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Scott Frost: Screen writer and novelist

Scott Frost is a screen writer and novelist with some incredibly successful television programs and books to his credit. Before turning to writing he worked for several years as a photographer. His television credits include shows such as Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Babylon Five and Andromeda. He has also written five books.

His first novel, Run the Risk, was nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel. He also wrote the official tie-in book for Twin Peaks – The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes.

He has written three other crime novels, Never Fear, Point of No Return and, his latest, Don’t Look Back.

Click play to listen. Running time: 21.56


Don’t Look Back

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
Scott thanks for joining us today.

Scott
My pleasure.

Valerie
Now tell us, you started life off as a photographer before moving into writing. How did that transition happen?

Scott
I grew up as a dyslexic so writing was pretty difficult for me so I went down another path through school and then as I began a professional life. But it finally just caught up with me and I had to start writing. The stories that I could tell with a camera finally weren’t enough so I sat down and began writing.

Valerie
But how did you make that transition? Did you find it easy or did it naturally flow out of you? How did you make that transition?

Scott
It flowed out of me I guess in the sense that I had been waiting my whole life to do it but it took a lot of years of practice and just working at it before I became I think a good enough writer to sit down and do fiction. I started with screenplays and short stories as sort of my apprenticeship in a sense although screenplays also became a profession for almost 20 years.

Valerie
Do you remember your first significant writing gig?

Scott
That I was paid for?

Valerie
Yes.

Scott
The very first thing that I ever made any money on was a screenplay I wrote about what happened in this little Midwest town in America the day that Sputnik went up. It was a sort of American Graffiti meets Dr. Strangelove kind of screenplay. Someone actually optioned it and that was the first thing. Then it was a few years before I made any money after that but eventually the gigs began to come and I made some money.

Valerie
Your writing is very diverse from crime to TV series to novels. Where do you get all of your ideas from? I know that writers are asked this all the time but people want to know especially if their career is as diverse as yours.

Scott
Fortunately, I don’t do screenplays for the most part anymore. I’m able to just focus on my books, which I’m very lucky that way. And where they come from, specifically the books begin with an image. I think that is part of my photography background that find an image that strikes something in me and then it’s just following a story.

It’s a process of discovery like a detective goes through in that sense. I don’t know where the story is going to go. I don’t know what the characters are going to be. Every day is hopefully some discovery going on.

Valerie
So your writing process flows out of you and you figure it out as you go along. You don’t plot?

Scott
No, every day it’s a new beginning. I make notes and I begin as the further into the story goes I begin to sort of reach some signposts so that I know a vague direction of where I’m going. But specifically every day is new. If I surprise myself I know that I have done something that I think is good because it will probably surprise the reader also.

Valerie
That’s a great adventure for you personally.

Scott
Sometimes, although it’s a little scary at others.

Valerie
Do you ever think, “Oh, my goodness, nothing is coming?”

Scott
More than I would like to think about actually, yeah. Those are not good days.

Valerie
No. Now your TV credits include two very popular and quirky crime series or crime-related series at Twin Peaks and The X-Files. What appealed to you about writing crime in the first place?

Scott
I guess I never thought of Twin Peaks as crime series in a sense. I mean it obviously involved a murder and some very dark things going on in a small town. But it was a small town who was coming out between the ears of David Lynch which was a very different kind of setting and obviously The X-Files, which I only had a very brief relationship with, was about aliens. They weren’t your typical, it wasn’t cops and robbers stuff.

Valerie
No, mystery.

Scott
Yeah.

Valerie
So you are writing crime novels now and that must require amount of research and also to get into the mind of the criminal. How do you do that?

Scott
I like to think that a story told well is better than truth so I don’t do much research in that sense. If I feels true to me as a writer then I think that I have done my job for the reader. In terms of just specific facts I have friends who have been in law enforcement and I if need to check some things and make sure that it rings true with them then I will do that. The rest is just pure imagination.

Valerie
You’ve obviously got a very fertile mind.

Scott
Apparently. I try not to go too deeply into where it comes from because I think that I will scare myself.

