Way back in 2014, I shared a guest post by a debut author who’d been a staff writer on the marvellous TV series, Xena: Warrior Princess.
Now he’s my guest again, with his latest series starter in an epic, YA Space Opera, and some words about his background with Xena, and how that led to this new, female-led action-packed series. Take it away, Robert…
The Once And Future Scrolls by R.S. Mellette
I had been off Xena: Warrior Princess for a couple of months, after having been on it from when the pilot was just a script up to the writing of season three. Not a bad run considering my boss, RJ Stewart, never hired me. Long story. The short version is RJ was taking so long to hire someone that Rob Tapert got impatient, telling his assistant, Brad, to “just get someone in there.”
Weeks before, a fax from New Zealand about Xena came to the wrong number on the Universal lot where I was temping. Someone handed it to me with, “Here, throw this away.”
It was the per-episode budget for Xena. With a note from Eric Gruendemann, the line producer. “I guess since we’ve got the green light, we’ll have to do it for this.”
Instead of throwing it away, I called Renaissance Pictures. Brad answered. I asked if they were expecting a fax from New Zealand. “YES!” I wrote on the cover page that I was available as a script coordinator / writer’s assistant with my contact info. That got me the interview where RJ didn’t hire me, and the job when Brad did.
For the first few weeks, whenever I told someone I was working on Xena: Warrior Princess they all said the same thing. “Is that a cartoon?”
One day I ran into a friend from Universal’s Television Information Services (TVIS), the department where I’d started at the studio years before. His response was, “Oh, cool. I’m doing the website.”
Opportunity knocked again. “Really?” I said, “Would you like to meet with the writers?”
I thought that if something creative came out of that meeting, there wouldn’t be anyone to do the work but me. I was right. The Xena Scrolls were born.
For the majority of the people in the world who have no idea what I’m talking about, The Xena Scrolls was a section of the show’s official website. Instead of dry episode-by-episode summaries, “scientists” from the “Xena Restoration Society” translated the ancient scrolls, written by Gabrielle, about Xena: Warrior Princess. Call it the first Fake News, or the web’s version of the War of the Worlds radio show, nothing like it had been on the Net before. Yahoo!’s review of the overall site, said something to the effect of, “There are even real scientists discussing the show.” Fans spent hours of research trying to find, and possibly join, the Xena Restoration Society. It was a big hit.
Back to its creation. My friend said Universal didn’t have a contract with Renaissance Pictures for web content, so there was no budget to pay me. That was fine. “As long as you can’t make money, I’m fine with that. If that changes, then we’ll talk.” I figured I’d cash in later.
That agreement lasted two years. During that time, my friend left TVIS. I was given a story credit for The Xena Scrolls episode, which was a nice cash-in. Another friend took over the website. He left as well and was replaced by Universal New Media Department, where I knew no one and they didn’t know me. Until one day I got a call telling me I had to incorporate IBM’s Big Blue computer playing chess into the Scrolls. Universal had sold IBM a banner ad on the Scrolls.
“You can’t do that,” I told the woman on the phone. She spoke like someone who’d just gotten her MBA in hip & cool marketing. “We don’t have a contract.”
Lawyers got involved.
About that time, RJ figured out he wanted to hire his own assistant, maybe because I was getting calls from attorneys, VPs, etc. I don’t know. Didn’t matter. I was out of a job I never had while in negotiations for a never-before-done contract between a writer and a Hollywood studio for content on the World Wide Web.
Universal Merchandising and the New Media Department – which, it could be argued, I helped create – fought it out for who should handle The Xena Scrolls. In the meantime, a literary agent told me if the rights could be worked out, it could mean a million-dollar, multi-book, deal.
I’ll never forget that day. After talking with the agent, I walked to the grocery store. I was hungry, but I had no food in the house and absolutely no money. A million dollars’ worth of stuff in my head and nothing in my stomach or wallet.
A week or so later, Merchandising won the fight. They offered me $500 flat with no guarantee that I’d get to write more, no discussion of what more chapters would pay, and no percentage of the ad revenue on the page I’d created. Still hungry, I turned them down.
The Xena Scrolls were dead.
A few days later, I got a temp job working for a producer at Universal. I just had to babysit the desk while he talked to Julia Roberts on the phone all day. Apparently, she was vacationing in Italy. He did take one pitch from writers. I could hear them tell the worst Sci-Fi story in the world, which got me thinking.
Plenty of shows tried to steal what they thought made Xena and Hercules work. There was The New Adventures of Robin Hood, The Adventures of Sinbad, and so many more. They took the look and casual modern language of Hercules but fell flat. Plus, Xena was much more popular than Hercules – sorry, Kevin, but it’s true. The show touched something in everyone, from little kids to readers of Ms. Magazine. Rob Tapert, Liz Friedman, Dan Filie, RJ Stewart and Steve Sears had made a magic potion they poured over Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Conner – and I knew the ingredients. In my own small way, I was one of the ingredients.
But I couldn’t use my characters from the website without the characters from the show. What could I do?
The writers in the next room were so excited about their story of a colony on the moon. They babbled on and on such that it was hard for me to think straight. I needed one dash of a new ingredient to bring the Scrolls back to life.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
The Xena Scrolls would rise again. The characters would be different. The location would be different, but that magic potion would be the same. A female action hero. A female sidekick. Don’t make an issue of it, as they go on the adventures a thousand different faces have been on before.
This time in space.
Kiya And The Morian Treasure was born.
LOS ANGELES – Among the ancient ruins of a distant planet lies a girl’s diary, the first entry a warning: If you’re reading this and I’m not dead, then get out of my stuff. With that brusque alert, begins the epic adventure in R.S. Mellette’s space opera, “Kiya and the Morian Treasure” (April 26, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press). Mellette, who worked on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” took his experience in the television and film industries to craft a female-led YA sci-fi novel that will captivate readers of all ages and genders.
The aforementioned diary belongs to Nadir, the daughter of a peacemaker and diplomat, who has lost her mother, and whose father, Janus, is quickly dying of a space plague ravaging the universe. Janus hires freelance space pirate Kiya to arrange safe passage back to their homeland and plans to turn himself over to Admiral Ghan, leader of the council of pirates, in the name of peace. But all does not go according to plan. Kiya’s ship is attacked by fellow pirate and Kiya’s Ex, Derek, who’s looking to collect the bounty on Janus himself. With Janus’ capture, Nadir and Kiya are left to fend for themselves all while Kiya seeks to recover the memories erased by her father, which she’s convinced hold the key to finding the mysterious Morian Treasure.
Action-packed and quick-witted, “Kiya and the Morian Treasure” is a journey through the galaxy like readers have never seen before — and the ending is sure to astonish all those who venture into this exciting new universe.
“Stirring and deft curtain raiser to a mayhem-filled, girl-powered YA/SF saga that doesn’t talk down to readers.” — Kirkus Reviews
Take a look HERE
About the author:
R.S. MELLETTE, originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, now lives in San Clemente, California, where he toils away at turning his imaginary friends into real ones. While working on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” he created and wrote “The Xena Scrolls” for Universal’s New Media department and was part of the team that won a Golden Reel Award for ADR editing. When an episode aired based on his “Xena Scrolls’” characters, it became the first intellectual property to move from the internet to television. Mellette has worked and blogged for the film festival Dances With Films as well as the novelist collective, From The Write Angle, and he is on the board of the L.A. region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
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