Thursday, May 25, 2023

Q&A with Todd Milliner and Carlyn Greenwald


Todd Milliner, photo by Chris Haston


Todd Milliner and Carlyn Greenwald are the authors, with actor Sean Hayes, of the new young adult novel Time Out. Milliner is a TV producer and writer whose shows include Grimm and Hot in Cleveland. He lives in Los Angeles. Greenwald also has written the novel Sizzle Real. She also lives in Los Angeles.


Q: What was the inspiration behind Time Out, and how did you create your character Barclay Elliot?


Todd Milliner: It’s funny, Sean [Hayes] and I always talk about developing something that is our story - something that is authentic to us. And this story is a version of our own personal journeys.


I was always a bit more of the athlete and Sean was a bit quirkier and more fun. Even though I was never close to being as good as we describe Barclay to be, I feel like I went through a lot of the same things he does here. There’s a lot of fiction here, but there’s also a lot of truth in these characters.


Carlyn Greenwald: The process for writing Time Out was quite different from writing a book solo. In this case, I came into the project when Sean and Todd had already fleshed out and developed Barclay as a character in their pilot script.

Carlyn Greenwald, photo by Molly Pan

When it came time to work on the novel, we had to take a character that we only know through seeing him and his dialogue and form an entire inner world.


So, we used the emotional beats from the script, most notably Barclay talking about his grandpas death and how he wanted to come out to start living his authentic life that he never got to while his grandpa was alive (which is now the first chapter) and really expanded that.


From there, I really loved the way that Barclay lived and breathed basketball and had touches of the jock who skates by in school but has an unending well of sports knowledge” so we combined that with this guy whos also able to adapt to those who are vastly different around him (namely his best friend, goth, indie rock music lover and activist Amy and later romcom king and aspiring journalist Christopher) and find bits of himself from being with these very different people.


It was so fun to take scenes from the pilot and really dig into what would Barclay be thinking and feeling in this moment.”


Q: How did all three authors collaborate on the book?


Todd Milliner: Sean and I started out to make this a TV show or a movie. We took our story to the folks at Simon and Schuster who recommended we work with someone not so… well, old.


So we read a few great writers and the one that made the most sense to us was Carlyn. The moment we read her stuff, we knew she was the one writer that would not only elevate the story we wanted to tell, but also capture the authentic tone and spirit.


Carlyn Greenwald: As I mentioned above, I came into the project when Sean and Todd had a pilot and were developing it into a book adaptation. Ive been writing contemporary YA for years, and the story was so clearly ripe for a novel adaptation that when they asked me to partner with them it was an easy yes.


The pilot itself had material up through only the first couple chapters though, so there was a lot to think about past those pages and what different kind of story could happen to these characters.


Wonderful S&S editor Alexa Pastor and Sean and Todd worked together to draft a generously detailed outline of that story that I then used to lay out the groundwork for a first draft of the novel.


The overall story and emotional beats were laid out pretty clearly for me, but so much of the magic comes from finding Barclays voice in the novel, developing all the side characters and their arcs, digging into the romantic tension between Christopher and Barclay, and really letting us sift those Barclays denial and grief in a way novels shine at.


From there, the draft went back to Sean, Todd, and Alexa, where I got notes and did a couple more large revisions. It actually worked a lot like a writers room with me being assigned to write that weeks script with the story beats, guidance, and vision of Sean and Todd.


It was an amazing collaborative experience where you can really see everyones touches to make the book something special.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


Todd Milliner: We made a lot of changes along the way. We knew the way into the journey, and the three of us found the finish line together. 


Carlyn Greenwald: The ending, including some key images and scenes from the pilot, stayed in from the very first draft. Funny enough, what ended up changing a bunch was the beginning.

Pilots sometimes drop you right into the central conflict that will make up the rest of the story because of limited page-space, but with books, we had the opportunity to really expand. So, we ended up adding all these events — I think about four chapters’ worth - before the events of the pilot.


But, after a few more revision rounds, we found that the pacing was lagging, so those chapters mostly got slashed/integrated into other parts of the book. The read is a lot quicker and smoother now, but I do think about those lost moments sometimes.


Q: What are you working on now?


Todd: Sean and I are working on a Broadway play that opens in April of 2023 called Goodnight, Oscar. We are also working on a lot of different TV and film projects. We just started talking about what the rest of the journey could be for these characters.


Carlyn Greenwald: Hah, I’m always all over the place. In adult, I have another queer rom com set to come out in 2024. In YA, my agent and I are trying to sell a YA thriller with a bi Jewish girl lead and all-queer main cast. Hopefully it could appeal to my adult readers and Time Out’s as well.


Q: Anything else we should know?


Carlyn Greenwald: I don’t think so! Other than I’m so so excited for readers to pick up Time Out and I hope they fall in love with Barclay and Christopher and Amy the way I had while working on the project. We’re all so, so proud of what we’ve made.


Todd Milliner: Only that we are extremely grateful that people are finding these characters interesting enough to come on the journey with us. When we put something out in the world that is a little revealing about ourselves we hope people will support us and ultimately enjoy the ride.


In a way the journey we went through writing this book parallels that journey that Barclay is on. Here’s hoping we can hit a couple baskets.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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