We recently had a chance to catch up with Amelia Indie Authors member, science fiction author Winfield Strock. And of course we couldn’t resist the opportunity to turn a celebratory cup of coffee into a bit of an interview. We’re pleased to introduce you to Win.
AiA: With publication of your new book, Long Shadows, you have produced five science fiction and steam punk novels. What drew you to these genres? Do you have a preference for one over the other, and if so, why?
Strock: As a fan of history and science fiction, steampunk came naturally for me. Both offer an escape from normal life. Dystopian sci-fi serves as a warning about dangerous trends taken to their extreme. Characters have to fight against the world to make it a better place. Utopian sci-fi offers hope of what’s to come if we manage to get our act together. Characters have to save their world from those who would corrupt or destroy it.
AiA: Long Shadows features an intergalactic conflict between two civilizations that could not be more different. Where did you get your inspiration for them, and how did you come up with the detailed descriptions? Were they purely from imagination, or was there some research involved?
Strock: Beginnings aren’t what comes to me first, so I have to retroactively create one from clues in my concept. The Salei and Alkir had to be at odds but willing to cooperate, so a cold war made sense. Each side’s goals defined the kind of creatures they needed to be. The Salei are like locusts: they ravage resources. The Alkir are herd-minded herbivores who fight only when cornered.
AiA: The hero of this book, James, is a teenager coming of age, trying to find his abilities and purpose in life. He is in love with a street-smart, red-haired girl who works in a bar. She seems familiar, like someone most people would recognize from some point in their lives. Most fictional characters reflect the author’s experience. What relationships or people from your own past have informed these characters?
Strock: As a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome (before anyone knew what that was) interacting with other kids didn’t come easy. I think that’s why I became such a sci-fi fan. I imagined myself an alien that looked like the other kids but remained very different. There was a girl named Glenda in my childhood. I had a crush and she was pretty harsh. Not much of a story, but that kernel of personal connection made writing that part of the story easier and more real for me as I wrote it.
AiA: Like your previous work, Touching Butterflies, Long Shadows features a male friendship that is important to the hero’s journey. How is James’ friendship with Matt different from Neil and Roland’s relationship in Butterflies? James learns from his friend in unexpected ways. How did you see this relationship developing under very difficult circumstances? How did you manage to keep both friends on equal footing, when one gains such tremendous power?
Strock: For the most part, Matt’s character grew from James’s weaknesses and interests. Prior to the first scene, James (like me) has just made a big move. In a new neighborhood, at a new school, he sees a chance to react differently to the world hoping to gain better results. He’d been timid and shy; now he means to speak his mind and waste little time meeting the world head-on. Matt’s caution and logic are the guardrail that keeps James from tumbling to his doom.
Neil and Roland from Touching Butterflies were a case of role reversal. Neil had been the awkward geek and Roland the popular athlete in high school. Now with Roland’s football career destroyed and Neil’s computer skills at a premium, it’s Neil’s turn to have power and prestige go to his head and allow him down a dark path.
AiA: In Long Shadows, the warring civilizations seek power, and the real prize is in the form of telepathy. Tell us a little about your interest in telepathy, and what drew you to feature it in the story? And because science fiction is often predictive, what potential do you see for telepathy to actually gain the kind of power you describe sometime in the future?
Strock: Telepathy served two purposes in Long Shadows.
For the Salei, telepathy threatened their civilization, where secrets and hidden agendas kept the powerful on top.
For the Alkir, being part of a global mind meant they were unable to come up with new ideas because negativity of the collective mind about anything risky or untried magnified their fears.
If humanity becomes telepathic the upheaval is inevitable. Everyone’s a liar on some level. Sometimes they lie for a ‘good reason.’ Imagine going to a car salesman or to court knowing that your thoughts and memories are like a book on a shelf.
AiA: Long Shadows ends with an open possibility for a sequel. Do you intend to follow up with a series, or are you thinking of something different for your next book? If so, what can you tell us?
