Turnaround: Whatever Happened to “The Chronicles of Ara?”

My book series with Steve Hillard was released to great fanfare and strong reviews. A TV deal followed. And then the shoe dropped. A television cautionary tale.

Joel Eisenberg
May 8, 2020 · 8 min read

The first book of my digitally-published “The Chronicles of Ara” fantasy series, with Steve Hillard, sold a scant 200 copies when in late-2015 Variety announced a substantial TV deal for the project:

As is frequently the case with television, things did not go as planned.

The following is a cautionary tale.

The Beginning

I met author and investor Steve Hillard nearly a decade ago at The Great American Pitchfest, an ongoing conference where writers pitch their wares to television and movie executives.

At the time my office was in Paramount Studios, where I housed my independent production company. Steve had written a book called “Mirkwood,” billed as “a novel about J.R.R. Tolkien.”

In the book, Tolkien was a character within a fictional story that took place within an unseen corner of his universe. Almost immediately, the Tolkien estate took offense.

Publicly.

Steve, however, was also an attorney. Claiming “First Amendment Rights” and the law of portraying public figures in works of art, the estate and the author ultimately settled.

Rights now clear, Steve and I teamed to turn “Mirkwood” into a feature film. However, we were unable to attain the funding for the project, nor interest from any notable production entity.

During this time, “Mirkwood” became an Amazon fantasy bestseller.

We regrouped. I told Steve I had an idea. “Let’s write a series of spinoff novels,” I said. “We’ll create a fantasy saga based in part on your book, then try to sell the work as a television series.”

He agreed, and “The Chronicles of Ara” was born.

Introducing Ara, a Muse

“The end of the world begins when man is betrayed by his greatest creation: his art.”

This was the logline of our eight-book series (still in progress), which focused on a tertiary character from Steve’s “Mirkwood” novel by the name of Ara. Ara was a muse in the new books, responsible for inspiring the entirety of the world’s art and invention, who became corrupted upon the death of a beloved dragon slayer.

The publication of the books became a whole other headache.

We had elected to go the independent route so we could keep more control over the finished product. That was the idea, anyway. The first novel was released with editing marks and errors intact by a careless publisher. Two years of diligent work only to see the novel tossed onto Amazon with little regard as to its final appearance.

Steve and I made a deal with another publisher, who cleaned up the mess and managed to get the book into brick and mortar stores including Barnes and Noble.

The reviews were gratifying:

  • Joel Eisenberg and Stephen Hillard have written a wonderfully imaginative and complex novel better written than anything by L. Ron Hubbard, but that can also start a new religion! Great fun! — John Landis, director, “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers,” “An American Werewolf in London”
  • Tolkien, lost art, arcane creations, and a corrupted muse. Fantasy lovers, get ready for some fun. — Brad Meltzer, bestselling author of “The President’s Shadow”
  • “The Chronicles of Ara: Creation” is sincerely unlike any novel I’ve ever read, an astonishing tale of myth and art that hits the reader on a primal level and never lets go. This is exciting, addicting stuff, folks. You’re not going to know what hit you. — Gilbert Adler, Producer, “Superman Returns,” “Valkyrie,” “Constantine”
  • The literary season’s most stunning surprise and an important, awards-worthy work. Deliriously captivating and even profound. Fans of Dan Brown and J.R.R. Tolkien will find much to appreciate in these pages. — Marc Fisher, bestselling Author,The Instant Millionaire”
  • Brilliantly written. It certainly takes its place on the list where “The Hobbit” and the “Harry Potter” series reside. — ReadersFavorite.com
  • One of the greatest novels I have ever read. — Irwin Zucker, President Emeritus, Book Publicists of Southern California
  • A page-turning, mind-expanding journey into the realms of the imagination. For fans of fantasy on a grand and epic scale, “The Chronicles of Ara: Creation” is a must-read. — BestSellersWorld.com

And social media posts like this one certainly didn’t hurt:

We were noticed by Ovation Network, who reached out to Steve inquiring if the book had yet been sold to television.

CAA repped us at the time, the largest talent agency in the business.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Deal

After nearly a year of negotiating, we made a deal for our pending eight-book series. The announcement was made in Variety. The company hired two writers — Jeff Phillips and Lauren Conn — to pen the first-draft, and a format.

We had several meetings based on the material, and the duo was asked to pen a second draft based on network notes. The second draft was considered by the network to have bettered the first.

I preferred bits and pieces of both. As usual in this business, the novel — based on network dictates — was altered substantially, in several ways with which I adamantly disagreed.

In other ways, though, I thought the changes improved on the novel. Those changes were the result of the fantastic work by Jeff and Lauren, two creators with whom I would work again in a heartbeat.

The network seemed satisfied, and we waited for our greenlight.

And we waited some more, convincing ourselves patience is a virtue.

And weeks passed …

The network called. “Hi Joel,” the development rep said. “I have to deliver some bad news to you … Ara is not moving forward.”

I’ve been here before, unfortunately. “Why not?” I asked, trying my damndest to remain cool. “What happened?”

“Well, we went to our overseas financiers and they just weren’t interested.”

And that was the end of that.

For a minute.

Regrouping

Steve and I still had a wealth of material in our possession. We could either continue to submit the material — once we have gone through the legal process of re-attaining our rights — or we could take matters into our own hands and prepare promo material based on the “Ara” books.

We chose the latter.

Deborah Pratt, Executive Producer and co-creator of “Quantum Leap,” directed our sizzle reel, with Jessica Park cast as our Ara.

Both did a fine job, and some photos of the work-in-progress and the final cut are below.

Further, a new book was published, an off-shoot of the series in progress.

We were not nearly ready to stop.

So Where Are We Now?

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve regrouped. A handful of Zoom meetings are set for the next few weeks, and we’ll see where they land.

“The Chronicles of Ara” books were pulled by Steve and I from publication, to revise the narrative and find a bigger, traditional publisher.

And the beat goes on …

The Moral of This Saga

Writers and filmmakers, never give up. If you are passionate about a project, there is no reason whatsoever to stop pursuing it.

Work on other projects in the meantime … but never give up on your dream.

Cliche? Of course. But truer words have never been said in this business.

As for “The Chronicles of Ara,” frankly I am going to keep pursuing this one until it’s my time to push up daisies.

Thank you for reading.

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Joel Eisenberg

Written by

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

Writing For Your Life

Honest, practical advice on the writer’s life for both aspiring and experienced authors and screenwriters, and an uncensored forum for provocative thought.

Joel Eisenberg

Written by

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

Writing For Your Life

Honest, practical advice on the writer’s life for both aspiring and experienced authors and screenwriters, and an uncensored forum for provocative thought.

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