Back in January, I had the supreme privilege of not only screening one of the most popular Hallmark films to come along in recent years–Unleashing Mr. Darcy–but I had the opportunity to interview the star of the film (Cindy Busby) as well as other cast members as the year has progressed. While not necessarily a “cast member,” no one can deny how much we owe to Teri Wilson, the author of this book-turned-film, for composing such a heartfelt, captivating story that resonates with fans on numerous levels. Last I checked, this film is still one of the most beloved Hallmark films around, and I was ecstatic to get the chance to ask Teri herself a few questions about how she got started writing, how her books have become optioned for films, and even a bit about her future endeavors.
What inspired you to become an author? What kind of training have you received in writing?
Books have always been a huge part of my life. I am an only child, and when I was growing up, I read all the time. I wrote for my high school literary magazine, but didn’t start writing as an adult until about ten years ago when my son urged me to give it a try.
My minor in college was English Literature, but other than writing workshops, I don’t have any formal training. I think the best way to learn to write is to read, read, read and spend time with fellow writers. I belong to a very supportive local writing group.
I believe Unleashing Mr. Darcy was the first of your books that became a film. How did Hallmark make the decision to turn that book into a film?
It definitely was the first. I have my agent, Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, and executive producer, Sydell Albert, to thank for bringing the story to the Hallmark Channel. Liz asked Sydell to pitch the book to the network, and it took a while, but eventually they gave it the green light. No one was more surprised than I was.
Please tell us about your experience and involvement with Unleashing Mr. Darcy becoming a film. What was your specific role in the process?
The book was optioned and immediately a screenwriter began working on the screenplay. (I was not asked to write the screenplay, thank goodness. I do not know how to write teleplays!)
Once the network approved the screenplay, the movie went into production. Everything happened very fast. Within just weeks, the movie was cast and began filming. I was on set for two full days in Vancouver. The cast and crew could not have been nicer. I had a tiny cameo in the movie, and they even made a director’s chair for me with my name on it.
After filming, I just worked really hard to promote the film. I figured it would probably be my only movie, so I wanted to make sure people actually watched it. Haha. In all seriousness, I was just really grateful for the experience and wanted to do everything I could to make the project a success for everyone involved. I did a lot of promo on social media, and when the movie aired, we had a premiere party in my hometown at a movie theatre that live-streamed the film. We had special Mr. Darcy cocktails and my friends and family all tweeted during the commercial breaks. It was such a fun night.
Why do you think this story/film resonates with so many people?
I think the film resonates with viewers because the story is timeless. It’s based on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which is one of the most beloved books in literary history. Mr. Darcy is the classic romantic hero. Ryan Paevey had big shoes to fill when it came to this role, and he did a fantastic job. He’s the perfect modern Darcy.
Tell us about this next book that Hallmark is planning to turn into a film. When do you think the film may happen?
I actually have two books in development with Hallmark. The first is a Christmas book called Sleigh Bell Sweethearts. It’s about a woman who unexpectedly inherits a reindeer farm. Of course the farm also comes with a handsome ranch hand too, so it’s a holiday romance story. According to what I’ve heard, we’re trying to get this movie ready in time to air this Christmas season.
The other book is called The Art of Us, and it’s a modern Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-inspired story with an art theme. The heroine is an art professor and Vincent Van Gogh scholar who tries to pass her dreamy dog walker off as a classically trained artist. I love this book, and think it will make a great film for Hallmark because it’s a very visual love story. Also, the dogs are precious.
What is a typical daily schedule like for you when you’re writing?
I’m not a morning person, so I like to have coffee in the morning and answer emails, then read a book or watch TV for about an hour or so before I get started. I like to write at a cupcake bakery in my neighborhood called Bird because the people there are so nice, and the bakery itself is gorgeous. I feel like I’m in Paris when I’m there. Also, the food is delicious. I was at Bird when I first got the news that Hallmark was moving Unleashing Mr. Darcy into production. I’m pretty sure I cried all over my cupcake.
