Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hilary Weisman Graham: YA author, TV writer

Today I’m talking with Hilary Weisman Graham, YA author of Reunited and the newest member of the writing team for the TV series Bones. Hilary will start by telling us what it’s like to write for TV, and we’ll end the interview with more information about her book. To learn even more about Hilary, be sure to check out her website, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and add Reunited to your “to read” pile on Goodreads!


How many writers work on Bones?

Nine. I am the new girl.


How long does it take to write an episode?

Typically, it takes about a week or two to break the plot (which is done in the writers' room), a week to write the outline (done solo), and two weeks to write the script.


Do the writers work an eight hour day and is it a year-round job?

More or less, depending on the day. We break in May when the show goes on summer hiatus.


What is your work day like?

At any given point a couple of writers will be off on script or outline and one writer will be on set shooting the episode they wrote. The rest of the writers will be split into groups in two smaller writers' rooms , the tone of which varies, depending on the story we're breaking and how well it's going at the moment. As a new member of the staff, I've discovered group procrastination involves a lot more raucous laughter and spontaneous dance parties than my former procrastination technique (surfing the internet) back when I was writing alone at home. But I eat about the same amount of snacks.


What’s the most surprising part of this job?

How many ways they've killed people on BONES! I was pitching murder ideas the other day, and after every pitch, one of the more seasoned writers would say, "We did that, back in Season __," literally, like Every Single Time. At one point I threw out something really wacky thinking I'd finally hit upon something unique, then I saw that look in his eye...


Take us through the steps of story development?

Well, BONES is a procedural, so each week we have a murder to solve. But every story starts by creating a cool world to put our characters in for that episode--like the world of competitive chess, sperm donors, or food science. From there, we figure out who our victim is, how they died, and who the suspects might be.


How did you land this job? Is this the typical path to this type of job?

1. Wrote a good spec script. 2. Agent sent script to BONES head writers. 3. They liked it. 4. I met them and apparently came across as a normal person. 5. VoilĂ , job offer. So, it was a relatively easy gig to land, which came after countless near-misses, brutal rejections, and many, many years of very hard work.


Once you knew you had this job, how did you prepare for it? (Had you already seen most of the episodes or did you have to binge watch them?)

Though I do watch BONES, I wasn't caught up on all ten seasons when I got the job offer, so thank god for Netflix. Basically, I binge-watched my way through about 80+ episodes in the month between the job offer & my start date.


What other experience in TV/movie writing have you had (if any)? Did you study screenwriting formally?

I graduated from Boston University with a degree in Broadcasting & Film and spent the first part of my career as an indie filmmaker/documentary TV producer. But seven years ago, I decided to focus my career on my writing, and I'm happy to report that I've been working pretty steadily ever since, between selling various screenplays and TV projects getting my book deal for REUNITED.


Are you continuing to write YA novels?

I have a really fun middle grade novel that is a work-in-progress that I hope to get back to as soon I find the time.


What was your favorite scene to write in Reunited?

The scene in the van with Alice and Quentin. But if you want to know the juicy details, you'll have to read the book...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Writing Vacation

It’s been a long year. 

Job changes for my husband. A new school for my girls. A best friend moving away. 

Lots of upheaval. Lots of emotions. Lots of stress. 

I shelved the book I spent months writing. I felt like I just couldn’t get to the emotional core of a middle grade novel right now. I tried to bump it up to YA, but then it was too mundane. Months of work let go. I beat myself up for my lack of productivity. In the time it took me to write one novel, a dear writing friend of mine has written three. I feel compelled to keep up.

So when we headed to our my husband’s family’s lakeside cottage for a month, I came with high hopes. In the past, I’d spent every morning writing. It was one of my most productive, creative times.

I told myself I would write every morning until noon. I’d wake up early, do some yoga and stay focused. I would start the new sci-fi, paranormal I’d been brainstorming.

