May Your Holidays Be Bright

Just a short message to all who celebrate Christmas (and those who don’t, but like the decorations, lol). I love seeing my tree up and take far too many pictures of it. I have nearly 12 years represented here, although I’m missing a couple years.

2008-2012 (mysteriously missing 2009)

I’m an ornament collector (I can stop any time, I swear). Every year I either buy new ones or my kids buy me one or two. And don’t even get me started on the socks they give me. Last year was doughnuts & llamas (not on the same socks, however).

2013-2016 (cameo appearances by Tenka & Zak)

This year I went a little crazy buying sea life ornaments. If you look close enough at 2021, you’ll see a couple jelly fish, a crab, a seahorse, a sea turtle, and a couple of flamingos, one dressed as a mail carrier and one as Santa.

2017-2021 (2018 MIA, photo bomb by Tenka)

I hope you have a lovely end of 2021, no matter what holidays you celebrate.

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Is Recombined Really a Christmas Movie?

While my largest body of work is in the form of published novels, I have also written a number of screenplays. I have a habit of writing a script, then deciding it would make a better novel or writing a novel that later becomes a script. My Tankborn Trilogy started as a feature screenplay (for a full-length movie). The trilogy then came full circle when I adapted the world of Tankborn into a short film script. Here’s an account of how it all happened.

Back in September 2016, I attended a pitch session in Los Angeles. It was one of those “speed dating” kinds of things, where we had five or ten minutes to sell our work to a director. After time ran out, the director would move down to the next writer in line and we writers would do our sales pitch all over again.

The Tankborn Trilogy

I hadn’t intended to pitch my YA sci-fi trilogy, Tankborn, but I’d brought along a copy of the first book to show I had some cred. Once the five directors I pitched to spotted the hardcover sitting on the table, they didn’t seem to want to talk about anything else. I had screenplays to offer up, but the book was “IP” (Intellectual Property, a term I learned that night). And for many in Hollywood, IP is like catnip to producers and directors.

I hit it off with one director in particular, Regina Ainsworth, and I sent her my trilogy. Regina loved the books and wanted to talk to me about a possible movie trilogy. But by the time of our chat, I realized what I really wanted to do was to adapt the three books for television. Regina came around to my way of thinking, but then she upped the ante. To give us a “proof-of-concept” to use to pitch the TV series, we would make a short film.

We brainstormed ideas, and eventually agreed on the concept for Recombined. It took over a year from the concept to the script (rewrites, and rewrites, and rewrites). Plus we were fundraising, and Regina was locking down locations, crew, and cast.

Recombined Movie Posters

Meanwhile, we were writing draft after draft of the pilot for our series and working out the series bible. I was working on other projects as well, and helping Regina whenever I could. But as director, the heaviest lift was hers. Finally, in early December 2018, at the former Warner Bros Ranch lot in Burbank, our marathon shoot of Recombined commenced. For that part of the story, check out this post from 2019.

So, is Recombined a Christmas movie? You decide:

  • It was shot in December, the month we celebrate Christmas
  • The plot of Recombined revolved around a celebration, just like Christmas does
  • It premiered in November, which is pretty close to Christmas
  • There were festive decorations on set
Festive decorations


So, what movies do you think are non-obvious Christmas movies? Share in the comments.

Posted in Cool Science, Diverse Books, film, Holiday, screenwriting, Tankborn Origins, Traditions, Writing Craft | Leave a comment

December Birthday Girl

December is my favorite month. Besides the holidays, it’s my birthday month. As a kid (and even as an adult), it seemed to take forever for my big day to roll around. My sisters’ birthdays were earlier in the year, so they got to celebrate long before me.

Even though I was a December baby, I always got a separate celebration and gifts for my birthday and Christmas. My mom and grandma loved to party and always made my birthday a fun day. Mom would often make a “Barbie doll” birthday cake. That’s me on the left with my older sisters.

We would make a piñata out of paper grocery bags decorated with loops of tissue paper, then hang it outside and smash it with a stick until all the candy fell out. So much fun.

Christmas was another high point in December. My grandma would put up a tree. For years, we had one of those odd aluminum ones with a color-changing light that shined on the metal tree from below. Also, my papa a fake fireplace for Santa that my papa made. What can I say? Not too many fireplaces in Los Angeles.

My sisters and I couldn’t wait until Santa came. We’d go to church on Christmas Eve and wake on Christmas to piles of gifts filling the living room floor.

My dad was Jewish, but he went along with the Christmas joy. Later, when I married my Jewish husband, we started celebrating Hanukkah. I learned to love latkes (yummy) and lighting the Hanukkah lights.

