S2 E9: Guest host writer/director Barbara Stepansky

Ever wonder how your favorite book becomes a movie or a TV show? Well, wonder no longer because we have brought in a bona-fide filmmaker to explain it.

Lauren couldn’t be with us, but we had our first guest speaker, Barbara Stepansky on in her place. Barbara is an award-winning screenwriter and a director who writes for the show Outlander.

She had us read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden as a hypothetical book-to-miniseries project and we had a blast “breaking” the story (that’s Hollywood lingo for a bunch of writers sitting around talking about how to turn a book into a show).

We think we got at least nine episodes out of Morton’s wonderful, century-spanning, ocean-crossing saga. We also discuss how Barbara is attached to adapt Josie’s thriller What She Found in the Woods and how it feels for a writer to see their stories put to screen.

Though we missed Lauren terribly, the gang had such a great time speaking with Barbara that we are thinking of doing this guest speaker thing again real soon.

The following transcript was translated by an AI program so unfortunately, we can’t vouch for its accuracy.

Josie: [00:00:00] it’s a, well, it says leave studio.

Aileen: That’s just standard. I think

Alisa 2: Don’t leave studio.

Aileen: don’t press the red

Josie: I’m not going to press the right button. It says recording. Yes. Look for the dot on people’s portraits. Everyone’s recording. Okay. All right. Have fun.

Aileen: Josie, Josie, is he nervous?

Josie: He is. He’s worried, especially since he knows I’m really, I’m super scattered today and I’m not listening to anything that anyone’s saying to me, like, I’m like, ladidadidah…

Josie: Hello and welcome to fiction between friends, a podcast, dedicated to books and book lovers like us. I’m Josephine Angelini

Lauren: I’m Lauren Sanchez.

Alisa: I’m Alisa Hillfinger,

Aileen: and Aileen Calderon,

Josie: we’re four childhood friends from the suburbs of Massachusetts.

Lauren: I’ve always loved to read almost as much as we love to talk to each other.

Alisa: We started this podcast as a way to celebrate how a really good book can come into your life and change it.

Aileen: So if you’re looking for fun and engaging conversations about books, stick around.

Josie: This is fiction between friends. And we’re glad you’ve joined us.

Josie:  Welcome back. This is season two, episode [00:01:00] nine. I’m Josephine, Angelini, and joining me are my dear friends.

Aileen Calderon

Aileen: Hello?

Josie: and Alyssa hillfinger

Alisa 2: Hi.

Josie: Lauren. Couldn’t be with us today, but we have a very special guest sitting in for her. Another dear friend of mine, Barbara Stepansky. Hi, Barbara.

 Now, just to give everybody a quick background on Barbara, she is a writer on the TV show Outlander. She’s the winner of the prestigious Nicole fellowship in screenwriting. And she’s the winner of the WGA award for the movie, Flint about the water scandal in Flint, Michigan. And, um, I’m very impressed by her and her resume and I’m her friend. I think that’s pretty amazing.

Aileen: Well, I have an inferiority complex already.

Josie: know.

Alisa 2: I have a macaroni necklace. My kid made me for like happy, awesome mother’s day. Does that count as an award,

Aileen: I’m still clinging to my MVP trophy and basketball from high school.

Alisa 2: as you

Aileen: tells you how I’m doing.

Josie: that was pretty awesome. When you

Alisa 2: that was awesome. That [00:02:00] counts.

Josie: So also to give you a little bit more background on Barbara, she was originally born in Poland.

And then when she was eight, I

believe you were eight when your family had to move to Germany. And so you lived in Germany all through your high school years, then you went to university in London and then you finally made your way out west.

Well, I think you were moving west constantly, and this is the farthest west that you got, she writes in English and also German for an Austrian TV show called, Toten fro. Correct.

Barbara: Yes, that’s Correct.

Josie: first of all, I’m just like you write in German and you write in English. Okay.

Barbara: I used to just write in German, my whole life, it was just German and then it’s not until I moved to America that, that I kind of switched gears. So it’s weird to me that I’m writing in English now, but it just happened.

Aileen: That’s pretty impressive to be able to write like professionally in multiple languages. Cause even people who are native English,

speakers and writers, most of them can’t handle [00:03:00] writing professionally. So

to be able to do it as your second language is pretty amazing.

Barbara: Thank you.

Josie: I get hung up on just grammar alone in English. I mean, people going through my stuff, they’re like, no, what was she trying to say as they’re editing me

Aileen: And Josie is a terrible speller.

Josie: all the worst speller, but that’s, I think I inherited that. I think it’s like a genetic thing it’s bred in me to be a bad speller.

Used to make fun of me all the time. When we were kids,

Aileen: Well, cause I was a great speller and you weren’t,

Josie: you were always very

Aileen: it’s kind of like, I was kind of a jerk about it. Wait, Barbara, can I, can I put you on the spot and ask you to just kind of talk us

through your, your story? like when you first became interested in writing how you first became a professional writer, like not your entire life story, but sort of the, the writing aspect of it.

Barbara: I feel like I’ve always kind of done it in when I learned how to bright in, in school, I started to write my own stories. in elementary school, I started to rewrite the wizard of Oz. I put an elements of Narnia.

Josie: You fanfic [00:04:00] wizard of Oz and Narnia. That’s awesome. I.

Alisa 2: school, nonetheless.

Barbara: I feel like I was always writing. Like that was always something that I was just naturally doing. and then I did a lot of, stuff and, and high school. That was my only outlet. I would constantly write short stories. And, poems, tried my fingers on novels, but most of my novels were 120 pages.

So that tells you something.

Alisa 2: That’s our kind of novel,

Aileen: all

Alisa 2: really? Like these shorter novels. Yes.

Aileen: Lauren would love that, especially wait, going back to high school. What were you like in high school?

Barbara: Oh, I was the nerdy kid without, you know, a big friendship circle. It’s just a couple of friends. all of them in drama club. some, some video fanatics, we were all kind of weird kids and

Josie: hung out with the AAV club.

Aileen: you guys were the drama nerds

though. Alyssa, Josie and Lauren who is at

Alisa 2: Oh, for sure.

