Hollie Overton grew up in Kingsville, Texas. She fell in love with story telling when she auditioned for a local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. For college she moved to New York where she studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, writing at Hunter College and Burlington College and mixology in Murray Hill. After graduating, she moved to California with dreams of becoming a star. Her first and only role was on TNT’s Leverage. After multiple auditions and little success, Hollie realized her talents were better suited for behind the scenes.
She landed her big break in 2008 when she was accepted into the coveted Warner Brothers Writers Workshop. After completing the workshop, she worked on CBS’ Cold Case, Lifetime’s The Client List and Freeform’s Shadowhunters. In addition to television, Hollie’s debut novel Baby Doll will be published on July 12, 2016 in the USA.
Talk Nerdy With Us recently chatted with Hollie about Shadowhunters and Baby Doll. Read our interview below.
How old were you when you moved from Chicago to Texas?
My family and I left Chicago when I was two. We actually lived in Utah for a year and a half and then we moved back to Texas where my mom and dad are originally from. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend too much time in Chicago. I actually got into DePaul for college. I ended up not going there but I always wanted to go back and visit. My sister and I keep saying we’re going to do a city tour.
I know there are great restaurants there too. A friend of mine went and she was raving about the food scene.
Chicago pizza for the win! Originally, you had actually wanted to be an actor, not a writer, so walk me through what happened.
I didn’t get enough work. (laughs). That’s probably the easiest answer. I went to acting school, the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and I studied privately with a teacher that I loved, then I moved out to LA. My mom was like, “You should go to LA, nothing’s happening in New York.” I was like, “You’re right, nothing is happening in New York,” so I moved out here.
I auditioned a lot. I booked one TV show. I just wasn’t working enough and was really … You get frustrated. The thing with acting is, you really need someone to hire you to be able to do the job. That’s the good thing about writing. You don’t need anybody. You can do it on your own. I still love acting. I’d done it all through high school and middle school and in college.
But, once I found writing I realized I still get to be involved in the process and be part of it. Now I see some of the actors who are Shadowhunters and other actors that have been on other shows. I do think there are some people who just have it.
When did you realize writing was something you wanted to do professionally? In college? In high school? Or when acting didn’t work it?
I started journaling when I was really young. In Texas they have a thing like they do for sports, they have activities where you compete for journalism. I went to State in that my senior year and got third place. I was always been writing. I worked at a newspaper in high school. That was my internship. I always kind of knew I wanted to write.
When I moved out to L.A, I actually entered … I’m a big believer in contests for writers. I think that’s a good way to see how you stack up. I entered a contest and it was a mentorship with a screenwriter Stephen Susco who has been very successful. He was raising money for his hometown library. The entry fee went for that. He mentored three writers for a year and I was one of those writers. He was really the one that encouraged me and he was the one who said, “You should try TV.” I don’t even know if he knows how pivotal that advice was in getting me to pursue television.
You took his advice! Cold Case was your first television job?
Yes! I got that through a fellowship for Warner Brothers, a lot of those studios have them, but Warner Brothers has one called The Warner Brothers Writers Workshop and, basically, they pick seven to nine writers, I think it’s seven now but it was nine my year. It’s basically a TV writing boot camp. You spend eight months learning the ropes, learning how to pitch, learning how to write a script with deadlines, and what goes on in a writer’s room. At the end of the eight months, you meet with managers and agents and they do their best to get you staffed. I was lucky enough to get staffed on Cold Case out of that program.
Did you do your fellowship with the writer before Warner Brothers, or after?
No. I did the mentorship with Stephen Susco in 2006 shortly after I got to LA. I was just writing features but I wasn’t finishing anything. I think he saw something in my writing. Smaller stories, more character driven, what TV is now and what TV was then. He inspired me to take some TV writing classes. I took classes at UCLA extension. Then I got into the Warner Brother’s Workshop in 2008, which changed everything.
Now you’re working on Shadowhunters, congratulations! Another amazing opportunity!
You know, to be part of a show with such an incredible book series, and the most die-hard fans has been just amazing. It’s a dream come true. You always want to work on something that people are so excited and so passionate about. I feel really lucky.
Were you familiar with Clare’s series?
Yes, I read the books a long time ago. And I’d previously worked with Ed Decter, the creator of the show, on The Client List. He knew my writing and I was like, “I love the books. I love the world and the characters.” I was always a Buffy fan and we have a lot of writers who are real, real sci-fi fans.
I love sci-fi, and great characters. I think that’s what’s great about the books. They have both. And everything fell into place. I was like, “Oh my god. I can’t believe I’m on this show.” And then getting to be on set and seeing it all come to life. You’re writing fight scenes and stunt scenes and then you’re watching them film it. It’s such a different show than I had been on and such a wonderful opportunity to get to do that kind of stuff.
What goes into writing an episode?