It was a different kind of joy when my boys were old enough to memorize the Hanukkah prayer in Hebrew before lighting the candles. They took turns on the eight days of Hanukkah, and they loved it when they were the one to light them on the eighth day when all of the candles were blazing.

I do love decorating my Christmas tree every year. I particularly like unusual ornaments, and always look for new ones. In addition to the owl, fairy, and octopus shown in the picture above, I have a porcupine, a Chinese dragon, a narwhal, and a gecko licking a candy cane, among others.

Do you have any favorite traditions from the holidays? Feel free to share in the comments.

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Holidays, Family, Memories

With the November and December holidays approaching, I’ve been thinking back to how we celebrated in the past. As I was growing up, every holiday get together took place at Grandma’s house. From New Year’s Day through New Year’s Eve (including all the birthdays), everyone gathered at Grandma’s for too much food and drink, and sometimes way too many presents. After dinner, we’d often crowd around the dining room table for a poker game.

How I learned the crucial life skill of playing poker

By the time I had my first son, my mom and stepdad had bought a restaurant overlooking Mono Lake, and Grandma moved up there with them. After that, we celebrated at least Thanksgiving and Christmas in the dining room of the Mono Inn. It was a long drive (7 hours) with a toddler and a baby, but so beautiful once we were there.

Left, the family restaurant, middle, the restaurant dining room with all of us crowded around the table, right, Mono Lake CA

All those years that Grandma hosted the holidays, she did all the cooking. When I was old enough, she’d let me do the relish tray, but other than that, it was all on her: the turkey (for Thanksgiving and Christmas) or ham (for New Years and Easter), the mashed potatoes or potato salad, the yams or her incredible baked beans. She did it all. Amazing.

The dessert table, as if we had room after a huge Easter dinner. It’s possible I made the bunny cake.

How do you do your holidays? Always in the same place, or do members of the family trade off? Let me know in the comments. It would be great to share stories.

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Memories of Halloweens Past

I loved Halloween as a kid. Spooky decorations. Carving jack-o-lanterns. Dressing up in a costume and going out door to door in the neighborhood.

And candy, candy, candy! After I got home from trick-or-treating, I immediately dumped out my candy on the living room floor and took stock of what I got.

My mom could be pretty creative with the costumes. One year she made my two older sisters matching pumpkin costumes. I don’t know why, but Mom tied them together by the wrist. Maybe she didn’t want them to get lost? One of my sisters told me she was in tears the whole night.

The next Halloween it was my turn to wear the pumpkin costume. Mom stuffed a bunch of newspaper into the big orange bag to make it round like a pumpkin. I remember how scratchy it was to wear. To give you an idea of what it looked like, here’s Gnorm the garden gnome wearing a pumpkin costume.

Pinocchio was one of my favorite books, so another year, Mom made me a Pinocchio costume. It had shorts with suspenders and a white shirt. To make me look like a wooden marionette, Mom wrapped brown Kraft paper around and around my arms and legs. I couldn’t bend my elbows or knees. Not sure how I made it around the neighborhood to trick-or-treat.

As a grownup, I’ve dressed up for the occasional Halloween party. A couple years ago, I attended a horsey Halloween. Those horses were saints considering what they put up with. Hershey, a quarter horse mare, was especially sweet to the kids despite being decorated with fake spider webs.

What are your memories of Halloween? What candy did you always want to see in your trick-or-treat bag? What was the coolest pumpkin you ever carved? I’d love to hear from you how you celebrated (or didn’t celebrate) the holiday. Let me know in the comments.

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The Pluot Invasion

Is it just me, or did someone mess with August and make it last twice as long? Between triple digit heat here in Northern California, wildfires, and the ever present pandemic threat, I thought August would never end.

There are two other things I thought might never happen. One, I thought the fruit on my Flavor King pluot tree would never ripen. Two, once it did ripen, I thought I’d never get all the fruit off the tree.

In my last blog post, I talked about a Very Naughty Squirrel that stole all the fruit from my pluot tree. That tree was my Flavor Supreme, which only produced about a dozen pluots (it rarely produces much). The other pluot tree, the Flavor King, ripens much later in the summer. And this year the Flavor King exploded with fruit.

With all that bounty, you would have thought that Very Naughty Squirrel would have had a field day. But there has been no sign of any pilferage. For some reason, Mr. VNS doesn’t like Flavor King pluots Considering how much fruit there was, I might have welcomed a little thievery.

