First Draft, Ep. 102: Danielle Page - Transcript
Date: July 11, 2017
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah ENNI: Welcome to First Draft with me Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Danielle Paige author of the DOROTHY MUST DIE and STEALING SNOW series. Danielle and I have been running into each other at festivals for years, and last year she was kind enough to share a hilarious story on the LA Times Festival of Books mini-episode, about her time writing for soap operas. It included restarting a car with a defibrillator… defibrillator? And, it was amazing.
Though she was in the throes of a crazy deadline, Danielle was sweet enough to make time for me during my recent trip to New York. We met at the offices of her agent, Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary, and Danielle was even thoughtful enough to grab us both iced coffees. What a lifesaver! I love hearing about people’s unusual paths to publishing, and Danielle’s story is unlike any other. So, DVR The Young and the Restless, get one iced coffee for now and one for later, and enjoy the conversation.
[background honking and street noises]
ENNI: Alright, so hi Danielle!
Danielle PAIGE: Hi Sarah, I’m so excited to be here.
ENNI: I am so happy we could finally make this happen. We’ve been trying for a year, I feel like.
PAIGE: I think so. I always see you at things where we don’t get to talk enough. So, this is fun.
ENNI: And we also have [shaking of liquid with ice cubes in it], we have coffees! So, if you hear our iced coffee sound that’s what’s going on. Springtime in New York, we have to have iced coffees.
PAIGE: And I just have a continuous IV of coffee in general, as a writer. I think it’s very important!
ENNI: So, as you know, I love to start these interviews at the very beginning, which is: where were you born and raised?
PAIGE: I was born in Columbus, Ohio and I lived there until I was five. And then I was raised in Atlanta.
ENNI: When did you come to New York?
PAIGE: For college. I went to Columbia. I’d applied to a bunch of schools that I thought would all be [for] journalism. I wanted to become a journalist and that’s why I went there.
ENNI: That’s the place for journalism, that’s for sure.
PAIGE: Yes, and then I took a left turn.
ENNI: Yeah, we’ll get to that, but first I want to ask… growing up in your family, and in your young life, how much was reading and writing a part of growing up?
PAIGE: Huge! I went to the library every week and I would get as many books as they would allow you to get. My parents were big readers. And writing, I wrote my very first story when I was six years old. I don’t know if you did this when you were [that age]. Did you have to do the wallpaper covered, big cardboard thing? Where you had to write your own story and they bound it for you?
ENNI: Yes, totally.
PAIGE: That was my first story. It was a princess and a unicorn, and I knew I wanted to be a writer at six. I don’t know who told me that being a writer meant being a journalist, but that’s what I translated it into. But at the time, I knew. I was smitten. I never actually wanted to be anything else. I think the idea of being a novelist seemed like a very far away thing. Even as very young person, I somehow compartmentalized that away from me. Which is weird.
ENNI: I’m curious, because I also studied journalism - much for the same reason - where I was like, “I just want to write. Where can I do that?” And it felt like it was practical in a way. Because novel writing felt so fantastical.
PAIGE: Have you ever done one of those career survey… personality type things?
PAIGE: I think I have a type A personality, even though I’m a creative person. I think I’m an achiever in that I thought I needed a path to get to that thing. And the idea of being a novelist seems like this dreamy thing that you get to go do. And I needed someone to tell me, “These are the steps that you take.” I was that kid who – I was in maybe eighth grade – and I got this book about how to get into an Ivy League school. Because I had made this decision even then. So, I had a path mapped out. And if I didn’t have a path I don’t think I knew how to get there.
ENNI: Dang! So, in eighth grade you already knew, you were like, “I want to be a journalist. That means I go to Columbia.”
PAIGE: I actually had a list of schools. Columbia and Northwestern, UNC, USC and I think my safety was Emory, because it was in my state. And I got into every school. And then I couldn’t decide between Columbia and Northwestern because they were both great journalism schools. And Columbia didn’t have an undergrad, they only had the grad schools, so you had to go to grad school if you wanted to do it. But, it’s only one year. So, I decided on Columbia, but at the last minute.
Now, I think they might have an undergrad for it, but then they did not. They have an undergrad writing program. And they have an undergrad English major. I have an undergrad English major and then you just do one year of journalism school on top of it.
ENNI: Oh? So, when you did decide to ultimately go to Columbia, you were like, “I’m in for the undergrad…”
PAIGE: “And then I’m going to go to grad school there.”
ENNI: You had a five-year plan!
PAIGE: Yes! I had the plan. I was so sure this was the way to do it. And I didn’t end up doing it.
ENNI: That’s so much research and forward thinking for being so young.
PAIGE: I don’t know, I was just so sure. But I did not know a way to do the other thing. And also, the idea of storytelling… I wasn’t a kid who was writing fan fiction every day, and writing creative stories. I didn’t know how to do that. I don’t think I believed that I could do that for a living. It wasn’t until much later that I started writing fiction again. I would have little ideas and I wrote things down, but I never would finish a story.
ENNI: Were you finding other ways to write in high school?
PAIGE: As part of the 10-year-plan, at that point [chuckles] I was editor of my junior high paper; editor of my senior high school paper. When I went to college I was editor of the fashion magazine and I news read at the radio station. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be broadcast or print. So, I wrote all of the time But I wrote nonfiction things. I loved interviewing people and I loved talking to people and I liked the interaction – that part of it was always really fun for me.
I also had this attraction to the idea of doing something broadcast [related] - being the center of attention in some way. You’ve met me, so…! [both laugh] I joined the 4-H Club and ran for 4-H President. Because if you’re in 4-H Club you get a microphone every week, and you get to do a speech in front of the entire class every week! I knew nothing about… [Laughing and trying to talk] I can’t even tell you what the “H’s” [stand for] now! But, I got to be in front of a class and I wanted it so badly.
ENNI: Why don’t you get me to how you did come to some creative writing? And then I want to talk about how all of the stuff you just talked about ties into your creative process.
PAIGE: [During] my junior year of college I took two internships. There’s a binder at Columbia for the entertainment stuff. And I stumbled across one from a guy who graduated from Columbia who worked at Guiding Light, the soap opera. When I saw that, I was like, “My mom watched Guiding Light, and I watched Guiding Light, and my sister watched Guiding Light, and my Grandmother watched Guiding Light.” So, my first internship was at Paper Magazine and I got that right away, and I was really excited about that because Paper Magazine was super hip. But I saw this [Guiding Light internship] in a binder, and I went on an interview. I wanted to do three days a week of Paper and then take some of the other days to do something fun, and random, and that’s what the soap opera was.
I went on the interview and I got the job; it was in the writer’s office. And just comparing the two internships, one was, “Hi, I’m Danielle Paige and I’m calling from Paper Magazine. Is your address 34 Grove Street?” And then I’d hang up and then do it again. All I did was fact check. And for me, not to slam the actual magazine because I’m sure there were a lot of creative opportunities eventually…
ENNI: The fault lies with the intern coordinator because if you don’t get people interested then you’re just going to have an experience like this, where you’re turned off.
