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Interview: Gregory Earls, Author of Empire of Light

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Gregory Earls graduated from Norfolk State University and the American Film Institute where he studied cinematography.  He is an award-winning director who has a large amount of films in his collection, from short films, music videos, and even a wedding video or two.

He currently resides in Venice, California and holds a job at 20th Century Fox in the Feature Post Production Department.  You can find out more by visiting his website at www.gregoryearls.com.

When did you first know you could be a writer?

I’m still struggling with that question. People tell me I’m a writer because I’ve had a novel published. I think it’s more than that. I don’t feel like one, yet. I’m looking or a sign, but I can’t really visualize what that is yet. It’s very much like ol’ Judge Potter Stewart when asked to define hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

What inspires you to write and why?

I’m a frustrated artist. If I could paint, I’d do just that and be done with it. But my drawing skills aren’t there, so writing and filmmaking are very much my artistic outlets.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

For now, I enjoy writing Urban Fantasy. I often need to escape, and I can’t afford airfare these days. Urban Fantasy gets me where I need to be.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I wanted to be free, more than anything else. Fillmmaking forces you write in a specific structure with a specific number of pages, but I was tired of having to get out of the first act within eighteen pages or less, and then trying to figure out how to get Shia Labeouf attached to the finish script. I liked the expanse of novels, and when it’s done, it’s done. If somebody wants to option it for a film someday, getting actors attached is their problem.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began?

My publisher and editor, Stacey Holderbach, was my greatest influence. A prolific and talented writer herself, she really took the time to push me in the right direction. Like a fool I fought her all the way. Thank God she stood her ground because she made me a better writer and Empire a better book. A good editor is worth their weight in gold… Learned that in high school.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years?

I really enjoy the work of James Ellroy and Walter Mosley. Woody Allen’s books and screenplays are gold. However, most of my influences are pretty eclectic, I’d say: Monty Python, Marx Brothers, old Warner Brother cartoons (Termite Terrace) and Calvin and Hobbes comic strips… It’s a melting pot of insanity.

What made you want to be a writer?

I’m still not sure I want to be a writer, per se. I hope that I can make a living doing something creative someday. The writing might lead me back to another screenplay or another short film or a feature project. I’m not placing my eggs in one basket, and I’m trying to be more fluid.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

For now, it’s just about finding the time to do it right, and being inspired within a schedule. I once worked with the great French filmmaker, Jean Pierre Jeunet. One morning I asked him how the re-write was going, and he said it’s difficult to make inspiration flow between 5pm and 6:15pm. Writing while working at 20th Century Fox full time is insane in that very same way. People who can be creative for a living are truly blessed. 

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?

Technically, I look forward to being better organized on my next novel. I’ve established a work flow, so it’ll be nice to not have to re-invent the wheel next time around. As far as life lessons, it’s hard to say right now because my world is so chaotic at the moment. I think I need to get some distance and have a debriefing moment to wrap my head around the experience.

Do you intend to make writing a career?

This kind of thing, in my opinion, is up to the readers. I have bills to pay and a new wife. If the public enjoys my work enough to help me pay those bills and help me support my new family, then it’s on. But I’m hyper aware of the reality of making it in this type of business.

Have you developed a specific writing style?

That’s a good question, and it’s one that I find difficult to wrap my head around. I wouldn’t call it a style, yet. I’m learning what I like and what I don’t like. It’s probably best to say that I’m developing an instinct. I do have an eating style. “Piggish.”

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

The hardest thing about writing screenplays is realistic dialogue. In my first job at the studio, I was forced to read a lot of screenplays, most of ‘em disgustingly bad; and in time I was able comprehend what made a voice sound fake or real. I’ve since tried to avoid these potholes like the plague!  The voice needs to be trustworthy, and I work hard at that.

Have you ever had writer’s block?

Absolutely.

If so, what do you do about it?

I usually have a couple of projects bouncing around at one time, so I just move to another script or manuscript for a little while. When I come back to my current project, I’m usually good to go. Another good reason to have a couple of irons in the fire.

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