Welcome to TRB’s Author Interview Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome, Michael Lent, author of i, Holmes.
About the author:
Honored as a ‘Google Author’ in 2007, Michael Lent’s transmedia writing/experience spans films, fiction and nonfiction books, biographies, graphic novels, animation, video games, and reality television. He got his start in On-Air Promotions at MTV. More recently, Lent wrote the graphic novel i, Holmes (Alterna) adapted into a graphic novel E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (Alterna) and Stephen King’s “The Reaper’s Image” for the Audio Theater for Our Troops radio. His credits include more than a dozen graphic novels and comics including Prey (Marvel), Brimstone (Zenescope), graphic novel bios for Orbit including Keith Richards, Stephen Hawking, Stephen King and JRR Tolkien. He has written eight books including On Thin Ice, published by Disney/Hyperion, based on the top-rated reality television series Ice Road Truckers. Research for this project entailed spending winter in the Arctic.
He was a writer on three video games including Vigilante 8: Arcade for Xbox 360 Live. Lent was a producer on five films including executive producer of IF YOU’RE SERIOUS, shot in Fenghuang, China and nominated in 2014 by the Academy of Sound Editors for the Verna Fields Golden Reel Award for Sound Editing. Lent has taught screenwriting at UCLA, University of Miami, Santa Barbara City College, as well as lectured at Chapman University. For 2 ½ years, Lent also taught creative writing at the Chino Mens’ Prison in the UCLA Extension/Artsreach Program. He has experienced a prison lockdown, which often comes in handy in a writers’ room.
Hello, Michael. Thank you for being here today.
Can you please tell my readers about your ambitions for your writing career?
This is one of those questions I used to ask myself a lot in a big picture sense of “I would like to create something that can stand the test of time.” At one point, I quit my job in New York and went backpacking around Europe for five months while trying to write the next great American novel. 47 pages in I was broke and realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But these days I am much more Buddhist in my approach to my ambitions, that is, great joy and sometimes suffering in the smallest moments. So it means a lot to me to find the exact right word or emotion. I enjoy the cadence of crisp dialogue and the rhythm of good storytelling. I try to create characters that I truly care about and feel bad when they’re hurting. I’m trying to earn the privilege and opportunity to keep writing stories, so I feel like if I work hard to craft those small moments, I will connect with readers and tell the best story possible.
Which writers inspire you?
Well, I read a lot which I think is important to any writer so the list of inspirational writers evolves with my current reading list. Six months might be a couple dozen writers and books ago. There are so many writers deserving of our time.
I think Stephen King did a great service to us all when he took time to share his process in his autobiographical book On Writing. I read that cover-to-cover many times over and it got me through some fallow periods. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman and he is wonderful. I write graphic novels, scripts, and non-fiction books. Recently, I reread Art Spiegelman’s Maus series which both inspired and reminded me to dig deeper and write as honestly as possible.
Tell us about your book?
i, Holmes is a graphic novel, a gritty urban detective drama set in 2009. The story is about a brilliant loner, a streetwise 17-year old girl fresh out of juvie who is truly alone in the world. She knows very little about her past except that someone wants to kill her and is willing to take out most of New York. Who she is, in fact, is pretty special, as is the identity of her would-be killer. Through the course of the story the main character begins to open up enough to let others in. The art is by Marc Rene, who I most recently worked with on The Machine Stops series, an adaptation of the E. M. Forster science fiction story. Marc is very, very talented and his style is ideal for this story. Our publisher is Peter Simeti at Alterna. Alterna also published The Machine Stops.
Recently, television producer David Rambo picked up i, Holmes to develop as a television series and has been instrumental in helping to shape the story.
David has helped create some of the best television produced over the past decade including EMPIRE, REVOLUTION and CSI, as well as the upcoming series WILL on TNT. He is certainly one of the most creative people I know, so we are pretty excited and hopeful for what the future holds for i, Holmes.
How long did it take you to write it?
I needed a year to write i, Holmes. The original concept for the story occurred to me very quickly and I got out to a fast start mapping the basic story but then real life intervened with the sudden passing of my sister. John Lennon sang that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” When I returned to the story a few months later, I discovered that I wasn’t quite the same person anymore, so the story changed a bit. Without that personal tragedy, the process to create i, Holmes would have been much quicker but not as personal.
