Here’s how Cindy Callaghan describes her story: “a bizarre and fascinating tale with lots of twists and turns and things that come full circle.” Here’s how we describe it – yet another person, who after a long and successful (and rewarding, but not passion-filled) career returned to a first love.
Callaghan grew up in New Jersey but wanted to get far away as soon as it was possible. As a kid she dreamt of being in movies – in front of the screen, behind the screen, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to be part of “the business.”
So after graduation from high school she headed to the University of Southern California with the more focused idea that she was going to be a film writer. Not long after her arrival, reality hit. “Being an 18 year old from New Jersey, I didn’t realize that you basically need to know Steven Spielberg to get into the film writing school at USC.”
She loved being in LA and she met lots of interesting people, but instead of getting inspired she was getting discouraged. “Succeeding in that career felt very unrealistic. The fact is that most people who go to California to be movie stars or writers find themselves in food service, either sporadically or for the long haul.”
So Callaghan transferred to the University of Delaware, and graduated with an English degree, followed by an MBA. After graduation she landed an internship at a small local pharmaceutical company where she eventually found herself mentored by the head of Communications.
“He took me under his wing for the next decade and a half. I excelled and worked on industry blockbusters. I began traveling all over the world. It was exhilarating, paid well, and I loved it.”
But, it was also all consuming. And with a husband, and three children, Callaghan struggled to be a PR superstar and supermom. Mediocre wasn’t in her vocabulary. She was a true workaholic and it took its toll.
“I was sick all the time. I had headaches, suddenly high cholesterol and I lost touch with my friends and became short-tempered with everyone, including my kids.”
Callaghan needed a creative outlet, so she started taking a writing class to relax. She found her love of creativity again. And very slowly she started working a bit less. Small writing projects grew to manuscripts. After about two years she’d completed a middle-grade book: Kelly Quinn’s Secret Cooking Club. She studied how to write a query letter and after 18 rejections found an agent she loved.
“The agent helped me finish and polish the book and eventually she sold it to Simon &Schuster, where we renamed it Just Add Magic.”
While still working at what grew into a huge global Pharma company, Callaghan completed her second book, Sydney McKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead.
But after great success right out of the gate the first time, her second book didn’t sell. Callaghan and her agent parted ways. With the same gusto with which she pursued her “real job,” Callaghan sought new representation. That new agent sold her next FOUR books.
And here’s where the twists and turns come. Remember her dream of writing for film? Well, after writing five books, Callaghan realized that her first book, Just Add Magic, was now without representation. After all, she had sold that book, under a contract with her first agent, who was no longer representing her.
She always thought Just Add Magic had more potential than had been realized, and she mentioned it casually over lunch with her freshman year roommate from USC who had moved to Philadelphia after years of writing in LA for animated series.
That friend suggested Callaghan speak to her agent for advice. Months went by and Callaghan thought that that connection was a dead end. But then she got a call. “I read your book and I loved it and I want to represent it.”
Soon after securing representation, again, for Just Add Magic, Amazon Studios optioned the property and developed a pilot episode on which Callaghan consulted.
Callaghan recently returned from a trip to LA with her 11-year-old daughter to watch the pilot being filmed. Hear that Steven Spielberg?
That pilot has been greenlit for a full series.
“Putting dreams aside to pursue the practical is common. I’d say it’s even smart. I hope people who do that, like me, dust them off at the right time and try to it a shot.”
- Use the skills you’ve acquired in your day job to make a solid plan to move your dream toward reality
- Accept that rejection comes with the territory. I’m a pro at licking my wounds.
- And, network, duh.