Josh Taylor started his writing journey as a performing singer-songwriter in NYC before turning to fiction. He is now a writer of novels, short stories, and screenplays. His short story "Cabin at Forever's Edge" was published as an honorable mention in the Saturday Evening Post's Great American Fiction Contest, and his one hour television project Blackland County has also found success, including the top spot in Filmmatic's Inroads Fellowship. He currently lives in New York City with his wife Susana, and has been kind enough to give us some insight into his writing and aspirations.
1) How long have you been writing?
The short answer is “my entire life.” At age 12, I taught myself to play guitar and write songs. Songwriting was my sole identity for 25 years before I turned to fiction. In 2018, after a solo trip to Europe, I got the writing bug in long-form prose and haven’t looked back. It’s been a wild adjustment from songwriting to fiction, but they’re similar. You just sit down and do the work.
2) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in long shifts, at scheduled times?
My first novel came to me like a strike of lightning. I wrote a few chapters a week until the manuscript was finished. At that point, I thought it was the only story in me, so I just focused on cleaning up the manuscript. Six months later I got the itch to write new material again, but decided to make it permanent. So it’s a compulsion nowadays. I write 1,000 words every morning, immediately after waking. I’ve done that every day for the past four and a half years.
3) What writing/screenwriting training have you received?
It’s funny. I have no training whatsoever. I read a lot, somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to sixty books a year, mostly fiction, some non-fiction. I remember writing my first novel and walking to the Hudson River every day around lunch and Googling about writing. “How to write fiction.” “How to write good dialogue?” “How do you write good scene descriptions?” “How to Develop Great Characters?” “How to know if you’re writing too much?” The amount of Google queries I entered is laughable, but it’s all accessible in the ether, so I used that resource. As far as informal training, from a novel writing perspective, Stephen King’s On Writing is a huge inspiration. In screenwriting, Syd Field’s Screenplay is great. But overall, I think reading, reading, reading, is the most fundamental training to developing your skills as a writer. Oh, and writing, too. You have to do a lot of that.
4) What genres do you cover? Are most of your works thriller and sci-fi?
I gravitate toward sci-fi and thrillers, but grounded and character driven. Those are the types of shows, movies, and books I love, so it comes out in the writing. However, I started as a songwriter, so I have a soft spot for poetry and literary fiction. I’ve written literary/drama focused stories, but haven’t adapted them to screenplays. I’m also a big comedy fan. Some of my short fiction leans in this direction and it’s a hell of a good time. I hope to write an absurd comedy feature at some point, but time will tell. 5) Do you write for other than TV/Film?
All my feature-length screenplays, and this most recent TV pilot, were adapted from long-form prose. It’s weird to say this, but I haven’t written a screenplay on a blank page without my own source material. The original idea always comes in the freest form of prose. Be it a short story, novella, or novel, I never judge when I have the seed of an idea. I take it as far as I can until the story is told. After 40 short stories and a handful of novels and novellas, it’s easy to see which ones are fit to be adapted. Sometimes it’s hard to visualize and you have to change things around, but the best scenario is when a short story or novel jumps at you and you say, “Man I can’t wait to adapt this into a screenplay.” Also I’m still a songwriter, for what it’s worth. 6) We really loved your episodic, "Blackland County", how would you describe the project to our readers?
Blackland County was my second novel. I then adapted it to a feature, and most recently, this pilot. It was, in many ways, the culmination of all the nostalgic movies I loved from childhood. An alien object crashes in a small town and three teenagers discover it. It’s a pretty familiar premise, but I hope I added some freshness to it with the time travel component. On the surface, it seems like the run of the mill sci-fi story, but it goes deeper. It’s really about friendship, across time and space. And for me, it’s about the desire that lives in all of us. A desire or wish to either go back to a nostalgic time in our lives, or change some element of our past. It’s a heartbreaking wish that I explore in a lot of my writing. 7) How did you come up with the unique premise behind Blackland?
Blackland County is written in two timelines: The present day, which I call “The Old World: Hemlock Falls,” and the bleak future, which I refer to as “The Wasteland.” I had an odd visual one evening when walking to a gig in NYC. I had a guitar slung over my back and suddenly had two visuals attack my brain. This is going to sound strange, but I saw a beachball, rising from the bottom of a pond in a small town, and a portly kid discovering it. Then I saw a completely different image. A grown man lying prone in the forest with a rifle pointed at a sick deer. I knew the guy with the rifle inhabited a bleak future, and the beachball scene had all the atmosphere of a perfect small-town life, before a terrible event. Curiosity drove me to figure out how these two scenes were connected. I wrote the future scene first, carried it forward, and found my way to what I called “The Old World: Hemlock Falls” in the novel/script. The story dances between these two timelines in a way that (I hope) builds tension in both timelines toward a satisfying climax. That’s the most joyous part of writing. Blind curiosity and the drive to figure out the meaning behind a vague story idea and how it all plays out. 8) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
A lot, thankfully. I’m working on packaging a few novels for pitching in the publishing space. But I also have three scripts I’m developing from my own short fiction. For me, the writing engine never stops, so I have a backlog of projects that are already fleshed out, and I’m eager to adapt them. In the near future, I have big ideas for a trilogy in the works, but it will take time to wrap my head around it. 9) Where would you like to be writing-wise and career-wise in 3 years?
I love short answer/long answer responses, so I’ll use one here. Short answer: I’d sure love to have my books published and selling millions of copies. And I’d sure love to have some scripts sold and produced, but I’m also a realist. The long answer is that I hope I still love it the way I do now. Writing is a war of attrition. It’s the self vs. the self, and nothing else matters. Each day the doubtful voice says, “Why are you doing this? This isn’t good enough. You’re writing that? Get a real job.” And all kinds of negative things. Three years from now, I plan on loving it as much as I do now. If I’m still waking every morning with the same passion, that’s success to me. 10) What show(s) if any would you love to write for and why?
Great question. So many great shows. I’m a series-binger like anyone else, but I’ll give two, one past and one current. LOST was one of my favorite shows. I loved the attention to character richness across the series, so nuanced and believable. Not to mention the depth of the overarching mystery. As for modern shows, there are so many great options. I’d say Last of Us, or Outer Range for a lot of the same reasons as LOST. And maybe Black Mirror, because I’m a sucker for a good Twilight-Zone-ish anthology series with a dark twist on future tech. Some others, past and present, for good measure: Ozark, White Lotus, DARK, Bloodline, Stranger Things, The Office, Silicon Valley, Game of Thrones. So many to choose from. 11) Any solid advice for those about to write their first episodic, or sci-fi/thriller project?
Let me first say thank you for doing this. It’s a lot of fun talking about writing. And writing is lonely as hell. To answer your question, I’m no real authority on writing, to be honest. I consider myself a forever amateur at this craft. So I’ll give the advice I’d give to my former self. I’d say, follow every seed of an idea. Chase it the way a kid chases pigeons. With reckless abandon and joy. Don’t think. Write sci-fi, humor, drama, horror, whatever you want. I think as writers, we’re held back by laziness or fear. If you’re too lazy, writing might not be the best fit. If you’re afraid, remind yourself to follow your gut and write what you want to read or see. There are no wrong answers. And the joy will bleed through. Read a lot, write every day, and watch a lot of the genre you enjoy. And in the end, you have to truly be exalted writing the first draft. It’s the most liberating, and you’re going to have a lot of hard work cut out for you after it’s done, so enjoy it. I do believe in outlining to an extent, but don’t let it paralyze you. Just get started. Lastly, spend time outside, walking and daydreaming. My best ideas are often just on the periphery of thought. They come when you’re letting yourself imagine. Love all of it, that’s my advice. End rant.
Congratulations once again to writer Josh Taylor, our Season 6 Inroads Fellowship Winner. All contact and script requests for Josh will be forwarded to his attention.