WRITER WEDNESDAY: Q&A with YA author DAVID LAMPSON!
Welcome to WRITER WEDNESDAY! Our Writer of the Month for March 2012 is DAVID LAMPSON, whose debut Young Adult novel THIS ONE TIME WITH JULIA (Razorbill 2012) launched this month.
Publishers Weekly wrote a wonderful review of David’s book:
“Lampson’s debut is narrated by an 18-year-old with an Asperger’s-like condition and a tenuous understanding of the world. Following the death of their parents, Joe and his brothers raised themselves. Since his fraternal twin, Alvin, abandoned him for a girl named Julia, Joe has frittered away his inheritance on poker games while cutting his GED prep class, eating nothing but McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and avoiding his pompous older brother, Marcus. When Alvin returns, he arranges to take a sailing trip with Joe, but then vanishes. Beautiful, anxious Julia soon shows up, persuading Joe to join her on a trip to Tennessee, where Joe finds work as pool boy at Julia’s family’s hotel. As Joe acquires new life skills and falls for Julia, her family’s nefarious nature comes to light–as does the truth about Alvin’s disappearance. Refreshingly, Lampson avoids making Joe’s condition the story’s focus, instead highlighting the emotional isolation of multiple individuals and creating a cinematic effect through well-conceived dialogue, mature characterizations, and a noir-tinged atmosphere. A raw and darkly poignant novel about lost souls. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)”
In addition to our Q&A with David, we are also offering a free signed book from him. Please comment on this blog or email me at paula at paulayoo dot com to be included in our special book prize contest drawing. The winner will be announced in a special blog to be posted on Wednesday March 28th! For more info on David, check out his website here: http://www.davidlampson.com/
(Please keep reading after the jump for our Q&A with David!)
Q&A with YA Author & Screenwriter DAVID LAMPSON
David Lampson was born in Northern California and grew up in Boston and Philadelphia. In 2004, David won a scriptwriting reality show called Situation: Comedy on Bravo. And in 2005, an obsessive interest in the tango fueled a five-year move to Argentina. Now David lives and writes in Los Angeles.
Q: Where is the best place for you to write your books/screenplays?
A: I used to write almost exclusively in McDonalds. They have nice big tables, and outlets, and it’s very peaceful and anonymous and non-distracting. And I didn’t feel comfortable working in coffee shops at the time because it was something a writer would do in a movie; I couldn’t take it seriously. Working in McDonalds seemed more real. Luckily I don’t have this issue anymore and I’m able to work in coffee shops just fine. But nowadays I mostly write at home. I had to stop going to McDonalds because my metabolism can no longer comfortably process the food.
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A: I probably would have been swept up in the dot com bubble and joined a startup. Or I would have become some kind of scientist, in accordance with most of my genes. It’s hard to imagine because I was never strongly tempted by any other career, though I’ve certainly had my doubts about the viability of a writing career. For a while I thought I wanted to be a tango dancer, and I guess I still do.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
A: Okay… I aced my SATs. Now that it’s been seventeen years am I allowed to brag about it?
Q: What was the most unusual job you ever had?
A: When I first got out of college I saw an ad in the newspaper looking for telephone psychics. They offered to train you, and I couldn’t resist. The operation was essentially a boiler-room, 30 pyschics wearing telephone headsets crammed into two trailers deep in the San Fernando Valley. For my “training” they sat me next to one of the psychics and let me listen for an hour to his end of the conversation. Then I got a seat, a headset, a pack of tarot cards, and I was on my own. People would call in asking for Miss Cleo, which was the pseudonym of an L.A.-born playwright posing on television at the time as a Jamaican shaman. My job was to convince the callers to settle for my psychic abilities, instead of Miss Cleo’s, and then to keep them on the phone as long as possible. It wasn’t difficult, because most people were calling because they were lonely and just wanted somebody to listen to them. I tried my best to be helpful, couching my advice in pyschic terminology whenever I could (“I’m seeing that you’ll consider going back to school.”) but I didn’t last long, because it was a sad job and a tough job to feel good about. I believe this operation has since settled fraud charges out of court. It was nothing to be proud of. Also, as an “unusual job” it was a bit of a cheat, since I consciously sought it out for being so unusual.
Q: How did you get involved in screenwriting? Did you write scripts or books first?
A: The two careers have been pretty simultaneous. After college I moved to Los Angeles with some friends from my college humor magazine. I wrote some comedy scripts, trying to get into television, but I wasn’t having any luck, and I was getting more and more interested in fiction. So I gave up on TV and started writing my first novel instead.
