The Origins of Riley Parra, Part Two – The Series

As promised, part two of my Riley Parra post in honor of the LGBT+ Storybundle!

The last post was about creating the novels, where the character came from, and how she ended up becoming one of my most popular series. Today I’m going to talk about how that turned into a web series, because I know a lot of people might be curious about that. I was part of the whole process and I still sometimes ask myself “How is this happening?!”

I decided to end the Riley books after “Season Five” for a very practical reason: I wanted to give the characters an ending. More than that, I wanted to let them rest and have a happily-ever-after or at least a happily-for-now. They went through so much during the books (a couple of them even died (don’t worry, most of them got better)) that I wanted to end one book with happiness and hope. So I wrapped up their story and told myself one day I might revisit it.

Then, the first year I didn’t have a Riley Parra book on my schedule, one of my friends (Lisa Yimm!) told me about Tello Films. She suggested I pitch to them. This was around the point where I decided the worst anyone can do is say no, so I put together a pitch and sent it off. Christin Baker, the CEO of Tello, had her ears perk up and spent some time feeling me out before she committed to anything. She asked me about the characters, the fanbase, everything she needed to decide if it was worth her time and effort. I must have said something that she liked, because before long, we were putting it together.

Christin has been the absolute best… I don’t want to say partner, because that implies I participated as much as she did. I created the world and wrote the script, which is admittedly hard work. But that’s like saying I loaded the cart and then Christin strapped it to her back and carried it uphill. She’s said a couple of times that Riley has taken a long time to get rolling and it has, but she never let me feel like it had been forgotten. I know that entire time, it was on her mind. Every phone conversation we had, I could tell she was as excited about this world and these characters as I was. Maybe even more. And I think there’s never been a better time for a hero like Riley Parra.


My part of the process was minimal. I adapted the story into script form and rewrote it as-needed, following Christin’s guidance. We tossed it back and forth a few times, she made adjustments and I made adjustments, until we finally had what they used for shooting. And it still wasn’t entirely final. Once Liz Vassey was cast, she got a chance to punch the script up a little (and if we had a multiple-episode season, you can bet I’d be begging Liz or Marem to write an episode or two per season). But beyond that, I was very uninvolved. Mostly by choice, partially due to the fact I just wasn’t there to be part of the process. I’m in Oklahoma, they’re in Los Angeles, and I trusted them to steer the ship.


The “by choice” part is because I didn’t want to get in Tello’s way. I wanted a mainly-female team working on the actual show so that it wouldn’t be overly male. I wanted a female director and Christin is one of the best I could’ve asked for. First Assistant Director Shannan Leigh Reeve is a superhero and I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me she doesn’t sleep. They’re a dream team, and I’m so lucky to have them bringing my world to life.


And speaking of bringing my world to life… the actors. I’m blown away by the people Tello found for this show. Maeve Quinlan, from the first lesbian webseries I ever watched (3Way) and one of the most influential lesbian series ever, South of Nowhere plays Riley’s boss. Connor Trinneer, who was the villain Michael on Stargate Atlantis, one of my favorite shows ever, is the angel who introduces Riley to the war. And Liz Vassey. LIZ VASSEY. I’ve been a fan of her for so long that I pinch myself sometimes when I think about her playing one of my characters. It’s unbelievable and such an honor.

And then there’s Marem.

Marem Hassler plays Riley Parra. I have a habit of casting the characters in my novels. Every major character gets cast. But I couldn’t pin down Riley, not in five years of writing her. I had a general idea of her, but there didn’t seem to be any actors who fit the bill. Christin and I talked about at least two other actors, both of whom I thought might maybe be okay. I could see them working out. But then Marem Hassler was cast. I saw her in the table read, and from the very first line, she was Riley. She was the Riley I saw in my head. She’s the Riley I’d been trying to find from the beginning. And there she was, sitting at a table, reading my lines, introducing herself as “Riley Parra,” and it was like a piece of my brain had come to life. The show is so lucky to have Marem at the lead, and the fact Christin found her only solidifies my belief that she’s the right captain for this ship.

My next post is going to be about adapting the story to script form, changing a 50,000 word story into an hour-ish of television. Until then, be sure to check out the Storybundle! Share and retweet!