When a Film Producer Debuts a YA Novel
Emily Ziff Griffin | The Children’s Book Review | September 6, 2017
My husband likes to joke that I was raised by a television. Some kids played the piano, some read books, but I spent the majority of after-school hours growing up glued to the lengthy stream of sitcoms that would start at 5pm and carry me late into the evening most nights.
My passion grew and in high school, it inspired weekly pilgrimages to the Angelika Film Center in NYC’s SoHo to see the latest foreign or independent film. I never saw any of this as a bad thing, and presumably neither did my parents. In fact, as an adult, I credit this abundant, early exposure to TV and film with my affinity for character-driven, visual storytelling.
By college, I was all in, graduating from Brown with a degree in art-semiotics, the study of how images make meaning. After graduation, I began a career in film that led me to starting and running a production company with the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman which I did for over a decade.
Somewhere along the way, though, making and watching other people’s stories stopped being quite so satisfying. The closer I got to artists like Phil who were doing such personal, vulnerable life-changing work that was serving a meaningful purpose in the world, that was created from the very essence of who they were, it became harder to deny my own desire to share myself in a similar way.
So I took the leap and started writing a novel for teenagers. I was fortunate to start from a place of relative ignorance about the enormity of the task, otherwise I likely would not have done it. Through the challenge, I tried to make use of the things I learned through my career in film—how to tell a story in pictures; how to dig deep to a story’s essence, to understand what it’s about thematically, why it matters to me and why it will matter to others; how to make sure that I am always working from the personal without being wed to the literal. These are all the things I do as a producer and they served me really well writing Light Years.
I also embraced the solitude and the incredible blessing of writing which is that, unlike film, it does not require the permission or collaboration of anyone. I knew that without anyone saying yes to me, I would have a work of art at the end. Whether it would exist or not was entirely in my control. With so many obstacles to getting a movie made, that simple fact was incredibly gratifying.
That said, having spent so many years in a creatively collaborative industry, it was hard for me not to invite a lot of input and support. That started with two women named Carey and Saira from a really cool literary packaging company called In This Together who helped develop the book and were like my producers early on. And then I got notes from several terrific editors before I even sold the book. So even though it’s my name on the jacket, the book was by no means written in a high tower or isolation chamber somewhere (my acknowledgements are very long).
Now as I put the book in the world I rely again on a lesson I learned from filmmaking which is that as artists we must do the work we set out to do, then let go of the results. It’s nearly impossible to please everyone, but if we’ve made work that’s true to who we are and how we see the world then it’s possible to release the expectation of how others will receive it. In other words, leaving it all on the field makes the outcome less defining. And I definitely gave this book everything I had.
Ultimately, my writing has made my producing stronger and vice versa. For one thing, my confidence in my own creative instincts has radically deepened. I am also more sensitive to the plight of the writer now. But I’m also more willing to say with conviction to fellow writers and producers alike that no problem, artistic or logistical, is unsolvable. Wearing both hats continues to reveal that truth to me every day.
Written by Emily Ziff Griffin
Publisher’s Synopsis: As a mysterious virus infects the world’s population, a girl embarks on a quest to find a cure in this thrilling debut from Emily Ziff Griffin.
Luisa is ready for her life to start. Five minutes ago. And she could be on her way, as her extraordinary coding skills have landed her a finalist spot for a fellowship sponsored by Thomas Bell, the world’s most brilliant and mercurial tech entrepreneur. Being chosen means funding, mentorship, and most importantly, freedom from her overbearing mother. Maybe Lu will even figure out how to control the rare condition that plagues her: whenever her emotions run high, her physical senses kick into overload, with waves of color, sound, taste, and touch flooding her body.
But Luisa’s life is thrust into chaos as a deadly virus sweeps across the globe, killing thousands and sending her father into quarantine. When Lu receives a cryptic message from someone who might hold the key to stopping the epidemic, she knows she must do something to save her family—and the world.
Suspenseful, lyrical, and thought-provoking, Light Years features a remarkable heroine on an intensely physical and emotional quest for hope and existential meaning.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon Pulse | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1507200056
“The intersection of spiritualism, physical health, and a global community creates an evocative message that hints at the butterfly effect one person can have. Griffin’s near-future worldbuilding is stylish, immersive, and entirely plausible… A supernatural romantic thriller that defies convention.”
“Light Years is searingly beautiful. A page-turner of a debut about life, death, loss, and love . . . and ultimately hope. Emily Ziff Griffin is an important new voice in YA fiction, and Light Years is an important book.”
—Jennifer Niven, New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places and Holding Up the Universe
“Light Years couldn’t be more timely. In the midst of so much chaos and strife, Griffin’s protagonist Luisa manages to feel, to hurt, to love, and, most important, to persevere. It is [A] beautiful story of grit and resilience, a potent reminder that when our own world seems to be crumbling, it’s up to us to make something of ourselves.”
—M.A. Larson, award-winning author of the Pennyroyal Academy series
About the Author
Emily Ziff Griffin lives in Los Angeles, where she writes, produces, teaches, daydreams, and mothers two young kids. When she was twenty-five, she cofounded Cooper’s Town Productions with Philip Seymour Hoffman and produced the Academy Award–winning film Capote, along with Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, and John Slattery’s God’s Pocket. She’s run three marathons, slowly, and holds a degree from Brown University in art-semiotics, the study of how images make meaning. She believes children are way more sophisticated than adults typically give them credit for and writes for the teenager who is ready to claim their own worldview and be grounded in their own power. Light Years is her first novel. Find her at EmilyZiffGriffin.com.