I usually write until evening and then go take a yoga or barre class. I hang out with my husband and dogs until bedtime or do something fun with my friends. I like to read for a while before I go to bed. If I’m on deadline, I might write again for an hour or so late at night, but I try not to do that because it’s hard to get to sleep afterward.
What kind of research do you do when writing a book?
I love to travel, and I’m very inspired by a sense of place. So most of my books start with a trip to a place I’d like to write about. I started writing Unleashing Mr. Darcy during my first trip to England. (The book takes place in London. The movie is set in America.)
A lot of my books are retellings of classic novels or movies. If that’s the case, then I will read the book or watch the film several times, take notes and think about ways to give the story and characters a more modern spin. My copy of Pride & Prejudice is falling apart. Right now, I’m working on a modern story based on Anastasia, so I’m watching both the Anastasia movies a lot and doing quite a bit of reading about the Romanovs.
As a female author, have you been subjected to gender bias? Traditionally, female authors are not taken as seriously as male authors. What has been your experience with discrimination and/or steretypes within the industry?
What an excellent question. Gender bias is definitely a problem in the publishing industry, one which I’ve written about before: http://hellogiggles.com/double-standard-female-authors-face/
The only sexism I’ve personally experienced as an author has been when people (usually online) say disparaging things about romance novels, which does rub me the wrong way. The romance genre sells more books than all other fiction genres combined. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry run almost exclusively by women and for women, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
I have six books coming out in 2017, which sounds crazy. (I’ve been a little busy!) I’m writing a trilogy of short contemporary romances called the Drake Diamonds series, which all take place at a glamorous, Tiffany-style jewelry store in New York City. I’m also writing a new series of books for Gallery/Pocket Books called The Royals, which are all modern retellings of classic movies with royal themes. The first, Royally Roma, is a modern-day homage to one of my favorite films—Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Royally Roma comes out next March.
What is your advice to other authors/perspective authors who long for their works to be made into films/tv shows?
I think that is something all authors dream about. Literally every single one of us. My advice to other authors would be to think about the structure of your story, as well as the visual elements of your book. I’ve attended several writing workshops presented by Michael Hauge, who has a strong film background. He is excellent at using films and television shows as teaching tools for novelists. I try to write most of my books as though they’re romantic comedy movies. Not because I actually thought they would one day become films…I just love that genre. But I think perhaps that’s helped with the film options. Honestly though, I’m just fortunate to have a fantastic agent who believes in my work. We are good friends, and I think she’s amazing.
If you were on a desert island and could only pick five books to have with you, which ones would you pick?
Only five? I have nearly that many in my handbag right now. (Three – a hardback and two paperbacks.) I love books, so that’s a really tough question. I’d probably have to go with Pride & Prejudice (obviously), Gone With the Wind, The Bell Jar, The Velveteen Rabbit and the Bible.
Regrettably, my time for reading has been nonexistent in this whirlwind year, but after getting to know the woman behind the books, I unequivocally long to fling aside all my electronics and merely read for a spell. Teri writes the kind of books I prefer to revel in on a cozy, crisp evening when the rain and wind are intensely drumming against the windows and I need a retreat from the doldrums of life. She has a passion for the romance and mystique of antiquated movies and literature, and she has ascertained a means to modernize those stories in a felicitous way that reverberates with fans of practically any age. Many would question the fact that I claim to be a true romantic at heart, and they might marvel at why I would adore these books and stories that Teri writes. But people who genuinely know me are aware of the fact that books like Teri’s open the portals of my soul and remind me that virtue, benevolence, old world charm, and romance are existent and thriving in a world often besought with negativity and despair. What a phenomenal message Teri is bringing to this world, and I cannot thank her enough for sharing her talent, wit, and buoyancy with those of us who long for the simple pleasures of life that she weaves into her timeless narratives. It is with enormous anticipation that I look towards Christmas–maybe Sleigh Bell Sweethearts will grace our screens this year. If you have the time to read, check out her writings as well as her upcoming books as there is no doubt that she is an author extraodinaire. And above all, be certain that you are following her at the links below so you can watch every step of her magnificent journey into the universe of true love!
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