PAIGE: Right, and everyone was cool in a different way than I was cool. It was very downtown, very SoHo. And Guiding Light was the absolute opposite. I was seeing people that I watched growing up, and they were lovely. And there were cute boys like Matt Bomer walking around.
ENNI: That’s a little more than cute!
PAIGE: Honestly! He has the most beautiful eyes in the entire world, and he’s the sweetest! Paul Wesley from Vampire Diaries and Hayden Panettiere, all of these soon-to-be-famous people. They were lovely and the internship itself was in the writer’s office. I would do a different kind of research, where you would research fun things. I helped to put together – they wanted to have a master bible of continuity stuff – but just for the writers; there’s a producer who does that. They just wanted to have an in-house bible like, “This is the character. This is their bio. And this is all of the stuff that’s happened to them.” And I did a spreadsheet and I put all of the stuff in it.
ENNI: By the way, when you have something like Guiding Light, that’s a lengthy bio.
PAIGE: Right! And it was for all of the characters. That was my summer. The writer’s assistant who later became my editor was amazing, and she loved me, and it was the best summer. If I got to do any other research, it would be something fun like calling a medical person, or doing something for a story. It was just a fun environment.
ENNI: You were so kind to sit with me for a mini interview at the LA Times the year before, and you shared some hilarious story about researching medical stuff.
PAIGE: Oh, it’s my favorite story, it’s my favorite Guiding Light story. It was when I was an assistant, because I moved up to be a writer’s assistant, and my head writer was like, “We need to know if you can start a car with a defibrillator?” [both laughing] You know, as one does, right? So, they had nurses on call – there’s a service, I’m sure other TV shows use those services – so, I called the nurse and I was like, “Can you start…?” And she was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that!”
I was calling mechanics. I spent the entire day doing it. I found the answer is no, you cannot. Something about amps and volts, it just does not work. I went up to my head writer and I’m like, “I found the information. You can’t do it, I’m so sorry.” And she looked at me and she’s like, “Oh, we’re gonna do it. It’s a soap opera!” And I was like, “Then why did I…?” [laughing]. It’s still my favorite. I love that story.
ENNI: This is so interesting to me…
PAIGE: I still never answered your question, actually.
ENNI: Yeah, go ahead.
PAIGE: So, while I was taking this internship at Guiding Light, my internship got extended for the rest of the year because we needed to do the show bible, this character’s bible, for the writer’s office. And also again, the writer’s assistant loved me, and she was so kind and a total mentor to me and still a friend. So, I stayed on and while I was doing that I thought, “You know what? I should take a creative writing class. I’ve never taken a creative writing class.” So, I finally took one and there were three parts to the class. You did poetry, and then there was fiction, and then there was dramatic writing. I loved the script writing part, and I was surprised by that. Within that one quarter you had to write a little script, and I was like, “I love this.”
You would write scenes and stuff, and at the same time I was working at Guiding Light, and I think the two things together made me think, “Well, maybe I could write scripts or something.” I’d never thought about it, but the way that soap operas are structured, it was a safe way for me to move into a different place, because creating the story itself is not on me. There was a head writer that creates the story, and so you’re still working for someone else. And for me, that somehow made sense. It’s a job and I can do this and I can figure out how to do that.
How I would help create the story [is] they break it down – they have breakdown writers – that write the story [and] separate it into individual days, and then you get an assignment. I found out all of that from working there, and I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll do that.” It was this crazy, crazy idea because at the time I didn’t really think about how few script writing jobs there are. I lived in New York and I wasn’t prepared to move to LA. But to me, it was like, “I could do that.” And I found out what script writers made, and I found out what journalists made, and…
ENNI: Very key!
PAIGE: Yes! And also, I had the best time, all of the things together. And I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna maybe try this.” When I graduated, instead of going to journalism school, I took a job in production at Guiding Light and I moved my way up. I’d watch every episode, and read every script, and within six months I was a writer’s assistant. And then by the time I was twenty-four, I wrote my first script.
ENNI: Wow! I love that you are clearly a creative person but you have in you something that I can relate to, strongly, which is there needs to be a path. I love that you got this opportunity to do Guiding Light, and then it was this creative process, but you could see how it was broken down in a practical application.
PAIGE: I think we’re plotters not pantsers in life, honestly, I do! It was not until much later that I had to figure out, “Oh wait, the writer hustle.” I actually had this weird path that worked, and even though I worked really hard to get there, I did have a track to get to being a script writer. And it happened for me. Also, there is a soap opera writing school. Proctor and Gamble had a program and they paid you. They wanted young people to start writing soaps because the demographics [of writers] were a little older. And anyone who wanted to write – the editors chose them – but there were like seven of us from our show. And then, As the World Turns, and Another World was still on the air. And we took a class at Proctor and Gamble’s offices with the head of development, who I quote literally in every panel I’ve ever had because he gave the best advice about soaps and writing, that I still use today – and I will tell you in a second.
But I took soap opera writing class. And every week a different writer would come in and we’d practice writing a scene. We’d get notes from other soap writers. It was really amazing and fun. I didn’t actually start writing scripts for real until the next head writer I had, who actually had gone to Columbia. She’s like, “I think we should try to let you write.” It was on day one when she met me. I’d had a lot of other head writers before but she’s the first one [who suggested it]. We talked for a bit and she’s like, “I think it’s time for you.”
I started out by writing the scenes when shows came up too short; I would write a scene to fill in. Then an editor would look at it and fix it, and then I would rewrite it and give it back to her. And that’s how I started. Then I started writing vacation scripts when people were on vacation. And my very, very first script was written with my head writer. She co-wrote a script with me.
I skipped my best piece of advice from my soap opera class. His name is Bill Graham and he was the head of development, and he said that every scene should end in a bitch slap – metaphorically or physically [both laughing] or, literally, I think. I’ve quoted it in a key note [and] I think it’s great advice. He said that you have to end it in a way that you want more, and you want to know what happens next, and you have to arc towards the surprise. Where someone is at the beginning of a scene is not where they should be at the end. It denotes progress. It has all of the elements… and it’s a fun thing to say! But I still believe it. I think it works.
ENNI: Well, let’s break down when you’re talking about writing a soap opera. You’re talking about – and I’m applying this to thinking about novels, right – you have a large cast of characters, intersecting storylines, a heavy focus on dialogue. I think when you are inspired by movies and TV it comes a little more naturally to you to end a scene.
ENNI: I think sometimes aspiring writers want to wind all of the way down. It’s like you have to go through character until they fall asleep, or something. And it’s like, “No, no, no! Bitch slap and cut!” [laughs]
PAIGE: Yes! There are some novels that are in print and you’re like, “I think the midpoint of that scene was actually…” But that’s it! That’s where it should have been.
