Throughout his career, Daniel Pyne has moved freely between the world of television, film and books. His writing credits include The Manchurian Candidate, Fracture, Any Given Sunday, and Miami Vice. He is also author of the noir novel, Twentynine Palms (which was also made into a feature film). Pyne holds a B.A. in Economics from Stanford University, and an MFA from UCLA’s film school, where he teaches a graduate seminar in screenwriting every winter. He lives in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and children, two cats, two dogs, two lizards, and a turtle. For more info on Daniel Pyne, visit www.danielpyne.com.
What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance to a writer…
I was extremely fortunate to have had a series of wonderful mentors at the beginning of my career. I think it’s incredibly beneficial to be able to learn from artists who have broken ground before you, who can guide you on your creative journey and encourage you to take on challenges that might otherwise seem overwhelming. Their knowledge is invaluable; their comments and criticism comes from a place of such deep understanding and experience that it never feels undeserved or cranky. I think a mentor also helps a young writer understand, simply by example, that it’s a slow process, and there are no shortcuts.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?
Hmm. I can’t really trick myself. When I’m stuck, I just try to write through it. I force myself to do the terrible awful miserable version of whatever I’m writing, and usually the horror that results from knowing that someone else eventually will be reading it makes me find a thread I can pull to make it better, and then better again, until I either rewrite into a good version, or stumble on a whole new angle that works.
Are there favorite writing exercises or prompts which you use regularly & will share?
I’ve learned, from screenwriting, to always ask myself, about every character, no matter how fleeting or seemingly inconsequential: “what’s his movie (or novel)?” Which is to say, if I were writing the story of this waitress (or fortune teller, or contortionist) with whom my tale has suddenly intersected, what would it be? I ask myself this because everyone in a story has his or her own novel that they’re the main character in, and we’re just seeing a moment of that novel here, in this one. But seeing that moment, and knowing that it’s part of a larger story, and letting it collide with the action and intention of this story, enriches the narrative and sometimes even creates opportunities for more tension, conflict, and character.
This also allows me to see my story from different angles, to make sure that everything that happens has a reason and a motivation, and doesn’t happen just to serve the raw mechanics of the plot.
Suggestions for making characters live? Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing?
A little of both. I think that character and action are inseparable: we are defined by what we do, but what we decide to do in any situation depends upon who we are. I tend to begin with a general idea of a character, or a matrix of character relationships, and then I like to let them play out as I write, to surprise myself, to let the characters go. The best part is when the characters take over the story completely, and you find yourself struggling to keep up with them as they race forward, surprising you at every turn.
What’s the best writer’s advice you ever got?
Stay in the chair. When you get up, anything can happen. Sandwich. Nap. Seeing what the dogs are up to. Finding that thing you lost the other day. Or where the window was leaking last February during the big rain.
Getting out of the chair usually involves not writing. Except when you’re thinking.
As long as you don’t think you’re thinking when you get up out of the chair to go and see if there are any Cheez-its left.
How did your novel, “A Hole In The Ground Owned By A Liar” find you, and you it?
A few years ago, my actual real life brother bought an actual real life collapsed gold mine (not on eBay), and opened it up with his backhoe. It was awesome. Meanwhile I had a couple of characters wandering around in my head who needed a place to play out their skirmish, and then I read a news story about a man who, on the way to showing some investors the gold mine he’d purportedly discovered in Indonesia, leapt out of a helicopter and plummeted into the jungle.
That was pretty much all I needed.
What question would you most like to be asked about your writing life? (ask and answer it here!)
This question stumped me. I guess I don’t have one.
What is next for you?
I have a new book (Fifty Mice) I’ve almost finished. I have a screenplay I’ve written for Studio Canal (a French film company). I have a television pilot I’ve written for Lifetime (which means I may be a chick-lit writer now). And then I have this other idea for a novel in case Fifty Mice doesn’t work out.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.