Inside Look: ‘Tiger Poppy’ from concept to short story to film

Poppy flowerOriginally, the whole idea of an action packed action adventure film never really crossed my mind while taking creative writing at community college. It was more of an assignment project. We were supposed to just come up with an idea for what would end up being our main feature work for the semester. I was really stumped. All I could see in my mind was an image from a photograph I remembered from an issue of Time magazine from 1991. It was of a sea of red poppies in a giant field. One stood taller and out from the rest right in the middle of the frame. Right there in the middle. One poppy. Somehow, this had made it through all the years and stuff that’s happened since then all the way to that moment in 2007 in creative writing. It was vivid and it was there. In my head, but clear and there. It was what I would build a story around.

Then came the research. Oh, the research. As I started to research poppies and, subsequently, Afghanistan, where most poppies come from, I realized there was an intrinsic tie to our presence there that I could not dismiss. My main influence in fiction to date back then had been a favorite author Clive Cussler. He had been entertaining me with his Dirk Pitt series for over three decades and it made sense to me to use it as a template. While Dirk and Clive are nearly always nautically based, I was more of an avid hiker and mountain lover and that worked perfectly with Afghanistan and poppies. So, also being big on Tom Clancy, especially ‘Line of Control,’ also set in the Himalayas, this is where ‘Tiger Poppy’ was ultimately born. Along with the research, came a lot of additional background material.

In developing the character, Colonel Brandt Essex, I wanted a strong name. After searching through lists and syllable combinations and seeing what worked for others, I settled on the name. I am a moderate follower of etymological sources so names have meanings and meanings shape character. I wanted a sword to cut through the plot and get to the solution, hence Brandt Essex. Dr. Beverly Zimmerman, in 2007, was created oddly with the shapeliness and blond curly locks of Elly Mae from the Beverly Hillbillies in mind, but with the intelligence of my sophomore Animal and Human Biology professor at University of North Texas, Dr. Zimmerman. Hence the name Dr. Beverly Zimmerman. General Frank Dornan is a mash-up of a neighbor I almost built a fence for named Frank who had this soup-strainer handlebar moustache, while Dornan is just a researched name not used very often that would afford me some added originality, but yet seemed familiar still. Afar Azar begins with an ‘A’ by no coincidence. When I started looking up male Afghan names and their meanings, I was determined to have a simple yet menacing sounding, and more on the uncommon side of things name and Afar and Azar were the first two that I came across. I could have gone with something later, and in most cases I did and do, but, it is what it is.

Once I had the names of the good guys, the bad guys and some supporting characters – the cast – then came the part of plot development. For me, this comes pretty easily, as long as I have a central kernel to start with. Back to the picture. That single bloom rising above all the rest. Why? I asked myself. My main character had to be a hero, had to save the world somehow. That’s when it hit me. The poppy makes people invincible. So how does this get the Colonel involved? It had to come through the General. General Dornan is to Brandt Essex as Admiral Sandecker is to Dirk Pitt – only better. Gen. Dornan is active duty, in fact Pentagon Four Star. Colonel Essex is active duty, also. This makes the missions more, say, official. Since the missions are official, why not throw in some covert CIA action?

In the short story, the plot is pretty linear. It moves along a timeline and is limited to 30 pages. The entire story ended up being just 28 pages. The film by contrast is 93-110 pages of script, depending on the edit. Obviously, for the film many more scenes and a few more characters were added. In fact, a whole added dimension based off of a character suggestion my 26-year-old son made really contributed to the needed extra plot. He noticed the short story had all Afghan bad guys and all westerner good guys and it seemed imbalanced. He was right. I had made a point to educate my readers with cultural aspects of some of the people and locales in the Pashtun villages and the story was lacking a bad element among the good guys. Born from this was the character of Ben Turrick, the laboratory mole in the mission that had been planted by the same guys they ended up chasing. Without giving away too much, let me just say it doesn’t fare well for our Mr. Turrick.

All in all, I am some excited with the success of the short story and the film script, and by success I mean it flows well and is page turning, the real success will be if it does well among audiences, of course. That’s why I am where I am with it today. ‘Tiger Poppy.’ I’ve decided, is being written into a novel and released only after the short story appears in the first volume of ‘Selected Short Stories.’ Then, after appearing as a novel, and with a campaign of advertizing and marketing promotion, then the script will be in place to produce into a feature film. In the meantime, another one of the stories, ‘A Piece of Bread’ will be produced into a short film, which I feel moderately confident can be done with ease on budget, time and resource.

Lastly, ‘Tiger Poppy’ is finding its debut as one short story of ten released in Volume I of ‘Selected Short Stories’ – a four volume set – hopefully released and marketed through self-publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing.

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