Family Drama to Novel
Ann Lewis Hamilton
My first big job in television was writing for thirtysomething, a family drama. I was surprised to get the job because up until that point I had written mostly low budget action and horror (don’t try looking up any of my tawdry work on IMDB – I used a pseudonym). At the end of the first season, I was a failure. I had never written family drama before and to be honest, I wasn’t doing a good job. I’d gotten pregnant at the end of the first season and had a miscarriage at the beginning of hiatus. The executive producers were very kind and said if a miscarriage episode were to come up on the show, they’d offer it to me first – if I would feel comfortable writing it. A few months later the opportunity did come up and I wrote (I’d like to think) a very good episode where Hope, the main female character, has an early miscarriage.
It was a breakthrough in my writing. Until then I’d been happy writing zombies and car chases, but I hadn’t accessed my real life. With the miscarriage episode of thirtysomething, for the first time I was able to write honestly about something that had happened to me. It was like a light bulb going off – oh, that’s how it works.
In some ways writing for thirtysomething (and other family dramas that followed) was like therapy. You take an event from your real life (a miscarriage, the birth of a child, the loss of a parent) and you translate that into storytelling. On most of the shows I’ve worked on, it’s a wonderful collaborative process where writers sit around and share things about their lives. And then we turn those stories into TV episodes.
It was a tough transition from TV to fiction – I lacked confidence in writing prose. The thought of writing so many pages seemed impossible. A career in telling stories helped a great deal. I know how to construct a beginning, a middle, and an end. How to write dialogue. And I was taught early on the biggest secret every writer should know – don’t be boring.
Good television drama comes from truth and personal experience. From working on shows that embrace that, I was able to use truth and personal experience when it came time to write a novel. Laurie and Alan, the wife and husband in Expecting, are similar to my husband and me. Our fertility journey wasn’t nearly as fraught as Laurie and Alan’s (thank goodness), but it ended up as the spark for a funny, thought-provoking novel. Could I have written the book without having written for television? I doubt it.
That’s one of the best things about being a writer – every day you learn something new. And as a writer, you file it away, and wait for a chance to use it.
Title: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark Genre: Contemporary, Fiction Length: 352 pages
Summary: A mom, a dad, a baby…and another dad. Laurie and Alan are expecting, again. After two miscarriages, Laurie was afraid they’d never be able to have a child. Now she’s cautiously optimistic — the fertility treatment worked, and things seem to be different this time around. But she doesn’t yet know how different. Jack can’t seem to catch a break — his parents are on his case about graduating from college, he’s somehow dating two girls at once, and he has to find a way to pay back the money he borrowed from his fraternity’s party fund. The only jobs he is qualified for barely pay enough to keep him in beer money, but an ad for the local sperm bank gives Jack an idea. Laurie and Alan’s joy is shattered when their doctor reveals that Laurie was accidentally impregnated by sperm from a donor rather than her husband. Who is Donor 296. And how will their family change now that Donor 296 is inarguably part of it?
Read my review HERE.
Author Bio Award-winning writer and producer Ann Lewis Hamilton has written for TV and film. Her TV credits include, among others, “Haven,” “The Dead Zone, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Saved,” “Providence,” “Party of Five,” and “thirtysomething.” She was twice nominated for an Emmy award, and was the winner of a WGA Award and the Humanitas Prize.