Interview with Scarlett Savage, Author of Narcotic Nation
Scarlett Savage was born and raised in Maine. She began her writing career at age 5 after reading LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS. When she finished the book, she announced to her family that she would become an author. She began to write stories but soon turned her attention to the theater, which led her to explore playwriting. By the time she was in high school, she was writing for professional stage companies in Maine. She received a full scholarship to the University of Maine at Orono, where she won her first major writing awards. Her play, DEAR DADDY, LOVE CASSIE, won several awards and raised money for both national and regional sexual assault support centers. Scarlett moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and made her L.A. theater debut with her latest play, SHE F*&KING HATES ME: A LOVE STORY. She lives in Santa Monica with the love of her life, Mike Biggie, who designed the cover of NARCOTIC NATION. Visit her website at www.ScarlettSavage.com. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a triple Leo…sun, moon, and rising, which I think describes me pretty accurately!! I’m intensely driven, passionate, and fiery (I’m a natural redhead, so it’s in the job description!). I’m extremely outgoing and I love people; I love reading; I love travelling, especially to the UK. For my epitaph, I want it to say, “She loved and laughed.”
Where did you grow up?
I was an army brat; the first eight years were all over, from Virginia to Japan to Alabama, before settling down in Maine until I graduated college. (I attended Stephen King’s alma mater on full scholarship, UMaine at Orono.)
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Reading. Curling myself up on a snowy day with a mug of cocoa and getting lost in another world. When I was older, the memories of drama club, Junior Mensa, and Olympics of the Mind. Great times!
When did you begin writing?
When I was five years old right before Christmas, there was a terrible snowstorm, so the power went out; my sisters were visiting my grandparents, so I had nothing to do. My mother raided the Christmas stash and came out with Little House in the Big Woods. I’d just learn to read (or, according to family lore, “taught myself”). I was a little taken aback that it had no pictures, but after the first page or so, I realized something: the words made pictures in your mind. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world, and still do! My father went out and bought me a little briefcase and pencils and paper and a journal and a little stamper with my name on it. I started writing Christmas Day, and never stopped.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
Nightwriter. DEFINITELY. Between the hours of 10PM-2PM, when the rest of the world is sleeping, that’s when I get my best work done.
What is this book about?
It’s an alternate reality in which all narcotics were legalized in the United States twenty years ago, and the effects it has on our society and culture; the American people are split on this decision like at no other time since the Civil War.
What inspired you to write it?
In college, a friend of mine was talking about a paper he’d read for his economics class. It was about how if we legalized drugs, the country would go to hell for twenty years and then be the better for it. I remember thinking, “How interesting would it be to write about those twenty years…”
Who is your biggest supporter?
I have three: Mike Biggie, my husband and best friend. He told me to stop spreading myself too thin and just focus on getting my work published; it took me two years, but I got there!! He’s also an incredible editor, and has helped me streamline my work so it flows much better than my own raw material. The second, my best friend Thomas Mills; he’s also a writer and very brilliant. You’ll be seeing him soon!! And finally, and most importantly, my daughter Daphne Juliet Ellis. She loves her grandparents’ farm in Maine, and was determined to grow up there, as her father had. So, I was very hesitant to leave the New England area, because it was hard enough not to be away from her during the school week. But when she turned 12, my shows started doing well in NYC, and people told me I needed to get to LA if I really wanted to take my career seriously. I asked Daphne what I should do, and she said, “Mumsley, you need to do this. We both know you’re better than most writers out there, but you need to show the world that you are. I’m so proud of you.” She brags about me to her friends, which to me is better than any award out there.
Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?
No, but I’m looking for one!!! Critiques are EVERYTHING! Never give up an opportunity to have your work viewed through a fresh pair of eyes.
Who is your favorite author?
Again, I have three: A) Jodi Piccoult. Her style of writing—how she writes from several POV’s in every book-- is truly incredible; they’ll be teaching her in universities in a hundred years. B) Judy Blume. She had the balls, so to speak, to write about things—divorce, menstruation, masturbation—that kids really needed to know about but no one thought was appropriate. Those things are real life, so what could be more appropriate than writing about real life? and finally C) Stephen King. My hero. People talk about the horrific situations his characters get into, but for me, his books are all about the fabulous characterizations. He writes people so layered and flawed and real.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?
I have an agent, a manager, and a publicist. It took me a while to discern the difference between the three! Your manager goes out there in the industry and finds opportunities for you; your agent closes the deal and deals with the contracts; and the publicists tell the planet about your work.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
Extremely bumpy!! I tried to get published right out of college; no bites. So I took some time off, because I was realizing that most of what I wrote was about being in college or being in theater, as that’s all I’d ever done. But as soon as I had a child…it was as though the whole world opened up to me. Everything was so different, and new, and much more precious. I began writing in a much more structured environment after she was born; I was terrified of becoming one of those moms who “used to” write! Luckily I had nothing to worry about…I could never NOT write. I tried again to get published and got an agent, but she wasn’t able to sell me. Then I went back to the stage, and wrote a number of plays that I got a number of awards, between 1997-2008. In 2006, my good friend James Patrick Kelly, multi-award-winning sci fi novelist, said, “Your plays are literally screaming out to be books and movies. You need to start transposing your work.” So I did. I got an agent in 2007 who did absolutely nothing for me for three years—her name’s Rene Duff, and not only did she not do anything for me, the four rejection letters I got during her reign all said the same thing: “Great work, but we don’t publish this genre of book”. So I wasted three years with her. When I moved to LA, I signed with Paul Levine. In December of 2012, I produced the play version of “She F*&king Hates Me: A Love Story”; I got a couple of rave reviews, and from there I had several offers to publish the novel version. So, it took six years…but I got there!! And, of course, as soon as I got one offer, several others followed.
If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
I’d be less shy about knocking on doors. I would have focused on transposing earlier. And most importantly, I would have moved to LA twenty years ago. But…if I’d moved out to LA in my teens/twenties, I wouldn’t have had the babies I wound up with. Catch 22.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
A) It’ll be in bookstores and online in autumn/ winter 2013.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?
Do you have a video trailer to promote your book? If yes, where can readers find it?
Not yet, but working on it!!!
What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?
Hiring a publicist. No one can buy your book if they don’t know about it!!
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Write every day. But learn how to promote yourself. If you can’t get an agent, or get published, then find ways to get your work out there locally. Put on plays in local theaters. Find Spoken Word events to read your poetry. Find groups to critique your work. Get your name in local papers. Get local awards under your belt. Believe me, it helps when you’re trying to get to the next level!!
What is up next for you?
In March 2014, SkyHorse Books is publishing the novelization of “She F*&king Hates Me: A Love Story”, based on my award-winning play; I’m currently fielding film offers for that project as well. I have a few meetings set up for my pilot, “Thinking With Your Ring Finger” (based on my close friendship with my ex-husband’s first wife). I’m developing a website based on strong young girls called “I AM A GIRL!!” based on a play I wrote for the Girl Scout Jamboree 2008. Taylor Street Books will also be publishing, “Did My Sister Scream?” based on my off-Broadway play (about a young college boy whose sister is date-raped, but it’s about what HE goes through), as well as my fantasy y/a series, the first of which is called, “Tale the First of the Village Mage and the Mysterious Girl Who Sleeps in the Heather”.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The best thing you can do for yourself as an artist is learn to promote yourself. For every one hour you spend creating your art, you should spend ten hours either promoting or finding people who can sell your work for you. I don’t believe in art for art’s sake…without an audience, there is no art.