Writers write. Nothing is a more true statement to describe screenwriter and author Christopher Moore. When the industry shifts, a writer must shift with it and stretch their wings to step into different mediums. Which explains why Moore just launched the first book of his new YA series, The Switch Family.
I chatted with Moore about this new venture, the challenges of writing YA, and much more.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
About The Switch Family:
Kelly and her sister Emily are living in sunny California, going to high school, when tragedy strikes. They have to regroup and move to North Carolina to live with family they did not know even existed. They later learned that this was for good reason. These family members were not only strange but could possibly be witches. Their world would never be the same as they are haunted by the secrets of the Switch family, and end up taking a wild and mysterious adventure they never could have imagined.
Congrats on your fourth book and debut YA novel. Can you tell us a little about The Switch Family and your decision to switch to YA (no pun intended)? Has it been a challenge or have you found it organic?
Moore: Totally organic. Story is story. I just focused on making it fun, keeping out the cursing and sex scenes (laughs). It’s a family, fantasy, thriller with teenaged girls at the helm of the story. It’s fun, exciting, and full of surprises. I loved writing it—it’s a novel I wish I read as a kid. I also love the fact that one of the main characters just happens to be a black girl. So often, when it comes to YA novels, black characters are nowhere in sight or assumed to be white.
Are there unique challenges to writing a series, or is it liberating, knowing you don’t have to leave these characters behind?
Moore: It’s definitely liberating, knowing I don’t have to leave these characters behind. I’m extremely excited to learn more and more about my characters with each book, and go for the ride, just like the readers. It’s very much like having your own hit TV show that gets picked up for as long as you want it to be. I love that. Young readers, including my kids, are loving this book, and it puts pressure on me, as we speak, to finish the second book in the series. So, I’m working hard.
Can you talk about juggling writing multiple books and handling the continuity?
Moore: Well, I focus on one book until I have the story, then while I’m rewriting, I work on a different book or script at the same time. Sometimes my scripts pull me away from my novel for a little while, but I get right back to it. I like working on multiple stories at once. It keeps me excited about writing, and allows me to do a lot of thinking about my stories while I’m driving or hanging out in coffee shops.
Are you excited about the future of The Switch Family series?
Moore: It’s the coolest thing, because you actually keep your characters evolving and thinking of new ways to challenge them as they move through a world that you created.
Do you use movie structure when you’re writing your books?
Moore: Yes. I use my script as outlines. They are the best outlines you can have. It’s lean and mean and all story. No fluff. Scripts are written in three-act structure, and everything that goes into those acts works wonderfully in a book. Except you can expand your story and dive in even deeper into your characters.
Let’s take a step back. Why switch from your earlier focus of screenwriting to also writing novels?
Moore: Because I am a storyteller first. Whether it be film, TV, or books. I love a good story. Also, to get a movie made, you need to catch lightning in a bottle two or three times, hell, if you count on your script being done well, four times. Thank God for TV where most of my produced credits are. It’s fun writing on a hit show with rich and famous people. But even that does not compare to the feeling of someone buying and reading your book. So, to write a book and have control, and not be in a constant state of asking people “When,” in hopes they might like it enough to produce and get it made, is not only empowering but inspiring. It helps me keep my sanity, in this crazy business in Hollywood. Life is too short to have to spend twenty or more years asking, and in some cases (not me) begging for a break. I’d rather go straight to my audience and let them be the judge. I am in control of my destiny, not a reader for a studio, or an overworked bitter person who used to be a writer themselves. So, I’ll continue to write TV and film scripts because I love it, but I’ll also continue to write my books. And when people lease expect it, I just might catch lightning in a bottle. So, stay tuned.
Which leads us into another question of how do you navigate your screenwriting career and emotionally manage the highs and lows?
Moore: I keep my head down and stay writing. I don’t worry about other peoples careers, just what I’m working on. That will drive you crazy worrying about people who don’t work as hard as you, achieving more success; nepotism, racism, ageism, being a woman or gay, is real in this town. So I stay focused, pay attention to what’s important—family, friends, charity, teaching, giving back, and my writing. Currently, I am teaching TV writing at USC and Chapman University, and it’s so gratifying. I love to inspire and motivate young people as they continue their journey and teach them as much as I can about not only writing but this business. Because I’ve been through it all; spec sells, bad agents, writers strikes, corrupt producers who have stolen my ideas and had them produced. I’ve even had my name taken off of one of my scripts and sold for a six figure sum. It’s real out here. But I’ve had some wins as well, and I keep swinging, learning, growing, and staying the course because I love to write. That’s why I tell people if you don’t love it, do something else. But if you do love it, it’s very much worth it. So, yes, I think staying busy like this, not only informs your writing but keeps your mind off of the negative. Oh yeah, and selling books helps too!
There’s a path to success for people who want to go into Engineering. That’s not the case in this industry. With how crazy this industry is, how do you stay relevant and engaged?
Moore: It's a direct correlation with mental health. Pure will. You need an entrepreneurial point of view. Your goals can be small. Write poems, create webisodes. Just find a way to sell something. We all can relate to having a family, mortgage, kids, etc. Create a publishing company. Self publish. My new YA book is not a pilot waiting to be picked up. It’s a book, and it’s going to be done, and it’s going to be mine. It gets me super excited and keeps me going.
I am just as excited about my new YA novel The Switch Family, as I am with my other three books. They are like my children that I hope will be around and relevant when I am long gone. That makes me smile.
Not only are you a prolific writer, but your wife is also an author. Can you tell us about her latest project?
Moore: I am very proud of my wife Reise Moore who along with her amazing writing partners, Allison Engel and Margaret Engel have their book Thriftstyle out as well. She went the traditional publishing route, and her book is doing well, having won The American Society of Journalists and Authors award for Service / Self-Help: Book, last year. She is doing big things herself as she is currently shopping her book as a TV show to production companies who specialize in reality shows. Her background is in producing in that space, so that’s right up her alley.