Author Interview with Scott Burn
Me: How did it feel when you finished your debut novel, The Enemy Within?
The idea of finished is something that’s hard to get my head around. I remember about a year into the process I thought it was done. I showed it to my literary agent who thought it was great – and now it was time to roll up our sleeves and really get to work. I think it was another year before I was finally ready to put the pen down. But months later, I still sometimes find myself thinking about the story, about a character I might have added, about a moment that the lead character might experience. So I think it’s one of those things like a great relationship in the past that always keeps a tiny hold in your head even long after you’ve moved on to other things. That said, when I finally did stop working on it, it felt amazing and the story was what I had always wanted it to be.
Me: What led you to writing comics?
I’m a screenwriter first and foremost, and while I had always enjoyed the comic world, I had never looked to break into it. But the opportunity to do so pretty much fell in my lap. Film producers that had sold a project of mine came to me because they were working with a comic book company developing a new sci-fi project called AGON. They were looking for a screenwriter to shape the idea and frame it in a way that it could be reverse engineered into a feature film. The comic book company let me run with my approach and we did a 5 book mini-series. Hopefully one day the movie gods smile on it and the story finds its way to the screen.
Me: Can you share with us, readers, what your science fiction comic series Agon, is about?
AGON is story about what happens when an alien herald comes down to earth and tells us that we’ve reached a stage of enlightenment that has impressed their hierarchy of advanced civilizations. We’re invited to participate in their next series of games. But what they’re impressed by is not our technological or spiritual enlightenment, but our propensity for mass violence. The competition requires each emerging civilization to send 10 of their greatest warriors. The winning planet is gifted incredible rewards. The losers’ are wiped out. Our lead in the story isn’t a warrior, but is among them trying to discover a way to prevent the imminent destruction about to take place.
Me: What is it like going from comic book writing to writing screenplays?
I really enjoyed my experience in the comic book world. It’s a different way of thinking, where you literally have to map out frame by frame what your story is going to be. And it’s also a remarkably efficient form of writing where you have to find ways to express the story as minimally as possible while still maintaining the greatest impact. It’s a challenging adjustment and the writers who do it well are really gifted at that. Once I got my head around thinking that way, the stories came together well. Screenplay writing has certain similarities in that you want to enter each scene as late as possible and leave as early as you can so the story has a brisk pace. And while I don’t picture the way every single scene will look, I do like to have the way the basic frame will work and imagine it playing out in my head. So the comic book way of thinking helps to string those series of images together.
Me: Can you share with us, readers, some of the screenplay titles that you have done?
The interesting thing about Hollywood is you can make a living as a writer even if your projects haven’t yet been made. I have several projects in development at different studios. Hopefully one day one or all of them will wind their way through the maze into production. One of them is called COUNTDOWN – it’s about a group of astronauts who land on a distant planet and find their own dead bodies. The script is based on an old Richard Matheson short story called DEATH SHIP. Another is called Arena, about a group of Navy Seals about to die in a battle who suddenly find themselves transported to an arena where there are warriors from all different time periods. They have to figure out who brought them there and why while trying to escape. Another is called ORIGIN. It’s about what happens when a primordial black hole begins disrupting the time/space continuum around earth and the team that has to go up and find a way to destroy it.
Me: Which would you say is more difficult to do, comic books, screenplays or writing a novel?
I don’t think any of them are easy. And on different days each of them would win when I’m hitting my head against the wall on a given story. But I do tend to find that novel writing takes a certain kind of endurance I wasn’t expecting when I first set off on the journey. It’s exhausting, and if you think you can sprint through it, you find yourself spent long before you reach the finish line. It really is much more like marathon running and I had to train myself to think that way. In each of them you want there to be little treasure gems on every page that continue to pull the reader in, but never distract from the story. I found creating that balance most challenging in the novel world, but it’s also one of the reasons I’m such a proponent of rewriting. You work at a scene or chapter in a story over and over and keep finding new elements to make it better. I tend to have a greater sense of clarity about how to do that in the screenwriting world a little quicker than in the novel arena – which I found was much more about exploration and wandering down the wrong corridors until I found the right one.
