Lou Diamond Phillips, THE TINDERBOX

Lou Diamond Phillips, THE TINDERBOX

Lou Diamond Phillips: For somebody who doesn’t have time to read books, look at all of this.

Yvonne Phillips: Hey, that’s the first time I have seen the hard copy.

Zibby Owens: Here it is. I just got it, actually. It just came yesterday. Beautiful.

Yvonne: Fantastic. I haven’t seen it yet.

Lou: Cool!

Zibby: Want it closer?

Lou: That is nice.

Zibby: Do you want me to send it to you? I can FedEx it to you.

Lou: That’s okay. I’ve got an employee discount. I’ll be able to get it cheaper.

Zibby: Okay. I got it free, so I’ll send it to you if you want. If you change your mind, put your address in the chat or something or have your publicist get in touch. Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m delighted to have you here. Thanks for coming.

Lou: Thrilled to be here. Thank you.

Zibby: Your latest book is called The Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira. Indira, correct? Yes?

Lou: Indira like Gandhi, actually, like Indira Gandhi.

Zibby: Okay, perfect. That, I know. Can you please tell listeners what this book is about and the amazing story of how the whole thing transpired which you wrote in the author’s note?

Lou: The original inspiration — my inspiration, I’m going to start there. Then we’ll back up to hers. My original inspiration were her drawings. When Yvonne and I first started dating and getting to know each other, you know how it goes, she started reading a lot of my work. She started sharing with me, a lot of her art, which is amazing. In that batch of original art was a series of drawings in manga style that was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinderbox.” So looking at the drawings, I go back, I read “The Tinderbox,” which is a three-page, five-page fable/fairy tale. It’s very short, not one of his more famous ones. It just sparked this whole idea in my head. Her drawings, to me, were very evocative of a post-apocalyptic Mad Max kind of wasteland feeling. It went from there. I told her it was a great idea for a movie. She said, run with it. I did and basically ambushed and hijacked her idea.

Zibby: Perfect.

Lou: Yeah, and kept going back to the source material because, as I’ve said in other interviews, I’ve always been a fan of art that begets art, West Side Story from Romeo and Juliet, a book called Grendel by John Gardner that was the bad guy’s point of view of Beowulf, which is really hard to understand. I understood Beowulf a lot more after I read Grendel. Just thought, let’s create this fantasy sci-fi world. It’s not that sci-fi jumped out at me. It’s that originally, we thought it would be a good movie. Game of Thrones hadn’t happened yet when we first started this process. I said, if we’re going to make a movie and we’re going to set it in this other worldly fantasy thing, let’s take a nod from Star Wars and do a —

Yvonne: — Avatar was out at the time.

Lou: Exactly, in a galaxy far, far away where we could create our own rules and have kings and queens and princesses and soldiers and what not. That was where it all started. The story’s very simple. It’s a soldier on a foreign planet who falls in love with a princess. It’s very Romeo and Juliet in that respect.

Zibby: Amazing. Yvonne, how did you feel about what happened to the drawings after the beginning?

Yvonne: My original concept was not sci-fi or whatever in the world this is. I basically started drawing it back in the nineties because I was really into the magna comic book style. This is before the internet was available, so you couldn’t google images or just go to the store. It wasn’t readily available like it is now.

Zibby: I remember that time of life. I understand.

Yvonne: You’d go to the comic shop and you’d order something from a catalog and wait six to eight weeks for them to order it. I decided I was going to create my own content. I’m not a writer. I’m very familiar with fairy tales. I’m from Germany. I grew up there, a lot of Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen and all those stories that I grew up with. I took one of the lesser knowns. We know The Little Mermaid. I went, I’m going to go a little bit lesser known. I started animating a story that was already out there in the magna style. He says it’s kind of post-apocalyptic. It was, but it was definitely not outer space. It was earth bound. It was still witches and princesses and maybe more Games of Thrones, fantasy, earth bound, not outer space.

Zibby: I’m sensing a little discord here.

Yvonne: When he took the idea and said, “I’m going to write a screenplay,” I basically washed my hands of it. I’m not going to animate or draw or illustrate a screenplay. That was pretty much, do whatever you want with it. Take the story. It’s a cool story. Expand on it. Do what you got to do. I thought I was finished with it.

Zibby: And now here we are.

Lou: That’s just it. It took on a life of its own. It really evolved. It kind of took over. People have to understand that this has been a ten-year process. The father of the hero is King the 47th. The reason he’s King the 47th is because I was 47 when I wrote the screenplay. We write the screenplay. It’s fantastic. I’m very happy with it. She’s very happy with it. Then we realize this is going to be really, really expensive. Nobody is going to let me direct it and us produce it. We’d probably make a little money by selling it, but that wasn’t really what we wanted to do. This started out as a project for the two of us. There was always the thought to novelize it as part of the whole world, if you will. Then Game of Thrones happens. My manager, JB Roberts, says, “Write the novel. At the very least, you’ve got that. Then if you sell the rights or whatever, you’ve created the world.” I kept bouncing ideas off of Yvonne and checking in with her on plot and just an overall feel for it and went about the process of actually writing the novel and creating the world in more detail so that even if it gets bought out from under us, this is what it looks like. We’ve established that.

Zibby: I love how your manager is like, just go ahead and write the novel, as if that’s not a big deal. There are thousands and millions of people, that’s all they want to do in their whole lives, is sell the one novel.

Lou: It’s interesting because it is, it’s easier said than done. It took me ten years because the day job kept working out. I kept acting and getting a job. Eventually, got to the point where I could do a film or a TV show and write at the same time. It wasn’t as if I could devote eight hours a day to writing like novelists who do this for a living are. I think the reason that JB recommended that is because I’ve written a bunch of screenplays. I’ve written screenplays that haven’t been produced. I’ve written screenplays that have been produced. Whenever I’ve decided to write something, it gets done eventually. He knew that I would do it, that it wasn’t a frivolous suggestion. It just took a while. What’s interesting is that, speaking of the collaboration, I really painted her into a corner. I stole the idea. She washed her hands of it. Then I wrote a novel. It’s like, okay, illustrate this, and there’s all this stuff in there that wasn’t her idea. It wasn’t what she imagined she would be doing.

Zibby: This is how we learn the meaning of compromise in a marriage.

Lou: And communication.

Yvonne: I think it turned out that we did compromise because I ended up going back to really old-school vintage sci-fi, more Flash Gordon, Barbarella as opposed to the high-tech sci-fi that we see in Blade Runner and that of today. I still took my fantasy world and did a big mishmash of everything else and tried a few new things that I wasn’t as comfortable with and pushed the boundaries here and there for myself. I think we got a good mix. It’s not necessarily sci-fi, what is expected, but it’s not exactly earth bound like it is today either.

Lou: People always tell you after the fact — I didn’t set out to write a sci-fi novel, really. I didn’t set out to write in any category whatsoever. I wrote the story as it came to us. Now people go, it’s sci-fi.

Yvonne: It’s YA.

Lou: It’s YA. Is it really? Okay, great. Wonderful. My heroes are teenagers. They’re nineteen and seventeen, I think, or nineteen and eighteen. I guess that makes it YA because it is very much a Romeo and Juliet story, but that wasn’t the point. I didn’t set out to fit into any particular genre. I think ultimately what happened with Yvonne’s artwork is also a hybrid, which I think is wonderful because it certainly has that feel like the original Hans Christian Andersen drawings, but also a bit of Charles Vess and a bit of the drawings from Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. There are those touches of not only that really cool retro steampunk-y kind of sci-fi, but a graphic novel sensibility as well. She had to draw creatures that I made up. She goes, .

Zibby: I’m reading the original Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland to my daughter who’s seven. I was reading it and I was like, I don’t know if this came across my desk if I would even cover this. It’s weird. It’s a funny story. Who thinks of these things? There’s less rhyme or reason in that book than probably any other book in all the different ways that it goes off. Yet it’s a classic. It’s amazing. There’s just no science to writing. Things just take off. They become successful. There’s no formula, really.

Lou: The truth of the matter is that’s one of the biggest criticisms. It’s too formulaic.

Zibby: Right, yes. Exactly.

Lou: If you’re going to be original and you’re going to do something, then you kind of have to follow your heart. Obviously, there are certain ground rules and some fundamentals when it comes to writing. You apply those. You just can’t compare writers. Franzen is very different than my friend Craig Johnson or my friend Chris Bohjalian. Both of those guys are different from one another. Their styles are different. Chris Bohjalian, his style will change depending on a subject matter, which I think is just amazing. His depth and breadth of research and the worlds that he creates is wonderful. By the way, both of those guys were instrumental in us getting to the finish line with this book. I was doing the series Longmire when I really started writing it in earnest as a novel and showed Craig and his wife, Judy, the first couple of chapters. I say, “Am I wasting my time? Is this really something that, this is not for you?” They really liked it and encouraged me. Then Bohjalian and the three of us are working on a project together. He took a look at the completed novel and literally pointed us toward an agent and gave us some advice and has been a steadfast mentor in this whole process as well. It’s been a lovely journey. We’ve acquired some great friends along the way.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love Chris. It was so nice of him to put us in touch. I was like, “How did the two of you meet?” He’s like, “We met through Twitter like everyone these days.” I was like, what? I thought he was going to say, we go back decades or something like that.

Lou: It’s one of those, it makes no sense. If you wrote it in a book, they go, no, no, no.

Yvonne: It’s funny. I was reading The Flight Attendant, I think it was. We both do a lot of reading. We’re big readers.

Lou: She’ll read something and then recommend it to me. It goes onto my pile.

Zibby: That great.

Yvonne: When he started reading it, he’s like, “Is this guy on Twitter? I should see if this guy’s on Twitter.”

Lou: Because once again, I’m reading The Flight Attendant, this would make a great movie. Little late to the party. It’s already a miniseries now. I’m always looking for something to do or to direct or write. Sure enough, looked him up on Twitter, there he was. Not only was he a fan, but he’s a friend of John Fusco who wrote both the Young Guns films. John and I have stayed in touch over the years. It was one of those two degrees of separation. We just happened to be going to New York within a couple of weeks of contacting him. He was here. We had lunch. One thing led to another. That’s how we’re working on a project. We’re actually in the process of adapting one of his novels, once again, for a miniseries. He wanted to take a look at some of my writing. It was like, here, can we do this together? He’s just wonderful.

Zibby: That’s so great. Having a mentor is so important. It’s so funny because you wouldn’t think — look how accomplished you are in your professional life. Yet you need a person or two just to be like, yeah, you’re doing okay.

Lou: It’s when you’re trying something new.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s a hundred percent true.

Lou: I don’t think we can assume to be a champion at everything you try. My whole career has been defined by jack of all trades kind of thing. I write. I direct. I do theater, film, TV. I’ve said it many times, it’s all different branches of the same artistic tree. I’m a storyteller. I’m a communicator. Whatever platform or format that takes, it’s just getting down the technicalities of it.

Zibby: Yeah, which medium to choose. It’s like you have all these cards in your pocket. You can just deal them out wherever you want to spread your —

Lou: — We’ll see how successful this is. The reception has been incredible so far in some of the early reviews, which have been lovely.

Zibby: You’re a beautiful writer. You’re really good. You really are. You never know when you open a book, what you’re going to get. You’re a good writer, so that’s great, as you well know.

Lou: A lot of people automatically saw that — first of all, they thought it was a memoir, which ain’t going to happen until in ninety. I promise you that. It’s unexpected. I don’t think people thought that I was going to write something not only fictional, but that was in this world. I always liken it to when I did The King and I on Broadway. So many people thought, the La Bamba guy thinks he can be on Broadway? I have a degree in theater. It’s my background. Even though I’m not known as a writer, I’ve always written. I actually set out to be a narrative writer, a prose writer, in high school. Then the acting bug bit.

Zibby: This whole acting career has really just derailed what your main goals are. I can’t believe how much it’s gotten in the way.

Lou: You know what’s interesting? Yvonne has done so many things in her life. We met when she was a makeup artist.

Yvonne: I obviously didn’t become a graphic artist or an illustrator. I went into hair and makeup and special effects makeup, all that.

Lou: Again, very artistic.

Zibby: Did you meet on a set? How did you meet?

Lou: She gave me a haircut, got all up in my grill. Her art, it’s a gift. It’s a gift. She blows my mind to this day. I’ve always thought, you should be doing this. I’ve sold so many of her ideas. Believe me, our production company, which is Frabjous Day, from the “Jabberwocky” poem, so many of the projects that we have in various stages of development are her idea.

Zibby: Look at that.

Lou: I’m riding her coattails. I think at this point in life she’s not yet having an opportunity to embrace some of the things that I think she is intended to do. She’s just so gifted and so smart.

Zibby: How amazing to have a partnership where both of you can reach your full creative potential. That’s amazing.

Yvonne: There’s a lot of support.

Zibby: I feel like this never happens the first time. I’m on my second marriage. My husband, Kyle, and I have the same synergy where the more we talk, the more ideas go flying out in different forms. I feel like I never hear that about people with their first marriages.

Lou: Her first.

Yvonne: You know what? It’s my first.

Zibby: It’s your first? Okay, sorry. Then I’m wrong.

Yvonne: It’s blown out of the water. There you go.

Zibby: You changed the trend for me then. That’s amazing. In the book, the character obviously is a soldier. I know you have a military background in your family. Did that play into the creation of this character at all?

Lou: Both of us have a military background. It’s interesting. A couple things come to mind. First of all, Hans Christian Andersen’s short story starts with the soldier coming back from an unnamed war, clip clop, clip clop. That is the imagery of the book, the first image. The fact that it’s an unnamed war and the fact that he’s a soldier automatically, in my mind, put him in a certain age range. A lot of great war stories are from people who have just experienced this or are still in the process of defining their own manhood, if you will. I did a movie called Courage Under Fire with Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan, directed by the amazing Ed Zwick. This was after he had done Glory. I asked him one day, I said, “Why do you keep doing war stories?” He goes, “First of all, the bang-bang’s exciting.” There’s the big explosions and the effects and the hardware and whatever else. He’s a very well-read man, a very smart man. When you think about it, you go back to even Aristotle who set a lot of things against war. Shakespeare set a lot of things against war.

Yvonne: Conflict.

Lou: Exactly, because you have this conflict, but you also have a setting in which you can discuss the more grand aspects of human character, of courage, of nobility, of integrity, of bravery, of all of these things in what is truly a life-and-death scenario. Hans’s story is fairy tale. It weaves a certain tale. There’s some magic involved and some just outlandish, fantastical adventures. As a novel, to me, or even as a film, it had to be grounded in a real sense of humanity. Why are we doing this? What are we talking about? From all of that came the idea of creating this planet that’s spilt in two. We have two different races of people who are fighting one another. It’s sweet because Craig Johnson said it’s rather prescient, which I didn’t think at the time. Here we are still again discussing race, discussing peace, discussing where we’re at in this incredibly unsettled world. Though it’s not meant to be a message piece, there is still very much a morality tale at its spine. The Once and Future King in the King Arthur is really an anti-war statement. Having read my entire life, I thought, I can’t set off on this journey and just do it for the little story. There’s got to be something a little bit more to it.

Zibby: Is it going to be a movie after all that now that you’ve backed into it? Do you have any idea?

Yvonne: Don’t know yet.

Lou: We don’t know yet. It’s for sale if anybody’s got half a million dollars laying around. What’s interesting is that in the time it’s taken to write the novel, that world has changed. What used to be a one-off now could easily be a miniseries, a limited series of sorts. I don’t know how many books Game of Thrones, total, was based upon, but it has created a world. Interestingly enough, a lot of the people who reviewed it early on said that they so loved this world that they would revisit it. She came up with the idea for the sequel, so I’m working on that.

Zibby: Nice. Are you writing a sequel?

Lou: Oh, yeah. Already working on it and literally bouncing it off of her daily.

Zibby: Yvonne, you’re the mastermind of the whole thing.

Lou: She is the mastermind. We had a certain idea and was tooling around with that for almost a year. Then one day she came up with a different idea that was out of left field. I literally went, that’s it. That’s it because it’s unexpected. Once again, it’s about something. It’s about something that’s relevant. Working on that now and very excited. This time, trying not to back her into a corner with the drawings as much.

Yvonne: But we’re already there. We’re there already.

Zibby: I would recommend approaching this a little differently, perhaps.

Lou: We’ve been butting heads a couple of times.

Zibby: Last question. Do you have any advice, I was going to say to aspiring authors, but really anyone trying to achieve things in this creative way and to be storytellers?

Yvonne: For me, it starts with creating your own content. You want to do something, do it. Whether you’re trying to sell, do it for yourself first. Somehow, put it out there in the universe. Something will happen even if it’s many, many years later.

Lou: That’s the point. That would go toward what I have to say. I said this to young actors, and that’s never quit. You will never get an opportunity if you quit.

Yvonne: Just keep doing it.

Lou: You never know what heights you’re going to rise to. When I set out, I just wanted to be a working actor. I was actually a very good student in high school and what not. When I decided to major in theater, a lot of my teachers and my counselor said, “Oh, no. What are you going to fall back on?” My standard answer was, “My ass.” First of all, you have to love it. You have to have a dream. Then the thing that so many people — I hate to say this. So many people who have this sort of overnight success American Idol mentality, it takes work. Writing especially, you got to do it. Our twelve-year-old right now wants to be an author. We love that. It’s like, well, are you writing? Are you doing it? Some of it is just brass tax. It literally is elbow grease. You have to put in the work. Even if you have a dream as an actor or an artist or a dancer, you have to put in the work. It’s a craft. It’s an art. You may be talented. God bless you if you are. If you don’t have discipline and you don’t have commitment, then nothing’s ever going to come from it. There are certain people who get a break because they are talented or they’re beautiful or they’re whatever. If they have no staying power, if they have no commitment to the art, they tend to go away because, especially in today’s world, the cycle is so fast that you’re only flavor of the month for a month. That’s how it works.

Zibby: A month is a long time these days.

Lou: A month is a long time these days in a twenty-four-hour news cycle. Just look at what happened this last week. The thing about it is that I’ve done this for so long as an actor. I’ve never given up the writing. It’s because I love them both. It literally is just physically, actively going after your dream.

Zibby: I love it. Thank you both for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and chatting. Tell me again if you want me to FedEx it. I’ll run down to the store.

Lou: You read it. You hold onto it. When we get to meet in person, we’ll —

Yvonne: — We have a few phone calls to make after this.

Zibby: All right, phew. Good. Have a great day.

Lou: You too.

Yvonne: Thank you.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Yvonne: Bye.

Lou Diamond Phillips, THE TINDERBOX