Hi folks. This unique form of interview has the feel of standing alone naked in an interrogation room surrounded by one-way mirrors. I don’t know if everyone behind the virtual glass is laughing or if there’s no one there. So here I go (with hands adroitly covering all naughty bits)…
Although I had written short stories since adolescence, I didn’t become a serious writer until well into adulthood when I was working in the film industry in Hollywood as a sculptor. (I had been in the fine arts world for fifteen years before that, but tis another tale to tell.) Being on or around films sets everyday and working with actors, directors and writers gave me firsthand experience of what a screenplay required. To learn how to accomplish that feat, I took many writing courses from the top writers, editors and story structure gurus of the day. To compliment the cerebral part of the learning curve, I took acting and directing workshops where I made four short films.
A two-part mini-series I wrote got a lot of buzz, but alas, never made it to the tiny screen. I was encouraged to write it as a novel, so went off to Bali and wrote, Back from the Dead; the true sequel to Frankenstein. It was published in 2005. This summer I will release it as an ebook and re-release it as a paperback with a new cover.
Since I come from a fine arts background, I’m fortunate to be able to make my own covers. I use Photoshop and images I’ve taken myself or gathered from copyright-free sources. I usually alter the images to such a degree that the original sources are undetectable.
My ideas come from everywhere. My problem is deciding which one I want to spend three to six months with 24 hours a day. I used to think I chose my stories, but really, they choose me. I write in all genres because, like my many careers, my interests are wide and varied. The genre that I write depends solely on the story I decide to follow. I’ve written almost twenty screenplays and five novels. I now alternate between writing novels and screenplays.
When I first began to write screenplays, I made detailed treatments, character and scene studies, and put everything on 3x5 index cards to shuffle around. I didn’t write fade in until the complete story and every plot point was hammered and annealed to perfection. I don’t do that anymore. Stephen King’s On Writing gave me a bit of advice that stuck. He essentially said, forget about all that stuff and just write the damn thing. The characters will let you know when the story is finished. He’s right. Now, I let the gist of the story percolate in my head for days or weeks, then sit down and write. I let the characters lead the story. This way I’m just as enthralled as a reader should be when they’re engrossed in a good book.
Because I have a strong background in screenplay structure and dialogue, I don’t think it would be wise for the first-time writer to attempt this approach. Complete a few books and/or screenplays before trying to wing it. I see writers time and again get lost in rambling storylines and fractured structure with word counts that would make Stephen King blush. I would suggest that every writer learn how to write a screenplay. Screenplays are like poetry in that that they define a story in its simplest terms. Plotting for me now, even with novels, is almost like a magical second nature. But I have to stay close to the story and write every day. I don’t write by word count, I write by my exhaustion limit (LOL).
You have to be able to let go of the self and allow the characters to be who they are. This takes some time to develop. I started developing characters by watching people interact. Many times, the most annoying people make endearing characters. It’s also great fun to get revenge on those who have wronged you by writing their personalities into not-so-pleasant characters or even killing them outright. (I couldn’t find an evil smiley - No, but I could: Tim!) Characters mostly define the plot points because it’s what they do and how they react that determines which way the story will go. You have to not only know your characters, you have to be them.
While the characters define how the story is told, the story defines the settings. Describing a setting by how your characters experience them tends to make even mundane settings unique. My screenplays are written in third person. Two of my novels are written in third person, and two alternate between first and third. The POV in screenplays is determined by whoever rules the scene. In novels I tend to like omniscient narrators where the POV changes. Mostly, I do this by devoting a chapter to one POV, but in my latest book, Epiphany POV changes with the chapter and with the character. Since I do it for the entire book, it doesn’t get confusing.
I write strong first drafts because I do what every writing teacher cautions against; rewrite as I write. I’m not advising anyone else to do this. My brain works faster than I can write, so I see mistakes or better ways to say something immediately after I write it. I seem to have no problem picking up my train of thought after my bout of mini-editing. All my other drafts are mostly hard polishes. Sometimes I drop or add chapters or other bits. My writing group is more help than they realize, as their comments allow me to see things I’m way too close to. If at all possible, I recommend that every writer join or start a writing group. It makes no difference what level you’re at.
