“So much could go wrong.”
That’s Louisville author Bethany Griffin talking about the television production of her young adult novel, “Masque of the Red Death.”
After Griffin’s successful leap into the world of young adult publishing, I’m having a hard time believing her doubtful attitude toward her new project.
If the title sounds familiar, but you’re not a thirteen-year-old looking for a book to read after finishing “The Hunger Games” trilogy, that’s because Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story of the same name in 1842.
Griffin, a high school English teacher at Bullitt East High School, has adapted the Poe story into the “Red Death Saga,” two books – “Masque of the Red Death” and “Dance of the Red Death” – each released through Greenwillow Books, a subsidiary of HarperCollins.
Her third Poe-inspired novel, “The Fall,” is due out in 2014.
Griffin snagged television representation right after Masque was published in 2012. After that, she was asked to write a television treatment – basically, a plot summary – for Masque to shop around to producers.
This past summer, after the April release of “Dance of the Red Death,” Griffin’s television and book agents went to Comic-Con International in San Diego and optioned “Masque” to CBS as a television series for CW, the same network that produces “The Vampire Diaries,” “Supernatural,” and “Gossip Girl.”
All of this sounds pretty exciting to me, but Griffin is a realist.
She assures me the television series is a long way from happening. At the time of our interview, the network has hired a director and a screenwriter, neither of whose names have been released to Griffin.
“Who knows how long it will take,” she tells me.
Griffin does know the pilot will be expensive to produce due to the costumes and the sets. The novel takes place in a dystopian universe shortly after the time Poe published his story. Griffin describes it as historical post-apocalyptic.
“Dystopian is hot,” Griffin explains.
One only needs to look at the success of The Hunger Games books and movies to realize Griffin is right. Unlike The Hunger Games, however, The Red Death Saga has more of a steampunk vibe. It’s Victorian, but also futuristic.
Griffin’s synopsis of “Masque of the Red Death” is as follows: a plague wipes out everything, and a teenage girl’s father creates a mask that helps prevent the plague. The girl joins a revolution and, in Griffin’s words, “meets hot boys.”
If Griffin’s series makes it to production, she still isn’t guaranteed the series will get green-lighted by the network executives.
With all of this uncertainty, I would expect Griffin to be a nervous wreck. But she isn’t. She is calm, funny, and slightly detached from the hoopla. This is the same attitude she expresses with her literary successes.
In 2008, Griffin published her first young adult novel “Handcuffed,” a coming-of-age story about a young woman who feels trapped and makes bad choices. She sold the movie rights of this book to Hart-Lunsford Pictures, but the project has languished. This has not held her back. Griffin is enjoying a sabbatical from teaching this year while she finishes edits on the last of her Poe adaptations, “The Fall” – a retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” – due out in spring of 2014, and is drafting a new young adult Victorian mystery.
She is also using this year “off” to earn a second master’s degree in Library Media Science.
Griffin hired a web designer to create a professional author page, which she checks from time to time, mostly to answer fan mail, but she doesn’t fixate on her successes, which include an Indy Next List Selection (a monthly list of bestsellers from independent bookstores), a Junior Library Guild Selection, a nomination for 2012 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, and a Publisher’s Weekly Pick of the Week.
Her books have been translated into French, German, Polish, and Indonesian and also have been published in England.
Griffin’s books can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, where she tells me the young adult bookshelves are coveted real estate.
“I figure if I’m doing really great or really bad I’d know.”
I admire the glossy posters of the cover art of Griffin’s two Red Death Saga books: a lone woman, face obscured by a parasol or a fan, saturated in jeweled red and purple tones. These posters hang in her airy office space, to the right of the front door to her suburban house. Bookshelves are crammed with science fiction and fantasy novels in hardback and paper. Griffin’s own books, both the American and the British versions, sit on a small shelf to the left of her computer table.
Griffin isn’t getting swept away by the media frenzy of her potential television success. She doesn’t Google herself or read many reviews.
She promotes her books as she feels the need, always scheduling a signing at Bullitt East for her current students and alums to attend, but making sure she isn’t away from home more than two weekends a month. Her two children are still young – 10 and 8 – and she wants to spend time with them.
She may pop onto Facebook to keep friends and fans up-to-date with production news, but ultimately, she prioritizes her family and her writing.
“You gotta write books,” she tells me.