ENNI: Yeah, you think you’re good and then we can just cut away. There’s actually a lot of power in that, in just ending it [snaps fingers] and then go to two weeks later.
PAIGE: Right. I think that’s the other thing. I think it’s the difference between TV and books. It’s “Show, Don’t Tell,” that’s the big TV thing. But in books, you’re supposed to tell. And figuring out how to do both is really hard sometimes for some people. If anything, I have to go the other way where I have a bitch slap and then my editor/agent/somebody is saying, “But how do they feel? What are they…where again? You need some things.” [laughing] So, it took me a while to do that stuff. When I really first started, I would write spines, where you just write the dialogue. And then I would go back and fill it in with stuff. And it was so hard! It takes forever doing it like that. But, to this day, if I’m having trouble then I literally will start with the dialogue, because that comes to me, and everything is still harder… it is.
ENNI: It sounds like you’re really comfortable with dialogue. You feel like that’s a strength?
ENNI: Do you think that’s because you started with Guiding Light? Or, do you think that was always [your strength]?
PAIGE: I used to write scripts for my Barbies. Literally. My mom thought that Barbies weren’t necessarily the most constructive use of our time [so] she suggested scripts. My sister did not do the scripts… I did, yeah.
ENNI: Taking one step back, I can’t get enough of talking about how different types of writing inform each other. It strikes me that you’re talking about the transition of talking about student government, and daily news, and then going to fashion where you really do have to… it’s editorial writing. And that’s a whole different thing too. It’s a lot more narrative. It’s taking like the inverted triangle, or whatever that journalist stuff is. But you really do get the opportunity to reflect. It’s supposed to be beautiful. It’s supposed to feel like you’re there. And then you go to this Guiding Light where it’s this other step, and you get to create this whole world. It feels like you took these measured steps.
PAIGE: Yeah, I think so. And I don’t think of it so much as doing one thing but, “Oh wait, there is more creative stuff in me, and there are other voices.” I love writing in different voices. I love switching gears. And spending all of that time on soaps, it’s just a muscle in a way too. Every six months you get a new head writer and they’d have a new storyline. And you also had to write for twenty characters. You’d get a script and it would be whoever you got. Your editor might think you write better – whatever – so they’ll give you those people.
But in general, at some point, you’ve written everybody. And you have to write sixty-year-old people, and fifteen-year-old people, and all races and colors. And all sorts of crazy storylines. Your genres even switch within soaps. You can literally have an episode with ghosts, and another episode three months later with clones. Or, you might just be in the kitchen having an affair.
I think I was also very reluctant to move into fantasy, even though I love that stuff. I grew up loving Star Wars; I loved all of those things. But I didn’t think about me doing that. I think it’s a different world now for girls growing up. If you looked at the YA section [when I was young] there was just so little there, and there was so little fantasy. There was just SWEET VALLEY HIGH and… what else did we have?
ENNI: THE BABYSITTERS CLUB.
PAIGE: Yeah, THE BABYSITTERS CLUB. So, I think that I had this idea that girls write this. And I don’t think it even occurred to me, on top of everything else, until later of me as a fantasy writer. And I liked fantasy, but I wasn’t a kid who was in that place where I was reading big fantasy books. That wasn’t for me, I didn’t think. Now I’m like, “I have to catch up on all this canon of stuff that I never [read].” I love GAME OF THRONES. My best friend from college was reading GAME OF THRONES and I was like, “What is that?” She’s like, “This is the best book ever, and he’s never gonna finish it!”
ENNI: And she’s right!
PAIGE: And now I’m obsessed with it and I had to go back and start reading the books. I think, in my head somewhere, I’m like, “It belongs to white men – nerdy white men.” And I was so not that! I think maybe even subconsciously I wasn’t even thinking about it. But I also had taken myself away from the idea that I could even write anything like that. I was sure it had to be this practical way to get to this thing I liked doing. It took me a long time to get to where… I got nudged along to this place where I am now. I’m so glad I’m there.
And now I am all about fantasy. I love writing it; I enjoy it. But there was a time when I was writing for Guiding Light, where me and my editor were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you’ve got ghosts this week. I don’t want to write the ghost story. Can’t we just write normal stuff… like affairs?” You know? I remember complaining about it. Right now, I have a ghost story I would love to tell. I wouldn’t have gotten here without that. I was the little tiny kid who was writing that, but by the time I was a teenager, I was writing about school government. I had taken it off the table for myself.
ENNI: Actually, it’s interesting to think about getting the chance to do ghosts, or being pushed into a world where you’re doing ghosts, or clones, or these supernatural sci-fi type of things, you had to ground it in these characters. It couldn’t be this fantastical…
PAIGE: Yes, and that was the other thing, you have to make the unbelievable believable. You are always in this little town. You’re always in Springfield but the world keeps shifting. Or sometimes you’re in St. Cristobel [?] this island where you become a princess – and that totally could happen! I mean, for a normal girl, it could happen you know?
I feel like I missed out on that growing up, but it also gives me a different perspective when I write. I think I read a lot of portal stuff because it’s coming from, “Oh, this is what a normal person would do in that place.” But that’s my access way in.
ENNI: I was gonna say, it feels like you have a way of grounding the fantastical.
PAIGE: Yeah. So, my next series is gonna be the first series I’ve ever done that starts in the fantasy world and stays in the fantasy world, and that’s gonna be harder for me.
ENNI: Interesting! Let’s build to that a little bit. You’re at Guiding Light, you’re getting to finally write scripts, take me from there to transitioning to the novel world.
PAIGE: So, I think I got pushed out of the nest from Guiding Light. I [had] made up my mind that this was it for me.
ENNI: At soaps?
PAIGE: Yeah, twenty-five and done! You get paid a lot of money. You have to write a script every week and I could work from home. It was long hours but [I was] doing something that I really loved, and I worked really hard to get there and I was so happy with it. And then soaps started to die! [laughs] And I was like, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” From the day that I started at Guiding Light, everyone was always saying, “Oh, we’re gonna get cancelled… we’re gonna get cancelled.” No one ever got cancelled! There were eleven shows on and they were all on still, and everyone was always looking at the ratings like, “Oh, it’s the end of the world.” And I just didn’t believe it.
I think the first one got cancelled maybe ten years in, or something. And then they just started to fall. Guiding Light was gonna move to Jersey to shoot. They were shooting handheld; they were getting rid of writers right and left when your contract was up. I hung on for five years, which was good. So, I was suddenly out of the nest and like, “What do you do with your career?”
I had an agent who was like, “You can try to get another job at a soap.” I sampled for ALL MY CHILDREN, and while I was waiting for that, I think that was a new level of freedom because it was like, “What do you do now?” It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have a job – from college – and I was twenty-nine. I had hustled in the sense that I stayed at the office until 7 in the morning with my head writer. I’d missed my friends, I did all of the stuff to get to where I wanted to be, but I hadn’t ever had to look for a job.
