FictionAddiction.Net – Vivian Schilling Interview
- You have successfully made the jump from screenwriting to writing novels. How did you come to the decision to make that leap?
I was heavily into pre-production on a film which I was producing, writing and playing the lead. A few days before we were scheduled to leave for location, the money fell through and the film was shut down. After months of preparation, this was a very discouraging and painful blow for me. A feature film can be a very difficult endeavor to launch, one dependent upon so many factors. The loss of time and energy left me feeling powerless and as if my career were in the hands of others. I had recently completed the screenplay, Sacred Prey, and began to mentally prepare myself to shop the project. But I just couldn’t get excited about putting my work out there, struggling to get it funded and then hoping the finished film even remotely resembled the story I had written. I needed a break from the film business. I needed to find a way of telling my stories, one that was within my own control. This is when I decided to take my existing screenplay and adapt it into my first novel. I had a lot of people tell me that screenwriters couldn’t write novels. That I should stick to what I knew. But when I undertook the first chapter, a very new and exciting world opened up to me. For the first time in years I felt control over my destiny. I could do my craft and not depend on others to see it through. At the end of the process I had a completed piece of work, not a screenplay waiting to be produced. I had told the story exactly as I wanted it told and without compromise. There’s an unfortunate prejudice on both sides of the entertainment/publishing fence. Some screenwriters and novelists scale that fence, others don’t. I was lucky enough to be able to work in both fields.
- Of your various endeavors – acting, screenwriting, writing novels–which has given you the most pleasure?
I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun making films. I love going to other countries and becoming absorbed by the location and by my characters. I love walking, talking, and dressing in the life of another. I love the rush of adrenaline when the director calls “action,” and the satisfaction of a film in the can. Still, my greatest sense of pleasure has come from writing novels. Creating a world full of characters, one that my readers enter and bring to life through their own imaginations is deeply rewarding.
- You’ve portrayed a variety of characters as an actress and written about a variety of characters as an author and screenwriter. How has acting helped you create realistic characters in your writing?
Through acting, I learned to dissect characters and to find each one’s unique perspective and motivation. I learned to listen to the voice of truth within myself, the one that tells me if I’m being faithful to my character. In writing, I allow my characters their voice and even though it is not always easy to listen to, I respect it. If a character refuses to do something within my story, I have to back up, take stock and find the reasons the character is exerting opposition. Had I not learned this exploratory process through acting, I doubt my characters would have dimension and truth. I doubt I would have had the ability to step inside each of their shoes and build honest worlds around them.
- Do you find it difficult to juggle your careers?
In the past, I’ve found it very difficult. In order to create, I have to have complete absorption. My work consumes me, wielding its way into every aspect of my life. It’s always very difficult to break from one project and do another. I finally had to come to a decision, to give one career priority over the other. Once I committed to establishing myself as a novelist first and foremost, I no longer felt the need to juggle. I still take meetings for my screenplays, I still consider all offers given, but I now weigh them against the time they would take from my primary focus—to establish myself as a literary voice.
- Have you found working within the world of publishing a daunting task?
After working within the entertainment business for so long, especially as a screenwriter, I find the literary world a refreshing change. While both can be daunting at times, the publishing business is much less so. The publishing business has a tremendous respect for writers, whereas writers are very expendable within the film business. This attitude carries itself into every aspect of the creative process. To walk into a room full of studio executives, all with varying ideas about what a story should be, all with the notion that you are replaceable, is about as daunting as it gets for a writer. Still, as comfortable as I am in the publishing realm, there are intimidating aspects. Unlike film where you have an entire team of artists listed in the credit block, a book usually has only one. The author is solely responsible for its content. If something doesn’t work, it is on the author’s shoulders. A novel is also very personal, spoken from the author’s thoughts. In these ways, the author is very exposed. For these very same reasons, however, it is a very exhilarating and rewarding profession. In the end, if there’s even one reader out there you connect with, it makes the risk and exposure worthwhile.
- Both Sacred Prey and Quietus show that you have a commanding hold on the suspense genre. Have you ever considered delving into other areas?
I certainly hope that I have a well-rounded career in which I explore other areas of fiction, but for the time being, my focus as a novelist will remain on suspense.
- Your novels have such intense stories. What was your inspiration behind them?
Sacred Prey was inspired by my fascination with those chained within their own limited perspectives. As a child, growing up in a family struggling to survive, I saw those around me judged by what sort of clothes they were wearing. I witnessed the innocent lives of those I loved destroyed by prejudice and bigotry. The main character of Sacred Prey, Adam Claiborne, is a man ruled by his own slanted perceptions … In his mind, his murderous revenge upon a young couple is justified by his social standing and wealth. He actually views himself as the victim defrauded by the young couple’s inability to repay his loan. Having our own unique perspectives keeps the world interesting, yet it also keeps the world at odds. Nine times out of ten, given the perspective of our opponents, we will come to see and understand their position. The line between good and evil is never as delineated as we would like to believe. The truth is never the same for two people. Adam Claiborne struggles intensely with the gray line between good and evil, truth and lie. He begins as my antagonist and ends as my protagonist. It was a difficult character arch to make, but accomplished solely through giving him a new perspective … that of his own hapless victim.
Quietus examines many of the questions concerning death I wanted to ask. After narrowly escaping death when I was eighteen, it left me with a newfound respect for mortality. With the subsequent loss of several loved ones, death became my biggest adversary, a nemesis I struggled desperately to understand and to conceptualize. I often doubted my own survival and resented the deaths of those I could not save. I have a deep love of suspense, of the supernatural, the ghostly. Even as a child I was inspired by otherworldly themes. When considering the subject of my second novel, I felt there no better nemesis than the one that had haunted me for years. I gave death a face and through the eyes of my main character was given the freedom to explore my deepest darkest feelings on the vast subject.
- What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment? Is it based on the recognition the work received or on the satisfaction you gained from it personally?
By far, Quietus has been my most difficult accomplishment and therefore my most satisfying victory. It was a very formidable and personal story for me to write. It took years and a tremendous amount of soul-searching. There were times when I doubted its completion. In the end, I finished the novel and I am the better person for it. While recognition from others can make or break an artist’s success, I think it is very dangerous to base one’s sense of accomplishment on the opinion and whim of others. Not everyone will like what you’re saying and not everyone will relate to it. Ultimately, you have to rely on your own desires and set your goals accordingly.
- What can you tell your fans about your next project?
As for my next novel, I’m highly superstitious and fear that if I talk about it I’ll jinx it. I will say that it’s a period piece and I have newfound respect for technology after completing the research.
- Is there any advice you can give to aspiring writers to help them in their journey?
Write what inspires you, not what you think others want to read. Stick by your vision, research your material and find inspiration within yourself. Be open to the opinion of others, but take no single opinion as gospel. The gospel should come from within your own heart and vision.