The following interview with Amber Circle
head writer Trace Edward Zaber appears in Sasha's Secret Thoughts
, the monthly newsletter from author Sasha White. For more information about this newsletter, click here
08/07/05: AN INTERVIEW WITH AMBER CIRCLE HEAD WRITER, TRACE EDWARD ZABER
SASHA: How did the idea for Amber Circle come about?
TRACE: At one of our Amber Quill Press, LLC, business meetings, the owners and staff were discussing a variety of topics, including future projects—"dream projects" for the company. During the chat, someone laughingly suggested we create an E-Soap Opera, since, to the best of our knowledge, it had never been done in the publishing industry. Since several of the owners and staff are big soap fans (yes, I admit, I’m an All My Children fanatic, and have watched just about every prime-time soap since Dallas) the notion sparked our interest, and the conversation continued for a while, most of it "tongue in cheek." But that’s what got the ball rolling.
Several days after the meeting, Catherine Snodgrass and I got to talking about the idea once again. One of us jokingly said to the other, "Hey, we could call it Amber Lane, since the name ‘Wisteria Lane’—from the show Desperate Housewives—had become so popular this past year." Well, the "joke" refused to die, and with each conversation I had with Catherine in the days that followed, the subject kept coming up. Finally I told her that, if she had some ideas, she should go ahead and write them down. (Being both the Editorial Director and Creative Director for Amber Quill Press, I had allowed my own writing to fall by the wayside. Yet I was itching to get back into a project, as long as I wasn’t solely responsible for it, considering my busy schedule. Therefore, the idea of collaborating with another author, especially someone like Cathy, was quite tempting.) Anyway, within days, to my amazement, Cathy sent me pages upon pages of story ideas, a list of a dozen or so potential characters, etc. We had a long phone conversation yet again, the "working title" Amber Lane eventually changed to Amber Circle, and the full project took wing.
Shortly thereafter, at a staff meeting, I presented the idea to my partners on the LLC and they gave the project the "green light."
SASHA: Was it hard to find other writers that wanted to work on the project?
TRACE: Actually, it was quite easy, for several reasons. We decided to go with six authors in total, including Cathy and myself, figuring we could spread out the writing duties without too much pressure on any one individual. Plus, what made it easier, is that the authors we approached are all current AQP staff members, in one form or another. (The current writing team includes Barbara Clark, Paris Dixon, Megan Hart, Libby McKinmer, Catherine Snodgrass, and myself, Trace Edward Zaber). We all knew the risks involved with this unique project—it could cut into our personal writing time or work hours, yet it could also be a lot of fun, especially for those of us who are "soap fans." Additionally, since this is an AQP-owned project, the authors work "for hire" and retain no rights to the characters or the finished product. We also decided that T. C. Jilké (a company pen name—see the note below) would be the overall "author" of the series, which would make the entire project less confusing should any authors leave the writing staff to work on personal material or new authors be added in the future. The entire concept of a singular penname, the group-writing, the "no rights to the material," could be quite tricky for authors who aren’t "invested" in the company, so that’s another reason why we decided to keep the authors limited to "staff members" while we "experimented" with this idea.
By the way, the penname T. C. Jilké is a combination of the first-name initials of AQP’s owners: Trace (Edward Zaber), J. L. (Abbott), Ingrid (Arbogast), Karin (Story), and Elizabeth ("E. J." Gilmer), along with Catherine (Snodgrass), who was extremely instrumental in creating the entire series for Amber Quill Press.
SASHA: How long will each episode/installment be? And how often will they be released?
TRACE: Each episode falls into the "novella" category—somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 words. The first episode is scheduled for release on Monday, August 15th. Our goal is to release a new episode every 3 or 4 weeks, depending on our "normal" AQP work schedule. This should give the readers ample time to catch up on all the "dirty deeds in Amber Circle" before the next episode is released.
SASHA: Who’s your fave character?
TRACE: That’s a tough question, since I like all the characters so far. (I suppose that’s a "given," since if I didn’t like the characters, they wouldn’t be in Amber Circle.) But by being the Managing Editor, or Head Writer, if you will, I’m able to add or alter scenes and characters while putting together the final drafts of each episode. Therefore, since I have a hand in writing every scene, I’m become close to each of the characters in turn. Although several characters intrigue me more than others—Dana Grayson, for one, since her character adds a touch of "paranormal" to the series, giving it that extra "edge," and at the moment I’m also quite fond of Talia "T. J." Jewell, since I personally developed this "bad girl" and she’s been a lot of fun to write. But as I said before, each of the characters, for one reason or another, are loveable to me, whether they are heroes or villains.
SASHA: How hard is it to write as a group? Do you each just pick an episode? Or do you each represent certain characters? Maybe you get on IM or on the phone and "act" out scenes?
TRACE: Once again, this has proven easier than I ever imagined. As a group, we’ve had only a few story meetings in chat rooms, which basically consisted of swapping ideas and discussing various marketing strategies. Generally, each author has been assigned various "lead characters," and for the most part, they have free reign to develop those characters and the appropriate back-stories for them within the framework of the "town" we’ve constructed. This also means that not every author has "material" appearing in each episode, depending on where the overall storyline needs to go for the greatest drama or impact. Nevertheless, each author contributes enormously to every episode in the respect that many of the ideas that have emerged during our meetings or in individual character development magically seem to weave their way into scenes with other characters. Of course, we have a Bible for the series, and each author works from that Bible in order to know every detail created by their fellow authors. Yet somehow, the authors we've hired for the project also seem to have a bizarre psychic bond. When I piece together an episode, it’s obvious to me, by the way the scenes fit so perfectly together within the whole, that it’s almost as if the authors "knew" what their fellow authors would create. So far, the authors have delivered a wealth of material to play with, not only in the amount of actual "words" they’ve submitted, but in their highly imaginative suggestions.
One other thing I should mention, is that we’ve also decided not to "plot" too far in advance. We want to see what the "readers" suggest. The Amber Circle website (at http://amberquill.com/AmberCircle, which will be open to the public starting Monday, August 8th) has a message forum set up where the readers can offer suggestions of what they want to see happen to their favorite characters. Therefore, as authors, we’re keeping our options open as to which directions the various storylines will eventually take us.