Interview with David Wisehart, screenwriter, director, producer and now novelist
David Wisehart has had a varied career, as a screenwriter, actor, director and producer, in Hollywood and in the UK. Devil’s Lair is his first novel.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT DEVIL’S LAIR?
Devil’s Lair is an epic fantasy set in Dante’s Inferno: a medieval knight leads a quest through hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil.
The story takes place in Italy, 1349, during the Black Death, when nearly half the population of Europe was wiped out in a few short years. It was an apocalyptic time, a time of enormous sorrow, and yet it birthed one of the world’s greatest comic masterpieces, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Giovanni is my main character. He’s a poet, a lover, and a scoundrel. He’s also an expert on Dante, and gets recruited against his will to join an expedition through Dante’s Inferno to steal the cup of Christ from the Devil. Nadja, an epileptic girl with the gift of prophecy, has visions of the Holy Grail and believes the plague was caused when the Devil stole the Grail. The two other main characters are: the historical William of Ockham, a philosopher-priest; and the fictional Marco da Roma, a Knight Templar with no memory of his past. Together they descend through hell, facing many dangers—including their own personal demons—to save the world from destruction.
YOU’VE HAD SOME GREAT REVIEWS. HAVE YOU ANY PLANS TO BRING OUT A PRINT EDITION?
Yes, Devil’s Lair has received some wonderful reviews. USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Forster wrote, “Devil’s Lair is by the best book I have read in years!” And Christa Polkinhorn, author of Love of a Stonemason, called the book, “Brilliant!” Both of these authors were writers I interviewed on my Kindle Author blog. After the interview, they bought my book and wrote their glowing reviews on Amazon. I’m quite pleased, of course.
I might release a print edition of Devil’s Lair through CreateSpace. No definite plans yet.
YOU HAVE A VERY INTRIGUING BACKGROUND; COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT IT? I’M PARTICULARLY INTERESTED TO LEARN HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN FILM-MAKING.
I went to film school at UCLA and ended up working in the multimedia business, producing educational CD-ROMs based on licensed characters like Snoopy and Charlie Brown. I worked for awhile with Charles Schulz before he passed away. Then I got into video games, landing a producer job at Fox Interactive, where I worked on a kid’s adventure game based on the animated movie Anastasia. I directed Meg Ryan and Hank Azaria for the game. I produced several Simpsons games, and got to direct the TV voice cast. I also produced a CD-ROM based on Titanic, and had a chance to work with James Cameron. It was fun for awhile, but the job left me with little time or energy to write my own stuff. I was pretty unhappy there at the end, and creatively unfulfilled. I eventually left Fox to write full-time. I wrote a lot of unproduced screenplays.
I wrote Valentino: a play in verse and my first novel, Devil’s Lair. This year I directed, co-produced, and acted in Valentino at the first-ever Hollywood Fringe Festival. Lately I’ve been heavily involved in acting and directing theater. I wrote the libretto for an opera, The Other Wise Man. I’m also the stage director for that. It opens in Hollywood December 5. I’m currently casting another play, Friends Like These, which I’ll be directing in December for a January run.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PUBLISH ON KINDLE?
I was getting tired of reading letters from agents who said they loved my writing but wouldn’t represent my book because they didn’t think it was commercial enough. I’d already self-published my uncommercial verse play through Lulu.com, and sold about 100 copies. I decided to publish Devil’s Lair myself on Kindle, even if it meant I’d only sell 100 copies. I exceeded that sales number in my second month.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND PRODUCED FILMS AND ARE ALSO AN ACTOR. WHICH OF THESE SKILLS DID YOU FIND OF MOST HELP WHEN YOU STARTED TO WRITE DEVIL’S LAIR?
I trained as a screenwriter, which is a very pure form of storytelling. Screenplays are structure. Plotting now comes very easily to me. Writing great characters took longer for me to learn, and for that my training as an actor helps. One thing that was difficult when making the transition from screenwriting to novel writing was point-of-view. This isn’t something a screenwriter worries much about. You are always in the camera’s point of view. In other words, the audience’s point of view. But for a novel written in limited third-person, or in first person, you are in the point of view of one character. You are in their heads. You know what they know, and only what they know. This is both liberating and limiting. It was a challenge, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. As an actor I learned to focus on my intention: what does my character want in this scene. That is also what a novelist needs to know when writing a scene from a character’s point of view. So acting definitely helps.
WHICH OF THESE PURSUITS GIVES YOU MOST PLEASURE? OR IS IT A CASE OF LOVING THE DIVERSITY?
I’m an introvert by nature, and have written stories since I was a kid. Writing is a more substantial pleasure than stage acting, which is ephemeral. But stage acting, in front of a live theater audience, is much more fun. That’s why they call it a play.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE ON THE KIND OF BOOK TO WRITE?
