Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Elizabeth Brundage

JAN: I’m fascinated by your villain, Hugh Waters a frustrated screenwriter, does he work out a writer's frustrations?

ELIZABETH: I would have to say that writing Hugh Waters certainly worked out my frustrations! I started this novel as a short story that was a response to a mean-spirited review I had received for my first book, The Doctor’s Wife. I suppose at the time I was feeling
very isolated in my work and misunderstood. Out of those feelings Hugh Waters was born: a desensitized sociopath who exacts revenge on a female producer who trashes his intensely misogynistic screenplay.

JAN: Do we like anything about him or hate him all the time??

ELIZABETH: What he does is pretty creepy – and that, by the way, is something that interests me – taking a completely unlikeable character and attempting to coax some empathy out of the reader. In Hugh’s mind, his actions are justified – this person has stepped in and tampered with his destiny and he’s not going to take it anymore!

JAN:Hedda, the victim, is on the fast track from Yale. I'm guessing she isn't "Everywoman" What is she like? Do we like her?

ELIZABETH: Hedda Chase has succeeded in becoming a powerful force in Hollywood and on the surface she certainly is not Everywoman. I wanted to peel away the unlikable stereotype of “a powerful woman” – the ball-busting, man-hating ice queen – and reveal what’s underneath.

As it turns out, Hedda Chase is far more complex than her reputation suggests. Behind her unemotional façade, she’s incredibly insecure, and sees herself as vulnerable in a world in which she has been “nurtured on fear.” Having never fully committed herself to anyone, she is alone in the world.

To achieve her lofty status she has compromised her ideals. It has brought her wealth and prominence and even respect, but something is missing. She longs for something she cannot name.

JAN: Tell us a little bit about your background in screenwriting.

ELIZABETH: I taught myself how to write a feature-length screenplay when I was a student at Hampshire College – back in the eighties. A few years later I studied more seriously at the American Film Institute, where much of the material for this book took root – although I didn’t realize it until many years later.

JAN: How are writing a screenplay and novel different?
ELIZThe process of writing a screenplay differs from novel-writing in that a script, in most instances, must be a strategic narrative that leads your character through a series of challenges that ultimately bring about a kind of change in his/her life. The “plot” landmarks in fiction are less prominent and are more likely the result of how your character thinks and feels about his/her situation or dilemma. A screenwriter thinks visually about the story – a series of pictures that convey the whole gamut of a character’s experience – the structure of which lays the foundation for the film that is to come.

The story evolves vividly as it moves through the imaginations of everyone involved in the project, from the director and producer to the costume and set designers and of course the actors, who bring the characters to life.

JAN: Tell us about A Stranger Like You, I understand there is a very interesting structure that derives from screenwriting.

In A Stranger Like You, I wanted to tell the story from three different points of view – Hugh Waters, Hedda Chase, and a third character, Denny Rios, an Iraq war veteran in the throes of PTSD – utilizing two tracks of time, one that relies upon the thriller-sequencing architecture I mentioned above, and the other that develops Hedda’s internal struggle, first as a powerful film producer who feels less than powerful, and later, when she’s in the trunk of her own car, reckoning with what’s happened to her. I’m very interested in presenting the same characters from various points of view – perception is based on one’s unique perspective – two people can have a very different impression of the same person. This was another element I wanted to explore in the novel.

JAN: Where did the idea for the book come from?
ELIZABETH: I wanted to write about the film industry, drawing on some of my own experiences as an aspiring screenwriter in an industry that was (and still is) almost entirely dictated by men. However, I worked for some pretty strong women and admired the women who had made it – because making it as a woman – in any professional realm – is hard. I was interested in the ways in which we present characters in film, the ways we define ourselves as men and women, and how those cultural references inform our lives in the real world.

At the same time, I wanted to write about the war in Iraq, considering the premise – or underlying purpose – behind the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the same way one might consider the premise of a script, drawing a parallel between the “theater of war” and the big-budgeted pageantry of a Hollywood production. Both are machinated constructions that produce a variety of results, some that may ultimately affect the destinies of many individuals. Both rely upon our perceptions of what constitutes strength and weakness, perceptions that began with the gladiators of ancient Rome – the heroes who populate our history books – the heroes we celebrate in movies. I wanted to examine the notion of heroism and the ideals that define it: risking one’s life to protect another’s or to preserve something sacred – sacrificing one’s life for a larger cause – tenets, as it turns out, that are not dissimilar to those of a terrorist.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her new book, go to:

And come back tomorrow, when I show you some interesting data on email addiction.


  1. Elizabeth, it's lovely to have you visiting today, and best wishes on the new book! I'm curious about how you have found the world of screenwriting as compared with book publishing? More sexist? Less? Easier to succeed or harder?

  2. Faascinating! Thnk yo for visiting..

    By "thriller sequencing structure--do you mean a story that's once "event" after another? Action-packed or scary or dangerous?

    And if so--what do you think about the need for that in mysteries? Sometimes I realize in reading that nothing much has really actively "happened"-you know? People talk, and people think, but they don't DO.

    Any thoughts about that?

  3. Hi Roberta,
    I'm so glad you asked this question and it's not so easy to answer - sexism in general lingers in the corridors of most industries - women are still not paid the same wage as men for the same work in most cases. I don't think it's easy for anyone, male or female, to succeed in the film and publishing world. It's difficult to get ahead and very competitive, you have to work extremely hard and you have to be bold. There are conventions in place in each business that could potentially limit a woman's success - but it's more productive to focus on how to circumvent those barriers by producing the best possible work you can. At least that's what I try to do:)!

  4. Hello Hank,
    Thanks for your comment - let me clarify what I meant by thriller sequencing structure - I think in thrillers it's important to have a forward moving narrative progression - each scene depends on the scene that came before it and pushes into the next, a kind of domino-effect that makes the reader turn the page because they want to see what's going to happen next and they play an active role in predicting the outcome. In a regular novel it's true, people are doing a lot of thinking and talking - the characters and the choices they make, their behavior, what motivates the behavior, the psychology of their actions - all that is the narrative architecture of the novel and so the experience for the reader is a little different. Mysteries can be extremely interesting because they focus on the psychology of motivation - what makes the characters do what they do - and the reader plays an active role in anticipating what they may do next or not do. In my work, I try to write character driven thrillers that combine elements of both hard-core thrillers (action-packed and scary) and literary novels (more character-driven psychology). I hope that sort of answers your question!