Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not always a meeting for coffee and reporting back. It can happen in a variety of different ways, like meeting an author at a book fair and requesting an email interview.
Unlike my usual manner of attending events without having gone over the complete schedule, for some reason before going to the Leimert Park Book Fair, I looked through the online schedule in its entirety and noticed a book-to-film panel discussion. How did I miss that when I made plans to attend?! I immediately switched gears in preparation to arrive two hours earlier to attend the panel discussion.
When I arrived at the book fair with my 12 year-old son, who is also an avid reader, we hurriedly walked to locate the main stage where the panel discussion was scheduled to take place. Unfamiliar with the venue, we stopped at the information table on the 1st floor and were directed to the 2nd floor. We got off the escalator and walked to the end of the hall (as directed).
We went back down the escalator and asked a second volunteer for the location, but were again erroneously directed to the opposite end of where we needed to go. Finally, we found the main stage and I quickly found a seat. My son went to look out the window. This isn’t his genre. No dragon and sorcerer discussions here.
I was prepared to learn all the wonderful ins-and-out of a subject matter completely foreign to me. ‘Tell me something I don’t know!’ I thought as I eagerly positioned myself to listen to the panel, which consisted of a one-on-one with authors Trisha R. Thomas, Nappily Ever After and Michael Datcher, Americus.
Nappily Ever After, based on the novel by Thomas, an award-winning author of literary fiction, was made into a feature film on Netflix starring Saana Lathan.
I had many questions, but because we had difficulty locating the main stage we arrived five minutes before the panel discussion ended!
After both Thomas and Datcher left the stage to sit at the book signing table, I wasn’t sure what to do with my unanswered questions. I stood near the line for the book signing table while my son repeatedly requested a $5.00 slice of cheese pizza and two attendees asked if I was in line or not.
I carefully considered my most pressing question:
As an African-American woman writer, how did she break through the book-to-film barrier?
I took a deep breath and decided to request an email interview with Thomas.
BJB: How can writers, specifically women writers of color, break through to have their book considered for a film option if their literary agent does not query film agents?
TT: I have found it helpful to have a literary agent who specializes in book publishing and a specific agent for film development. Two different agencies.
BJB: What is the most important thing you wish you had known prior to having your book made into a feature film on Netflix?
TT: Before having Nappily Ever After made into a film I ended up writing 8 more books in the series. I kept writing about Venus (Violet) to see where her journey was taking her. I actually hoped it was going to be a series so I wanted to be prepared with her full life trajectory, falling in love, falling out, and finding herself again.
I don’t have anything I would’ve done differently.
I have a library of cool stories under my belt that I wouldn’t have had if I’d just been sitting on my hands waiting for the film to happen.
BJB: What plans do you have to mentor or offer guidance to African-American women authors interested in the book-to-film path of writing?
TT: I have a few writers that I’m mentoring right now.
I suggest if you’re looking for a mentor you start locally where you can have a personal relationship as well. Go to conferences and meet the person you’d like to bounce ideas from and have a real interaction. The next step is exchanging contact information and your goals.