I know every show is different, but the way we work is obviously we have the books as a jumping off point, but all of the writers are in the writer’s room pitching and, we call it breaking the stories, forming the episode, together. Then once we have the episode broken and the story, what this episode is about and what’s going to happen and what’s the big moments, then whoever the writer of the episode is, will then go off and they’ll write an outline. They’ll get notes on that from the show runner and the executive producers and the network and the studio. Once that is approved, you go off and you write the script and then you get more notes. It’s a very collaborative process, which is good because so many times as a writer, especially when you’re not on a show, you’re writing alone. It’s the best of both worlds because it’s a very social process at times too, but then you do have to lock yourself up and write the script or write the outline.
One of your episodes aired and then you have another one coming up, right?
Yes. I co-wrote episode two with Ed Decter, the creator. My next episode is episode nine, which I believe airs in March. That was the episode that I was able to go to Toronto and be on set and hang out with all the other actors and meet all of the crew and work with the director, which is a lot of fun watching it come to life. You just feel like … “I get paid to do this?” (laughs).
What’s it like writing an episode earlier in the season and then having one much later? How does that work?
I feel like we, as the writers know more. We’ve got these great characters that Cassandra Clare created, so there is that, but we also know the actors. It’s easier to write sometimes when you know their strengths. The earlier episodes, we have to set up the world and explain to the audience the mythology of the show. You have a lot more room as you get into the later episodes to really have fun and explore and tell even better stories, because you’re not explaining who these people are and getting everybody to know them.
It was a great responsibility to be trusted to work on the second episode with Ed because in the books you have hundreds and hundreds of pages to explain something and we had to do it in 47 minutes. But the ninth episode had its own challenges because we are creating some newer things and building upon that. You’re always excited to write an episode and to have two in a season is really cool.
With the numbers that Shadowhunters are getting, I highly doubt that you won’t get a second season so is your plan to stick around? And write for season 2?
(laughs). Oh, I would hope so. If we get picked up I would hope to come back. Like I said it’s been a dream job and working with all of these fantastic writers and the best cast. They’re friends in real life, they’re friends on set. They love doing the show. They all love the books as well. Just to be part of something like that is very special. As long as they ask me to come back, I’m coming back. We’ve all been super excited about the numbers every week. We’re growing and doing better. Hopefully this week continues that and we hear something soon. We’re all really crossing our fingers that they pick it up. I’m not just saying this because I’m a writer on it but the show gets better and better. It really does. It’s so much fun.
Switching gears a little bit, tell me about Baby Doll. I know it’s your debut novel, but have you written full stories before this?
I was in seventh grade and I wrote a novel. I was halfway through it and I thought “This is terrible,” and I threw it away. Which was really young to have that much writer’s self-doubt. I always dreamt of being a novelist but I’d start things and after 40 pages I’d be like no and give up. (laughs). This was my first adult attempt at writing a novel. I was on a show and it got cancelled and I was interviewing which was frustrating and I just wanted to write something for myself.
I’m an identical twin and it’s one of the most important relationships in my life, my twin sister and I. I really wanted to explore that relationship, and I had this idea and I wrote 90 pages in a week, week and a half and then I was like, “Now what? This isn’t a full novel.” I ended up taking a class and working with the novelist Eduardo Santiago. He was fantastic. He worked with me on the whole novel, mentored me and saw me through it, even when I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” It was such an exciting time. When I finished it I was like, “Now what? Now what do I do with this thing?”
Did you end up keeping those 90 pages? Are they still a part of the final draft?
I did keep them! I think my TV background knowledge helped. Really, I’d say like the first 50 pages didn’t really change. Obviously, they were rewritten, but really the structure and even the first 20 didn’t change, at all, which is kind of rare. There’s just something about it that worked. It’s a thriller, but it’s got so much about me and my sister and our relationship in it, so it feels like a very personal book. I love these characters so much. I think that’s also why it was so easy to write. I say easy, even though it was not easy at all. (laughs). But so much easier to write than if it were something I wasn’t personally connected to.
You started it in 2012?
Yes, I started writing Baby Doll towards the end of 2012. People are always asking that and I wasn’t really writing it with any sort of hurry in mind, so it probably took me about a year and a half. Mostly because I was writing pilots and writing TV scripts, pitching shows, planning my wedding. It was almost this secret side project that I would work on at night when my husband would go to bed. I’m like, “I’ll write a few more pages,” kind of never really thinking … I really, and people always say this, but I really didn’t think much about publishing it, because I was like, “I just want to see if I can write If I can write a whole novel and then I’ll worry about how to get it published.”
Now it is being published! How did you find Hatchette/Penguin Random House? How did the publishing process happen?
I’m lucky that I’m with WME for TV and film and they have a fantastic book department in New York. When I said, “Hey, I wrote this novel,” they were like, “Oh, really? Wow,” and they passed it along to Eve Atterman, who’s now my agent. She loved it, but she had some notes, so I reworked it based on her suggestions and they really made the book stronger. Then she took it out on submission, and we actually sold it in Germany first. Then we got the offer from Penguin Random House, and then we got the offer from Hatchette. So Penguin Random House will be publishing it in the U.K. on June 30th, and then it will be published here in July. And now I’m writing my second book. It’s very exciting; it was kind of an unexpected second career. It’s keeping me busy. (laughs). And I’m also adapting Baby Doll into feature.
Oh wow! Is Baby Doll set up as a stand-alone?
