Danielle Krage interviews writer and creative, Isaac Marion.
Isaac is the author of the Warm Bodies series. (Warm Bodies became a New York Times Bestseller, inspired a major film, and was translated into 25 languages.)
This conversation about weaving humour with darker themes includes:
1) Exploring different writing perspectives and viewpoints. Where do we set our zoom level?
2) Deadpan and dark humour.
3) What does creativity give us?
AND there’s a bonus appearance from Bob the cat.
You can find out more about Isaac Marion and his work here:
CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT
Today, I am thrilled to have writer Isaac Marion with me. And you’ll know if you listened to the show last week that I actually came to Isaac’s work first through seeing the film adaptation of his book, Warm Bodies. And as always happens, if I see a film where I think the concept’s super interesting and engaging, I always go back and read the book.
And invariably, I love the book way more, which is the case here. I love both, but the book was both darker and funnier, which is a perfect combination for me. So I really wanted to have Isaac on the show to talk about that and far more things across his career. But before we dive in, Isaac, is there anything else you’d love people to know about you and your extraordinarily creative life?
Isaac Marion (00:41.69)
Well, other than the books that I’m known for, I think it’s just up to them to figure out what they’re interested in. I do a lot of different things and no time to plug them all.
Yes, you do a lot of things. And we’re going to dive into some of them from a craft perspective, because I think it’s interesting that you do so many things. But I actually want to rewind a little bit first, because when I was doing the research for this show, I came across an online project that you had and it looked like you were 24 when you did it and it’s labeled as an online magazine of humor and tragedy.
Isaac Marion (01:14.194)
So I don’t know if that’s accurate. I’m not going to ask you about it in detail, but I thought it was so interesting that it was labeled as humor and tragedy. I’m like….at 24, you knew exactly what you were up to. So I wondered if you have any memory of the creative impulses behind that and the role that humour was playing.
Isaac Marion (01:26.159)
Yeah. That website was basically a blog, but it had a lot of multimedia kind of weird stuff mixed into it. But yeah, that was pretty much the first public entertainment kind of thing I ever did. I started that I think when I was like 17. And it just kind of a started out as just like an email list that I’d sent to my friends. And then I eventually put it on a website and then a blogger. And it was just, you know, nonsense. But it’s actually where I first started.
The first time I posted any literature. I posted some short stories on there. It would alternate between random actual blogging and I’d post some heavy serious short story and the next day it would be some wacky skit that I had between me and an imaginary character or something. It was just a variety show, if you will. It ended up being the start of my career because one of the stories that I put on that website was what eventually became Warm Bodies. Somebody found it on that website and reached out to me and started me on that whole path. It ended up being worth it, but yeah, it’s kind of a funny thing because it’s so old. I do not know what’s on there. I don’t trust my sheltered teenage Christian self to what things I might have said back then. I’ve done my best to suppress the existence of that website.
Hmm. Have you? Yeah, no, I get that.
Isaac Marion (02:59.85)
Because you just never know what someone might dig up these days and no one provides the context that it was 20 years ago. People keep asking me about it because it’s like there are a few diehards from back then who were like, I missed that one thing you did on the website or something. Why is it gone? I’m like, nope, it’s not coming back.
Mm. I totally get that, but I just thought it was interesting that it was labeled as humor and tragedy because what interests me about your work is how you marry them. And in the intro, I said about really liking both the darkness and humour in your work. And I’m curious that when you think about something like Warm Bodies and you think about creating R as a zombie, how did the darkness and humor weave together in your mind? And what do you think him being a zombie opens up in terms of the realms of humour that you can explore. Because I’m really interested in surrealism and fantasy and lots of places that people don’t always associate with comedy. So I’m really not talking about like the gags and stand-up. I’m interested in what it allows us to do. So what do you think him being a zombie allowed you to do in terms of humour?
Isaac Marion (03:59.316)
Yeah. I mean, ‘that allows you to do’ phrase is kind of key because I didn’t think first…I want to write a zombie story and then now what’s it about? It was more like I had sort of this these themes that I’ve been thinking about stuff that I’ve been living through and wanted to write about in some form. Like the phase of life that I was in being kind of transitional from young to not young, and changing. My moving to a big city and just kind of letting go a lot of my old belief systems and identity sort of disintegrating before my eyes, combined with a sort of a general malaise with life and basically probably just depression in retrospect. I was just sort of numb to the world for a long time. And I wanted to write about that stuff.