Me: Do you enjoy writing comics or screenplays more?
The best thing about the comic book world was that within weeks of writing the final draft I was seeing art work connected to it. It was a pretty awesome feeling to see the words brought to life. But I tend to enjoy screenwriting more just because movies have been woven into my DNA since I was little. I don’t think there’s any better feeling than sitting in a theater and being blown away by a movie. It’s why I became a writer to begin with.
Me: Science fiction fantasy is a tough genre to write. What led you to writing a novel for the young adult category?
I had been wanting to do a story about teenage alienation for some time, and to stretch my wings on novel. One day I came across an interesting story about how NASA knows precisely how many satellites are orbiting earth at every moment of the day. I thought what would happen if we found one more than there should be. The outline for the story THE ENEMY WITHIN came together pretty quickly from there. I was familiar with some of the YA sci-fi novels out there and didn’t want mine to feel like a soap opera or a love triangle, but much more about what it’s really like to be teenagers who have always been on the outside looking in for different reasons. And I think that’s what’s led to people responding to it so well.
Me: What are your future works, if any, that you can share with us?
I’ve been working on the feature side about a story of convergence between the world of science and faith – how to the two are woven together in ways most people wouldn’t imagine. And I’ve been working on another novel whenever there’s time about a town that makes a Faustian deal, and the price they pay when they break it. Creepy fun.
Me: Using three words, how would you describe your writing style?
Pensive, playful, unexpected.
Me: Out of curiosity, how did you go from being a lawyer to a full-time writing career?
I had always wanted to write when I was young. I loved movies and novels and pretty much consumed my life with both. I started writing short stories. Most were awful, but some were just mediocre – I didn’t know about rewriting in those days. In college I started a literary journal and in law school had a secret underground newspaper. But being a lawyer seemed like a safer bet. And it was. While I never loved it, the work was perfectly fine. But I knew that I never would wake up and love it – eventually that feeling became too strong. I wrote a indie feature that got optioned for a few bucks. When that happened, I decided to take up writing full time. And fortunately I’m able to make a living at it.
Me: Inside the, The Enemy Within, which characters did you enjoy creating the most?
He’s a satellite character, but I really enjoyed a character named Kitamura, an attache to a Colonel. Although the spotlight isn’t on him, he has a wry sophistication and rare moments of humor that really came together in my head very quickly. His voice continually wanted to be heard and I found myself trying to find other ways to explore his character because he was so interesting (to me).
Me: As a professional writer, would advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The most important thing is make sure you have something to keep you going financially through the long journey. I knew more than a few writers who wanted to do it full time in Hollywood, went into debt and paid a really steep price. As much as time is important, I’ve found when you’re focused you don’t need many hours a day in a coffee shop.You can accomplish an incredible amount of work in 2 hours a day. But it’s really important you find a way to set those 2 hours aside, ideally at the same time each day. You need to train yourself that that’s writing time. Not writing and email time, not web surf and writing time, just writing. And whether the pages are good or bad, keep going. Don’t get caught up in the rewriting process until you’ve finished the draft, otherwise, you may never finish.
Me: When you write, what are your first thoughts when engaging a new project?
I don’t necessarily think this is the best way to do it, but for most of the projects I write, it all begins with a What if question. What if X happened or what if Y happened. From there I start to build out characters that might be the ones dealing with it. The first draft choices are usually obvious and terrible, but the more I chisel away at it, the world slowly comes together.
Me: Where can readers find you and your work online?
My website is: scottburn.xyz
THE ENEMY WITHIN is my first novel. They can also find my comic book AGON at some comic book shops. Unless they work in development, they probably won’t get to know my screenwriting until something gets made. I’m thinking about writing a single for Amazon at some point, but I’m not quite sure when that will be. Hopefully sooner than later. I have a What if percolating…