“Michelangelo and Me” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with Colleen Shannon

2024 March 21

“Michelangelo and Me” (EXCLUSIVE) Interview with Colleen Shannon

-How was your project “Michelangelo and Me” born?

Michelangelo and Me (novel version titled Heaven’s Rogue) came to life during millennium fever in 1999. I had written three single title releases, all lead titles, for Dorchester’s fairy tale imprint and my editor liked them all so she asked me to write a millennium book and when I pitched her my first concept she wanted a trilogy. I was on a family trip west with my sons and husband and while he drove, I looked at the beautiful scenery and wondered what it meant to live to see a new millennium. Very few people in human history live to see that change. The last one, in the year 1000, was also a time of turmoil: the dark ages, famine, pestilence, war everywhere. But if I wanted to tell a moving, uplifting story about such a rare human experience it had to be meaningful in scope. Who were we, who are we, and where are we going? So what was the best example of humanity through the ages? Michelangelo’s David. Who was he, why did Michelangelo pick him for the model (historians don’t know who he was) and manage to capture so much vitality, nobility, yet human struggle too at an insurmountable task ahead? I tried to visualize what Michelangelo thought of while he worked. That’s the way I always create my characters, trying to walk a mile in their moccasins as they would if they really lived. Michelangelo was both gay and very religious– he used to self flagellate. So what if he had a childhood best friend, virtually perfect physically, who was also rather arrogant and unruly, a bastard without title or money yet so charismatic everyone loved him, especially his best friend. What if he commits an unforgivable sin and gets turned to stone? So everything came from that. The famous ‘what if?’ every fiction writer faces as worst challenge and best inspiration….whether script or novel.

-What goal do you dream of achieving?

Preferably getting Michelangelo and Me produced and distributed world wide as the first in a possible extended story, either film or pilot and streaming though this story is so visually interesting it’s probably best on the big screen. Also to start being involved in producing of some type.

Why I think I’m ready: I know I’m older than most people who attempt this, but I started young as a novelist (at 26 sold myself to Berkeley Putnam the first full length book I ever wrote before it was finished). It was followed by five more single title releases for them, 10 for Dorchester, and most recently three for Kensington. They’ve all been cross genre books as are my scripts because I only find rich stories with characters I care about in worlds that interest me compelling, and it shows in both my scripts and novels, I think. They’re different because I think differently. I used to have NYT romance novelists at conventions etc. tell me I wrote ‘above the genre.’ I have fan mail from all over the world. I’ve never self published though I may consider it if this doesn’t pan out. I’ll hire a publicist and write under two different names for romance and thrillers. I know I still have a readership because my first Ranger book, Foster Justice, hit #1 on Amazon Kindle’s Western Romance list when it came out. Not an easy feat even in genre fiction and it had been many years since my last historical because I didn’t write when I was working as a VP in development in Los Angeles. People reading this should be aware I’m willing to move back if financially motivated. My sons are grown with families so it’s just me and I still have friends in LA .

In addition, I expect to be writing to the day I die and there is much longevity in my genetics. Women in my family tend to battle our weight but are healthy into our nineties. If I choose to I could go back to real estate development right now, but storytelling is my first love. My story telling and characterization seem to transfer well to film (see the Hal Ackerman letter, posted at FF) . I decided to try screenwriting one last time when I saw more of the stories I like to see coming out on the big screen (like Shape of Water) and some streaming films/series. I loved Damsel and would write it with probably a happy ending romance. I love female empowerment movies but I think the best stories combine male and female characters and our natural likes and differences, typically in romance, but they can be other types: Skyfall is my favorite Bond movie because the end of the relationship between Bond and M is the story lodestone, a proper exit of one of the best secondary characters ever. Honestly, I think most screenwriters and directors too for that matter, have a hard time getting into the heads of both genders. It comes easily to me precisely because I’ve written so much romance from both PoVs. Honestly I saw the reason for it, and I understand why Barbie has become such a worldwide sensation, but I think it was over the top in its portrayal of Ken and his friends. Yes it’s Barbie’s story, but it would have been a better film with a better, more multi faceted, role for Ken. I love writing buddy movies and huge action sequences as well as romance. Full Circle, at its core, is a buddy movie, though a screenwriter I know called it a romance instead, between uncle and nephew, not just Lily and Rob. And the action sequences are complex. Three of my scripts are based on my own books: Michelangelo and Me, its sequel in progress now, da Vinci and Me, and Foster Justice. Full Circle is a totally original idea, and two of my rough drafts, The Gentle Beast, and Time Will Tell, have completed novel versions. I also have two treatments, plenty of material, I think, for interested parties to gauge my ability. My other unusual characteristic is I’m very savvy in business, have even written one of my own contracts and sold half my books myself. I was only ever late on one book deadline and that was during the birth of one of my sons. Hence I honestly think I could produce as development is similar in task management and I think both logically and creatively.

