Freestone Interview Excerpt
“Desert Falcon A Legend”
What made you choose a novella length book?
One of the most powerful pieces I have ever read was at Kindle single about a recluse. I can’t tell you how many years ago I read it but the imagery remains with me vividly even now. I don’t know whether it was the length of it or just supremely fantastic writing– Either way it’s a structure that interested me. Ultimately my heart and love remains in the magic of sweeping big movies and I wanted to create a cinematic feel with a book experience by embracing the same iconic three-act structure and signposted transformational arc that I use in screenwriting. These days when so very much of our time has been hijacked by social media and technology, the idea of tucking in with the book feels at once like a luxury and quite daunting. I for one have found myself with technology rooted ADD and have had trouble making my way through a typical novel– however amazing and engaging it may be, if I sat still long enough I’d find myself waking with it on my chin. I wanted to play with this length as a gift to myself as a reader, it’s something that could be digested in one fair flight or in a single evening. My hope is that the ride feels like a great movie.
You spent a fair bit of time working in the UAE… are the characters based on people you know?
There is a great answer to that question– It’s actually a story in another itself. This story idea was brought to me by Fergus Beeley during one of those really cool conversations one has at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival where nature and natural history filmmakers all come out of the bush and gather for a week every other year to make deals, share films get inspired and have a good time. I planted my feet and announced to him that I was a screenwriter (which felt just a little fake although my piece “Warbirds” had just been selected for the Feel Good Film Festival in LA) It seems to be a fun and common response that inevitably follows that declaration: “Boy do I have a story that would make a great movie.” I asked him what his story was about and he replied, “It’s about a Bedouin boy whose father is murdered in the desert and he goes to live with his uncle who is a falconer…. What are you writing right now”? A little dumbfounded, I replied to him “I’m just finishing a story about a Bedouin boy whose father is murdered in the desert and who is forced to escape to Europe to protect the last of an ancient line of warhorses…” So we struck a deal on the spot to help each other in our own roles to bring these story to screen. I took his idea, developed the story and nothing really came of it at the time.
It wasn’t until a year later that I was invited to work for the wonderful folks in the UAE. When I was searching for the right names for characters I had googled “Popular Emirati names” and grabbed a few that struck my imagination. Ironically, the name Salama was the name of my friend (whom I met long after creating the character, turns out I had been pronouncing it incorrectly) who recommended me for the job there. Those who believe we paint our own future would have a field day with this. I do confess that it may be possible that a couple of horses that found their way into the book itself might possibly be based on true characters..
So if you’re screenwriter, why books?
I have a few Hollywood family friends and mentors who were quite big names with the studios not too many years ago… I brought my stories to them and both of them were extremely kind to read what I peddled into their offices. They both said the same thing in nearly the same words. “You are a VERY good writer. But your language sounds more like prose.” My Mom had been saying that too, but, you know… she’s my Mom. The thing with screenplays is that your piece, especially for a relative-unknown like me, might get read 5 times before it’s done. And I mean done. Even if it’s a top-notch award winning perfectly formatted perfectly paced, socially shifting commercially minded piece of art sitting there in their hands, it still doesn’t represent itself as a standalone – it’s wagon is still hitched to an unknown writer and therefore, like a suspiciously inexpensive grand prix horse, it isn’t necessarily trusted. These stories are so wonderful, I ached in my bones for them to have eyes, and a little bit of weight. I believe this is what happened with Dances With Wolves – that writer Michael Blake went back and wrote the book (which is amazing). So I tucked in, forced myself to a structure with signposts where our psyches need them, and the books are what have come of them. It gives me a charge that they have sold pretty well on Amazon (Desert Falcon was a “Best New Release for a week or two, and hit the bestseller for its category, for whatever that’s worth). I can feel people out there reading them, which, after all of these years is a little nerve-wracking and gratifying.
Can you tell me more about who you worked for in the UAE?
What is the last book you truly loved?
