Interview with Imaginative & Badass Screenwriter Cara E. Anderson

Cara has worked in the film industry for over 20 years in a variety of areas. She loves to travel and has visited and lived in many wonderful places and currently calls Vancouver, British Columbia home. She loves to write, think about parallel dimensions and the existence of black holes, and watch squirrels (not in any particular order).

Cara E. Anderson
Cara E. Anderson

When did you know that you wanted to be a screenwriter? How did you start?

While I have been writing stories and skits since I was 7 or 8, I think I really began to play around with the idea of making movies when I was about 14. I pretty much always had a video camera in my hand for the first three years of high school and then I worked in the theatre through the last two years of high school and well into my 20’s.

On my first day of film school back in 1993, everyone in class was asked to stand, introduce themselves and talk a little bit about what they were hoping to achieve. After listening to the 31 other students declare that they were going to be directors, I stood and, without thinking, said, “I’m going to be a screenwriter”.

I guess you could say that I started by writing a lot of crap and taking a lot of classes. Though I am still writing a lot of crap and taking classes, I have more moments of “hey… this is pretty good”.

What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?

My real love is science fiction but I also recently discovered a new passion for animation. I am inspired by the idea that there is more here to the world than we can see, grasp or even conceive of as a human being. I guess that really applies to both genres; though one is a more serious exploration for adults and the other appeals to my more whimsical nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about a few of your screenplays?

I am obsessed with time and quantum physics. Many of my projects have this is an underlying theme. But I’ve also written a couple of dramas. About 10 years ago, a woman paid me a little money to write the screenplay based on her horrific childhood. That ended up being one of the worst writing experiences of my life. When you sit down to write something you have to live with the story until it’s done… and for a year I had to shoulder this heinous tragedy. Let’s just say that I’m done with writing real life tragedy now.

On the flip side, Squirrel U, my animated feature, is about the secret world of genius squirrels attending their own university on and around the human university, Cornell.

THIS SOUNDS AMAZING! I NEED TO SEE THIS MADE NOW!

What inspires your ideas? How do you come up with them?

Many of my projects are inspired by dreams and meditations. Squirrel U is the one exception. That idea came to me when I was visiting Cornell University and saw a squirrel that appeared to be studying the world around him, much like the human students on the campus. I began to imagine what this little squirrel would be like if he were actually attending university… how he would look wearing a scarf and backpack. That idea stuck with me for 12 years before I started writing the story.  I don’t even know that I would have started writing the story if it weren’t for the two squirrels that got stuck in my chimney for two years in a row during the Academy Awards. I like to think the Universe was trying to tell me something.

Hahaha this is magical.

What do you find most challenging when writing?

Writing characters. I am really, really good with structure and because of that I write for plot. I often have to go back after the first few drafts and just do passes for each of the characters.

What is the process of trying to get your screenplay made into a film?

There are many different ways to get your work made into a film… and, after 21 years of working in the film industry, I haven’t yet succeeded at any of them. Yet. I really believe that there is no “one way” or process to make something happen. Everyone’s story of success is unique and often seems lucky to others. We all manifest things in our own time. For now, I am continuing to take classes and enter contests and write and write and write. When I feel my screenplays are good enough, I will send out query letters and try to get an agent. For now, the process is really just about being a better writer. There is no rush.

All writers are readers so who are some of your favorite authors and why?

I was blown away by Ernest Cline’s novel (and soon to be movie) “Ready Player One”. Though I almost never do this, I’ve already read his novel twice and listened to the audio book a few times. Genius. It likely won’t come as any surprise to you, but I also love to read screenplays – my favorite so far is probably, “Groundhog Day” by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis. “Source Code” by Ben Ripley was a fantastic read.   I’m also a fan of the Scaredy Squirrel books by Melanie Watt. Go figure.

What about your favorite films?

My first love was, and always will be, “Somewhere in Time” by the late Richard Matheson. I watched the film for the first time when I was 9, sick and stuck at home. Though I wouldn’t consider the book, screenplay (both written by Matheson) or film brilliant pieces of literary fiction or cinema, the philosophy that he explored in his story shaped me and my perception of life in many ways.

“Contact” is another favorite film (the book is also amazing). Christopher Nolan’s films, “Inception” and “Interstellar” are both brilliant and each of them has inspired me to be a better writer and to think more deeply about the types of stories that I want to tell. And I’m a huge fan of the muppets.

What are you working on now? Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?

In addition to rewriting Squirrel U, I am working on a feature about a demon that is possessed by light and kicked out of hell. I’m also co-writing my second animation feature with another fabulously talented writer, Kristel Taylor. Kristel and I met taking an online class from Screenwriting U (an absolutely AMAZING program, by the way).

I almost always outline like crazy before I ever start writing the script. I’m trying something new this time with my demon project – I’ve got a pretty detailed outline of the first act and a very rough outline of the second and third acts. Because this project is more about character than I usually write, I’m trying to let my main character figure out what to do next. It hasn’t been an easy journey so far. I miss my outlines.

