Welcome to the fourteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with scriptwriter and sci-fi author Darlene Hartman. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Darlene. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Darlene: I was not supposed to live to be nine, and consequently was given the best art, music, literature—I was reading by age four—and conversation that could be had. I developed a keen memory, learned poetry and facts, and wrote some nice poetry. I also started writing stories. And then I didn’t die after all. So fortified, I started school and was the Nerd of the World until college and pre-Med. When I married, we had our first six children in less than seven years, and no household help, so I did it all from a wheelchair half the time. I couldn’t afford paints, so the art had to wait, and my Al had a little Smith-Corona typewriter he offered me. I began writing in earnest and never have stopped.
Morgen: I love that, ‘Nerd of the World’ (have you copyrighted that phrase?) and your determination. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Darlene: I started out re-writing and fleshing out Bible stories, which weren’t bad. I saw an ad for people to write for The Hour of St. Francis (now the Franciscan Communi-cation Center), in film, so I sent my husband to the library for a “How to Write Film” book, read it, wrote and sold two teleplays for them, one of which won the Catholic Broadcasters’ “Gabriel” award and introduced Jack Nicholson in his first film. I fell in love with film and when I saw the first several segments of “Star Trek,” I promptly sat down and wrote four segments for them and sent them to a director friend in H’wood. He passed them on to his friend, the Vice-President of Development at—I think it was Universal – Herb Solow. He carried them around with him for a couple of weeks and finally sent them to Gene Roddenberry, who invited me to join Star Trek on staff. I accepted, but ill health waylaid me again and I became “Darlene Who?” in H’wood. So I took my scripts and wrote them into novels, which sold to Avon and Ace. GR had assigned me a script, which was bought, but shelved when Lucy divorced Desi (I kid you not!) and during the scandal, the other four scripts were found to have been used gratis by a person no longer there. Or so I’m told. I was in hospital all the time. And I had stupidly neglected to register the scripts with Writers’ Guild of America, west (WGAw). My bad. These things happen. That’s the breaks. So yes, I do science-fiction, but I’m almost finished with a mainstream novel called “Choices,” which deals with the good and bad choices people make and what happens because of them. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve written so far. And I’m going on to other projects as well.
Morgen: I’m not a trekkie but even I’ve heard of Gene Roddenberry. I’ve only written one script (the first 102 pages actually, for http://scriptfrenzy.org April 2010) and it didn’t suit me at all (or I it) – too fragmented for my liking but I liked the story so it has since become the start of novel no. four. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Darlene: Five science-fiction novels: “All the Gods of Eisernon”; “The Elluvon Gift”; “The Trumpets of Tagan”; “Timeslide”; and “Hopeship”. Two sequels, “Gusto” and “Chains of Her Own Forging”, are in progress. “Chains…” is the flip side of “All the Gods of Eisernon”; “All the Gods…” is written from Dao Marik’s point of view, and “Chains…” is written from the point of view of Hennem-mishli, his wife, who has an active and courageous life of her own. I’ve also written five segments of the original Star Trek TV series, done a complete media spread for the Cardinal Cooke’s Council on Pro-Life (1-minute, 30-second, and 15-second spots for TV and radio, and print ads), done PSAs for such clients as The US State Department, The American Heart Association, and others; and I wrote the first aired “teleplay”, as they used to call them, that Jack Nicholson ever acted in. And various short stories and articles, some under my original pen name of “Andrew Fisher”.
Morgen: My goodness, and I thought I was productive. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Darlene: In a word, yes. I think ebooks are the wave of the very near future. When a standard House makes $6.00 on a paperback and the author makes $.12, something is decidedly wrong, even considering the House’s overhead. Fair is fair. My experience is that so far, the ebook thing is slow, and perhaps I’d better lower my price. <smile> I’ve re-edited my first book, “All the Gods of Eisernon”, and it is for sale as an ebook at http://www.youpublish.com/simonlangbooks. I am putting up the other four, as well as “Gusto” and “Chains…” as soon as they are completed, along with “Choices”, a mainstream novel that is, in my estimation, the best thing I’ve written to-date. I’m awaiting a shipment of our household goods from California, included in which I have copies of all the short stories and articles I’ve done. I intend to put them up on my YouPublish.com/simonlangbooks site once they’re here and I can find them. We have lots of stuff, as you can imagine!