But you know, that on its own without a twist is a pretty… it’s not a very fun story. So it’s kind of occurred to me that… I’d been doing a lot of perspective experiments with my stories, thinking of some very odd character or creature or even inanimate object sometimes. What would it be like to see the world from that perspective? I did all sorts of stuff… like different animals, and I did one from the perspective of a stoplight and just all these weird ideas and then I would just sort of dive into and see what comes out of that premise. Because a lot of interesting stuff will surprise me from altering your starting point of looking at the world. The idea of combining it with zombies was just, it was sort of obvious in a way because all of the struggles that I was dealing with at the time in my personal life were kind of a one-to-one mirror almost of the traditional pop culture zombie thing where it’s like, let’s say they…They don’t feel anything. They don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They’re just sort of mindlessly repeating their cycles. They have no emotions. You know, they’re just lifeless and they don’t know who they are anymore, which was like a big part of my experience too is just… letting my loss of identity from coming out of this like religious worldview and into the real world. And so yeah, it was kind of an obvious parallel.
And then I jumped into it and…I didn’t start out thinking like this is going to be funny. Obviously, what I described doesn’t sound funny. But inevitably, I mean, the zombie genre is almost like a 50-50 mix at this point of horror and comedy because there’s something inherently funny about just people being in that state. It can either be really disturbing or really ridiculous. So I kind of mixed a little of both because especially when you’re inhabiting that perspective, it’s almost inevitable that just some of the kind of goofy foibles of being a creature who doesn’t know anything is kind of inherently prime for a comedy. So it just happened naturally.
Yeah, totally. And I also love how you constructed the relationships around the R character in the book, which we don’t see so much in the film for very good reasons of filmmaking. And heads up to listeners, this is not going to be spoiler free. I’m not going to talk about the ending, but I do want to talk about specifics of some of the relationships so we can talk about the comedy.
And one thing I really loved in the book is the inclusion of his wife. That happens very quickly, and kids that happen very quickly. And what you then do with those tropes. And I thought some of the images at the beginning… of what in a rom-com could be a meet-cute with the conveyor belt. That meeting with a wife that’s nothing to do with the actual central more traditionally romantic, as traditional as you can be with a zombie relationship…. or like the kids in the back of the car arguing and him trying to keep them quiet while they’re sort of trying to take like bites out of Julie’s shoulder. I think a lot of those scenes are so beautiful and sweet and twisted and funny. Did you always want to have that complex net of relationships in the book?
Isaac Marion (08:17.846)
Well, that whole starting section of the story is kind of setting up the situation that he’s in which is sort of like all the zombies…they don’t have any specific memories. They don’t know who they are or anything but they have kind of this residual awareness of like social norms and they’re sort of running on instinct… in terms of eating for one thing, like the traditional zombie instinct but also you know….just these sort of ghostly repetitions of routines that are programmed in by society. So it was kind of setting up his starting point, which is like… he’s just another cog in the machine, just another guy doing what you do as a person. You do this, then you do that, then you do that, then you die. And it’s like sort of that sort of instinctual, mindless repetition of just patterns and programs. And so all that stuff, his wife, his kids, you know, there’s a church, there’s like all the structures of society are kind of present in the zombie hive. But he’s doing them, he’s going through the motions of it all, but he’s kind of wondering…. And by the same token is like, why do I have this family? Why do I go to work? Why do I eat people? It’s, you know, it’s all the same mentality, which you then finally break out of and that’s when the story kind of begins.
Hmm. Yeah, no, I love that. But when you get to take it to those extremes, but it feels the same, there is like so much humour there. When we’re like… this is the same as commuting… or why do we do that? It’s so much better taken to the extreme. There’s just so much more space to laugh at it, I think, which I really appreciate.
