Saturday, August 26, 2006
How did you become a writer?
Well, that's sort of a multi-part question, isn't it? It all pretty much started when I was 12 years old and my parents bought me my first computer (a Texas Instruments "Professional" -- wow!), which I used to start typing out my very first stories. So, in a sense, I've been a "writer" since I was 12. I don't know exactly what made me into a writer, what made me want to tell stories or gave me the ability to do so...
But the question you're probably asking is "how did I become a published writer?" and the answer to that is a little easier. As a child, I wrote short stories, and attempted my first novel when I was 16. Let's just say it did not go well.
After that, I went to college and majored in English, then in Psychology, then in film, then transferred colleges and majored in film again, then back to English where I stayed, thank God. All the while, I kept writing, mainly because it's something that I love to do. Some folks shoot hoops or do the crossword puzzle for fun; I write. Many writers, I know, practice their craft from a place of pain and/or difficulty, and I applaud their ability to do something day in and day out that tortures them. Me, I'm an instant-gratification kinda guy. If I didn't enjoy what I was doing right then and there, I'd probably stop and go do something more fun...
A year after I graduated from college, I wrote a manuscript, my first full-length completed novel, and it sat in my house for a couple of years before a friend convinced me to send it to agents. I was very fortunate in terms of timing; I got an agent inside a month and she sold the book inside the next couple of weeks. I realize now that this is *highly* unusual, and I can only blame/thank the stars and good timing for my success thus far. That manuscript was ANONYMOUS REX, and Random House/Villard bought it in fall of '98 and published it in Summer/Fall of '99, and just like that, I was a published writer.
Who were your influences? What kind of books were you reading as a kid?
I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi as a kid, though I was open to mystery, suspense, pretty much anything that didn't make me wade through 100 pages of description. I didn't get into Faulkner until high school, so strong plotting was important to me as a child.
Naturally, I read the Lord Of The Rings series; in fact, The Hobbit was the first "adult" book I read, when I was 6, and from there I went into the usual suspects: C.S. Lewis, Madeline L'Engle, eventually bumping to Stephen King and then some light fantasy with Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony and those folks. Even back then, I wasn't all that interested in exploring Our World And The Normal Everyday Things That Happen In It. For a book to capture me, it needed to be slightly twisted. That's still the case today...
These days, I count some of my favorite authors as friends, and that tickles me something wild. Bill Fitzhugh writes some hysterically funny mysteries, Christopher Moore is a wonderfully twisted individual. My college professor and mentor was T.C. Boyle, and I cherish all the time I spent with him; it's nice to know I can still ring him up if I'm having a crisis. I've only gone to that well once or twice, though -- I mean, c'mon, I don't want to wear the man out. I've always enjoyed John Irving (just twisted enough) and Tom Robbins. If I'm looking for a total mind-screw, I re-read some Philip K. Dick...
Where you really into dinosaurs as a child?
Man, I wish I was, because then I could wax on about how my childhood obsession became a career obsession... but, no. Wasn't, really. No more than any other kid, I guess. The dinosaurs were just a way into the story for me, something that sparked my imagination and let it all take off... Of course, I know a lot about 'em *now*
Did you read a lot growing up and does it play into your writing now?
I read a ton growing up. As a kid, we used to take family vacations, and I was fortunate to get to go to Europe and Asia with my parents, and, as a result, spent a lot of time in the back seats of a lot of rental cars driving through countryside which, as an adult, would be fascinating, but as a child is not much more than field after windmill after sunset. So I read. And I read. And... I read.
Does it play into my writing? I don't see how it can't, but I couldn't give any specific examples. I've read thousands and thousands of books over my lifetime, and I'm sure each one, in its own way, left its mark on me. You'd think that some of it's got to come out in my writing...
How did you come up with the idea for Anonymous Rex? Detective stories are cool, dinosaurs are even cooler, but I never would have thought about combining the two.
Neither would I! The actual story isn't all that interesting, sadly. In the summer of '96, a year after I graduated from USC, I told my wife that if I was going to seriously make a run at becoming a writer, she'd have to crack the whip and make sure I got work done every day. One weekend, I wanted us to go to Las Vegas with friends, and she insisted that I get my 15 pages written that day. On a lark, I wrote this weird bit about dinosaurs yelling at each other in some guy's basement and then coming up to street level and putting on their human costumes... and promptly forgot about it. Months later, I came back to the story, re-read it, thought it interesting, and then took a shower -- where the rest of the idea exploded in my head. I sat down, started writing, and a couple months later, ANONYMOUS REX was born. Weird, I know, but the shower has worked countless times for me; if I'm stuck on a story point or character, I take a shower, and more often than not, I'll get past the block. Probably explains why I'm so very, very clean and fresh-smelling.