I felt so old, even though I wasn’t [laughs], and I felt so unprepared! I felt like, “Oh, my god, soap scripts don’t matter.” My agent was like, “You have to write a new script. It has to be for TV. It has to be about a show that’s already established, and you have to do that.” And I couldn’t do it right away. I was so stressed out. I started writing a ONE TREE HILL script, I half-finished it, and I was gonna turn it in to all of those writing programs for women of minorities at the networks.
I was also concerned with just getting a job right away. So, I had to first do the stuff for soaps to try to get a job at another soap, but there were eleven soaps and then suddenly there were four. There are five writing jobs per soap, so there were now twenty jobs. And the fact that I had one of the fifty jobs never really occurred to me until that moment. I had the feeling then, and I think honestly storytelling has become so much more soapy in prime time, but at that moment I did not get that, and did not feel that there was a place for me. And I didn’t get that from my agent or from anyone – not my current agent. But I didn’t get that from anyone in the circle that I had. It’s like, “You need to start over. All those years don’t count.”
ENNI: I would love to hear you define “soapy.” Because I use that word too, and I know what I think it means, but I’d love to hear what you [think it means].
PAIGE: I think it means melodrama, which I’m okay with. I actually believe in the heightened reality, and I think it’s a step above that. Usually it means passionate, juicy – juicy mainly – delicious writing. It’s fun and there’s an element of that.
ENNI: There’s an indulgence in feelings where you’re just gonna be dramatic and everything’s gonna be at eleven. And people are gonna wear amazing clothes.
PAIGE: Yeah, it’s like let’s dial-up. And that means dial-up the emotions and dial-up everything and have fun with it. It’s also very female. There’s a little bit of disposability in that you know that tomorrow is a new day, no matter what. And one of my absolute favorite things about soap writing, and soap characters, and soaps in general, is there’s a feeling that there’s always a second chance. No matter what type of character you are, you get another day. It’s never-ending storytelling, and there’s a possibility for redemption in a way that doesn’t exist in other shows because you’re around forever.
ENNI: I kind of want to try this, and see if this works as a question.
ENNI: Something in my head is really stuck on the soapiness. I think because I’ve just been thinking about that in stories. I was obsessed with Ugly Betty. I love Jane The Virgin. All of the shows that are trying to take the campy drama, and translate it for an American audience. I think they’re doing it really well, and they’re so fun. I’m really compelled by what you said about there being a unique, feminine quality to the never-ending storytelling that seems so interesting to me. How do you think the soapiness, or that kind of stuff, factors into YA? It seems like a friendlier environment for that kind of storytelling.
PAIGE: I guess for me, I’ve moved from an all-female world to an all-female world, so this is my experience. But when I look at Hollywood, and look at what’s outside of it, you see the absolute opposite. But it’s starting to bleed in… when you think of Shonda Rhimes and GREY’S ANATOMY.
PAIGE: And SCANDAL, and boys love this stuff. I think that everyone likes a soap opera, they just don’t want to admit that they like a soap opera. HOUSE OF CARDS is a soap opera couched in this…
ENNI: Super serious.
PAIGE: It’s a political world, but they kill people and then get away with it… you know? I think there is something inherently female in that. We own that storytelling, and now it’s everywhere and we still don’t have the power.
There’s things like SCANDAL, Shonda’s got her block of stuff. In television, there’s probably more opportunity for women writers, and more opportunity for women actors that are actually stars of shows. Even women of a certain age are still being stars. And I think that’s expanded so much in the last few years. But movies I think have gone the other way. When I was a kid there were always rom-coms, and while it’s not the perfect version of a woman, they were box office smashes and you got a portrayal of women all summer, every summer and they made the same amount of money with less budget. And now it’s all franchises with one girl. We get the one chick in the AVENGERS, or whatever. And she doesn’t even have a real story. And I love her but I’m waiting. Will that Black Widow movie ever happen?
WONDER WOMAN [movie version] coming out is such a big deal. I remember having WONDER WOMAN [TV version] as a kid, the TV show, I feel like we’re just starved for those representations. And YA is the exception in that there will be a generation of girls who literally own the bookstore.
ENNI: We’re creating an army of readers.
PAIGE: Like being a part of that, where it is normal for them to read stories where they are the centerpiece of the story. And that’s why also I think that the first Wonder Woman movie matters because all girls need to see that. I think there’s something so powerful about that. And I think that there’s also a new generation of writers that have sprung up because of that. Because they are girls who believe that women write stories where women are in power. And they’ve never seen anything different, unless they went to the movie theater, which they don’t even go to anymore.
ENNI: That’s super interesting! We’re gonna come back to that, but you were in the middle of a point before…
PAIGE: I don’t remember what I was talking about before! [laughing]
ENNI: No one in your circle was telling you that TV was gonna be soapier.
PAIGE: Yeah, I had a friend tell me that, “You know what? You should take a break and get a job in retail, and date more.” Like, “Really?”
ENNI: Oh, my gosh!
PAIGE: Yeah, a writer friend. “You should explore life now as a girl and shop.” I love clothes, and I have nothing against working retail, but that’s not…
ENNI: That’s not a lateral move.
PAIGE: That’s not the career advice you’re giving me right now after I’ve worked my ass off… is to go get a job in a shop? There was this kind of dismissiveness because we’re still not looked at as, like LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, or whatever. But I do think that the storytelling has worked its way into prime time. And even reality shows are being soaps. For a long time, soaps were the cornerstone of the Writer’s Guild in New York. That’s why people made so much money in it, because of women watching and the advertising dollars.
ENNI: But why did they die?
PAIGE: There’s a couple of theories. Women stopped working from home, which is definitely a factor. People started taping things that they’d watch at night, and they wouldn’t watch just the soaps. You still tape your soaps and watch them later. People started watching primetime things at night. And the industry itself, the costs. Once the ratings were less… they’re expensive productions in the sense that you have a cast of twenty actors, you have all of these sets, you have all of the staff.
And then the other theory is The OJ Trial. It was the first time that soaps went off the air for eight months to a year because they were airing it.
ENNI: Because it was constant coverage, wow.
PAIGE: And networks discovered that people would watch something else that costs less. “What if we put more things on that were reality based? We could save. You don’t have a cast, you don’t have writers, you just pay normal people to be people. Let’s put on some more talk shows, and get the same level of ratings.”
ENNI: That’s around the time that The View and all of these kinds of shows popped up.
PAIGE: And so, after the trial, I think it was the beginning. And then the writers went on strike a few years ago, and it was right after that that Guiding Light finally went off of the air. And also, One Life to Live and All My Children. That was the nail in the coffin. For a few months, the quality of those shows went down and the negotiating power behind keeping them on the air… things just fell apart. The ones that are on are still on, and I hope that they stay on. I still DVR The Young and the Restless. Oh yeah!
ENNI: Okay, thank you for explaining, I had no idea about any of that.
