Last week we gave our overview of Riley Parra, the latest series over at Tello Films. Today, we have a special interview with the author of the original novel series who also writes for the show, Geonn Cannon.
1) Can you tell us a little bit about yourself first? How did you get into fiction writing?
I’m from Oklahoma, where I still live, and I started writing in high school. I was actually hoping to become an artist or an actor, and the majority of electives I took were toward that goal. I stumbled into writing when a friend and I started making up this bizarre story (It cast a lot of our teachers/fellow students as villains, and I’m sure that in this day and age it probably would’ve gotten us expelled). Then for Drama class, we had to write scripts. I had a crush on a girl who laughed at mine, and I thought, “Wow, I made her laugh, maybe I should write more!” And after that there was just no stopping me.
2) From your experience in writing, what advice would you give aspiring authors?
My new philosophy is “The worst thing they can do is say no.” And there are a million reasons someone might reject your writing that has nothing to do with you or the story. And maybe it’s just that specific story. Rejections are going to happen. I was rejected the first time I submitted a Stargate novel, and then maybe three months later, they released a book with a similar-enough plot that I realized, “Oh, they already had something brewing and mine was just a rehash.” But really, the main takeaway is that hearing “No” is the worst thing that can happen if you submit your story somewhere. The worst thing Tello could have done was say they weren’t interested in Riley Parra, the worst thing Fandemonium could’ve done was pass on hiring me to write Two Roads. One company saying no to one story isn’t the end of your career. Putting yourself in a position to hear that no is the only way to have a career.
3) What do you think are the harder parts of getting stories with LGBTQ+ characters and leads out into the world?
I think I’m not the right person to ask about this, and I wish Christin Baker was here to field this one for me. I think people have proven they don’t mind watching movies with LGBT leads. Just this summer, Atomic Blonde proved that a bisexual lead isn’t a death knell for a movie, and Ryan Reynolds has been very open about wanting to explore Deadpool’s sexuality. I think it’s fear on the part of people paying to make the movies that holds back progress. They’re scared of putting their money behind a “gay” title, so it gets watered down.
4) Let’s talk Riley Parra. Where did the book ideas originally come from?
It was a mishmash of things. I wanted to use the name Riley, because I thought it was a great name, but I wanted to use it in something big. Castle was fairly new when I started it, and I thought maybe a tough cop like Beckett would be a good protagonist. Then I was listening to a Josh Ritter song called “Thin Blue Flame,” which has all this wonderful imagery relating to religion, God, angels, from the point-of-view of someone who has lost their faith. (“If God’s up there he’s in a cold dark room/The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons/He bent down and made the world in seven days/And ever since he’s been walking away”) I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and just this idea of a very normal cop being pulled into a paranormal world of angels and demons really appealed to me. I didn’t have a full plan when I began writing (the original twist for the first story was going to be that Riley was a fallen angel who had amnesia and thought she was human) but it eventually all fell into place.
5) What’s your favorite part about writing the character and her world?
I love the idea of this cop who came up from the darkest part of her city, who suffered so much, and took that suffering and used it for something good. She could have become broken and bitter but she uses it to help others. I love that. I love how strong she is, but also how vulnerable she can be. That’s one reason Gillian is so important to her. Gillian gives her a place to let down her guard at the end of the day. She doesn’t have to be bulletproof, even though she’s running headfirst into the fire. I love that about her, and it makes her so much fun to write.
6) How did Riley Parra make the jump from page to screen on Tello?
Luck! And the help of a fan. Lisa Yimm knew the books, and she was also a fan of Tello. She pushed me to pitch the idea to Christin. She actually just said any of my books, but I chose Riley as the most likely to make a good series. I pitched it to Christin in an email, and won her over. She loved the story and the characters as much as I do, and that made it easy to work with her to bring it to life.
7) What have you learned about how books are adapted to screen?
Always keep budgets in mind! There’s a scene in the books I always go back to when I have questions like this. Riley is trapped in an abandoned firehouse, and she uses the antique fire truck to drive through the garage door and escape. That’s not going to be feasible for anyone’s budget. So there was a lot of figuring out what could be adapted and what needed to be changed. A lot of what’s onscreen in Season One is straight from the book (with a lot cut for time, of course) but future seasons will stray a bit to become their own thing. The characters are the same and the overall plot will be similar, so fans of the books will recognize what they loved in print, but the stories will be new so that they won’t feel like it’s just a dramatization.
8) What’s been your favorite part of the season thus far (as of episode 4)?
Eliminating the answer of just seeing my characters come to life (hearing Marem Hassler introduce herself as Riley Parra and Connor Trinneer explaining the rules of the world I created), I really love the chemistry between Marem and Liz Vassey. I’ve written so many couples, and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to see them come to life. I’m a very visual writer, to the point where I even “cast” my novels. So I would imagine how amazing it would be for that to really happen. I’ve been incredibly spoiled with this cast, and with Marem and Liz. I couldn’t have hoped for a better cast.
9) What can you tell us about what fans can look forward to now and into season two… or will you have to kill us if you talk 😉
Hm, well, I won’t tell Christin if you won’t… ;D It has now officially been announced that Season 2 will add Tony Amendola and Marina Sirtis to the cast! I credit Stargate SG-1 with kickstarting my writing career, and I grew up watching TNG, so you can imagine how thrilled I was with that news. I would pinch myself but I’d be really pissed if I woke up. 😉 Season 2 is where the series will start drifting away from the books. It has a storyline which doesn’t begin until the second book, but we thought it made sense to move things around for brevity’s sake. And though we may never see her ride it, Liz Vassey and I decided that Gillian has a motorcycle. Christin probably WILL kill me for that one. ;D
10) Finally, what else do you want readers and viewers to know about you and/or Riley?
About me… if they want to read more of my writing, a good book to start with is The Rise and Fall of Radiation Canary (or if they want something with a more supernatural/crime angle, they should try my Underdogs series). As for Riley… this might *technically* count as a spoiler, but it’s one I think people need in this day and age: Riley Parra will get a happy ending. One of the reasons I ended on Book Five was because I wanted to give the characters closure. Giving her a tragic end wasn’t even an option. She deserved better, and so do the fans. So I want to say right now that no matter what changes, whether or not the final scene of the series is the same as the final scene in the book, it WILL be happy.
Sapphic Fiction Alliance Note: After the last couple of years of the way television has treated queer women on television, we couldn’t be happier to hear that one! Also thank you very much to Geonn for interviewing with us. If you want to check out Riley Parra, the show can be found here at Tello. If you want to check out our previous review, it’s here.