AUTHOR INTERVIEW – Brooks Arthur Wachtel
DISCLAIMER: This content has been provided to THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF by the author. No compensation was received. This information required by the Federal Trade Commission.
About the Book:
Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead, chronicles the adventures of Lady Natasha “Tasha” Dorrington, a fast-thinking, hard-fighting and very sensual leading lady. The story takes the reader from fog-bound Edwardian London to a remote island in Scotland, where a terrified man is taunted by the power of a thousand year curse closing upon him.
Tasha finds herself embroiled in a much larger game. She has been lured to the island to play a life and death contest with Deirdre, the brilliant leader of an ancient and sinister cult who plots to plunge the world into war. The prize between these powerful adversaries is no less than civilization itself – and the life of Tasha’s daughter, held hostage by the cult.
Interview with the Author:
What initially got you interested in writing?
I have always been a story-teller. It is simply part of me and always has been. In elementary school I wrote and performed in backyard plays. In Jr. High School I was put, without requesting it, into a typing class… let’s just say, it turned out to be exceedingly useful in my future career. When I was a student at Hollywood High School, I wrote a 45 minute Sherlock Holmes spoof which my student film group shot that summer at world famous The Magic Castle.
The Magic Castle would become a very important part of my life. As I wasn’t yet driving when I did my high-school film there (the first film ever shot at the Castle), my parents would be my transportation. My folks fell in love with the place and became non-magician members. I would gain entrance – what a thrill, attending this usually over-21 club and soon fell in love with magic. And after much study, became a magician member. I have met so many wonderful people there both personally and professionally. My life would not have been the same without my connection to this wonderful place.
When I started working in television, writing became how I made a living. While there are certainly stresses and frustrations, what a fun ride it has been. However, after three decades of writing television scripts, I wanted to try something new.
I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. It was a new challenge and exciting… and, unlike every one of my work-for-hire television assignments – this was mine!
What genres do you write in?
It might be easier to decide which ones I don’t. In television, I was lucky not to get pigeon-holed. In fiction-television I wrote adventure, historical adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy-adventure, comedy and pre-school.… I wrote them all.
And then there was non-fiction. That was like an entire second career. After getting my feet wet writing and producing episodes of documentaries for various History Channel series, my oft-times co-writer and producing partner, Cynthia Harrison and animator Jason McKinley were able to launch our own series, DogFights. It was a ground-breaking series about air-combat that put the viewer right in the cockpit as we recreated some of history’s most exciting air combats. The premier episode – really a two-hour special that served as a back-door pilot – was the highest rated military themed show the network had ever had up to that point. When they re-ran it a few days later, it did even better. We were on our way to a series.
I’ve always had a love of history (and have incorporated that into my non-fiction work as well) so it was a thrill putting that knowledge and interest to work in these documentary shows. Perhaps I got that fascination as a child. My father was a career Naval aviator, so that kind of upbringing is deeply associated with the past and left its mark on me.
Most recently, I worked with Cynthia Harrison again on Silver Tsunami, an award-winning documentary about the upcoming demographic challenge of the aging Baby Boom generation. The film is just finishing up its festival circuit and it will be available for download and streaming shortly.
My premier novel, Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead combines many of my favorite interests; strong female characters, my love of history, especially the late-Victorian-Edwardian era, Sherlock Holmes, and – growing up a military-brat (or more properly, Naval Dependent) – gave me an appreciation of ships, sea-power and its place in history.
I decided to combine these interests; history, naval, the supernatural, Holmes, powerful female characters, into one story.
Reaching back into history (yes, that love of history again), I found the perfect time, place and circumstances to use as a jumping off place. I started with the revolutionary battleship, H.M.S. Dreadnought and the naval race and political collision between Britain and Germany which that ship help set in motion. But, as I said, that was just the launch point for a tale that weaves between the actual past and the fantastic.
I thought that, making my main character a very capable, confident woman – in a particularly chauvinistic era would be fun and offer story and character opportunities that a male lead would not. There would be so many circumstances and attitudes which would simply not exist for a man of that era that she would have to overcome. She’s a character equally skilled with women’s rights – and lefts. There’s a lot of humor in the book and much of it is the collision between a witty, smart woman who will not easily tolerate chauvinistic attitudes.
