Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cajun Nights and the Characters Within: The Many Lives of a TV Series that Never Was

D.J. Donaldson, author of Cajun Nights

LIFE #1

Cajun Nights was my first novel featuring New Orleans medical examiner, Andy Broussard, and his suicide/death investigator, Kit Franklyn. A few weeks after the book was published, I got a call from my agent with the surprising news that, “There’s been a flurry of movie and TV interest in your book.” I'd never considered that such a thing was possible. So that was one of the best phone calls I ever had.

Subsequently, a production company headed by the former director of programming at CBS took an option on the series, planning to shape it into a TV show. As perhaps some of you know, this phase of things is known as “development hell”, because it takes a very long time to make anything happen. So a year went by with no news. I figure, okay, the thing is dead. But, the producers renewed their option for another year, which meant I got paid again. It wasn't a lot of money, but with that check, I’d made more money from the two option years than the advance I was given on the book by the publisher.

So more time goes by with no news. Now, I’m not even thinking about it anymore. Then, while I was attending a scientific meeting in Dallas, I got a call from the agent in Hollywood who was handling the dramatic rights. CBS had agreed to pay for a pilot screenplay. I wasn't sure what that meant, but if this guy had tracked me down in Dallas just to tell me that, it must be a big deal. And guess what… I got another check as an advance on the screenplay even though I wasn't gonna write it. I was beginning to love the agent who created that contract.

They chose as a writer someone who'd had several movies produced. That may seem like something not worth mentioning, but I'd read an article once that said it was possible to have a career as a screenwriter and never have anything produced. (Yeah, I don't quite get that either, but it sure seemed like the writer we had, was the better kind.) With her experience and success, I was sure we'd get a great screenplay.

A few months later, a package arrives in the mail. IT’S THE SCREENPLAY. I'm so excited, I quickly skim the enclosed letter from the producers: “Read this over and tell us three things you don't like about it.” That’s ridiculous, I’m gonna love it. After all, it was written by a pro.

Well, I hated all of it. The writer didn't seem to “get” the relationship between Andy and Kit. I couldn't believe it. The books show that non-romantic love is possible between an unrelated man and woman of greatly differing ages. Though he can't admit it, Broussard loves Kit like the daughter he never had. Kit loves Broussard like a father, even though she has a father. How do I boil all the things I hate down to just three items? Somehow I manage and send my reply back.

As it turned out, the producers didn't really care about any of my thoughts. Was I upset? Not really, because I figured they know TV, I don’t. And… surprise, when they gave the script to CBS, I got another check. Now I definitely love my agent.

The producers are sure the script will be approved and we’ll soon be shooting a pilot. They invite me to watch them film in New Orleans. They say they’ll even find a bit part for me. They predict that the series will run for ten years. And they should know. Their show, Cagney and Lacey, ran for seven seasons. Now I’m excited.

But… later, I get another call. CBS didn't like the script. And they didn't want to see a rewrite with the same story. The producers asked me if I had any ideas. The screenplay was based on the second book in the series. When I got this call I was sitting at my desk looking at the rough draft of book number three. I pitched them the story and they said, “Send us a copy by overnight mail.” This was back before manuscripts could be sent by e-mail. (I know, I can hardly remember those days myself.)

So another screenplay was written, which didn't fare any better than the first. Thus life #1 of my hoped-for TV series went to a quiet demise.

LIFE #2

A few years later, while I was at the Kentucky book fair promoting book number five in the series, a young blonde fellow bought a book. We spoke for a few minutes and he moved on. Later, back in Memphis, I get a call from this guy. He wants to option the series for TV. I tell him about my earlier experience with the other producers, who failed, but he’s unfazed. We strike a deal. There’s talk about John Goodman playing Broussard. John Goodman… he lives in New Orleans and he’d be a great fit. I love it.

Within a few weeks the producer calls to say he’s on his way to Memphis and could I meet him and John Goodman’s “best friend,” at the Peabody Hotel. (The Peabody lobby is where William Faulkner and his mistress used to have drinks.) The meeting takes place and I give the best friend a copy of the latest book, which he assures us, will be in John Goodman’s hands within twenty-four hours. That was the last time I ever heard from him or the producer. So I guess the deal is off.

