“Follow your dreams, don’t stop”: Spinnaker alum lands movie deal

Carter Mudgett, Editor in Chief

It’s been nearly four decades since Joe Palmer was on the University of North Florida’s campus. Now, Palmer is an award-winning reporter, Spinnaker alumni, Navy veteran and author who recently landed a movie deal with a New York City indie producer for his novel “A Mariner’s Tale”.

Cover of “A Mariner’s Tale” by Joe Palmer. (Courtesy of Joe Palmer’s official website)

Published on Oct. 25, 2020, and recently celebrating its second anniversary, “A Mariner’s Tale” follows a story about Jack Merkel, a cynical old sailor, who owns a marina and a boatyard. A young man breaks into the boatyard one night and vandalizes a partially completed sailboat the sailor had begun building 10 years ago with his wife and son, who tragically died. 

An old soul, Merkel persuades the sheriff to release the boy into his custody and work off his punishment, and eventually becomes the “young man’s mentor and father figure,” Palmer explained. 

Readers meet Margie Waller, a beautiful, fiercely independent and wealthy divorcee. She arrives soon after with a damaged yacht and finds herself attracted to Merkel. When a deadly hurricane takes aim at Morgan’s Island, it threatens everything physical and emotional built between the three characters.

“And so this story is, is essentially the storylines, or you know, search for family, self and identity,” Palmer said. “Hope and redemption, are the biggest takeaways. The hope and redemption that all of us are, most all of us are, salvageable.”

Palmer’s book was optioned by Tristan Productions, a multi-award-winning independent film company based in New York City and operated by producer and director Monica Tidwell

“I’ve been to the movie, in the theatre behind my eyes,” she told Spinnaker. Now, she wants to see it in real life on the silver screen.

“Follow your dreams don’t stop”

Both growing up in a little town called Waycross, Georgia, Tidwell said that Facebook brought them back together. 

“Oddly enough, she and I grew up in the same little town and never knew each other,” Palmer said. “You know, in a little town where everybody sort of knows everybody.”

A mutual friend, Martha, recommended he send Tidwell a few chapters from his book. 

“And so I got her email address from my friend. And I sent it to her,” Palmer said. “And I’m thinking, you know, I probably won’t hear anything back. She doesn’t know who I am.”

Two hours later, Palmer got a response. Tidwell liked what she’d read a lot and wanted more. From then on, he began letting her read along, chapter by chapter. 

“I’m one of those kinds of authors who I don’t mind people sort of reading over my shoulder as I write,” Palmer said. “I mean, writing is a subjective thing, of course, but it’s also an area where you know, you as the author may get tunnel vision about something.”

Photo of the opening night of MINDGAME by Anthony Horowitz, Soho Playhouse NYC which Monica Tidwell (front row, right) was the lead producer for. (Courtesy of Monica Tidwell’s official website)

Eventually, Tidwell raised the idea of making the book a film. 

“I know them,” she told Spinnaker, describing how she felt about the characters.

She already knew the characters, their speech cadences and their postures. She could already see the visuals and the setting. 

A self-described “huge, huge fan” of late-author Pat Conroy and his southern fiction and place-settling prose, Palmer said his book was very visual and meant to place readers in the story. 

“And so that’s sort of where I come from, as a Southern writer, is the setting and the characters I want to pull people in and actually participate,” Palmer said. 

At first, he said he didn’t believe there was a world where “A Mariner’s Tale” could be a movie. Before finally agreeing, Palmer said he wanted to hear her vision for the story, not wanting it to be “exploited to the point where it’s unrecognizable.”

A frequent critique of movie adaptations of books is that they don’t have the luxury of the author to build characters, there may be parts of the scene that can’t make it, Tidwell explained.

“So she shared her vision of it with me, and I thought, ‘wow, yeah, this is something I can live with,’” Palmer said. Part of what convinced him, he said, was that she’s an indie producer.

“But I like indie films because the indie film producers tend to be very eager, very motivated, and they don’t have like 100 other projects in the can,” he explained. “So they have a lot of time to devote to the project at hand that they’re working on.”

Joe Palmer. (Courtesy of Joe Palmer)

Only the first step in a long process

One thing led to another and eventually, “a contract was hammered out,” as Palmer put it. The contract was signed and the book was optioned by Tidwell. Of course, there is never a guarantee that any movie will ever be made but Tidwell is confident.

“It’s a thing of passion. If you don’t have passion, don’t do it,” she said. “I don’t play odds.”

The chances of actually getting a film made and put on the big screen may be one in a million, Tidwell said, but “the only way I can see it is if I direct it.”

The advice that Palmer has to offer young writers? “Follow your dreams, don’t stop.”

“You know, to put it in fall football terms, The ball has been put on the field and is in place,” Palmer said. “It’s just a matter of how far down the field the ball’s gonna go.”

Book Signing

Palmer will be signing books at the San Marco Bookstore the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25,  between 10 a.m. and noon.


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