Are you working on any other project(s) right now? If yes, what are they?
I have a few writing projects in the works. One is a pre-Christian, pre-Viking Norse story that needs an artist. Another is a neo-noir graphic novel about a woman who witnesses a murder and seeks sanctuary in a church with the killers hot on her heels. We’re just beginning to draw this book. I’m also finishing a horror movie script about a boy who loses his family and must go to live with distant relatives who aren’t all that they seem.
I also produce movies. MALEVOLENT is a horror film starring William Shatner, Marena Baccarin and Ray Wise, and TWIN CITIES is an ambitious independent drama coming out in festival.
Why have you chosen this genre?
Actually, I move around and operate in several genres. Basically, I think most writers have a central theme that comes from their own lives that pops up over and over in their work. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, the theme is always the same. Instead of operating in a single genre, theme is the constant. For me, it’s “the Lazarus Man,” the idea of a person leading an auto-pilot existence, essentially dead to their life, but then, suddenly some jarring event occurs, causing them to wake up to the first moment of the rest of their life. How they see the world and what they do next is something I find fascinating. As I said, this theme is something personal: out of college I struggled to find some direction in my life but this struggle was all internal. Outwardly, it looked like I had things figured out. I was working on Wall Street in New York, making a good living, and I had been accepted into law school. But something didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to deal with it, though, because the future seemed so set and all I had to do was acquiesce. One morning, I walked into the executive bathroom at work. In one stall I discovered that someone had strapped a bomb to the toilet. Actually, it was three sticks of dynamite. There was timing device so I never knew whether someone was making a statement or had been interrupted. But that was my Lazarus moment. I quit the job and bought a backpack, one-way ticket to Paris, as well as a Eurorail pass.
When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was in grade school I entered a couple of essay writing contests. “Why I love America,” that kind of thing. That was the start. As an adult I sort of came to writing kicking and screaming. My grandmother had taken in my sister and me as kids. She owned her own beauty shop in the back of our house, working six days a week and also cared for my grandfather who suffered PTSD. She wanted me to become a lawyer and represent IBM. When you see someone with their back to a cliff and fighting against the wind on your behalf, you don’t want to add to their worries. Since my grandmother had done so much for us, I didn’t want to disappoint her. Telling her I was going to be a writer was like saying I planned to juggle chainsaws for a career. Even when I began making inroads into a career as writers she would say, “That’s wonderful — maybe you could be one of those lawyers who write crime novels when they’re not busy.”
Why do you write?
For a long time, I kept telling myself that there were many easier, more lucrative career options. I think you become a writer after trying those other things and you keep feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and not contributing to the planet unless you get back to writing. Basically, I’m restless doing most other things that aren’t writing. Also, I’m good at researching other endeavors but after about six months, I get tired of them and want to move on. So for a time I might be obsessed with everything that is entailed in landing on Mars but I wouldn’t make a career of it. Luckily, six months is about as long as most projects last.
Where do your ideas come from?
Like a lot of writers I sort of see myself as a sort of detached outsider at least enough to be able to look at things in an overall sense. So things constantly strike me as strange, illogical and interesting. Also, I have always identified with underdogs even though sometimes as a somewhat privileged well- educated Caucasian male it doesn’t seem like I have much right to think that way.
When I was a kid, I read that Robert F. Kennedy had said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” But I dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” I think this is the basic view of most writers and serves as a springboard for their ideas.
How do you prefer to write? On computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
It’s a team effort between MacBook Pro laptop, iPhone Notes dictation and my trusty Moleskin reporters pad. I’ll also write on napkins, receipts, gum wrappers and bathroom tissue.
What are your 5 favourite books and 5 favorite authors?
- Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy. This book shocked me out of the complacence of my life.
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy. I read this book when I became a dad. It made me cry and made me realize the obligation for sacrifice that parenting entails.
- LotR – JRR Tolkien. It was the first fully immersive universe I ever read and fell in love with. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology had the same effect.
- Hamlet – William Shakespeare. It’s a play, of course, but for me, also formative like LotR. Mr. Harmon, my lit. teacher in high school, was our Virgil guiding us into the world of Shakespeare. He was a classically trained actor who would perform Hamlet’s soliloquies and make the story come alive. Through Hamlet I realized the both burden and complexity of being heroic.