Barbara: yeah, moving night was the best night. I became a. Became overworked as a teenager [00:05:00] because I just liked movies so much. So I signed up for everything. I was like a projectionist. I signed up for drama club. I signed up for photography club. I did the school paper. So kind of every aspect of filmmaking I wanted to learn something about and I got really busy.

Aileen: That’s so interesting. So you were always interested in writing, but connected to movies and TV shows it wasn’t

necessarily writing novels.

Barbara: I didn’t think of, I was always writing, but I didn’t think of it as a, as a profession. I,

I S I saw filmmaking as a something that I wanted to do, and, you know, I was joking about the 120 page novels.

Cause that’s the, that’s the thanks of the screen. Like, apparently my brain works in 120 minutes, so, so, so all the, all the screenplays that I right now are no longer than that.

Josie: And on page 10, you have your inciting incident. Yeah.

Barbara: Yes, yes we do.

Aileen: So when did you first get paid for what was your first professional writing job?

Barbara: that’s a good question. I think probably coming out of film school, [00:06:00] out of AFI, I got paid for,

rewriting this indie movie called hurt, uh, which got me into the WGA.

Alisa 2: oh, is that writer’s

Barbara: the writers Guild of

Josie: Yeah. That’s the writer’s Guild.

Barbara: So I think that was my first job.

It didn’t pay much, but yes. Great insurance.

Aileen: Are you saying this sarcastically

Josie: No, no. Everybody wants the WGA health insurance. Like that’s, that’s why you want to join the WGA. It’s like, you want that health insurance? It’s like the Cadillac of health insurance. It’s great.

Barbara: it’s awesome.

Aileen: says so much about America.

Josie: but Barbara is also a director, so she’s a filmmaker.

Alisa 2: How do you pick the projects that you want to direct?

Barbara: Um, at the beginning I just was really hungry and I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I just thought of myself as a director coming out of film school. So. I wanted to direct?

other people’s scripts And I picked the ones that were darker. I wanted to do horror thriller because I had kind of heard this [00:07:00] theory that it’s easier to move into bigger budgets.

If you’re can kind of visually hold tension and show that you can move a camera and in the right way. And I think like comedies and romantic comedies, didn’t give you that visual scope. And so I wanted to play in this tension playground, and learn more about.

that. So I, I started in this whole horror genre, did three of those features, and then I switched careers.

So then I became, I won the nickel fellowship and then it really changed my trajectory

Aileen: Is that what you wanted to do or did your career just kind of put you in that direction?

Barbara: I wanted to write screenplays that that were maybe not mine were more personal to me and projects that, I could curate from the ground up. And I came up with the story. I wrote it and suddenly it wins all these awards and, uh, it just kind of free and

Josie: but sugar, sugar

Barbara: No, it’s not, it’s not autobiographical at [00:08:00] all, but, but it’s,

Josie: So I’ve read, I’ve read the screenplay that she won the nickel fellowship for. And dude, it is dark. It is dark and creepy. And like that is

Aileen: Wait, what is the nickel fellowship?

Barbara: it’s a, it’s a screenplay competition given through the academy, of motion, pictures, arts, and sciences. So the same people that give out Oscars also give out five of these fellowships per year. it’s a wonderful family. It’s like, cause you know, everyone aspires to this fellowship because it opens a lot of doors And

gives you the freedom to write for a whole year because they pay for it it’s very coveted over here.

Aileen: So that’s what that’s, when you get to start making, meeting, like fancy people

Josie: Yeah.

Barbara: Oh, I don’t know about that, but we all

Alisa 2: always drawn?

Barbara: Sorry.

Alisa 2: Oh, my, well, my I’m I’m fixated on the horror piece because I cannot think of anything worse. so

Aileen: Barbara and Kate and case in case you don’t know, Alyssa reads all of her books backwards. She starts, she needs to know how it ends because she does not like [00:09:00] surprises. She has to know how it ends and then she’ll go back and read it. So horror, I think it’s worst


Alisa 2: Yeah. Oh, it’s


um, were you always drawn to horror?

Barbara: yes, it was weird. I was in a weird period in my life. I think everything changed after I had my kid too, but in the, in my twenties, I was in this weird period where movies didn’t make me feel much anymore. And I only watched horror movies because they were the only films that, that this is at some sort of emotional response. and, and, you know, we’re talking not like gore stuff. Like I don’t like torture porn, but I movies that scared me or that made me feel this creepy growing fear inside. And as we were like drawing it out, I watched a lot of those cause they made me, they viscerally made me react to it and that’s what I wanted.

Aileen: What’s your favorite horror movie?

Barbara: alien

Josie: I love


That’s just such a good movie. Yeah.

I mean, I guess it is horror, but

Alisa 2: Is



Barbara: it’s, it’s a [00:10:00] monster in the house kind of

Aileen: Sigourney Weaver.

Josie: yeah.

Aileen: I referenced that a lot when I was pregnant. Cause I was like, it’s like the aliens in my belly and it’s going to come out as right. I looked at, I think it’s the most I’ve ever thought about that movie was being pregnant. I’m like, yeah, that’s

what it’s like the monster

inside you.

Barbara: Well, it’s, it’s funny too, because they alien lives in this mind space a little bit. Of course, it’s gory there’s, there’s some of these elements, but the, I don’t think they had as much of a budget as then they had later. And so they couldn’t show much, everything’s really dark and dripping things and, and, and, and noise and sound

like, the soundscape.

It’s amazing. and so I think I learned a lot from like showing less because as soon as I saw a lot of the alien creatures later in the, in two and three and four and five, it’s just it’s I kind of seem to lose respect for the beast.

Aileen: That’s cause I guess it ends up leaving a lot to your imagination. Like it just like what isn’t there is almost more scary than what’s in front of you. And [00:11:00] it’s interesting that it was because of the budget that they were forced to do that, but sometimes having a tape budget works in your favor.

Alisa 2: Right.

Barbara: yeah.

Alisa 2: Do you have a particular sense that you feel heightens the, the emotional response, whether it’s visual or whether it’s sound or you know, sort of emotionally eliciting device that you can use to enhance, uh, horror situation?

