Welcome to the two hundred and sixty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with screenwriter and blogger Alison Richards. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Alison. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Alison: I come from a family of writers. My grandfather immigrated from Scotland to Canada and became the editor of the newspaper in Victoria. My grandmother read poetry, Shakespeare, and the ‘classics’ to me as a child thus greatly influencing my interest in the arts and theatre. I’ve always been an avid reader and often dreamt-up my own scenarios but wasn’t until later in life that I actually started to document them.
Morgen: I have an arty background (photographer father, artist aunt / mother, website designer brother) so no surprise I ended up doing something creative, although I would have loved to have had a writer relative. What genre do you generally write?
Alison: Besides blogging, industrial / commercial content and social networking I write screenplays. I’m interested in true story adaptations specifically ones where I can effect positive global change or social awareness.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I should be writing about my own life, trials and tribulations, but… it seems too close and often too painful to share my own experiences. I suppose, in many ways, I can be more empathetic and connected to my characters because of my drama and suffering.
Morgen: And they’ll therefore feel more realistic to your readers / audience. What have you had published to-date?
Alison: I was first published at age 15. I wrote a poem for my grandmother and my grandfather submitted it to a seniors magazine. I had no idea he had done so until they sent me the publication. I usually never track or save my work. Much like a sidewalk chalk artist, the fun is in the process. It’s not that I don’t value my creations, I just forget about them and move to the next. Since I am more interested in film, the final produced work seems to hold more validity than the literary form.
Morgen: And I’m sure everyone writing books would love them turned into movies. You mentioned your poem, can you remember your first acceptance?
Alison: I can remember the first time I held a cheque in my hand for financing a film. I was such an exhilarating experience and as an adrenaline junkie, one I seek to experience over and over. I loathe the process of funding my projects, but nothing feels better than depositing that money.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Alison: Whenever someone rejects or criticizes my work, I move on. I used to take it personally, but now I realize that what one person loves passionately, another could feel numb to. For instance, I cringe at horror and gore but that’s the top grossing genre in films. I refuse to compromise my ideals and sell out for marketability.
I much prefer being a poverty stricken documentary filmmaker than a successful zombie flick producer. My values are more important than fame or fortune. I wish I could change that, my bank account would be far more impressive as a result.
Morgen: If you don’t have the passion for your genre it’s bound to show in your writing. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Alison: I’m always juggling a slate of projects. It works nicely since I have attention deficit and I become bored and distracted after working on something more than a few hours. I simply close one project and open another.
Keeping many irons in the fire can be beneficial as well. If I’m pitching a story to a potential investor and they pass on the idea, I have several alternates at the ready. For me it seems to be feast or famine. Sometimes I get nothing for weeks or months then BAM! Right now I have 3 hot prospects to shoot on 3 different continents.
Morgen: Excellent. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Alison: I write constantly. Notes, letters, outlines… I read then write, read then write. It’s a pattern that plays itself out day after day. I get up in the morning and wander to my office (just down the hall) push the power button on my computer, into the kitchen to fill kettle for tea then begins the read / write / read / write routine.
Morgen: Sounds heavenly. So you write something every day, do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Alison: I would more accurately call writer’s block, procrastination. It seems whenever I am stumped for something to write, I’m being lazy or unmotivated. If I read something, anything, I am instantly inspired. Whether I act upon that inspiration or not is another thing. When I get lazy, I watch a movie. I consider it research of sorts. It doesn’t matter if the film is brilliant or dull, I always learn something new and gain insights from the process.
Morgen: Oh me to. Since having a go at ScriptFrenzy in April 2010 I appreciated what it takes to write a script, although I only got as far as 102 pages (the minimum was 100 so just scraped in) and have since converted that into the beginning of a novel. Do you plot your pieces or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Alison: Sometimes I sit and daydream or let my mind wander and the most incredible ideas spring forth. I will spend days pondering the situation and elaborate and brainstorm with trusted confidants. If I think it’s worth pursuing I will start to jot down bullet points and main plot points. Other times I will just sit and free-write. I let whatever comes out, release itself to the page. More often than not, it’s pure junk, but every once in a while a diamond of an idea emerges.
Morgen: As a fellow Script Frenzyer said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Alison: I have lots of fabulous ideas that will never materialize. I seem to be slightly ahead of the pack technologically speaking. I developed an interactive online virtual Venice Beach Community over 15 years ago. I pitched the idea for a reality style web program where tourists and audience could follow locals and suggest activities for them. The entire series would be shot with ‘tourist’ (simulated to appear as such) or webcam / security cameras. The package included virtual storefronts or shops where you could actually purchase local fare from street vendors, download music from musicians, creations from the artists and branded memorabilia. Today there are hundreds of entertainment portals on the web much like “Venice.com” would have been.
Morgen: It’s a shame it didn’t happen – I love technology. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Alison: Love the freedom and flexibility writing affords me. The process of getting inside a character and analysing potential actions or dialogue never bores me. The worst part of being a writer in the unstable lifestyle. Where is my next paycheck coming from? Will I make this deadline and still produce top-notch product?
Morgen: As someone just about to escape the day job, I have that to look forward to. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Alison: I met Ray Bradbury at a writers conference in Los Angeles many years ago. He said the most important thing a writer can do is read. Everyday you should read; non-fiction, fiction and news. Get educated, get entertained and stay informed. It’s what I turn to when I get stumped for ideas.
Morgen: I’ve just bought a Kindle and I’m hoping it gets me reading more (not that I don’t have a houseful of books already)… it’s working so far. What do you like to read?
Alison: I enjoy reading medical literature just as much as crime / thriller fiction. My tastes are all over the map. I have trouble finishing longer format lately. I think twitter has spoiled me. The idea of conveying an idea in 140 characters or less completely fascinates me. Sometimes a 30 second commercial can tell a story just as effectively as a full feature; I’m inspired by the cleverness employed in marketing and media campaigns.
Morgen: I love short. I used to read Stephen King doorstoppers in my teens (often under the duvet with a torch after lights-out) but somewhere along the line, life took over and now the shorter the better… yes, even in 140 characters. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Alison: I use Movie Magic Screenwriter software and subscribe to their Screenplay.com newsletter. As a teacher and facilitator for media production I often use the lessons and articles from their featured guests (Michael Hauge). The Internet is full of information for writers. I find that a highly specific and detailed Google inquiry brings me to exactly the place I need for the information I am seeking.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Alison: Over the past 20 years, I have lived in Vancouver Canada, Venice Beach California and Dubai, UAE. I’ve travelled extensively and value the experience I’ve met along my journey that has enhanced by subjectivity in writing. I’m getting better at self promotion and with technology and tools of today it really doesn’t matter where you live.
Morgen: It doesn’t, that’s true. Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Morgen: I’m the same and they’re my top three. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Alison: mother of 3, grandmother of 7… not your typical granny. I love to explore new places, cook ethnic food and engage in intellectual conversation on subjects such as conspiracy theory, the environment and spirituality and religion. I was recently engaged to a man who turned out to be associate with an international terrorist organization. I’m lucky to be alive therefore celebrate every moment of each day.
Morgen: Ouch. I see what you mean about your drama influencing your writing. Thank you so much, Alison.
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