Martin Moran grew up in Denver and attended Stanford University and The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He lives in New York City where he works as an actor and a writer.
He has appeared in many Broadway and Off Broadway plays including Titanic, Cabaret, Bells Are Ringing and Floyd Collins. He was awarded a 2001 Fellowship for Creative Non-Fiction from the New York Foundation of the Arts.
He won a 2004 Obie Award for his one-man play, The Tricky Part, which New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley praised for the quiet victory of "rendering chaos with this kind of clarity." Moran continues to perform The Tricky Part all over the country.
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Moran:
"I've performed in almost ten Broadway shows. I am about to take over for David Hyde Pierce in the musical Spamalot on Broadway. I feel so lucky to have found this combination in life of very collaborative – theatrical -- work, and the more solitary pursuit of writing."
"I have been with my partner, Henry Stram, for 21 years. We are both actors."
"One of my first jobs after I came to New York was sewing countless tiny shiny buttons onto the eyes of the Woody the Woodpecker balloon for the Macy's Day Parade!"
"I love to ski, to swim, and I think yoga and meditation (along with a good therapist) have saved my life. I love to ride my bike in Manhattan. With a helmet. I love going to the movies. I am a total French nut. I love France and love speaking the language."
"Singing makes me joyful. I thank God that singing has been my bread and butter. I think singing, finding my voice, led me to writing. My father was a beautiful writer. He died just a week after The Tricky Part was released.
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In the winter of 2006, Martin Moran took some time to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There have, of course, been many books along the way, but when I was in fifth grade and read To Kill a Mockingbird, I felt as though the world stopped and cracked open. Scout and Boo and all the characters entered my heart. That a story -- that ink on a page -- could take me on such a deep and distant journey was a revelation. I remember thinking: "This is what a story can do. This is how powerfully writing can change you, teach you." Somewhere inside the thought -- the hope -- was born that I might one day string words together. That I might call myself a writer.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy -- Tolstoy's genius for revealing human character in place and time never ceases to amaze me. I have read this book three times in my life, always astounded at the flesh-and-blood drama, the plight of Tolstoy's beloved characters.
Middlemarch by George Eliot -- The fierce sagacity of this author, her rendering of the multiple souls populating an old English town, just stunned me. She's brilliant.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather -- I'm from Colorado, the West -- a gorgeous landscape that Willa Cather has written about in many of her books, like Song of the Lark and Death Comes for the Archbishop. When I read her books about the strong personalities who immigrated to this country I am reminded of my own western boyhood, I am reminded of the earth as a powerful force in our lives and the hopes and struggles of those who came before us. Oh Pioneers! is my favorite.
The Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner -- Stegner is another author who writes so stunningly about the land and the souls inhabiting it. He writes about the mountains in which I grew and the heartbreaking yearnings of those who first settled them. I love this book.
Mary Oliver: Selected Poems -- Mary Oliver has taught me how to open my eyes each day to the absolute wonder of nature. And she has taught me about utter economy and beauty of language. I turn to her poetry often for inspiration in the mornings before I write.
The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz -- In Stanley's poems an entire story, a rich complex and specific narrative, can unfold in the space of a single page. His poetry is suffused with love of life and language and profound compassion. I've met Stanley many times, have visited him in his Greenwich Village apartment. He is 100 years old.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson -- Robinson's book is utterly transcendent. I was finishing it while riding the subway and burst into tears while reading the last few pages. I had to get off the train and find a solitary bench where I could weep and weep.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien -- This stunning book taught me how one can take life's real and traumatic experiences and weave them into true art. A gift.
The Kiss -- Kathryn Harrison's utter bravery at revealing and trying to make sense of her sexual relationship with her own father helped me, more than any other book, to glimpse the possibility of finding meaning and art in my own early sexual experience. Hers is gripping and gorgeous writing.
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx -- Proulx's short story touched me deeply. When I first read it years ago, I could scarcely believe how grippingly and genuinely she rendered this unexpected love affair. It has stayed with me and now is powerfully re-expressed in Ang Lee's film. Great art of one form rendered from the art of another. A great achievement.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Brokeback Mountain -- That this force of love between two boys can transcend all classification and expectation in such a rough and tumble land is unforgettable. Profoundly moving.
