Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, playwright, TV writer and author, Daria Polatin. Daria is currently a writer-producer for Amazon’s upcoming TV series Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski, and has written for Hulu’s psychic drama Shut Eye.
As a playwright Daria’s work includes Palmyra, about a young woman who joins ISIS, In Tandem, Guidance, That First Fall, D.C. A Fair Affair and The Luxor Express, inspired by her father’s life growing up in Egypt.
Her work has been produced at The Kennedy Center, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Naked Angels, Golden Thread, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Cape Cod Theater Project, Noor Theater, The Wilshire Ebell Theatre, in London and Hong Kong. Daria directed her play Laura & Sebastian (and Jordan & Bliss) in Los Angeles as part of Unscreened, and directed a new play written by and starring Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, also starring Gwendoline Christie.
Daria wrote and directed the short film Till It Gets Weird.
She has recently authored a novel, Devil in Ohio that will be published in November 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of MacMillan.
Norm: Good day Daria and thanks for participating in our interview.
Daria: Hi Norm, thanks for inviting me!
Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Daria: I’ve been writing stories since I was three years old. I would write and illustrate my own books, and also compose musicals on the piano. Then I started writing plays in high school because I loved theater. I studied playwriting in college at Boston University, and in graduate school at Columbia University, then started writing for TV when I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. I was drawn to writing a novel when I heard the true story of a young woman who escaped from a satanic cult and moved in with her psychiatrist’s family, and thought a book was an exciting format to tell that story. What keeps me going is wanting to keep telling stories, and explore the fascinating and endless complexities of human behavior.
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career and what has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Daria: I think my greatest success is that I get to tell stories for a living. By biggest challenge was that it took many years to get here. I worked all kinds of side jobs over the years I was building my writing career. Sometimes it seemed nearly impossible to get where I wanted to go, but I kept pushing myself forward, and I’m really grateful to be where I am now.
Norm: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of the writing process as a playwright, TV script writer and as an author?
Daria: In all arenas, it often feels like the rewrite process is endless. There are so many rounds of notes to go through, and revisions to make, no matter what the format. It takes so much writing and rewriting to develop a piece, but in the end the story is always better for having been honed through a rigorous process.
Norm: What advice can you give aspiring writers that you wished you had received, or that you wished you would have listened to?
Daria: Building a writing career takes a lot of patience. People told me that, but I didn’t really have an understanding of it early on. I was impatient, and would get upset by setbacks. But over time I learned that being a professional writer is a marathon, rather than a sprint.
Norm: How many times in your career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?
Daria: Oh gosh, I experienced rejection tons of times, and still do. It’s just something you have to get used to. I’ve developed a thicker skin about it. But I’ve also learned that not everything is the right fit, and not everyone is going to like everything I do. As an artist you have to learn how to hear different points of view, but also believe in your work and not let it get to you. If you are entitled to your opinion, so is everyone else.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of Devil In Ohio and what were your goals and intentions in this book? How well do you feel you achieved them?
Daria: I had written a TV pilot about a cult, so was interested in what happens within isolated communities. Then I heard the true story of a teenage girl who escaped from a satanic cult and moved in with her psychiatrist’s family. This became the inspiration for the story of Mae and the Mathis family. For my way in, I explored the story from Jules’s perspective. For me that point of view was more relatable, and I wanted to dig into Jules’s complicated feelings—the good the bad and the ugly— and how she struggles to deal with Mae’s arrival in her life. I also found it interesting to explore what happens from Suzanne’s point of view, because she deeply relates to Mae’s past and because of that, gets pulled into her own journey. I think I achieved those goals.
Norm: Could you tell us a little about the book?
fifteen-year-old Jules Mathis comes home from school to discover a
strange girl sitting in her kitchen, her psychiatrist mother reveals
that Mae is one of her patients at the hospital and will be staying
with their family for a few days. But soon Mae is wearing Jules’s
clothes, sleeping in her bedroom, edging her out of her position on
the school paper, and flirting with Jules’s crush. And Mae has no
intention of leaving. Then things get weird…
Jules walks in on a half-dressed Mae, startled to see: a pentagram carved into Mae’s back. Jules pieces together clues and discovers that Mae is a survivor of the strange cult that’s embedded in a nearby town. And the cult will stop at nothing to get Mae back… Based on a true story, Devil in Ohio tells the tale of a young woman desperately trying to make a new life for herself—even if it means ruining someone else’s. As the cat-and-mouse thriller unfolds, Jules and Mae’s lives weave tangled webs of friendship, broken trust and crossed boundaries. But ultimately they must learn to work together—if they want to escape the wrath of the cult alive.
Norm: What do you think
most characterizes your writing as an author, TV writer and as a
Daria: I like to tell stories about people overcoming adversity. I don’t like to shy away from experiences that are difficult or dark. Through telling stories of challenging experiences, I examine what gives someone the strength to come through the other side. Is it the support of another person? Deep, inner strength? The blind drive to do anything to get to something better? Devil in Ohio is a story about women who are going through challenging experiences, and working through them to make their lives better. And in the end, they end up working together in order to do that. We journey with them through the process of overcoming their pasts to create the futures they want. I also study a lot of psychology, and always try to bring that level of depth and complexity to my characters and stories, no matter what the medium.
Norm: How did you find the process of writing a novel different from that of a play or TV script?
Daria: There’s so much more description in a novel. I was very familiar with writing dialogue in plays and TV, but it was a new opportunity for me to write prose, which I really enjoyed. I also chose to write the Jules chapters in first person, which is similar to an interior monologue, where we get a direct link to the character’s inner thoughts— including the shameful, angry or envious feelings she might not share outwardly.
Norm: As a follow up, do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?
Daria: Both. My intuition of what the characters are thinking and feeling leads to how they behave, and then my logic brain takes that and frames the plot.
Norm: How has your environment and upbringing influenced your writing. I notice that you father, who grew up in Egypt, had some influence on your writing. Just in passing, my wife likewise grew up in Egypt and I am curious to know what was his influence?
Daria: Oh neat! My father was born in Suez, and lived in Cairo. He moved to America later in his life. I grew up with a very international family—I had aunts, uncles and cousins in Egypt, the UK, and across Europe and Canada. I traveled a lot growing up, which I’m so grateful for. It gave me a deep appreciation for other cultures, and a worldly perspective, which encourages me to look at situations from all different angles.
Daria: Where is your wife from? Norm: My wife was born in Heliopolis.
Norm: What projects are you working on at the present?
Daria: I’m working on a new novel about the loss of a parent. My father died recently, and it was a deeply profound experience. I’m exploring the story of a young woman who loses her mother, and ends up escaping to Japan and landing herself in an emotional mystery-thriller-adventure. It’s a down-the-rabbit-hole Alice in Wonderland experience of loss and transformation. I’m also writing and producing the upcoming Amazon TV series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, and doing rewrites on my new play, Palmyra, about a young woman who joins ISIS, which will be presented in New York City this winter.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Devil In Ohio?
Daria: On MY WEBSITE!
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, plays, and TV scripts but nobody has?
Daria: How do you make yourself write even when you don’t feel like it? I tell myself, “I’m going to write the bad version.” That frees me up to begin writing, and let my thoughts start flowing on the page. Then I have a draft to work with, even if it’s not Pulitzer-worthy, and can revise it later. It’s easier to work with anything over a blank page. And writing is a muscle, so the more I do it, the easier it gets.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavours.
Daria: Thank you!