Morgen: Can you remember your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Darlene: You bet I can! My first acceptance of a short story was from a little magazine that paid nothing but the vital affirmation that I was, indeed, a writer. Even my husband, finally took notice and was impressed and excited. Yes, it’s still a thrill. And the telegram from Universal Studios, accepting my first Star Trek script was mind-blowing. But the biggest thrill of all my print projects was when I opened the box containing my press copies, and saw the book cover by Peter Herring for “The Trumpets of Tagan.” I looked straight into the face of my protagonist, Dao Marik, and it looked exactly— absolutely exactly!—like I had imagined him! I quickly slammed the box shut. I could not have been more flustered if a news camera had caught me stepping out of the bath. I felt as though someone else had been spying on my inScape, that secret place inside where Dreams live. I’ve never lost it like that before or since.
Morgen: That’s great! Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Darlene: Oh, sure. Lots and lots. When you get a rejection, you can go either way: you can sit and let yourself feel like a failure and whine about how ‘They’ don’t appreciate you and your genius; or you can say, “Okay. That wasn’t what they wanted. Now I have one less ‘failure option’ to deal with and I’ve taken one more step toward success.” It’s sort of a process of elimination. Keep pulling “failures” out of the bucket, so to speak, and you’ll find that success is waiting for you at the bottom. Keep on trying!—and improving as you go. Rejection proves you’re getting to be a Real Writer! I could have papered my living room with rejection slips—oh, well, maybe the guest bath, but still… I recently got a rejection from a fine editor/author who is, incidentally, a colleague, Karina Fabian, of “Infinite Space, Infinite God” fame. It just so happened that what I wrote, and what she was looking for, were two different things. That’s all it means, generally.
Morgen: A very positive attitude but with so many successes I’m sure it does help. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Darlene: Well, as I said, “Chains of Her Own Forging” and “Choices” and a non-fiction book about our family of husband, wife and twenty children—fourteen of them adopted from various places in the US and the world– forty-two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The book is called, “But Where’s Charlie?” I’m also working simultaneously on two screenplays, one of which already has a (VERY patient) producer attached, I teach my writers’ course online several times a year, and I run two blogs, one for writers and one for cooks/gardeners.
Morgen: see earlier comment re. productivity. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Darlene: I once did a screenplay for a major motion picture that I wrote straight through, almost not sleeping at all, in thirteen days. I’m always writing. I never stop. I don’t know how and I don’t want to know how. I love it. Sometimes I sit down and put it all in a computer document or on paper; but I’m always, always, writing.
Morgen: see earlier comment re. productivity. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Darlene: I just figure the project isn’t ready to “speak” yet, so I go on to another project and work on that and ignore the troublesome one, as I might a recalcitrant child. After a while, it sidles up and is willing to co-operate and wants to be paid attention to, so I love it back onto the computer and off we go again. Sometimes you can be at the grocery, or shopping for a gift, and you’ll overhear a line of dialogue, or see a face or the way someone moves, and suddenly that’s what you’ve been waiting for, that line or that person, to shatter the block. You go home and put it into the computer, and as you describe it, the action falls right into place.
Morgen: A time when you definitely need a pen and paper in your bag / pocket. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Darlene: Good question! Let me say that my two favorite phrases are “What if—?” and “If only—“ the last being, I think, the saddest phrase in the world. I used to work in an emergency room, and I heard, “If only—“ many, too many, times. I generally start with a character I’d like to know, someone who’s courageous and—what we in the olden days used to call “true.” A guy or girl who has a limit, below which he will not go, no matter what the temptation or provocation. A set of personal standards he lives by. I spend lots of time developing the characters, doing intensive backstories for each of them, even the incidental ones, because what they do in the story may be small compared to the Protag and the Antag and the others, but in him- or herself, he’s got to be a whole person. That way, they come across as real, and you can use them in another story, too. Then I put my developed character—the Protag—in an untenable situation, one that he hates being in and cannot get out of. The thing he hates most. I keep ramping up the tension, making it worse, and then watch what he does about it without betraying his code. And if he’s half the person I thought he was, he will figure out how to get out of it honourably; if he’s not, I junk him and build another character, flawed, human, but redeemable.
