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From script to manuscript: Shelly Gitlow on 'Dispatches from Paradise' (Q&A)

Shelly Gitlow's 'Dispatches from Paradise' is available now from Books & Books Press.

Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Shelly Gitlow.

Ms. Gitlow is the debut novelist of Dispatches from Paradise (Books & Books Press, $15.00), published on February 1st. The project began life as a screenplay titled Everything’s Fine and, though not produced, resulted in Gitlow being offered the opportunity to co-write the hit film Boynton Beach Club, which was directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan, Sex and the City TV pilot). Prior to this career reinvention, Ms. Gitlow was a family therapist and wrote several books on quality management. She divides her time between New York City and Miami.

Prior to publication, Dispatches from Paradise received this endorsement from Susan Seidelman: “In the spirit of Sex and the City, Shelly Gitlow has created three distinct and unforgettable female characters in her funny, racy novel …”

From the publisher:

Dispatches from Paradise leaps onto the family battlefield of three generations of women living together in Miami - where DD cups abound, octogenarians recite erotic poetry and an S&M Fitness class is not for the faint-hearted. On Liz's 39th birthday she kicks out her cheating husband, ditches her soul-sucking job and declares her life a do-over. Then her mother and daughter move in with her and all hell breaks loose. But as the women tear through the city's racy clubs and wild art scene, Liz, Claudette and Darcy change, grow and reconnect on new terms, letting go of past betrayals, misunderstandings and disappointments.

Now, Shelly Gitlow reveals the evolutionary process that resulted in her debut novel …

1) Can you give a little background of the screenplay, option, etc. of Boynton Beach Club?

This is a story I love to tell because it gives people toiling in the trenches some hope. In the late nineties I wrote a script called Everything’s Fine and figured out that my next step should be finding a director. I thought about who that should be and decided on Susan Seidelman because I was a fan of her films, and I thought she had the right sensibility for this particular project.

Then came the big question: How do I get this script to her? I bought a book that listed directors and their contact information. When I saw that she was represented by William Morris, I knew that contacting her through the agency was most likely a futile effort. So I called her Business Manager who turned out to be the nicest guy and said he would forward the script to her.

A week later Susan left a message on my answering machine telling me that she liked the script and wanted to speak with me. Long story short, she tried to get it produced by Showtime which was doing original films back in the day, but that didn’t happen. That might sound discouraging, but actually, it was encouraging. At least I knew I had a viable product.

So now cut to 2003. Out of the blue, I get a call from Susan Seidelman telling me that she’s doing a new film about widows and divorcees living in an active adult community in South Florida who are re-entering the dating game. She was looking for a co-writer and thought of my Everything’s Fine script and wanted to know if I’d like to work with her on it. It was an amazing moment for me, and of course I responded with a resounding “Yes!”

Susan and I didn’t meet until two months later, but we wrote the first draft of the script for Boynton Beach Club over the internet. (Thank goodness Al Gore had invented it!) It was an absolute joy and a fantastic learning experience to work on the film. Susan and her mom raised the money independently and ended up initially doing the distribution until Roadside Attractions and Goldwyn saw that there was a market for the film.

And by the way, I re-wrote the Everything’s Fine script as a novel called Dispatches from Paradise, launching on February 1, 2014.

2) What are the challenges of book writing vs. script writing - challenges, etc.?

Writing a novel is a very different experience from writing a screenplay. With a novel you have more time to explore and describe your characters’ inner thoughts. With a screenplay you have a very limited amount of time to get your point across through description of action and dialogue.

My experience in turning my screenplay into a novel was challenging, thought-provoking and surprising. When I decided to write it as a novel, I wanted to try writing the story in the voices of the three female characters: grandmother (55), mother (39) and daughter (18). That was a huge challenge. As I wrote each chapter, I literally tried to inhabit that character and understand her motivation and reactions. And each day my husband would come home and ask me, “Who am I dealing with today?”

I had often heard writers speak about their books coming through them – “if you get out of the way, it will happen.” I pretty much thought that was a bunch of baloney. But writing this book turned out to be that kind of experience for me.

3) The novel has been called “Sex and the City” meets Miami. How different is it to write those sexy scenes for a novel vs. a film?

Pity the poor writer! It’s a tough job – sitting around in pajamas, making up characters, and placing them in all kinds of situations. Since sex is such a big part of life, invariably my characters think about it, talk about it and have it, so I get to fantasize a lot and create sex scenes for films and novels. As far as careers go, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Writing a sex scene for a novel is very different from writing one for a film. With a novel you can really take things to an uninhibited place because it’s between you and the page. Of course you hope that eventually someone will read it and enjoy it, but the fact that it’s just whatever pops into your mind is very liberating.

With a film, you have to depend on the director and the actors to get across the feelings that you’re trying to portray in the script. Collaboration is great and usually results in something way better than you started out with, but with sex scenes it can be limiting. A scene that might be X-rated in a book will most likely become R-rated in the film version. Understandably, the actors are concerned with how they will come across, and they have to be comfortable with whatever you’re asking them to do.

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to write both types of scenes.

4) As a writer AND screenwriter, you came up with an idea for a live reading with actors at Books & Books to launch the novel in February ...

I’m very excited to be at the point of sharing my book with an audience and really looking forward to the launch. Since I come from a screenwriting background, I tend to think in terms of visual entertainment. Rather than listen to me read from the book, I figured it would be way more fun to introduce “my gals” and let them tell their own stories in their distinct voices. Hopefully I’ll be able to control them!

Event is February 21. Details are here:


With thanks to Laura Rossi Totten, President at Laura Rossi Public Relations, for generously providing this Q&A for use on HBE.

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