Dete Meserve is an accomplished creator and producer of independent movies and award-winning television shows as well as a best-selling and award-winning novelist. As a key member of the executive team at Wind Dancer Films, Meserve has been one of the industry’s major players in independent film and television production. She currently oversees worldwide business and creative properties for the film development, finance, and production company that has generated over $4 billion in revenue from its properties, which include hit television series Roseanne and Home Improvement and feature films including What Women Want (Mel Gibson), Where The Heart Is (Natalie Portman), Bernie (Jack Black), What Men Want (Taraji P. Henson) and Good Sam (Netflix).
Meserve is also leading the company’s growing kids and family brands, including the PBS KIDS series Ready Jet Go!, created by Craig Bartlett (Hey Arnold!, Dinosaur Train) with Meserve as Executive Producer, the stop motion series “Storywoods” with Lil Buddy Studios and Head Writer Carin Greenberg, and Not A Box, the animated TV series based on the award-winning book by Antoinette Portis.
Meserve has produced numerous films and TV series and her list of credits span award-winning television series such as Home Improvement and Saint George with George Lopez (Executive Producer) as well as hit movies What Men Want, the award-winning comedy Bernie (Executive Producer), The Keeping Room (Executive Producer), What Women Want (Executive Producer) and Good Sam (Producer).
Meserve is also the author of the best-selling and multi-award-winning novel, Good Sam, as well as its sequel Perfectly Good Crime, which won the Living Now Book Awards for “books that change the world,” and the international bestseller The Space Between (July 2018). Meserve adapted her first novel, Good Sam, into a screenplay and produced it as a Netflix Original Film starring Tiya Sircar (The Good Place). The film was released worldwide in May 2019. Her book, Random Acts of Kindness, co-written with award-winning journalist Rachel Greco, was published in March 2019. Meserve is at work on a fifth book entitled The Good Stranger for Amazon Publishing/Lake Union (Spring 2020).
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.; and how you balance your careers of producer and author.
I write whenever I can! My job as a producer and CEO of a studio takes up much of my daylight hours, so I have to find writing time at night after my family’s asleep or on weekends when my family is busy with other things. When I’m on deadline to deliver a manuscript, I have to set aside specific time to write—often in the daylight hours—but other things in life invariably interfere and suddenly my three-hour block of writing time gets reduced to, say, ninety minutes. It can be frustrating, but I keep juggling and shifting to make it happen. I know my priorities and family always comes first.
Hod did you “found” your Random Acts of Kindness stories, and what is it like to co-author?
After posting literally thousands of stories about the good things people do for others, I wanted to write a book to capture some of the best stories and looking through a very specific lens: how were the givers changed by helping others? Since these were true stories, I wanted to collaborate with a journalist who had the right sensitivity and sensibility for these “softer” stories. I read an article about a woman who was given a new van by a stranger and loved the poignant way journalist Rachel Greco approached the story, so I called her and told her I wanted to write a book of these stories. I was overjoyed when she said yes. Initially we didn’t meet in person because I’m based in Hollywood and she’s in East Lansing, Michigan. Instead, we’d regularly get together for calls to talk through what stories we’d seen that had resonated with us and which ones might be good candidates for the book. We had tremendous resources to draw from: thousands of stories on my Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/GoodSamBook and countless others that readers were sending in. We wanted to make sure the book reflected all kinds of givers: rich, poor, age nine-year-old to ninety-nine, city folk and people who lived in rural communities, bikers and fraternity boys. Our idea was not to reprint what others had already written. Instead, Rachel spoke with the people in the stories and we developed a chapter from there. I have to say those hours working with Rachel were some of the brightest for me because I knew we were both doing something we were meant to do.
Walk me through your publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author. As you wrote Good Sam, did you imagine the story as a film? Are you planning to take your other novels to the big screen?
When I wrote Good Sam I never imagined it would become a film. I only set out to tell a story where we’re searching for someone doing extraordinary good and exploring how looking for that kind of person actually changes all of us. I wanted to explore the reasons why people do good things. From the countless stories told about murders and violence, we already know why people commit crimes but how often do we stop to think about why we help others and why some put their lives on the line so that others can live? Maybe thinking about that will allow us to become our better selves. There are moments when I still can’t believe it’s a Netflix Original Film, even though I wrote the screenplay and was a producer on the film. It still feels joyously unreal.