PAIGE: I know, but who would know, right? It was such a weird time. So anyway, I went into my hustle period, “What do you do next?” I was working on a script that was hard to finish because it wasn’t Guiding Light. I hadn’t written anything else outside of Guiding Light. And I had friends saying, “You should write a book! You should do this. You should do something else on top of…” You know? It’s like, “I have a life now.” Actually, soaps take up a lot of energy in that you have to write eighty pages a week, and you have to read the other scripts. All of that takes a lot of time, and I didn’t feel I had room in my head for another story. And I didn’t do it. So, when I left there I had one-hundred scripts, and no one wants to see them.
ENNI: Wow, so it’s like everything you worked for was not even translatable to the jobs that were available.
PAIGE: Right. So, then I had to figure out what’s next? I went in for an interview for a TV show called Made. They would take a kid and make them over. A normal kid wants to enter a beauty pageant, and then a beauty pageant person would come and teach them how to be that.
ENNI: I totally remember that.
PAIGE: You remember that show? It was on for eight years, or something. I go in for this interview, and this guy is so nice, and I pull up a sample of everything and I’m sure I’ve got this. I could write a script for this. And I always knew that I wrote – my editor always said I write good teenage voices - and I loved writing for teens. So, I go for the interview and they said, “No, I don’t think you’re right for this.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” Like, “If I can’t write this, then it’s over!” Right?
But he said, “No, I think that you should write a soap opera for MTV.” And he had this idea about writing a college soap opera. And I was like, “You’re totally bullshitting me. But, really nice of you… bye!” It was like, “Thanks, I’d love to do that.” We would [keep] in touch. Every year he would call me in and we would talk about it, and how we wanted to do it.
And then, I got this phone call and he was like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do it. So, here’s five-thousand dollars and we want you to write just the proposal and treatment for it. And just write the characters and then we’ll pitch it.” I did that, and the day I pitched it, Al Roker was in the room! Which was like…yes, I see your face!
PAIGE: That’s how everyone looks when they see Al Roker.
ENNI: Of course!
PAIGE: Because he was a co-producer on it. So, I did this pitch in front of all of these people. It was like the head of development and three other development executives, in a room probably the size of the New Leaf office, with a board in front of me with all of the characters and pictures of them. I had to point to them and then look at Al Roker. I think having Al Roker in the room made it ok?
ENNI: You feel somewhat calm and soothed.
PAIGE: Yeah, you do! It’s like, “Good morning.” And Al Roker’s there and it was right after he had been on-air. It was so weird. And on my way home, I remember calling my mother and saying, “Ok, well at least I pitched MTV now, I’ve done this thing.” Like, “Not that I’m gonna get this job, because it’s so crazy!” And then on the way home I got a phone call, and they wanted me to write the pilot and the show bible. I got to do that, and it never got produced. But it was a break for me. It was a transition from writing for soaps and writing for television, and for writing for other types of television. So, then I had that on my resume, because I had a pilot. I had a script now and it was paid for and a track record in a weird way.
That gave me my next opening in doing Dorothy, because I had made that transition. It was all mine, I had to create it, which was the difference between the soaps. I had to figure out who the characters were, I got to figure out what was going to happen to them. It was my first time in the driver’s seat of an entire thing. So, it was a big step for me as a writer in that way. I created a world - it was called The Ivy, and it was an Ivy League soap - and it had a Lindsay Lohan character who was trying to redeem herself at the Ivy League school. It had secret societies.
ENNI: I really want to read this!
PAIGE: It was the most fun. And it was another step for me in just getting to that place of like, “Oh! I can do this.” And I think in that space of the - “Oh, my god, I need a job!” - between that, and having actually worked in the soap opera where you had to say, “Yes, I can write that.” Whatever they gave you on Fridays it was like, “Oh, it’s a go? I got that. I can do that.” I think I did the same thing when this guy came to me and said, “College soap opera.” I said, “Yes, I can do that.” And I did it, and I did it quickly.
That was another step for me. And when I realized I could write teens and sell something, it was like, “Well, what’s going on in fantasy? What is selling right now for teens?” I am very practical on top of the creative. And Dorothy came from there, honestly. I literally ran into an editor at a party at the Writer’s Guild, who became my editor. So, I didn’t query it and do all of that stuff. It was a different experience than a lot of people.
ENNI: A really interesting and completely valid one. I’m so happy that we could talk because I love having different peoples’ experiences represented.
PAIGE: Well, because you have a different path too.
ENNI: Oh, yeah. All kinds of weird jumping around and sticking around and being consistent, and finding other skills that you can bring to the table. What I love about it - and I feel that your story is similar to a lot of other women who are sometimes, to a fault, but it feels like women are so obsessed with being qualified - and you had an enormous amount of experience by that point. You are way over qualified to tell stories.
PAIGE: Yes, but I think that there’s that moment of like, “Can you tell your own story?”
PAIGE: I have other writer friends who’ve spent a long time writing for other people, and they also had that. I think the idea of being the creator, and being in charge of your world, is something that not everyone is one-hundred percent comfortable with. Now I crave it. I pitch stuff. If I’m not writing the book that I’m writing – if I’m in LA – it’s like, “Yeah, send me out! I want to meet with people. I have this idea and I want to talk about it. I’m excited about it.” I think that it’s like breaking through that wall, but I didn’t do that until I was thirty. It did not even occur to me. And every step has been a surprise in that, “Oh yeah, I can do that. Yeah.”
Now I sound like a super cocky person like, “No, I can do that! I can do everything.” But I didn’t know that at six, and I know it now.
ENNI: I don’t think it sounds cocky at all, that’s exactly what I’m saying. By the time you came to that point of being like, “Oh, I can do it,” it was also evident. Your resume proved you could do it. There’s no hubris in being like, “Listen, I have ten years of experience writing stories, and I can do it… and on a deadline.”
I love that you have this different background of coming to stories. It seems like you might be more flexible about how stories get formed, maybe more interested in a collaborative process. Some writers are like, “I wrote this book for ten years in my closet, and I won’t change a word.”
PAIGE: I can say that Snow is the first book that I showed to writer friends, other authors. I have a friend who I show everything to who’s a comedy writer - who I tried to write a screenplay with that we need to finish one day, super broad comedy - she’s my go-to like, “Does this make sense?” It’s like, “Have I gone too far? Or, far enough?” The outsider view, “As a regular person, what do you think of this?”
But now I send to my agent. I will send something early to my editor and say like, “What do you think of us doing this?” And I’ll send a note. I’m open to that. I think a good idea is a good idea, and I’m willing to take it… not steal it. But if I’m given an idea, then I will take that because why not? I want the best book that I possibly can have.
ENNI: So, talk me through… you started to tell about the origin for coming up with the Dorothy world and what you wanted to do with the Dorothy world.
