For authors having their works optioned for a movie, first and foremost, have a legitimate entertainment attorney or literary agent with experience in negotiating film deals negotiate for you or help you understand the terms, option fee, purchase price, etc.
Do your homework so you have some understanding how the industry works and so you’ll understand the fine print and what is considered to be the industry standard.
Try to negotiate a decent/reasonable option fee. I know too many authors who have accepted $1 (to make the option agreement legally binding) just so they can say their work has been optioned. Generally, the larger the option fee/purchase price, the more serious the production company is about producing a movie, not sitting on it so another producer doesn’t scoop the project on them.
Don’t make the mistake of locking in for long periods of time. A serious producer will come up with a decent option fee and will not lock in for long stretches. Instead, they will work in extension period(s) to the contract (of which they should pay a fee to extend this option as it comes up for renewal).
Usually, if the producer is willing to include into the agreement that specific work (i.e. screenwriter must be hired & movie adaptation created) must be completed by or before the renewal date of the extension period can be granted, it’s a pretty good indicator that the production company is serious about making a movie. Generally, the more they have invested into the project, the harder they will work to get it done.
Authors should also be aware that some production companies and studios will option projects that they plan to either make into a movie far into the future or they have no intention of making a movie at all, and it’s more of a strategy to prevent other studios or production companies from picking up the project.
From talking with you, I also know you’ve written eleven novels thus far and are working to finish your twelfth. Do you think any more of them will be made into a movie? And if so, which one(s) and why?
The first three novels of the Imago Chronicles have been optioned for a trilogy, but there’s nothing to say it won’t become a franchise movie with all nine novels being produced. Of course, all this is determined by tickets sales and overall revenue generated by DVD sales, merchandising, etc.
One day, I’d love to see the YA fantasy trilogy I’ve been co-writing with my daughter made into a movie as it’d be perfect for the adult and young adult audience, with the family in mind! The Magic Crystal, the first book in The Dream Merchant Saga, has been receiving rave reviews and some have described it as a hilarious blend of ‘Ella Enchanted’ meets ‘The Princess Bride’!
Once I finish the third book in this YA trilogy, I’ll be retiring my fiction-writing career.
Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview, Carolyn! It was great fun!
More about Lorna`s books here:
More about Lorna`s books here:
‘Imago Chronicles: Book One, A Warrior’s Tale’ begins at the height of the turmoil that shall determine if indeed there will be a Third Age of Peace. Besieged by the enemy from the east and now immersed in war with solders of the Dark Army from the west, Nayla Treeborn and her People are about to engage in the next great war that will decide the fate of all mankind and Elves in Imago.
In a desperate attempt to deliver word to the Elf King of Wyndwood and those of the old alliance for a call to arms, she is the last surviving messenger sent forth by her people. Now, trapped in a storm at the top of the world, she fights to survive the deadly elements in a strange land.
Despised by Elves and shunned by mortals, she must now find the courage to make a place in this world, and the compassion to save those who keep her at arm’s-length. This adventure recounts the defining moments in her life that had forged her into a deadly warrior, a great captain and a legend amongst the people of Imago.
When a good wish goes bad, a beautiful princess despised by all, a lowly court jester who was meant to be a great knight and a village idiot with a mysterious past are thrust together by fate. Made to embark on a perilous and unorthodox quest, they set off to break a dreaded curse. Along the way, a series of trials await them in strange lands far from home. From a powerful Wizard and an evil, shape-shifting Sprite to the flamboyant Elves and an army of mimes, they encounter an array of unforgettable friends and foes as they set off to recover a silver locket to destroy the curse. In a race against time, pursued by a Sorcerer on the hunt for this same locket, an epic journey becomes a trying, humorous adventure of self-discovery and a test of true loyalty and friendship for this unlikely trio as they fight to survive this quest and ultimately, each other.
Connect with Lorna Suzuki online: