Adapting to the Changing Face of Media as a Writer
by Amanda Pleau Views: 2309
In 2014, the definition of a successful writer has so many addendums and offshoots to guest blogs, self-published chapbooks, screenplays, novelizations of movies, Twitter novels, flash fiction competitions, etc. MFA or NYC? A writer must adapt to the changing face of media, and host twitter chats, and blog about their book tour, and give interviews to up-and-coming writing competitions. So where does one start, aside from writing every day and managing a teetering ‘to-read’ pile of books on the bedside table?
Frazer Lee, a screenwriter, director and award-winning author, set aside a few minutes to catch up with Mash Stories about promoting yourself, the importance of reading, his process and, well, scooping out entrails.
In addition to his most recent novel, The Jack In The Green and various directing gigs, Frazer somehow finds time to lecture in Creative Writing/Screenwriting to graduate and undergraduate students at Brunel University London and Birkbeck University of London.
Amanda Pleau: Frazer! Thank you so much for letting us pick your brain.
Frazer Lee: Thank you for erm… “picking” me!
Amanda: Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about what books you loved growing up? How do you think kids growing up in 2014 have a different experience?
Frazer: Okay, I loved Ronald Welch ‘s The Gauntlet and I remember vividly that I wept when I finished reading it because I didn’t want it to end. I also loved reading the Smiler Trilogy by Victor Canning and couldn’t wait to get onto the next book in the series. I wrote my first ever fan letter to Mr. Canning (lovingly, painstakingly typewritten on my Grandparent’s portable typewriter) and to my utter delight, he replied in beautiful, esoteric handwriting on little, lined postcards. His letter was lost along with many of my belongings but I can still remember what he wrote: “I am sorry I cannot reply at length, but Smiler’s journey is at an end.” I respected him for his decision, while still wanting more of those wonderful books. Reading is as much a journey as writing.
I don’t think kids in 2014 have a different experience; they still fall under the spell of characters and stories no matter how they have discovered them. The act of reading is still an intimate, personal affair whether you are doing it on a screen, or with a wad of paper in your hands. And kids still write fan mail to their favourite authors, perhaps more so now than ever before. Regardless of whether the format is email, online posts or handwritten fan mail, the spirit is still the same – “I love reading, I love what you wrote, and I need to share and celebrate that love.”
Amanda: Can you pinpoint a moment in your career in which you realized, “Hey, I’m a writer now?”
Frazer: You said “career”. HA HA HA. I have a “career”? That’s so funny. (Laughs)
I submitted a short story to a contest when I was in my twenties and landed a runners-up prize. That felt kind of real because I knew I actually cared about whether or not my story was “accepted”. Getting published was the natural evolution of that. It meant something to me on an emotional/intellectual level. Still does, every time I have a book coming out. Whether it means anything to the reader is another matter entirely…
Amanda: In an interview with Starburst, you mentioned you don’t love being on social media, and there is an element of being always on and always available. To be a successful writer, is it necessary to be accessible to your readers in that way? How is your work/life balance?
Frazer: I think the pressure to engage is huge. We are our own marketing. I do not feel comfortable sharing pictures and stories about my wife and kids with the world wide web. I know some people do, but it’s not for me. I’m naturally one to compartmentalize. But I am also a social animal, when it suits me.
Time spent posting photos of lunch and arguing with avatars about trivia is, I think, time squandered. Spending time with loved ones (and “loved ones” includes books!) is far more important and meaningful. I’m sure most people would agree. But then you have a book coming out and everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t you and before you know it you’re doing a blog tour and a GoodReads giveaway and online interviews like this one and, and, and…
But when I’m writing, I switch it all off for two to three months at a time. It’s liberating and it’s necessary. Writing is a lonely profession, which is perhaps exactly as it should be.
AP: Could you speak a little bit about movie novelizations? It’s an oft-overlooked corner of the literary world, but it sounds like a cool one.
FL: The movie noveliZation is anathema to the deep, literary reader but was an orgiastic explosion of joy to the genre fan in the pre-video days. You could only see the film in cinemas, but through the movie novel you could hold the characters and the story in your hands, sometimes “with 8 pages of color photos” – pure excitement. Written in a rush, to tight deadlines, these things often made little sense, but were utterly sensory, like amphetamine fiction. For the devotee, they also offered glimpses of scenes that were cut from the final movie, and sometimes ill-advised flights of fancy on the part of authors desperate to hit a certain word count. I think they’re joyous, and they still have their place, post-video, I suppose. I enjoyed writing the novelization of “Panic Button” and would do another in a heartbeat.
Amanda: What exactly is a Mood Board, and how did you come to start using them?
Frazer: I use image and sound as a way into writing, and I suppose my earliest mood boards were vivid, recurring images in my head that inspired stories. In the run-up to a writing project I cherry pick images that evoke a sense of space, of emotion, of atmosphere and save them as desktop wallpapers, slideshows, and print some of them out and stick them on the wall. Daily life does all it can to rip you from the moment and back into reality.
It’s a technique (though that’s perhaps too grand a term for it) that started with my screenwriting and which followed me into my novel writing. I’ll take what I can use.
Frazer: King’s book works on so many levels. As a memoir of survival, and the importance of reading and writing in daily existence, it’s second to none. As a craft guide it has some incredibly useful advice, techniques and contextual examples (not least the draft and edited versions of ‘1408’). You pick up and use what works for you. For me:
The idea of structuring your writing day as a working day was revelatory and has helped me juggle my work/writing commitments.
I don’t think I could have drafted my first novel in the two years it took without reading “On Writing”. And I still dip into it to this day (I have two copies: hardcover at home and paperback at my University office). It’s a privilege to have a mentor on my bookshelf who knows so much about scratching a nib.
You see, all we can do is to share our mistakes and discoveries, and to structure the act of writing around core concepts of Best Practice and The Deadline. Some writers need that routine, that structure. Others need to rail against such structures. There’s no “right” or “wrong” in creativity, only “different”.
We all learn as we go along. And the best way along is to keep reading, and to keep writing.
Amanda: Do your own stories ever freak you out?
Frazer: I’ve creeped myself out a few times, yes. I enjoy that and do get excited about it but it’s important not to get too self-congratulatory and go posting about it on social media networks. “You guys, I just wrote like the SCARIEST THING EVER. It gave me like TOTAL GOOSEBUMPS.”
Head down, keep writing, try to keep in the moment for as long as possible. Because the thing that freaks me out the most is how fleeting it all is, and yet also how bloody difficult.
Amanda: And I have to ask: Do you have any Halloween plans?
Frazer: I have had a lifelong dream to cultivate my own pumpkin patch. I am delighted to tell you that my dream is now made flesh – pumpkin flesh to be precise. I can see them now, my beautiful orange-green children. They are calling to me and I will soon venture out to cut their umbilical cords, scoop out their entrails and torture their flesh into new, edible forms. Care for a slice? Happy Halloween to readers and writers everywhere!
Amanda is a junior judge and a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing. Her blog Misadventures in Portland received widespread local acclaim and lead to opportunities writing for the USM’s Office of Public Affairs and the Portland Phoenix. Follow Amanda on her blog: amandajennifer.blogspot.com
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