OCSWA Member - Raymond Obstfeld
This is a series of articles designed for getting to know the people of OCSWA.
Raymond Obstfeld is one of our board members whose impact is felt at every level of this organization. He's been a source of inspiration, guidance and help to me for many, many years and I consider him a great friend both personally and professionally. He works harder than any ten human beings I know. Just one reason why he's so successful.
A Q&A follows this article on his work.
Raymond published his first novel when he was 24. His second novel, Dead Heat, was nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America.
Forty books and a dozen screenplays later, Raymond is still going strong.
Although he has published extensively under his own name, he has also written under the pseudonyms Pike Bishop (the Western series, Diamondback), Jason Frost (the futuristic series Warlord), Carl Stevens (a mystery series), and Don Pendleton (the Executioner series).
However, Raymond achieved his greatest success writing as Laramie Dunaway (Hungry Women, Borrowed Lives, and Lessons in Survival). His Dunaway books have been published around the world from England to Korea. His award-winning young-adult novel, Joker and the Thief, has also been published in several countries.
As a screenwriter, Raymond adapted his novel Dead Heat for Michael Keaton and his novel Warlord for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Hamner. His original scripts have all been optioned. These include various genres, from romantic comedy (Mr. Moonlight) to caper-comedy (Foolproof) to teen action (The Joker and the Thief) to cop dramas (Tangled Up in Blue and Gambol’s Luck).
He has rewritten original screenplays for Paramount (Sword Fight) and Don “the Dragon” Wilson (Whatever It Takes). Most recently he has rewritten the scripts Whackers and Robodog for Thornbush Entertainment. His adaptation of his novel, Joker and the Thief, is being developed by Chartoff Productions (Raging Bull, Rocky).
He is also very active writing non-fiction. Aside from his many articles in Writer's Digest (where he is a Contributing Editor), he has published two instructional books on writing, including The Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes and Fiction First Aid (Writer’s Digest Books). In addition, he has several books due in the coming years, including What God Wants: What the World’s Major Religions Teach about Today’s Most Controversial Issue, SpiritWise: The Moral Teachings of Native Americans, and Black Op (previously optioned by Morgan Freeman). Four books have been written for Lucent Books: Napoleon Bonaparte, Moby-Dick: Critical Essays, The Renaissance and Nations in Transition: India.
He has recently co-written a book for Los Angeles Laker legend Kareen Abdul Jabar and is continuing to work with other celebrities on various co-writing projects and to develop his original projects both screenplays and novels.
Raymond Obstfeld is a founding board member of The Orange County Screenwriters Association.
Q&A With Raymond Obstfeld:
1) Tell us a little about your background and how you came to writing.
I started writing when I was 14. I wrote plays at first, very melodramtic stories with tragic endings and social commentary. Then I switched to poetry. When I saw how much the girls at school were impressed by the fact that I wrote poetry (never mind the quality), I realized I had found my calling.
2) You're quite accomplished in several different mediums. Is it difficult to write successfully in each of those different mediums?
If by successful you mean make money then yes, it's difficult to be successful in any of them. My success in various fields of writing is not a reflection of talent as much as it is of passion. I love writing, but I love a lot of different genres, from Westerns to martial arts to literary novels. I also love television and movies. Having a passion for whatever you're writing is a big step toward becoming successful.
3) Is it harder to write a script or a novel? For you? In general?
They're both the same level of difficulty. The novel is a marathon race, the script is a sprint. Each is exhausting, but the novel demands a long-term commitment. And it screws with you over time. Because it takes longer, the novel forces you to question yourself a lot; it preys on your insecurities. The script is more like writing a poem than writing fiction because it's all about images and powerful moments.
4) What movies would be on your deserted island list?
The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Third Man, Hannah and Her Sisters, Kung Fu Hustle, Shaun of the Dead, The Wild Bunch, Rockford Files, My So-Called Life, Wonderfalls, Northern Exposure, House and many, many more.
5) What books?
What Makes Sammy Run, Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, all of Peter de Vries, all of Castle Freeman, Jr., a lot of Elmore Leonard, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, short stories of Lorrie Moore, Dark Places and Sharp Objects (both by Gillian Flynn), etc.
6) You've been both a successful novelist and screenwriter for many years. How have you seen those industries change over the years?
Everything changes and those who are around long enough always think things are changing for the worse. Adapt or die.
7) What's the best advice you can give a beginning writer?
They're just words on a page. Everything you write is crap at first. Don't worry about that because you can keep changing the words until you find the ones you like. Also, discipline trumps talent; the person who writes every day will be more successful than the person who can turn out 20 brilliant pages without even trying. That's because that person can't finish anything, can't endure the rejection and self-doubts. That person will quit. The disciplined writer will just keep going--and get better and better.
8) What's coming up for you?
I have a children's book coming out that I co-wrote with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And the documentary based on On the Shoulders of Giants (co-written with Kareem) is coming out in February 2011. I co-wrote (with Kareem) the original script for that, though it has been rewritten since then by the very talented Anna Waterhouse (my sometime scriptwriting partner). My novel, Lessons in Survival, has been adapted as a movie which I'm told was recently funded. A Christmas script I wrote is at Paramount and they've made an offer to a famous actress to star in it. My novel, Anatomy Lesson, is in some stage of development as a TV series. I'm writing a young adult novel that I'm happy about. Today. Might feel otherwise tomorrow.
ed. note: Raymond has also done script work on a new movie called FINDING BLISS which opens in NY on June 4 and in LA on June 11 and stars Leelee Sobieski and Matt Johnson.