Isaac Marion (10:08.722)
He commutes to the city to eat people, you know. But many businesses are basically eating people, so…
Yes, that’s not lost on me. And I do also think in the voice, there’s like a really dry, deadpan humor, which I really appreciate. And I know it’s like, yes, of course he’s a zombie. But I think that also, my perception of that is that it also comes through in your other work, in your videos too. This, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Brit or if it’s how my brain works, but I really appreciate that.
And I had to Google it just to make sure it didn’t sound like an insult because dry humor could sound like an insult and it’s not meant to be. It’s my highest compliment. It’s my favourite. And it, said that it’s ‘humpour delivered with a straight face and a serious tone as if it’s not intended to be funny, but it actually enhances the unexpected inexplicable ridiculous and ironic because the serious tone makes it more so.’ And I was like, yeah, I think there is something about that. When I watch your videos as well, there is something about the delivery, which I also hear in the books in your voice. There’s not the hyperbole of the…ha ha, this is funny. It’s the opposite. Everything is underplayed, undercut, and funnier for it. Has that always been your voice, your writing voice, or did that take a while to develop?
Isaac Marion (11:26.67)
I think that’s pretty much always been there. With that old website, which was really the only time that I set out to explicitly do comedy, which… I was a teenager, it’s going to be kind of over the top and more goofy like that. But for the most part, ever since I stopped doing that decades ago, it’s been more understated. I always think of comedy as kind of more of the secondary element that just happens on its own. In fact, a lot of times it’ll be working on something that seems very serious and inevitably the humorous elements just kind of bubble up into it. So it’s always kind of the under layer, not the top layer, which I think is why it comes off as kind of dead pan because that’s just how I see the world. That’s how I think. And everything is a little bit ridiculous to me, even things that are supposed to be serious.
Mm-hmm. Yes, same.
Isaac Marion (12:23.186)
So even if I’m trying to be serious, it just kind of has a little askew feeling to it.
Mm, yeah. I really appreciate that. And I feel like if you have a certain kind of brain that has a little bit of distance, it’s really hard not to see things as ridiculous. There are so many things that I think are utterly ridiculous that I think other people think are normal. And I sometimes wonder if it is just that distance, but even to the point of sometimes even…like when you wake up and you are literally like… this body. That’s why I think zombies are so interesting. There’ll be times where I…I’m literally like, this is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know how this is working? How I’m sitting in this car, driving this car? And other people are like, what are you even talking about? But that’s why I appreciate the zombies because it’s like, oh, I can pretend I’m thinking about the zombies, but actually being a human is kind of mind-blowingly surreal.
Isaac Marion (13:01.356)
Isaac Marion (13:11.326)
Yeah, that mentality is kind of a blessing and a curse because on the bad side, it can make it sometimes hard to really genuinely experience life. There’s a distance from everything. You’re seeing things in third person too often. It becomes hard to really be in the moment with people and feel the full inhabiting of what you’re doing, which can be that struggle of trying to like get the zoom level just right to where you want to be out enough to have perspective and like to understand that, you know, that your problems are not the end of the world and all of the, you know, the positive sides of it…which is that you can kind of see the humour and all the things that happen in life to yourself and to the world and just all the stuff that could be really horrible if you’re 100% inside it. You would zoom out a little bit to it becomes more of like a story that you’re reading versus like you’re actually being you know, murdered by a dinosaur or something, then it’s much more enjoyable.
I enjoy life more being able to kind of pull the camera out to see it kind of from a distance as everything, you know, things are funny that wouldn’t be funny otherwise. And things are bearable that might be unbearable. And so there’s kind of that balancing of like, I want to live my life. I want to be in the room with people and experience things, but also I don’t want to get lost in it and start to think that my sensations and perception are just so real and they matter so much because that’s horrible.
Hmm. Yeah. That’s a beautiful way of putting it. And it also interests me…where you point the camera then. Because I’m using the terms dark humour because that’s what gets used. I feel like particularly as soon as you talk about death. And obviously we’re talking about Warm Bodies, but there’s the whole series of the books and other things that are looked at within them, but that still involve humans coming to an end or struggling with existence. But sometimes I wonder, is it even dark though? Why do we call that dark humor? I get why people do. I feel like as soon as you start talking about death, it’s dark humour. Whereas death is both such an incredibly sad and incredibly normal human thing. So that’s not a question, but more just an appreciation of the fact that I really…I did have a little peek at some of the things from the early online thing and there’s a cemetery in it. It seems like right from the beginning you’ve been turning the camera on all those existential things and not avoiding them. And I love that humour can be that lens that does that, which is amazing.
