Sunday, May 15, 2022

Seraphina Nova Glass

Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Arlington, where she teaches film studies and playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and she's also a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Glass has traveled the world using theatre and film as a teaching tool, living in South Africa, Guam and Kenya as a volunteer teacher, AIDS relief worker, and documentary filmmaker.

Her new novel is On a Quiet Street.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are so hard. When I was writing Hallmark scripts, I learned that networks will sometimes buy just a title by itself, or buy a script they don’t like just to take the title because they are so powerful. I find coming up with a title painstaking, and arduous. It sometimes seems easier to write the whole novel then land on a title you love.

I’ve also learned that the publisher usually wants to change it. So far, my very first book, Someone’s Listening, is the only title I had as a working title that made it to the actual final vote and was used. At first I was a little offended. Can they just change my title? Now. I’m very grateful because my titles are usually crap and they have a glorious team of people working on creating a title that works on so many levels.

Often, I start with a working title and part way through writing the book, I hate it so much, I take the time to go into all my working documents, the notes, outlines, character pages and change it everywhere because I can’t look at it anymore! Dramatic, I know. But, I’m happy to report though, that the novel I’m writing currently is titled The Vanishing Hour, and I think it suits the piece for a change, and I’m happy with it.

My novel, On A Quiet Street, coming out this month was originally called The Payoff, and my agent and I, and our film agent really liked it and thought it would stick, but when the publisher proposed On A Quiet Street, it felt right. All of the three main characters in the story live in a quiet cul-de-sac in Brighton Hills where all the chaos rests just under the glossy, manicured surface, and they are all just close enough to nose into one another’s secrets and uncover a shocking web of lies.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I start with the ending almost always, so I take a lot of time to really figure out exactly what the twists and climax will be before I begin, so I know what I’m writing to. I’ll say that takes the most time, but that is the phase before I actually start writing—it’s more the staring at walls and taking distracted dog walks than writing. Once I know where it’s all headed, the ending is the easier and more fun part to write because I am most familiar with it.

Then, going back to the beginning and getting to know the characters and creating the world feels much harder to me. It’s like a first date or making a new friend in some ways—I get nervous meeting them and even though I get to create them, I hope I like them. I hope it goes well! You know?

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I love this question because my characters have often been called “unlikable.” And yes, I do see myself in them. Maybe because I write female protagonists roughly around my age, and in domestic settings, it’s easy to relate to them, and because, of course, I hear my own voice often, and I’m pulling from my memories and life experiences here and there.

I’ve often written about this “unlikable” critique and how it’s a double standard because male characters are never coined “unlikable,” and because it’s so much more important to me that they are interesting and layered than “likable.” But, since I do see myself in many of them, I’m not sure what that says about me!

When I think about a couple of my very favorite fictional characters, I think of Eleanor Oliphant and Olive Kitteridge, and “likable” isn’t the first word that comes to mind, yet I’m still in love with them and adore their complexity and rough exterior.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My background in theatre has been a big influence in my writing career. Yes, my education was in playwriting, but as an acting instructor for many years, it’s interesting to see the similarities of creating a character on paper and a live human being crafting a character on stage—all the unwritten backstory the actor needs to fill in to make a well-rounded, three-dimension character is the same.

I was watching Masterclass where Aaron Sorkin is discussing “Intention and Obstacle.” He was saying that in storytelling, you can never have a character’s intention that’s too strong--too great, and you can never have obstacles too formidable. That has to be in place and tested before he can begin a story. This is the same thing we’ve been teaching in acting for decades, so I loved the parallel.

The acting teacher Uta Hagan begins with the idea of “super-objective” when working with actors. You have to ask yourself, as an actor, “what do I desperately want, and what’s in my way?” So, I’d always thought about this in the context of acting, but now I see that it’s the only way for me to begin as a writer also. It’s always been an anchor for me, if I lose my way in the middle of a story, to come back to the protagonist and their “super-objective,” and it gets me back on track. It’s been such a helpful piece of advice.
Visit Seraphina Nova Glass's website.

--Marshal Zeringue