In the Spotlight: Tracy Schumer
The best writers have tasted life. They have lived the ups and downs. They have travelled the world and been awed by it's unique diversity. Yet they still find that even in distant and foreign lands the core of humanity is always the same. Tracy has done all of these things first hand. She has lived. Truly lived and infuses that life into her work which has led her to some surprising successes. This is why I am excited to introduce you to her.
This is Tracy Schumer...
I grew up in a different world. And given the state of affaires we are all experiencing here in the wondrous twenty-first century, it might be more accurate to say I grew up on another planet. Born into the 1960's, high school in the 80's, collegial found David Mamet's Master Class on writing drama, and the result was my first feature, Opposition Research. The day that screenplay made Coverfly's Red List for feature thrillers was a major milestone, but all it's done is let me know how much harder I need to work if I want to get noticed. I took a while... majored in aimless misdirection. But as the youngest of five kids nobody in my family noticed, which turned out to be a tremendous advantage. Most of what makes a person into a writer are those long periods of being alone, and being forced to live with yourself.
You can't find out who you are until you become completely lost. I am forever grateful for my total failures. And for all of the imperfect people I've had the privilege to spend meaningless time with, and for the courage I found in unexpected places. Today I can say some interesting things about myself: Amazon bestselling author and former freelance journalist. An instrument rated pilot who crossed the Russian Far East in a single-engine aircraft. Circumnavigated South America by plane, sailed around the world, and I know how it feels to be aboard a crippled yacht adrift in the Pacific.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
By total chance I came across ScreenCraft's Cinematic Short Story competition, entered three of my short stories, and was completely shocked when all three made the semi-finals. One even made it to the final round, which was amazing. But I soon learned that making the short fiction Red List on Coverfly isn't the same as being on the screenplay Red List. Screenwriting was where I knew I had to be but everything about it terrified me. Then I discovered John August's Highland Pro, his podcast with Craig Mazin, and the doorway cracked open.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I signed up for David Mamet's Master Class on writing drama. The result was my first feature, Opposition Research. The day that screenplay made Coverfly's Red List for feature thrillers was a major milestone, (thank you Mr. Mamet) but it's also made me realize how much harder I need to work if I want to get noticed. "Do better", has become my mantra. I keep a hardcopy of David Mamet's memo to his "The Unit" writing staff on my desk. The rules are simple, but the game is nearly impossible.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
None of this would be happening if not for my amazing husband. He encouraged me, and let me know that I was on the right track in making the switch from journalism to fiction. Prior to that, from 1995 until 2008, I had the privilege to work professionally with some wonderful editors of truly great publications: C. J. Hadley, the editor of Range Magazine, Pat Feuerstein of The NRHA Reiner, and A.J. Mangum, the editor of Western Horseman. All of these guiding lights graciously allowed my words and photographs to populate pages upon pages of their valuable space and I will be forever grateful.
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Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
It's as if screenwriting pulled me out of a lineup and said, "You're coming with me." I wasn't given much choice in the matter.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Credibility, which comes in small drops at a slow pace over great distances of time and space. I just work. I work to get better, and then I work harder.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
I generally wake up thinking about the endless yakking my characters have been engaged in throughout the night. Writing is the only way to shut them up.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
After coffee, I sit down at my keyboard and pull my guts out, splatter them all over the page, and then break for lunch.
What do you do during the day?
I write most every day. In the afternoon I take a walk. Water is very important, I take a swim whenever the opportunity presents itself. There's something about being in the water, it's a great place for problem solving, which seems to be the essence of screenwriting.
What do you do at night?
I catch up with what the real pros are doing. Lately I've been captivated by Scott Frank & Allan Scott's, The Queen's Gambit, the whole thing is so luscious and gorgeous. I also read a lot of screenplays, I just finished Kubrick's, Eyes Wide Shut, which is its own kind of master class.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? Whiskey... just one.
How do you define a successful day? Pages have been filled, the story has advanced.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
A work ethic. I'm not a produced writer, but if I want to be one, I have to write every day. It's the only way to get better, there's no other option.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Knowing full well that there are no guarantees, and that the chances of getting something produced are about the same as lightening striking a lottery ticket. On second thought, probably less.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Having the guts to swallow my fear and finish, and then having the guts to send my work out into the wilderness, and then finding out if it was strong enough to survive trial by fire. And then starting all over again. After a while you become battle-hardened, you become prepared for the pain, and then you find out you're a lot tougher than you thought you were.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
Knowing you're not the only one struggling is hugely important. Being filled with self-doubt is normal and even healthy— I fight off those demons every day. Steven Pressfield wrote a wonderful book on this very subject called, The War of Art. For me at least, it is a war, every time. I can't relate to someone who thinks they have all the answers. But sometimes there's a glimmer. Every small bit of encouragement means so much, but don't discount hard criticism. The hardest things to hear about your work are generally the most important.