Christopher Lawrence Menard has been writing since before I’ve known him. And I’ve known him since I was fourteen. (That’s alotta years, y’all.) I will say it out loud (screaming and jumping up and down) that he is my best friend and my writing best friend. (What’s in a writing BFF? Let me tell you here.) So you can imagine how happy and grateful I am that he has let me grill him with some pretty serious questions about his writing life. He’s not one to write and tell, folks.
Christopher continually writes stage plays (for Korda Artistic Productions) that garner sell-out crowds, the best performances of those acting on the stage (including his own performances – why, yes, he is a thespian as well). These are plays that tell stories that we can all relate to – on more than one level. Everyone who watches his shows feel his words on a core level, often times inspiring emotional reactions such as tears of joy and sadness and love. His screenplays have been filmed, resulting in nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director.
There is no doubt in my mind that one day (soon), his novels will be on the shelves of every home library, every bookstore and library, and topping the lists of ‘Best Book Ever’ for all those who read them. He’s very serious about his writing. This is one of his writing attributes that motivates me to take my own writing seriously, and get the writing done.
I asked Christopher several questions, hoping that he’d answer one of them. He answered all of them. Boy, are we ever lucky! Alas, it’s not luck, it’s love, as I always say.
Please…carve out some time and enjoy what Christopher Lawrence Menard has to say about his writing life.
Is there a difference in your writing process/head space/inspiration push when you write in different forms? For example, when you’re writing a screenplay vs. when you’re writing a stage play? If so, please describe the difference(s). If not, tell us why. And tell us about your writing process.
My writing process, my headspace and my inspiration push are all the same regardless of whether I’m writing a screenplay, a stage play, or working on a novel. When it comes to tone and vibe, I am inspired by films and books. I am able to watch or read someone’s work and know what about it really speaks to me on a creative level. When I sit down to write a screenplay, I often ask myself: “How do I want to feel when I see this movie on a screen?” and “How do I want my audience to feel?” I think back to some of the films that have really resonated with me, and ask myself what it was about it that made it ring true. Was it the cinematography, the lighting or the performances, or was there something deeper – something in the actual writing – that made the piece jump out and get inside my head. Then I think and practice ways to achieve a similar result with what I’m working on. But, honestly, I rarely know what the overall effect will be, or even what the tone of the piece is until I’m finished with the writing.
In terms of my process… it’s the same regardless of genre for me. I put everything down on the page, then worry about extracting things later. When I finish a stage play, the script is usually so long that it’d fill 3 and-a-half hours on stage. I don’t let that worry me while I’m writing the first draft. I just get it all out there and tweak it through the editing process later. One subtle difference is that when I’m writing a screenplay, I am always very away of the page count. I know that going beyond 120 pages can often be a problem, so I have – in the past – shut off the onscreen counter or even taped a piece of paper to the section of the screen that shows the page number, so I don’t become so focused on the page number that I stop telling the story the way I need to tell it and feel it first.
How does reading affect your writing? Does the book you’re reading affect your writing style?
What I’m reading has huge impacts on my writing, and the book I’m reading absolutely affects my writing style. Mostly, it comes down to the language used. When I’m working on a youth fiction novel, I use whatever reading time I have to read other youth fiction novels. Not only is it a good way to get a sense of what youth are reading, but it also gives me a solid idea of how my book ‘sounds’ and ‘feels’ in comparison. Published youth fiction writers have had their books put through the editing process to make the vocabulary fit the audience. Reading those books helps my own vocabulary – my writing voice – adjust to that audience when I sit down to write. Similarly, when I’m working on a screenplay, I tend to read the screenplays for some of my favourite films. What happens is that I’m learning while I’m writing. Often, I’ll be struggling with my own screenplay, struggling to figure out how to say something in the action in a concise way that totally eludes me. In a screenplay I’m reading, I may see examples of what I’m struggling with worked out really effectively. It helps me refocus.
Should writers be afraid to ‘want’ J.K. Rowling’s-sized readers and fame? Why or why not? What’s your ultimate publishing goal?
No, writers should not be afraid of success on the grand scale. No matter what career paths we choose, we are hard-wired to want to be the best we can be in our field. Writers like JK, Stephen King, F. Scott, George R. R. Martin, Bret Easton Ellis… that’s what they are: the best in the field doing what they do. If your voice is strong, and your plot engaging and can’t-put-down, and your passion is unwavering to write and write and write, then I think it’s completely legitimate to want the success others have found. For me, I want to be a writer, full-time. But not by receiving government grants to complete books, and finding time to write in two hour blocks after a full day at work. I want to wake in the morning and write because it’s what I do. I want to have deadlines from my publishers. I want to have launch dates and book-signings, interviews and articles. I want Scholastic to make ‘discussion’ pages for the back of my books, and for readers to be inspired by something I’ve written. I don’t want all that because I need attention or I will crumble. I want all that because I see myself as a writer and writing as my career-of-choice, and – as such – I want to be the best I possibly can be in that career. Public recognition is just a part of that.
How does what people (friends/family) tell you about your work affect your writing? For example, after one of your DRAG shows everyone tells you how amazing the writing is and that the show should be on Broadway. How do the accolades affect you? Do you believe what people say? Why or why not?
Audience reaction – whether from family and friends or complete strangers – has a definite impact on me, but only in the sense that it tells me I’ve written something that speaks to people, evokes an emotional response, and resonates. If someone says the work should be on Broadway, what that says to me is that they want to share their experience with a larger audience. This – to me – is the same as the person who reads a great book and passes it on to a friend, or buys a few copies of it to give as gifts at Christmas (something I do EVERY YEAR for those I’m closest to). What these accolades mean is that I’ve succeeded. They also reinforce – for me – that none of that ‘larger’ stuff – being on Broadway or published, etc. – will happen until I’m ready to make it happen. After all, the plays came to fruition because I wrote them, directed them and worked tirelessly to get them on stage. The experience always reminds me that a book in my hands with my name across the top will only exist once I put the same amount of effort in.