Tell me a about yourself. What got you started in writing?
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer; it just took me a long time to figure out what kind of writing I would be best at. After a detour in college when I thought I was going to be an English teacher--which, to the eternal gratitude both of myself and all the students who never had to have me, never happened--I tried on a lot of different writing hats. I attempted screenplays; I dabbled with a novel; I even spent some time in the early '90s as a standup comedian. But when I discovered USENET newsgroups with movie reviews around 1993, I realized that critical, journalistic writing was the best match with the way my brain worked. I wrote and wrote and wrote those film reviews and threw them up online, and got some freelance work doing local theater reviews in Northern California, then finally landed a full-time job at the Salt Lake City Weekly in 1999 after moving here with my wife. It only took me another 15 years to think about writing a book.
How do you schedule your writing time? When do you write?
The time writing for my day job with City Weekly was easy to manage, since I'm sitting in front of a computer all day. Finding the additional time to write Happy Place on top of that required some shifts in my sense of priorities. I'm a big sports fan, but I basically gave up watching NFL football so I could devote my Sundays to working on the book. And I'm very lucky to have an extremely supportive wife who knows when I need that dedicated time.
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How and where do you write? Do you prefer a lap top or some other method of getting your words down?
It's bizarre to think about it now, but for several years, I wrote all of my film reviews out longhand before I typed them up. I had convinced myself that I couldn't "compose" in front of a screen. Now, it's just either my office desktop or home laptop, and a quiet room. And, preferably, no Internet to distract me.
What's your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite part about writing?
I love the "click" that comes from figuring out the angle that's right for whatever I'm writing about. Usually, with a film review, I know my general reaction, but it's not enough for me to provide an opinion; I have to have a point. Once I grab on to that point, the organizing principle that will make it flow as a piece of writing rather than a collection of "I liked this" and "I didn't like that," it's a relatively smooth process. That applied to Happy Place as well: I had done my interviews and research, but I had to figure out what kind of story I was telling about my subjects before I knew how to put it all together.
Least favorite part, to be a writer's cliche, is editing. I'm an editor in addition to a writer at City Weekly, and I actually really enjoy the process of editing other people's writing. Editing my own writing, however, is excruciating; it's like what happens when you listen to a recording of your own voice, and can't believe how ridiculous you sound.
How did you come up with your book idea? How long did it take you to write your book?
I'm a California native who grew up visiting Disneyland for summer vacations, but moved to Northern California and then to Utah, and kind of lost my connection a little bit. I rediscovered it when my wife and I took our own kids for the first time in 2004, and I started to visit Disney fan sites periodically to get my "fix" of parks stories. In summer 2014, I came upon the stories of a couple of guys who were either just completing or in the middle of long Disney Parks "iron man" streaks of visiting consecutive days in a row. I was fascinated by what kind of person decides to do that, and I'm also fascinated in general by fan cultures. It kind of shocked me that nobody else had written this kind of book, considering how dedicated Disney Parks fans are. So it became the idea I knew I had to pursue, finding other stories of people whose love of these places had manifested itself in many different, interesting ways. The research and writing process took from September 2014 through January 2016, so not quite 18 months, but taking that long had a lot to do with some specific events I wanted to look into that took place at very specific times.
What types of marketing do you do to promote your writing?
I'm fortunate that I have a publisher that sent me on a book tour when Happy Place was published in October. But I'm also fortunate that, because I've established a strong social media presence as a film critic, I can get the word out to a lot of people that way. And many of the Disney parks fans I interviewed for my book have really helped as far as signal-boosting the events and letting other fans (my most likely market) know about it.
What are you currently working on? Do you have a new book out?
With Happy Place just out, I'm mostly back to my regular City Weekly grind and doing whatever promotions for the book I can squeeze in. I'm allowing myself to take a break before I decide whether I want to dive into another book.
Do you have a project on the back burner? Tell me about it.
Aside from the week-to-week, feed-the-beast grind of a weekly newspaper, not really. Although I keep saying that it's on my career "bucket list" to write a musical some day.
What would you tell a beginning writer who wants to publish but doesn't believe he/she has enough talent?
Not to be catty, but plenty of untalented writers get published. And plenty of talented writers never do. As with so many careers in the arts, you really have to be willing to work harder than anyone else, because the person who's willing to work harder than you are has a pretty good shot of being more successful than you will. Work hard at improving your craft, work hard at finding places where your writing can get out into the world, work hard at self-promotion. I have two teenagers, and I've told them both that if they want to be artists, I'd support that, but they have to decide that there is absolutely no other thing they would be happy doing with their life. Because the person who has decided that not making their art their life's work simply isn't an option will always outwork you.
A Question for Me:
I suppose the most common question I hear among writers is "how do you deal with writer's block." And it's almost never an issue for me (very fortunately), so I'm always curious how others deal with it.
I don't have writer's block either, or should I say, I don't have writer's block for very long. If it decides to rear its ugly head I go onto another project (I usually have at least two going on at the same time) or I bring out my three ring binder full of magazine pictures and choose one as a starting point for beginning something new. I may also pull a book off the shelf and point to a random sentence. Using that sentence I begin writing. The trick it to trick your brain into thinking you don't care a hoot about the current project and allow ideas to open up when you're not really thinking about it. Forced writing never works for me.