PAIGE: I wanted to know what happened to Dorothy when she goes back to Kansas. I really, really feel like she would want the magic back, and the friends back. And what if she got really petulant? Wanting to go back to [Oz]. So, from there, something else bad happens to her that makes her turn darker [and] once that happens, the whole world got dark. I think there’s a lot of stories where a character goes dark and then the friends are like, “Oh, my god, why is she dark? Let’s stop – intervention time!”
But I like more of the Voldemort idea of like, “What if I took all of my friends with [me]?” Like, “What if everybody joined that squad?” There is a mean girl phenomenon. What if you took your friends to the dark place and they found their own darkness? That’s where Dorothy came from for me. And the idea of having the other characters have to be like, “It’s gotten so bad we have to fix this.” They’re not necessarily good, but they’re like, “We’ve got to stop her.”
I also like playing with the things that the characters had, that they’d fought so hard to get, like, “What if now that the person who didn’t have power, has power? What if they misuse it?” And, “What if you fought for something your entire life, and you get it? And what if it’s not what you thought it was?” It’s super obvious in a way, but I like broad themes, and it worked for me. I think probably my happiest day on Dorothy, other than thinking of the goth munchkin – he was my favorite thing in the world – was, and it just kind of clicked for me, in having the Tin Man love Dorothy obsessively. I was like, “Oh! That’s it. That’s what’s gonna happen.” And each character has that thing. The Scarecrow, now that he’s got a brain, he’s like a mad scientist [and] he’s dissecting brains.
And the Lion has now [has courage]. If you spent your whole life being afraid? What do you do now? Maybe you’re actually literally eating other people’s fear. What if people thought you were dumb your whole life? Now you’re the smartest kid in the whole world. I like that stuff, that fascinates me.
ENNI: You hinted that you were looking at the market like, “What are people interested in? Where’s my way into that?” I like that you took this broad look and then kept narrowing it down, and found that within this idea, I think the world is ready to read, or the pitch is like, “It’s timely. What’s my way into the story and how can I find the heart in that?”
PAIGE: I came up with a bunch of pitches for a couple of other things that I really wanted to do. And one of them is the story that I’m actually gonna tell next. I was trying to find things. I’m glad that Dorothy found me.
ENNI: I love that with STEALING SNOW you also… not that Dorothy is a fairy tale, but it kind of is.
PAIGE: It is and The Wizard of Oz is an American fairy tale.
ENNI: Oh yeah!
PAIGE: So, I think it is, yes.
ENNI: And you stuck with a similar world.
PAIGE: And I think that honestly comes from the business side of it as well. Of just wanting to do another one, and there’s a comfort level in taking apart another story and figuring out where to go. And honestly, it started out as a Peter Pan story. We had been at auction with a story that I love, we ended up going to Bloomsbury and they were like, “We want you, but we don’t want Peter Pan.” And I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna go with you!”
I really liked the editor. She’s like, “How do you feel about doing another fairy tale?” She suggested Snow Queen and that’s like, full stop, “Snow Queen. What would you do with that?” And I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna try it.” I went home and I wrote a pitch, and here we are.
ENNI: That’s cool! Were you familiar with that story before?
PAIGE: I loved it as a kid. It was one of my favorite ones because I feel like it had this mystery, like, “What was that?” Like, “Why is this woman…?” She’s an icy queen who kidnaps a boy and makes him solve a puzzle and his best friend/girlfriend has to save him. Like, “What is that? Who thought of that?”
ENNI: I had not read it before, and then when I heard about STEALING SNOW I was like, “Wait. What is this story?” So, I went and read it. And I was like, “What the hell?”
PAIGE: It’s so crazy! And then you watch Frozen and you’re like, “Oh, this is a sweet sister story, okay.” [laughing] Which I love, but honestly, in watching that I think that kids should see the teenage version. It would be like, “But what if you don’t have a sister to save you, and you found out that you had this power. What would you do with it?” I think that was the heart of it, but then I went to my own crazy place with it.
ENNI: I want to talk about that a little bit more. Because, again, you found a way to take a grounded look… like the portal story concept. First of all, she watches a soap opera…
PAIGE: I had to do it, I’ve been wanting to do it forever. In the end, it was my soap title. And I may never get to make it, but I’ve done it. So, it’s in there forever.
ENNI: I did that in a book of mine. I came up with this band name, and I’m not gonna say it because I’m so obsessed with it. I’ve written it now into several books, I’m like, “This is getting in there.” I’m like, “This fictional band that I came up with when I was seventeen, having no musical talent…” I’m like, “This is the only way that it’s ever gonna be real.” [laughing]
PAIGE: Yes! I love that.
ENNI: So, you had this grounded, portal story into this… it’s a whack-a-doodle world to begin with from Hans Christian Anderson, I think?
PAIGE: Yes. And what I did was I followed the girl. In the first story [she] has to find the boy that’s been kidnapped. So, I used that as the same journey for Snow. She gets to go to the same place that the [inaudible] eventually will have to go to find him. Although the story takes some twists and turns it’s not exactly going in that exact same direction, though hopefully I’m going to get to the kidnapping.
ENNI: Working with original material is really tricky. Do you stick to it? Do you use illusions? Do you want it to be so obvious? It’s tough when you’re compared to fairy tales that have been written a whole bunch of times. And you’re entering this tradition of retelling a story.
PAIGE: In doing Dorothy I wasn’t so aware, except for WICKED, I wasn’t really thinking about how am I gonna stack up to other people who’ve done it? It didn’t actually occur to me that I made Dorothy evil until the day before the book came out. It was really that day before, and I remember my editor saying, “Do you want to use a pen name for this?” Like, “This is your career.” I said, “Why? I’m writing a book, I’m gonna own it. It’s my book.” But the night before I was like, “What the hell? What did I do? What if people are really mad at me?”
ENNI: So, your editor was like, “People are gonna be …”
PAIGE: He was like, “People might not have a good reaction to the idea.” I’m like, “Nah, it’s fine.” I was not thinking about how big the Wizard of Oz world is because the Wizard of Oz is everywhere.
ENNI: People are really, really into it.
PAIGE: Like really, really still. I was really into it as a kid. It was that movie that I would watch every time it was on, my mom would ask me, “Why are you still watching this?” And when the book came out I was like, “Look, look, look! I got it!” It was worth it, but it was a siren song for me. I think that’s why I could write it, because I loved it so much. I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything wrong because it was like, “I love these characters. I’m doing this scene that’s evil, but fun!” It all fit within character for me.
Um, I think that I forgot your question!
ENNI: How do you work with original material and make it your own?
PAIGE: One thing I can say is that right before I wrote the first Dorothy, I read CINDER. I love Marissa Meyer, she’s been the nicest person to me. She did an interview with me the day before my book came out and she didn’t even know me. I wrote her and she agreed to do it. She gave me advice. She gave me the fairy tale plus sign by doing that. But I read her book, and I was like, “Oh my god. If you can do Cinderella in space, then I can do whatever I want.”
