Smash Pages Q&A: Amanda Deibert

Deibert to adapt cult classic Lesbian mystery into graphic novel

Work for a Million is a cult classic novel by Eve Zaremba. The 1986 novel was one of a series of mysteries starring the openly lesbian private eye Helen Keremos. Bedside Press is running a kickstarter to reprint the novel and publish an original graphic novel adaptation written by Amanda Deibert and drawn by Selena Goulding.

Amanda Deibert has written a number of comics including Wonder Woman ’77 and Teen Titans Go!, she’s contributed to the anthologies Womanthology and Secret Loves of Geeks, and wrote the webcomic Hot Mess. As a TV and film writer she’s worked on OWN Tonight, 24 Hours of Reality, SyFy Presents Live from Comic-Con, Take Part Live, The Morning After, and other shows, and she was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk about the project.

‘Work for a Million’ cover by Sean Phillips

What is Work for a Million?

Work For A Million is a classic detective noir with an amazing lesbian P.I. at the center. The story is told from the point of view of Helen Keremos who has just finished a case – and a one night stand – and is about to go on vacation when she’s offered a very compelling job. A young, aspiring singer-songwriter, Sonia Deerfield, is being threatened since winning the lottery and now she needs help figuring out who is blackmailing her before she loses her money, her dreams, and possibly her life. Helen moves into Sonia’s suite and is instantly immersed in her world full of shady relatives, scrupulous “friends” and controlling business partners. It quickly becomes clear that the only person Sonia can trust is Helen, which drives them closer together. The two have undeniable chemistry which seems to threaten everyone around Sonia. Helen quickly finds her own life in jeopardy, which, of course, doesn’t phase her in the least as she races to find the culprit before they both end up out of time.

Had you read Eve Zaremba before? What interested you about the job?

I hadn’t ever read Eve Zaremba’s work before, but I was intrigued from the moment Hope Nicholson contacted me and asked if I would be interested in adapting a lesbian noir novel. I am so honored to be a part of this. I devoured the book in one evening. It was such a fun and exciting journey and very ahead of its time. As an out lesbian writer now, I have such a deep admiration for Eve writing these books in a time that was much less generous. I feel so lucky because this is the kind of story that is my dream anyway. I love noir as a genre. I enjoy writing action, especially with female characters, and, as a lesbian, I love writing things that contribute to a broader representation. So to be able to be a part of this and also to honor the work of a woman who really helped pave the way for who I am and the work that I do is such an immense privilege. As an added bonus, I had worked with Hope previously on Secret Loves of Geeks, so I knew she would be a total delight to work with again and I’ve been so right. Honestly, everything about this project is a treat for me.

You’ve written comics before but I don’t think you’ve adapted a story into comics before. What has that process been like?

You are correct. I’ve never done an adaptation in comics. I have adapted an autobiography and a play into screenplays for hire, so it’s not my first time doing an adaptation, but it is my first time doing it in the comics world.

The process is quite a bit different. Usually, I’ve already submitted a pitch and worked out the story in my mind first. I still did that with this in the form of a detailed outline that was then reviewed by Hope and Eve and her wife and business partner, Ottie Lockey, but there is an extra layer of care. I spent a lot of time going through the novel with a fine tooth comb and making notes. The key is to be sure that anything I added gives off the same essence as the novel. I added some scenes and characters that give a concise visual representation of things you gather from the book over many pages and because you are in the mind of the protagonist, Helen. Other times I combined situations and/or characters to keep the pacing faster and more comic book like. It’s a delicate balance. I feel so much more careful when it is someone else’s original work and I feel the need to “kill darlings” or take liberties. In the end, I want to create an enjoyable graphic novel that someone could read and love without having to read the novel first, but I also want to absolutely pay homage to the novel and have it give off the same kind of feeling. Eve created a really special, unique character and storyline and I want to do it justice.

In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the first time I wrote a Wonder Woman comic. Obviously, I was coming up with my own plot from scratch in that case, but there was still this beloved character with a rich history and I wanted to do her, her creator, her fans and all those writers who came before me justice. Clearly, I never put pressure on myself at all. [laughs]

‘One in a Million’ original prose novel with a new cover by Sami Kivelä

As part of that you are adapting a 174 page novel into a graphic novel. Having read the book, what for you is key to capture and translate and what are you looking to change and play with differently?

My key is to read it, study it and then set it aside as I figure out how to translate that same feeling, plot and character development into the graphic novel. As I said earlier, extensive outlining is key. This is honestly the most detailed outline I have ever done for any project. Part of that is because I want to be sure that Eve, Ottie, and Hope are totally on board for any changes that I am making, but the other part is that I want to be sure that I am actually hitting all the points I need to hit from the book and creating something that makes sense as a stand-alone. When I am creating my own original story, my outlines are pretty loose and flexible.

I know you’re still early in the process, but what has it been like working with Selena Goulding?

Selena is amazing. Her work is gorgeous. It has been a delight seeing what she has done with character designs and the choices she’s made so far in illustrating the pages that we have done. She is an absolute joy to collaborate with and I feel lucky to work with her on creating this.

So if this goes well, Eve wrote a few books in this series. Would you be up for adapting more?

I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to!

So what’s your elevator pitch to people? Why should they go and pre-order and support Work for a Million?

It’s a smart, sexy noir story full of action and fun witty banter. If you love a good mystery you will enjoy this. Plus, the whole story centers around a completely competent lesbian in her 40s, how often do we get that kind of representation?

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