-Who inspired you to create your project?

In its original form, Heaven’s Rogue, it was inspired by my Dorchester editor who worked with me on my three fairy tale books. I sold to her on proposal but when she got the final version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, The Gentle Beast, she made it the launch book for their fairy tale imprint, with dumps and special promotion and my most beautiful cover ever. Very expensive, step back with embossed gold foil lettering and two different cover images, the hero with and without his mask. Now most covers are digital. I loved working with her, she was very flexible in what she liked and I gave her many unusual ideas, according to her. So when millennium fever hit and they decided to do a millennium imprint, she liked my work and asked me to write a millennium book. I pitched Heaven’s Rogue to her over the phone and she bought it from the pitch, with approval rights, of course. I also suggested the cover idea with the David coming to life, marble to flesh. For once, art and marketing took my idea, a miracle, appropriately enough lol. She wanted another trilogy, so my idea had to loosely link multiple stories. The way I got the inspiration is in the first paragraph of this interview. I never have a problem with ideas; only time to write them. But my most frequent negative feedback on this story has been too much story. Coverage often recommends I need to divide it up between the three heros. That’s Hollywood formula, of course, but question: why does the most lucrative franchise ever made break formula and combine genres so beautifully?

Star Wars. I know what I’m attempting is very difficult, so I sat with a stopwatch and Star Wars New Hope, which is what inspired me to the power of film so long ago, to test my story instincts . It’s over fifteen minutes into the film before you meet Luke and over thirty before you meet Han Solo. Yet they all have their own roles and own lives that blend well with plot and story arcs first as a stand alone then with tantalizing hints of a sequel (Vader spinning into space and the new alliance between the guys and Leia). My throughline in the books is it’s always heaven’s plan to bring David/Dom back to life to give him a chance to redeem himself because his actions will impact humanity in the third millennium. Visually I had to come up with a way to portray that, hence The Sistine Chapel. However, Michelangelo and Me also works as a single film. My first scene in the second story, da Vinci and Me. opens in the chapel with God depressed because he’s not a good comic and a very famous one whirling in to show him how. Not in the books….but I just read a couple lines to the five people in my critique group and they all laughed. But I do have synopses for the next two stories I wrote for Dorchester I can supply if anyone is interested. Heaven’s Hero will be da Vinci and Me (Nick and Isabella) and Heaven’s Warrior will be Rafael and Me (Rafe and Omani, an empath human descendant in the third millennium after we’ve moved to the stars with the last of the human race). All of this sprang from the idea of the world’s best example of humanity, flaws and virtues, coming to life in a new millennium. Why? Who sent him? Who is he? Why is he soimportant? What is his mission and will he succeed or turn back to stone? I always reason through every idea mentally before I start writing, though I don’t outline.

-Which awards has your project won?

The Gentle Beast won Romantic Time’s best British Isles romance for the year and it features Samuel Johnson as a character. It’s far more than just a romance, having history, action, art and suspense as well. I’ve won many other industry awards and made numerous bestseller lists, though never the NYT. Michelangelo and Me, which started as Heaven’s Rogue, has almost an 80% selection rate at FF with five or so festivals still undecided and has been selected in all five continents with many invitations for me to submit in Australia, which would make six. There has to be international interest. As for its original version Heaven’s Rogue, I’m not aware of any awards it won except its place in my ranking: my favorite, again with those cross genre elements mentioned above. I know my editor told me she’d never seen another book like it and she’d been editing romance a long time, and I know the Amazon Romance editor at the time picked it as her favorite fairy tale romance. The book and film versions are quite different, showing I think I understand the differences between both arts. And to me they are arts, not crafts. I’m still learning. I never send out a rough draft, only something rewritten many times. I don’t know if anyone else can see my dashboard but if 8 And A Half and Film Freeway approve I’m happy to share it. I’m very proud of my gold award for best feature script from the Florence Film Festival in particular. There is no better source to gauge my research, obviously, than the place where he was created, has lived for five hundred years and will probably always live. Note I say ‘he’ lol not ‘it’.