What does a typical writing day look like for you/what is your process?

My typical writing day is often squeezed into fifteen minute increments or moments during my regular work day in the special effects department. I also try to write for a few solid hours at least once every weekend and then almost every day while I am not at work in FX. My process starts off by asking myself a series of questions. If I have a vague idea of what I want to write about, I start by asking, who is the best person to tell this story? And then I ask, when does this tory take place, where….etc. And then I write the logline (a one or two sentence synopsis of your entire idea). I test out the logline on other people until I know for certain that the story has potential. And then I go back to asking myself more questions. Eventually those questions turn into minute details and before you know it, I have a basic summary. I don’t like to write in order because I am not sure how I will feel or where my head will be on any given day.

What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey so far?

Perhaps the single most important lesson for me is that it is better to write crap and keep moving forward until a draft is finished than it is to keep rewriting the same scene over and over and never move forward. Drafts are inevitable. So I push myself to keep going. In an ideal situation I do not look back until I get to the end. And then I do a number of passes – starting with the structure and then for each character, etc.

What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters? 

Screenwriting requires a different way of utilizing language. You have to be efficient and clever about how you express your idea, tone or concept. My first piece of advice is to read a lot of screenplays. Get comfortable with the notion of using few words and a great deal of subtext.

Join a writing group. Share your work.  Learn how to take feedback. And then just keep writing. No matter what. It doesn’t matter if your writing is terrible when you start because, like everything, practice makes us better.

This was an insightful and interesting look at a storytelling and writing! Thank you so much!

Where can people find you online?

Twitter:          https://twitter.com/20owlsinatree  

Interview with Hilarious Urban Fantasy Author Julie Hutchings

Julie’s a mythology twisting, pizza hoarding karate kicker who left her ten year panty peddling career to devote all her time to writing. Her debut novel, Running Home, and the sequel, Running Away are published through Books of the Dead Press. The Harpy is coming in 2016 through REUTS Publications! Julie revels in all things Buffy, has a sick need for exotic reptiles, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband, two magnificent boys, three lizards and one Small Mexican Dog.

Julie Hutchings
Julie Hutchings

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you start?

I was in fifth grade and had to write a story about explorers and my teacher was so impressed that he pulled me aside and told me I had real talent. It was the first time I had ever been told that. And I never stopped writing after.

What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?

It’s primarily urban fantasy? I guess? I just write what comes to me. The only thing I HAVEN’T written is anything that’s real. All fiction, twisted mythology, horror, sci fi, an urban fantasy erotica that may never see shelves. Lately I am all up in the YA business. I love taking ordinary things and infusing them with the extraordinary. Regular worlds with something and someone extra. Something unbelievable in the believable.

Can you tell us a little bit about your books?

The two available right now are RUNNING HOME and RUNNING AWAY, Japanese mythology-infused vampires and a woman who knows she was never meant for this world. THE HARPY will be out from REUTS Publications in early autumn tentatively. It’s the story of an abused runaway punk rocker, given the powers of the ancient harpies of Greek mythology to rid her world of abusive men. I call the main character, Charity, the anti-Batman. She does terrible things for all the right reasons. A book I’m querying now is THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, a YA dark fantasy with the feeling of The Craft and Romeo and Juliet and I really love it, I have to say.

What inspires your ideas? How do you come up with them?

Jeez, everything inspires my ideas. RUNNING HOME was very much inspired by TWILIGHT. Yeah, I said it! That book intrigued me in that it was one of the freshest instances of ordinary infused with the extraordinary I had seen in a long time, and it was a vampire story that I had never seen before. It made me want to write a different kind of vampire book myself, one with more adult themes, one that only I could write. My love of Japanese culture and the dark poetry of immortality is laced throughout those books. THE HARPY just started as one line that I liked and it somehow evolved into this character that I couldn’t ignore. THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS was inspired by a picture in a magazine of six girls side by side, all different but all with the same look in their eyes, as if they shared a terrible secret that nobody could ever guess. That book I said may never see the light of day, called THE ANIMAL, I wrote by sitting down and saying, “I have got to write something, one line, to get myself out of this slump.” Suddenly I had this guy with an awesome backstory, OCD, and a connection to a defiled Egyptian fertility god that created something I never saw coming. I have no idea where I get this stuff.

Running Home - Cover

Did you decide right away that you wanted to go the traditional route and get an agent?

It was the original plan for RUNNING HOME, yes. Everybody wants the dream of the book tour, the hardcovers on all the shelves of the non-existent book stores, the fans that will read anything they write. But I always had a plan B, and a plan C, and I knew my books would get out one way or another. I knew I could affect people with them. So when I did get an agent with THE HARPY, and it didn’t work out, I wasn’t heartbroken—it was one path that I chose not to follow after a while. I always knew I could turn around. With this book I’m querying now, THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, it seems the right path for this book. But if it doesn’t lead where I think, I have a killer plan B for it. Not to mention a sequel and a prequel half-written for it. So an agent is my plan A, but it’s only one plan. My plan is to see my books published on my terms in the way I think will get to my readers in the purest form.