“All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. My Mom is always a fantastic resource for great books – she reads more than anyone I know. She found it not too long after it had been released, gave me her copy. I rolled my eyes a little because I thought she was recommending it since I had lived outside of Deauville working with yearling thoroughbred sales horses for a few years. She gave me the “trust me” expression but it still sat on my desk for a year before I picked it up – then I seriously couldn’t put it down. Funny, a few months after reading it, I was in Normandy evaluating Jumpers (horses) and lo and behold, the gal who was taking us around to all of the horse farms announced we were taking an evening and morning off because she had made reservations at a cute place in St Malo. It was completely decadent to have a day to wander around those old streets swimming in that story. It pinged the entrepreneurial side of me to think of literary travel services (luckily gone as quickly as it came).
I loved “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern… my security blankets are anything by Laurens Van Der Post, Edith Wharton, Robert Service, James Herriot, Patrick McManus, and when the world turns sideways and I just need to push my eyes across paper – I’m an admitted Harry Potter binger. I’m seeking help for it. I have The “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz and “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt sitting on my desk, but I’m waiting for a little brain space for them.
So what’s next?
Now that I’m kind of learning the business ropes with my Desert Falcon book, I’m aching to develop another one of my screenplays into a book. My favorite, “precious jewel” of a story about Jacqueline Cochran and the Women Air Service Pilots, called War Birds. The screenplay has been the most enthusiastically received by far, and is a story I’d love to live with again to flesh out into the language it really wants. However, because it’s summer, my focus is on building my horse business “The Complete Horse” in a fit of fury while the sun shines… (winter in the Rockies is a good time to write) it’s another passion business that has found a fun new stride with business leadership and horses. I can’t wait to see where it goes!
What do you think your chances are with Desert Falcon
Some luck you can drive, some just belongs to your angels. The part that I can drive has been to turn out a story that has a story, put together with language that matters to me, and has been edited with the highest level I could find as an independent writer out of respect for anyone who takes the time to read it. One of the three editors at Kirkus who combed through the book (inspiringly well, though the first copyeditor banged my ego a bit) I had the chance to work with in a collaborative function over the phone. She had already sent really thorough notes, so I took the chance to talk not only about story development, but also of the book’s “chops” as a product in the market. My Dad was a very successful wildlife and sporting art sculptor, who found much of his success not only because of his art, but because once it was created, to him it was a product to market and sell (he was a top salesman for Pfizer before moving to Jackson Hole in the 1960s) not a precious gilded thing tied to a fragile identity. So this is important to me. Of course, one is of course never supposed to ask names or identifying details about the editor, which I understand and totally respect, but she told me that her background was as an editor for Penguin starting in the late 70s, I explained that I wasn’t a fainting flower about this story and asked for her honest thoughts about it, and whether it had legs. “It needs work” she said “but it would have been exactly the thing I would have loved to have found while I was there”. So. That put fuel in the tank. The rest has to do with not being a chicken, engaging my digital marketing ninja skills and giving some slack to my angels.
Why do you write?
That canned answer is, of course, that “I can’t not write” I tried it. It sucked. The truth is that Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Philadelphia” changed my mind about something by revealing it in a way that graciously painfully lighted a human perspective on love. I had a preconceived notion that was based on nothing but my own tiny construct… that change broadened my view and deepened my care for the human experience. What could matter more in this experience on earth? Good writing did that… good art, caring embodiment of character and voice, and good story. I wanted to be part of that. News informs the brain, but art shifts the human, and writing is the art I’ve been given. Within and surrounding all of that is story – the thing that (like horsemanship and falconry) serve as a borderless cultural common the human species has evolved to need the same. So I write. Dara Marks, who teaches “The Power of the Transformational Arc” said in her book that storytelling “teaches us how to live” which was, verbatim, what a young engineering student said of my Mom and Dad and me while having coffee at our house in front of the Tetons.
And so I write stories… and hope they are seen.