What drew you to writing these specific genres?
I have had a love of history and the fantastic as long as I can remember. I was also a big comic-book reader. That paid off when I started writing animation series for both the Marvel and DC franchises. But as to what drew me… in the beginning of my career what motivated me was getting the job on any show I was able to pitch. Successful television writers have to be chameleons. But I had an affinity for both hard action and comedy so I was able to slide from one genre to another.
Getting into novels was a very different direction. Before Lady Sherlock was a novel, it was a screenplay that never sold—alas—but landed me many television (and screenplay) assignments. When I reread it several years later, I felt it was too good a story to languish in a drawer and only be seen by a few producers and story-editors. As I reacquainted myself with the script, I felt it had the makings of a novel. I’ve been writing scripts for decades and was looking for something new. Little did I know what vast changes lay ahead…
How did you break into the field?
I had been shooting student-films ever since my teens. I also had the good fortune to attend Hollywood High School which ran a university style theatre-arts department. The training would serve me well for years to come. Shortly after college I wrote and directed a feature; sort of a period gothic-ghost story. And then I made a career transition from feature-film, writer-director, to part-time, all-night, answering service operator (the pre-voice mail, human job of answering people’s phones and writing down a message for them).
Not wanting this to be the apex of my career, I started writing spec-scripts (a writing sample which may never be bought or produced, but gives those who can hire you an idea of your talent). One of them got me a life-changing interview which plunged me into the world of animation.
My first writing job in the field was an animated script I co-wrote for Filmation’s Ghostbusters. I had interviewed with an executive at Filmation to write an animated feature. The exec, Robby London, sent my material to Arthur Nadel who was the executive handling the writing on the studio’s television series. He invited me to pitch for Ghostbusters which I did with Tom Bagen, my co-writer at the time.
I did more shows for Filmation. Then Robby London moved over to Dic Studios and called me, letting me know they had a slate of shows looking for writers. I pitched to Dinosaucers and made several sales. Suddenly I was a working animation scribe… and still am.
I eventually moved into some live-action and, thanks to my friend Richard Mueller who recommended me to a company he was writing for, into documentaries. The film and television industry is very much a relationship business and I am very grateful for the people who have extended a helping hand. I try to do the same whenever I can.
How I broke into novels – or, more specifically, got a publisher, was one of those “being in the right place at the right time” moments. Another amazing writer and good friend of mine, Steven L. Sears, introduced me to Peter Wacks, who was working with WordFire Press, over lunch at the Magic Castle (obviously a very important meeting spot in my life and world). I was asking Peter about self-publishing and he offered to take a look at my manuscript. A few months later, at another Magic Castle lunch, he offered to publish the book. I was stunned. Had I not been sitting down I would have ended up on the floor. Working with Kevin J. Anderson and the crew at WordFire Press, Lady Sherlock – with a wonderful layout that harkens back to its Edwardian setting – was released November 1, 2016.
I was also exceedingly fortunate to work with a very astute, understanding and talented editor, Shari Goodhartz, who guided, prodded and encouraged me tremendously.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
Well, I hope readers enjoy my writing, have fun, suspense, laughs, fear and, of course, that my writing for the screen or print, inspires some thoughts and questions about “the human condition.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
A good review and a check that clears… Just kidding. Really, having someone truly appreciate the world I created in the rare leisure moments we all seem to have these days.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
The challenge is the same for any kind of writing; sitting down to write. Then, as the saying goes; Write. Re-write. Right.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
Since most of my career has been in television, let me comment on that. Passion for writing and knowing your craft is a given. That’s the art side of your craft, getting the early jobs and maintaining a career is the business side. It’s tougher. After all, it is called show-BUSINESS.
To have a career in film and television, you have to be in a location where you can meet the people who can hire or recommend you. For me that means Los Angeles.