Morgen: I’d never thought of ‘If only’ as being sad but now you come to mention it. I like that. As I’m typing this I’m recalling the end of the film Senna which I saw at the cinema tonight. I knew the ending as it’s a film of racing driver Ayrton Senna’s life but one of the last lines was… spoiler alert… “If only the component had hit six inches higher or lower, then he would have walked away.” Very, very sad. And I love the sound of your characters and method; definitely food for thought. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Darlene: My first book. I only keep it for head-shrinking purposes. When a writer gets kudos, congratulations, is asked for autographs, etc, it easy for his head to start to swell and for him to begin thinking he is more than he really is. That’s why I keep that book; reading a quick few pages is enough to deflate my ego to manageable levels again. Sort of a “This is where you started, Hotshot. Go sit down.” LOL
Morgen: I have one of those although it’s not beyond redemption. It’s novel 5 that’ll be my bottom drawer book (a very therapeutic project). It’s great seeing old stuff as you can see how far you’ve come. Every skill is practice. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Darlene: My favorite aspect is being able to go anywhere, create anything, be anyone I wish. And oh! How I love the research! I’ve interacted with the Jet Propulsion Lab, Houston Space Center, Woods Hole Institute, metallurgists, spacecraft builders, like the guys at Lockheed, Atlanta, who first invited me and my husband into Mensa; the guys at North American Rockwell who became dear friends; and virtual spacecraft builders like John Burt in California, and his virtual spacecraft shop. I’ve worked with the New York Boxing Association and the biochemists at Tulane University, New Orleans, with pediatricians and internists. Being a writer is like being a skeleton key; it can get you in practically anywhere! What do I dislike? Not having a study any more. I’m basically a private person, and to me, my work is as personal as the most intimate of human interactions. I loved having a study where the door closed and no-one disturbed the Dreams. My husband’s business took us all over the country, and just when I got good and settled in one place, so I could really dig into my writing, it usually was time to move our big family someplace else. But that’s a small glitch compared to being married to anyone else. 🙂
Morgen: That’s the great thing about being a writer, you literally can do it anywhere. Maybe you could take over a bedroom for an hour a night? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Darlene: First—and this especially applies if you are a guy—don’t try to shock us. We’ve been shocked already if we are old enough to read. I was once handed a manuscript where a fellow tore the head off of a child and, uh, spit down his neck. This was in an upscale, educated neighborhood, where you’d expect decency, if not manners. “Isn’t that GOOD?” he gloated at me. I said, “It’s trash and you know it’s trash.” “Yeah,” but won’t THAT shock ‘em? Won’t that GET ‘em?” Please.
Secondly, know what you’re talking about. Research your facts, and don’t stop at Wikipedia, either. Dig deep. You’ll give your writing the glow of reality, and educate yourself in the process. Third, learn your own language. Buy yourself a Roget’s Thesaurus and a good dictionary, and use them. Read them again and again. Study them. Take every iteration of one word a week and look up its definition, see how each word—though it refers in general to the same idea—bends the thought in a slightly different direction. Write sentences using each iteration, and see how different the meaning becomes. For instance, take the word “raw.” It can mean uncooked, but then, what is a raw recruit? A raw day? A raw script? A raw comment? Check it out. Learn. Fourth, write to the end of the thought. In my writers’ course, “Think Like a Writer,” I insist that my students write to the end of the thought, the same way musicians play to the end of the bar. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth not being “glossed over.” Fifth, love your characters, even the villains, and write with compassion. Don’t sacrifice your values or theirs, don’t call Good, Bad, or vice versa. If you have a villain, make sure the backstory you write for him gives him a reason for his villany—even if that reason doesn’t excuse him. No one is wholly good or bad except our good God. Give your hero some faults and your villains some redeeming characteristics. It makes them more human.
If you have to kill someone in your work, realize that this is the image of a human person who is valuable simply because he exists—whether or not he’s made the best of it. Respect your character and your Reader. If you have a fight scene or a war scene, go realistic. Hit hard and let blood flow like wine, if it must. I’m not suggesting the characters tiptoe around smacking each other with feathers and lapping lavender lollipops; but let even a kill be clean. And remember that the theatre of the mind is more sensuous and moving that any graphic description you could write. The love scene in my “Trumpets of Tagan” was written up in the romance writers’ bible as “the most passionate love scene we have ever read”. And he only kissed her. Once. And yet… Last, stop when you get to the end. That sound facetious, I know, but I’ve seen so many scripts that make their point–and then spend five more pages going on about incidentals. Rather like having Rapunzel get rescued by her Prince, the Bad Guys are defeated, and Rapunzel and her Prince live happily ever after. And then Rapunzel decides to donate all that hair to Locks of Love, which she then introduces for a page-and-a-half, then she goes to the hairdresser, has him tell her what all those bottles are, where they came from etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Don’t. Make your point and get out.
