–When did you first begin writing and what was your path to Justified?
I began writing at a pretty young age, starting with letters to camp friends, to short stories, to trying a novel in high school. I began writing fiction seriously in college, and haven’t stopped.
My path to Justified began with a satisfying career as a novelist, but wanting to move into TV. I watched shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Yost’s Boomtown and began seeing the possibilities in this form. Then I read Graham’s pilot of Justified early on, knew Elmore Leonard’s and Graham’s work, and saw it meshing very well with my own. When I watched it I knew I had to write for Graham. It took three seasons but I finally joined the team.
–As the new voice in the room this season, how do you figure out on the fly how you fit into the larger mosaic of the group?
Every show is different, every writers’ room unique, but I had the advantage of being a tremendous fan of the show, so felt very comfortable with the language of Justified. I saw very quickly that everyone wanted to make a great show, no matter who was new or a veteran, and they all made me feel very welcome. I pitched in however I could, whether it was research, story ideas, even writing on the white boards despite my messy handwriting. I began to see that my background in crime novels and fiction writing was an asset, and contributed with that perspective when I could.
–How did you find out that you’d be writing an episode this season?
Graham took me aside and said said it was time. Dave Andron had advocated for me to get a script. Then Graham told the room and they applauded, which was actually touching. I felt like I was a true part of the team then. Taylor Elmore welcomed me as a co-writer, and we were off.
–Did you feel any extra pressure since you were following an episode that killed off a major character?
Not especially. Of course I wanted to do a good job, and Taylor and I both felt a responsibility to Raylan, to make his response true to his character, but I feel like I was given a tremendous gift: I was empowered to co-write an episode of my favorite show. Not many people get the chance to do that. So, honestly, I had fun.
–There was a version of ‘The Hatchet Tour’ where Raylan carted Arlo around rather than Hunter. When that switch occurred, how did your approach to the episode have to shift?
That was before the decision to kill Arlo was cemented. Quite frankly the relationship between Raylan and Arlo mirrors the relationship with my father, so that version was extremely cathartic to write. Kafka once said that writing is the axe to break the frozen sea within us, and I did a lot of ice breaking. When we decided that Arlo was going to die we just filed that old version away, Taylor and I hunkered down and we re-envisioned the story from the new perspective. Again, you must remember how much I enjoy this show as a viewer, so all that it meant was we got to write a new version of the episode, and I relished that.
–What was the division of labor like between you and Taylor Elmore? Was it an easy collaboration?
Taylor and I write very similarly. I think he could’ve been a novelist in another life because he liked pondering and mulling character and story as much as I did. Basically we talked, emailed and kicked ideas back and forth, then just started writing. The most telling moment for me was when we unintentionally overlapped, and unbeknownst to us we ended up writing a line almost exactly the same way. That’s when we knew it was a good collaboration.
–How did the reveal of Shelby as Drew evolve? As a novelist with plenty of experience in the crime/mystery genre, what were your instincts telling you about this reveal?
This was a point discussed quite a bit in the writers’ room, and there were more dramatic and violent versions bandied about, but in the end we all thought that a quieter revelation in the aftermath of chaos would have the most weight. I guess my instincts were pretty in tune with the other writers — we all didn’t want to wait too long because that kind of trickery gets tiresome, but we wanted to do it justice, with an eye toward who Drew was and who Shelby is now, authentic and organic to the story.
–Can you talk about your experiences working on the set? What were some learning curves that were specific to this show?
I liked set, especially in the more remote areas because I missed being outside. I also marveled at the collaborative nature of the shoot, since everyone from sound, props, wardrobe, to the actors themselves, wanted the very best for the show. The only thing specific for this show that I wasn’t used to were the long commutes. One night I got caught in traffic and spent over three hours getting home.
–Which character’s voice is your favorite one to write?
They all have their fun aspects. Whether it’s Raylan’s wryness laced with his uniquely complicated undercurrents, or Ava’s intelligent yearning. But I do especially enjoy Boyd’s cadences and lyricism. He has a neo-Biblical lilt that comes for his wild upbringing and background, shaded with his father’s rawness, his own criminal past, the regionalism, the eclectic reading, and the fact that he’s a fascinating character.
–Why did you decide to make the jump from writing novels to writing for TV? Can you talk about the pros and cons of the switch?
I’ve written a lot about social and cultural issues as they relate to crime, family and community, and saw that this was being done so well on TV that I had to be a part of it. The Wire, Breaking Bad and of course Justified are not just great TV — they’re great literature. The forms — TV and novels — are not that different for me. It comes down to telling stories about compelling characters in unique and moving situations. It’s focusing a lens on a community and seeing what that reveals about all of us.
–You were here every day before Jeff and myself and from what I understand you are pretty prolific. Can you describe your routine and the habits you try to keep in order to be such a productive writer?
Writing is an integral part of my life. I love to write. I can’t imagine not writing. So it’s very simple for me to wake up and think about what I’m writing that day. I wonder if what makes it difficult for many people is that they’re thinking about the product: the story, the novel, the script, or whatever they’re working on and what the final product will be and what it will get them — writing as a means to an end.
However, I tend to think about the process — what I will learn about the characters, the world, the stories, and, ultimately, about myself in the journey of whatever I’m working on. When you relish the journey, it’s very, very easy to get up at dawn eager to see what happens next in the story. You can’t wait to get out of bed. Seriously.
–What advice do you have for a person about to write their first spec script with the hope of writing for TV?
Well, consider my previous answer. If you’re writing a script as a means to get somewhere else, you’re not writing a script — you’re writing a vehicle for another goal. My advice is to change your mindset. You’re writing a story that’s meaningful to you and hopefully to others, and you’re infusing it with something no one else can do or even approach; you’re writing with your unique voice and perspective. No one else has had your experiences and perspectives. What do you want to see out there that you can’t find? How is it uniquely yours, and I don’t necessarily mean autobiographical, but singularly your voice. Learn how to capture that in your writing, your characters, your stories, and enjoy the process. Embrace the journey and everything else will eventually fall into place.