Isaac Marion (15:52.022)
Yeah. Makes me wonder what exactly light humor is. I mean, it kind of seems like the nature of humor is sort of looking at the comedy of humanity, you know, all the stupid things that we do. It’s always kind of askew, you know. It’s like, I don’t know what non-dark humor really is. To me, it doesn’t really exist.
Yeah.Maybe talking about cereal boxes or I don’t know, sandwiches? I’m like, yeah, but that’s not funny.
Isaac Marion (16:20.939)
Yeah. Maybe like five-year-olds have non-dark humor, where it’s just like, farts, haha, you know? But even that, I mean, farts are a classic human weakness that we all love to laugh at.
Totally. So I wanted to ask you about your broader creativity, because from all the things I’ve seen…you’ve explored painting, you’ve explored poetry, drawing, music. It seems like you’re prepared to let your creativity take any medium. And I also wanted to ask whether you’re primarily self taught in those areas. And if so, or however you’ve got to do them, what helps you learn and progress and continue to explore and push those things.
Isaac Marion (17:10.142)
Yeah, I’ve never had any formal training on anything. So I guess I would be self-taught as much as I’ve been taught, period. A lot of stuff, I just kind of dive into it and see what happens and with wildly varying results. But yeah, I mean, I’ve always kind of just dabbled in a little bit of everything. I think there’s a lot of common ground in creative ability.
The ability to write also includes the ability to, you know, write songs, for example. There’s lyrics, there’s rhythm. There’s a lot of crossover between different artistic disciplines. And I think everybody probably has, you know, one or two things that are really their peak, that they excel at most, but they’re probably could do other things too. So I’ve just been sort of exploring the field and trying out different things. I used to do a lot of things at the same time. Like when I was younger, I wrote, and I did music and I painted all, you know, simultaneously. And I would do one big project and then have some big show of some kind, like a gallery or release an album or something. And then I would just sort of drop it and switch to the other thing. And so I was never really getting anywhere with anything because I wasn’t focusing. And I had to kind of rein myself in at some point. Like, I need to sort of pick a major here and find something that I should zero in on.
And so I kind of had to have a meeting with myself and be like…is it writing, music or painting? And painting got the axe because I just decided, you know, of all the things I can spend my time on, this feels the least rewarding in terms of how much effort it is compared to how satisfying it is. And also like the potential for a career as well, which I try not to focus entirely on, but it’s certainly a factor. So I kind of put that to the side. I haven’t done any painting for a long time. My visual art has shifted into more like photography, video kind of stuff, which I still really enjoy, but haven’t used it in what I would call a serious way… Instagram, YouTube, et cetera. But it’s just kind of a tool toward other medias. But yeah, I still like to dabble in everything.
I think writing has become my main gig because it’s just the one that took off. But these things can change from year to year. The thing that took off can land again or crash and you pick up something else and start tinkering with that. So these days I’m in kind of a middle space where I’m still kind of in the literary realm, but it’s not exactly working that great for me. And so I’m exploring other side projects and other mediums and just kind of seeing what’s out there. It’s satisfying. It’s fun to explore.
What is it that you most love about writing? And there may be things that really frustrate you as well, but what do you most love about it, do you think?
