Born and raised in San Diego, Victoria says she developed an early allergy to sunshine so she bopped around to the rainiest, coldest places she could find – college in Seattle, then grad school in northern England and then grad school redux in Chicago. With an immeasurable sense of humor, the screenwriter moved to Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, where she currently lives with her family, Highland cows, several nesting emus, and in her own words one very judgy peacock. “But that’s just a lot of geography. I’m also a history geek and therefore a research junky so anything that involves a lot of world-building and study is my jam”, she tells us.
Victoria writes comics, features, pilots in a variety of genres but most of her writing deals with identity in some way and connecting our present experiences to those of the past. She has been a finalist in the WB Writers Workshop, Austin Film Festival, and Launch Pad, and a co-written pilot of hers recently won the Launch Pad Pilot competition and is a semifinalist in one of the Stowe Story Labs Fellowships.
Now, in the pre-pandemic days, the writer splits her time between Los Angeles and Portland. In this interview, part of Zaftyg’s series, the author reveals what originally attracted her to screenwriting and her goals for the future.
What are you currently working on?
I’m always working on a couple things at a time. Right now, I’m outlining a contained thriller partly based on some local Oregon history, and a new pilot about mall culture in the 90s. I think like many of us, being isolated this past year has made me nostalgic and introspective. Those years at the end of the last millennia were formative and fascinating. We were maybe the last generation to grow up without ubiquitous technology, but the first generation to yell at their mom to get off the phone so we could use the internet (just saying that makes me hear the dial-up music). It was a time of high conformity, though we all thought we were rebels. Being interested in crises of identity, I was drawn to exploring that dichotomy.
What originally attracted you to screenwriting?
I’d always been interested in creative writing, but definitely saw it as more of a hobby than a job. Then, while working on my history dissertation, I started writing a screenplay (a fictionalized version of that dissertation) as a creative outlet. I found myself using any excuse to keep working on the screenplay instead of on the dissertation, so I decided to change course and apply to MFA programs rather than continue on with the PhD. My history professors knew I was a lost cause – they kept telling me my papers had “too much narrative, not enough analysis” which I think was code for, “if you want to write stories, please try creative writing.” I’ve never looked back.
What’s a typical work week like?
In pandemic times, it’s really different every day of every week. I teach writing online and am working on projects with three (soon to be four) different writing partners in addition to my solo work. I have an excel sheet with a calendar feature to keep me on track.
What writers have influenced you and why?
Probably every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me in some way! I love reading and try to make sure I’m constantly consuming and analyzing a variety of scripts, books, and comics. I would say there are some writers whose voices have stuck with me – Mel Brooks, James Goldman, Amy Tan, N.K. Jemisin, Tony McNamara, George Saunders, etc.
What makes a great story?
Anything that takes you out of your own reality and immerses you in another world. Characters that grab you and don’t let go. Themes and dialogue that stick in your brain for days. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to character, right? There’s a parasocial element to television in particular that makes “Who shot JR?” and “Yadda yadda yadda” and “D’oh” become an ingrained part of our culture. There have been studies that show people feel less lonely, less afraid when their television is on and that social surrogacy hypothesis might be particularly poignant these days. But this need for connection is part of the reason it feels perfectly normal to get completely caught up in the imaginary lives of the Gallaghers of Chicago or the Starks of Winterfell. We might start watching a show because of the hook, but we come back each week for the characters with whom we feel a connection. It’s why we can’t sleep after Nell’s reveal, why we cheer for Wanda even when she does something a little villainous, why we shake with anger for Mateo and Poussey, why we cry at David and Patrick’s wedding, and why if Daryl dies we riot. And the best part is, we get to keep these connections forever. It’s Jeremy Bearimy, baby.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I’ve got a touch of ADHD, so I usually need something crunchy to eat and caffeinated to drink. And I’m definitely a multi-monitor convert. I love having all my notes and references laid out on different monitors so I can see everything at once. Then I look at Twitter for a couple hours. One thing that has changed in quarantine is breakfast. I eat breakfast now.
Do you have any tips on how to overcome writer’s block?
There are a couple things that work for me. One is watching/reading comps or even just content that really grabs me. Usually, I can snap myself out of a block by reminding myself what I’m trying to do and why I’m trying to do it.
I’m not the kind of person who can write themselves out of a block, though. I know this is a great technique, but it’s just never worked for me. What does help is talking through the problem. One of the reasons I love writing with partners or in a room is for the idea exchange that can explode a block. But if I’m flying solo, I talk to my writers’ group, or my friends, or my dog (though she’s not the best for feedback). It helps me a lot to have to explain the problem coherently aloud – sometimes just doing that will lead to a breakthrough.
Lastly, if nothing else works, I walk away. Go for a walk, clean the house, take an extremely long shower. My house is never cleaner than when I have a stressful deadline. Just clearing your brain of the all the noise can be extremely helpful.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in screenwriting?
Read scripts, watch shows/films, write pages. That’s from the amazing Scott Myers and it’s the best advice I’ve ever had. Writing is a skill like any other, which requires study and practice. Break down scripts and shows that you love, take them apart to see how they tick, then use that to elevate your own projects. Share your work, find a community, and be as excited about your friends’ wins as they are about yours.
Who you are as a writer and how did your career experiences help shape you and make you the kind of writer you are and will be?
At my core, I will always be a teacher and historian. Both of those things have made me into a lifelong learner and advocate of change. As we all know, history is constantly repeating itself. We bash our heads against the wall of revolution and make dents, small holes, chips in the façade – but we are still fighting the same battles we’ve waged for hundreds of years. To me, this is why history is so heartbreaking, so inspiring, so appealing to watch. It’s our way of working through our collective trauma, our shared experiences. As a writer, I try to gather these threads and tie them to our current trials and future hope.
What are the struggles in the industry for a female screenwriter? Is it still a “boy’s club”?
For sure it is still a boy’s club, but I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced that to the degree I know others have. I’m going to be absolutely frank, the biggest issue for me is still payment and respect (which are intrinsically linked). And it goes both ways. I am always nervous to ask for my page rate (in comics) or fee (in screenwriting). And anytime you stand up for yourself you run the risk of being known as “difficult.” It’s extremely exhausting to balance. This is a business yet there’s an incredible amount of pressure on women to be grateful just for a seat at the table even when we’re offered less than we’re worth.
Of all the things that you’ve done, is there one that you’re really proud of the most?
Oh no, the “pick your favorite child” question! I believe in constantly pushing yourself forward, so I’m always proudest of the last thing I’ve done – which I then use as motivation to do even better next time.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My immediate goal is, of course, to staff on a series (there’s one in particular I’m DESPERATE to get a shot at when it gets an order) and maybe someday sell a series of my own. One of my partners, Natalie Bergman, and I have a series with a couple attachments we’re gearing up to take out so I’m extremely excited about that. It’s close to my heart with some genre-bending themes and dynamic characters. All fingers crossed!
How do you want to help move humanity forward?
Going off my answer to “what makes a great story,” I believe it’s my job to use my experience and knowledge to create characters audiences can connect with. One of the reasons it’s so important to have creators and writers with different perspectives and experience is to help audiences form those connections with characters who have been traditionally “othered.” Honestly, characters like Rosa Diaz, David Rose, and Korra helped me come to terms with my own identity. But even more importantly, it helped my friends and family understand and accept my identity because of the connections THEY formed with those characters. Television has the ability to challenge and change culture; normalizing diverse perspectives is one more step towards equity and equality.
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