Friday, August 17, 2012

A Writer Acting Out - A Guest Post by J. Gabriel Gates

My first love was always writing and reading. As a kid, my mother used to spend hours reading me stories, from Dr. Seuss books to the tales of Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexandre Dumas. I spent most of my days viewing the world through the lens of my imagination. If I was raking leaves, I was really preparing my castle to defend against a siege. My bike was a winged steed, sticks were swords, lances, spears, or magic wands. Even then, I knew that I wanted to be an author one day.

When I got a little older, I found another love: acting. It started my Freshman year of high school, when I tried out for the school production of “Lil’ Abner.” Even though I’d barely done any acting or singing in my life, I got a decent part, and was immediately addicted to the adrenaline rush of the spotlight. (The fact that there was a highly-favorable female to male ratio in theater probably didn’t hurt, either.)

During my senior year of high school, my life’s plan began to take shape: I would major in theater at Florida State University, then move to Los Angeles, do some acting, have some adventures and build up some life experience, then embark on my career as a novelist. Along the way, I hoped I might sell a screenplay or two, or get rich starring in my own TV series.

Scene from the movie.
Well, I never sold a million dollar script and, so far, no one has agreed to produce “The J. Gabriel Gates Show,” but pretty much everything else I envisioned has come to pass. While living in LA, I did some acting – mostly national TV commercials—and had a couple of scripts optioned. Then I got my first book deal for “Dark Territory,” book one of my modern, kung fu fantasy series “The Tracks,” and moved back to Michigan to concentrate on my writing. In the year since I moved back, a lot has happened: my second novel, a terrifying teen / adult horror book called “The Sleepwalkers” came out, along with book 2 of “The Tracks” series, “Ghost Crown.”
Another picture from the movie.
The one thing I hadn’t done for a while was acting, but that changed the other day when a young local author named Carolann Plank saw my picture at a Barnes and Noble where she was getting ready to do a book signing, and decided that I’d be perfect to play the werewolf dad role in the movie she was making, an adaptation of her YA book “As Far As You Know.” She got in touch with me, and yesterday I shot the scene. It was a dramatic death scene, in which my character apologizes to his daughter for abandoning her when she was a child—and also breaks the news that she’s a werewolf. Not only was it fun to dust off my acting skills and spend the afternoon hanging out with Carolann and the other awesome kids who formed the movie’s cast and crew, it also got me thinking about the relationship between acting and my writing.

The most important thing about good acting is something that actors call “moment to moment life.” That means that you’re really listening and responding genuinely to what the other actors around you are doing and saying, rather than simply reciting your lines however you practiced them in the mirror the night before. That concept has had a profound impact on how I write my books. Rather than going off a highly planned out and rigid outline, I come up with a set of ideas about who the characters are, and lay out a handful of plot points, then let the story take me where it will. If some bizarre detail or piece of dialog pops randomly into my head when I’m writing in the moment, I don’t cast it aside – I write it in!

The result of spontaneity in writing is the same as spontaneity in acting—it creates a feeling within the audience or the reader that anything can happen, that they’re living in an imaginary world brimming with unpredictable possibilities. Paradoxically, it also makes the story more real, because in real life, it’s hard to predict exactly what people will say or do, or what’s going to happen to us from day to day. In real life, random things happen all the time, so when you insert spontaneity into your writing, your bottling some of the volatility of reality and injecting it into your story.

I don’t act much, anymore. It takes too much time and energy away from my true calling, which is writing. But it’s always nice to have a reminder to live, and write, “in the moment.”

J. Gabriel Gates is the author of “Dark Territory” and “Ghost Crown,” books 1 and 2 of “The Tracks Series,” and horror novel “The Sleepwalkers.” Look for his epic, dystopian sci-fi novel “Blood Zero Sky,” coming out in October. For more info, please go to his website, follow on Facebook and on Twitter: @JGabrielGates

For info on the movie project J. Gabriel mentioned, check out this website.
Check out the rest of the tour on the TLC Website.

For a limited time only you can get Dark Territory free for Kindle. Get your copy here!


  1. Great post! It was an honor about J. gabriel's life. He is the man of extra ordinary talent & of great personality. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for featuring Gates's post for the tour!

  3. What a beautiful person you are to not only live your dream but share in a young girls dream of writing and acting. Small gestures don't go unnoticed! It was nice to be able to meet you when you stopped by the school during filming.

    1. What a great experience it was for the cast and crew to have you play a role in the movie As Far As You Know. We can't wait to read your books.


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