LIFE #3

In my primary occupation, I taught medical and dental students microscopic anatomy. One day I get a call from a former dental student. He’s now a part-time actor who’s been in a couple of notable films. He says that he and a long-time Hollywood promoter have formed a production company and are looking for material. He remembers that I wrote a few novels and wonders what I’ve been doing since he last saw me. I talk about my work and send him some books.

Very soon thereafter he calls me again and says he and his partner “are on fire over these forensic books.” They believe the series would make a great TV SERIES. He asks me who I’d like to play Broussard. I tell him I've always believed Wilford Brimley would be perfect. Incredibly, my former student says that his partner had lunch with Wilford just last week. He’s sure they can get him to sign on. With an actor of Wilford’s stature attached to the project, we’ll surely get a deal.

Was all this talk about Brimley just smoke? No. Because they actually got him on board. And what’s even better, my former student and his partner were working with another producer who had a development deal with the Sci-Fi network. They planned to present my series to the network three weeks hence, focusing on the real and apparent paranormal aspects of the first two books.

On presentation day at the Sci-Fi Network my student calls me just before they go in. I wait anxiously the rest of the day to hear how it went. Years later, I’m still waiting. The only contact I’ve had since presentation day is a big envelope from the producer who had the development deal. In the envelope is a bunch of stuff I wrote for the presentation along with a note from the producer that says, “Sorry we couldn't have worked longer on this together.”

LESSON LEARNED

Early in the machinations of the first development deal, I used to caution myself not to spend any time thinking about how great it would be if every week I could watch my characters living and breathing on a TV show. My thinking was that if I kept a tight rein on my expectations, it’d be much easier on my psyche if things didn't work out.

But then I realized I was missing out on the excitement of the possibility. Why not let my mind run with it? Then, even if none of the deals came to fruition I would still have the pleasure of being part of a great endeavor. So that’s what I did. And now, even though I never played that bit part in a pilot and I've never seen John Goodman or Wilford Brimley bring Broussard to life, I sure had a lot of fun along the way.

(By the way, if you're a TV/film producer, the rights are available.)

Young and vibrant New Orleans criminal psychologist Kit Franklyn has just been assigned her most challenging case yet—a collection of victims with type O blood who drove an antiquated car, humming a nursery rhyme right before committing murder and then suicide. Welcoming the help of her jovial boss, chief medical examiner Andy Broussard, the two set out to solve the case devising strictly scientific possibilities. Not once do they consider the involvement of black magic until an ancient Cajun sorcerer’s curse surfaces—“Beware the songs you loved in youth.”

Written in his unique style, Donaldson’s Cajun Nights combines hard-hitting, action-packed prose with brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics and the sultry flavor of New Orleans. The result is a gripping mystery involving murder and some occult flare in the creole heartland.

Buy Cajun Nights on

About D.J. Donaldson

D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology. His entire academic career was spent at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound-healing and where he taught microscopic anatomy to thousands of medical and dental students.

He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and two West Highland terriers. In the spring of most years he simply cannot stop buying new flowers and other plants for the couple’s prized backyard garden.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spotlight: Strike of the Cobra by Stephen Heubach


Strike of the Cobra by Stephen Heubach * Connect on Twitter
Published by Mereo (5 Nov 2013)

“Started in the morning of Boxing Day and couldn't put it down until I had finished it that night.”

Strike of the Cobra is based on true events. A few of the names and locations have been altered due to the story culminating in a trial at The Old Bailey. It is a thrilling tale of crime, subterfuge and drug smuggling in Britain, Turkey and Singapore.

It all began in early January at an evening of the International Boat Show at Earls Court in London. Stephen was approached by a well-dressed Mediterranean looking gentleman. He was alone on the booth, quietly closing up, the crowds had long since dispersed and his colleagues had headed to the bar. This was just the moment he had been waiting for.

He was polite and took a false interest in the five small sailing craft on show that my business partner and I had spent years perfecting. He asked if we would be interested in manufacturing our boats for a more reasonable price in his own factory in Turkey. I was sceptical but mentioned that we were actively looking for small sports/recreation boats. He said that they made just the thing and would come back to see me the following day with details.

Arranging to visit the factory was difficult; they could not accommodate Stepen for at least a month. The Turkish gentleman showed Stephen to his car at the airport, supposedly his own, but the carpets had recently been wet vaxed, there was condensation on the inside of the windows, only one key on the fob, no personal effects at all. Stephen was sure the Mercedes 200 was a rental, the Turkish gentleman was lying; alarm bells were already ringing. Stephen thought about getting the next plane home.

