Up until a few months ago, Cathy Belben was a high school librarian in Washington. Now, she's a writer for the critically acclaimed Veronica Mars. Our readers know that the librarians of Pop! are quite the fans. How did a high school librarian from Washington who didn't have TV service end in in Hollywood?
I promised not to be an annoying fangirl begging to know who's at the door and Cathy kindly agreed to answer some questions about writing and Veronica Mars.
While those of us who are fanatics about either Young Adult literature or Veronica Mars, or both, are familiar with the amazingly awesome way you got your current position, could you please recap for those readers who haven't heard?
About 8 or 9 years ago, I read and loved Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, and wrote him an email telling him how I loved the book and asking for advice about my own writing. He responded graciously, and after a few more emails, agreed to read a couple of my stories. He liked them, and encouraged me to pursue my writing. We became friends via email, met a few times, and stayed in touch over the years. When Veronica Mars was picked up last year, he asked me to consider coming to LA to write for the show, but I wasn't in a position to give up my life in Bellingham, Washington, or my library job, so I turned him down. When VM was picked up for a second season, Rob again invited me to join the writing staff, and this time, I agreed.
What types of writing had you done before Veronica Mars?
Prior to Veronica Mars, I had never written a TV or movie script. (In fact, I haven't even had TV service for the past 15 years). Most of the writing I've done has been non-fiction articles for local publications and library mags. I've had work published in School Library Journal, The Book Report, English Journal, Bookmarks, Knowledge Quest, and The Bicycle Paper. I wrote a regular column for the Washington Library Media Association's journal, Medium. I now have a regular blog on Writers on the Rise, a website run by my friend writing guru Christina Katz. For years, I wrote short stories and published a number of them in English Journal, Cicada, and some Washington State literary magazines. The stories that Rob Thomas originally read were "The Patron Saint of Membership" and "Serious Repercussions" which were featured in English Journal as part of their literary contest.
What exactly does a "staff writer" on a television show do? What has been the most unexpected part of your new job?
A staff writer is a member of the group of writers who "break story" for the episodes of the show. As the person with the least experience, the staff writer is assigned the fewest scripts, and as in my case, may write scripts with a co-writer. I'll be writing my first episode with Phil Klemmer, which I'm very excited about. He's a very kind, funny, smart, and patient person and I expect to learn a lot from him. Probably the most unexpected part of my job is simply how fun it is. I didn't expect to suffer, of course, but Rob Thomas is one of the kindest, smartest, funniest people I've ever known, and he is a wonderful person to work with and for--the office is casual and fun, but the expectations for quality aren't sacrificed. We have a great time together, laughing and joking around, and the rapport this helps create makes our writing time more productive and easy-going.
How has your experience as a high school librarian helped in writing for Veronica Mars? And what is the biggest difference between being a high school librarian versus a staff writer?
Being a high school librarian has helped me a great deal. Besides having a feel for how teens think and act, I've also been able to use my research skills to gather information for the show. My own episode features a psychic, so I've been reading about how psychics channel their information from the Great Beyond or whatever. I read tons, and since I started working for Veronica Mars, I've been concentrating on fiction and non-fiction about crimes, criminals, deception, and detection.
Since Pop Goes the Library is about Pop Culture – what area of pop culture is your area of expertise? Books, graphic novels, music, movies, magazines?
I love books, and always will. I don't read as much YA now that I'm engrossed in writing for a detective show--I'm reading a lot of true crime--but I read widely from many genres, and lately have been focusing on non-fiction. Although I love music, I'm no expert. I read a lot of magazines--Esquire employs one of my favorite writers, Chuck Klosterman, and I never miss his monthly columns, and I've loved all three of his books. I'm also a huge fan of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.
Cathy, thank you so much for sharing your time (and we even got a teeny tiny spoiler, yay!) It's never too late to start watching Veronica Mars; the new season starts September 21st and the DVDs for the first season will be available on October 11th. For those of you interested in reading some of Cathy's earlier writing, go here.