- A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens. One of the greatest endings of all time.
It’s certainly humbling to list these books and authors and realize how far I must go with my own work.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
In On Writing, Steven King has some wonderful observations about writer’s block and Dennis Palumbo has a terrific book about it called Writing from the Inside Out. I think it’s important to recognize WB for what it is, namely, a lack of inspiration. It’s something all writers deal with from time-to-time. First, I try to keep the well from running dry by reading a lot because its inspirational and gives you a discourse with great minds. Second, contracts and deadlines are important because they keep you focused. To be blunt, a publisher can cancel your contract and maybe sue you to get back an advance if you fail to turn in your work on time. That puts the fear of God in most writers. Even when you aren’t on deadline with someone else, you can make an agreement with yourself to finish something by such and such date. You can go one step further by requesting that colleagues and friends read the result, then give them a delivery date.
The in-process way to deal with writer’s block is through structure. Structure is the scaffolding we stand on for hard to reach places. I rely on four layers of structure as the powerful tools that will get me moving forward again. These are:
- Conveying Action
- Business of the Scene
- Advancing Themes and Conflict
When I come to a roadblock on a particular scene, I say to myself, “Well, what happens next?” The answer is usually something like, “The cop goes to the apartment building to interview a potential witness.” (Conveying Action). Next, I’ll ask what the cop needs to learn via the exchange. Hopefully, this will be more than just gathering a clue. Hopefully, the scene will spin the story in a new direction and cause the cop to reconsider what he thinks he knows about the situation or even the world. That’s the business of the scene. If the cop is reevaluating his base assumptions about people or if the witness is interesting beyond the information they possess, that can advance the themes and conflicts of the story. So maybe we’re dealing with a reluctant witness. Finally, tone is what makes the scene stand out both contextually and artistically. If the scene is set in a small town in Wyoming in 1952, it’s going to have a look and feel that we haven’t seen much of before now. From my reading I might think about Road to Perdition, In Cold Blood or The Onion Field. How did people live and what was the architecture like back then? If the witness is a single woman about 30 years old living in an apartment building in such a place, what could we surmise about her circumstances? How did cops treat such individuals back then? That’s where tone and nuance come in.
15 minutes ago, I didn’t have a clue about how this scene might be written but suddenly, I have lots of ideas and my brain is popping because I know what has to happen and why. I feel inspired. Structure leads to creative solutions when you’re feeling blocked.
What advice would you give to new aspiring authors?
I love what I do so when I meet aspiring writers at conventions and festivals. it’s wonderful to hear of their aspirations. My message is very DIY because I want to see those aspirations go to the next level. For me, it’s unfortunate to run into an aspiring writer a year later and they haven’t moved their dream forward into reality. Sometimes they are rewriting the same chapters or have abandoned a promising premise to work on something new.
The most important advice I can give is to go past dreaming and get your book scheduled. The idea is that the more you tell people about your project and when it will be done, the more tangible it is. So create a community of fellow scribes at your level and one step above.
As long as something stays inside your head, it is pure, perfect and unassailable. I get that. The critic inside all of us says, “What if it’s no good or a waste of time?” So we keep it locked up ostensibly to protect ourselves from failure by rearranging the idea furniture.
Writing takes on a life of its own ONLY when it makes it out into the world. So I wouldn’t get hung up on making it “perfect,” finding agents, or waiting for publisher responses. Get your story or book out there any way you can, then get started on the next as soon as possible. This way, you’ll engage with a community of fellow writers, readers and give yourself a chance at opportunities like mainstream publishers.
Once you’re up and running with your writing, work on multiple projects so that you’re ready for opportunities when they arise. For example, i, Holmes was one of several several projects that I pitched to my publisher. When Peter Simeti said “yes,” we were ready to go.
Thank you, Michael, for all your interesting as well as deeply insightful answers!
About The Book:
Everyone has a secret. Hers can get her killed and she doesn’t even know what it is.
She was born with no parents and no name. Fighting to survive in a world of danger and intrigue is nothing new to i Rose who lives by her wits on the streets of New York, but after discovering that she’s being targeted as the descendant of someone world famous who she’s never met, i Rose realizes that life is about to become even more complicated.
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