CBC Radio is commissioning a medical drama from me.
Squee! Snoopy dance! Yahoo! Rah rah rah! Boing boing!
I am so happy!
How did it happen? Well, it all began when I was an 18-year-old university student, living off campus in a basement apartment with no windows, no TV, and no Internet. Yes, Virginia, I was that poor and cheap.
I started listening to CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, because it was one of the few stations I could get on my Consumers Distributing pink clock radio. I got hooked on Morningside, the Peter Gzowski show, and then on public radio itself, for the stories. Radio is all about the story and creating pictures in your own mind.
I promptly wrote a radio drama and submitted it to the Ottawa CBC. I got a nice letter back, full of feedback, much more encouraging than anything else I’d gotten thus far.
Even so, I did what a lot of new writers do. I got discouraged. I filed the letter and didn’t write any more radio dramas.
But I kept writing short stories and poems and, a few years later, novels. I went to writing workshops. I joined a critique group or two. I won some awards, published some stories and poems, got rocked hard by life, but got back in the writing ring.
Meanwhile, some of my friends achieved the Holy Grail of novel publication.
Not me. Boo. But after I did some local book launches for my anthologies and people started recognizing me from my face in the newspapers, I realized that I’d achieved minor success anyway. If all I wanted was to see my name in print and for strangers to congratulate me, I’d done it already.
I still wanted My Novel. Or rather, My NovelS. But in case you haven’t heard, the novel biz is in a tizzy. Smart, hard-working New York editors who were receptive to my work, sometimes who had my novels on their desks, lost their jobs or traded jobs (in one memorable case, got a better offer from the Girl Guides Association, and more power to her).
Also, I realized that a physical book wasn’t the be all and end all of success for me. What I really want, as I mentioned in my writing “bucket list,” as Cindie Geddes succinctly put it, is this: Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me
It doesn’t have to be a book.
It doesn’t have to be an e-book.
I just like to create and get my work out there so people can react to it and I can have fun.
And I said, hey. New York is sinking and hasn’t figured out how to swim. But what if I got on national radio instead? After spending time and energy flogging my books, I love the idea of my friends and family and, yes, strangers just turning on the radio or downloading a podcast to hear my work, for free (that’s your tax dollars at work. You’re welcome!).
So what should I pitch to the CBC? Well, it was a no-brainer. My medical thriller, Code Blues. I already knew they liked true behind-the scenes-medical stories based on their show “White Coat, Black Art” (catchphrase: “This is medicine from my side of the gurney”), so why not a medical radio drama written by moi?
Side note: I wanted to be a writer before I wanted to become a doctor. But I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to starve and I don’t like risk (see my poker vs. writing blog). So I said, “Hey, I’ll just become a doctor and it’ll give me something to write about!”, not computing how tiring and time-consuming medicine would be because I was used to doing everything I want. Well, I was 22. I’m soooo much humbler now. But anyway.
Now, I really could combine medicine and writing. I’d already written the books to prove it. So I wrote a pitch. I knew it was much better than what I’d done when I was 19 because I’ve been honing my writing skillz in the meantime. I’d also done a few things with CBC radio, like my Outfront piece, “Dying to be a Doctor,” a round table discussion featuring me and my friends about medical school. From this, I knew that the CBC likes stuff set in Quebec, and my book is based on my residency in Montreal, only embroidered (sex, drugs, and murder. You’re welcome again!). The info said you could get feedback from your regional contact person, so I sent it to the contact person for Montreal, Carolyn Warren.
She emailed back, like, two days later, and we set up a meeting. Wow!
We had to reschedule, so by the time we met, she said, “I’m going to Toronto in two days to meet with the other drama people, so if you’re able to get that to me by the end of the day tomorrow, believe it or not…”
I checked my watch: almost lunchtime. She needed it in 28 hours. Done. Luckily, I wasn’t working that day or the next, and I know how to write hard and fast and beg online for instant critiques. She warned me that the CBC has a very limited budget, but I figured everything’s a long shot right now, so why not try?
She met with the drama people in Toronto and said they were interested in Code Blues and my werewolf story (Wolf Ice, at the time my most recently-finished novel, featuring sex, drugs, murder AND werewolves. De nada!).
No way! CBC and werewolves? Okay! I quickly outlined a cast list and ten episodes for Wolf Ice, too. More begging for instant critiques. Got that one out in 48 hours.
Then waiting. Summer vacays=waaaaaaaaaiting. I suppose Buddhists would say that’s good practice for impatient people like me.
In the Fall, Tom Anniko, head of CBC Radio Drama and Comedy, emailed me to set up a phone meeting. Palpitations time!
He said that CBC won’t do werewolves (sigh), but medical dramas have got “CBC DNA” all over it (more palpitations). He needed me to pitch the show, but without murder and love triangles. Realism. Patients in the hall, long wait times, what are the doctors really thinking.
I can do that. I sent him my original pitch from July. He made a few suggestions and sent it to other producers.
Then Tom needed an outline of the first episode. I admit I felt a bit less sprightly in the last stages of my pregnancy+working in the ER+writing other stuff+looking after my family, but fortunately, in my earlier burst of mania, I had already written most of the first episode. So I turned it into an outline and shot it back.
Then it was Christmas time and budget machinations that I wasn’t privy to. I didn’t mind since I had my hands full, literally, with a newborn baby girl.
Drum roll please…
I got The Email from Tom.
He’s sending me a contract.
We’re aiming for a rough draft mid-February, polishing, and a final version at the end of March.
For my writing bucket list, I checked off this:
Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me
Hey, I’m living it every day now. I just had to realize that.
I also added two new categories, national and international recognition. That’s really what I want. The medium doesn’t matter so much, so I bumped the novel goals. I still have those goals, but now I’m looking at radio. I’m thinking about a new audience. I’m thinking about Real Actors performing my work!