A few years later a friend of mine submitted one of those early scripts (we had written it together) to a reality show on Bravo called Situation: Comedy. They had a big script competition, and then the two finalists got to produce their show for NBC, while being filmed and interviewed constantly about what they were doing. My friend and I ended up winning this show. That’s how I got started in TV. Since then I’ve tried to balance the two careers as best I can. Most novelists have a second job of some kind, and TV writing works for me because there are long periods of inactivity, which give me time to work on my own projects, and I’m lucky to have an excellent writing partner.
Q: Do you find any differences and/or similarities between how you write screenplays versus novels? What do you get out of each genre?
A: The main difference for me is that I write scripts with a partner, which makes the process a lot less lonely, and usually more fun, and sometimes easier. The downside with a script is that you have less personal control, since so many other people are involved. At the same time, collaboration can be stimulating, and the process of filming a script is incredibly exciting.
As for technical differences, screenplays have to be a lot tighter than novels, at least in terms of story. The plot has to move on every page, almost in every line. It’s satisfying to solve a script, but it’s a bit more like putting together a puzzle. All the pieces have to fit. Fiction gives you a bit more freedom to explore effects that aren’t necessarily directly servicing the story. And with a novel, the form is wide open. You don’t need to worry about acts, or production costs, or length. You can go into people’s heads. You can tell longer, stranger, and more complicated stories. Characters can change more. You can do anything you want.
Q: Is Joe anything like you in real life? How do you relate to your book’s main characters (Joe, Julia, his brother Alvin)?
A: Yes, I do feel some kinship with Joe. We both tend to miss important things that are going on right in front of our noses. I’m not quite as out-of-it as he is, but I often feel that I don’t understand my life very well while it’s happening. Later on it’s easier to put things together: why a relationship worked or didn’t work, why a friendship dissolved, why some project fell apart, why a team came together, etc. In retrospect so much of life seems obvious and inevitable, but it’s very difficult to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it. I share Joe’s sense that if he could just pay a little more attention, and think a little harder, then life wouldn’t toss him around so much, and he wouldn’t be so confused all the time.
With Alvin? Hmm. We both struggle with authority. We’re both a little restless. We both probably like to hear ourselves talk a bit too much.
Q: What drew you to YA novels? What were you like as a teenager?
A: I can’t claim that I specifically set out to write a YA novel. The story I wanted to tell just happened to fit the requirements: that most of the main characters be under nineteen. (Joe was actually older in earlier drafts, but I realized he works better as a younger character.) Beyond this, I tried not to think too much about catering to the YA readership, because when I was an under-nineteen reader (I’d describe my teenage self as a fairly nerdy jock) I didn’t like an author talking down to me, or trying hopelessly to speak the lingo of my generation. Now that I think about it, my taste at the time was better than it is now, and I probably read more, and I don’t think I’ve gotten any smarter, so I try to keep all this mind when I write for YA readers.
Q: What inspired the idea for your novel? How long did it take to write? Any fun details about the road to your first book’s publication?
A: The style of This One Time with Julia was partly a personal reaction to my first (unpublished) novel, which I thought had come out too fancy, a little overwrought. I felt that the narrator (me) was trying to hard to be articulate all the time. I thought if I wrote a book where the narrator was inarticulate, and slow, and not even terrible perceptive, then it might force me to explore some new effects. I messed around a lot until I finally wrote a line (“I felt like playing, but I didn’t have a ball.”) that struck me as a character I could see and hear clearly. Those were Joe’s first words and they actually survived in the book, in the last chapter.
In Joe I also wanted to explore a character who has not taken responsibility for his own life, choosing instead to let somebody else (Alvin) make all his major decisions for him. I think we have all done this in some way, at one time or another. In many ways, this story is about Joe discovering the cost to this way of living, and eventually achieving some degree of independence.
I spent about two years writing the book. I didn’t find a publisher until almost five years later. I have an incredibly persistent agent who simply never gave up on it. This is very unusual, and I consider myself extremely lucky.
Q: If you could give one piece of writing advice for aspiring YA novelists, what would it be? (Also, for aspiring screenwriters?)
A: My advice to any young writer is: write one thousand words a day, no exceptions. It’s okay to write more, but never less. They don’t have to perfect, or ever coherent, but there must be at least a thousand of them. Aside from this quota, try not to be too hard on yourself. Keep this routine for a few years and things will start to happen. There are obviously other important things but I think this is the most important.
Thanks David for the Q&A! For more info, check out his website here: http://www.davidlampson.com/
CONTEST REMINDER: Please remember to comment on this blog or email me at paula at paulayoo dot com in order to be included in our special contest drawing where a winner will be chosen at random to receive a personally autographed book of THIS ONE TIME WITH JULIA from David!
The winner will be announced in a special blog on Wednesday March 28th.
Until the next blog, as always, HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!