Barbara: some, somewhere I’ve read this and I’ve used it a lot in my films. And I think it’s probably the most effectful thing is to when

you’ve set up something in the story or, or in the plot that this is probably going to happen to be as slow as humanly possible to a point where your audience is almost getting bored and just as they’re getting bored, you know, do something.

Aileen: Alyssa does not like this at all.

Barbara: so that was, that has been working really well for me. And so the, the sort of the drawing it out, drawing something out as long as possible, because people know, like they know something’s [00:12:00] going to happen, but they don’t know when, and they don’t know how. And so that’s been fun too.

Aileen: Wait, before we go onto the book part, can we talk about Outlander?

Josie: yeah.


Aileen: I think we need to talk about, because honestly I’ve heard, I had heard of

the show And I’ve been bingeing so much stuff. I hadn’t made it to it but I watched the first couple of episodes and got sucked in. How did you end up writing for Outlander and what has that been like?

Barbara: Oh, that was a really lucky strike. Uh, they were looking for writers in 2018 for season five. Um, because I, I guess a lot of the people were leaving the room and they needed to really replace a bunch like four or so. And my agent at the time knew that I was looking to staff on a TV show and she just said, you know, Outlander is looking, would you be interested?

And for me, this was such a dream show because it has, uh, the, the time-travel this sort of fantasy element. It has second world war stuff. It has the 18th century. I mean, [00:13:00] Scotland, everything it’s romance. so the unconditional love, uh, that we live for that’s it’s, it’s just so perfect and, you know, the costumes, everything. so I really wanted to, do it and interview. you know, it’s a whole submission process. They submit people, then the executive producers have to read your scripts. They have to see like, if this is a good fit And they have to do one interview, number one, then they do two more interviews and then you’re either get the job or you

Josie: And then they

Aileen: Wait. So w when, when they, when they, I get, I get them looking at things that you’ve written, but what are they in the interview? Like, is it a writer’s room that you’re a part of, or are they seeing if your personality is adding something to the room that’s missing, or like, what are they looking for in the interviews?

That seems like an interesting part of the process,

Barbara: Yeah. So it’s kind of a, one-on-one where they have to gauge. If you understand what the show’s about if you know, what your sort of, how your behavior is, if you could be a good fit, I mean, you could be talking about anything and just kind of see if the personality fits. It’s a [00:14:00] little bit of a leap of faith every single time, because we don’t do a fake writers’ room situation. They’ll hire you. And then

you start the writer’s room and then it’d better work.

Aileen: Wait, so what’s it like, what is the writer’s room like? Cause that’s, that sounds terrifying. Like being, just being thrown into a room with other writers and having to pitch your ideas with a bunch of people you don’t know.


Barbara: it sounds terrifying, but it’s, it’s really the best it’s being in a room with like eight other people that are super smart and, um, love stories. And we’re all here on this journey to the same purpose of breaking the show. That’s what we call it. When we, we break a season, in about 20 odd weeks or so, and The show runner sets the tone, they kind of set in the room. We talk a lot about sort of the overall goal that he or she has

Aileen: they come in with like a vision of like where, where the story’s going to go for each episode and for the whole season.

Barbara: well, mostly for

Aileen: the

Raiders are sort of

Barbara: We kind of, because Outlander is an adaptation to, So [00:15:00] we have Diana gabbled books to work off of. and those are long books and not everything makes it. into the show.

Alisa 2: Yeah. So my question was going to be about tone because if you, you said, you know, they were looking for maybe like four new writers, but then how do you have continuity of, of tone in the storytelling? If you have different voices telling the story, because everyone You’re all trying to tell the same story for trying to adapt something from a book. But I assume that each person has something different to bring and you might see it through a different lens. And

Barbara: Yeah. Yeah.

But, uh,

Alisa 2: I mean, are there any times where people are like, no, that’s not.

Barbara: kind of sometimes. Yeah. I mean, we talk a lot. We basically now, because of the pandemics writers’ room are like this,

it’s like a zoom space where a lot of the ideas are just being bounced off of each other. And so we talk a lot for, for most. Our days, we’re just constantly talking through the arcs and the stories up [00:16:00] until something makes it to the board.

And then we started writing down what sticks and we talk about the book a lot and we try to find the, the scenes that stand out to us, the scenes that we know that the fans love,

Josie: it is amazing. That, that it does come out all being one show. Cause there’s different directors for every episodes. There’s different writers for everything. It’s just amazing that at all, that it does feel the same. Like it feels like you’re telling the same story. You know, I get what Alyssa is saying.

It is really hard when you see it. I know everybody’s sort of in a writer’s room, you talk about everything that’s going to happen in your, the episode that you’re writing, but then you still have to go home and write it and write the dialogue. That makes sense for that

Barbara: yeah. but on a

show like Outlander, you have a million screenplays that, have been written prior to me starting. So I started in season five, but there’s a lot of screenplays that you need to study. You need to read, you need to know the tone of the show. And so really what you starting to [00:17:00] do is adapt to that.


I don’t speak Scottish either.

Josie: Yeah,

Barbara: I have to look at my cheat sheet and kind of figure out like where, which words are Scottish words. I need to change that. And, um, and then how are they doing action description? I’m a kind of short scene writer and Outlander nights longer.

So that was something I had to adapt to where I had to draw them out little bit more because I tend to be brief. And that’s not the show. The show likes to live in talking it out and discussing things.

Alisa 2: What’s your way of drawing it out. Is that going to be dialogue and character driven or do you tend to add more actions, sequences, and physicality?

Barbara: Oh, we like dialogue

Alisa 2: Why are you laughing at me,

Josie: I’m laughing because I know Barbara would, Barbara would want to write action. Action, action. Like to have them say as little as possible and have as much happen in the scene as possible, but that’s not an Outlander. Like they talk it out. So [00:18:00] she’s

Barbara: Yeah, I I mean,

it’s sort of like, you have to adjust your style. So you have to, and that’s on any show. I think, you know, you have to try and adjust your style and the show runners still will go in and fix things that he or she thinks needs to be fixed. So,

it’s not, it’s not uncommon to be rewritten.

Although I feel like, you know it gets less than this. The more you write

for the show.