Whenever I’ve gone out to harvest, I’ve brought in the same enormous amount. And I swear to you that when I’ve gone out the next day, it looked like the tree had replaced the fruit I’d picked with a fresh batch. I brought in the last of it over the weekend, and I’m a little afraid to go out there again. There might be more.

I shouldn’t complain because these pluots are the most delicious fruit I’ve ever tasted. And the jam I make from them is like nectar of the gods. I just never thought I’d have such a large harvest that I’m sneaking bags of pluots into other people’s houses. 😉

I did can some (which was a disaster—can you say “exploding fruit?”). I plan to make more jam. And of course we’ll be eating fresh pluots like there’s no tomorrow. As good as they are, I don’t think we’ll get tired of eating them. I’m just worried they’ll overripen and go to waste. So, does anyone out there have some great recipes using stone fruit? I’m sure anything that calls for plums or apricots would also be good with pluots. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment.

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The Squirrel Wars

I grew up in Los Angeles, and in all my time there I didn’t see much wildlife. Up here in Northern California, critters are everywhere—turkeys, ducks, and geese waddling down the road, the occasional deer in the front yard, skunks and raccoons causing a ruckus.

Then there are the squirrels.

Squirrels that climb my oak tree. Squirrels that use my back fence as a superhighway. Squirrels who bury acorns that sprout a million little oak trees in the spring.

And squirrels that strip my pluot tree of every last fruit. Grrr!

Full disclosure, they only stole the fruit from one pluot tree. What broke my heart was that it was the FIRST TIME that tree produced more than one or two fruits. I had lovingly wrapped each of those pluots in tiny stockings (like the ones you use to try on shoes) to protect them from the birds.

That didn’t slow down the squirrel at all. The furry invader ripped the pluots off the tree and left me tiny stockings and pluot pits all over the yard. It only spared one lonely pluot. Apparently the branch was too skinny to support even a squirrel.

I ate the pluot. It was delicious. Which only made me sadder for the others.

And that squirrel wasn’t finished. It discovered my tomato plants on the other side of the yard. And it stole not one, not two, but three of the four tomatoes on my Early Girl bush. They weren’t even ripe! Who eats an unripe tomato? At least before dipping it in breadcrumbs and frying it?

An uncouth squirrel, I guess. I even caught him in the act, up in my oak tree, chowing down on the tomato.

It’s too late for this year, but what do you do to keep squirrels from making a buffet of your garden? I’d love to hear from you, even if it’s just to share your favorite recipe for fried green tomatoes. Drop me a line with your ideas. Next year, we’ll show those squirrels who’s boss.

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Recombined Shoot

DGA director Regina Ainsworth on the set of Recombined.

As I described in my post Movie to Books to Movie to TV, I’ve been working with director Regina Ainsworth with an eye toward pitching my young adult sci-fi novels, the Tankborn trilogy, as a television series. Regina suggested we needed a visual expression of Tankborn‘s world as part of our pitch. To that end, I wrote the short script, Recombined, while Regina built relationships, raised funds, and gathered cast and crew who were as passionate about the project as we were. We shot the film December 1st, 2018 on one long (and very cold) day in Burbank.

I’ve written a number short scripts and have seen three of them made into films, but other than one SAG actor in one of those films, cast and crew were amateurs. The cast of Recombined were all SAG-AFTRA, and we had a professional union crew.

The Warner Bros. signature logo

The shoot took place at Warner Bros. Ranch, just down the road from Warner Bros. main studio. It’s where the iconic Friends was shot, and it’s currently the home of Veronica Mars.

It was an unusual arrangement allowing us to shoot a short film on the Warner Bros. Ranch lot (one of the security guards said “That never happens”), and we were all so grateful for the opportunity. The cast and crew blew me away with their performances and dedication to the film.

As screenwriter, my main role was to consult on the script as needed. I also volunteered to be amateur stills photographer (we also had a pro, Molly White, taking stills). I entertained myself by getting pictures of the action between shots.

Most gratifying for me as the author of the Tankborn novels was seeing my characters come alive. The lead actor, Naïma Hebrail Kidjo, did an amazing job breathing life into my main character, the GEN (Genetically Engineered Non-Human), Kayla. I loved how the makeup/hair artist, Alexandra Bayless, created the GEN tattoo on the GENs’ cheeks and how she did Naïma’s hair for her role as Kayla.

Naïma Hebrail Kidjo (Kayla) in the makeup chair getting her hair braided and standing for a shot in front of the blue screen.

