The 20th Anniversary of Xena: Warrior Princess – From Ancient Scrolls to E-Books.
By RS Mellette aka Xenastaff
Next year is the 20th anniversary of the first airing of the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess, but for me the anniversary is now. I was the writer's assistant from 1994 to 1997. Besides doing normal office work, I monitored the net forum as Xenastaff, wrote any dialogue that needed to be added after an episode was cut together, and wrote The Xena Scrolls for Universal's website. When an episode based on the online characters aired in 1997, it became the first intellectual property to move from the web to television.
Now, 20 years later, I'm about to publish a novel as an e-book. Oh how far we've come. I remember a Xena fan posting on the forum that he discovered the show online when he did a search for "Amazon." I thought, that makes sense. I mean, Xena isn't technically an Amazon, but what else should turn up when you search on that? Someone then explained to me that there was a new online bookstore called Amazon.com. That was 1995.
You would think the anniversary would make me feel old, but that happened the first time I heard a co-worker say, "I loved Xena when I was a kid." Instead, I'm looking back on Xena, and forward to the release of my novel, Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand. It might shock some in the literary world, but I learned a lot about being a novelist from my work as an apprentice writer on a TV show.
One of those things was how to write a story for all ages. Xena was "syndicated for broadcast." Syndicated meaning it was sold directly to independent TV stations and Broadcast meaning it had to adhere to FCC rules (unlike subscription channels: HBO, Showtime, etc.).
Independent stations could play Xena any time they saw fit. In some cities it screened at midnight for adults. Other cities showed it on Saturday afternoons for kids. That's a wide age range, and believe it or not, the show's numbers were even across the board. We had as many men & women between 18 and 49 as we did girls & boys between 12 and 17 and 55 & over.
In the publishing world, the insistence to declare what age range a book is targeted to clashes with what I learned on Xena. Every time I hear someone say their book is "Middle Grade" or "Young Adult" all I think is, Why have you cut out the majority of the people on the planet?
Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand is a book for the whole family – which is probably why it's being published independently. The majors love to find a book "with crossover potential," but at the same time, don't want to hear that your book isn't targeted for a certain age range. They seem to think that crossover potential is rare, but anyone who knows their literary or theatre history – or who has worked in Broadcast TV – can tell you how to create a crossover work. Stick to these three rules:
1) Include characters of various ages, or follow the life of one character from young to old
2) Keep sex to what one may see in public and language to what your mother would approve of
3) Target age ranges in beats within the story, not for the whole piece.
Independence was one of the things we all loved on Xena: Warrior Princess. In addition to being syndicated for Broadcast, the series was what the industry called "first run syndication," meaning it never ran on a major network. For a brief time in the 1990's to early 2000's, Xena, Hercules, Baywatch, and many other shows were possible because the business model worked. There were enough independent TV stations to buy shows that had never been on the big three networks. The shows sold for more money than it cost to make them. They were as good as anything on the Big 3 (or 4) networks but without the hassles that came with network standards and practices (aka sensors) or network executives. If the creative team liked the script, and it was affordable, then that's the script that was shot. It was a fun way to work.
In publishing today there is a similar paradigm. E-books and Print On Demand (POD) have made it possible to bypass the Big Six publishers without sacrificing quality. As long as the independent publishing house keeps its standards high, and doesn't become a self-publishing hack, they can provide books of the same quality as the old-fashioned publishers and still make a profit for both themselves and the authors.
In trying to sell my first book I went through the majors. My agent gave notes – which were good, but intended to please editors. Some editors gave notes that were just bad. We passed on those. Some editors gave notes that were okay, but intended to please acquisitions. It's a frustrating process. Not a bad one, mind you. The Big Six publishers are great and completely necessary, but not a lot of fun.
With Billy Bobble, I'm having a blast! Matt Sinclair is both my editor and the publisher for Elephant Bookshelf Press. He and I are in complete agreement about the style and tone of the book, so his notes make the story better, period. If he and I like it, it's in. If we don't, it's out, period. There is no, "I like it the way it is, but…"
It is a fun way to work.
I had a hand in choosing Kirbi Fagan to design the cover. She friended me on Facebook and the three of us have exchanged a few ideas. Her early drafts have been fantastic! Unlike a major publishing house, I've been kept in the loop on each draft. I can't wait to see to see the final product.
It is a fun way to work.
I think fans of Xena will agree that the whole production team put the fun on the screen. I hope readers of Billy Bobble will feel the same way about what we have done with the page.
It's a fun way to read.
About the Author:
Robert Mellette has written, directed, designed and acted in theatre, film, television, and publishing for over 30 years. His credits in various jobs include XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS, BLUE CRUSH, and his own JACKS OR BETTER, which won Dances With Films Best Screenplay award in 2000. He has been working with the festival ever since.
Robert's novel, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, is due out in December 2014 from Elephant's Bookshelf Press. For novelists, Robert blogs for From The Write Angle. For filmmakers, he writes for Dances With Films.
Upcoming events: In the real world, Robert will appear at the 2014 Conjecture Con in San Diego Oct. 10-12.
Online, there will be a cover reveal for Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand in October. If you would like to be a part of that, please contact Candace Robinson. If you would like to interview Robert please contact him at email@example.com.