Aileen: so there’s the writer room where you’re like tossing around ideas and talking about the direction of the episode and then is one writer in charge of actually like putting it to paper and actually writing or to different people take different scenes. How does that

Barbara: No, no, you get an episode. You’ve basically get assigned an episode at some point. either the, either you’ve expressed a lot of passion for something, or it just kind of works out that way, but the showrunner will at some point say, okay, Barbara, go off and write for, and then I ha I get the beat sheet that we’ve broken on the board and I go and write it [00:19:00] and I have two weeks to write It which then it’s like the fun part

Aileen: It is the beat sheet, like The outline.

Barbara: A little bit, but it’s, so it’s just, it’s just scene by scene description that we’ve done in terms of how this episode needs to progress and where it needs to start, where it needs

to end. And then you can kind of go into scenes and embellish things as you see

fit. Sometimes that’ll work, sometimes it won’t.

But, I remember my first day for the first episode I got, uh, one of the beats was, that the two female characters, Brianna and Marsal, they have a scene in the kitchen. Brie is really upset because she thought she had conjured up this, uh, you know, the, her

rapist coming after her baby and the other person is supposed to comfort her.

And I was like, I was digging into the other person, Marsa these into her background story, and I found, you know, stuff out about her father and that he was really violent to her and her children. And I kind of had this in my back pocket, uh, that [00:20:00] he was going to say that, she killed her father, even though she hadn’t.

but it’s just that she’s making a point that just because she’s wishing that her father was dead doesn’t mean she did it and so that was sort of something that I, came up with when I was writing that scene. And it wasn’t something that we had discussed in the room. All that was on the beachhead was this, this they’re talking about this conjuring up thing.

Aileen: Wow. And how, how do you stay in the voice of the different characters? Cause kind of to Alyssa’s earlier point, like just having different writers come in and write different episodes, but obviously there needs to be consistency with the characters from episode to episode, is that, are you just studying previous episodes and watching old episodes to make sure you’re.

Barbara: Yeah, absolutely.

Aileen: one last question. Do you have a favorite character or a favorite character to write for?

Barbara: I I really loved

writing for now. It’s it’s I, I actually in season six, got to write for, uh, Lord John Gray for the first time. And I weirdly [00:21:00] enjoyed

that. I had a really easy time writing Lord John Gray, uh, and, and he, he speaks very

flowery, very sort of subtextual British and I had so much fun writing him.

I think he’s become my favorite characters for


Josie: Okay. So

let’s talk about the book that you brought in the forgotten garden by Kate Morton. I have this one, I got it from the library.

Aileen: have it on my Kindle.

Josie: I’ve really enjoyed this book.

Aileen: Will you give a quick summary of the book?

Josie: I would say

Oh crap.

Alisa 2: back of it.

Josie: You know what? I’m going to read the back of it. A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913, right there. You almost had me lost child endangered. I was like, I don’t know if I can handle this, but we got through it and it

wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be like, as soon as I see a kid like a

Alisa 2: I

Josie: four year old kid.

Abandoned I’m like, hell no, I can’t do that. But I did it. I pushed through, yeah, she arrives completely alone with nothing, but a [00:22:00] small suitcase containing a few clothes in a single book, a beautiful volume of fairytales. She has taken in by the dock master and his wife and raised as their own on her 21st birthday.

They tell her the truth and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on now starts out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst manner on the Cornish coast and the secret of the doomed mantra, Shea family. But it is not until her granddaughter. Cassandra takes up the search after Nell’s death, that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled.

it’s one mystery that is. Taken up by two subsequent generations. So it’s a mystery that started in like Jack, the ripper London then gets moved to Australia And then is brought back to England, um, in the Cornish coast, this creepy old castle is how I saw it, like this creepy old Manor in 2005.

First. I was cursing you like when I was about, see where this bookmark is like about, about a quarter of the way through the book, I was [00:23:00] like, dang you, Barbara.

And the horseshoe wrote in on don’t you realize how long this book is, but then I’ve really got into it. And it was just such a page Turner. And I wasn’t expecting that at all. Like I was, I was really surprised there was, there

Alisa 2: And it’s not the kind of book that you can read the last few pages and,

and have any sense of who the characters are and what’s going on. So you’re forced to

start at the beginning.

Barbara: I’m sorry. Yeah.


Alisa 2: No, this book was so good. I couldn’t, I, this morning I was on page a hundred and something. I finished it today. I mean, I, I eagerly spent the whole day just reading. I also don’t have small children to be looking after, um,

Josie: your kids are big.

Alisa 2: It’s such a good, I love this book. It’s the kind of book that I want to go back and read again.

Um, and the whole time I’m reading it in my head, I’m I’m questioning. How would I [00:24:00] envision seeing this on a screen and what characters, who like Linus got to talk about Linus

wacko, psycho dude.

Josie: We were just talking about line of sight.

Alisa 2: So much room to open up his story.

Aileen: I confess I’ve only made it 70% of the way

through. I’ll blame it on my small child, because I feel like I had an opening to blame it on my small child. Um, I was starting to get some flowers in the attic vibes when


Alisa 2: I know. I kept waiting


Aileen: oh, and I didn’t want to have to put it down, but I got whiplash at first reading it because it does the thing where it goes from character to character and timeframe to timeframe, which I feel like every book I read does this. Now this one, I felt like

it was a little hard to follow at first because there were so many different characters.

Alisa 2: a hundred


Aileen: so many different ways of telling the story. And then there were like, The fairytale tales that Eliza would write, you know, And those would be interwoven in there.

And like, it was just a lot, but also

like what Alyssa [00:25:00] was saying. I was like, if you were going to turn this into a series, like, do you still do, do you tell it from all those perspectives? Are you flashing back or do you tell it more chronologically?

Like how

do you

do that?