It’s stand-alone. It’s not a series. The second book is set in Texas, and deals with a woman who works on death row so it’s also a crime thriller. That’s really the only parameters that my editors gave me, and it’s something I’m pretty obsessed with anyway. Dateline is kind of my obsession. And now I write about vampires, werewolves.
That’s the third book! (laughs).
Yeah, exactly. When people ask, “Wait, what are you doing now?” I’m like, “True crime but with vampires.” (laughs). It’s perfect, it’s keeping me busy and, it’s what every writer wants, right? To be able to tell her stories and have people hopefully want to read them.
Exactly! I know a job’s a job, but do you enjoy novels or TV more?
It’s hard to choose! I really do love them both. But I wouldn’t leave TV any time soon. I admire novelists who can be alone that long with their own thoughts but I really, really do enjoy the process of TV and working with people and seeing something come to life in that sort of fast-paced crazy process. When you have to turn a script around really quickly or even when you’re writing the story and you’re working together and everybody’s pitching and you just sort of feel that creative energy. It’s a very alive kind of feeling. Writing novels is a different kind of experience. You’re completely in charge. No one can tell you like, “Oh, that doesn’t work” or “Why don’t you make her a woman instead of a man?” You’re in charge so there is something very freeing about that. As long as I can get work in TV, I’ll keep working in TV and I’ll write my novels in between.
Did writing for TV help? I feel like writing a book in one year is pretty quick.
Yeah. I mean, I probably took a year and a half. I do think I have a fast process. I write a lot. I call myself a binge-writer. (laughs). Some days, you know, like last week, I said, “My goal was 10,000 words” and that’s a lot. Some writers that might take them a month. In TV you do have to write fast and you do have to deliver, I think that really has helped my process. Some people might take ten years to write a novel but I just couldn’t do that. I’d go crazy. I’d be like I can’t read this any more. I can’t rewrite it any more. I used to have this problem, as a writer, I never got anything finished. And so now I set goals. I’m like “Let’s finish this by a certain timeline.” It’s definitely interesting too, though, because my second novel is due in October so I find myself a little more stressed because the first one there was no deadline, nobody was waiting for it. I could take as long as I wanted. Now I find myself like, “Okay, this is due. You have to get it done.”
I still work with my writing mentor, even on this next book, because he gives me deadlines. I’m like; “I’m sending you my next pages by this day” so then I’m being held accountable.
I think even within the craft of writing a book, you know, the TV world has helped me because I see things visually and people say, “Oh, I can see it. You’ve painted a picture.” I remember when I was writing Baby Doll Eduardo said, “Remember the end of the chapter has to capture the reader. You’ve got to have a reason to want to turn the page.” I was like, “Oh, it’s like an act-out.” You know what I mean? It’s like for the commercial break.
Just kind of those tricks for myself. I’m sure by the time that Baby Doll comes out I’ll reread it and be like, “Oh, I could have made it so much better.” That’s the good thing about letting it go out into the world, right? It’s not really yours anymore.
They sent me an advanced copy to look through and show to everyone and send out and I started reading it and I was like, “I can’t do this.” It’s that need to want to change something, to make it better. There’s something very different about when you see an episode of TV that you’ve done and even though there might be things you want to change like I don’t feel that same like, “Oh my God. It’s been written …”
Especially in TV there is collaboration, you know? It’s not just your work you’re seeing up there. It’s the whole team working on it. Editors, the network, the showrunner. It’s also the actors and how they deliver the lines you wrote. A lot of the time you’re watching and you’re like, “That line worked even better.” You know what I mean? How they delivered that. “I didn’t even think that line was funny and then they made it funny!” That’s the cool part about watching a finished episode.
Because you’re familiar with TV, when you were writing Baby Doll did you have actors in mind for specific characters?
Oh, yes, I have already mentally cast it in my head. (laughs). I’ll be like, “Oh, I want to work with that actor.” There are definitely actors who I’m like “Oh, I think he’d be great” or the bad guy or he’d be like a great lead. I think it helps you when you’re writing a little bit to kind of think about that.
Even when I sent my producers my outline I said, you know, like, think this actor for this character. That’s how I see it. If they disagree we can discuss it.
Sometimes people say, as writers, don’t put actors’ names, but I think there’s something great about that where you can really immediately visualize it.
Did you have any say in your cover art?
I will say for the UK cover, they didn’t consult me at all, but I think it’s a really captivating cover. They were wonderful at Hatchette. I was able to talk to the designer and they showed me what they were thinking. They’re the experts. I liked what they came up with.
At the end of the day they’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have and they have entire marketing departments and people who make these decisions. I’ve heard other writers say that they weren’t asked and they were just like “Here is your cover!” So it was nice to be asked.
Since our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, what do you nerd out about or what makes you a nerd?
I think the nerdiest thing that I’m doing now is I’m organizing a Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies outing with all of my friends this weekend.
Were you a fan of Smith’s book too?
I was. Yes and I think the movie looks really good! I’m not going to read reviews or listen to anything because I’m afraid that it will spoil my excitement but I’m very excited. I think it’s nice to see movies where women get to be the heroes and fight and kill zombies.