Started From Scandal Recaps Now We Here: My Book Was Optioned By Shondaland
Two weeks ago, news dropped on Deadline.com that Shondaland To Develop Luvvie Ajayi’s Book ‘I’m Judging You’ As Cable Series. I was at the MAKERS Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes when this news hit the web and I lost my shit and my ability to focus. I had to step out the session I was sitting in to run around because adrenaline had kicked in, and the rest of the world finally knew what I had been sitting on for a while. Real Gs had to move in real silence about this, and it was the best news I have ever had in my professional life. It was hard to do but necessary.
But yeah. Shondaland and ABC signature got the rights to turn my debut book I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual into a cable series. It means together, we will do our best to have a show that is based on my book on a TV screen near you soon. It is the best collaboration I could think of and it is the best stamp of approval my book could have gotten.
Who knew that me writing recaps for a show I fell in love could lead to this? I call Shonda Rhimes my Fairy BaeMother, and it does not escape on me how AWESOME it is that I can call the Queen of Television someone who is an actual fan of my work. Let’s talk about how her and I even got here.
Exactly five years ago, I met Shonda Rhimes. She probably doesn’t remember because I was one of hundreds of people she met that day, and there is no reason for her to even remember it. I remember it because I blogged about the event, and the dope women I met there. It was the 2012 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in LA, which happened a month before Scandal premiered. I hadn’t watched Grey’s Anatomy or any of her shows but I knew her name. At that event, Shonda was being honored, and the president of ABC at the time (Anne Sweeney) was on hand to give her the award personally. “Normally, we give people a seat at the table. We gave Shonda the table.” This was no ordinary honoree; this was a queen, and from that day forth, I was a member of the Shonda Rhimes fan club.
A month later, when Scandal started, I was in front of my TV READY, and soon enough, the gladiators stole my heart and America’s regular heartbeat. When season 2 began on September 27, 2012, not only did I watch, I started writing recaps for it (here’s my first Scandal recap). I NEEDED to talk about this show, and my blog became the place that people used as their watercooler to debrief. My Scandal livetweets and recaps became a THING.
I’m not sure when Shonda noticed my work but she started RTing me as the cast and crew livetweeted along, and one night in 2014, she tweeted this, and I freaked out!
And I was like “OH SHIT. Shonda Rhimes knows who the hell I am!” And thus began our baehood. I had confirmation that the woman behind my favorite TV show knew me. 1,000 mufuggas couldn’t tell me nothing.
I went to the 2015 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, 3 years after the first one I ever went to and 3 months after that tweet and Shonda was there. This time, I was like we need to MEET for real. The first time didn’t count at all. At the event, I ended up meeting Lupita Nyong’o (and she knew who I was. FATHA GAWD WHAT IS LIFE?). But at the end of the event, I saw Shonda at her table (where Oprah also was). I had to make a decision then. “Do I go up to Oprah? Or do I go up to Shonda?” Something in my spirit said “Shonda. You’ll meet Oprah another time. She’ll know your name then.” THAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR.
I go up to Shonda, and I introduce myself. And you know what this lady did? SHE EXCLAIMED THAT I WAS HER FAVORITE PERSON ON TWITTER. I coulda died right then and there.
How are you running the world and you’re still this humble and nice?? I coulda stolen away to Joseph’s stepson! It was official then that me and Shonda went together.
Last year, I was back at the ESSENCE BWIH (2016), and reconnected with Shonda there. I thanked her for writing the incredible book The Year of YES, and said how I read it in one sitting, over 3 hours on a flight. She put her foot and her heart in that book, and it was one of my fave reads of 2015. She in turn asked me how MY book was going. She was paying attention! I told her I was done writing and that I would love to send her an advance copy when it was done. She said she couldn’t wait to read it. She even introduced me to her sister as one of her fave writers on the web.
Floating wasn’t the word for what I was doing. I was on the level above cloud 9. 9.2? We then took what is now becoming an annual tradition: our selfie. And Shonda tweeted it and everyone freaked out.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) February 26, 2016
No, it does not get old that the one of the most powerful people in television knows me and is happy to see me. IT DOES NOT GET OLD.
So when advance copies of I’m Judging You were ready a few months later, I sent it off to Shonda. I wanted a blurb from her to be on the cover. I was very clear about that. In May, I got an email asking if I was available to host a panel at the White House’s United State of Women conference. It was a panel on “Advancing Reel Change in Media” and I said yes. Little did I know the power of the panel I would be moderating. A couple of weeks later, I get the list of people and it’s: Gloria Steinem, Sana Amanat (Marvel), Glen Mazzara (Writers Guild of America), Judith Williams (DropBox), Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (MuslimGirl.com) and… SHONDA RHIMES. HA! Perfect.