Isaac Marion (20:09.11)
Yeah, I think the main thing that motivated me, the main thing that drew me to writing in the first place was just like…. before I started writing fiction as a kid, I had this sort of frustrating feeling of how this stuff that was in my head that I couldn’t share with anyone. And at the time, I was very fantastical as a kid. I was really into fantasy and there were all these daydreams and other worlds and characters and stories. And it was so frustrating to not…I mean, you can’t just sit someone down and be like, let me tell you about this dream I had or something, because nobody wants to hear that. You have to take the effort to kind of congeal it into something real and then deliver it in a format that people can absorb. And I’ve always loved writing…. fiction is kind of the most direct way to transfer from my mind to a reader’s mind. It sort of puts the whole thing into their head without any medium interfering with it, or other people interfering with it. It’s just like direct line, which is very satisfying because if I write a story, it’s exactly what I want to say. It’s exact images I want to share. It’s exact ideas and they just go into the reader’s head and there’s no technical skill of like…I need to figure out what paints to mix together to get this colour. And so I have to go to school to learn about, you know, the tools of the trade. It’s just kind of something you can just do and you get better at it and you learn tricks, but it’s still kind of instinctive in a way. And so I just, I love the connection of it, of just being able to make what’s in my head feel real. And that’s sort of what drew me to it.
It varies. Sometimes it’s something serious I want to convey or something, you know, unpleasant I want to convey. And sometimes it’s more beautiful, like colorful feelings that I want to share. And it’s a wide palette for it. So I just love that experience.
Yeah, that’s a beautiful way of describing it. And I agree with you that in some ways there’s not the technical side of physically having to work out how to wield a paintbrush and probably a painter would not say…wield a paintbrush. It shows me up as a non painter. I know it does.
Isaac Marion (22:35.264)
That sounds like you’re in a fight. You could use a paintbrush as a weapon, I suppose.
Yeah, but there’s still a huge amount of technical skill, not in an off-putting way for people that are listening, but in what you’re able to achieve because…It is that magical process. Like I can see the images in your work so clearly and they’ve stuck with me for absolutely years. Because anyone could pick an airport setting, but then to see the airport setting in that way and see the plane so… that I’m just…props to you. It’s a huge amount of skill.
Isaac Marion (23:05.654)
I appreciate that. And I don’t mean to imply that there’s no skill or craft involved in writing. It’s just that the lack of…. compared to making music, for example, I’m recording music right now for these YouTube videos and it’s just learning the software is so overwhelming. I mean, I sit here, I’ll spend an entire day just lost in a haze of checking YouTube videos… it’s just like so technical that has nothing to do with, it’s not creative at all. It’s just like learning programming basically. And the same with video editing, same with pretty much all art forms now except actual painting. There’s all this tech side to it that you have to get through in order to convey what you want to convey. And that, you know, is another skill you can learn but it’s not as direct and intuitive. It’s just like… I have words in my head and I put them here and then people read them and it just is what it is. So.
Yeah, that’s a lovely way of describing it. Very encouraging as well. And this is not an easy question when you’re put on the spot, so don’t worry if you don’t have an answer to it. But are there any creators that you particularly admire for how they thread humour into their work, whether that’s TV, film, books? And sometimes it’s so broad, we’re like, oh my goodness, so many.
Isaac Marion (24:25.15)
Well, that’s actually so specific. I’m trying to think of a particular blending. I guess a lot of art that I’ve treasured over the years does have some of that blend. I’m thinking of one of my favourite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is a very poignant, sad movie with a lot of beautiful themes, but also it’s Jim Carrey goofing around. It combines that. The director and writer of that, Michel Gondry, has a lot of humour, a lot of playfulness in a lot of his other movies, but I feel like it really connected in a way that it hasn’t in others. Even some of the research I did writing Warm Bodies of watching all the zombie movies saw some of that too, like with Shaun of the Dead. That was Simon Pegg’s movie. It was a great hybrid of that. It was more toward the comedy of that.
Yeah, for some reason, I feel like it’s less common in books or at least the books that I’ve read. Comedy is, I think, harder to pull off in a book. In my experience, reading, more often than not, just kind of irritates me because it’s just such a fine frequency to dial in, especially when you don’t have the advantage of editing and music and all the stuff that film and even stand-up comedy and stuff can use. They don’t have music, but they have the timing and the physical presence and all that stuff. It’s tricky in books. Nothing’s springing to mind in the literary realm that fits that bill, but there’s a couple for you anyway.