Josie: Barbara, how would you, how would you run this writer’s room? How would you, run it,

Barbara, if you were the show runner,

Barbara: let’s do

it? Let’s run it for like half an hour. well, first of all, my, my, mission was to find your guys a book that can be adapted and, you know, it’s, it’s one of my favorite books, but it’s not my favorite book. My favorite book is Umberto echoes vocals pendulum, but I don’t want to adapt it. uh, this was a book that I had read a while ago and I always thought it would make a really great complete kind of mini-series. And I actually re-read it again for this podcast. So it’s fresh in my mind, but, and we’re talking in sort of the, the, the haunting of blind manner type of, and Tal not, not an anthology, but


Josie: it has like that creepy haunted house [00:26:00] thing.

Barbara: Yes. And so I felt that this would be a very similar, kind of, yeah. The haunting of by Manor, which just came out is on Netflix. it’s less scary than, than what it.

sounds like. but this book has so much to offer so much that we, we talk, we can mine from we ha we have the three generations that all interconnected, which is awesome.

we have a sort of going seam of mother, daughter, relationships going through it. there’s all the cool stuff that I love about books and stories, which is the Gosick elements. VC Andrews came up and, you know, flowers in the attic was also one of my favorite books growing up. and so,

Alisa 2: are dark.

Aileen: You’re very dark. I we, we did that for an earlier episode, cause it had been one of my favorite books growing up and then reading it as an adult. I was like, oh my God, there’s a lot going on in here. [00:27:00]

Barbara: yeah. A lot. there’s some, there’s some elements of that and I love Victorian England. I lived in London

Josie: I love the Jack the

ripper element.

Barbara: yeah,

Josie: I love how it’s that, that it is. And I love that Gothic element. Like she wanted, like, she was just, Eliza was aspiring to be an orange seller. And it has like, almost that Charles Dickens feel where it’s like, the kids are forced into labor. And then

Alisa 2: And the dirty And the chimney

Josie: Yeah. And like her brother Sammy is a chimney sweep.

Oh my God. Like, there’s something about it. That’s so,

but it’s like, there’s that, that wonderful world. But there’s also 2005 modern woman, you know, the grandchild of, I felt, you said you got whiplash. Maybe I’m just used to going from character to character because I do that a lot in my books too.

I felt like when I was in a different time zone, I never got it twisted. Like I was always, I knew when I was and who I was with. So I [00:28:00] always felt like the only time I was ever confused was in one of the original chapters when she was talking about her mother. But I was like, who are all these people? She introduces like five people in one paragraph.

And I went, I would have handled that differently. But apart from that, when, when people were speaking, I understood what time I was in. Maybe it was because it was like 1975, which is so distinct from 2005, which is definitely different from turn of the century, you know,

Barbara: and I will

I will say that I do not own the rights to this. This is a pie in the sky conversation. I don’t, I’ve never

considered This this. is, this is a total. What if, if.

anyone is listening, I, I wants to hire me to do it. Sure. But it’s, uh, it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s not a cheap project because it does span a blot of period piece elements.

And so to, to make this into sort of the perfect, shiny, many series that would require [00:29:00] a budget. And so it’s not, it’s not an easy undertaking. So this is just a sort of dream world. And I, what would you do with a book like this I think there’s a lot that that stays as is, but it’s how these stories are into weave.

That would have to be figured out. And kind of what I love about the book is how the information is doled out. And so the

Josie: Yes, the pacing is so good.

Barbara: yeah, so the first order would be to figure out exactly when these, all these cliffhangers come in and, to build it like a murder mystery almost that’s that it, it is essentially we figure out at the end, but, who’s finding out what and how these elements fall in. Like,

Aileen: And you, you said you do this as a mini series. I feel like mini series limited series are huge right now. Like everybody needs to turn something into like nine episodes or whatever why a [00:30:00] series and not like a movie? Like, what is it about it that

Barbara: Oh, so I feel like, well, so much would get lost in a movie. It’s too. It’s too short. I couldn’t get into Nell’s point of view at all in the movie, it would all have to be Cassie and maybe some flashbacks to Eliza. And so it’s, it’s, it’s kind of, I actually like these three women and. That’s all inter interconnected and I think it would make like a perfect eight to 10 episode series, and then it would be over because all the mysteries are solved at the end of that.

it’s also gives you more scope to play some with some of the visual elements that are hinted at, in the book, the fairytales the ghosts that people see, what’s the one

ghost that we keep seeing. SA, so Eliza, see Sammy, I think now sees, Eliza, I think, you know, that’s that these kind of elements that, that are


corners aren’t really,

Josie: the hotel.

Barbara: Sorry.

Josie: So it’s rose becomes her goes, do you remember [00:31:00] the woman? What’s her name? That she was a romance writer and then she bought the Manor

Alisa 2: Bennett,

Josie: a hotel.

Alisa 2: her

last name was Bennett. Yes. Juul. And I was like, Hmm, Bennett, sister.

Aileen: Pride and prejudice.

Josie: Yeah.

Alisa 2: So

Josie: rose.

Aileen: so that’s interesting too, because if you start focusing on the ghost and the haunting, it becomes kind of becomes very eerie,

and kind of horror

Alisa 2: I was going to say there’s there would need to be the development of, caring for these characters. The characters would have to become sympathetic in order for people to be invested in them. And some of them do not have sympathetic qualities until you really start to get to know a little bit above about their backstory.

You know, even, even Rose’s mom, once

you realize what’s driving her facade, you know, you start to feel sympathy for her. Linus, I think you realize his grief is just so overwhelming, but he’s also a psychopath.

Josie: Yeah, that guy’s really creepy.

Alisa 2: And I can’t figure out the balance. I can’t [00:32:00] figure out if they were trying to lean into him being a psychopath or him being so twisted from grief that he, he doesn’t really resemble a functional man anymore.

and I think I’m leaning more towards just psychopath.

Barbara: Oh, he is. He is. But he’s been born that way. Like, he’s this described as a child that has these issues that that we associate with psychopath and sociopath. And it’s really this little sister that he develops a relationship with that he feels is the only person that understands him. So, uh, also there is something that’s, you know, in the book she just takes off with the sailor in the series. Is there a way to motivate her? Escape into poverty a little bit more

Alisa 2: Well, I thought that scene in the dark room with her and her brother,

when she, you know, she says, I, you know, I love the sailor. Can you help me? And then when he creates the accident I mean, for [00:33:00] someone who supposedly loves his sister so much, he’s wretched.

