We at the Fandomentals are big fans of original queer content, and like to promote it as we have a chance. Now, my love for gunslinging female protagonists, queer main characters, and demons is pretty well documented, so imagine how excited I was to hear about a new webseries from Tello Films called Riley Parra featuring all three of those things?
The titular female protagonist, Riley Parra, is a good cop in a corrupt department who discovers a war between angels and demons is being waged in her city. Both sides have chosen mortal champions, and Riley is the only chance the Good side has of winning. It’s a case of good cop, bad demons, and I’m already sold on it.
The webseries—starring Marem Hassler as Riley Parra and Liz Vassey as Gillian Hunt, the city’s medical examiner—is based off of a book series of the same name by celebrated author of woman-loving-woman (wlw) fiction, Geonn Cannon. Cannon is the author of over thirty novels, including Golden Crown Literary Society Award winners Gemini and Underdogs: Dogs of War, as well as Trafalgar & Boone, which was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015.
Given my excitement over the upcoming series, you can imagine how chuffed I was when Cannon agreed to sit down for an interview to talk about the books, the webseries, and creating original queer content.
Gretchen: Tell me about the Riley Parra book series. How did it come about? Is it complete?
Geonn Cannon: The book series is complete! It covers five books, each of which was a group of short stories. I treated each story like episodes in a TV season. The original inspiration was a variety of things. I liked the name Riley and wanted to use it for something big (little did I imagine!), and I thought it was a good cop name. I had just read Neil Gaiman’s “Murder Mysteries” and the idea of angels in a noir-ish setting appealed to me. I had no idea where it was going when I wrote the first story. I just kept writing and let the world build up around me.
The big influences were two songs. One, Thin Blue Flame by Josh Ritter, is an epic story about a narrator who sees all the anger and violence in the world, who sees religion and God as indifferent to it all, and, in the end, finds peace in knowing that the world can be beautiful and he still has his loved ones (“Angels everywhere were in my midst/In the ones that I loved and the ones that I kissed/I wondered what it was I’d been looking for above/Heaven’s so big, there ain’t no need to look up.”). The other song is a dark story about two lovers on the run, and the last verse really struck me:
“At last we saw some people huddled up against
The rain that was descending like railroad spikes and hammers
They were headed for the border
Walking and then running
And then they were gone into the fog
But Anne said underneath their jackets she saw wings.”
So I took all that and decided to write about a cop in a city that was on a fast downward slide, who still found hope despite everything she’s been through, and tried to figure out how angels/Heaven could possibly fit into that.
G: That’s beautiful! Now, you’ve written for a wide range of genres, is there anything about supernatural cop dramas that you find especially compelling to write about?
GC: I love cop shows, and I’ve always been a fan of the supernatural genre (not a fan when it slides into horror/jump scares/torture porn). I watched Buffy with everyone else! I liked the idea of blending the two worlds: the reality of a cop show and the range of something supernatural. I wanted to create this world which felt extremely realistic, something people could recognize, and then throw in some crazy insane twists.
G: Both of those things are definitely my jam as well. So, how was the book series picked up for a webseries adaptation with Tello Films?
GC: A friend-slash-fan named Lisa Yimm pointed them out to me! I don’t remember if there was an official tweet about open submissions, but Lisa suggested I should email Christin and pitch one of my novels. Christin took a chance on a random email from someone she’d never heard of, and the rest is history.
G: I’m always intrigued by visual adaptations of written stories. What about these books make them a good choice for visual adaptation?
GC: I chose Riley because I knew how popular the genre was, and I felt like Riley Parra was the kind of hero fans could get behind. Plus the fact it had already been written with “episodes” made it easier to adapt! I knew—even with the supernatural element—there was a way to write the story so it wouldn’t require a huge effects budget.
G: How involved are you with the adaptation process? Will the webseries stick pretty close to canon or do it’s own thing?
GC: Very involved! I’m writing the scripts with Christin, giving her input (more about what can and can’t be done realistically). Liz Vassey has also been very involved in creating her character, giving Gillian quite a few lines that I’m jealous I can’t take credit for.
