by Louise E. Wright
Handbills for “Anna’s Secret Legacy” papered the seating area at a local authors’ fair hosted recently by the Wissahickon Valley Public Library in Blue Bell. Multicolored stars and chocolate “gold” coins, representative of the pendant worn by the novel’s heroine, drifted across the table reserved for the author. Full-size posters on SEPTA commuter trains courted prospective readers.
A Springhouse resident for more than two decades, S. A. Williams, otherwise known as Sue, knows how to sell a product. She should. In addition to extensive experience in advertising and sales, Williams boasts a certificate in Global Marketing and Strategic Management from Harvard Business School and participation in the CEO Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. (Her brother went to Chestnut Hill Academy, and her parents were Philadelphia Cricket Club members who lived in Fort Washington.)
In the case of “Anna’s Secret Legacy,” published in 2010, she’s especially driven. The product she’s selling is her own, and Williams is determined to see her novel come to life on the big screen. “This book is meant to be a film,” she emphasizes. “It was specifically written to be a film.”
Set against the backdrop of World War II, “Anna’s Secret Legacy” tells the tale of a brilliant, beautiful Russian scientist who has discovered a serum capable of saving lives or ending them. It also deals with her romance with an American naval pilot on an intelligence-gathering mission. While much of the novel takes place in Copenhagen on the eve of the German invasion of Denmark, the action spans Europe, a continent Williams has much more than a tourist’s familiarity with.
Born in New York City, Williams moved with her family to Madrid at the age of 3. ITT, the corporation for which her father worked, took advantage of an opportunity to establish a communications infrastructure in Franco’s Spain. Remaining abroad for 16 years, the family also resided in Brussels and London. Williams attended school in all three cities as well as boarding school in Paris and Rome.
In 1974, the family returned to the U.S. Scarcely had they settled on Morris Road in Fort Washington than Williams set off for Syracuse University. There she majored in psychology with an emphasis in marketing and communications. A few months before she graduated, friends founded WAQX-FM. “I got thrown into sales,” recalls Williams, who wound up regional sales manager for the radio station.
A stint as senior account executive at WNYT-TV in Albany followed, as did the establishment of her own media buying company. SAW Broadcasting advises clients when and where best to invest their advertising dollars. It was while working in sales that Williams began producing commercials for local and regional markets, thus involving herself in the creative and business ends of the entertainment industry.
Williams’ interest in the performing arts started at an early age. At childhood sleepovers, she remembers, “I would make up stories and cast my friends in different roles.” She took dance classes and also studied at the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, where the successful completion of a series of rigorous examinations earned her bronze, silver and gold medals.
Williams would have liked to act, but her father quickly stifled that notion. “No daughter of his was going to sit on a casting couch,” she recalls. He advised her to pursue something she could “get a job in.”
Less than two decades later, Williams realized her aspirations. A chance encounter with a casting director led to work as an extra in Martin Scorsese’s 1993 “The Age of Innocence.” Similar appearances in films like “Philadelphia” and “The Sixth Sense” followed, earning Williams a SAG card. Most recently, she worked as an extra in “Silver Linings Playbook,” which stars Bradley Cooper and Rober De Niro and is scheduled for a fall release. Small wonder, then, that Williams, thinking back to those childhood sleepovers, maintains: “What you’re doing at 5 or 6 is what you should be doing.”
“The most wonderful thing about working in films,” Williams observes, “is what you learn through osmosis,” citing set protocol and setting up shots as examples. She credits her experiences with helping her write, not just a film (she’s written a screenplay) but also the novel.
“Anna’s Secret Legacy” began to take shape about six years ago. “People kept coming up to me asking, ‘Why don’t you write a story about your life? It would make for such a great read,’” Williams explains. Finally she decided to give it a try, producing what will now become the sequel, provisionally entitled “Mackenzie’s Secret.”
An interest in Albert Einstein prompted her to set the novel in Copenhagen, home of Albert Einstein’s friend and colleague, Niels Bohr. She decided to start it in April, 1940, because at that time the U.S. was neutral, but Williams points out, “We’ were hearing rumors about the (concentration) camps, the typhoid experiments.”
Williams also draws on her past in the sequel, set almost 30 years later. For example, Anna’s daughter, Mackenzie, the novel’s heroine, takes part in a peace march from Paris to Chartres, just as Williams herself did. When the time came to publish “Anna’s Secret Legacy,” Williams discovered that large publishing houses offer first-time authors very little: a few thousand dollars for their copyrights and almost no marketing. So Williams took matters into her own hands, opting to self-publish and self-promote.
While Williams works tirelessly to generate interest in her screenplay, she also takes advantage of every opportunity to market the novel. In early June, for example, she will be at the 22nd Anniversary of World War II Weekend, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, PA.
For more information, visit www.annassecretlegacynovel.com