I grew up with a love of epic fantasy. My father read Lord of the Rings to me and my brothers when we were kids, and I’ve read those books more than a dozen times since. One of my favorite passages is the mines of Moria sequence, which is what the ancient Greeks called a katabasis, a descent into the underworld. It’s a common theme in mythology, but for me it goes back to Moria. As an adult reading Dante’s Inferno, I kept thinking back to Moria. I was reading a lot of Italian literature at the time, researching my verse play, Valentino. It was on a plane ride back from Italy, reading the prologue to Boccaccio’s Decameron, that I came up with the idea of Devil’s Lair. In his prologue Boccaccio gives a vivid account of the Black Death, which he lived through. Boccaccio was also the first Dante scholar. Elsewhere in his writings he gives an account of some townspeople watching a man walk down the street with a singed beard, and the people exclaiming that it must be Dante returned from hell. Boccaccio’s comic idea was that these people really believed in the tale of Dante’s Inferno. But what if it were true? What if the Commedia was Dante’s actual memoir? And what if Giovanni Boccaccio, Dante’s literary heir, was forced by dire circumstances to literally walk in Dante’s footsteps? I combined this idea with an idea from the Grail legends, that the loss of the Grail led to terrible plagues and famines in Camelot. Then I knew I had a story. It would be a historical fantasy about a writer, Dante’s literary heir, traveling down through Dante’s Inferno to steal back the Holy Grail and save the world from history’s greatest plague. It would be told in the style of Tolkein’s Moria scenes, with an epic quest, fantasy creatures, a reluctant hero, great personal sacrifices, and a surprising-but-satisfying conclusion.
YOU VERY GENEROUSLY INTERVIEW OTHER AUTHORS ON YOUR BLOG (INCLUDING YOURS TRULY!) WHO WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE INTERVIEWEE AND WHY?
I’ll give you three.
The first was Stacey Cochran, because his was the first interview I did on the Kindle Author blog. It set the stage. At first I didn’t think Kindle Author would be an interview blog. I imagined it would be an advice site for beginning authors, with a bit about my own writing. But within in a week of starting the blog I read a comment that Stacey posted on Jon Konrath’s blog, asking for authors with websites to help him with the blog tour of his latest book. I interviewed Stacey, and he sent a lot his readers to my Kindle Author blog. I saw some good traffic from that interview, and realized that interviewing self-published writers was a win-win. I could give them a platform to publicize their books, and they would send more readers my way. This has worked out great so far. Also, I really love interviewing. I learn so much!
The second memorable interview was with Lee Goldberg. Lee is a very successful television producer and novelist. He’s traditionally published, but he also self-publishes his backlist books on Kindle. Among other things, Lee writes mysteries based on the TV series character Monk. He gave me a very gracious interview, with lots of wonderful insights, but at the end of the interview I asked him, as I ask everyone, what advice he’d offer to a new writer who wanted to self-publish on Kindle, and he basically said, “Don’t.” Of course, most of my readers are beginning writers who are self-publishing books on Kindle. Some were upset, and took the comments personally. A few of these writers began posting in forums about what a terrible thing Lee had said in the interview. The interview became controversial. People visited my blog to find out what Lee Goldberg had really said, and I got a lot of traffic from that kerfuffle. So I remember that incident quite well. For the first several months of my blog, Lee’s interview was the most-read post on the site. To this day I’m grateful to Lee Goldberg not only for granting the interview, but for kicking the hornet’s nest.
The third memorable interview is one I did recently with M.R. Mathias, also a controversial figure online. Mathias has a unique and compelling story. He wrote his fantasy novels while serving time in maximum security prison. Though he rubs some forum readers the wrong way—he has a very in-your-face promotional style—he does have a lot of interesting things to say, and his personal story is a great example of overcoming obstacles, and personal demons, to find success. I’m really glad I had a chance to interview him, and share his personal story with a wider audience.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER INTERESTS? OR DON’T YOU HAVE TIME FOR ANY OTHERS?
I’m interested in many things, but have time for only a few. When people ask me how I can be so productive, I tell them to turn off the television. That’s my secret. I don’t own a TV, and haven’t for years. Of course, I do spend a lot of time on the Internet, but I’m also fairly productive there, as my Kindle Author blog will attest. I generally post at least once a day, and very often more than than.
I think that having various interests has allowed me to ask better questions on a wide variety of topics. The authors I interview seem to appreciate that.
WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO DO NEXT?
I’m working on a couple of books. One is a contemporary horror novel called The Highwayman. It’s based on a screenplay of mine that recently had an Oscar-winning director attached. The director has an overall deal with one of the big studios, but they passed on the project. He tried to raise independent financing, but couldn’t get the funds he thought he needed. My contract with the director expired in October, and he didn’t renew, so now the only person attached to the project is me. I’m rewriting it as horror novel. I expect to have a first draft by December 1, and to release it on Kindle before the end of the year.
My opera, The Other Wise Man, opens in December. I wrote the libretto for composer Damjan Rakonjac. He’s the music director and I’m the stage director. It’s a contemporary retelling of a classic Christmas tale. The production is turning out quite well, and I hope one day it will become a standard holiday piece for churches and smaller opera companies, as an alternative to the widely-produced Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti. I’m working on two more librettos for composer Damjan Rakonjac. One is a short, intimate opera we hope to stage for next year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. The other is full-length opera, based on a well-known literary classic.
Next I’m directing a play, Friends Like These, which was written by LA-based playwright Gregory Crafts. My production will run for three weeks in January. I’m also writing another verse play, and a rather zany farce for the stage, plus I’ve written a low-budget horror script that I’ll direct when I have the money.
Thank you, David, for a very interesting interview. Devil’s Lair is available on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Lair-ebook/dp/B003AOA4IQ
You can learn more about David’s work on his website: http://davidwisehart.com/
and has a blog: http://kindle-author.blogspot.com/
where you can read all the interviews to which he refers above.