Aileen: Well, he’s, he’s he’s broken from the minute you meet him. You know, his body is to figured he’s mistreated by his parents, but there’s never a moment where, and even though you understand, that’s a story, there’s never a moment when you see him being. Kind or likable to anyone he’s just kind of monstrous from the beginning.

Like that he’s a very one dimensional character. but one of the things that was interesting about the book is it’s so female driven, like there all these strong female characters, and then there happened to be men, but it’s really all about the women. Like they’re, they’re the interesting ones.

They’re the ones that you care about? I think maybe what gave me whiplash when I first started reading is I didn’t, I felt like I needed one character who was my main character whose storyline I was following. And I was immediately introduced to all these different character. And I was like, wait, who’s the thread.

Who, who am I staying with? And I guess Cassandra is sort of

the main focus cause she’s the most modern, what, like, I feel like I needed someone to be with.

Barbara: yeah, I think Cassandra would need to be that person. The Cassie is [00:34:00] probably the closest one to a heroin addict. Somebody who’s really because she finds the closure at the end, she finds out the secret. So it’s really about working her character more.

And I kind of liked this idea of this failed artist that works in her grandma’s antique shop. I, all these people are very artistically inclined and to her, she just has given up on everything and has given up on, on, on her art and on her life and how that’s the arc. And like she, when she needs to come full circle at the end and kind of find some light in all of that, through these stories and how she needs to stop

Josie: But she’s also the one who breaks the curse. stop repeating the pattern yet. She’s the one who sort of breaks the curse too. Like this mother daughter inherited. Horror that comes with a Linus. You know what I mean? It’s like Linus is sort of, he like hots Eliza, but he also haunted Georgina, Georgianna her mother.

And then, you know, you see him start to go for baby now. Like he’s going to make her, his [00:35:00] poo pay his little doll and Nell gets away. But it’s sort of like the only, the first, the person who really? breaks this cycle of this mother daughter inherited yuck. This is

Aileen: trauma.

Josie: generational trauma.

Alisa 1: which I think why her mom, Leslie, to have the opportunity to redeem herself would be really interesting.

Josie: to bring that in at the end that Cassandra and Leslie sort of heal that rift between them because it’s like Leslie had her and then 10 years later, she has other kids and now notices that. And Cassandra notices that the second time around Leslie actually, you know, did a good job as a mom, but not with her.

So it’s sort of like, oh yeah, I completely forgot about Leslie. Like, she’s a mom, that’s totally left out of this. She’s like one of the line of women, you know, like that beautiful mess up woman who can’t get her life together. But she does good with her second round of kids. It’s just not Cassandra.

Aileen: there are a lot of awful mothers in this book.

Josie: We were [00:36:00] talking about that. It’s like a bat it’s like all about bad mothering.

Aileen: Yeah.

Josie: but here’s the thing. That’s another thing that really struck me around the time that Hattie’s character get Hattie swindle gets reintroduced in 1975 and she was that little girl that lived with. The baby when Eliza was a small child and Georgiana first rented from her mother, it was her lifetime and her being this old woman living in 1975, but had lived through those that Jack the ripper era.

That’s when I really went, this is nuts. Like how much the world changed from turn of the century, just over the course of Harriet’s swindles lifetime and those 75 years. So she was born around 1900 and then it’s in 1975. The world changed more than, than it has since 1975. Like if I think about like the last 45 years, it’s not as 47 years now.

It’s not that it hasn’t changed that much, but from 19 hundreds, like even the clothes that they wore to 1975, like

Barbara: But can’t you just, see that [00:37:00] that’s cream,


that doorway, that, where we’re it morphs from That age, in Morse into like you could do the Morse and every seat, it would be beautiful,

to, to do these effects where you show this, this passage of time. but It’s kind of how the past even though everything’s changed how the past still guides everything that these characters do.

And so that’s a big, it’s a big kind of theme that goes through this book is how it keeps

it keeps being the lighthouse.

Aileen: can’t escape your past

Barbara: Yeah.

Aileen: Barbara. I want you to turn this into a series.

Barbara: you go, I want to do it too.


Aileen: we, how do we make that happen? I want to see it now.

Alisa 1: Can we start a petition? Who do

we call?

Well, I’ve, I’ve a question about the format.


The There’s a part that I feel a little bit like I should understand, and I’m kind of embarrassed to ask, but it’s divided into three sections and it, you know, I got to the end of a section and it [00:38:00] said part two, you know, and then there’s a part three. What are the


Josie: Yeah.

Alisa 1: cause, it’s not like it’s one character and then part two is another character. And part three is a different one. There’s all

these overlaps.

Aileen: they just kind of pick up where they left off. It’s

not a huge leap in time or anything.

Alisa 1: now, granted, I have not had a lot of time to think

about this

book cause I just finished it. But.

Barbara: I’m pretty sure

Part two. starts when, when, um, rose goes off to give me ruin and Nathaniel enters the picture. I, I wouldn’t, I know if I was to adapt this, I wouldn’t worry about the parts at all, because I think the childhood Eliza would

be brief. And it’s really, what’s interesting is teen Eliza with rose and how that relationship developed and then have Nathaniel come into, into this world.

So I think it’s about stages in Eliza life. That makes part one, two and three and not so much in Cassandra’s and [00:39:00] melts ironically,

Alisa 1: Right.

Aileen: I mean, this book does seem like it’s begging to be made into a show right

now it’s a period piece. It has strong female characters with interesting relationships. I mean, it’s, I feel like even those two things alone, like everybody loves that right now.

Josie: Right. it’s got like, it’s got the British and the Australian thing and you know,

Barbara: It’s very it’s I mean, it’s very, I think maybe 20 years ago we would have been like, well, does it have to be Australia, but in this day and age of very international filmmaking, I think like, well, why not? Why can’t it be Australia? It’s the other side of the world. that. makes perfect sense. so it’s, it’s sort of, um, uh, really spans oceans too on top of times.

And I think it’s very poetic.

Aileen: Can we switch gears and talk about how Barbara is adapting one of your books, Josie? Because I feel like you’re not going to bring that up.


I’m going

Josie: going to

bring that up.

