Monday, November 03, 2008

Author Snapshot: Mark Leiren-Young

If you live in Vancouver, it’s next to impossible that you don’t know Mark Leiren-Young’s name. For one thing, it’s a distinctive double-barreled moniker: you remember it once you’ve seen it. Especially since, again if you live in that city and you happen to read, you’ll have seen it a lot, most often bylining sharply written articles that display the author’s wide knowledge of stuff as well as a journeyman’s skill with words.

Among other things, then, Leiren-Young is a writer’s writer and if it sounds like I’m a fan, I don’t mind a bit, because I am and have been for quite some time.

And so it was with a fangirl’s enthusiasm that I approached Never Shoot A Stampede Queen (Heritage House), Leiren-Young’s comic memoir about a young reporter’s rookie season in the Cariboo. I was not disappointed. Stampede Queen is Leiren-Young’s first book, though a couple of the author’s plays have been produced in book form. He has, however, written for just about every other medium imaginable.

The author describes himself as a screenwriter, playwright, performer and freelance journalist. He wrote, directed and produced the award-winning feature film The Green Chain, a documentary style -- he says he’s avoided the use of the word “mockumentary” -- drama about a dying B.C. logging town.

As a journalist, Leiren-Young’s byline has appeared in Time, Maclean’s and The Utne Reader. He contributes regularly to The Georgia Straight and is a humor columnist for The Tyee, where he also hosts an environmentally themed podcast series.

A Snapshot of... Mark Leiren-Young

Most recent book: Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo
Born: Vancouver, British Columbia
Resides: Gibsons, British Columbia
Birthday: September 4h
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
Vancouver. Although I was just in Barcelona and that city rocked my world.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Visit the beach, stare at the mountains, gaze at the skyline -- and try not to get too nostalgic for the days when we had so much more skyline. Those six hours have to include two meals, because every time I’m away from Vancouver there are at least a dozen restaurants I come home craving. The second meal might change, but one of those meals will be at the Topanga Café.

What food do you love?
My current addiction is ahi tuna. Seared ahi, Ahi sashimi, Ahi sushi, Ahi burgers. Yes, I know it’s really high up on the food chain, and it would be better for the planet if I ate kelp instead, but it’s sooooooo tasty...

What food have you vowed never to touch again?
I stopped eating meat in January, but I haven’t made any vows about staying away from it. I tend to trust my body on what to eat.

What’s on your nightstand?
Right now I’m reading Sidney Lumet’s book about filmmaking, Making Movies. It’s a master class in film. Up next, James Glave’s Almost Green. Then my friend Laurie Channer’s book, Godblog.

What inspires you?
The world and the people in it. Art. Music. The news. A cashier who says hi to me in the grocery store. A stranger who scowls at me on the street. A double rainbow. Life.

What are you working on now?
I’m developing several new TV series, including one based on my book, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen. I’m working on a couple of screenplays. A new stage play. And a new environmentally-themed comedy CD for my troupe, Local Anxiety. I’m also hosting a podcast series about forestry for The Tyee. I’m turning that into a book that should be appearing next year.

When I need a break from writing one project, I tend to take a break by writing something else.

Tell us about your process.
Although I’ll scrawl on anything with anything when inspiration hits, nobody tries to read my handwriting, even me.

I write on a MacBook Pro. Yes, I’m a Mac addict. I tend to do my best creative work at night, often really late at night. My process changes depending on the project. Some pieces are pure inspiration and the words just pour onto the page, others are seriously outlined. TV and screen work tends to require killer outlines, because structure is so important for film -- and especially TV -- so scripts are almost like architectural blueprints. And if the structure’s not solid for screenplays, rewrites are a nightmare.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
The inside of the Starbucks just outside Granville Island. I stopped in for a net connection and an iced tea, saw this and decided to try answering it.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in elementary school.

I gave my answer to this question to a character in my play, Last Writes. It’s a true story, except I think I was 12, not ten. The field trip was to Victoria. Here’s the monologue as written (although I’ve changed the character’s name back to my own and in the play, it’s not a teacher, but a nun).

“When I was about ten years old my class was coming back from a field trip to the island. We were all on the ferry, we'd been moving for about 15 minutes and suddenly there was an announcement. The ferry was turning back to the terminal. Everybody on the ferry was nervous and all of us were asked to return to the bus. Just as we were lining up to get inside the bus the teacher asked the bus driver what was the matter and without thinking he said that there was a bomb scare. All the girls started to scream and cry and the teacher tried to calm everyone down but she couldn't. We all thought we were going to die. And one of the girls, Sandee, turned to me and said: Mark, you’re always telling funny stories, tell us a funny story. So I told a story. I don’t remember what it was, but everyone stopped crying to listen to it. And just for a moment I’d held back the fear. I never forgot that.”

There were a couple of other moments that made me realize I wanted to write, but this is the one that stands out for me. I’m still friends with Sandee and mention her in Stampede Queen.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
Tough question. Really tough question. I can think of a lot of amazing moments. It’s tough to beat the adrenaline rush of having former Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, make her first public appearance after losing the federal election on stage, with my comedy troupe, Local Anxiety, in our stage show The Year in Revue at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre. No one could believe she was really there. Including me. But I finally beat that rush watching the cast and crew screening of my new movie, The Green Chain, which I wrote and directed. Opening soon at a theatre near you...

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
I get to dream for a living.

What’s the most difficult?
Making sure I’m writing the stories I have to tell, not just the ones I can get paid to tell.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
It’s a toss up between: “What kind of writing do you like to do most?” And: “If you could only do one kind of writing, what would it be.” I love ‘em all. And if I could make a living at it and could only do one form or writing -- radio drama -- I love the way you can create an entire dreamscape with words, sound effects and music.

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
So Mark, how does it feel to win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Followed closely by: Are you and your wife, Angelina Jolie, planning to adopt any more orphans this week? And: George W. Bush -- Great President or The Greatest President.

OK, pretty much any question asked by Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart.

What question would like never to be asked again?

Would you like to support ___ by buying this box of chocolate covered almonds? I HATE ALMONDS!

Please tell us about your Never Shoot A Stampede Queen.

I absolutely hate plugging my own stuff, so I’m going to cheat. This is what Spider Robinson wrote about the book:

Never Shoot A Stampede Queen isn’t just sound advice; it’s also the most fun I’ve had this year. God does not subtract from one’s allotted span the hours spent reading books as wise, warm and witty as this City Mouse’s comic memoir of his years in the Country .... of another planet. Indeed, the residents of remote Williams Lake, in the heart of the Cariboo, satisfy science fiction editor John W. Campbell’s classic definition of alien creatures: they think as well as a human being, but not like one. Mark Leiren-Young is a natural storyteller, a peer of writers like Stephen Leacock. W.O. Mitchell, Jack Douglas and W.P. Kinsella: quietly hilarious, effortlessly moving, and always surprising. Like them, he makes it look easy.”

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I think I would have missed half my deadlines if not for Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” album. When I’m on deadline it gets me writing... like a Bat out of Helllllllllllllllll...

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Blogger MK Piatkowski said...

Mark gives great interview. Thanks so much for this!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 11:10:00 AM PST  

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