Well, it’s taken a little longer than I hoped, but the time has finally come to share a very special interview. I hope you all enjoy the chance to get to know Grant Faulkner, the new Executive Director of the Office of Letters and Light. Grant is taking over for Chris Baty today, leading the organization that runs National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy, and I’d love to wish him a great first day!
What did you want to be when you grew up? Were you dreaming of becoming an accountant, a lawyer, a fireman?
Other than a brief dalliance with wanting to be Batman at the age of 3, I always wanted to be a writer. I think it’s somehow genetic. I remember staring at the pens and paper in my local bookstore with fetishistic delight as a boy and wanting to buy them all. I asked for a diary with a lock on it for Christmas when I was 5, and I’ve since purchased all sorts of different pens and journals and notepads.
My father is a lawyer in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where I grew up, and he always saved an office for me in case I decided to become a lawyer. I loved going to that office as a child and penning what I thought would be wildly successful novels. I was fortunate that my parents didn’t push any profession on me and have been wonderfully supportive of me as a writer despite the choice of such a precarious profession.
How did you end up on the Office of Letters and Light board? Were you asked by Chris Baty?
I’ve always looked for ways to marry my personal life as a writer to my professional life, which can be a challenging thing to do. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to work as a journalist, an editor, and a writing teacher, and then I landed at the National Writing Project, a non-profit dedicated to improving the teaching of writing in the nation’s schools.
Chris has always been so inspirational to me on so many levels, so I reached out to him to see if he could help me further my career and deepen my knowledge of nonprofit management by recommending nonprofit arts organizations who might consider me as a board member. He ended up asking me to consider the Office of Letters and Light, which was a dream organization for me on every level—wonderful programs and a fantastically intelligent and fun-loving board and staff. I simply can’t believe how lucky I am to work with such amazing people.
How many times have you participated in Nanowrimo or Script Frenzy? How well did you do?
I knew of NaNoWriMo from its early beginnings because a friend of mine participated in one of the first ones, but I didn’t do it because I didn’t think it was quite for me and I was laboriously working on a novel (now in its eighth year….ah!?!). Chris prodded, chided, and cajoled me into doing it, and I loved the experience. I had a second novel that I’d been sketching notes on for a while, and it was wonderful to develop that new novel so quickly. Any writer can get stuck in their ways, and NaNoWriMo truly shook up my writing process—a necessary thing. I went on to enthusiastically do Script Frenzy.
How well did I do? Measured by word count, I didn’t win (I’ll blame my children and the fact that November was my busiest month at the National Writing Project…but no excuses). I think I did well, however, because I brought a novel and a script to life, became part of a larger writing community, and rethought my writing process. I’m itching to try my hand at a Young Adult novel this year, and I’ve been conjuring a script with a writing partner that I plan to plow through in this April’s Script Frenzy.
What kind of characters do you most like to write?
Oh my. This is a question that really makes one confront the existential matters of writing. Reoccurring characters speak to matters of the soul, after all, why we write in the first place. I think the characters who I gravitate to in my work are reflections of the characters of some of my favorite authors, such as Paul Bowles, Malcolm Lowry, Robert Stone, Denis Johnson, Marilyn Robinson, Lydia Davis, and James Salter. They’re characters who are adrift in life, unmoored from religion and trying to make sense of a world that is godless—dealing quite directly with Sartre’s concept of “bad faith.” They’re experimenting with life without truly knowing it, sometimes recklessly engaging in self-destructive behavior, but essentially searching for a way to make life sacred. They’re confined in some way by “the rules of life” that they’ve adopted, but are searching for freedom. That’s it, freedom. My characters are looking for ways to be free.
What tools do you use for writing? (digital hardware, software, pens, moleskins, typewriters, etcetera)
I’m a relatively fanatic journal writer. I have a bookcase full of every type of journal imaginable, from fancy leather bound journals to spiral notebooks. Writing surfaces and tools matter to me a great deal, in other words, so I like to mix it up with different sizes of paper, different paper qualities, etc. Like most, however, I do most of my writing on the computer, but lately I’ve wanted to freshen my approach, so I’ve been doing more writing with pen and paper to slow writing down. I also just gave my children an old typewriter from the 50s for Christmas, and I’m eager to write with that—a process that doesn’t allow one to always go back and change things as you can easily do on a computer, so you really have to think about your sentence, your paragraph, your story ahead of time.
I’m very interested in experimenting with different writing software, especially novel writing software. I also just signed up for Yarney, which looks like an interesting tool, and I’m eager to try Scrivener. I use Final Draft for scripts. Can a writer ever have enough writing tools?
How much time have you spent at the OLL office up to this point?
I love the OLL office. Just entering into its doors, I always feel a warm, groovy, fun-loving, creative vibe. I’ve been there for packing nights, board meetings, and at least one party. I can’t wait to work there full time and relish in the creative energy. I honestly feel that the Office of Letters and Light is full of letters and light.
Have you convinced friends to participate in Nano or Script Frenzy?
Yes! I love spreading the NaNo/Script Frenzy gospel. My children, aged 10 and 6, just did it for the first time this year, and it was so wonderful to see how it inspired them to write and how proud they were of their final works. Personally, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a writing program motivate young students of all types and interests to such a degree, so I want the Young Writers Program to be a part of every school. Seriously.
What’s your favorite non-writing hobby?
I developed a repetitive stress injury years ago (no surprise), and had to find an art that didn’t involve keyboarding in order to not go crazy, so I took up photography. I learned on a manual film camera and spent hundreds of hours in dark rooms, but now I shoot with many types of cameras, whether it’s a sophisticated digital SLR or a Holga or Diana camera. I love meandering through places and finding stray, fascinating things to photograph—to tell the story of a place through its objects. My favorite conception of the artist is Baudelaire’s notion of “the flaneur,” so photography fits in well with aimless walking.
If you had all the money you needed to do it, what’s the one thing that you would really like to do with NaNoWriMo and/or Script Frenzy to take it to the next level?
This question is probably too big for me to answer before truly diving into the job. I think rather than thinking of taking NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy to a next level, per se, I want to strengthen their core ingredients: getting more people to “write with abandon” for a month and join such an inspiring community of creators. At its core, the Office of Letters and Light is about the magic of creation. I don’t think there’s an organization quite like it, so I feel like we need to spread that magic in every way possible. I’ve seen the transformative power that a simple act of creation can have, so I want everyone to see themselves as a creator, a writer, and bring that magic into all they do to make the world a better place.
I’d like to thank the following wrimos and friends for their suggested questions: