Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Interview with Author, Scott Fields on "Dead Man Writing"
You write a blog that you call a “public journal” of a novel. Can you explain what that means?
I journaled my way through my first novel in much the same way many writers do. I kept track of where I was in the story, which scenes I was writing, all that, but I also recorded my observations about the process itself. On a fundamental level, diaries and journals are basically people talking aloud to themselves. That’s probably why they translate so well to cinematic voice-overs. They’re natural narratives in action.
So for me the idea of a “public” journal was about taking the next logical step: talking aloud to myself while other people listened. The mundane information—number of words per day, little plot issues, things like that—wouldn’t be all that captivating, but I thought my observations concerning the craft might foster some interest. It’s amazing how common the act of writing is between writers. We may have disparate approaches to the craft, but in the end we’re all experiencing the same sort of thing. This is just another way to identify and establish some of those collective impressions.
What inspired you to write the story of Dead Man Writing?
It originated almost twenty years ago as an idea for a screenplay, back in the days when I wanted to direct movies. It struck me that all zombie stories are essentially the same: mindless, animated carcasses waddling around looking for living people to consume.
I thought . . . what if they weren’t mindless? If we can be led to believe a corpse could “rise” sufficiently to allow it to move, see, hear, feel hunger, and summon enough intelligence to realize a goal and seek its accomplishment—why not go the rest of the way? Why not allow these undead people to keep all their intelligence, and their personality to boot? What if, when they died, nothing inherent to who they are changed at all?
That was the seed of the idea. What inspired its actual writing were all the ideas that came out of that—how our world, and this society in particular, would react to such an event. What sort of medical, legal, and religious implications it would bring about. And, most of all, what it might be like to experience that kind of a change first-hand.
How long have you been blogging about your novel?
Six months now. I started Dead Man Writing on January 1st of this year (2011).
Would you give my readers a synopsis of your storyline for Dead Man Writing?
I’m always hesitant to give a full synopsis, in part because it doesn’t read as well in summary form and also because I don’t want to give anything away. Essentially, it’s the story of Stanley Leavitt, a sort of “everyman” who dies one morning before work, the latest victim in a worldwide pandemic of the living dead. He goes through all the medical conditioning that will allow him to remain mobile and prevent premature decomposition.
For a while, he tries to continue his “life” as it’s been to this point, not wanting to lose what he’s made for himself. When this becomes impossible, he settles into an existence more common to those who’ve passed without passing on. Eventually he’s forced to live in a secluded community with others like himself.
It’s really kind of a “docudrama” in the sense that a great deal of the story consists of his observations of events in the world that result from this pandemic. It’s his wry, dry sense of humor that keeps the account from becoming too heavy, maudlin, or dull.
For ten years now, I’ve been associated with Adventures For Christ, a group tasked with the revision, marketing, and distribution of the Christian role-playing game DragonRaid. It’s an allegorical representation of the Christian life, cast as a fantasy adventure. That’s what my last book dealt with—it was the first approved novelization of the game and its setting, and the initial volume in a trilogy.
I’m taking a break from that project to pound out Dead Men Walking, but I’m still very interested in finishing it someday. The whole DragonRaid framework is a phenomenal metaphor, and wonderfully useful for teaching biblical principles in a practical way, especially for teens.
You say your novel is a satire. I’ve often read that is one of the hardest stories to write as you have to know just how to blend criticism with humor to make a point. What have you learned about writing satire during this process?
I think satire can often be as simple as merely observing your fellow man and telling the truth about him. The more truthful you’re willing to be, the sharper the “edge” of your satire. We humans have an amazing tendency to parody ourselves, even in those moments when we’re trying to be most serious.
The hardest aspect, really, is deciding how much to say, how far to take things, where to draw the line. When you’re dealing with death there’s always a good chance of offending someone who may have experienced a recent loss. I’m doing my best to steer clear of material that crosses that sort of boundary. If I’m not careful, it could also get to be too creepy or vulgar in places. I am, after all, populating my story with walking cadavers.
So I’d say the toughest part about writing satire is trying to make wise decisions about what not to say. As far as spoofing humanity goes . . . that’s the stuff that comes pretty easy.
How has writing this blog helped you progress with your actual book?
It’s provided some good motivation—if I’m not writing the book, I won’t have much to blog about—but I have to confess there have been times when the blog’s risen above the book as an immediate priority. There’s a balance that needs to be there, obviously, and I can’t say I’ve quite found it yet. The blog’s been a great tool. It’s become a symbiotic part of the process. I just have to be careful that it doesn’t take over the process.
You say that you don’t adhere to the writing adage of fiction that says everything you write must advance the story. So how do you work it together so it just doesn’t seem like misplaced meanderings?
I definitely believe advancing the story is an important element; I just don’t think it’s the only element. Some of the best books I’ve ever read were great not simply because the author presented an absorbing story, but because he or she wrote it so well. We talk about actors who could win an Oscar for reading the phone book. I think the best writers could win a Pulitzer just by rewriting the Yellow Pages and adding their own voice to it.
I often refer to Mark Twain’s book The Innocents Abroad. It’s an anomaly in today’s literary landscape, because there aren’t any distinguishable characters, no back story, no plot, no twists or surprises, none of the things that have become so vital to fiction in today’s marketplace. It’s not much more than an invented travelogue. But it’s eminently readable, because Twain was a master writer. We turn the pages not to find out what happens next, but to find out what he’ll say next.
Sometimes I wonder if contemporary literature has grown so dependent on the sanctity of story that many writers have come to use it as a crutch (in some cases, even a stretcher). They learn all about plot points and structure and characterization, and they don’t give nearly as much attention to sharpening the craft itself. I like compelling stories and well-drawn characters, to be sure . . . but neither is as uniquely thrilling to the mind as a well-turned phrase or brilliantly composed stretch of dialogue.
What do you want people to take away from reading the book once it is published?
That’s impossible to dictate. I hope they’re intrigued by an interesting premise, of course, and that it leads them down some avenues of thought they’d never explored before. More than that, however, I would hope they’ll be challenged to think about the nature of life and death, both on a worldly level (how we deal with these things culturally, politically, and religiously) and on a spiritual level (what do life and death mean when viewed from the perspective of eternity?). Where they go with it from there will be up to them.
I hope you're intrigued enough to want to learn more about these nearly dead creations of Scott's. If you want to keep up to date on the story and his blog, go to http://writingdead.com/