She is a germaphobe whose fear of what she might inhale, touch or somehow ingest keeps her mostly confined to her house. She also suffers from trichotillomania, a condition that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. Then there is that obsession with her therapist. More on that later.
When they look at the heroine of Laura Preble’s 2020 novel “Anna Incognito,” most people would see a mess. But to Preble’s shock, some key people read her book and saw a movie. After two years and more than 20 script rewrites, the Rancho San Diego writer is seeing it, too.
In addition to being the author of five novels, including the “Queen Geeks” young-adult series, Preble is now an award-winning screenwriter. So far this year, Preble’s adaptation of “Anna Incognito” has scored best-script honors at the California Indies Film Festival and an honorable mention in the Big Apple Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.
Her unproduced script has also been selected for inclusion in such festivals as the Boston Independent Film Awards and the LA Independent Women Film Awards.
Like any screenwriter, Preble knows that not all scripts become movies. But even if “Anna Incognito” never makes it from the page to the screen, the 60-year-old writer has already been on an adventure that she did not see coming. Which is probably just as well.
“I was thinking writing a screenplay would be pretty much the same as writing a novel. I thought, ‘It’s a story. It’s dialogue. I’ve done that.’ But it’s not the same,” said Preble, who retired from her job as a librarian at Monte Vista High School in June of 2020.
“With the first draft I wrote, I realized, ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have any idea.’ It was much more difficult than I thought it would be.”
When Preble wrote the novel version of “Anna Incognito,” she figured it would be the only version. The universe had other ideas.
The novel came out in February of 2020, which was a terrible time for a new book to come into the world, even if the main character’s obsession with germs was about to be very relatable. One month after “Anna Incognito” was published, the pandemic shutdown was suddenly upon us. Readings and book signings were off the table, and it appeared that Anna’s future was in limbo.
But a few months into the pandemic, Preble’s story of a shut-in heroine who embarks on the road trip of a lifetime headed off in a whole new direction.
The book was a finalist in the annual Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition, a long-running contest that connects writers with production companies, agencies and managers. As a finalist, Preble was given the chance to write the screenplay adaptation herself, with the help of Pipeline Media director of operations Peter Malone Elliott and senior executive and partner Matt Joseph Misetich.
She dug into the adaptation in the fall of 2020. She finished in December. Of 2021.
“I described the process to somebody as trying to fit an elephant into a dog kennel,” Preble said of the challenge of turning a 272-page book into a 110-page screenplay.
“I had a producer tell me that she never tells authors to adapt their work into a screenplay because it is very painful to amputate pieces of your baby. But Pipeline was very encouraging. I got discouraged a couple of times, but they said, ‘You can do this. You have talent. You have to keep doing it.’”
What kept Preble going through the painful whittling process was her love for her complicated heroine and the journey that starts as a desperate plot to sabotage her therapist’s wedding but becomes something else entirely.
And what kept Pipeline invested in Preble? Once again, it all goes back to Anna, who in addition to being a wreck is also an inspiration.
“What drew me to this character was the fact that she is kind of a broken person, but she’s trying. Ella she’s willing to go to these lengths to get better, she just does n’t know how, which I think is very universal, ”Misetich said.
“Laura is really good with character and character dynamics. This is a very tricky story to get right, and she did a really solid job of constructing everything and peeling back the layers really well. You are never quite sure about where the story is going or about Anna’s background until the very end.
At the moment, Anna’s Hollywood future is still unwritten. Pipeline has submitted the book to a few producers for feedback, and Preble’s script has been sent to some production companies.
And while Pipeline is pitching, Preble is writing. Her new novel-in-progress is a “very weird and quirky” modern twist on Dante’s “Inferno.” She is also working on “Handy Tips for Dating Jesus,” a script inspired by her Catholic-school days.
There is no telling where the “Anna Incognito” script will end up, but the agoraphobic Anna is out in the world now. And for the writer behind the heroine, that’s a liberating start.
“I think seeing a character going through these struggles and finding an unexpected way to heal is important for a lot of people in the world who don’t have a lot of hope,” Preble said. “No matter how damaged you are, there is hope for healing.”