What's your favorite herb (people that have read the Rex books will get the reference)?
Cilantro! (I know, some people simply can't stand it, but mmmmm I loves me some cilantro!)
When you were writing Anonymous Rex, did you ever expect it to get translated as much as it did?
I barely even thought about publishing it in the U.S., let alone in as many countries as it's in right now. I simply just wanted to tell this story the best way I could, have some fun with it, and see what happened from there. Of course, the end goal is always publication, but foreign territories hadn't even occurred to me. Now I'm fortunate to have all 5 of my books published in something like 14 different countries, which is beyond wonderful. The more I can do to warp the minds of, say, Costa Ricans, the better.
The first two rex books were set in the west coast and the third was in Florida. Did you work any of your past into the settings since you live/lived in this area?
Anonymous Rex is set half in L.A. and half in NYC, and of course my L.A. experiences played into the settings and tone of the book. L.A.'s a great place for noir -really, the *only* place for American noir - and it just seemed a perfect fit.
Casual Rex is half L.A., half Hawaii, and again, a little Hawaiian reconnaissance
visit or two doesn't hurt anyone...
Hot And Sweaty Rex is barely L.A., and mostly South Florida, and since I spent the first 18 years of my life in the Miami area, it definitely plays into the novel. H&S Rex is, in a way, my love/hate letter to South Florida. I was born there, my family is
still there, and though I've physically escaped it by moving to California, I think mentally, I'll always have a part of me that's moist, chaotic, and a bit sultry.
Did you ever expect Matchstick Men to be made into a movie? Were you satisfied with it?
Unlike Anonymous Rex, which was written when I was as-yet unpublished and just starting out, I wrote Matchstick Men when I'd already had a degree of success. So I'd be lying if I said that I never expected it to be bought for film --
But let's look at that closely. I expected it to be *bought* for film --
But never to actually be made. Why? Because nearly nothing gets made. The odds are so incredibly against any property getting turned into a film that to assume my book would get that treatment would have been the height of hubris (not to say I'm short on hubris)...
And to imagine it would be directed by a man like Ridley Scott and star two of my favorite actors in the world (Cage and Rockwell)... very dream-come-true sort of stuff for me. I was incredibly pleased with the end result, and I'm thankful every day that a lot of people enjoyed the film. Even more so that it turned a bunch o' folks onto my books.
What TV/Movie writings are you credited with?
Most of my TV/Movie gigs have been rewrites or polishes that, fortunately, pay nicely, but unfortunately don't result in credits. I've sold a number of scripts that haven't yet been produced (see earlier question on near-impossibility of movies getting made), acting as producer on a few different film projects, and I'm in the middle of adapting my most recent book, CASSANDRA FRENCH'S FINISHING SCHOOL FOR BOYS with a great actress named Jordana Brewster to play the role of Cassandra. If you must know *everything*, I'll point out that I was the Co-Exec Producer of the Anonymous Rex TV movie for the SciFi Channel... but let's move on.
What are your hopes for the future?
I'm just interested in continuing to write the stories that interest me, and hope that they interest other folks as well. Books, movies, TV, stage, internet -- whatever the format, I'm there.
Oh, and world peace. Let's add that in.
Have you ever thought about expanding more upon your musical side?
I have, and I'm doing that right now, actually (well, not right *now*, but you get the point). I've been hired to write book & lyrics for a musical theater piece that the producers want to put on Broadway, and just lyrics for a second show (I'm working with my good friend and wonderful composer Brian Feinstein on both). I'm a huge musical theater geek, and though that business is possibly even more insane than Hollywood, the creative joy I get out of it is worth all the loopiness.
If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?
I'd never own any midgets, because slavery is so 1860's. I might *hire* some midgets though, as part of an agreed-upon employee-employer relationship, and in that case, I would contract out for three midgets and name them Huey, Duey, and Louie.
As for monkeys, I've heard they throw a lot of feces, and I live in a strict no-feces development. Sorry, monkeys, you'll have to find another place to hang out. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.