I had the pleasure of interviewing the dynamic duo Robert Bovill and Susan Flanagan about their newest project The House of Pearl.
The House of Pearl is a romantic paranormal thriller; Two lovers must survive a ghostly onslaught or else find themselves doomed to become part of the tragic history that lurks in the shadows of The House of Pearl.
Both Robert and Susan have won Emmy® Awards in their respective fields. The House of Pearl is their first project together and certainly not their last.
How did this collaboration come about?
Robert: After many people read my script including Robert Redford’s son Jaime Redford, and being told the screenplay would not only make a nice film but that it would make a great novel, I decided to consider the daunting task of novelization. One day I was browsing through Linkedin and came across the Creative Entertainment & Media (CEM) profile. In it they professed to be proficient at reversing screenplays into novels. So I called them and sent in my screenplay, which caught the attention of Susan Flanagan. She loved the story and felt that she could help me novelize it. So the two of us embarked upon our journey of adapting my screenplay into a novel.
Susan: I felt that a novel was the best way to do the story justice. It was such a complicated story that I thought it would find its audience quicker through a novel. We decided it would be perfect for a Reverse Screenplay Adaptation, and set about to make that happen.
What can you tell me about this 120-year-old Victorian house which is the backdrop of The House of Pearl?
Robert: The location of the house is magical. It lies on prime Sausalito waterfront with staggering views of the city and the bay. Alcatraz, Angel Island and the many sailboats help fill the view. While tourists from all over the world flock to this one spot, probably the most romantic walk in all the Western United States.
How long did it take you to write The House of Pearl?
Robert: I purchased the old house in 1999. After renovating the house for a year or so I began to hear many stories from previous tenants and learned some fun facts about the house. In the sixties it was a Rock n’ Roll party house, in the thirties it was a brothel. Taking these stories and adding a little imagination along the way slowly developed it into a full-length screenplay. I like to say it took me three years. After I engaged Susan to help me I believe it took us a little under a year to get it to print.
Susan: When we undertook this project, we took a bit of a different approach in writing it, since it wasn’t one of my stories, we felt it was important to create “deliverables” or deadlines and create a system that ensured that the book would meet our timelines. We started writing the book in September 2012 and it was published in April 2013, so 7 months roughly from concept to market.
Tell me about the writing process with a writing partner.
Robert: I don’t know about Susan but I’ve wanted a writing partner for a long time. So I was more than thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Susan. The basic story was all there so Susan would make alterations and I would agree or disagree.
Susan: When I write for clients, I always involve them in the process: it keeps the workflow going and gives them a sense that their project is being managed properly. I set up a system for the book that worked really well. I first digested the film script, envisioning what it would have to look like as a book.
For The House of Pearl, I first did an outline of the book, chapter by chapter, worked through that with Robert, and once we agreed on that, I wrote the first 50 pages so he could see the style and story unfold, once he approved that, we were on to the rest of the book. It was a pretty good system and we are very pleased with the book.
I am very time-oriented, so it was important to make sure the book met our desired publishing date. I would initiate the chapters and then give them over to Robert for his input and editing.
It was great working with Robert, and that’s why we have more projects together. As a team, we are able to take our egos out of the equation and see beyond that for what was best for the project, and when that happens, it’s like magic!!!!
Do you have a writing schedule?
Robert: Not really, I write when I am inspired to write.
Susan: Yes, I am very regimented about my writing. I like to say that I am a writer at heart, but a producer by function, so everything is on a clock for me. I have had some bouts with writer’s block, but it usually ends pretty quickly and I’m back on the clock writing: my producer kicks my writer back into gear!
What kept you motivated while writing The House of Pearl?
Robert: I really don’t know how to answer this question. Was the story in me and wanting to get out? Am I just seeking money that might come from a successful movie or book? Was I used by an outside force to channel this story? I don’t know, it kind of just presented itself and had to be told. Of course the intellectual challenge of writing a compelling story was lurking somewhere in all of this.
Susan: My motivation works on many levels, for this project, The House of Pearl was client-based, so I made a promise to Robert to write the best book we could, and that was always on my mind. So for me, delivering what I say I will deliver is more important than anything else.
When I write my scripts, books or shows I try to embrace the same work ethic, and keep to a schedule. It is the same mentality, work on a deadline and produce something, whether it’s a page a day or 20.
How is writing a book different from writing a script for a movie? And which do you prefer?
Robert: It’s the “is” versus the “was”. A screenplay is describing what you see versus showing how a story feels in a book.
Susan: I like them both, but they are such different forms of writing, so going back and forth can be a bit tricky. Some stories lend themselves to books and some to screen: it just depends. I feel though, in today’s competitive climate of film-making and television, a novel can be a great tool that can be viewed as a “Proof of Viability” and audiences can see the stories that they like.
The best thing though, about writing a book, is that its success is all in your hands. No one can tell you “no:” you publish it, you market it, and its destiny, good or bad, is in your hands. In the bigger picture, studios and networks look to book sales and social media for what’s trending as well, so it’s a good proof of marketability, and very powerful…
What advice would you give to first time writers?
Robert: Someone, probably a teacher when I first hit college, said to me, “If you want to be a painter, paint, if you want to be a writer, write”. When I started I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I persevered and beat back my doubting demons and just kept hacking at it until it all made sense.
Susan: The most important thing is to not let anyone tell you that you can’t. Belief in yourself is very powerful, and it can get you through some dark times. I think many writers don’t follow their instincts and let others tell them what they are capable of, don’t fall into that trap.
Also, I believe that if you want to be successful as a writer, you have to approach it with a business mind and set time frames for yourself and maintain a schedule: don’t roll out of bed in your bathrobe and look at a computer screen and hope that the story will come to you. Set a schedule, outline your stories and be accountable. It really works!
Lastly, I would tell new writers to take charge, don’t sit around waiting for an option or for a publisher, be active in getting your projects done. This is an evolving industry, so embrace the new ideas and ways of doing things and you will be successful.
I see that there are more books in the works from the Bovill/Flanagan duo. Will there a part II of The House of Pearl?
Robert: I don’t know if this is a story that has a sequel in it. If a large enough audience builds up around it, maybe there could be a continuance of Elia’s career and the struggle the two have making their relationship work and then throw in a crisis that needs their attention. Susan and I have a number of stories we are crafting right now, possibly a graphic novel as well.
Susan: Yes, we have numerous scripts and other books that will be coming out in the next couple of years that we are very excited about, it has been a great collaboration and we have more coming!!!
Do you have any book signings or readings coming up? If so where and when.
Robert: I am trying to get an interview here on a local morning show, other than that we haven’t really set anything up yet. If anyone out there is interested let us know.
Susan: We are working on San Francisco, Sausalito, Los Angeles, and Orange County book signings and events. Those are both of our hometowns, so we think we’ll get good turnouts!
Thank you Robert and Susan! Purchase a copy of The House of Pearl here.
Learn more about Robert, Susan and The House of Pearl here.