Aileen: Let’s talk about it. Barbara. You’re adapting one to Josie’s books, right?

Alisa 1: how did this come to be?

Barbara: I’m [00:40:00] a big fan? Of Josie’s writing. I think Josie has this knack for, plotting really smartly and, and putting a lot into it, which is, I always laugh at that. And I’m like, that could have been three books, what you just did and maybe a few chapters. Um, because, you know, I read a lot of stuff and a lot of, uh, books usually just like to drag things out.

Um, Josie’s not like that her books really move. And so I’m, I’m just a fan. I like to read her books a lot and I latched onto, um, what she found in the woods, which is a teen thriller, because I love thrillers and it has a lot of great twists and turns.

Alisa 1: Right. It’s a little

bit dark.

Barbara: a little bit dark. It has, uh, it has some, some sort of fantastical elements, but not really like, they’re more in, in the form of, of, uh, medication and, and, and what’s going on with the mind and themes of[00:41:00] that are really current today, which is, you know, psyche, like, you know, what is going on, what is real in your mind


what is not until illness you have. and I thought that also the world that, because she’s a world builder and I’m more of a character person, I write characters really well. I’m not that, you know, I don’t world. I, the worlds I do are usually grounded in reality, whereas Josie does a whole landscape and canvas. Somebody like me to work off of.

And so there’s a whole world that. I, I thought lies also behind the small town that she said her character is in, and that can be adapted into a much bigger picture. So, I kind of always pitched this as euphoria meets, twin peaks and really kind of

build out this, this, town and how it operates and sort of the darkness [00:42:00] that lurks underneath, uh, this facade of perfect summer town.

So I I’m raving

Aileen: So, how does it work? Did, did Josie approach you or,

Barbara: No, I approached her or.

Josie: she just, she had a really great idea about, you know, how she was like, well, the whole stuff that happened to her and the psych ward she’s like that, she’s like, you do it in like two, like three or four sections.

She was like, that’s a year. And I was like, oh, okay. I didn’t know that like, oh, I love that idea. So it was just, she just had such a great take on it. That it was no, it was just like a no-brainer it’s like is so perfect for those.

Aileen: So how does the whole process work? Because Alyssa and I don’t understand

any of this. Like, how does it work when you had decided to adapt a book? You just go and write it and then start pitching it to people or to get people interested first. Like what’s, what’s the process from the beginning.

Barbara: your do what we just did about the, the forgotten garden. And you kind of come up with ideas, and you, you create, uh, [00:43:00] an overview

of what the show is, what it, you know, what, how you would interweave it, how you would do it. and, you know, you come up with that and you create a document that reflects those thoughts and, and bring everyone on the same page.

I then pitch it to my manager and see if, if that sticks and if, and he was just a sentence enthusiast about the materials. So then we, we go on to find producers and that’s, that’s kind of how it works with, with TV shows, but, the pandemic kind of post. Damper on things lately.

Alisa 1: Hm.

Josie: Yeah.

Aileen: have you pitched it to anyone yet? Or

Barbara: not yet.

Not yet

Aileen: you’re waiting for.

Barbara: timing. We’re waiting for timing.

Aileen: So Josie, how precious are you about your books? Because obviously you

write them and you have a vision in your head and it must be sort of challenging to see someone else take, cause that a patient, they, it always ends up changing and evolving. You know, it becomes something different than when it was originally intended.

Like, are you okay with someone just taking it and running with [00:44:00] it? Do you like to stay involved? Do you have strong opinions about certain things that need to be a certain way?

Josie: With Barbara, I’d be totally cool with her doing what she needed to do with it, just because I know, cause she knows,

she understands me and we’re friends and she gets the world and I know her taste. So I know that it’s not going to be like this weird ass thing that she’d come back to and I’d be like, that’s, that’s not the tone of the book at all.

Alisa 1: that’s not who

Josie: Yeah. That’s not it. I mean, I think you always want to be involved because you always want to make sure that. That the people who like your books, they liked the spirit of the books, but in terms of changing what happens or what goes down, I’m not, I don’t think I’m that precious about it because the book’s written.

It’s like, if you want to know what I, I had my say, you know, like can go read the book and I think it’s more, you have to allow other artists to take it and make it their own too, because this wouldn’t be interesting for Barbara to do if she was just copying right out of a book. I mean, I, I would want her to [00:45:00] have the creative freedom to, you know, explore her ideas of where to go with it and what to

what to do next.

Alisa 1: See, I think That’s really interesting to hear you say that as the person who created this form of art, who’s now putting it forward to be reinterpreted and represented in a different medium, whereas from an audience point. of view, I know exactly what the characters look like in the book that I read and that’s what I want to see.

And so

I, I, like, I wonder if it’s even a more difficult sell to the audience than it is necessarily to the author who, who you’re adapting it from, because we are, we as an audience are so opinionated

Aileen: People hate people hate when movies deviate too much from the book. If you’ve read the book first, you want to see the book

translated exactly in a movie. So actually, so Barbara, do you like when you’re doing something like this, how much of it is like what you feel passionate about and how you think it should be interpreted versus what you think the author wants versus what you think an audience?

Why are you balancing all of that? [00:46:00] Or do you just go in and you’re like, this is what I believe. This is what it should be.

Barbara: I mean,

Aileen: opinions to take into account.

Barbara: Yeah.

the, the problem is

that it can, it

can really drive you crazy. So you just hope that you’re on the same page with your take and how you would interpret it with everyone else. Like, I don’t think Josie would give it, her material to people. If she hears a take And it’s like wait, what

Like that doesn’t make any sense. So then, then it doesn’t make

sense for these people to adapt it.

Alisa 1: Right.

Barbara: You know, you want to


you want to have.

Josie: the hell?

Barbara: you want to have. all these conversations so that everyone is on the same page of what is going on. And, I think taste is a big factor that you you like the same movies, even you’re like the same stuff you look like, similar things. You, you, you hate it, this part of this movie, but like I have all these conversations with producers so that we know each other’s tastes levels.

I feel like directors often are hired [00:47:00] for taste, not so much. Like, you know, clearly somebody like speed work has a different taste than, you know, say, uh, Scorsese. They have different, different pallets. And so then. And I know my body of work is still growing, but hopefully then that will determine what comes next.