I felt like it gave me this weird license of like, “It’s okay to go that far, as long as she still has the shoe.” I think there are things within stories that you want to hold on to because otherwise, why did you even do a retelling? I could write a story that doesn’t sound anything like Cinderella, and say it was based on Cinderella, but I think that if you’re marketing it that way, then you have to give the audience those touchstones.
ENNI: This is gonna sound really goofy, but it’s gonna tie in. I was watching the Fast and the Furious the other day [chuckles] and the strength of that series – one of – is that they never forget their promise to the audience which is that everything is going to happen in a car. It has to be about the car like, “We just can’t stray from that.” Cars on planes. Cars parachuting. Cars underwater, who cares? As long as it’s still about the car!
I love the idea of playing with these worlds, being like there’s an inherent promise to the audience that we’re going to deliver on some things. And your reader will lose faith, at some point, if you aren’t.
PAIGE: I had this moment when I was writing the second book in SNOW 2, it was like, “Do I need the kidnapping?” It was like, “Yes. I need the kidnapping.” There’s no kidnapping in Frozen, not to knock a very perfect movie! [both laugh] I felt that was one of the things that’s kind of important.
ENNI: And when you’re telling a teenage version of that story you can do a kidnapping.
PAIGE: Yes. So, I think you have to hold on to somethings. Snow Queen was different because there is less to hold on to in that really weird story, and it’s not as [much a] part of the world. People are more familiar with the Frozen story than they are with the actual Snow Queen story at this point. So, I had a little more freedom. But it was also harder in like, “How do I structure this?” I used Gerda’s journey [and] that made me have a structure.
And also, I don’t know where the mental hospital came from. I liked the idea of a character starting in a place of having no knowledge of who she was. Also, I liked the idea of a character who actually wasn’t as much a part of the real world either. So, she already was in an isolated world where she wasn’t sure of things. It’s her finding her way out of all of that. And that’s where it came from for me.
ENNI: When you have a character where she is questioning reality to begin with, and then she’s thrown into this alternate dimension, she’s like, “Yeah. Cool!” Like, “This doesn’t seem weirder than whatever else I’ve been dealing with.” She’s in a mental health hospital watching soap operas, so then she’s like, “Yeah, yeah, this level of drama… sure!”
PAIGE: I think that with Amy in DOROTHY, this was a kid who had a really tough life, and I want to know what that kid would do in the Oz world.
ENNI: And not a glassy-eyed Pollyanna.
PAIGE: Honestly, I’ve seen Wizard of Oz ten million times, and every time she’s gonna sing ten minutes after she dropped a house on someone and she doesn’t cry or anything!
ENNI: It’s so true! I would be messed up!
PAIGE: Because I would cry! You just killed somebody and there’s people singing around you. I would freak out!
ENNI: I literally never thought about it. She enters this new world, someone’s dead, and everyone is singing about it. What do I do with this?
PAIGE: Yeah, they’re really happy about it! And you’re gonna go do what they tell you to get home. It’s like, “Okay, just follow that road.” It’s like, “Really? Is there another road I can take?” So, I just wanted to have a girl go there and say like, “What is happening?”
ENNI: I’m really interested to hear about the process of it. It seems like you are very structured, like you said, a plotter not a pantser. I’d love to hear about how you structure from the beginning. What your process is to structure it? And also, how you deal with the inevitable changes that come when you really get into the document?
PAIGE: I usually try to write the first five chapters, so that I get the characters down and I get a feel for the world. For DOROTHY, I got through to bad things happening to my munchkin. Then I go back and I plot, and I plot all the way to the end. I don’t do anything until I’ve got it figured out.
ENNI: How detailed?
PAIGE: SNOW was not as detailed as DOROTHY, and I think that was actually a problem. It was harder.
ENNI: Like synopsis level? Or do you do chapter-by-chapter?
PAIGE: I do chapter-by-chapter. I actually get a board, get the post-its, do it TV style. I think of it as three acts. I do TV [teleplay] structure, which could also be screenplay structure, and I map it out. I call them scenes and subchapters. I literally do the whole thing. The actual description of each chapter could be a line, but I have everything planned, and then I start writing. And then I change things within the chapters, like all of the fantasy elements. I don’t necessarily see what’s gonna happen except they’re on a train, or something. And then I might add fire wheels to the train, or whatever crazy thing that comes to you when you’re writing it.
But that’s like the dressing. I know they have to get from point A to point B in that chapter, and if it’s emotional stuff it’s like, “Emotional stuff happens here.” I try to do that. And in terms of changes, the first SNOW book, I was gonna kill Jagger – who was one of the loves of SNOW – and instead I killed somebody else. But I had free writing at the ending. It just wasn’t working, and I was like, “I don’t know why this scene isn’t working?” It’s this big scene and she’s gonna freeze him to death, and all of the reasons for freezing him just don’t make sense? He did a really bad thing, but not a “freeze him to death” thing.
And I can’t even get her there emotionally, and that’s when I was like, “Well actually, she should be more mad at this person, who did this really, really bad thing on a more personal level.” Jagger double crosses her – he’s a robber – and he’s told he’s a robber from the first day she met him. So, why would you kill him for being exactly what he said he was? So yes, he always wanted to steal something from her, it’s like, “Yes.” And then if she kills him it’s like, “Well, you’re not so bright.” Or, “You weren’t listening.”
ENNI: Right, you lose the audience with that, it’s a disproportionate response.
PAIGE: I kept trying to work through it and I figured it out. So, that’s probably my biggest example of making a big change.
ENNI: That’s something that I feel is a super power you bring from your path from TV, to scripts, to books. Knowing structure is such a huge benefit, and I love that you can do that. But then when you have the structure and this road bump happens. Some people call that writer’s block. I feel like you were attacking it in a more logical way. Do you ever feel like, “Oh no! Is this book just broken?”
PAIGE: I don’t ever go to the broken thing, although I could see how you could go there. But I think of it as a puzzle that you put all of the pieces together, and then sometimes you just have to keep moving things around until you figure it out. Honestly, early in my book career, I did not like, “Phone a friend.” But now I do that. If I’m stuck and something’s wrong and I need to talk through it, even saying it out loud to someone else – trying to tell the story to someone else - you might get it yourself. Or, the other person might hear it, they’ll be like, “Oh wait, no. You need to do that.”
So with SNOW, Kami Garcia and Kass Morgan read it, because I had this thing where my editor wanted a longer battle scene and I was like, “Is this too long? It feels like a lot is happening?” You know that Hobbit movie where it’s all battle? I was re-watching that to think of other things you could do in the ice. It’s like, “I feel like I’ve done enough now.”
I sent it to both of them, but not because I wanted them to read the whole thing, I wanted them to read those chapters and tell me, “Have I gone too far?” Instead they both read it, and I love them for that, and they gave me other advice – which I used. I don’t think there’s such [a] thing as an actual broken book. I think that you can go back and… there’s gotta be good stuff in there! And there’s a reason why you wanted to tell the story. There’s gotta be a way to fix it. Sometimes, you personally don’t have the answer.
