Q. Hello John, it's great to have you here with us for this interview. Congratulations on your ‘Best Screenplay’ award at last September's edition of the “Rome International Movie Awards” (click HERE to read the winners). First of all, why don't you introduce yourself to those of us who don't already know you?
A. I am a poet, novelist, playwright, and, now, screenwriter originally from Philadelphia where I attended Jesuit schools - Saint Joseph’s Prep and Saint Joseph’s University. For most of my adult life, I have been living in New York City and working as a technical writer.
I have a Masters Degree in Irish Literature from the Catholic University of America. For seven years I volunteered as Salon Producer for Irish American Writers and Artists Inc.
Q. Now what got you into screenwriting in the first place and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
A. I have written novels and plays for years but had never written screenplays until last year. I simply never had any screenplay ideas. Then I came up with a comical story about a fisherman who lets his local fame go to his head. At first, I thought it was an idea for a skit and then realized it would work better as a film. So, I began my first screenplay.
I talked to screenwriter friends and read a couple of books but had no formal training, really. During the pandemic I took a free online course, An Introduction to Screenwriting, from the University of East Anglia. However, I had written a complete draft of two shorts and a complete draft of "To Love, and Bear" by that point.
Q. The screenplay “To Love, and Bear” is based on your book: in a few words, what is it about?
A. "To Love, and Bear" is a teen coming-of-age drama adapted from my novel, The World. It’s about a sixteen-year-old scholar-athlete who wants to be a literary Artist, falls in love, and seeks a relationship with the beautiful blonde diver, Claire Larken. However, the Beauty, Claire, proves fickle and rejects the Artist. The protagonist’s experience teaches him about desire and suffering, and what it truly means to be a man and an Artist. He pursues a mainstream relationship with Claire only to learn deeper lessons about his role in and relationship to the world.
The title comes from a phrase used at the conclusion of Shelley’s "Prometheus Bound".
Q. Could you take us through the whole process of you writing a book, from first idea to final draft? And what differences did you find in writing a book and a screenplay?
A. First, I create the boulder and then I sculpt it. I generally write rough drafts and execute several rounds of edits and revisions on each section until I am happy with it. My first draft might be extremely rough, composed with the notion that much of it might be discarded during the editing process.
If a piece is autobiographical, then I write the first draft as close to my memory of the way an incident actually happened as possible. Then I fictionalize it as I edit and rewrite.
Often during the years of writing a novel, the work takes on a different shape than it had when first conceived. Sometimes the work and the characters tell the author what they want to be.
Q. Over the years, how do you think you have evolved as a writer?
A. I find I am more at ease with the process of drafting, editing, rewriting, and polishing a work now. My creative and technical writing experience has accustomed me to the process of getting a piece ready to be published.
Recently, I have noticed a greater tendency to be patient with the creative process so as not to push a piece into the next phase before it is ready. Rushing a work into its next phase can turn it into something formulaic or conventional.
I am able to answer questions like, “What happens next?” with, “I don’t know” and have full confidence that I will know.
Q. What can you tell us about your work prior to “To Love, and Bear”?
A. I have written three books: the novel, "The World", the short-story collection, "Dreams and Dull Realities", and my new novel, "Worlds" (published in May 2020.)
I have had five full-length and five one-act plays produced in Manhattan. My new play, "Boann and the Well of Wisdom", is scheduled to be on stage in New York in June 2021. My other full-length plays include "In the Wilderness", "Sons of Molly Maguire", and "In a Bucket of Blood". "Sons of Molly Maguire" was produced in Dublin’s Liberty Hall in May 2017.
My fiction has appeared in "The Medulla Review", "The Irish Echo", and "Danse Macabre". My poems have appeared in such journals as the North American Review, the Grey Sparrow Journal, and The Razor’s Wine.
Worlds was a finalist in the 2018 "William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition" in New Orleans and the 2002 "New Century Writers’ Awards".
My first screenplay, "Catch Anything?" won Best Script at the "Indie Short Fest" in Los Angeles in July 2020. My other short screenplay, "It Takes You by Surprise" has been a finalist in several contests in the U.S.
Q. Writers who inspire you?
A. James Joyce has been a major influence on my writing since I was a teenager. His "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" was a big influence on "The World", the novel on which "To Love, and Bear" is based. His "Ulysses" and Thomas Mann’s "Buddenbrooks" were very influential in the composition of my new novel, "Worlds", as were Dante and Chaucer.
My playwrighting has been influenced by "Brecht and Sartre", Sean O’Casey, Yeats, and Eugene O’Neill’s early experimental plays.
Q. Your favourite books? And of course, books you really deplore?
A. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Ulysses" by James Joyce are probably my two favorites. This year I reread Thomas Merton’s "Seven Story Mountain", a non-fiction coming-of-age-story, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
When I was doing research for "Worlds", I read "The Alchemist" by Caleb Carr to get a feeling for the atmosphere of 19th-century New York. The novel offered interesting information but really annoyed me with its cheap tricks to get readers to turn pages. It seemed like characters were forever rushing into the next chapter saying, "Come with me! There’s no tie to explain!".
Q. Where can people see your work?
A. You can visit my production company website (HERE). I'm on Facebook (HERE and HERE), Instagram (HERE) and Twitter (HERE). My books "The World", "Dreams and Dull Realities" and my new novel "Worlds" are available on "Amazon" (HERE, HERE and HERE).
A. Thank you! I am thrilled to have won this award in Rome. Not only did I spend a lot of time studying Latin and the history of the Eternal City in school, but I am also a great admirer of Italian directors like Fellini, De Sica, and Rossellini.
I hoped that "To Love, and Bear", as an “art-house” screenplay, would receive a warmer welcome in Rome than it might in Hollywood and I am gratified that that my hope has been fulfilled.
Although I have been writing a long time, I am only at the beginning of my screenwriting career. I hope to find a director and producer with whom to collaborate and bring my screenplays to life!