Before the panel, Shonda tells me “Your book is on my nightstand. I read a little every night. It’s really good so far.” I had all the glee. I wanted her to blurb it but she is super busy so I didn’t even mention it. I was just happy she was reading it. The conversation on the panel was incredible.
My editor tells me the day after that if I want a quote on the cover of my book, I needed it in 4 days. I was like “CRAP. I shoulda told Shonda. I want HER on the cover.” I sent her an email and she replied like 5 days later because she basically tapped out of life. She wasn’t done with my book yet. GIRL I GET IT. It be like that sometimes. I totally understood.
My books go to print, and I’m getting ready for launch and the month before my book comes out, Shonda emails me and said she finished my book and here’s her blurb!
So on the day of my book came out (September 16), Shonda tweeted this image and told people to support my book. She went above and beyond and my gratitude overfloweth. Shonda didn’t owe me anything. Not a damb thing. She never did but she gave me so much. What I didn’t even mention was how she was guest editor of September’s issue of Good Housekeeping and she picked me to be a part of their 20 Most Awesome Women feature.
I don’t have the words to talk about how heartening it is to have someone of her caliber be one of my champions and cheerleaders. I’m a writer who lacks the words to talk about the feels. Great fortune, to be honest.
When I was writing this book, it wasn’t with the idea that it would be turned into a television show. I just wrote the best book I could, talking about the things that grind my gears about the world, and how we all need to do better. It was my manifesto, and the thing that 13 years of writing led to. I wrote this book with the intention to create something that would last longer than I would.
So when people started approaching me about THIS book possibly becoming a TV show, I was like “Oh snap. That’s dope.” Cuz look. Over the years, the feedback people have given me often is that I should write for TV. My voice and my humor would be good for it. Plus, as a student of TV and a consumer of a lot of pop culture, I know I can create some interesting stuff.
I walked into Shondaland last fall and my jaw dropped. I was there. THERE. I took this picture before I went into Shonda’s office. Because WHHHAAATTTT????
Surreal. SURREAL, yo.
We talked, we brainstormed. I was internally freaking out. I walked out the meeting, not caring what came from it. What happened was enough. I can’t be too greedy with these blessings. Surely, that would be too good to be true for Shonda to be for real about wanting to turn my book into a TV show.
It wasn’t too good to be true. My agents at ICM Partners hit me up shortly after to say “Shonda wants your book.” If Queen Rhimes wants my book, Queen Rhimes gets my book. BY THE WAY, Shonda is ALSO represented by ICM. That was purely a coincidence but isn’t that just perfect? Like… we go together so tough.
Anyway, over the last few months, Shondaland (which is backed by ABC Signature), we agreed on terms. Shoutout to MY dream team at ICM Partners (hey A-Team. Andrea, Ava, Andy), my manager Andrea Wade (Diamond Brand Amplification), my literary agent Michael Harriot (Folio Literary) and my attorney, Lisa Davis (Frankfurt Kurnit). WE OUTCHEA!
I had to be quiet and be stealthy. But I could not wait for the news to drop. It finally did on February 7.
WHEW. It was so good to see the news drop. And the internet went nuts! I had to keep my phone on a charger because it blew up.
Being at MAKERS was perfect, as I was surrounded by power women who are also a testament of what happens when we commit to bringing each other up. There, Bellamy Young (aka Mellie Grant from Scandal) happened to be speaking there. She gave me a warm welcome to the Shondaland fam and I coulda cried all the crocodile tears.
I mean. WHAT IS LIFE? How is this mine? How much praise and worship do I owe God? Just… awesome. Awesome. AWESOME.
Truly. Started from Scandal recaps, now we’re here. Today is the 5th anniversary of the first time I ever met Shonda Rhimes. And the 5th ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood event I’ll be attending. That is the event that spurred me to tune into Scandal. That is where I didn’t know I was planting seeds that would eventually lead to this. It felt right to reflect on this journey now.
I’ve spent the last few week thinking through the characters that will be in my TV show. First of all, OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT. But I can’t wait for you to meet them one day, hopefully. *crosses fingers* I went searching my tweets and found these 3. The oldest is 2012. iSweaterGAWD, my life is a series of tweets coming true. Of dreams spoken out loud coming to fruition.
When I tell you that dreams come true? I mean it with all my heart and spirit. My life and my work’s journey is a testament of it.
I’m excited for what’s to come, and to work with the entire Shondaland team (hey Betsy and Alison!).