Tuesday, March 27, 2007

M. Apostolina - Hollywood Screenwriter, Producer, Director & Award Winning Author

Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with M. Apostolina. He was previously head honcho of Miramax Film’s offices of Creative Affairs in New York, and England. He later shifted his focus from his executive duties to writing full time. Since then he has divided his creative efforts between screenwriting for Hollywood, and writing fiction for young adults. The litany of his achievements is extensive.

M. Apostolina has lectured on film at Columbia College, Northwestern University and New York University. Also, he has written articles for “Film in Review” magazine. His writing credits with Disney and MTV include “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Joe’s Apartment.” He sold the teen comedy, “Planet Deb,” to New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of Time Warner, and most recently created an animated series “Pussycat Hustle” for MTV’s “Logo” network. Also NBC Productions in New York has commissioned M. Apostolina’s television pilot, “Thornhill Prep.”

Three of M. Apostolina’s screen plays have been optioned for film: “The Shop Teacher” went to Warner Brothers, “Fear the Reapers” to Touchstone Pictures and “Indecent”, which is co-written with Robert Sugalski, went to Scott Rudin Productions. The debut of his short film “Kidnap Madonna’s Baby,” which he co-wrote, produced and directed was presented opening night at the Seattle International Film Festival. The film was also screened at the Berlin Film Festival, and was later distributed by Atom films.

M. Apostolina's first novel Hazing Meri Sugarman was nominated in 2006 for the American Library Association Award. His second novel Meri Strikes Back was released in 2006, and the third in the series, Meri Sugarman Strikes Back, is due for release on May 8th, 2007. Simon & Schuster is publishing the series, which is sold on line, and in all major bookstores.

E. I. When did your passion for writing begin? And what keeps you going?

M. Apostolina: I've always been interested in storytelling, even as a kid. When I was eleven, I used to run around with an 8mm movie camera and make my own movies (with the neighborhood kids as actors), while as an adult, I basically pursue every medium where I can tell a story, including TV, movies, and of course, print.

As to what keeps be going: coffee! (kidding) (sort of). But most of all, I love sharing stories with people. It's also great fun to completely immerse yourself into a world, and the lives of people, foreign to your own, which writing enables you to do on a daily basis. You can become anybody, do anything - the possibilities are endless.

E. I. What surprised you most during the publishing process?

M. Apostolina: I was surprised by how respected writers are - even Young Adult writers. Coming first from film, where writers are interchangeable from one another, and where orders from the director or studio executives must be followed, it was a relief to actually be heard.

At first, my editor, Julia Richardson, was amused by this, because when she gave me a few notes on my first book, I immediately executed them, no questions asked. I didn't realize that an author could say, "no," though in Julia's case, her notes are always so good that I'm grateful for them more than anything else.

I'm also surprised - unfortunately - by how little publishing company's pursue advertising in new media. In other words, there's very little Internet banner advertising going on for books, for example. Books, I believe, should be advertised like independent movies, and go after all kinds of low-cost, high-impact promotion. After all, getting people to read is very difficult, so why not get the most out your ad budget by hitting the screens that have everyone looks at these days, namely computer screens. I've heard that this is changing, but we'll see.

E. I. Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?

M. Apostolina: My parents, most of all, who taught me - consciously or unconsciously - patience and stick-to-it-iveness, both of which an author needs a lot of. And, of course, I've been influenced by many authors, though not directly. When I read, I don't like to do it with two eyes, as some authors, do - with one eye on the story, and the other on how the novelist is pulling it off. I like to immerse myself completely.

E. I. Please tell your fans about your latest book "Meri Sugarman Strikes Back" which will be out this coming May. What can your readers and fans expect differently from this book?

M. Apostolina: The fun of "Meri Sugarman Strikes Back" was the opportunity not just to continue the story from "Meri Sugarman Psycho Queen," but to deepen the characters, and explore their lives with more detail, especially Cindy, the heroine, who truly comes into her own as an independent-thinking young woman in "Meri Sugarman Strikes Back."

This time, fans can expect a far more battle-ready Cindy, that's for sure, which only inspires the evil Meri. And, oh, yes, watch out for that marauding band of nasty little Catholic School Girls, and one very sneaky little albino girl with a cherry bomb.

E. I. What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your latest novel? How did you overcome these challenges?

M. Apostolina: The biggest challenge with both "Meri Sugarman Psycho Queen" and "Meri Sugarman Strikes Back," is that they're written in diary format, and only Cindy's diary. And since both books are suspense-oriented, this creates special problems. Cindy can only write about what she's doing, and what she sees; the point-of-view is severely limited.

But I've learned to use this self-imposed limitation to my advantage. Cindy can hear about Meri and her maneuvers from other characters, of course - increasing the information she might have - but her limited point-of-view, I think, actually works to increases the suspense, or the this-is-happening-directly-to-you aspect that comes from writing in a diary format.

E. I. How do you choose which chapter or pages to read from your book when you do a book signing appearances?

M. Apostolina: I've only done one book appearance so far in New York City, and I didn't read from the book, but instead talked about it, and took (a lot) of questions from the gathered readers, many of whom had already read the book. It was a lot of fun.

E. I. Do you let anyone read your manuscripts before sending it to your editor?

M. Apostolina: I have a trusted group of friends I show my completed manuscripts to before I send them off to the publisher. They give me useable feedback - usually with issues involving clarity - though sometimes they'll object to content, since some of them (and many people) don't believe Young Adult books should have material that's "too racy." But I don't think anything should be off limits, and why should it be? The last thing I want to do is talk down to anyone because of their age.

E. I. Wouldn't you love to see your books adapted to film?

M. Apostolina: Yes, I would, though I wouldn't have any expectations in terms of the outcome. The tone of my books are darkly comic and satirical, and with the exception of "Heathers" and a few others, Hollywood doesn't seem to know what to do with dark teen comedies. Still, it would certainly be a fun experience to see my characters on screen, no matter how it turned out. And best of all, it would expose a larger audience to my books. You can't beat a 30 million dollar ad campaign for a movie to lead more people to the original books.

E. I. If you were allowed total control of a Hollywood version of "Meri Sugarman," Who would be in the starring roles? And who would direct?

M. Apostolina: I have absolutely no idea who I'd cast, since teen stars change so quickly these days, though I do like many of them, especially Amanda Bynes, who would be great for either Meri or Cindy. As for a director, I'd love Mike Nichols, but then who wouldn't?

E. I. Would you like to close the interview by telling your fans any writing tips for the young aspiring writers?

M. Apostolina: The best tip is to always outline your story before you begin writing your novel - know your story's beginning, middle, and end, at the very least. Otherwise, you'll end up getting lost (I guarantee it), and while you don't have to stick to your outline completely - you never know where inspiration will take you - it's good to have a road map, so to speak, of what story you're trying to tell.

This is especially crucial if you're writing mystery or suspense, since so many story elements involve surprise and carefully orchestrated clues and hints. But I think outlining is crucial for any genre. On my MySpace author's page ( http://www.myspace.com/mapostolina), I have many blog entries entitled "Tips For New Writers." Hopefully, they're helpful. Everyone, I think, has a great story to tell.

To learn more about M. Apostolina, please visit him at:

No comments: