Author, television producer, award winning documentary film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral, has just completed work on his second published novel, Ghost Maven, and has generously offered to share a bit of insider scoop on his new book, what drives and motivates him, and what he has planned next. Despite an increasingly busy work life, as with everything Tony takes on, he remains focused and grounded while enjoying the creative journey he rides with each new project and challenge. Welcome Tony!
Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
Q: Your work spans several genres, including documentary film-making with your own production company, journalistic interviews with celebrities, and author of several books. Is there a common thread or arc in each of these endeavours? If so, what would that be?
A: Story! Story! Story! Whether it’s making a documentary film, writing a novel, or interviewing your subjects for a non-fiction book, each has the common thread of having a good story at the core. If I have something compelling to say, I will write, direct, produce, or find an outlet to tell my story.
Q: Your latest project, Ghost Maven, is a YA novel, which is quite a departure from your previous books on Alfred Hitchcock and murder mysteries. Can you share a little about this story to whet a young reader’s appetite?
A: In Ghost Maven, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Monterey, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other. It’s a love story with a twist.
Q: Why YA at this point in your career?
A: I’m inspired to write different genres, and as a compulsive communicator, I wanted to reach out to as many different readers of all ages as possible. The Young Adult readership is especially appealing to me, as I read many books in my teens and can identify with the hopes, fears and aspirations of being a teenager. It can be a very uncertain time for many teens, but I hope they identify with the characters in the book and want to share the journey with them.
Q: Have you ever encountered a ghost or spirit form in your personal life or travels? If so, what happened? If not, do you believe in ghosts?
A: I haven’t experienced ghosts or spirit forms, but I have had some intuitive dreams. Like Alice, I have experienced personal loss, and I use those feelings to create an atmosphere of reaching to the after life. I do believe that some things can’t be explained and science is still trying to unlock the answers.
Q: What surprising correlations or similarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?
A: Good storytelling is at the heart of both film-making and writing, whether it be shaping well-developed characters, creating emotional arcs and creating compelling situations. A good film or book takes the viewer or reader on a journey of discovery, enlightenment, or good old-fashioned entertainment.
Q: What dissimilarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?
A: With film-making, one should think in visuals, rather than relying on words or dialogue. You have a rectangle to fill with a succession of images to create an emotional response. Hitchcock said he wasn’t interested in photographs of people talking in his films, so I try to rely on visuals to tell my story when directing. In fact, I often think my novels are more like screenplays as I’m always thinking of the mise-en-scène, where the characters are, how they are dressed or what expressions they have on their faces. The advantage of writing is that you can really get inside your characters’ minds, what they are thinking and feeling, which you can’t quite do in a documentary film.
Q: What would you say fuels your imagination in writing?
A: Definitely travel – I’m lucky to travel with my day job as a film-maker, and I have been to some extraordinary places and have had access to some incredible situations and people. I’m like a sponge, absorbing human behaviour and thinking of how I can translate stories to the page or screen.
Q: How long does it take you to write a novel from first draft to final edit?
A: It depends on the publishing process. I first wrote Ghost Maven in 2010, so six years later it is being published. The last 18 months has been especially productive, as the novel was honed through various drafts, and I had some wonderful input from agents and copy editors.
Q: You are represented by a literary agency, Loiacono Literary Agency, in an age when many writers are choosing to self-publish. What has been your experience in working with an agent?
A: One of support and encouragement, which is invaluable as writing can be a very lonely process. The great screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, described writing as a “divorcement from life”, which I can totally identify with. But having an agent is having someone to share the rewards and accomplishments with. What’s the point of being successful, if you have no one to share that success with?:
Q: Can you tell us a little about your production company, Sabana Films, and what you are trying to accomplish with your films?
A: I won the Special Jury award last year at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which was an incredible, inspiring moment, and has reignited my love for natural history. I’ve started filming a documentary movie which I’m very passionate about called ‘The Cat that Changed America’. It’s about P22, the mountain lion who is trapped in Griffith Park in LA, and the wonderful conservationists and Angelenos who are trying to help him.
Q: If you could sit down and spend an evening chatting with three people, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?
A: Alfred Hitchcock, because I’ve written three books on the Master of Suspense, and currently writing a fourth on his reputation. His films have inspired me and are text book examples of film making and screenplay writing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he is my favourite author, his prose is elegant, simple and elegiac. I love The Great Gatsby, the world Fitzgerald lived through and created, and the characters who populate that world.
Winston Churchill, because he epitomizes everything great about being British, what I love about England, and the country where I was born. His stoicism and heroism is something to be admired.
Q: What’s next for you, Tony?
A: I’m looking forward to my book tour for Ghost Maven. On Labour Day weekend, Saturday 3rd September 2016, at 2 p.m., I will be in the Old Capitol Books store in Monterey, California, signing copies of the book. It’s very special to me to launch the book in the place where the novel is set and where I lived for two inspirational years.
Q Where can our readers find you online?