The script is loosely based on a “wedding” scene that I’d originally written for Tankborn which never made it into the final published book. With several modifications, the scene became the script for Recombined. Since I started from my own source material, I had the freedom to add any necessary characters, including the GENs Gaddiel and the Intercessor who officiates the wedding (joining).

Left photo, Glenn Stanton (Gaddiel), right photo, from left to right, Dane William, Jessie Hendricks (Alia), and Leilani Smith (Intercessor)

Recombined is now in post-production, Regina working hard on putting together in a cohesive way the jigsaw puzzle of the shots we got that day. I can’t wait to see the final product.

A picture, or it never happened. Here’s me hanging out with actors Shay Ali (Ved) and Patrick McCarthy (Captain Ansgar) before the first shot of the day. Photo credit: Molly White

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Movie to Books to Movie to TV

What starts as a movie script, morphs into a trilogy of books, segues briefly into a short story, rises again as a movie script, and aspires to be a TV series? The Tankborn Trilogy.

First came the movie script, Icer. I’ve been a science geek most of my life. I studied math, physics, and computer science in college and grew up reading and watching science fiction. During a UCLA Extension course on screenwriting I started my first feature length script, Icer, an SF story that revolved around genetic engineering.

After I finished Icer, I wrote other scripts and the occasional novel. But screenwriting is a tough business, so I decided to focus just on novels, and I published my first book in 1998. I wrote mainly romance novels, ten of them for Harlequin. After 16 books, I hit the wall with romance and decided to switch to young adult.

But what to write? I still loved sci-fi. And I had this great sci-fi story in Icer. What if I adapted it as a book for teens? I jumped into the project feet first, moving the Earth-based story from Icer to the planet Loka and changing my main characters from adults to teens. The result was Tankborn, which became a launch book for Lee and Low’s brand new Tu Books imprint.

Over the ensuing years, I completed the trilogy: TankbornAwakening, and Rebellion. The three books didn’t follow the original movie script exactly. A feature script is usually only 100-120 pages and the trilogy ended up comprising more than 1100 pages. I had to expand far beyond the story of the script. But each of the books contains bits and pieces of Icer’s story. Step 1 was complete: movie script  book trilogy.

Then in September 2016, I had an opportunity to attend an event sponsored jointly by the Alliance of Women Directors and the Writers Guild of America. At the time, I had a number of polished feature scripts I wanted to pitch to the women directors I’d be meeting. Of course, one of those scripts was Icer.

With every intention of pitching Icer, I also brought along a copy of Tankborn. I had no feature film credits to my name, having only had a few short scripts produced. I thought showing the directors a published book might impress them.

It worked, although not necessarily the way I thought it would. Several of the directors I pitched were more interested in the three books of the Tankborn Trilogy than they were in Icer. They kept referring to the trilogy as “IP” (which I eventually figured out was “intellectual property”) and peppered me with questions about them. Three requested copies of the books.

One of those three was director Regina Ainsworth. She’d requested autographed physical copies (I’d sent the others ebooks), and a few months later she contacted me to let me know she wanted to chat with me about my work. We spoke in January 2017 by phone. Regina proposed a feature film (maybe a trilogy), but by then I’d had a real vision of the Tankborn Trilogy as a television series. I made my case, and Regina agreed.

So how was I going to adapt the big, complex plot of Tankborn to the visual medium of television? Especially when I admittedly have a love affair with internal dialogue and tight POV. Being in a character’s head, thinking their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes, might work in a novel but it’s a non-starter for film or television. An actor has to be able to act out (make visual) everything a character does.

I could have cut all those internal dialogue/tight POV scenes. But sometimes there’s important information in the character’s head that the audience needs to know.

Having written both scripts and books, the challenge was an intriguing one. It was reminiscent of when I was a software engineer and had to modify and debug computer code. Maybe more like translating a program from one computer language to another.

To demonstrate how I translated some of the internal dialogue into a visual scene, I’m including a couple of examples from the novel & pilot below. But first, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Tankborn to give you some story context:

Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are created in a gen-tank, programmed with a particular ability or skill called a sket, and enslaved from birth. As part of GENs’ gestation in the tank, gene-splicers install circuitry in their bodies and brains. This includes an interface on their cheek that allows “trueborns” to upload or download new programming, or to erase GEN identities entirely during a reset.

On to the examples. Here’s some text from Page 1 of the first book, Tankborn.

An actor could show Kayla hunched on the river bank with a disagreeable look on her face showing that she’s unhappy to be there. I could have written some dialogue between Kayla and her nurture-brother Jal to reveal what Kayla’s plans had been for the day. But there was more subtext that needed to be included besides just Kayla’s grumpiness. I really needed to rethink this scene to make it work for a visual medium.

