STAGES: The Development and Production of Jordan Roter
Jordan Roter always wanted to be an actress when she grew up. She had it all planned out. She even knew how she would be discovered. Wearing jean shorts and a plain T-shirt, she would be nonchalantly playing Ms. Pac-Man at an arcade/car wash establishment when a talent agent would approach her -- and the rest would be history.
Jordan grew up, studied hard, and held fast to her dream. After she graduated from college, her parents supported her decision to move across the country, from New York to California, on what they called the two-year plan. She had twenty-four months to catch a break and decide whether or not she wanted to further pursue her acting career.
Fate granted Jordan various jobs in Los Angeles while she was acting and auditioning. She was an SAT tutor and a personal assistant, doing "freelance stuff" and script coverage. After the two years were up, she started working in film development and production. She was employed and in the entertainment industry, but she was not really doing what she wanted. She was working thirteen hours or more a day. She finally admitted to herself that she had no personal life.
Then her friend Jenny declared, "We're going to change your life, Jordy, one party at a time." Little did she know she was speaking the absolute truth. Jordan was dragged to an industry party where she knew absolutely no one. She ended up chatting with a man who also found himself surrounded by strangers. Jordan told him about her work in television and film production, and he responded, "That sounds like a great story. Why don't you write a young adult novel for me?"
This perfect stranger turned out to be a book agent visiting from New York. By the time he returned to his office, Jordan had sent him 5 written pages, detailing characters and providing him with a story breakdown. He continued to give her notes as she worked on the story, and after she had written 50 pages, she sold the book.
"I got a really lucky break," she acknowledges, then adds, "I rose to the occasion, I'd like to think."
GET THAT GIRL
Jordan's debut, Girl in Development, is a fish out of water story -- with the fish dressed in vintage designer dresses and swimming carefully in the murky waters of L.A.
When Samantha's uncle gets her an internship at a film development company, she appreciates the gesture, but it's not her dream job. She prefers classic novels to contemporary films and would rather curl up with a good book than hobnob with movie stars. Nevertheless, not wanting to seem ungrateful, she takes the position and spends the summer in the City of Angels with her workaholic uncle and her sassy, sophisticated, and slightly older cousin, Kate.
Girl in Development is fun and cute, clean yet sophisticated. It can be enjoyed by a 30-year-old just as much as a 16-year-old. In other words, fans of the Gilmore Girls television series should pick it up. (Read my full-length review.)
Though Sam is not based on the author, she does share some of Jordan's youthful insecurities, including her initial worries about the West Coast. Now a California resident for seven years, Jordan can safely say, "I'm a fair weather daughter and sister." She grew up in New York, spent summers in Long Island, and attended Brown University. Though she still visits New York on occasion, the West Coast Bug has bitten her, and she feels at home in California.
Readers, especially teens, yearn for stories that make them feel at home. They can read tall tales and flashy fiction about lives and places they can only imagine, then find themselves loving a down-to-earth story because it feels so real to them.
"One of the reasons why I write for this age group is because that period of time - 15, 16, 17 - I felt like I was so miserable, but I know I had good times.
"That age group is all about perceptions: perceptions of yourself, perceptions of others, and the perceptions of you by others."
Having been an astute reader from the time she was little, Jordan was very aware of how much of an influence books can have on kids, and how the actions of the characters can encourage them to do things, both good and bad. She was determined to create a story that was smart enough to attract older teens and adults, yet clean enough for younger teens to enjoy.
"Kids are impressionable. Readers live in your head for 300 pages. They'll listen to you if they think it's cool and wrapped in a pretty pink package."
When she looks at pictures of her teenage self, she has a feeling that mixes longing with surprise. There's a fondness in her voice as she relates this revelation. "15 years later, I realized that I was pretty. If I were to pass this girl on the street, I would think, 'That's a pretty girl. That's a happy girl.' I look happy in these pictures."
She was in for another little surprise when she attended the wedding of a friend from high school. As she caught up with friends and classmates, one man related that Jordan and her three best friends were once known as the Fab Four. This was news to Jordan. She had never heard that nickname for her group when she was in school, too busy with her studies to pay attention to hallway gossip.
"It's a really, really hard age. I never thought I was popular. I never had millions of friends.
"I just wanted to get through the day."
She remembered being an overachiever who was "obsessed" with going to an Ivy League school; these classmates remembered her as one of the four most popular girls in their class.
"All I wanted to do was do well on my SATs and get out of high school."
It wasn't so much that she wanted to get out as that she wanted to move on. She loved her high school, but she couldn't wait to go to college.
Luckily, the experience did not disappoint her. "College allowed me, for the first time, to be whoever I wanted. To be grown-up Jordan."
She had some creative writing courses in college but never considered writing to be her main career. She wrote plays and short stories when she was younger, mainly comedies and stand-up. "I wrote the way I spoke. (They were) fun, silly things. I wanted to make people laugh."
She wrote a screenplay seven years ago, then wrote articles about being single in Los Angeles. Novel writing, she found, was a very different experience. "It was surprisingly easy to write at first, but I had some tough times, especially with the ending. I put it off for months. I didn't want to end it. I wanted it to keep going because I was having so much fun."
She struck a few rough patches here and there. "It felt like doing surgery. I would go to sleep at night and (those parts) were like open wounds."
Quotes helped her along the way. At the start of each chapter, she placed a quote from a favorite film or book to set the tone of that chapter. "I always wanted to do that with both literature and movies. Sam's two main exposures were classics and films. The silly educator in me kind of wanted to put in quotes from Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf in hopes that a 16-year-old reader would be inspired enough to research the classic that the quote came from and read it."
After the story was complete, she and her editor went to a big-name bookstore to look at the teen fiction section and see what appealed to and what appalled them. Jordan was certain that she did not want a photograph of an actual girl on the cover. Happily, she ended up with a cover that she feels is very true to the spirit of the book.
"The whole joy of reading for me is that no matter how specifically the characters are described, you get to picture them how you want them to look."
One of her own greatest influences is screenwriter and director John Hughes, whose legendary films include Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club. "His movies affected how I see film and how I write stories."
Ultimately, she just wanted to write something that made readers laugh out loud. "It's not going to change the world - but it's not meant to change the world. It's meant to be fun."
Through emails and letters, parents have told Jordan that they read the book and then passed it to their daughters. She has had feedback from 12 year olds; she has had feedback 30 year olds.
Past acquaintances have touched base to congratulate her on the release of her novel, which contains acknowledgments that "are like a yearbook," filled with the names of those who supported her then and now. These messages from old friends make her smile.
She is still working in production and film, but now, it's on her own terms. She and her childhood friend, actress Jordana Brewster, have created a production team called J-Squared. Her writing partner is Eric Garcia, best known for his novels Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys and Matchstick Men.
Jordan is coming full circle now. She has written the pilot script for Girl in Development and will be pitching it to television networks shortly. "I want it to be a single-camera show with lots of flashbacks. Very quirky, very energetic. More like My Name is Earl or Scrubs."
Jordan's next book, currently untitled, will detail the misadventures of sixteen-year-old girls at summer camp. It will be similar in tone to Girl in Development - fun, light, sophisticated but squeaky clean - and aimed at a slightly younger market. It should be suitable for ages 12 and up.
With a novel in one hand and a pilot script in the other, it's safe to say that Jordan Roter has found a happy medium between being an East Coast Literati and a California Girl. She's both, and it suits her.
Sidebar: Jordan's Top Ten Books of All Time
Widow for One Year by John Irving
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott
Naked by David Sedaris
Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler
40 Stories by Donald Barthelme (short stories)
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Ask the Dust by John Fante
A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf