Q&A with George Samerjan
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
I knew as an adolescent. Being a writer was all I ever wanted to be. I started writing poetry at an early age. To date I’ve written more than 2,500 poems and had a volume of poetry published, as well as numerous poems in collections and literary magazines.
What was it like seeing your work made into a film? To see the images in your mind come to life must have been amazing. Did you make any changes to the original story to adapt it for the screen?
It was an incredible experience in 2002, when David and I drove to Toronto where A Christmas Visitor was shot. I remember standing behind the director, watching a TV video monitor, which was attached to a camera shooting the scene.
We had headsets on and watched one of most powerful scenes in the movie: where Matthew is healing Jennifer with a gentle touch. The director wasn’t happy with the first or second take. He took the actress playing Jennifer outside and spoke to her for a few minutes. She came back and nailed the scene.
I remember tears coming down from my eyes as the actress spoke words I had written. It was quite the experience that day. I also remember there was an issue with the script so David and I went to one of the trailers and worked out a solution. We rewrote a scene, faxed it to the producer in LA who approved it, and then we saw the new scene shot.
You’ve written three Christmas books. What is it about that time of year that inspires you to write?
I’ve always been profoundly moved by the Christmas spirit and the sense of people truly caring for others. It isn’t so much that the time of year provides inspiration, but the concept of Christmas gives me and David, as writers, a stage on which to build the characters, plot, and dialogue. Christmas books are quite different from other types of novels. The challenge with a Christmas book is to tell a moving story without drifting into sentimentality.
What is the collaboration process like between you and David?
I think we have a rather amazing and productive collaboration process. I met David in 1995 and we’ve written a number of books together. We have never had a major disagreement. Sometimes we differ in a particular scene or plot issue, but we talk it out.
A writer knows when something works and when it doesn’t, and a writer always seeks something which works. We’ve very honest with each other about how we see something. Usually, one of us has an idea for a novel. We talk it through: What is the story, who are the characters, when and where does it take place?
Once we agree that it’s a book we want to write, we’ll do a synopsis and an outline, and one of us will write the first draft, and then send it to the other. Then, the other goes through and edits or revises the draft, and sends it back.
If one of us comes upon something major, we’ll talk it through and then fix. David is the only writer I’ve ever collaborated with. Sometimes when we’re writing novels on our own, we’ll send them to each other for an honest opinion. It has worked very well.
Has your time in the service inspired many of your stories?
I think you could say that. My literary agent has Second Chances, a novel I recently wrote, out to publishers. It is a love story between an Army nurse and an Army pilot. She also has my novel, Long Journey Home, about a New York National Guard Soldier who served in Afghanistan and experiences a great challenge in returning to civilian life.
And, there’s Home Without a Flag, a collection of poetry I wrote during my combat tour in Vietnam and the decades after, about combat and what it is to be a veteran. Even in A Christmas Visitor and A Christmas Passage, there are veterans in the story who are portrayed in a very positive light. I definitely drew on my experiences to write these characters.
Do you have any specific rituals that help you write?
I have a pretty well established routine. When I’m writing a book I write six days a week in the morning. I get up early, take my dog outside and feed her, shower and dress, and then get to my desk. I’ll write from 6:30AM until noon. Then, I’ll go to the market, buy four newspapers, and return home. The next morning I repeat the process.
What are some other hobbies you have outside of writing?
My primary hobby is building doll houses. I built seven for my late wife’s granddaughter as she grew up. Each year she gave me a request for new doll house. Over time I acquired the tools, and devoted one room in my house to a workshop. I’ve built twenty doll houses and I always have one in the works.
The last one I built I gave as a surprise, including furniture, to a young girl in town who had a health problem. The one before that I built for my neighbor’s granddaughter and we surprised her with it on Christmas. I built two at the same time for two young girls, twins, who helped us place American flags on the graves of veterans in our town cemetery one Memorial Day. Building a doll house requires concentration, and it clears the mind.
Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a writer, never give up. Keep writing. I had dinner once with an executive of the Washington Post. I mentioned I was a writer. At the time, I was unpublished.
He asked me why I would do anything I hadn’t made any money at. I told him of the Cuban writer, Jose Marti, who wrote 75 novels in his lifetime. I told the executive, when I die I’ll have written 75 novels whether they are published or not. He was mystified. Later, I ended up getting published.
If you’re a writer you write because that’s who you are. If you get published or have a film made, that’s even better.