THIS MAKES ME VERY HAPPY TO HEAR!

How have you found the querying process this time around?

More successful, but not yet successful. I’ve been super pleased to have my dream agent request the full of the book and a few other amazing agents as well. None of them picked it up, which hurt for a bit, but still is pretty cool, if you ask me. So much better than the other times I’ve queried. And I’ve gotten great feedback, which only helped me make it a better book. So the fight continues, but it’s one I feel I’ve already won. I have a killer book and it’s coming out one way or another.

What are your thoughts about hybrid and self-publishing? Is it anything you’d be interested in pursuing in the future?

I think we’re wildly lucky in that we have no idea what the future of publishing holds. It’s evolving, and with that some things fall off and other things grow in their place. We’re all in this together, all forging paths, and there is no “right” one. For me, the point has always been to get my books out. I have tiers of how to do that. Hybrid and self-publishing are never out of my range, and every book can take a different path. Look at Chuck Wendig, who does all of the above. Look at how now he’s writing comics, and he did screenplays, and self-pubbed and went agent-ways, and the one thing he’ll always do is get his books out. That’s what’s important. Do what’s right for the book.

All writers are readers so who are some of your favorite authors and why?

OH, I KNOW THIS ONE. Simon R. Green is my fave. He creates some of the most unique characters, such vivid worlds, dark and dirty but with this glimmer of hope and curiosity. I love his Nightside series so much it hurts. Maggie Stiefvater, particularly the SHIVER series. The poetry in every paragraph, coupled with such complex characters—I just adore her. Not to mention, HER. She’s the coolest person on Twitter probably. Catherynne Valente, author of the Fairyland series, too. She gave me one of the most memorable and powerful characters ever—September. She made this gorgeous world filled with stunning characters and the most powerful of all of them is a little girl who visits there. There are some books I can never get enough of, either: 1984, I am OBSESSED with. THE HUNGER GAMES. THE FALL by Bethany Griffin. SLASHER GIRLS AND MONSTER BOYS, the best anthology ever.

What are you working on now? Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?

I’m not writing as steadily as I desperately want to be right now, due to LIFE, but the sequel to THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS is halfway done, and the prequel is not far behind. Yeah, I’m writing them both at once. I’m also actively working on novelizing a short story series I did, INSCRIPTION, a YA horror, and I’m really pleased with where it’s going. I pants it. I try to outline, but it just is fruitless until after the first draft for me. I have to organically tell myself the story, let it go where it wants and then go back and give it clean lines.

What does a typical writing day look like for you/what is your process?

Hahaha well, my IDEAL process is what I call the Thousand Word a Day Diet. Wake up at 5, get my 1000 words in, and if I fall behind that document stays open all day—a line here, a line there. This is my favorite way to write. But with two genius kids, the amount of involvement I have in their school, my editing schedule for clients, and the emotional stuff I have been through and my family has been through, I write whenever I damn can and don’t destroy myself over it.

If one of your novels was made into a movie, which would you choose and what actors would you cast to play the three main roles?

OH FUN. I see all my books in movie version in my head, but casting RUNNING HOME would look like this: Ellie—Kat Dennings. Nicholas—Robert Downey Jr. Roman—Leo DiCaprio. Kat—Isla Fischer. Lynch—Jeffrey Donovan. (Nooooo, I haven’t put any thought into this at all.) OH, WHAT’S THAT? YOU WANT ME TO CAST THE HARPY OH OKAY IF YOU INSIST. Charity—Taylor Momsen. Robbie—Avan Jorgia. Jen—Drew Barrymore. Evan—Dylan McDermott. (Not the guy you’re thinking of, the other guy. The guy from American Horror Story.)

What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey so far?

That there is no way to art wrong. To trust myself.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers about writing? What about the process of trying to get published?

Be a good friend to yourself. Don’t confuse having high standards with self-destructiveness. Be proud of your work, take your own advice and forge your own path. There isn’t always something wrong—those rejections are the stones under your feet in a path you can pave yourself. Trust that you know where you’re going, even if you only have a vague idea.

Amazing advice and insight! Anything else you would like to add or talk about?

Oh, I do all the talking ever on Twitter.

Thank you so much! Where can people find out more about you and your books?

How to connect with Julie:

On Twitter constantly https://twitter.com/HutchingsJulie
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JulieHutchingsAuthor?ref=hl
email: undeadduo@hotmail.com
Blog: http://deadlyeverafter.com/
Blog’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/deadlyeverafterblog
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JulieHutchingsAuthor?ref=hl
Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/juliehutchings
or if you prefer, RUNNING HOME: http://www.amazon.com/Running-Home-ebook/dp/B00EEG42IM/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1376047602&sr=8-9&keywords=julie+hutchings