Marilyn Anderson, author of Never Kiss a Frog: A Girl’s Guide to Creatures from the Dating Swamp, which became a webseries on Mingle Media TV. An award-winning writer for film, television, and theater, Anderson is also the coauthor of MUTTweiler: An Autodogography.
What inspired you to first start writing?
In elementary school, I did writing on my school newspaper, but as I went through high school and college, I went on to other endeavors. I even got a couple of degrees in biology and physiology. BIG MISTAKE! When I got out in the work world, I realized my creative juices and passions weren’t being satisfied. So I started acting, singing and dancing, and left my job at the National Academy of Sciences to go to New York and pursue an acting career.
After a few years in New York, I moved to Los Angeles, thinking I was going to be an actress. I had an idea for a screenplay–and wrote it. Everyone said to me, “You’ll never get an agent; you’ll never get anyone to read it.” Oops…. WRONG. My script got lots of attention, I was pursued by various agents, and I ended up making substantial money on it, although it never actually got made… well, almost never. About 20 years later, the screenplay actually got produced as a TV movie! So you never know!
Basically, what inspired me to write that screenplay, and what always inspires me over and over, whether it’s for a screenplay, a TV episode, or a book… is when I get an idea for a story I simply have to tell, or a concept for a book that grabs me and won’t let go! It’s always the idea or concept that is like a light bulb going on–and I think, “Why hasn’t THAT been done before?!” And then, I am COMPELLED to write it.
What was your process for writing Never Kiss a Frog?
I thought about the men I had dated and started characterizing them as frogs, such as The Bully Frog, The Full-of-Bull Frog, The Really-Nice-Guy-But-Really-Bad Kisser Frog, etc. Those froggy types are all clear from their names. Sometimes I would think about the man’s personality first, and then I would name him. For instance, if a man was terrific when we were out in a crowd, but got nasty and mean when we were alone, I realized his frog name would be: “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Toad.” Or if he was someone who was non-communicative and refused to share his feelings–he was “The Frog with the Frog in his Throat.” Other times I would come up with the “frog” first–I would doodle the illustration, and then match it with a guy I had dated. So I sketched a frog that looked like a vampire, with a cape and fangs–and called him “Count Frogula.” After writing up the story about him, I added a “Wart Warning” or “Ribbet Snipper” to go with it. So the Wart Warning for Count Frogula: “Any guy who drains the life out of you… Sucks.” For Croak & Dagger: “Mystery men can be exciting, but I he’s mysterious for too long… you should be one should disappear. The Godfrogger: “If he’s a wise guy, be a wise girl…FROGGEDABOUDIT!“
Tell us about your book deal …
I first sold it based on a proposal and sample chapters. It was only after the first publisher bought it, that I finished writing the entire manuscript. The other really interesting thing is that I sold it to 2 foreign countries first before it was published in the U.S. It was sold in Spain and Germany when my agent was at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Then I finished writing it, and both the Spanish Publisher and the German Publisher had it translated. Then I sold it to the U.S. publishing company, Red Rock Press. After that, I also sold it to publishers in several other countries, including China, Taiwan, Turkey, Korea, the U.K., and Vietnam. My agent was very smart in dealing with the American publisher–and I retained all the foreign rights. So whenever I got advances from these other countries, my American publisher was not involved. In addition, I retained all the dramatic rights and the merchandising rights.
What was your favorite part of writing it? The greatest challenge?
My favorite part was definitely coming up with all the playful frog references. And creating the “Wart Warnings” was lots of fun. The greatest challenge–was dealing with my publisher! I had the book published in several foreign countries first, and that was terrific. The American publisher bought the book because she loved the manuscript–then started making difficult requests. One frustration I think other writers will understand: I had to go back and forth arguing in emails for 2 weeks. My publisher said that 3 of her editors had looked up the word “Froggedaboudit” in the dictionary… and it wasn’t there. Duh! I said, of course, it’s not there, I MADE IT UP! I said it was a play on the word “Fuhgeddaboudit.” At the time, she couldn’t find that in the dictionary, either! So I sent her 20 pages of Google references about how “Fuhgeddaboudit” was now in common vernacular. I included an essay from a Rabbi saying how it was common in language now. She said, she couldn’t expect readers to go to the internet to reference the word, and she couldn’t send me or the Rabbi out with every copy. (Oy vey!) Finally, she agreed to use the word, “Froggedaboudit”–if it had a hyphen in it. OMG. I said, “No.” FINALLY, I won the battle to keep the word as is and–guess what?–that’s the first frog and Wart Warning that she has on her company’s website description of Never Kiss a Frog! But it was a challenge working with her throughout the editing and publishing process.
MUTTweiller is a semi-fictional biography written with a writing partner. What led to such a different project?
MUTTweiler is the true story of my dog Boomer and his travels across the country with Dennis, his Daddy. It is told from Boomer’s point of view, and of course, that is the fictional part. But the adventures and escapades are true. We just made them funnier by telling it from the dog’s viewpoint and adding lots of fun word play, from the dog’s pupspective.
In what ways was that writing process similar/different? How did the cowriting process work?
Writing with a partner is very different than writing alone. When I write for TV or film, I frequently write with a partner. It’s great to have someone to brainstorm ideas with, work out the story with–and in comedy–make jokes with and see what’s funny, what works, etc. A writing partnership is like a marriage–you want to find someone that you click with. You might have different strengths, and each person brings something different to the process. You also have to be willing to put egos out of it. For me, it’s never about “who” came up with “what.” It’s about what is best for the project. I have worked with some partners that didn’t understand that–they fought for “their” ideas because THEY came up with them–and that makes for a very difficult partnership. The best writing partnerships are when both people realize that they both want to create the best work and it doesn’t matter who comes up with any particular idea, scene, sequence, etc. I also like that when you work with a partner, it creates a certain discipline–when you write something together, there’s a commitment to DO the work. By yourself, it’s much easier to get distracted and do other things. There are some writers who LOVE to write alone. For me, the process is more fun when it’s with a partner–but again, it must be the “right” partner–or it can be miserable… just like in a marriage (especially if you’re married to a FROG!)
Advice for non-fiction writers?
I think the best advice I can give to non-fiction writers, is to think about their platform. Whether it’s to get an agent or a publisher, or if you self-publish, to sell your books–think about who your audience is and how you can reach them. Most non-fiction authors have a message that they want to tell. They are writing a book because they are passionate about a subject and want to share their knowledge about it. So what authors need to think about–is how they can effectively reach the audience that will benefit from their message. So writing the book is not just about the book itself–it’s about conveying the message you want to share, and realizing the most effective ways to do that, and where your audiences are going to be.
Advice for fiction writers?
Fiction writers need to create a wonderful story, and exciting, fully dimensional characters. They have to “mine the gold” in their stories. Don’t necessarily take the first thing that comes into your head. Think of a few different scenarios. Stretch your imagination to find things that make your story and your characters special and unique. Things that we haven’t read or seen before! A new arena, or a new hook; surprises and fun. Whether it’s a drama or mystery or comedy or sci-fi –always try to find new ways to grab your readers and keep their attention. Your story and characters need to be compelling.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
That the writing is actually the “easy” part! Writing the book is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much else that goes into getting a book out to the world. Publicity, publicity, publicity! You can have the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows about it–no one will read it.