Strock: I always have ideas for sequels but I seldom act on them. Currently I’m working on The Kitten’s Apprentice. It’s a story about a sorcerer who tries to pass his powers on to a younger man. During the ritual, a cat interferes and the magical powers are shared between the man and the cat.
Nancy: Books rely heavily on description and dialogue to reveal character. How does that differ in a screenplay?
Wren: This is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to screenwriting. You not only have to rely on the actor’s intuition to convey the emotion but also on the director’s overall vision for the film. This is why it’s so important to write the best screenplay you can because you’re really creating a blueprint for the production team and the cast. On the screen, visual elements are really what’s telling your story. Yes, exposition comes through dialogue, but the audience is responding to what they’re seeing on the screen.
Nancy: How long do you think it normally takes to write a screenplay from a novel? Is it common for an author writing a novel to create the screenplay simultaneously?
Wren: The length of time really depends on the complexities of the novel. One of mine went through 32 rewrites while going from stage play to film. In the end, only 10 pages remained from my original script. Many of the changes were required based on production limitations and budget issues. Yes, many writers write both a novel and a screenplay simultaneously. They really inform one another during the creative process.
Nancy: When you write a screenplay, how do you know when you are done? Do you hear fireworks or are the angels singing?
Wren: I would love a choir of angels to announce the end of a screenplay. That would be wonderful. I feel like the screenplay is done when I’ve told the best version of the story I can — when I feel I’ve done the characters justice. It’s tough to know when you’ve reached that point because it’s hard to be objective about our own work. At some point, you have to force yourself to get up and walk away.
Nancy: From horror to romance, what differences does genre make in an effective screenplay?
Wren: Genre is everything in a screenplay because each genre comes with their own set of rules, their own set of audience expectations. For this reason, I think some of the best screenplays are genre hybrids. Kelly Fremon Craig’s screenplay for Edge of Seventeen is a great example of this. That movie successfully fit into multiple genres.
Nancy: How important is the format?
Wren: The format in screenwriting is critical because it’s industry standard. It’s one of the biggest challenges for a new screenwriter.
Nancy: Can a screenplay be reviewed and edited in the same way a book is edited, or should you find people who specialize in screenplays?
Wren: I recommend that screenwriters have their work critiqued by other screenwriters, or someone in the entertainment industry that is familiar with the format, such as a producer.
Nancy: I have been a fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat for several years. Are there other screenwriting books you would recommend?
Wren: Yes, I really recommend The Screenwriter’s Bible. I use this book each time I teach a screenwriting course. It’s a terrific resource for many reasons, including learning the rules about formatting a screenplay. I also recommend Syd Field’s classic book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Both of these books are resources for most screenwriters. I also recommend checking out a wonderful program called The Script Lab. They offer a low-cost online program called Screenwriting Summit that is fantastic. They have a tremendous library of videos that are conversations with executives, agents, producers, and screenwriters. Each is filled with very valuable information about the industry and your life as a professional screenwriter.
Nancy: Once completed, polished, and ready for publication, my guess is that a screenplay requires an entirely different approach for marketing, compared to books. Is that true? What should the author be focusing on at this point?
Wren: Once your screenplay is finished, the next step is getting it into the hands of someone who can get the project to the screen, whether that’s a producer or an agent, or even an actor. It’s almost impossible to sell a screenplay without having an agent. If a screenwriter has finished a script that they feel has potential, I would recommend securing an agent. The Writer’s Guild of America publishes a list of reputable agents for screenwriters.
Nancy: For me, I think the real work of writing a novel is perseverance coupled with humility. I have to work on it every day and be willing to recognize where I am wrong. You are such a prolific writer of books, plays, and screenplays. What would you say is the ‘real work’ of it for you?
Wren: Disciplining myself to write every day has been a challenge for me over the years. I love the end result, of having written something, but the actual writing process is tough for me. Any writer can talk about the many sacrifices required to be a writer in this world but the finished result makes each of them worth it. Before I became a professional writer, I didn’t realize how much work each step of the writing process required. The writing itself is hard work, but so is the planning, marketing, and business side of what we do. Writing takes more stamina, dedication, and discipline than most people realize. It’s a demanding career, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling.