In this interview I have the pleasure of interviewing Jay Rosenkrantz. He certainly is a man who isn’t afraid to color outside the lines. We talk about poker, Austin, screenplays, short films and naturally, his story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which have an interesting background. Jay also reveals what he’s working on right now. But scroll down and read for yourself.
Great to have you here, Jay. Can you give us a short introduction to yourself?
Hi there! I’m a writer and producer living in Austin, Texas, land of the guitar, home of the breakfast taco. I come from New York–a fish-shaped island called Long Island–mecca of the everything bagel. I used to be a professional poker player, but nowadays I’m a full-time writer, producer, and poker coach. I think stories are an important mode of communication, and they’re way fun to make. I work hard at telling entertaining and meaningful ones.
Wouldn’t it be great if all Unboxers moved to Austin? What made you decide to move there from New York?
Yes, I’d encourage that! There’s a fantastic creative community here (though the traffic is starting to suck!)! I suppose gravity brought me to Texas. New York can be loud, and imposing, and it drains the bank account real good, real quick. I wanted more space, more quiet, to be closer to nature, and to pay less for it. I wanted to experience a different part of America as I moved into a new phase of my life. Austin called to me. The Alamo Drafthouse movie theater company is based here, and as far as I’m concerned, if you love movies, there’s no better group to be around. Their passion for cinema is infectious. So my brother and I packed up and took a leap.
I’m curious. How does a professional poker player decides to be a writer? Have you always been writing?
Oh, I’ve always been writing. Poker and writing have been dueling passions of mine since I was very young. I always explored gambling through my writing and creativity through my poker. I sort of fell into the poker profession after film school — I moved home to New York to write screenplays and teach poker, but in 2006 poker was booming, so I kept riding that wave. At a certain point I felt like I’d accomplished more than I’d ever dreamed of achieving playing poker, and I found my passion for the game waning. I really don’t like losing, and when you play cards for a living you lose almost as often as you win. It’s tough on your emotions. In that sense it prepared me well for the dailyness of dreaming up stories!
Have you written anything for publication before?
I’ve written screenplays and published those as short films, but have only started writing fiction recently. Bobby Bigsby in the Sky Shaw is my first published tale!
Tell us some more about your screenplays and short films. What kind of movies are you writing?
Right now I’m working on two film projects. There’s a short film planned as part of a YA horror anthology, and it’s about a mystical card game where the stakes are life and death. I’m collaborating with two friends and filmmakers in Austin on this project, and we’re deep in the thick of the writing of it. And then I’m in the midst of co-writing a horror film with a director friend that’s about the deterioration of the mind. I like writing in all the genres, but I love collaborating, so these projects are insanely fun and exciting to be a part of while working on my fiction.
What or who are your biggest creative influences?
Ursula LeGuin and Ray Bradbury. Their stories sound like songs—I want to write like that. The work of Hayao Miyazaki endlessly inspires me, and Joss Whedon, Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Pixar… STAR WARS has had a massive influence on me. I saw Star Wars when I was really young, and after that I knew I had to learn the Force and make stuff as cool as that.
What is your writing environment like and is there anything you’d change about it?
When I moved from New York to Austin I simplified my life a lot. I live in a small space now, so I spend a lot of time writing in coffee shops, but I recently bought a standup desk and rocking chair, which I try to write from while I’m home.
The only space I have for the standup desk is next to my bed, so my bedroom is serving as a place for sleeping, reading, and writing—its like a combination plate at a Chinese restaurant.
It’s working for me right now, and the standing desk is growing on me, but a proper workshop would be sweet. What I’d really love, though, is to build a collaborative studio, as mighty as Pixar or Studio Ghibli. I think it would be so energizing to work side by side with other writers and artists on mega-ambitious stories.
What made you decide to participate in Fiction Unboxed and write in this shared world?
I loved Write. Publish. Repeat. It’s an incredible motivator. It showed me the enormous opportunity there is to self publish stories. I love writing, and producing is the elbow that greases the wheel of production, so being able to produce stories at the purest level (the words) and potentially earn a living, that’s so exciting to me. I have great ambition to publish my stories and improve at the telling and improve at the producing, so I can write and produce work I have maximum control over as often as possible. I tried to write a book on my own for NaNoWriMo last year and it was daunting. Fiction Unboxed opened my eyes to how the pros get it done, and BEYOND THE GATE was an opportunity to connect with other writers who participated. I had started to practice writing short stories, so I was game to try to write one in Alterra.
Tell us about your story in the “Beyond the Gate” anthology?
I wanted to write a light-hearted tale with some of the spirit of a Pixar short film, so that was the tone I had in mind. I combined steampunk with the urge to write a story about the unusual characters who worked at my family’s business, a gas station. I spent many hot summers growing up in Bobby Bigsby’s position, washing windows, pumping gas, and picking parts up for my uncle in a beat-up old car they called ‘the Limo.’
Interesting background for your anthology story. Do you plan to write more in Engine World?
I don’t plan to, but if someone wanted to co-write a novel or novella in Engine World, and made a good case for doing so, aand we had a spark or a set of characters to dig into, and a tank of steam behind us, I’d be into it. Otherwise I plan to continue learning how to build my own worlds, let my characters breathe wherever they may live, work on short stories. Write, publish, repeat, and get better and better. That’s a lesson I learned from poker, and from Finding Nemo, too: just keep swimming.
What do you plan to write next?
Aside from the screenwriting, I’ve got a few different balls in the air. I’m revising a satirical short story I’ve co-written with a pal about a Devil-worshipper who accidentally commits a good deed. And I’m working on what I hope to be my first book, a science fantasy adventure. It’s the coming of age story of two siblings who live in a psychedelic desert town. I’ve always wanted to write something big and deep that’s fun like STAR WARS, so I want to see if I can write a good adventure book in that mold. After all, if I’m going to master the Force, I have to walk the path of the Jedi, right?
Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Jay. It’s been great to hear about your background and where you’re headed. I wish you the best of luck with all your projects!
And you, dear reader. Thank you for popping by.
Remember that Beyond the Gate is now available at all the big e-book retailers online.
And as Dave would shout it “You have NOTHING to lose!” – because it’s absolutely free. It doesn’t get much better than that! If you pick it up and leave a review, Dave will hate you a little less*
*No guarantee for less Dave-hate.