by Catherine McKenzie, Our Special Guest
I’m far from the first person to express the thought that writing is a solitary activity most of the time. Fiction writers especially spend hours alone with their thoughts and characters. And often, we need to work that way—I don’t know about all writers, but I often don’t know how a character is going to act or speak until I have it written down on the page. It can be exhilarating, but it can also be lonely.
So I’ve been looking to work collaboratively with other writers for a while. An ideal scenario (at least, from my desk far from Hollywood) always seemed to be the writing room for a (good) television show. Hammering out a script together, bouncing ideas off of other talented writers—that’s always sound like fun to me.
When I heard about Serial Box publishing, I was excited.
Serial Box is a company that hires writers to write books the way TV shows are scripted—with a creator, a lead writer, a virtual writers’ “room,” and chapters written as “episodes” by different writers each week. Each story is released in serialized fashion; readers can opt for either digital installments to read (on an ereader or app) and/or audio installments to listen to, each one about an hour long. The end result, eight weeks later, is a complete audio- and ebook people can buy all at once even if they aren’t into the serial format. Sign me up!
I contacted them and wanted to know what they were looking for in terms of pitches. I was told at the time that I should provide them with a four-pager: an overview of the series concept and themes, a page on the season 1 plot and what ideas I might have for future seasons, and a couple of pages on the characters.
I pitched multiple ideas, one of which was a sparse “napkin” idea I’d jotted down one day, stemming from my day job as a lawyer—about a show focusing on Supreme Court clerks: Felicity meets the West Wing.
I had only about two pages (instead of four), but I also had a bio of writing bestselling suspense for Amazon Publishing—and shortly thereafter came the interested response: Could I tell them more about the characters?
I scrambled to flesh out those two pages, and then got “green lit” (I love that term) to write what they called a series bible: about 20 pages of character development and ideas for the first season. That took a couple of months and wasn’t that different than the solitary writing I’d been looking to get away from.
But when the next green light came—this was going to be a real show, and a real book!—the fun began: time to put the writers’ room together.
Serial Box asked me to make a “wish list” of writers I’d like to work with, and they would suggest some too. After a couple of weeks, we had our amazing crew of Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters), Elyssa Friedland (The Floating Feldmans), Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date), Shawn Klomparens (Jessica Z.) and Kermit Roosevelt III (Allegiance). It was a group of lawyers and former lawyers and people who had no experience with the law whatsoever. I wanted to have a diverse room in terms of experience and the type of books that they wrote in order to get a more layered story.
What I learned—just as I’d hoped—was that everyone brought something different to the table.
To start, Kermit (who goes by Kim) had been a clerk himself and his insight into how the court worked and lots of behind the scenes details was invaluable. He also secured an amazing tour of the court for our group.
We all met in January 2019 in Washington, D.C. for four days to do the research and beat out our plans for the show. By the end of that time we were fast friends and had an outline of the first season.
Then the real work of writing the outlines and episodes began—but Serial Box imposed a deadline and format structure that kept us moving swiftly. There was a learning curve, of course: We struggled sometimes with finding a consistent voice for the characters and making sure each episode had its own story arc. But by July we had a final draft of the book! All we needed was a title. We settled on First Street, which you can check out here: https://www.serialbox.com/serials/first-street—the first episode is free!
The last episode aired on February 26, and I’m super proud of the project and think it provides an entertaining behind-the-scenes look into Supreme Court and how it operates. It is definitely the product of collaboration—without the contributions of the other writers, the show wouldn’t have been as fun or as good.
It’s also introduced me to some other great shows on the site, including Dead Air by Gwenda Bond, and the continuation of Orphan Black the TV show.
Does a serialized format appeal to you? How have you longed to innovate with your process and stories? Join the conversation on Facebook.
Catherine McKenzie practices law in her Montreal, Canada hometown. An avid runner and skier, she’s the author of numerous bestsellers including Hidden, Fractured, and The Good Liar. Her works have been translated into multiple languages. In 2019, I’ll Never Tell was a #1 Amazon Bestseller, a Globe & Mail and Toronto Star Bestseller, was shortlisted for the Hugh McLennan Prize for Fiction and was optioned for a television series by Paramount TV. You Can’t Catch Me releases June 9. Visit her on Facebook @catherinemckenzieauthor and on Twitter/Instagram @CEMckenzie1.