Yeah, no, that’s great. And it’s a beautiful example. And I agree. I find it less commonly in books or in books in ways that I enjoy because there’s so many different styles of humour and it’s so subjective and we just like what we like. I do feel like it’s one of those things where you can’t fake a response to something and for example, I’m generally not that into puns or comedies of manners. There’s lots of books that do use humour in those ways, but it’s just never going to work for me. It’s just not what I’m interested in. And although I’ve called it Comedy Masterclass, I think for comedy often people think about the big, laughing kind of comedy where often for me…it’s that sort of humour weaving that creates a feeling that means that I can look at stuff that otherwise I would just find too bleak, too painful. But like you say, it’s this sort of weaving tightrope. And usually I can tell it might not even be that I’m laughing all the way through, but it’s how I feel reading it compared to reading something that doesn’t have those slightly askew or slightly undercutting or slightly tilting angles.
Isaac Marion (27:14.014)
Yeah. For me, I think that type of humor works the best in books. If they’re trying to be ha-ha comedy in a book, it’s much harder for it not to seem like it’s just trying so hard. When they’re just big heavy punchlines, they’re like… that was the joke. And then you start thinking about… somebody wrote this joke and then spent a year and a half editing it with their publishers and it was printed and everything and it just feels so laboured compared to like…the fresh liveliness of comedy that it starts to just seem kind of ridiculous to me. But that more subtle undertone of just sort of slightly askew irony fits the medium of literature a lot better. And that’s sort of the type of humour that I traffic in.
Yeah. Exactly. And you mentioned editing. Are you someone who likes to get feedback on your work?
Isaac Marion (28:12.17)
Uh oh, you have some things to tell me? Some critiques to my 10 year old novel. It’s too late.
No, no, I don’t. No, I should have phrased that better. No, I think…I was thinking because in for example, your recent videos, it looks like where you live is quite isolated and…where I live is very rural and very isolated as well. And obviously there’s the wonders of the internet now, so we can have as many connections with humans as we want and get as much feedback or as little feedback as we want. But I just wondered for your creative process, and it’s not about me giving you feedback, I promise…. Are you someone who likes to develop something through to completion first and then share it for any kind of editing feedback? That’s how I like to work. But I also have friends who they will literally send things chapter by chapter, getting feedback. And that just would not work for my brain and the tone. Also because I make such a horrendous mess as I go along, because I’ve got a sense of something and I know there’s something in there, but it would look like trash from the outside. And then by the time I get to the end, I feel like I can put the soup back into some sort of blend to use an analogy that doesn’t work at all. So I’m just curious for you how editing, collaboration, feedback works.
Isaac Marion (29:25.642)
Yeah, I can’t imagine working that way. I find a lot of fiction writers seem to want to share stuff where it’s not even in the oven yet, let alone done. And and they just start putting stuff out there, in this sort of piecemeal way. And that’s like a nightmare to me that the thought of anybody in the public reading stuff that I haven’t fully finished is just horrifying. I very reluctantly send it off to my agent is the first person who I work with. He actually ends up doing the bulk of the editing. The way that publishing works these days, it’s kind of like the editors do a lot less than they used to. They kind of expect it to be pretty much perfect before you even see it. So I spend sometimes a year. This last book that is out on the market as we speak, I spent about a year editing it with my agent before he even sent it into the market. So with very trusted people who I know understand what I’m trying to do and like my style of writing and kind of my goals as a storyteller, I handed off to them reluctantly. But only after I’ve got it to the point where like, this is as good as I can make it. I’ve fixed everything that I see. And now I need an outside perspective to kind of crack open that layer of sealer and expose things that I didn’t notice, which is kind of thrilling in its own way.
I actually, I dread the editing stage, but also when I’m in it, it can be really exciting because, you know, I’ve been working with this thing for usually at least a year, sometimes two years. I think it was about two years of this new book. And it’s just so calcified in my mind, what it is. And to have someone else come in for the first time and kind of crack that open and be like, this area could be a lot better or like… this thing, if you move this over here, this whole thing is going to
pop. There’s always a little resistance at first and I’m like, what? No. And then I usually let it sit for a day and think about it and then start tinkering with it. And sometimes there’s moments where I disagree and I’m just like…you know what? I think you’re wrong and I’m doing it this way. And then there’s other times where I’ll try something and it just works so well that it’s just this exhilarating sensation of like this whole section…. It’s like you connect two wires together and the whole thing lights up like, whoa. I did not know that could happen. So it can be really exciting. It’s just… it’s a it’s a tense time. It’s a lot of like terror and excitement at the same time.
