Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meet William Norrett, Author and Director

A graduate of Regis High School in New York City and Duke University, William Norrett is the author of several plays, including The Sophisticated Rogue, The Dealer Was Showing Six, and Brendan O'Lenihan Leaves Three Daughters. He is also the writer/director of the short film collection You Know What This Song's About?. The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription is his first novel. He still lives in Los Angeles, where he runs the website SophisticatedRogue.com.

The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription is available in print and as an e-book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Autographed copies can be purchased through SophisticatedRogue.com. Follow William Norrett on Twitter at @NobleJester or on the Sophisticated Rogue Media page on Facebook.

1. In writing a mystery, how did you draw on some of the traditions/conventions of the genre, and how does your book diverge from other mystery novels?

The noir, especially the "Los Angeles Noir," is a great staple of film and literature but not because of its structure, which is somewhat formulaic. It's not the template that makes The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, or Chinatown fantastic; it's the execution of that template with an individual flavor. With The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription, I wanted to pay homage to the formula while at the same time deconstructing it. I wanted to at once follow the template and pull it apart. So I tried to write a "sarcastic noir."* Each step of the way I tried to take the typical trope of a mystery or thriller, and then twist it slightly. For example, I might say to myself, "Here's the part where the femme fatale usually appears. How can I make that different?" or "Here's a car chase. How can that be off-beat?" Often times that meant creating tension in the story but then somehow deflating it, poking a hole in it. Everything in noirs and mysteries is so, so serious that I wanted The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription to have high stakes but also wink at the drama taking place. I tend to create mountains out of molehills in my own life, so I thought a noir that appeared to be full of danger, fraught with peril, but turned out to be nothing, might make a point and be funny. In a way, I wanted the built-up danger to be exposed as false. I paid homage to noirs like Chinatown and Sunset Boulevard, among others, but hopefully in ways that were also irreverent and amusing.

(*Registered trademark on the phrase "sarcastic noir" pending.)

2. I'm guessing that length might have been one factor behind your choice to self-publish your novel as it can be hard to place longer novels with publishers. What are some other factors that made self-publishing the right choice for you?

Um, I beg your pardon, Mandy--The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription is only 450 pages, a very readable 450 pages. (smiles) Don't scare people off! The key word is readable. (crosses fingers) Actually, I didn't consider length when I decided to self-publish. Besides, when you self-publish with a print-on-demand company you pay by the page, so length is a factor regardless of the path you choose. You can't avoid the incentives to stay brief. No, the reason I decided to self-publish was, I didn't want to rely on other people to determine whether or not I was a novelist. I didn’t want to spend two years sending out query letters, in the hope that some overworked fifty-something literary agent might happen to ask for the manuscript, and then might happen to love that manuscript. I didn't want to pray that agent could convince the overworked twenty-something editorial assistant to pick my manuscript off the slush pile, didn't want to wait for that assistant to persuade his or her jaded forty-something publisher that the novel was marketable, didn't want to drive myself crazy thinking knowing that the publisher wasn't supporting the novel, wasn't promoting it, so on and so forth. There are so many legends about successful novels, classic novels, that were rejected dozens of times, just so much evidence that getting a novel published the "traditional" way is a crap-shoot. I'm not proposing The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription is a classic or anything--again, key word: readable!--but I decided I was going to control what I could control. Now it used to be, novelists could only control writing their novel. No longer. Anyone can publish. So why not? Now, the work of promoting and selling the novel is daunting, but I'm learning as I go, getting better at it, and it's been exhilarating to realize that I can do it. I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but nothing in the process has made me anything less than excited to write another novel. To me, that excitement proves I made the right decision.

3. How does your experience writing for the stage influence your fiction writing?

Well first, it influences me by reminding me, "Man, writing a play goes by a lot quicker!" Writing for the stage (or screen, for that matter), you get to churn out work with a lot more blank white space left on the page. In writing a script, blank white space is your friend. In novels, blank white space is cheating somehow... But if I'm forced to take my whining out of the equation, the biggest influence on me is in the dialogue. Obviously, there are stage directions and some description in plays, but the bulk of it is dialogue. The dialogue is where the conflict is, where the subtext and tension are, and where the pace of the piece is measured. Plays are meant to be seen, not read, but I try to take that idea of communicating as much as I can with dialogue and apply it to my prose. Even in fiction it's important to write how people talk, and as a writer anything I can do to move the story, and not hang the reader up, is the choice I need to make. Also, writing dialogue for actors to speak has given me experience in hearing things that, while I thought they worked on the page, don't work out loud. Something I find hilarious when I write it, I might hear aloud and go, "Ugh. You're a hack, Billy." Also, writing plays has helped in that, within the overall structure, there are scenes, with their own beginning and endings, their own objectives. Being able to navigate individual scenes and then link them to the overall story, see them connect on stage, helps inform how I do it with my fiction. Loosely treating each chapter as its own scene helps create the chain.

4. How do you utilize your background as a performer when you give readings of your work, and do you have some readings scheduled for 2013?

The few readings I've done so far have been a true pleasure. Obviously, it's a performance, and having acted before helps me when I read, as I can try different tones, pacing, depending on what's getting a good reaction. I have been told I need to slow down, however. But even better has been the help I've gotten. The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription is the name of a comedy group the main character of the novel is in, and is loosely based on a sketch/improv group I performed in for a number of years. So for the readings I've done, I've asked the other guys from the group to read characters from the novel. Though I have always enjoyed watching authors read from their work, the experience is generally straightforward--author stands behind a lectern, reads a chapter, and then takes questions. It can be somewhat staid. As I suspected, having my former troupe-mates read with me has really livened up the experience--almost like making it a play, somehow. It also fuels the speculation about what parts of The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription are autobiographical, which is always a fun game until it becomes incredibly awkward for us all, although none of my fellow actors have gotten upset with me--yet... I do have readings scheduled for 2013, and hope to do more. I'd love to do more. I have a standing offer: anyone who gathers a group, or book club, together and requests a reading within my travel reach can have one. Negotiations willing, I will come to anyone (I cannot promise my former troupe-mates, however, airfare being what it is...) They only have to email me to get the ball rolling.

5. What projects are you currently working on?

Two projects currently. First, a play (Blank white space! Blank white space!), actually a comic musical, that I wrote with two collaborators, provisionally titled, M.V.P., about American presidents and what it means to be a "great" man in the age of reality television. The three of us are hoping to mount the world premiere production in Los Angeles this spring. I think it's got a lot of potential--it's quite funny (hopefully my department), and the music (not my department) is tremendous. Second, I've started my next novel, based on an idea I've been kicking around forever about the afterlife and morality in today's society. Apologies for being vague, but I worry that the more I talk about what I'm going to do, the more I persuade myself I've actually done something with it. So I just need to grit my teeth and move on it. For so many years, I wondered if I had what it took to write a novel, if I could actually be my own sherpa, and climb the mountain. With The Vanilla Gigolo Prescription, I proved to myself that I could tell a story, that I could climb that mountain. I've been thrilled that it turned out even better than I expected. So with this next novel I'm hoping to climb a higher, more ambitious mountain. I'm aiming to finish the first draft by year's end--sherpa willing.

Thanks, Bill!

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