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Allen Mendenhall Interviews Joyce Corrington

In Art, Arts & Letters, Creativity, Fiction, Film, History, Humanities, Information Design, John William Corrington, Law, Literature, News and Current Events, Novels, Philosophy, Screenwriting, Television, Television Writing, Writing on September 22, 2011 at 8:31 am

Joyce Corrington is a writer who, with her late husband John William “Bill” Corrington, wrote several films, including The Omega Man (1970), Box Car Bertha (1971), and The Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).  Also with Bill Corrington, she co-authored four novels: So Small a Carnival (1986), A Project Named Desire (1987), A Civil Death (1987), and The White Zone (1990).  She was head writer for such television series as Search for Tomorrow, Texas, General Hospital and Superior Court, and she has been a co-executive producer for MTV’s The Real World.  She holds a Ph.D. from Tulane University.  Her latest book, Fear of Dying, is available in both Kindle e-book and paperback format.  Formerly a Malibu resident, she now resides in New Orleans. 

Photo by Robert Corrington

Joyce, thank you so much for doing this interview.  I’m surprised we haven’t done one before.  You’ve been an enormous help to me over the years.  You even allowed me to stay at your home in New Orleans so that I could do research on your late husband, Bill.  During that time I learned that you hold a Ph.D. from Tulane University, and taught Chemistry at Xavier University for ten years.  Tell me, how did a person with that background become a writer?

I’m sure it would never have happened if I hadn’t met and married Bill when we were both at Rice University.  He was working on a doctorate so he could earn a living teaching, but he wanted to write.  Bill succeeded in publishing a number of well-received novels, which I typed and edited for him.  But we did not become co-writers until Roger Corman read one of Bill’s novels and invited him to write a movie script.  This was not something Bill especially wanted to do.  But it paid better than college teaching, so we evolved a film writing partnership, whereby I would create a detailed story structure and Bill would write a script following my outline.  After six films, we became involved in writing television series and continued our writing partnership there and in the four New Orleans mystery books we published.  Bill passed away as the fourth was being written, so I completed it.

Why did you choose to continue the series?

After Bill died I found it difficult to get the same kind of writing jobs we had been used to doing.  I think this was because all of my credits were as half of a writing team and producers felt uncertain whether I could do the job by myself.  Thus I had about two years where I had little to do and, while I read a lot during that time, I also began writing a sequel to our New Orleans mystery series.  I think I wanted to prove that I could do it by myself.  Just after finishing the manuscript for Fear of Dying, I was hired to help produce The Real World, a job which I held for eleven seasons.  I did not get around to publishing Fear of Dying until I retired from that job.

Tell us about the book, Fear of Dying.  What’s it about? 

I continued the lives of the three main characters in the prior four books:  Wes Colvin, a reporter for a New Orleans newspaper, his girlfriend Denis Lemoyne, an assistant District Attorney, and Rat Trapp, a captain of NOPD homicide.  I also tried to emulate the insouciant writing style that Bill established in the earlier books.  The plot came out of an interest Bill and I shared in Eastern philosophy and the idea of reincarnation.  In Fear of Dying, Wes consults a psychiatrist about his fear of flying and is told by her that hypnotic regression revealed his fear is a result of his past life having ended in an exploding airplane.  Wes sets out to investigate that thirty-year-old air tragedy and finds himself embroiled with Louisiana politicians with secrets to hide and dangerous racists seeking political power.

How can readers purchase it?

Go on line to books and search for my name, Joyce Corrington, or the book title, Fear of Dying.   

You’ve done a lot of different things over the course of your career.  What kind of writing have you enjoyed most?   

Bill and I always found writing film scripts easy to do (although our agent always advised us to “make it look hard since they’re paying you a lot of money to do it”).  A film script writer only has to develop a plot, create the characters, and write about 120 pages of dialogue for them.  He can then count on the actors investing the dialogue with life, the art director creating the ambiance, the cameraman capturing the visuals, and the director bringing the whole work together.  We observed that directors are more important than writers to films.  After all, they started out as “silent films.”  Once we handed off a script to a producer, our artistic input was not required or desired.  Television series, on the other hand, are more writer-dependent.  They are longer format (typically 26 episodes per season, or 160 episodes per year for daytime drama) and a writer/producer usually creates the series concept and characters and is responsible for running the show.  I personally enjoyed the longer television series format since it gives you more time to develop your characters and the plot does not drive the story as much as it does in most films.  However, Bill enjoyed writing novels and short stories more than scripts since he was then better able to retain artistic control.  The golden rule in the entertainment industry is that “the gold makes the rules”—whoever pays for the production has artistic control.

This blog is supposed to be as much about law as it is about literature, so I have to ask about your writing for the television show Superior Court.  Of course, Bill was a lawyer; and, as I learned, two of your sons and your son-in-law are lawyers.  Did the law make for a good subject?  Was it tough to write about?

For three seasons Bill and I were the head writers/producers of Superior Court, a scripted series based on real court cases.  It was a “strip” series, which means it aired five times a week for 39 weeks per season.  If the law was not inherently dramatic, that large a number of shows might have been hard to do, but in fact it was not only easy, it was fun.  Once a week we would have a story meeting to decide which five of the cases proposed by our legal researchers we would dramatize that week.  Some cases were so outrageous that our executive producer would not let us do them (such as that of a drunken sailor who married a transvestite only to have that spouse then sue the Navy demanding medical coverage for a sex change operation).  The only hard part of scripting these shows was reducing a long trial to 30 minutes of air time.  That experience taught me lots of law and convinced me that law schools should offer drama classes to anyone hoping to become a litigator.

I have so many more things I want to ask you, so we’ll have to do this again.  Before we end, though, I want to mention New Orleans, which, I know, has special meaning for you.  Are you happy to be back in New Orleans?

New Orleans is a great city:  great food, great music, great festivals, great architecture—something fun is always happening.  I miss the California weather, but otherwise I’m very happy to be back.  I tried to capture some of the New Orleans ambiance in Fear of Dying.  Hope you think I succeeded. 

Thank you very much, Joyce.  I do hope we can do this again soon.    


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