Accomplished Rancho Santa Fe screenwriter publishes first novel, ‘Primal’


By Joe Tash

After 20 years of writing screenplays for movies and television shows, Deborah Serra decided she wanted more creative control over her work.

Serra’s career decision resulted in the publication of her first novel, “Primal,” in May.

Switching from scripts to books wasn’t the only major departure for Serra, a Rancho Santa Fe resident — challenged by the prevailing sentiment in Hollywood that women writers were best suited for comedies, romances or children’s stories, she determined that her first book would be a crime thriller.

“Primal,” which is available as an e-book for both Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook readers, is about a band of brothers who go on a murderous rampage at a resort in the woods of Minnesota. The main character is a woman — motivated by the need to protect her family — who confronts them.

Serra, a mother of three herself, first penned “Primal” as a screenplay and sold the film rights to James Cameron, director of such films as “Titanic,” “Avatar,” and “Terminator.” When Cameron decided to focus solely on scripts that he wrote himself, Serra was able to get permission to turn her script into a novel.

During her career as a screenwriter, she said, she had worked with many different producers, directors and actors, and had often received suggestions for changes to her scripts, even from hairdressers and makeup artists.

“It’s a collaborative art,” the award-winning writer said of screenwriting. “I wanted the freedom to do whatever I wanted.”

Along with “Primal,” she is working on two other books — a humorous travelogue about trips she has taken with her sister, and a literary novel that ties into her passion for science. The book explores such themes as consciousness and free will, she said.

“It’s been quite liberating for me,” she said of her recent writing projects.

“Primal” gave Serra a chance to delve into the minds of her characters, including the murderous brothers. In seeking to sell the original screenplay, she bumped up against stereotypes held by producers, that women couldn’t write in the genres of crime and thrillers.

Serra recalled sitting in the office of one producer who asked her point-blank, “Did you write this?” When she replied in the affirmative, he asked, “By yourself?”

The book chronicles the main character’s inner journey after she returns home from her encounter with the killers. The experience changes her to the extent that people around her think she’s going insane, and she loses her job, family and friends, Serra said.

The script was sent out under the name of D.A. Serra, so as not to give away the author’s gender.

“They wouldn’t have read it if it said ‘Deborah’ on the front,” she said.

As Serra becomes comfortable with writing novels instead of screenplays, she is also learning the ropes of a publishing business in which e-books and online media play an ever-larger role.

“It’s like the Wild West out there,” she said.

In September, she’ll embark on a “blog tour,” doing interviews with writers and reviewers for genre-specific websites, as well as sites geared for general audiences.

Among book-related sites she’s targeting are, and

By appearing in such online publications, she said, she can build momentum for her book, and hopefully fuel sales.

One of the things she enjoys about writing books is that she can depart from the strictures of screenwriting, in which the action is driven almost completely by dialogue, to include narration, metaphor and other literary techniques, Serra said. But her roots as a screenwriter keep her focused on the development of character as a primary source of inspiration.

“If you can create a character who’s whole, a real whole person, and put them into a scene, you don’t have to write dialogue, it writes itself,” she said.

For more information on Serra, visit


Quick Facts


: Deborah Serra


Author of new e-book thriller, “Primal.” She has written 10 TV movies, four feature films, and numerous TV episodes, including two years as a staff writer for NBC. Born and raised on the East Coast, Serra has taught writing at the University of California, San Diego, Wofford College and at writers’ conferences nationwide.

Serra was honored as a recent recipient of the prestigious Hawthornden Literary Fellowship, and as a semi-finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Award given by the Faulkner Society in New Orleans, La.


Married to Larry Goldenhersh, CEO of Enviance, a Carlsbad-based developer of environmental software. The couple has three children — including one set of twins —ages 20 and 22.


Currently reading books on cognition and free will as research material for the novel she is writing. She also has enjoyed reading books by Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver and “The Master and Margarita,” by Mikhail Bulgakov.


“Moonstruck,” for its characters, “The Usual Suspects,” for its complexity.


Every kind of music except country, from Adam Lambert to Andrea Bocelli.


“I don’t like to go to places twice; there are just too many places to go.”


“Kindness guides me and most of my decision-making.”