Marcus Gorman is a Seattle-based novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and freelance journalist. Raised in Berkeley and Kensington, CA in the San Francisco East Bay, he has worked in film, television, theatre, arts journalism, and digital media.
As a Seattle writer, what inspired you to write a story set in New York?
I had already written about my two main characters, Henry and Charlotte, in my Seattle-set 2009 play Bluebird, and after completing another handful of other projects, I felt compelled to see what they were up to. (Don’t worry: The important events of Bluebird are referred to in Triceratops, and each is a stand-alone story.) For Charlotte, a former shop girl with a not-so-happy back story, I wanted to follow the repercussions of her past decisions, and that path led directly to the wilds of New York City where so many confused people in their 20s end up. As for Henry, a disheartened copywriter and proofreader, he’s taking a three-week trip to New York in order to find some inspiration, and what better place than what he considers the epicenter of all great American art and culture? Really, I wanted to find a place that took both characters out of their comfort zones, pushing them into a world they didn't know and seeing if they were able to come out the other side.
Most importantly, I have always had a fascination with the city itself. I adore Seattle and am happy to call it home, but there’s a particular magnetism about NYC that has brought me back to its borders time and time again. There’s a chaotic quality to its personality that I find endlessly compelling, and I tend to go out of my way to read, watch, and listen to as many New York stories as possible.
Finally, it’s about relatability. Each and every American citizen has their own unique idea of what New York is. It doesn't matter if you like the city or not, or if you've ever visited or lived there; we all think we know something about this big city with millions of stories, what it looks like, how it feels, how it sounds. It’s a big city with a lot of stories, and these are the two I felt compelled to tell.
Tell us about your research trip to New York. What differences from Seattle culture and lifestyle do you see?
I have been to New York many times in my life, but once I was about two-thirds done with my first draft of Triceratops, I knew I had to take one more in order to get the details just right, to follow the journey of the characters if you will, so I went to Kickstarter and raised $1,500 for a week-long research trip. For Charlotte’s half of the story, I stayed at a loft and an apartment in Greenpoint and managed to spend some strange mornings and some very late nights in Brooklyn in order to get a better understanding of her desire to be a part of a bohemian lifestyle, a lifestyle that may not even exist. By day, I would zip into Manhattan for the purposes of Henry’s story, exploring the city’s rich cultural history through the eyes of a man obsessed with jazz music, mid-century literature, and basic questions about American identity. Really, Charlotte’s story is about romanticizing the present, and Henry’s is about romanticizing the past.
I tend to think that Seattle and New York can be very similar in a lot of ways, especially in terms of their counterculture, but where Seattle is more laid back and a bit happier, New York is often overwhelming, sometimes fascinatingly angry, and always larger than life. New York has Seattle beat in terms of public transportation (I've grown to hate driving), but I feel like I have more freedom in Seattle to be who I want to be. This might be surprising to some, but I think New York citizens are bit too well put-together, like they’re always worried about how they appear to others, like living in such an expensive city means they always have to be on their guard. On the other hand, everybody I know in Seattle is a little bit off, a little nuts, and I mean that as a compliment.
How has your music playlist accompanying your book enhanced your readers’ experience?
Among many other things, Triceratops is about how we create and consume art, especially in terms of music. Several of the characters are musicians, and the rest of them tend to define themselves by what they listen to, the playlists they create, what moves them and what makes them move. I feel like the playlists I've created, which you can find on my website and on Spotify, help draw the reader into the world of these characters, tapping into their moods and their anxieties, making the reading experience more interactive. I am just as interested in film and theater as I am in literature, and I’m always looking for ways to bring elements from one medium to another. If the goal of this book is to get inside Henry and Charlotte’s heads, why not give their stories a soundtrack?
Between writing novels, screenplays, and plays, which do you enjoy most? What has brought you the most success?
I would say I enjoy all equally, but in completely different ways. It all comes down to what story I want to tell and how I want to tell it. With writing a screenplay, it’s about opening up my imagination as far and wide as possible, acting out fantasies through my characters, playing with genre conventions, and it’s certainly the most fun process of the three.
For a play, the limits of the stage are a welcome challenge. It forces me to consider the economy of my words, the number of characters I can create, the amount of themes I can tackle without going overboard. And then once it’s out in the world, each production breathes new and fascinating life into your work, and it’s always an exhilarating experience what they find in the text that others don’t. In terms of a finished product, the collaborative aspect of theater cannot be beat.
For a novel, I see it as an opportunity to be obsessive, to dig deep without any limitations. I could never have told Triceratops in any other format. I wanted to show people everything possible about the inner workings of these two characters, the hyperactive way in which our brains work that we often hide from the outside world, in a very intense, personal way. For me, if you’re looking to have the most direct conversation possible with a stranger, the novel is your best bet.
If we’re talking purely in terms of financial accomplishment, then the area where I've found the most success is, in fact, none of the above. Instead, the majority of money I've made through my writing, and with the biggest reach, is through journalism, yet another wonderful form of storytelling.
What are you working on now?
My next release was actually written before Triceratops, something I've been sporadically editing for two years now. It’s a novella called Lady Luck, a parody of hard-boiled detective stories starring characters from the world of musical theater which follows private detective Sky Masterson and his associate Annie Oakley as they track down Maria Von Trapp’s killer.
Otherwise, I always have at least one novel, one screenplay, and one play brewing in my head at all times, and it really comes down to which idea has blossomed and how much time I’m willing to dedicate to it. For a novel, I’m interested in returning to Seattle to explore its own counterculture history. For a screenplay, I've been slowly building the foundations of a pseudo-musical about my experiences with hip-hop music while growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. And for a play…well…that’s currently a secret shared between me and only a handful of local theater performers, and if we can get it off the ground, it’ll be a hoot.