Meet Emmy Award Winning Screenwriter and Historical Fiction Novelist Alan Brennert

September 28, 2013

In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Palisades Park.

Like my novels Moloka’i and Honolulu, Palisades Park tells the “history behind the history” of this renowned amusement park, as seen by young Toni Stopka, daughter of concessionaires, who dreams of becoming a daredevil high diver. Performers, pitchmen, the civil rights demonstrators picketing the gates, the underworld bosses meeting in secret across the street…all their stories are intertwined in a narrative that spans the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, up to the park’s closure in 1971.

What was your favorite novel or screenplay to write?

I enjoyed writing Palisades Park, but the novel I enjoyed most was Moloka’i. I got up every day excited to begin work on that book, because I was writing about a place that I loved—Hawai’i—and a little-known part of history that no one else had approached in quite this way. I did my research in the morning, wrote in the afternoon until dinnertime, and often went back to my computer in the evening if I had a problem that still had to be resolved or a if a new idea had occurred to me that I wanted to get down.

What do you see as the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay?

A screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and my job as a screenwriter is to tell the story through action, dialog, and minimal scene description. But when I’m writing a novel I’m not just the writer, I’m the director, the actors, the location scout, the set dresser, the wardrobe supervisor—I have to create the entire world of the story in words. Each medium has its own challenges and its own rewards.

Tell us about winning an Emmy for your work on the television show, L.A. Law, in 1991. Did you get more satisfaction for this achievement, for the People’s Choice Award, or for winning the Nebula Award for “Ma Qui”?

The Emmy was something I had dreamed about winning since I was a kid—literally. Growing up, my idols were writers like Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Kinoy, James Costigan—the men behind the “golden age of television” of the 1950s (most of which I didn’t experience firsthand, being a bit too young, but discovered through reruns and movies). So it was quite a rush being up on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when L.A. Law won for Best Drama Series. But I’m very proud of my Nebula Award as well, since that was a validation of, and my first award for, my literary work.

What authors or people have most influenced your writing career?

It’s an eclectic mix: authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jonathan Strong and Ray Bradbury; playwrights like Robert Anderson and Thornton Wilder; and the aforementioned Serling, Costigan, et al. I’ve gone on to write in all those media—books, a play, film—and I like to think I continue to be influenced by good work in each field. (Moloka’i, as I’ve said elsewhere, was inspired by a fine novel called Consider This, Señora by Harriet Doerr, Honolulu shows influences of the work of Arthur Golden and Lisa See, and Palisades Park owes something to Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose).

I understand that you are transforming one of your first novels, Time and Chance, into a screenplay. As you revisit this work, where do you see your biggest improvement as a writer over time? Is reworking this novel like visiting an old friend?

I had the opportunity to bring Time and Chance back into print a few years ago, and in the process I found myself doing a fairly heavy polish on it. I didn’t change anything in the story, just polished or simplified the prose where it seemed too flowery or where the syntax was a bit rococo. I performed what I like to call a “semi-colonectomy,” deleting vast numbers of unnecessary commas, semi-colons, dashes, and ellipses that I would not use when writing a novel today. It made me realize that my prose style has evolved since 1990 (when Time and Chance was published)—it’s cleaner, leaner, smoother.

Do you enjoy book tours or writing more?

I’m essentially an introvert who can be extroverted when the occasion demands (you have to be to work in Hollywood, where you collaborate daily with so many people). So although I do enjoy book tours and meeting readers, I’m at heart happiest when sitting in a room writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Alan Brennert. To learn more, visit his website (http://www.alanbrennert.com).

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Is it in the Cards?

August 15, 2009

I happened to be up in Ashland Oregon over the fourth of July weekend for a family reunion with my sister and niece. On a whim, we decided to have our Tarot cards read. Something I had never done before, but you know what they say: When in Ashland…

So I sit down before a woman with dark wavy hair. I admit skepticism settled in right beside me. I’ve never been much of a believer in psychic phenomenon.

The cards were larger than I expected, about the size of my entire hand. Could the other side of these purple rectangles tell my life’s secrets? Could the images on the reverse side really predict the future?

After choosing three cards, I turned over the first as instructed. This picture indicated change. Fair enough. I’d lost a great deal of weight lately and my daughter would soon be leaving the nest for college. Hmm. Maybe there was something to this process.

The second image took my breath away. This rectangular portend depicted a woman with a flower in her hair in a tropic setting. I have a character in my Hawaiian novel, a femme fatale, who routinely tucks a hibiscus behind her ear. And then there was the butterfly. The literal translation of one of my other characters is butterfly. And, of course, my novel is set in Maui.

Because of my strong reaction to this card, the Tarot reader indicated she was going to do something she didn’t normally do. She plucked that card from under my nose, picked up the remaining stack and shuffled them. She spread the cards out once again (probably close to a hundred cards, mind you), then instructed me to ask a question. Well, what’s the one question a writer wants to know? Dare I ask it?

“Will my book be published?” The words tumbled from my lips before I could stop myself.

Why had I asked that? Did I really want to know? Would I get the death card that would tell me not in this lifetime?

The Tarot reader inclined her head, her meaning clear. My fingers gravitated to three random cards. The woman sneaked a peek at what I’d chosen and laughed.

Why had she tipped her head back and guffawed? Oh dear. I pictured a card with the image of a court jester, smirking with a thought bubble and the words: You? Published?

My three selections were placed face down before me. I flipped the first card as instructed. The card indicated delay. A length of time would pass. Nothing would happen anytime soon. Well, that wasn’t much of a surprise. I’ve been working on this novel for over a decade. I flipped the second card and gasped.

The reason the Tarot reader had chuckled was now apparent. Out of all those cards, I’d once again found that Hawaiian card. What were the odds? Skepticism opened her wings and took flight. Perhaps there was something to this psychic process after all.

Good news came with the final card. This one held the promise of success. My hard work would eventually be rewarded.

Will my Tarot reading come true? Is the future publication of my book now pre-ordained? Only time will tell….