Morgen: My goodness. Have you ever thought of writing a book? 🙂 What do you like to read?
Darlene: What don’t I like to read? Everything from Lloyd C. Douglas to Brian Jacques to Tom Clancy to James Herriot to Peter Kreeft to Robert Karen to Suzanne Baars and eight-year-old magazines on doctors’ offices, and advertisements, and labels on cans and articles about farandole or gneiss or geological anomalies and on and on and….
Morgen: I’m the same. Even if I’m sitting on the toilet I have to have something to read… OK, too much information. But yes, I’ll read the edges of cereal packets while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil (although at the moment the Kelloggs has been taken over by these wonderful interview sheets to read through). Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Darlene: Oh, yes! The Writers’ Chatroom, hosted by Audrey Schaffer, first and foremost; Chris Soth’s www.milliondollarscreenwriting.com for would-be screenwriters—it’s the best!; http://www.critters.org for sci-fi, horror and fantasy writers—I love most of this site’s stuff, and we get to critique it, too! There are so many more I go to, but naturally I can’t remember them just now. When I’m working on a project, I’m half here and half there. That’s why I don’t drive any more.
Morgen: I tend to walk more than drive so that’s probably just as well too. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Darlene: I’m based in the USA, in north Texas. I was born in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp in a little town called Melville, Louisiana, which I suppose makes me a Swamp Thing (this is where I got the scenery for “All the Gods—”) and a year later, removed to New Orleans, which I consider my home. There’s nowhere else like it. But we live in Texas now, near four of our children and nine of the grandchildren. It’s a huge help. I got all my swamp scenery for “All the Gods—” from Louisiana and Hawaii; got my ocean stuff from California and Florida; got the pineywoods scenery for “Roswillian” from Tennessee and Carolinas; and the frigid scenery from Connecticut and Pennsylvania. I’ve collected mental images, sensory input and dialects from everywhere we’ve lived or visited, and I have a pretty good memory and take good notes. It all turns up in my work.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Darlene: LinkedIn has a Screenwriting Group and a Fiction Writers’ Group, and I belong to those. I also just joined a group online called The Writers’ Source. I haven’t tried it out yet but I’m interested in seeing just what they’re about. I occasionally join The Writers’ Chatroom on Sunday and Wednesday nights for their interactive forum, which is terrific! I’m also planning to open an online chatroom one night a week to simply interact with new and journeymen writers. It’ll be on my http://einaijournal.blogspot.com site.
Morgen: I belong to FWG and TWS, but am on other chatrooms Sunday evenings (Litopia) and Jane Wenham-Jones‘ on Wednesday nights. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Darlene: Google me. Try the Simon Lang profile on Wikipedia. Oh, and you’ll also find that there’s a person who hates my stuff and says so at every given opportunity, which is fine with me. She even follows me to Science-Fiction conventions when I am to moderate a panel, because heckling in person is more fun than heckling online. It’s a Pro-Life thing, and you get used to it. Sort of. Lots of people like my stuff, some don’t. That’s life. It’s often pointed out that my stuff resembles Star Trek. Well, yes and no. As a matter of fact, Gene Roddenberry Sr, spent an awful lot of time and money calling me long distance (L. A. to New Orleans) four hours a night, for weeks and weeks at a time, talking over series ideas, characters, situations, and so on, what would work and what would not; so it’s not surprising that sometimes my work resembles some of my other work as well. Marik is not Spock.
Morgen: Your überfan (or should that be underfan?) clearly doesn’t write as she has too much time on her hands. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Darlene: Yes, some shameless self-promotion: be sure to buy at least one copy of each of my books, my writers’ course, go and see my movies when they come out, and sign up for my eight-week online Course as well. I’ll put the details on my http://www.einaijournal.blogspot.com blog within the week. Thanks for asking me to participate in this interview, Morgen. I enjoyed it very much.
Morgen: And I enjoyed chatting with you, thank you for taking so much time with your replies. 🙂
Update November 2012: I’ve finally got four of the five re-edited, tweaked and added unto, as it were, and they are out under the blanket title of “The Einai Series”. They are “All the Gods of Eisernon, 2nd Edition”; “The Elluvon Gift, 2nd Edition”; “The Trumpets of Tagan, 2nd Edition”; “Timeslide, 2nd Edition”; and “Hopeship, 2nd Ed-ition.” “Gusto” will be coming up, hopefully in March 2013, then “Recovery”, with several more hard on its heels.
Morgen: Wow, Darlene, you like to keep busy!
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