Valerie
Quite possibly.

Scott
I may not like what I find out.

Valerie
Writing for television has a much shorter gestation period than writing a novel. Did you find the switching to writing novels a difficult process or an easy process or what was it like?

Scott
Both. It was easy in the sense of being able to leave behind the pressure and craziness of television. You have two weeks to write a script which is frankly lovely sometimes because you are done and you walk away and start something else hopefully.

But it’s also less griping as a writer I think and the process of a book is one that can take nine months or more. It’s always with you. It never leaves in the middle of the night driving down the road. That can be both exhilarating and a little exhausting by the time that you are done with the book.

Valerie
Absolutely. Of the novels that you have written so far do you have a favourite?

Scott
Yeah, well, that’s a little bit like picking a favourite kid and you will get into trouble one way or another. I have a soft spot for the first one obviously but I like to think that every one has been different than the previous one. And in that sense I like them all.

I can’t say that I have a favourite one other than the one that I’m working on at the moment because that’s really where your head has to be. When I sit and look at a stack of my books sitting on a bookshelf it’s almost like an alien-like experience in a sense because the disconnect between the writing process and that object on the bookshelf pretty severe. It’s kind of remarkable that you can even imagine putting together one of those things.

As objects I have always loved books and I try not to think about that part of it too much as I’m working on it because if you start thinking about page 400 when you’re on page 17 you’re in deep trouble.

Valerie
Speaking of the writing process, do you have a particular writing routine or what’s a typical writing day for you look like?

Scott
Typical writing day, the sun comes up very early in Montana except in the winter when it gets a little dark, but I’m up around 6:30 to 7:00 in the morning and I’ll have some coffee and read the papers and then on to work usually by 8:00. I’ll work until noon and hopefully I’ve had a good day of somewhere between three and five pages of work and will call it a day in the formal sense of doing any more work. I may make some notes later in the day.

But then I’ll try to just get away from it for a little while and run errands and things like that, normal life. I try not to work on the weekends. It’s good to get away. But that also depends on where you are with your deadline which affect a lot about all of it.

Valerie
Tell us about your latest book, Don’t Look Back. To start off with, tell us what image started this book off?

Scott
The image that started it was a football stadium empty at night with 100,000 seats in it and the body of a girl who had been missing for three years wrapped in a sleeping bag frozen solid in the middle of the field. And that’s where the whole story began. It kind of rolled from there.

Valerie
Does an image like that just pop into your head one day or how does that happen?

Scott
My mother wonders about these things. I think she maybe worries a little bit but I don’t know where. You work at it. You sit and you just push the imagination every day. I guess these things come out of somewhere but it is probably best not to delve too deeply into it because you might not like what you’ll find.

Valerie
Would your advice to would-be and aspiring crime writers to immerse themselves in the genre and read a lot of crime or actually not at all?

Scott
That’s an interesting question. I think you want to explore the genre to a degree that you begin to understand it. But I think writing is writing and read good writers more than a genre and you will find your own genre and your own style.

I used to read other crime fiction but since I began to publish crime fiction I find that I don’t really read it very much any more because I don’t want other crime writers’ voices in my head frankly. I want to be protective of my own. I don’t want to inadvertently borrow from someone because we are always borrowing from anything that we can in writing. So I try to keep the voice as simple as I can that way.

Valerie
With your background as a screenwriter and a TV writer do you write your novels with the intention of them eventually becoming a screenplay?

Scott
It would be fine if it did happen but I don’t write them with that intention. I write very visually so I think that it would translate very well on to the screen. But so far no one has come knocking that way.

It’s a very difficult business particularly with a female character. The industry is so star-driven these days and deal-driven. There is literally only two or three female stars who the studio will bankroll to do a movie. So I don’t look at it as the next stop. I think of the book as everything that I want to do.

Valerie
As somebody who is not female how did you get into the mind of the female character?

Scott
I learned stories I think from the women in my family. My grandmother was a great storyteller and my mother was. The family stories were passed down that way so I learned to hear stories through that voice. I think that it somehow connected with me as a writer somehow. So it seems very natural for me to tell a story that way.