One of the most helpful, yet devastating positions to be in as a writer is having to face other writers, producers, agents and development people who’ve read reams more than you and know what is being written at the cutting edge and have them tear your writing to shreds. As this happens less and less, you know you must be getting better. It also teaches you how to keep your own mouth shut and accept criticism, even if you believe it’s totally asinine. The main thing I’ve learned from running the gauntlet of professional story analysts is to be 100% sure of your initial story idea before you invest months or years of your life. Nothing is so devastating as hearing someone say within the first thirty seconds of a pitch to, "Stop right there. We’ve heard that before a thousand times."
Right now I have two books up on Kindle and Smashwords. Original Blood is a unique vampire story told in first person by a young woman artist as she becomes a vampire even though she’s never been bitten. Her developing relationship with her 17th century grandmother’s former lover is helped by third person flashbacks of her grandmother as she’s turned, then rages against the vampire nation.
I've been placed high in a number of writing contests. The last one was in December placing second in the One-in-Ten International Writing Contest for the screenplay, Claiming Lives. I've optioned screenplays. I was a finalist in 2005 WriteMovies International Contest for my first published novel, Back from the Dead: the true sequel to Frankenstein; quarter-finalist in 2009 Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Awards for my third book, Shadow House; and semi-finalist in the 2009 International Writer's Network Contest, and semi-finalist in the 2009 WriteMovies International Contest with Original Blood; and was finalist (13 out of 5000 entries) in 2009 Erotic Writing Contest on Bettersex.com, and published in their anthology. A photo I shot was a finalist and included in the 2010 Tabletop Photo Book by EroticSignature: The World's Greatest Erotic Art of Today (v3).
Shadow House is a psychological paranormal thriller that alternates between past and present where an average family man is pitted against the spirit of a dead murderer to save himself and his family. In 1920's Massachusetts, the killer PJ McAvoy believes Aaron Molina is responsible for his family's death, so devotes a lifetime of vengeance against this man—born fifty years later.
But the book I’d like to talk about here is the soon to be released cross-genre literary sci-fi mystery thriller, Epiphany. As every girl in the world reaches adolescence, she becomes spontaneously pregnant. However, all their babies will be…girls. This is only the beginning for a core group of international doctors, scientists and mothers-to-be to find the cause and solution before humanity is bred out of existence.
The story has no specific main character, but follows an ensemble cast of several pregnant girls and scientists from settings in the mid-east, Africa, Russia, the Amazon and USA. Some of them make their way to a small medical facility in the mid-west in an international effort to find the cause and solution to a seemingly disastrous world-wide event. The initial main characters in America are a black woman biochemist, her Caucasian doctor husband and their 12 year old daughter. The biochemist agrees to partner with the government and turn her lab into a testing facility. Rounding out the cast are the foreign girls, a woman secret service agent, a male homeland security agent, a small town reporter and a Russian scientist. Each character is deeply drawn with all the strengths and frailties we know in the people around us. But each rises to the situation to which they are presented through their own
strength and with the help of the newly-formed family made up of disparate souls.
The story came to me in a dream and I immediately wrote down the general concept. That was ten years ago. I didn’t write it for all that time because I had a great story but no characters. Also the scope of the story scared the bejesus out of me. About a year ago I decided to force the characters into life, something I’d never done before. I sat at the computer sweating those cliché bullets. Somehow, as if possessed, I wrote the first line. It was the most poignant, passionate and infuriating first line I’ve ever written. When I tested the first chapter with over a dozen people, everyone said it was impossible not to read the complete chapter after that opening. However, when I finished that first chapter I was right back where I started (as you will understand when you read it). Without thinking about it, I dove into chapter two. Characters formed from the ether; people who were needed to solve the riddle of the story. Obsession took me for the next six months.
This book required a huge amount of research as everything in it is scientifically valid and nothing is paranormal. I used the Internet, but also interviewed paediatricians, ophthalmologists, infant care specialists, geneticists, teachers and, of
course, lots of mothers and daughters. Although this story involves pregnant preteen and tween girls, no babies or underage mothers were exploited in the writing of this novel. This story and the other three are available to view with cover and sample chapters on my Website and contact me through Facebook. Thanks to everyone out there in the magical electron universe for reading my babble. As they say where I live… Sawatdee krup le khop khun krup!
Stuart's books are also available in the UK: Shadow House and Original Blood.