Yeah, that’s understandable. And do you know, in an absolutely ideal world, what kinds of things you would want to work on next, or is that just really hard to think about with the creative landscape as it is?
Isaac Marion (32:12.342)
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately of just how… I mean, I had the privilege of enjoying a few years of creative freedom, basically. I had a time where I made money off Warm Bodies and I was able to just work on other stuff and whatever struck my fancy basically. And I didn’t really have to be thinking yet about…at least I thought I didn’t have to be thinking about this. I probably should have been in retrospect.
But I thought like, I’ll just do whatever, you know, resonates with my soul in this moment. I’m just going to do these experimental short stories or whatever. And of course, it would be amazing to be in a position to in your career where you can kind of just do exactly what excites you and it will have an audience no matter what and you won’t have to worry about, you know, paying the bills. But that’s kind of the fantasy, which I would love to get back to.
But on a more realistic level, I’m just thinking there’s probably going to be a hybrid model for me these days. I’m going to keep writing books, but the industry is such a mess and there are just so many things that make that hard to make it your whole life that I’ve been inspired to diversify lately and just get into other realms.
I’ve started to dip my toes in video game writing, which has actually turned into a nice little side gig… where I don’t have any major employment in that realm, but I’ve had little projects where someone approaches me to write specific things for a game. I’ve done that, and that’s a realm I’d love to work more in. It’s probably the most practical application of the writing ability these days.
I tried my hand in Hollywood, did not like that experience. I don’t think I’ll ever really go back to that in terms of trying to start a screenwriting career or anything like that. But that’s also similar to novels in the sense that it’s like these huge monolithic projects that you spend massive amounts of your life creating. And then it’s just like, roll the dice. Do people like it or not? And if not, it’s completely wasted, which is…especially with screenwriting… it’s just horrifying because literally, if nobody wants to make your movie, it does not exist. Nobody wants to read your screenplay for pleasure. It’s just like you throw it out there. I have several screenplays of complete stories that I spent a long time working on that are just in the archives. There’s no way to share them. That’s really demoralizing.
But gaming is an industry that is active that has a growing role for storytelling as they become more and more cinematic and literary even. And I enjoy gaming myself. So it’s an exciting field to be moving into. It’s like this is something that’s not my deepest desire. I would like to just make my own stories on my own terms. But if I have to do something, you know, have a practical career, that could work. I’m excited to move into that.
Yeah, that makes so much sense. And in terms of the way that generations are interacting with things online, and attention spans and all the stats on gaming. And there seems to be so much scope for creativity now. I’m thinking about Craig Mazin, who is on the Scriptnotes podcast with John August, the screenwriting podcast, but he wrote Chernobyl for HBO, but now has just written, comparatively recently written, the version of The Last of Us, that started as a game. But again, it’s like I think game IP is being treated more seriously too. People used to joke about Tomb Raider being made into a film and why people would go, but The Last of Us, they’re getting Craig Mazin to do the project and very sensitively.
Isaac Marion (36:22.494)
Yeah, there’s a lot of different kinds of games, of course, and some don’t really have any story. But then on the other end of the spectrum, you have stuff that’s, you know, basically an interactive movie. It has all of the same kind of storytelling techniques and emotion and everything as any other piece of fiction. And sometimes to the point where I’m like, why don’t I just watch a movie?
But I think there’s kind of a way to balance it that creates a unique experience where it’s kind of cinematic and it’s a story but you feel involved in a deeper way because of your part of it. And that’s intriguing to me. I would love to work on games like that where it’s more of a real story, not just like an entirely interactive sandbox kind of thing. Although I tend to enjoy playing sandbox games, but as far as what I’d like to create it, you know. There’s a lot of potential in that side of the spectrum.
Hmm. Yeah. So I don’t know if this is going to give us an even darker note to end on or a lighter note to end on, but what do you think creativity gives you? Like, if you did strip it out of your life, imagining that, what does creativity put back in, even in the current market conditions of writing and all the challenges that there are with it.