Once here, attend film-festivals, join organizations, do anything you can that allows you to meet the people higher up on the ladder. Once you meet them, find the fine line between being assertive and entering stalker territory. Have good samples to present, as perfect as you can make them. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
When you land the gig, take it seriously. Remember your job is to make life easier for the person who hired you. That means get your script in on time, with the right page count and on model for the show you are writing. If you are slipping between different genres or types of shows, knowing what works in that universe is vital. As a TV writer you have to be a chameleon. In animation I would go from a angst-ridden, non-stop action show like X-Men one week to a pre-school and very gentle Clifford the Big Red Dog the next. You have to be flexible and fit the show you are working on. If the story-editor or producer doesn’t have to do much work on your script, they will look very pleasantly at giving you another assignment or recommending you. If your script is late, needs vast re-writes and causes your boss to pull an all-nighter fixing it, then your phone is not going to ring with another assignment.
Be prepared for “notes.” In TV and film you get notes – LOTS of notes from lots of people. They are sometimes pointless, occasionally story-shredding and, as they come from different sources, disturbingly contradictory.
And they cannot be ignored.
You have to pick your battles. Make the simple changes work. Save the conferences for notes that would unravel the entire story. Fortunately, those are rare. There’s a saying that the first draft belongs to the writer and after that your job is to save the script.
All that drama was refreshingly absent from the novel process. My editor and I discussed the story, WordFire Press gave notes (and good ones), but it was vastly different from television. I could use the ones I felt useful to improve the story and not go through convulsions trying to twist the story to fit bad notes – of which there were none – into the final piece. It is wonderfully liberating.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
Writing is how I make my living, however I teach a screenwriting course at the UCLA Extension School (having just finished my eleventh year). Or as I explain, I try to discourage eager young minds from becoming my competition (or if they get ahead in the business, they better pay back that “A” and hire me! 😉
Seriously, I love teaching and have been blessed with some wonderful students. Teaching writing gets me back in touch with the fundamentals of the craft. I sometimes feel I am learning as much as my students.
I am also on the Steering Committee of the Animation Writer’s Caucus of the Writer’s Guild of America, the Hollywood High School Alumni board and the membership committee of the Magic Castle. On a less frequent basis, I also utilize my skill set as a photographer and graphic artist. Years ago I did story-boards, mostly for commercials and live-action films (my first paid job in entertainment was right out of high school when I did story-boards for the Star Trek animated series). I love performing magic and, while I have done stage-shows, my main arena is close-up magic with a deck of cards.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
I have a FaceBook page and there is also a page for “Lady Sherlock.”
Keep an eye out for my Twitter account, coming soon to a computer or mobile device near you.
Lady Sherlock Blog:
Lady Sherlock FaceBook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TheLadySherlock/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
Lady Sherlock FaceBook Fan created page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/321693048210287/
Lady Sherlock Youtube promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o39owXZHrRs
About the Author:
Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead may be Brooks Wachtel’s first novel, but he is no stranger to crafting compelling stories, he is an Emmy Award-winning writer with a long resume in television and film.
Mr. Wachtel spent his youth as a “Navy Brat” traveling the world. While attending Hollywood High and in college he produced several student films. One, a forty-five minute Sherlock Holmes spoof was the first film ever shot at Hollywood’s famed “Magic Castle.”
Wachtel has written and produced many documentaries for the History Channel, including co-creating , executive producing and co-writing many episodes of the hit series DogFights.
Wachtel also wrote and co-produced an independent documentary feature illustrating the history of his famous alma-mater, Hollywood High School All rights and royalties were donated to Hollywood High to help fill the school’s scholarship.
In addition, Wachtel has written more than 100 produced episodes of television fiction- with shows as diverse as Fox’s live-action Young Hercules (starring Ryan Gosling), to animated hits like PBS’ Liberty’s Kids, Tutenstein, Heavy Gear, Spider-Man, X-Men, Robo-Cop and Beast Machines: Transformers. For younger viewers, he has penned episodes of the pre-school hit, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Wachtel’s episode, “I Did it My Way,” for Tutenstein won an Emmy Award.
Wachtel serves on the Steering Committee of the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers Guild, as well as teaching screenwriting at UCLA Extension. He is a long-time magician member of Hollywood’s Magic Caste.
He has combined his love of strong-female characters, magic, history, the fantastic and high-adventure in his first novel, Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead, published in November 2016.
Author photos by Steven L. Sears