We’re back this week with the series where I interview writers about their writing. I’ve known Mark Leiren-Young for quite a few years, now. We got introduced through our mutual friend Kennedy, and Babz Chula. Babz was in Mark’s film, The Green Chain, even through she was really sick and in chemo at the time. It’s a great film, by the way.
I got to work with Mark last year when he dusted off Never Shoot a Stampede Queen, a one-man show based on his memoirs as a young journalist in Williams Lake. It was a blast to work with him.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mark Leiren-Young.
1. I am…. Mark Leiren-Young
2. Author of… Never Shoot a Stampede Queen (book, play and soon to be a major motion picture – or at least a Canadian movie). The Green Chain (movie, book and blog). Shylock (play). Free Magic Secrets Revealed (book). I’m also a regular contributor to The Walrus, The Tyee and The Vancouver Sun.
3. The first thing I ever wrote was… written with very short words?
4. I knew I wanted to be a writer when…
It’s less that I knew so much as it’s what I did. All through elementary school I was the guy who wrote and told stories. I’ve got a few secret origin stories and I’m not sure which came first. 1. I remember writing a horror story that scared the bullies in my class. It was my elementary school riff on a Night Stalker story – the TV series that inspired The X-Files. A few years ago I pitched the idea to the editor of a Night Stalker fiction anthology. He was open to it. I didn’t write that story – my choice — because I decided to write Kolchak’s first ever Canadian adventure instead. 2. There’s a story I tell in Free Magic Secrets Revealed about a field trip that went sideways thanks to a bomb scare. While my classmates and I waited anxiously on our bus wondering if we were going to die, the girl of my dreams asked me to tell funny stories to calm everyone down. And I did.
5. My first writing success was….
Writing a story in elementary school that I was invited to read to the kids in other grades. Or either of the above. Again, I’m not sure which came first. I started writing for The Vancouver Courier when I was in high school.
6. Who were your influences?
Early influences… Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Mike Royko, Stan Lee and almost everyone who wrote a comic for DC or Marvel in the 1970s and ’80s. Since then… almost everyone I’ve worked with but especially the director John Juliani.
7. Describe your writing process.
I make notes in short-hand on whatever is handy to write on but I can’t always read my notes so I’m learning to love the “record” function on my iPhone. I’m game to write anywhere and my laptop makes that easier. I’m always spinning on a story so I’m never sure how to do time math. Do I count the walk where I work out a major plot point as “writing time?” Do I count sitting in a theatre and suddenly picturing an act break for my own script as “writing time?” When I’m doing first drafts or outlines on a major project — like a book, screenplay or stage play — I try to lock myself down somewhere (ideally somewhere at least a little off the grid) with minimal distractions.
8. What does success as a writer look like to you? Do you think you are successful?
Because writing is my day job, success is being able to make a living telling stories I want to tell — and most of the time that’s what I’m doing.
9. What does the future look like? What are you working on?
Favourite current projects… I’m writing and directing a feature documentary about the life and legacy of Moby Doll, the whale that changed the world.
I told part of the story on CBC Radio’s Ideas last year. I’m polishing a screenplay that I’m looking to direct later this year about a friend whose life was saved by a prison theatre program. I’m touring my solo comedy Greener Than Thou. Here’s a taste on YouTube. I’ve got several other film and TV projects in various stages of development hell, I’m working on two new stage plays, a pair of books and I’m planning to launch a new vlog on my website any second now.
10. Which famous writer would you like to write your biography?
Douglas Adams. But I think that could be challenge for him, being dead and all. If it has to be a living writer — Neil Gaiman. He wrote a wonderful biography of Douglas Adams. Also, if Gaiman writes it there’s a decent chance it will include epic battles with angels, demons, monsters and Gods.
You can find Mark online on his website/blog
On Twitter @leirenyoung