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Poly-Creative: An Interview with Writer and Actor Michael Boatman

The multi-talented Michael Boatman, star of movies and television, has now turned his attention to writing fiction, with a first collection of "mean little stories from the wrong side of the tracks" called God Laughs When You Die, featuring an introduction from horror master David J. Schow. Boatman's fiction is taut, honest, and dark. Joe Lansdale said about the collection, "[he] writes like a visitor from hell. Someone out on short term leave for bad behavior. I love this stuff. He's one of the new, and more than promising writers making his mark." (For Boatman's fascinating recent essay "Lady Hollywood", click here.) I recently interviewed Boatman via email about his new direction.

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Amazon.com: First off, please describe where you are as you’re answering these questions.

Michael Boatman: I'm sitting in my office, which is downstairs in the basement of my house. The windows in my office look out over my backyard and a thick patch of woods. It's 9:00 AM on a foggy December morning.

Amazon.com: How long have you been writing?

Michael Boatman: I've been writing for about thirteen years. I started after I injured my leg in a freakish household accident. I was unable to work for about twelve weeks. One day, Don Cheadle, who is a good friend, stopped by for a visit. He took one look at me, fat, bearded and depressed, and encouraged me to explore writing, as I had always expressed an interest in creating a screenplay. The screenplay was terrible, but I loved the process and I've been writing ever since.

Amazon.com: Where do writing and acting intersect creatively? How do they influence each other in your life?

Michael Boatman: Acting and writing both stem from the most primal form of entertainment, which is storytelling. I've come to believe that I actually became an actor as a kind of creative misfire. I was always a voracious reader. To this day, I'm unable to go anywhere without a book. However, writing was something I'd never considered. It seemed too mystical, something working-class kids from the inner city weren't supposed to do.  I stumbled into acting in high-school, (of course to meet chicks) I discovered that I enjoyed being a part of a creative endeavor. After more than twenty years as an actor, I've realized that, at least for me, the two art forms are linked. An actor communicates his part of the larger story in which he participates, but a writer creates the story. Now I find telling my own stories more compelling than communicating other authors' stories.

Amazon.com: Writing is a solitary activity. Acting is, I assume, solitary in the preparation but very social in its application--and dependent to some degree on the imaginations of other people. How easy is to navigate between those two worlds?

Michael Boatman: I find it easy to navigate the two worlds because I've been an actor for so long that it's part of who I am; I know my way around Hollywood sets and the professional theater. Also, being a writer helps me understand another writer's intention for his characters in a way that I didn't when I was just acting. Recently, I was presented with the opportunity to rewrite huge chunks of  a feature film in which I was acting. When I was younger I never would have had the courage to insinuate my ideas into someone else's screenplay. However, during production we encountered some serious script problems. The director took my suggestions and applied them to the script. Ultimately we wound up rewriting a lot of the film. Writing novels and short stories and screenplays on my own gave me the confidence to step in and effectively address the problems. It was great fun and a huge confidence booster.

Amazon.com: What writers have most influenced you in your fiction?

Michael Boatman: Tolkien opened up the door to entirely new worlds for me. The Hobbit was the first book that took me on a quest. I read it when I was nine years old and it changed my life. In a weird way, that book introduced me to literature in general and fantasy in particular. I read the entire RIngs sequence  every few years and learn something new every time. Stephen R.Donaldson's 'Covenant' books are a continuing source of profound enjoyment. On the darker frontier, David J. Schow and Joe R. Lansdale are my heroes. I said in another interview that since Dave Schow has become my friend I am even more in awe of his talents. I feel like Dorothy exposing the Great and Powerful Oz only to discover that the man behind the curtain really is a wizard. Stephen King is another writer who I believe to be, in a strange way, underrated. I think The Stand really may be the great American novel. And the Dark Tower books are unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Amazon.com: What projects do you have upcoming, both acting and writing?

Michael Boatman: My novel, The Revenant Road, will be published by The Drollerie Press in 2008. Of course I've got A Father's Work in Weird Tales coming soon, and stories in a couple of anthologies. Two screenplays I've written are being considered around Hollywood. On the acting front, I'm co-starring in an independent  film called The Killing of Wendy. It'll be in theaters next June. Also a film called American Summer, coming soon.

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