Author Spotlight: Derek Milman talks Scream All Night
Today I'm so happy to be hosting Derek Milman on the blog! Derek's debut, SCREAM ALL NIGHT, releases today from HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, and BuzzFeed calls it "the summer read you never knew you needed"!
Derek studied English, Theater, and Creative Writing at Northwestern University. He started off as a playwright and screenwriter, and in addition to writing, Derek also went on to receive an MFA in acting at the Yale School of Drama. His sophomore novel, Night Flight, is in the works to hit shelves in 2019 from Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson.
And now, here's my chat with Derek!
Hi, Derek! Welcome and congrats on the release of Scream All Night. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
It’s about a seventeen-year-old kid named Dario Heyward who grew up in a Gothic castle that doubled as a B-horror movie studio called Moldavia. After being cast, and mistreated by his father, in one of the studio’s biggest cult hits, Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, Dario got legally emancipated from his rather eccentric family and moved into a group home. Then Dario gets called back home just as he’s deciding what to do with his future (by his much older brother Oren) because their 91-year-old father is dying. Many things inspired the story: loving movies since childhood; training to be an actor at the insular Yale School of Drama, and working on movie sets. But I also had the idea for years. I just didn’t know how to execute it. Once I got the publishing world’s attention with an early manuscript, people asked if I had other ideas. And I’d mention this one, and people would get so excited about it. Once I started researching the fascinating history of Hammer Films, that sort of grounded the idea, I began sketching out character profiles, and I was off to the races.
Dario’s coming of age story has been described as ‘darkly comedic’. What are your best tips for balancing humor with tension?
The story (and every character) needs an emotional core. There has to be a human element, otherwise it’s just a Carnival of the Screwball. I had to make this a real family, and every member had flaws, and needs, relationships, and an array of complicated emotions.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Sometimes there’s a fork in the road, and the story can go in one of two ways, and I’m not sure which way is stronger. Usually one is not necessarily better than the other, they are just different, and it’s about what kind of story I ultimately want to tell. Getting feedback from beta readers, my agent, or editor (if I’m at that stage) can resolve a lot of this uncertainty.
As a playwright, screenwriter, and actor, do you feel like your education in the dramatic arts helps you dig into personalities and write them for fully?
For sure! I feel like I’ve said this a lot (so I apologize) but having that background gives me a facility with language, an ear for dialogue, and a notion about having stakes, and a general sense of conflict—which any story needs. Having inhabited a certain amount of characters in my life as an actor, I get a sort of instinctual sense of how to fill in a fictional person’s shadow, and create a believable and multi-layered personality.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Scream All Night teach you?
Really, that anything is possible—and believable—if you structure a scene, or story line, around relatable human wants and needs.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m reading recent Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious novel, Less. I am watching a lot of Hitchcock to prep for editing my second YA book (North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Foreign Correspondent) and I’m currently infatuated by William Eggleston’s recent book of photography, and his recent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing/publishing career?
That I’m happier when I’m just writing, and really, that’s the best thing for me to concentrate on—instead of all the other mysterious machinations of publishing that I have no control over.
Many thanks go out to Derek for taking the time to tell us more about SCREAM ALL NIGHT, making sense of feedback, and how to balance tension with humor. Be sure to add Derek's brand new release to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,