When I begin writing, I like to have lots of time for what I call “play.” This is when I’m writing ideas into a notebook, doing research, playing around with an idea, discovering the characters. It’s truly the most carefree and easy part of writing. Then there becomes a point where the story starts to form: I hear snippets of character dialogue, I can see scenes of what’s happening, and I’m beginning to have an inkling of what themes I want to explore. That’s when I start a draft which I title: Things I’m Seeing. If ideas start flowing, then I know I’m ready to write the manuscript. Otherwise, I stop and go back to “playing” and researching until I’m ready to begin.
Once the manuscript is finished, I like to send to beta readers before sending to the publisher but the deadlines on the last novel were so tight that no one but me had read it before I sent it in. That was a nail biter of a process for me. After that, the editor will send me notes and I’ll make revisions addressing notes until we all get a draft we’re all happy with. Then off to copy editing and proof reading all while writing ideas for marketing, working on the cover with designers, thinking about book club questions, writing acknowledgments, etc. It’s a huge wonderful process to bring a book to life and I’m always grateful for the privilege of doing it and for the talented and committed people around me who make it possible.
I’m adapting some of my other novels to the screen. I’m particularly intrigued by SVOD platforms like Netflix because they allow you as a creator to reach massive audiences around the world, which is very rewarding. But, for me, all ideas begin with story. It’s only after you know the story that you can ask: Where is the best place—what is the best way—to tell that story? A novel? A TV series? A movie? I’m open to wherever that leads me.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
My readers are the best! Truly. Every day I wake up to countless stories about good people that they’ve shared on my social media platforms or sent to me via messenger or email. They are wonderful supporters of my writing, sharing their recommendations through reviews and talking about the books online. When I have moments where a current novel I’m writing is difficult, I take a peek at what people are saying—their reviews, comments on posts, the emails and letters they send me—and I’m reminded how fortunate I am to have such loving, thoughtful, kind readers in my life. I feel like I know many of them even though we’ve never met in person. I never take that for granted and try to respond to every reader. That can be difficult to juggle when I’m already working long days, but it’s important to me to connect with readers.
In real life, my husband and family are the best support system. I often begin work early in the morning and my husband brings me a chai latte and a breakfast so I can keep working. My daughter Lauren patiently listens to me, read scenes aloud, and gives me feedback. And my older sons are incredibly understanding when I run off after dinner to get back to writing. And I’m fortunate to write in the beautiful Southern California light, which is partly why much of my writing is optimistic and hopeful.
How does life influence your writing and vice versa, especially the response to Random Acts of Kindness and the Good Sam film? How has your background in film prepared you for a writing career?
Sometimes my workdays can get intense—disappointments, failures, surprises, gut-wrenching events that steal my breath away. I try to channel that into my writing. Even if what I’m writing about has nothing to do with what’s happening in real life, I find a way to convey the complex emotions that come with working with others all day long. People often ask me how I can write such optimistic stories when I work in the rough and tumble world of Hollywood. But the truth is, that’s why I started writing stories where Kate Bradley seeks out people doing good, without ulterior motive. I honestly questioned if such people existed, so I sent Kate Bradley on that exploration. And along the way, I discovered that good people are everywhere – you just have to look past those who are getting all the attention for bad stuff and you’ll see them everywhere. All the time.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I love that creativity allows me to follow my passions and curiosity. I’m interested in so many things, so writing allows me to bring all those things together. I’m always researching and learning new things in order to accomplish a novel. I’ve learned a lot about journalism, firefighting, Russian linguistics, opera, online videogames, and security systems from writing the Kate Bradley mysteries. And when I wrote The Space Between, I immersed myself in astronomy, a little physics, and secret codes. I also learn a lot about people—the way we think, how we make decisions, the way we interact with others, how we acquire belief systems.
What I didn’t expect—and which is always a wonderful surprise for me—is that my explorations are embraced by so many and become meaningful to others too. That connection with readers—when they say they’ve experienced the same feelings as my characters have—is priceless. Writing is a way to share the human experience and makes me realize that I’m not alone in the things I love, wonder about, question or struggle with. That is a gift of a lifetime.
Connect with Dete:
Wind Dancer Films: www.winddancer.com