The first season sticks fairly closely to the first story from the books, so the foundation will be the same. If we’re lucky enough to get more installments, we’ll branch out a little so the books won’t spoil every beat. It will be the same characters but situations will be different. One character who dies in the books is going to survive in the series. And, for instance, a story in which Riley drives an antique fire truck through a garage door probably won’t get written into a script any time soon. People who read the books will recognize their favorite characters, but there will be new stories.
G: That sounds awesome! So what are you most excited about for the adaptation?
GC: Meeting the cast! When I write a book, I cast it in my head so I can see the characters. Over the course of five books, I never found the right Riley. Then Christin cast Marem Hassler in the role and I could finally see Riley. Seeing this world come to life is amazing and surreal. I know exactly what Riley’s apartment looks like. I know the sound of Riley’s voice. I got so lucky with this whole cast. Not just Marem, but to have people like Liz Vassey, Maeve Quinlan, Connor Kelly-Eiding, Connor Trinneer bringing my characters to life is humbling.
G: Given that there are still so few wlw characters on our screens in mainstream media, how important do you think original content creation is for representation of wlw and other marginalized communities?
GC: It’s extremely important. You look at little girls going to Wonder Woman and finally getting to dress like the superhero they see on the big screen, and you realize how important it is for everyone to have a chance to see themselves playing the hero. And if that hero can also be shown to love someone of the same gender, that reach is expanded. Being gay doesn’t mean you have to stick to the sidelines, it means you can be the one saving the day and leading the fight.
G: As a published author several times over, what advice do you have for aspiring writers of wlw fiction?
GC: My philosophy has become “The worst they can do to you is say no.” When I submitted the proposal to Christin, the worst she could do was tell me she wasn’t interested. When I pitched to write a Stargate novel, they could have just passed on it. “No” isn’t necessarily a judgment. A “no” can mean they’re not looking for new pitches, it can mean they have something similar in production already, it can mean a thousand things that have nothing to do with the quality of your work or your talent. Opening yourself up to the possibility of a “no” is the only way you can get a “yes.” Put yourself out there. Submit to anthologies, post your stories, pitch when people give you a chance. The quickest way to a “yes” is to hear a lot of “no.”
G: That’s great advice. Speaking of posting stories, do you have any other new work in the pipeline right now?
GC: Always! I have two novels left to release in 2017: the third in my Trafalgar & Boone series, The Books of Breathing, and a standalone called The Cabot Girls of Coventry Island. The former is about a pair of adventurers in the 1920s who live in a world of magic and monsters. The latter is about three witchy sisters on an island in the Pacific Northwest (my favorite region!).
I’m also very excited about two 2018 releases: Can You Hear Me is a romance between an astronaut on a long solo mission and a woman who happens to be in contact with her ship. The other is my second Stargate SG-1 novel, called Female of the Species. I’m really excited for both of these and can’t wait for them to be released!
G: Before we finish, I just have to ask, do you have any juicy details you can drop for our readers about what’s coming in the Riley Parra webseries?
GC: Hm, let’s see, what’s something I can get away with revealing without making Christin mad at me…? Hmm. I can promise one thing: happy lesbians! One constant in the books was that even when Riley and Gillian fought, there was never unnecessary drama about their relationship. Riley loved Gillian with all her heart, and vice versa. So yes, they’ll argue, yes, there may be times when they’re not on the same page, but there won’t be drama for the sake of drama. Seeing lesbians in a healthy and stable relationship is rare (and a lot of that is down to the fact that TV shows thrive on conflict and writers can’t seem to think of anything beyond “Maybe they’ll break up!” to introduce that conflict).
I can’t promise I’ll always be nice to Riley, but I can promise Gillian will always be there to catch her when she falls.
G: Supernatural cop drama and happy lesbians?? Where has this been all my life?! Thank you so much for the interview, Geonn. I can’t wait for the premiere this weekend!
Riley Parra premieres Sunday, August 20th on Tello Films’ website. You can watch the trailer for the series here, and if you’re already a premium Tello Films member (or become one), you can watch a special preview of the series here.