Isaac Marion (37:42.05)
That’s an interesting question. It is something very subtle and hard to define as I think about it. It’s, you know, I was talking earlier about with writing in particular, how a lot of it is about the connecting with people and kind of like sharing what’s in my head. But I feel like that doesn’t define creativity in general because there are a lot of forms of creativity that really aren’t about connection. They’re not, you know, you’re not interacting in that direct of a way, like, you know, abstract paintings or something where it’s really much more of a visceral kind of feeling that can’t really be defined that clearly. And even just, I mean, there’s a lot of different formats that have a different kind of satisfaction to them. But I don’t know, there’s like a common element to all of it.
And I’ve never thought about it in this way before. I’m processing it as we speak. But it feels like I’ve had a lot of contrast in that recently, having a total absence of creative life. And since I… I mean, you can’t tell from the screen if this is how it’s actually presented, but this looks like a nice normal little room, but a few feet to the sides, I’m in a shed right now. Like this is basically a tool shed that I’ve converted into a house and around it is just miles of desolate wasteland. And I moved out here a couple of years ago and it basically has become my job to convert this place into a home.
And so I’ve spent a lot of time completely in the physical world, like literally hammer and saw, just no time for frivolous nonsense, like storytelling or whatever. It’s like work, just work. And so I go months and months of this. I just finished building an outhouse and it took me pretty much the whole summer to hack this essentially outdoor bathroom together. And after a couple of months of that, I was just like… I feel malnourished. Like there’s something deep inside me that is not being fed.
And it’s like…I can feel kind of my soul drying up. It’s like a very similar sensation to being dehydrated where I was just like… I’m dying. Like something is shriveling up. And I know what it is because it’s this whole side of myself. I wasn’t even, you know, consuming entertainment for that most of that period. It was just like work all day and go to sleep. And I don’t know that I could define what it is exactly. It’s this very delicate substance. It feels connected to childhood play in some way, almost. Just the sensation of fantasy in general of getting outside of your body in some way.
Maybe it’s connected to whatever dreams do for us, maybe. We don’t really know what that is, but dreaming is apparently really important to the human survival because we’ve evolved to have our brains do this thing that makes no sense. We just spend all night doing nonsense in our brain. We don’t really know why. I’ve read a lot of theories about what that might do. And it occurs to me that art and creativity could be part of that same function. It’s just some way of understanding the world and just maybe even something deeper and more metaphysical of where we came from to begin with as conscious entities. Like what is consciousness all about? It could go pretty spacey as I think about it.
Yeah, good. But I think that’s a beautiful way of being able to express what it feels like and what it feels like when you don’t have it. Because, like you say, we’re in the land of all the sensations and the feelings more than being able to logically pin down a sentence. So I think you expressed it beautifully. And on that, on that very existential, perfectly existential note, which I really appreciate. And I appreciate being able to have conversations like this because I can’t have them everywhere, which is why I have my own podcast. Thank you so much for your time. And where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
Isaac Marion (41:47.146)
Yeah. Well, my author website, Isaacmarion.com is my main portal that has links to everything else that I do, which is, you know, these days mostly just Instagram and YouTube. YouTube is my new endeavor that I’m mostly focused on and excited about right now. I started to document this wilderness life that I’m living out here. And yeah, my website is sort of the starting point for all of that. Or you can look up my YouTube, which is Outer Edge Outpost.
It’s kind of my fringe world that I live in out here.
Yeah, brilliant. And again, to bring it back to humor, I’ve watched the recent videos and they’re so fun. I’m sorry to have fun at your expense, as you’re painfully doing all those things.
Isaac Marion (42:29.884)
Well, that’s the idea. They’re very, very wry.
I know. They’re very entertaining, which is great. Because then I don’t have to worry about you. Because without the humour, I would just have to worry about you, whereas now I can just enjoy it.
Isaac Marion (42:39.11)
Yeah. If I ever start posting videos about my life that have no self-deprecating jokes, then you should worry.
Yeah, then I’ll worry.
If I start claiming that my life is great, then you should worry about me.
Okay, okay, good. Yes, definitely, definitely going to worry. Awesome. Thanks so much, Isaac.
Isaac Marion (42:57.622)
All right, thank you.