But life had other plans for me. Each of my daughters got sick - nothing serious, but definitely distracting. The weather was cold and rainy, so instead of playing outdoors, the girls were frequently inside. There were lots of relatives visiting. People coming and going, laughing and playing.

And then there was me - I was just plain exhausted. I couldn’t wake up early - all I wanted to do was sleep. When the sun did shine, and I sat in my room listening to everyone outside, on the beach, I didn’t feel inspired at all. I was grumpy and frustrated. I found myself snapping at everyone. 

“I can’t concentrate with all that laughing.”

"Could you sing a little quieter?"

And the words weren’t coming.

Finally, a week ago, I faced the fact that I wasn’t going to write this summer. That what I really needed - more than anything - was a true vacation. To be with my kids and nieces and nephew, to enjoy the sounds of the waves, to have day-long adventures, and to listen to the book on tape I downloaded last summer, but never found the time to listen to.

I started knitting a scarf. Each of my daughters had asked me to make them one months ago, and I promised I would, but I never did. That broken promise had been weighing on me.

Ironically, after a week of not writing, I am beginning to feel inspired again. My brain is spinning in all the best ways: imagining the first encounter between my main character and her love interest and the way mysticism will weave it’s way into the story. 

The truth is, even writers need vacations. Time to clear our heads and just let ideas percolate. The pressure we feel to write and produce can be worst when we are the ones imposing the expectations on ourselves.

I know now that writing is not what I need to do on this last week of vacation. What I need is to not write, to play with my kids, to walk with my dog - and to let my imagination run wild. 

Oh, and of course, I need to finish that scarf. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I recently read a book that made me pause. In a nutshell: The main character is a size 2 and extremely pretty, with emphasis on her small size. The best friend is chubby and not attractive. The MC draws all eyes, while the best friend struggles to get guys to even consider her.

What. The hell?

I’m not talking plot or story twists or character arcs here. I’m simply looking at the way the characters are presented. First of all, a size 2 is small. Like, tiny. And hey, if you’re a size 2 and HEALTHY, rock on. But if you’re body is meant to be a size 12 and you’re struggling to get into a size 2—which doesn’t seem like it’s EVER going to happen (because lets face it, it really might not be achievable)—and you’re UNHEALTHY...that’s not really okay. Books like these are targeted at teens. Teenagers who would love to be noticed. But what, I’m wondering, is the cost of being noticed? Not eating as much as they should? Throwing up their food? Trying to be something they’re not?
         Fact: A size 2 doesn’t make you pretty. Neither does a size 12. No particular size makes you pretty at all, actually.
         Healthy makes you pretty.
         Being happy makes you pretty.
         Having self esteem makes you pretty.
         Accepting who you are and embracing YOU makes you pretty.
Truth is, body shaming is body shaming no matter the size. So being a healthy size 2 and being a healthy size 12 are the same things, actually. Just like being an unhealthy size 2 and an unhealty12. No difference. (Please note, these are example sizes. Obviously people come in all sizes).
There’s this weight chart, you’ve probably seen it. It says that if your this age and this height you should weigh this much. They give three weight options for small, medium, and large frames. Weight has so many factors. So when I pick up a book and read that the MC is so tiny and gorgeous, but the chubby friend is not attractive, I think one thing:
What kind of message is being delivered here?
“Hey, get tiny! It’s the greatest!” Never mind that it’s not physically possible for some people.
Where are the normal characters that are loved for who they are and what they represent and the things they overcome? Where are those characters? Where are the BEAUTIFUL characters, regardless of size? Hmm? Where? They need to be there. Because that’s real life. That’s what teens relate to.
I’m not saying to glorify obesity. I’m saying to show believable characters that are like you and like me. I’m putting it out there that it is NOT COOL to pair a small MC with a “chubby” friend and deal the “chubby” friend the unattractive card. Again, size=pretty is not true, and it’s not a good message. I’d like to think that it matters what readers perceive, how they relate to the book.
         Think about it. What makes pretty? What message, in the end, is really being delivered?
         Dr. Suess said it best.
         “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

         Or big.