Valerie
Are you currently writing your next book?

Scott
I am. I’m working on the next Alex Delillo novel. Yes, that’s what I’m doing now.

Valerie
So typically is it a book a year or how prolific are you?

Scott
That’s what it’s been since the series began is a book a year. That’s what the publishing business, I think, wants and demands at the moment. Until you are wonderfully established as a best-seller I think that you need to do it. My publishers have been wonderful to me and so I try to give them what they need. It makes for a very busy schedule in terms of writing.

But you do need to get away from it at times. When you are done with a book you are pretty wrung out. Usually a month or two away from it without thinking about writing anything is necessary for me when I am done.

Valerie
In your particular experience, what does the rewriting and editing process look like for you? Is it something that is tweaked here and there or is it quite a big job with a lot of structural stuff going on?

Scott
Hopefully it’s not too big. I try to be very careful with my first drafts. Then I have gotten more careful as I have gone along. The first couple books I probably did more rewriting than I do now because I have learned to trust my voice when it says, “You’re going in the wrong direction.”

I’m better off to write a paragraph that day instead of two pages that might not feel right. So I think that I’ve gotten a little better at understanding when I’m writing well and when I’m not writing well. I edit myself a little more closely now the first time through.

Valerie
Do you want to write more TV or are you focusing on books?

Scott
No, I’m just focusing on books. I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore and I don’t miss it. Writing, I think that every screenwriter at heart if they were honest with themselves would probably say they’d love to write the great American novel in that sense. But it’s often a very horrifying prospect because you’re looking at instead of writing a 40-page television script, you’re looking at a stack of pages that are pretty think. That can be kind of intimidating if you think of it in those terms.

Valerie
And so much time invested in it, of course.

Scott
Oh, yes. To sit with one story for that long, I find kind of liberating and wonderful but at the same time I know that it can be also intimidating.

Valerie
What would you say is the biggest obstacle in being a novelist?

Scott
Every day of getting up and working, that kind of discipline is the hardest thing and just believing in yourself. You have to trust your own voice. That takes time. It’s wonderful when you are younger because youth allows for you to do all kinds of things and as you get older and you learn more you might not do. I think just the more that you write the better you get hopefully.

Valerie
What are some of the biggest highs or rewards about being a novelist?

Scott
Finishing a book is a wonderful feeling. The best part is just the process when you have a good day. That sense that you’ve connected with something internal and that voice comes out but you really don’t understand where it comes from. But you know that you have written well that day. That feels very good.

Valerie
Writing is a very isolating experience. Is that something that you actually enjoy or do you feel that you need to do other things to compensate for that and to connect with people?

Scott
I enjoy the process. I like living a pretty quiet and isolated way. Although we have a lot of good friends and we live in a small ranching community in Montana so we see people. But there are parts of weeks when I don’t see many because I’m pretty focused on the book and there just aren’t that many people around us.

Valerie
And finally what would your advice be to the aspiring writers out there who they may have had a background in screenwriting like yourself or they may not? But they want to get the great American novel or the great Australian novel or the great British novel out there, and they are looking at that stack thinking, “Oh, my God, this is a year or more out of my life,” what would your advice be to them and what they should do.

Scott
Take it a day at a time. Start with a page or three pages. When I began I sat down and literally wrote, “Okay I’m going to reach this page today,” and I didn’t think beyond that. Just enjoy the journey. Trust the journey because that is ultimately the reason that you are doing it. It’s not the end result. It’s what happens along the way that’s most rewarding.

Valerie
And Scott finally for those readers who haven’t necessarily read your previous books, tell us what can they expect from Don’t Look Back?

Scott
Hopefully what they are going to find is a book that they want to keep turning the pages and can’t stop. I think if I’ve kept you up most of the night and ruined your next day it makes me very happy and I hear that time and time again from people. I want people to have a very intense reading experience and hopefully I think that this book accomplishes that.

Valerie
Wonderful. Thanks so much for your time today, Scott.

Scott
Well, thank you.

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