It’s just like my, my taste is very specific. I can’t really put it into words. It’s I liked, I love young love.

Alisa 1: Yeah, it’s a particular style.

Josie: yeah.

Aileen: As I say, ultimately it’s like everything in life, it comes down to trust and relationships, you know, like you have to like, and trust the people that you work with. And especially when you’re creating a work of art and you’re handing it over to them, you have to feel comfortable that they’re gonna do something good with it.

Even if it’s not your exact vision that you trust their vision for whatever it will become.

Josie: But I think it’s so true. Like Alyssa you’re so right about the fans actually being scarier than the authors. I think, especially like with Outlander, Outlander fans, people who [00:48:00] love Diana gobbled in, they will cut you. Like, if you mess up their stuff,

Aileen: does the Outlander author, is she still involved at all or is. it like, she just kind of sold her soul?

Barbara: oh, no,



Aileen: of whatever

Barbara: No, no. Diana is still involved. she reads all the scripts. she still has a veto

power. Um, she, she has a say she reads the books and she also writes episodes. She’s written episodes in season five I think she’s getting something and see this out. I don’t know, but she’s, she’s very much still overlooking everything and she understands that sometimes we have to do changes.

Josie: so this, this was definitely a new kind of episode for us. Um, thank you so much, Barbara, for coming in and talking with our funny little podcast.

Alisa 1: I know it was

fun. This was a great book.

Barbara: Good.

Alisa 1: Thank you for


Josie: Yes, I’m so glad you made me read this giant book. I really enjoyed it.

Aileen: I [00:49:00] can’t wait

Alisa 1: It might have, I know

this might’ve been bigger than the Stephen King book.

Eileen had

me read. I think it was


Barbara: mean, I’m so honored.

to be tapping part of fiction between friends obviously I’m a big fan.

Josie: Yeah.

Thanks Barbara. Thank you. so much for coming in and being our first guest. That was

great. Okay, everyone. Thanks so much.

Aileen: Alright. Have a nice night ladies.

Josie: All right,

Aileen: Okay.

Alisa 1: Okay.


Josie: Barbara.

Aileen: you.

Alisa 1: Bye. everyone.

Josie: You’ve been listening to fiction between friends to find the show notes for this episode, or to subscribe and get new episodes delivered automatically. Visit fiction between friends.com. Also, if you happen to have a moment and you’ve liked what you’ve heard, please help support our podcast by leaving a review on apple podcasts.

We would be immensely grateful. Thank you for listening.[00:50:00]

9 comments on “S2 E9: Guest host writer/director Barbara Stepansky

  1. SHAUNA says:

    Great guest! I love hearing behind the scenes info. It’s hard to picture all that goes into creating something when all we see is the end product. And Josie (I think it was you who said it) you are correct that Outlander fans can be fanatical! As a huge fan myself, I have had to avoid Facebook groups because some fans can be nasty when new seasons come out. I have learned to separate book from show. I have only really been disappointed once from a scene I thought was amazing in the book but just did not play out the way I envisioned in the show. Oh well. Book and show are still wonderful on their own.

    But you did not ask her that all important question… is Sam Hueghan really that handsome in person. HAHAHA! Or since she loved John Grey, is David Berry really that handsome also? LOL!

    1. Emma says:

      I totally get that feeling! Fandoms can be so toxic, I really try to stay away from them online which sucks, because I like talking about my favourite books and shows. But there is always some discourse and straight up shitty people, especially in the big fandoms, and I really don’t want to spend all day arguing or being upset about what people write online. I’ve done that before, and it’s no fun.

      I haven’t read or watched Outlander at all, should I start it? How obsessed do you think I’d be, and would it be worth it? XD

    2. Josie says:

      Shauna, I should have asked you to supply some questions about the cast first! (I bet they are that handsome.)

      1. Shauna says:

        Google them Josie. You won’t be disappointed 🤣😍

  2. Emma says:

    I finally got to listen to this week’s episode and it was so fun! I always love hearing about other people’s careers because it’s so interesting to me, especially people working creative jobs like writing or filmmaking and learning how they got to doing what they do.
    Barbara was a great guest and it was so interesting to hear about what really goes on in a writer’s room – I totally agree that book fans can be terrifying, especially when it comes to adapting a beloved series. I can’t even imagine having to be in a situation of having to decide over cutting or changing scenes, I think I’d be sleeping with one eye open at all times!

    I’m really looking forward to you maybe bringing more guests in as the show progresses, although for the next episode I’d be just as happy if get Lauren back! It’s almost funny how noticable it is when one of you is missing, the dynamic just kind of changes. I guess that’s just what happens in such close groups, I mean I notice it with my friends as well (who I also miss by the way, staying in contact when all of you live in different cities – and in some cases, different continents even – and have different schedules is so hard!! How did you do it??)

    As always, lots of love,

    1. Emma says:

      Oh god, have I gotten to the point of having to proofread everything twice? University is really frying my brain, please send help haha

    2. Josie says:

      We were talking about how much the dynamic changes with one of us missing, too! It’s like we’re waiting to hear Lauren talking and then she doesn’t because she’s not there, and it feels strange! I guess when you’ve been friends for 40 odd years the way we work together is so natural we don’t function properly alone.

  3. Alisa says:

    We loved having Barbara and missed Lauren immensely too! Very glad that you liked our guest and it is exciting to hear stories about behind-the-scenes action. I haven’t see Outlander and couldn’t bring myself to try and watch it knowing it’s *really* good and I’d risk getting sucked into something I just didn’t have time for!

  4. Allan says:

    Regardless of the publishing route you choose — be it traditional, hybrid, or self-publishing — every author will need to invest in their career in some way shape or form. Whether paying for writing classes or an MFA, creating an author website, or if self-publishing, bearing the cost of book production themselves, launching a career as an author requires a monetary investment of some kind. And while traditional publishing and self-publishing are the more well-known options for authors, hybrid publishing https://sungrazerpublishing.com/hybridpublishing/ is becoming a popular option for authors because it combines the best elements of both.

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