So I created a new scene that hadn’t been in the book. I placed Kayla and her nurture-mother, Tala, at a worship service. Kayla’s and Tala’s argument about why Kayla has to go to the river with Jal is woven in with the worship prayers.

This bit of dialogue serves three purposes. 1) Introduces the GEN faith which is based on servitude. 2) Sets up Kayla having to go to the river with Jal. 3) Teases Kayla’s “sket,” the special ability that the gene-splicers programmed into her while she was in the tank. Her sket will be revealed in the river scene.

In another new scene that follows the worship service, I include the subtext of Tala’s real reason for sending Kayla to the river to accompany Jal.

Once I finished the pilot and outlined the entire first season of the Tankborn series, I felt I was close to getting the pieces of a “series bible” together. Then Regina introduced a new wrinkle: we needed a short film, set in Tankborn’s world, to be part of our pitch. We needed a “visual” to sell our concept.

I proposed we base the short film on an “outtake” scene from Tankborn that didn’t make it into the final version of the book. Regina loved the idea, and I went to work on the script. While the pilot was 50 pages, the short film had to be only 5-7 pages. Writing short is tough, but after some back and forth, we locked down the script. We nailed down a title too: Recombined. Step 2 was complete: book trilogy (a fragment of it anyway)  movie script.

We’re now on to the next phase of our short film, crowdfunding. That’s where we’ve asked our friends, and friends of friends, and people who don’t even know us if they can pitch in a little bit to help us make Recombined. Click the picture below to check out our campaign.Regina and I are very passionate about this project (as is Neobe Velis, our producer). We’re especially excited that Recombined will be a inclusive production, with a diverse cast and crew. With a particular commitment to gender parity in front of and behind the camera.

But we can’t get it done without help from others. And by “help,” I mean donations. If that’s something that inspires you, check out our campaign page. Any amount from $1 on up will be greatly appreciated. Even better, donations are tax deductible. And every one will help us complete Step 3: Movie script  TV series.

Want to share about the campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Also very much appreciated. Here’s a sample post:

I found this fantastic campaign to support – written, directed & produced by women. Join me in amplifying an awesome story! Donate here: #diversity  #inclusion #femalepower #scifimovie

And going back to the beginning of this blog post, you might remember I mentioned that Tankborn segued briefly into a short story. That story is “Sacrifice,” set in Tankborn’s world and featuring new characters. “Sacrifice” is for sale on Amazon, but if you donate any amount to the Recombined campaign from $1 on up, forward me the receipt at karen at karensandler dot net and I will send you a free copy of “Sacrifice” as a thank you.

This post originally appeared on Fantasy Cafe.

Posted in Books, Cool Science, Diverse Books, diversity, Tankborn Origins, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Exciting News About Tankborn

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how I’ve lived a double life as a writer. At the same time that I’ve written my 22 novels, I’ve been writing screenplays. Screenplays for full-length movies, for TV shows, and short scripts. I’ve had a few of my short scripts produced, including my horror comedy, SWEET TOOTH.

In late 2016, I met a director and pitched my Tankborn Trilogy to her, thinking it would make a pretty good TV show. She read the books and loved them, and since then we’ve been working together on a series bible and a pitch for studios.

A key part of that pitch will be a short film called Recombined which is based on a scene from Tankborn that was edited out of the final book. Once it’s completed, we can show Recombined to studios to help them imagine Tankborn’s world. We can also use the short film to create “buzz” for a Tankborn TV show. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I wrote the script, Regina Ainsworth will direct it, and Neobi Velis will produce. We’ll have more crew coming on when the film is funded.

That’s where you come in. We want to produce a high quality film that we can take to film festivals and eventually release online. That takes a good-sized budget, even for a short film. So Regina, Neobe, and I are running a crowdfunding campaign for Recombined using a site called Hatchfund.

There are donation levels for everyone who wants to contribute to seeing Tankborn become a television series. You can give $1, $10, $25, $50 or more, and every level has a great perk. Just check out the campaign page.

I am very passionate about Recombined, and so anxious to see it get made. The film will touch on the same social justice issues as the Tankborn Trilogy did, and the cast and crew will be diverse and inclusive. It’s everything I would want in a project that I’m involved in.

Can you help? Chip in $1 or $10 or more? Or if you’d like to help in another way, please share the link to the Recombined campaign page on social media. The more word gets out, the greater the chance that Recombined will become a reality.

Thank you,

Karen Sandler


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