In case you’re new to the Milford-Haven saga, here’s how it has evolved . . .
The radio drama started the whole thing. I’d always been a writer (journalist, essayist, storyist, playwright, screenwriter), and an actress. So I spent a summer in Cambria, California, performing in Gardner McKay’s brilliant two-hander Sea Marks. Not only did I love the play; I also came to be intrigued by life in a small town. The owner of the tiny local radio station approached me backstage after the show one night, inviting me to create something for local broadcast.
During the following year I became a regular performer on Days Of Our Lives and got fascinated by something else: the long form of story. So I called the radio station and asked, “How about a radio soap opera?” Turns out the owner’d always wanted to broadcast a radio soap. So I hit the keyboard, wrote the first several episodes and sent them. Then I got no response. Turns out, he’d sold the station. But when I proposed finding my own sponsors, the new owners were wildly enthusiastic. Milford-Haven was a local hit from day one. Eventually I got it on the air in other U.S. cities as well, and was working toward syndication.
Syndicators loved the show; they just didn’t know what to do with it. “The numbers are bad,” they explained. “Isn’t that because the numbers are ‘zero’?” I asked. After all, there was no radio drama on the air. So what numbers could they check? While this befuddlement was taking place, the BBC had heard about this little American show and were trying to find me. (This was L.B.G., if you can imagine Life Before Google.) Two Brits accosted me at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention and two weeks later I had a contract.
Milford-Haven U.S.A. — fifty percent re-written and re-cast — became the first American radio serial ever broadcast by the Beeb. We didn’t know if it would work, competing with the tried-and-true, superb British offerings. But six weeks in, I got a call. “You might like to pop over. It’s doing rather well!” I did “pop over” to London and was in every newspaper and on every talk show. We had 4.5 million listeners on BBC Radio 5 — a bonafide hit.
For U.K. listeners, the show was a trip to the Central Coast of California. It was a true radio soap, with criss-crossing storylines, multiple romances, and an underpinning of serious and well-researched environmental issues. It was a picture postcard of the 90s, when a surging movement away from city-centric angst and pollution took millions to small towns. But as the population of Milford-Haven grew, so did its calamities, all the more intriguing from a dramatic perspective. With its finger on the pulse of a trend that swept not only the U.S., but other countries, the slogan of the show still has a certain resonance: Global Complexities; Small Town Simplicities. www.MilfordHaven.com
While the show was on the BBC, inquiries about possible novels began to pour in. Eventually this was enough of a tsunami that Random House made an offer. When that didn’t work (and that’s a story in itself), a small press was being born at just the right time. Haven Books started as a small artists’ collective with five authors and their five separate publishing projects. We all pooled our resources, created an advisory board of publishing experts, and got started. Most of us are still on board and you can see our books at www.HavenBooks.net.
When it came to publishing my novels, we knew we were breaking ground. A serial novel? Well, that hadn’t been done since Charles Dickens first wrote chapter-installments that were later collected into huge single volumes. We decided we’d best do test-marketing editions of the first few novels. We gathered a tremendous amount of data from our core readers and focus groups. Then we found we couldn’t keep word from spreading. These simply-bound script-adaptations with single-color-line-drawing covers—which were never intended to last, nor to circulate widely—captured enough of an audience that libraries and bookstores started to request them.
So a larger independent publishing venture started. Each book has now been published for “real”. And each of the books has now won multiple awards, which sure is encouraging. What’s intriguing to me is that I thought I was writing fiction, but discovered along the way that I’m writing Women’s Fiction. What’s that? Well, that’s a whole other discussion, one in which I engage readers and listeners at panels, talks, and author tea events. You might enjoy joining that discussion either here at my blog, or at my Facebook group Mara Purl Readers.
So . . .there will be twelve novels in all, which will keep me busy for a while. And by the way, we’ve come full circle back to audio with audio books. More about that in a future blog.
For now, you can buy episodes, novels, or audio books. In whatever form, I hope you enjoy your visits to . . . Milford-Haven.