This blog rarely features interviews with authors, but when the chance came to sit down with Tim Kring, creator of TV's "Heroes" and author of Shift, a mind-bending thriller released in Aug. 2010 (buy it here), the chance was just too good to pass up. Tim talked with me about his writing process, the difference between writing novels vs, screenplays, and much more. Here's what he had to say:
SHIFT(August 2010, Crown) is the first novel
by Tim Kring, long-time screenwriter and
creator of "Heroes." Book Page called Shift
"enjoyable and frenetic from start to finish."
The book was co-written by Dale Peck.
Your first novel just came out: Shift. It’s been described as The Manchurian Candidate meets The Dead Zone. Besides that, and without giving too much away, tell us a little more about what the book is about.
Shift is an historical thriller set in 1963. It focuses on an actual CIA clandestine mind control program called “MK Ultra.” This program dosed up to 120,000 unwilling and unwitting American citizens with LSD in an attempt to find a truth serum or a Manchurian Candidate for use as a weapon against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Our story posits the one in a million person (Chandler Forrestal) whose brain chemistry reacts to this drug, unlocking hidden potentials in his brain that give him, in essence, super powers.
Chandler finds himself embroiled in both this conspiracy and an even greater one, the plot to kill President Kennedy.
LSD and government mind control plans are fascinating and often times based in fact, like in Shift. Is that where your story started: with the mind control angle?
I wanted to write an historical novel, and I wanted it to have a conspiracy feel. I started doing research about the CIA and stumbled onto the MK Ultra program. I then wanted to place an “everyman” at the center. In our story, this everyman is a grad student who stumbles into this conspiracy.
As a writer myself, I often write some of what I consider “the most interesting” scenes of a story first, such as the inciting incident. What were some of the first scenes you wrote for the book, and did they make the final version?
Shift actually started with a scene that did not make it into the final draft. It was set on a military transport plane as Melchoir, our villain, is flying into Cuba with a renegade band of CIA mercenaries assigned to kill Fidel Castro. They have a box of exploding cigars with them, and accidentally give one of them to the pilot. You can imagine what happens from there.
It didn’t make it into the book because it simply started the story too far back. So the book now starts with Melchoir in Cuba, having been stuck there for almost two years.
Take us back for a minute. What kind of stuff did you read (and write?) in high school that would define you as the novelist to come?
I am first and foremost a screenwriter. I wrote this book with Dale Peck and until I have completed a novel wholly on my own, I don’t know that I can consider myself a novelist in the true sense of the word.
Before writing screenplays, I tried to write short stories, but never really pursued it past burying the finished products in my desk. I must confess that as a longtime writer in Hollywood, always fighting a deadline and behind on a draft, it leaves me very little time to read. That, a family, and running a business, and reading takes a huge backseat.
Biggest surprise or lesson learned throughout the process of writing and publishing Shift?
I learned so much about the process of writing prose by working with Dale. He’s a very accomplished and prolific writer. I don’t know that it was a big surprise, but it was staggering just how much looser the structure is from screenwriting. You are far more free to explore tangential ideas.
You also created the TV series, "Heroes," which juggled an amazing number of storylines. How difficult is it, as a writer, to keep so many storylines in focus without allowing an audience to be overwhelmed?
You have touched on the bane of my existence as a show runner for a show like "Heroes." However, you have to keep in mind that Heroes had up to 11 writers working at any one time. So this difficulty was a shared one. We had 300 people on the show and there were some whose job it was to just keep the storylines straight. They kept the bible for the series that held the whole crazy universe together.
What writing had you done, published/produced or not, prior to your success with "Heroes" and then Shift?
I have been a screenwriter in Hollywood for 25 years. I started my career with a freelance episode of "Knight Rider" back in 1985. I have never stopped working and making my living as a writer since. So the list of produced credits is long. Most notably, however, is that the last ten years of my career have been as a show runner for my own shows. The first being "Crossing Jordan," which ran for six seasons on NBC, followed by "Heroes," which completed its fourth season last February.
Writing two pilots. Just completed perhaps the largest multi-platform narrative ever done, called “Conspiracy For Good.” It was unique for combining narrative with real world positive change. This was a narrative that ran over three months on the Internet, on mobile and on the streets of London as interactive theater this past summer. The project blended reality with fiction resulting in funding the building of five libraries in Zambia, stocking them with books and giving 50 scholarships to school girls. You can check it out at conspiracyforgood.com.
I am now starting my own “next gen” or “transmedia” company called IMPERATIVE. It’s designed to take a new and fresh look at the way stories are told across multiple platforms.
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