They travelled towards the factory the following morning but he would not give any detail of its location. Stephen was becoming increasingly troubled by the lack of forthcoming information, there was not even a map in the car for reference, nobody on the planet, not even Stephen knew where he was and he’d broken his mobile phone by dropping it at the airport. After 2 hours they were off onto unmade, unmarked roads. The Turkish gentlemen sensed his apprehension, and objected to his questioning, eventually telling Stephen with pride that he had kidnapped him. This did not seem ridiculous at that moment as none of the pieces seemed to fit together, Stephen’s anxiety grew.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Coming Soon: Merry Wishes by Karen Pokras


An ugly divorce behind her, Carly Cater is looking forward to a truly Merry Christmas. With interest for her art from a high-powered fashion designer and a new romance with her handsome contractor, Jason Hardy, her life is finally heading in the right direction. That is, until her ex-husband suddenly returns to interfere, and mysterious texts draw Jason away. Is this another holiday disaster in the making, or will an offer to create a mural for the brain-injury patients at Greenbriar Manor bring her the Christmas joy she’d been seeking?

About the Author:
Karen Pokras writes adult contemporary and middle grade fiction under the names Karen Pokras and Karen Pokras Toz. Her books have won several awards including two Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, the Grand Prize in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for two Global E-Book Awards for Pre-Teen Literature. For children, her books include the Nate Rocks series, Millicent Marie is Not My Name, and Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas. For adult readers, Karen’s books include Chasing Invisible, and her newly released, Whispered Wishes series. A native of Connecticut, Karen now lives outside of Philadelphia with her family.

Connect with Karen Pokras:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Forensic/Medical Author’s Take on Ebola and the CDC


Outbreak… Breakdown
A Forensic/Medical Author’s Take on Ebola and the CDC

D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center—where he taught and published dozens of papers on wound-healing and other health issues. He is the author of Louisiana Fever, one of the seven in the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn series of forensic mystery thrillers.

My book, Louisiana Fever, involves the spread of a bleeding disease known as Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever. This is a real disease that, like its close relative, Ebola, is caused by an infectious virus. And having researched this thoroughly (and having come from a forensic/health background) I feel compelled to weigh in on the Ebola outbreak.

When I was plotting Louisiana Fever, I figured I ought to have a character in the book that was once an infectious disease specialist at the CDC. It seemed like a logical idea because the CDC is this country’s unquestioned champion against virulent organisms, an organization staffed with experts that know every nuance of tropical viruses and how they can be controlled.

To make sure my writing about the CDC would have an authentic ring to it, I asked the public relations office of the CDC if I might be given a tour of the place. “Sorry,” I was told. “We don’t give tours.” Considering how many dangerous viruses are stored in the various labs there, that seemed like a good policy, even to me. So there would be no tour. But then I heard from someone in my department at the U. of Tennessee Medical Center that one of our former graduate students now worked at the CDC. I began to wonder if this connection might work to my advantage.

And it certainly did. The former student was now a virology section chief. A SECTION CHIEF…. Holy cow! This could be my way in. But would the man be generous by nature and sympathetic to writers? He proved to be both of those.

On the day of my visit, I reported to the security office as instructed. There, I had to wait until my host came to escort me into the bowels of the place… no wandering around on my own with a visitor’s badge. That day I saw the hot zone in action and spoke with experts in many fields of virology, even spent some time with the world expert on porcine retroviruses. At the end of my visit—including all the cumbersome clinical protocols I had to engage in both before and during said visit—I not only left feeling more educated, but actually more safe and secure that no tropical virus would ever be a threat to this country… not with the meticulous, detail-oriented, security conscious, microbe fighters at the CDC watching out for us.

So, it’s with much regret and… yes, even a little fear, that I witnessed the head of the CDC recently assuring us that the Ebola virus is very difficult to transmit and that we know exactly how to control it. Instead of (what looked like) his clumsy attempts to soothe an ignorant and paranoid public, the CDC head should have given a blunt assessment, educated everyone like adults, and encouraged them to exercise precaution. Then, seemingly in answer, two nurses who cared for the index patient from Liberia become Ebola positive. And the CDC clears one of those nurses to take a commercial airline flight, even though she was in the early stages of Ebola infection…depressing. From a medical professional standpoint, this was practically criminal negligence. At present, the disease is not transmitted by air ("airborne"), but any scientist worth his/her salt cannot account for mutations the virus may undergo. This is why the job of the CDC is to contain harmful microbes, issue protocols to protect the public against them and ultimately eradicate them... period. It is not to be PR professionals for television cameras and fostering carelessness.