The thing I think a lot of debuts do, is hold on to a book for so long. And honestly, that might be why the book is the most amazing book, because you worked on it for so long. But sometimes I think that you’re holding on to something, and you’re not trying the next thing. The next book might actually be your genius book, and you needed to get through this to get to that book.
When I meet young writers, it’s like, “I can’t get through, I’m stuck on this part.” And, “I need to fix this.” And I’m like, “Or, you need to move on. You need to just finish it.” Give it to someone else. And while you do that, start something else that you love. And the next story might be the perfect story! [clap hands] There’s also luck and timing and what people want right now. And the more stuff you have to sell, the better you are.
ENNI: I have now written five books total and looking forward, now I’m at a point where I understand I have a couple of ideas that I am so in love with, but I need three more book before I’m ready for that. I need to grow more. It’ like investing in yourself, the feeling of like, “I want to get to the end of this book, just because you should finish every book you start. But then I want to move on and try something different.”
PAIGE: You are not your one book. I think that writers sometimes think that I am “this” book and my career has taught me - more than anything else – I am not one piece of work. I’m a writer. And it’s the actual act of writing that I fell in love with and I want to keep doing it. When I wrote DOROTHY, my only goal was to sell enough books so that I could write more books. I do believe in the craft and the art of it, but it’s the love of doing it… is why I do it.
ENNI: I love that, that’s great. I think you said this was an idea from…?
PAIGE: I had an idea folder, and after I wrote my pilot – and I sold another pilot – I wrote a bunch of ideas down on one sheet of what I wanted to write. And this was one of them. Cinderella’s the most famous of the fairy tales – my belief - a personal favorite. And why is this character, the fairy godmother - she’ the catalyst for the biggest fairy tale ever – we don’t know her story. What is her story? How did she get there? Why is she helping her? What if all of her motives aren’t one-hundred percent good? Because that’s how my brain works. And I want to know that.
I think that a lot of my interests in re-tellings, and fairy tales in general, I think that there are questions that are always unanswered. And I think we’re always curious about what happened before “Once upon a time,” and after “Happily ever after.”
I want to know her stories, that’s why I’m getting to write that. It’s a pure fairy tale I get to tell, and it’s going to actually take place all in the fantasy world. So, it’s gonna be a challenge for me, because I don’t get to come from outside. But I think it’s gonna be fun.
ENNI: That’ exciting! So, to wrap up, I love to ask about what kind of advice you give to new writers, or people who are maybe writing fantasy or series books?
PAIGE: What I usually say is, “Go write that thing that scares you. Write the thing outside your box.” Because I don’t think that I knew that I could do this, until I did it. I want more people to try the crazy thing. The “write what you know” advice, we grow up with. I thought I had, if I were gonna choose to even tell a story, that it needed to be in that romantic comedy box. Although I’m missing them. But, I thought that that was my lane. Like Sex in the City and all of those shows were pivotal, and are important, but I thought that was the only place that existed. And I want women to write whatever they want to write. And that’s happening, so I think there’s that.
And then, what else would I say, um…
ENNI: What about advice for people who are gonna try a story that covers more than one book?
PAIGE: I think you need to know your characters and know your world. I don’t think that you can do a giant world without being a plotter. I think even people who are pantsers need to have the plot somewhere, even if it’s just completely nailed down in your head. I don’t think you can just dream it up. I don’t know… maybe. But my brain just doesn’t work that way. I could be completely wrong. But I think you need a map when you have that many people because you can get lost. And it helps you finish. You’ve already nailed down where you have to go. And then the writing is actually the fun part.
I’m finishing a book this week and it was a mess at some point, and I was like, “I have to re-outline it.” And then once I did that it was like, “Oh wait, now I get to write the scene today, because I did the work already.” That’s the joy of it. Although, David Levithan said this once on a panel, and I was like, “Oh my god, I do get it.” He said that his mom caught him looking at the wall, he was by himself at the holidays, and his mom wanted him to go downstairs and have dinner, and he was like, “No mom, I’m writing.” Staring at the wall, that’s him doing his plotting. but it’s all in there. Instead, I need my post-its.
Also, I think I said this at one point, but don’t be afraid to phone a friend. Don’t be afraid to show your work. I think that’s really, really hard for writers. I had the advantage of doing the soap thing, where I literally had to turn in something every week, and someone saw it. And you don’t re-write in soaps, someone just edits you, and whatever they do they do, and then you have to move on. Part of moving on sometimes is just letting go of it enough to let someone see it.
And it’s so scary at first, but I think that’s the good thing about writing classes. I think that’s the good thing about getting used to critique. Part of getting stuck is because something needs fixing, and if you can get that information, then you can keep going. But if you just hold it in and keep it to yourself, it’s hard to keep going. And you’re just gonna sit with it. I know that there are lots of people that do fix things themselves, but sometimes it’s faster and you can keep going.
ENNI: Sometimes the obvious solution is so in front of you, that you can’t see that.
PAIGE: Yeah, and sometimes someone might have this idea, that you never would have had that really, really helps. It elevates the thing. Books are obviously part of you, and it’s so personal, but it’s gonna go out into the world, and you want it to be the thing that you want it to be. But sometime getting some input from outside can help.
ENNI: Yeah, I love that! Well Danielle, this has been so fun.
PAIGE: So much fun. Thank you!
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ENNI: Thank you so much to Danielle. Follow her on Twitter @daniellempaige and follow me @sarahenni and the show @firstdraftpod. First Draft is on Facebook and Instagram too, but for links to everything Danielle and I talked about as well as my favorite quotes from this and every episode, and a link to sign up for the First Draft newsletter visit FirstDraftpod.com.
This week I have two events in the Los Angeles area. Today, July 11th, I will be celebrating the release of Julie Buxbaum’s newest WHAT TO SAY NEXT at the Barnes & Noble at The Grove. This book you guys, it made me cry, and it made me laugh, and Julie is the best. Also, today – today, today [sing song voice] – is the release day for BECAUSE YOU LOVE TO HATE ME an anthology featuring tales of villainy for which I wrote a short story! Buy it now! It is out! Available. For you. Now! I will be tweeting out links the moment I post this episode.
And tomorrow, July 12th, I will be appearing with Ameriie, Nicola Yoon, Cindy Pon, Christine Riccio, Tina Burke, and Andrew Smith to celebrate the release. If you like what you heard on the podcast today, please do leave a rating and/or review on iTunes. Every five-star review gets me closer to that totally real island where I am suddenly a princess.
Thanks so much to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Collin Keith and Maureen Goo for the logos. Thanks to super intern Carter Elwood, and transcriptionist-at-large Julie Anderson. And, as ever, thanks to you - heroes with questionable motives - for listening.