Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another True Hollywood Story

by Carleen Brice

With Nicole Beharie ("Shay) and Jill Scott ("Nona")
Though this one takes place in Vancouver. Almost a year ago to the day, I was in "Hollywood North" to visit the set of "Sins of the Mother" the Lifetime movie based on my first novel.

It was one of the highlights of my career. It was a great experience working with Lifetime and the publicity from the movie has surely boosted my reputation. The lady at my post office, thinks I am a goddess now!

Speaking of goddesses, I want to take a minute to say that fellow (sister) Girlfriends Book Clubber Melissa Senate was very kind to me in the months leading up to the airing of the movie. It was great to check in with someone who'd been in my shoes. So thanks Melissa!

Orange Mint and Honey pubbed in February 2008. Two years later, it was airing on LMN. For those that don't know that's crazy fast. I know of authors whose books were first optioned a decade ago who are still waiting & hoping the movie will actually get made. So how did mine happen so fast? Luck and serendipity.

Below is a blog post I originally wrote for SheWrites.com. Before I get to that, I am very happy to say that the movie did very, very well. I am very fortunate indeed. If you haven't seen the movie and want to, it'll be showing again next month. If you HAVE seen it, you can see bonus scenes here.

So from book to movie in two years:

My book was published in trade paperback by One World/Ballantine in February 2008. It did well. Made some lists. Won some awards. But it wasn’t a huge national best-seller. So how did it get sold to Lifetime?

My agent works with an editorial director. The ED is the one who works with clients to get their manuscripts in shape. She didn’t have me do much rewriting with Orange Mint and Honey (they got it after I had rewritten it from beginning to end four times!), but throughout the process she would tell me how excited she was to have her sister read it. I would always think How lovely to have someone so excited about my work she’s telling her family!

Winner of the 2009 First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the ALA.

It turns out her sister is also an agent and had worked in the movie business. Her sister was actually a producer on the movie “Waiting to Exhale.” When the book came out, the sister read it, loved it, and asked to co-represent it with my literary agent. She shopped it around and it was rejected as a feature (movies on the big screen), but Lifetime snatched it up.

This was around May 2008. BEA was in L.A. that year. So I went (paying for the trip myself) chatted up booksellers and readers, and got to meet with the executive from Lifetime who was interested in the book. He (yes, he!) told me that one of the reasons he liked the story was that he found it to be universal. He also told me that one of the benefits of working with television is that there was a 50/50 shot they would make the movie. I’ve heard that with feature films, only about 5% of the books that get optioned ever get made. Fifty-fifty sounded pretty good. He also told me they worked quick, which also sounded pretty good. And was the truth!

So, the book pubs in February. We sell it to Lifetime that summer. By the fall a producer is involved (Damon Lee, “Obsessed”) and they’ve hired a screenwriter. Everything rides on the script. If the script is good, odds are much better it will go into production. If the script isn’t so good, you could be in trouble.

This was the longest part of the process. The teleplay writer was Elizabeth Hunter (“The Fighting Temptations”). I’m not sure exactly how much time passed, but it seemed like hiring a writer and getting an approved script took about a year. Anyway, the option time elapsed and Lifetime renewed the option right before they had an approved script.

A note about optioning: when a book is optioned, the network, studio, producer or whoever is buying the rights basically pays a rental fee to lease the rights for a period of time (usually six months or a year, I believe) while they try to get a team and a script together. The author of the book gets the full purchase price when the movie actually gets made. Literally. The author gets a check on the first day of shooting.

After movie make-up.

So Ms. Hunter did a great job and we had an approved script (which I had no part of and didn’t even read) in late summer of 2009. Then things went into warp speed. The director Paul Kaufman ("Little Girl Lost") was hired and they began casting. They started shooting WEEKS after the script was approved! It was a short, intense production and was filmed in less than a month in October 2009. Scheduled for airing just three months later!

The only even slightly negative thing about the entire experience was that Lifetime changed the title. The movie is called "Sins of the Mother" so I've been working my behind off trying to let people know that movie is based on my book. I guess they prefer high-concept titles. I recently watched Lying to Be Perfect (which was excellent!) on Lifetime, based on the book The Cinderella Pact. Personally, I prefer Orange Mint and Honey and The Cinderella Pact, but what do I know?

I went to visit the set in Vancouver and got to appear as an extra. So if you watch, look for me during the church scene! I wrote an essay about what it was like emotionally to have my work adapted. If you’re interested in that check out The Defenders Online.


  1. How much fun was it to meet Jill Scott?? I adore her!! Also, thanks for sharing such an informative post. You explained everything so well. And, finally, a much deserved, hearty congratulations on your success!

  2. Fabulous post. I devoured it. And I didn't know Cinderella Pact was made into a movie. I loved that book.

  3. Great post, Carleen! I too prefer, Orange Mint and Honey, but Sins of the Mother probably sounds "sexier" to a tv audience;)

  4. Carleen, it's always so much fun to hear about your journey. How amazing to see your work adapted for the screen!

    Can you get the clip of you as an extra up on You Tube?!

  5. Jill, Jill was lovely! Nicole Beharie is an up and coming actress and she was a sweetheart too. Everyone treated my husband and me really well!

    Brenda, That's a great idea about the clip of me as an extra. I'll see what I can do. The only trouble is that it goes by quickly. Maybe I can do a montage of my quick little bits. :)

  6. Carleen, you were a star on screen (and you're a star off screen, too!). I got such a kick out of seeing you there in the pews. ("I know her! That's my friend Carleen, she's the author!")

    Excepting the title change, LIFETIME did a great job with the adaptation, and you couldn't have asked for a better cast. It's very cool that they continue to air the movie--next time you'll have to negotiate to keep the title AND get residuals. :-)

  7. What a wonderful and fascinating experience this must have been, Carleen! Thank you for sharing the process with us :).

  8. Thanks for the shout-out! I loved Sins of the Mother AND Orange Mint & Honey. It's so much fun to read the novel and see the movie and wonder at the process of adaptions--what gets left in and taken out.

    Loved reading about your experience!

  9. Thanks for sharing all the details--I lapped it up, including your wonderfully detailed essay on the adaptation.

  10. Awesome blog. How am I just now hearing the term "Hollywood North"???

  11. Carleen,

    I don't think I will ever tire of this story. It feels as fresh as when I first met you on facebook. All I have ever thought were two things, you got to meet Jill Scott in person, and the STARS were lighting the way for you.

  12. Girl, you are so living my fantasy! Congrats! And I prefer your original title, too. Much more original. But I will most certainly set my DVR to record "Sins" next month and add your book to my TBR list!

  13. Amazing story, Carleen. Congrats on the success of your books and movie!

  14. Thanks for sharing such a informative blog! keep posting the help movie analysis essay