I’m still convinced that the combined knowledge and brainpower of the CDC staff will be a major impediment to any virus taking over this country. But Ebola probably has some tricks we haven’t seen yet. That means we may lose a few more battles before we can declare that this particular threat is behind us.

Meanwhile, how is development of that Ebola vaccine coming?


About Louisiana Fever:

Andy Broussard, the plump and proud New Orleans medical examiner, obviously loves food. Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, the two make a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo. When the beautiful Kit goes to meet an anonymous stranger—who’s been sending her roses—the man drops dead at her feet before she even could even get his name. Game on.

Andy Broussard soon learns that the man carried a lethal pathogen similar to the deadly Ebola virus. Soon, another body turns up with the same bug. Panic is imminent as the threat of pandemic is more real than ever before. The danger is even more acute, because the carrier is mobile, his identity is an absolute shocker, he knows he’s a walking weapon and… he’s on a quest to find Broussard. And Kit isn’t safe either. When she investigates her mystery suitor further, she runs afoul of a cold blooded killer, every bit as deadly as the man searching for Broussard. Louisiana Fever is written in Donaldson’s unique style: A hard-hitting, punchy, action-packed prose that’s dripping with a folksy, decidedly southern, sense of irony. Add in Donaldson’s brilliant first hand knowledge of forensics and the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and the result is first class forensic procedural within an irresistibly delectable mystery.

Buy Louisiana Fever on

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

October Reading Wrap Up 2014

Yes, I am late in writing up my reading for October. I'm going to blame hosting a birthday party, Halloween, and the end of Daylight Savings Time for the delay. I got four books read last month, including the second huge Outlander book.



Leading With Intention: Every Moment is a Choice by Mindy Hall, PhD: I received a copy of this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers Program in exchange for a review on the site. Being intentional is one of the things that I am trying to focus on this year as a foundation for living a more intentional life. I want to be more aware of myself in each moment and truly understand how my choices and actions are impacting those around me. Although this book is based on being an intentional leader in a business setting, I still found that many of the questions and techniques presented by Mindy Hall, PhD apply just as well to my life as a stay at home mom. I was not able to directly connect to the majority of the examples given because of their corporate nature, however I still came away with information of value and I look forward to exploring some of the additional online resources that are available at leadingwithintentionbook.com

Landline by Rainbow RowellLandline is the first book I have read by Rainbow Rowell but from reading reviews of this book and her others I can tell that it will not be the last.
After reading a few heavy books, lengthy and emotional, Landline was a fast, light read even though it addressed a marriage in trouble. Georgie McCool writes comedy with her best friend, Seth, for a television sitcom. Her husband, Neal, is the stay-at-home dad to their two girls and is fundamentally unhappy. When Neal and the girls go visit his family without her at Christmas time, Georgie wonders if he has left for good this time. While taking refuge at her mother's house, Georgie drags out an old, yellow phone to call Neal and ends up connecting with the Neal that left her fifteen years before. She wonders if this is her chance to set things right or change something fundamental in their history.
The entire book felt like it was written in short scenes, as if it were a television show. Often the dialog and the characters felt like we were only getting to know them on the surface. At the end of the book I was left wondering what happened next? How did things actually work out with Georgie's job and her marriage? Could she really hold on to both? Landline was enjoyable while it lasted but it never felt like much insight was gained or that the main issues the characters were facing were actually resolved.

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon: I enjoyed Dragonfly in Amber, possibly even more than Outlander, but the book was too bloody long. Although I loved learning more about the characters and getting to know new ones, I felt like it took me forever to get through this book. By the time I reached the end I had already forgotten parts from the beginning. I love the way Gabaldon is moving from one timeline to another to give the reader an entire picture of events.
I will continue with the series but I'm going to take a break and read some shorter books for a bit until I feel like I can tackle another one of this length.

Anabel Divided by Amanda Romine Lynch: I already wrote up my full review of Anabel Divided so I'll give the short version here: This is a great sequel to Anabel Unraveled. If you haven't read these books start at the beginning and join me in waiting for the third Anabel book to come out. Lynch writes fantastically flawed characters and emotionally charged situations.

Currently reading Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

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