3 AM INTERVIEW
A CONVERSATION WITH
by Andrew Gallix
Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
James Schmerer, author of the new book Twisted Shadows, is a writer-producer-story consultant who has produced three prime-time television series and has been the executive story consultant on six others. Mr. Schmerer has written over 200 prime-time episodes (from The High Chaparral to MacGyver), soaps, animation and features. He teaches screenwriting at UCLA and gives screenwriting seminars around the country.
3AM: How did you get your literary career going? When did you start writing, and why?
JS: I started writing because I found I enjoyed writing. Once Iíd discovered how much I enjoyed it and could get paid for doing it, too, I went on to write television dramas and then features for the next three decades.
3AM: Is this your first novel? How do your experiences of script writing and teaching relate to your prose?
JS: Yes, this is my first novel. It was initially written for two reasons: one was that I wanted to try another discipline since Iíd been writing teleplays, soaps, animation and live action and two, I was curious to see if I could do it. So I did.
3AM: Do your fictional characters write the story for you as you go along? Or do you outline the plot first?
JS: Eons ago, when dinosaurs walked the face of the earth and I first started writing, I would outline everything before I started actually writing the material. As the years went by, the outline came to be less and less important to me. Iíve found I need to know the characters and the arena Iím putting them into along with the resolution of their problem. From that point on, I usually allow my characters to dictate where they want to go. Iíve discovered that no matter where they go, they will always come back to the basic story primarily because theyíve got nowhere else to go -- so I give them their head and just follow along recording what they say and do.
3AM: You were raised in Queens, New York -- the setting for Twisted Shadows. The background of your story is very authentic. What part did you research and what part is memory? And what part, if any, is a figment of your imagination?
JS: I do very little research for a particular story, especially in the crime arena. Perhaps thatís because, through the years, Iíve spent so much time with cops that itís become part of my memory. On the other hand, everything that one writes comes from somewhere and I believe it comes from the writerís experiences which is then adjusted within the particular story or character one is writing. If there has to be any research for accuracy, Iíve found that Iím better served by waiting until Iíve completed the project. Then I look at what I need and research just that element or those elements. Saves gobs of time and effort.
3AM: This is also a story about cops. What was the process you took to research this world? How did you get inside a cop's head?
JS: Police Officers are a singular breed: they deal with the dregs of society, day in and day out. I learned that through the years of being with them. To tell you the truth, I really donít get inside a copís head but rather I get inside the head of the character himself or herself. Giving a character a psychology, flaws and a personality means revealing and creating a new person. This is what I do, keeping in mind, that the work they do isn't who they are, just what they do.
3AM: Portions of the audience are writers interested in pursuing the crime fiction genre. Could you give them any advice about what it takes to make a story jump out and grab the reader? What, if any details should they attend to? Any tips for aspiring writers?
JS: If I knew what was going to jump out and grab a reader Iíd have nothing but bestsellers. The best I could suggest is to write a story that interests you and tell it in a way that interests you. The best tip I could pass on to any writer is for them to write. Every day. Writers write. Itís as simple as that.
3AM: What crime fiction authors do you enjoy reading?
JS: John Sandford, Christopher Newman, Lawrence Block, Robert Daley, Sue Grafton in the area of detective/crime genre.
3AM: What future plans do you have for Twisted Shadows? Is there a sequel in the works?
JS: Yes and no. I have two sequels in mind -- the second and third installments of Louís life as a detective. However, I also want to see how the first one sells and then I will decide if I want to devote my time to him or to some other character or genre.