Dete Meserve is a creator and producer of independent movies and award-winning television as well as a best-selling and award-winning novelist. As a principal of Wind Dancer Films, she oversees worldwide business and creative properties the company has produced, which include hit television series such as Home Improvement, and feature films like What Women Want (Mel Gibson) and Bernie (Jack Black). Meserve is also leading the company’s animation brands, including the PBS KIDS series “Ready Jet Go!,” and “Not A Box,” based on the award-winning book. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three children, and a cat that rules them all.
Let’s get to know more about Dete Meserve:
What drew you to becoming a film and television producer?
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. When I was a kid, I loved sci-fi. folktales, fairy tales, and mysteries and I experienced firsthand the power of story to help us understand others, to make sense of our experiences, to learn how to grow up and develop, and to think about the big questions of life. And there are so many ways we can tell stories: radio, television, film, books and even games. I’ve been fortunate to write or produce stories in in all of these mediums. Each avenue has its strengths and weaknesses for conveying emotion and character and the key is finding which is best suited for the story you want to tell.
Why have you moved from producing to writing books?
I’m producing more than ever right now. I’m currently an Executive Producer of the hit kids television series, Ready Jet Go!, now in production on its second season. I’m also producing the Hallmark Channel adaptation of my novel, Good Sam, and another live-action television movie. In animation, I’m producing another series based on an award-winning children’s book. So none of that producing work is going away anytime soon. Meanwhile, I love to write and connect with my readers so I’m planning more books in the future too.
Will you branch out to other genres beside just writing mystery?
My first novel, Good Sam, was a romance sparked with a mystery. In that case, the story followed someone who was anonymously leaving $100,000 on LA doorsteps. With Perfectly Good Crime I’ve moved more squarely into the mystery genre but it’s still a mystery without a single dead body or any physical violence. Instead, it’s a mystery about a series of high-tech, sophisticated heists of the world’s most lavish estates and the good intentions that may be behind the robberies.
More than anything I’m drawn to story and don’t confine myself to writing a specific genre. So if a story idea truly resonates with me, I’m excited to work in whatever genre that happens to be.
Do you have a writing process or routine? If so, please briefly explain.
I run a film and television company, Wind Dancer Films, and have three kids so writing is confined to late nights after the kids are in bed. After a day collaborating with other creators and overseeing business deals, I really look forward to the creative, solitary moments of writing. For me, getting to write is an extraordinary privilege and while it involves a tremendous amount of work, I always look forward to those night hours of writing. And my busy work and family life actually helps. I often draw inspiration from the characters, conflicts, experiences and emotions of my real life.
How did you go about researching for Perfectly Good Crime and your previous book Good Sam?
Much of Perfectly Good Crime is set in the estates of the wealthiest Americans so I had to research some of the most opulent, extravagant estates in Los Angeles and the world. That research was eye popping—five story underground tennis courts built to U.S. Open standards or gold-leafed ballrooms or a an estate with a 10,000 square foot Turkish bath. I was also fortunate to work with Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Julie Nony to get the police detective protocol details right. And a key story plot in the book involves a brief foray into the world of online gaming so I consulted with a true expert — my teenage son, Jake.
As a producer, you have seen a lot of different characters on television and in films, what makes Kate Bradley different from those characters?
In TV and film, women who have jobs outside the home are often portrayed as stereotypes. There’s the ubiquitous “tough woman with a gun” who dominates procedurals on TV and there are “career women” who can’t seem to fathom how to balance a relationship or family with their demanding careers. Other stereotypes are women as eye candy or women as victims or women who are just plain crazy.
In Good Sam and Perfectly Good I wanted to portray a realistic working woman, a reporter who was dealing with both the stresses and ambitions of her career and the vulnerabilities of being in a relationships. And I wanted her career to be a vehicle to a better understanding the world and her place in it—avoiding the TV and film stereotype that a woman who holds a big job is often so burdened by the task that she can’t possibly be anything but dysfunctional, unfulfilled, or a nightmare.
I also wanted to portray a reporter who doesn’t only have the singular goal of getting the Story of The Year. In Kate’s case, she’s searching for Good, meaning, truth, and hope in a world troubled by violence and tragedy. These are ideas and ideals most women are seeking.
What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker and writer?
If you’re an aspiring screenwriter or a writer of any kind, you have to write. So many screenwriters in the business quit because they didn’t have success with their early scripts. But the key to success is staying in the game and finding every opportunity to write and not to confine yourself to just writing a specific genre or format.
Which do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?
I self published Good Sam and Perfectly Good Crime but the process I went through is very similar to what a traditionally published author undergoes. The difference was that I chose every single partner I worked with instead of letting a company make those decisions for me. In Perfectly Good Crime, for example, I worked with two editors including Angela Brown (through New York Book Editors) and then copy editor Martha Cameron, all of whom are some of the best professional editors in the business. I also hired Olga Grlic (former Art Director at St. Martin’s Press) to design the book cover and Stef McDaid to manage the interior formatting. And I chose the release date instead of waiting for a publisher to choose a date that worked in their production cycle.
After decades producing and financing independent film and television, it just didn’t make sense to give up the control and the lion’s share of the royalties from my creative work in exchange for the relatively small upfront costs the publisher would be bearing. I’ve sold over 50,000 copies of Good Sam so that’s more proof that you don’t always need a traditional publisher to have great success in today’s ever changing publishing world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay the course! Some of my earliest writing was clumsy and unfocused and I remember being disappointed that I wasn’t particularly good at something I enjoyed so much. I thought maybe I should just focus on those things that came easily for me—business, music (I play piano), etc. If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell myself not to focus so much on whether it’s good or not, but to spend the time putting thoughts to paper. Some of those early ideas are blueprints for great stories I might still like to write some day.
What is your favorite quote?
There are so many! But here’s one I wrote that expresses what writing does for both the author and the reader: “Writing slows down time. It allows you to hear, feel, and see all of the intricate layers which make up a moment, a thought, a decision—all in slow motion. When you find the words to express those impressions, you unfold time for readers too.” — Dete Meserve
What is one thing that you do to appreciate your readers?
One of my top priorities is connecting with readers. They communicate with me every day primarily through Facebook and email and even in my crazy schedule, I make time to engage and respond. But more important, I regularly post stories every day on my Facebook page which highlight and celebrate real people who are doing extraordinary good for others. (www.Facebook.com/GoodSamBook) This is an extension of the themes of both Good Sam and Perfectly Good Crime so readers appreciate these inspiring and uplifting stories.
The best part is that many of my readers also share true stories of Good with me so that I post on my Facebook page. It’s like I have a network of readers around the world who are searching for stories of Good just like my main character, Kate Bradley!