Mysterious Skin -- Here the director Greg Araki using Scott Heim's brilliant book achieved something huge by conveying the complexity of the consequences of having been sexually abused as a kid. It's done with such artistry and humanity. Not a polemic, but an exploration of truth. I admire the story and the film greatly.
Fanny and Alexander -- The "little world" of theater and the mysterious nature of reality is gorgeously evoked in this brilliant portrayal of a Swedish family. While offering a gripping and dramatic narrative, Bergman also takes us on a journey to realities beyond this physical plane. It's masterful storytelling, every word and image.
Some other brilliant films that have moved me and that I have found unforgettable: The Spirit of the Beehive, Ordinary People, Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World), The Squid and the Whale, The Sound of Music.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I always struggle with anxiety when I sit down to write. Often when I'm working I listen to chantlike music such as Lammas Ladymass 13th and 14th Century English Chants. Or The Miracle of Santiago by Anonymous 4. You'd think I would have had enough of nuns in grade school, but the sound of prayerlike chanting instantly calms me, and I am able to center on my writing.
Other than this, I adore Joni Mitchell, Ryan Admas, Rufus Wainright, and James Taylor. I am drawn toward singer/songwriters, especially the soulful ones who play the guitar. I love all sorts of classical music, Mozart and Brahms especially. I have friends who are great singers -- I love to listen to them as well. Jessica Molaskey, Victoria Clark, Marin Mazzie, and Jason Daniely.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
The book that comes to mind right now is Marilynne Robinson's Gilead -- because I read it recently and it cracked my heart open. The gorgeous writing, the tenderness of the characters, and especially the exploration of compassion and forgiveness (which is so important in my own book) are timely and vital values for us to explore and discuss.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Well, I do love to give and receive books written by friends. It's great to buy your friend's book and offer it to someone else. New books of poets and authors I know. Nick Flynn, Marie Howe, Richard McCann -- wonderful poets and memoirists. Beyond that, what I love is when someone digs up and old classic like Of Human Bondage, or George Eliot's Adam Bede or a Chekhov short story I have not discovered. I love being introduced to something that's been around for years and discovering it, by way of a gift, as something living and new!
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I try to write in the morning. I will often read a bit of poetry before I begin work. Classics like Yeats or Auden. Or Mary Oliver or Marie Howe. I have a rather loose ritual that goes something like this: I scribble the first thoughts and idea in a notebook. This I do with a blue-ink ballpoint pen on a bench in the park near my house. It gets me out and it's good to write among the trees. Next, I transcribe to computer. Print out and scribble all over the pages...thoughts, rewrites. From then on I just write and delete and rewrite again, ad infinitum. On my desk I have a postcard of Buddha and a cup of strong coffee.
What are you working on now?
I am at work on a screenplay based upon my memoir. Sundance Film Institute has been very supportive; I wrote a draft that was accepted to the screenwriter's lab this past summer. The draft was lovingly ripped apart by many wise souls, and I am at work weaving it back together. It is intensely fascinating to crack into a whole new form. I have written The Tricky Part for the stage, for the page -- and now film is an entirely new and different beast. It is a form I truly love and I think my story could be translated to this powerful medium to great effect. I hope so, anyway.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It took me more than ten years to write my memoir. The doubt I felt about the subject matter and my abilities as a writer were excruciating. I think I would tell writers to make friends somehow with their doubt. To understand that doubt is sometimes a huge part of the process. That digging for the truth is tricky but noble business. I still find it very hard to believe, even while my discipline was fierce, that I would actually finish this book that has lived inside of me for so long. But I did. I'm here. Get your butt in the chair, even if it's a little bit each day. Make yourself available for what wants so much to come through you. Perseverance.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
I just read a play by a young playwright named Geoffrey Nauffts The play is called The Gospel According to Adam. Geoffrey, like me, is an actor who has begun to write. I hope that he and his play get "discovered"
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Focus on what you are discovering within. The reality you feel you must share and convey to your fellow beings. Uncover this. Discover this. The rest will follow. Have faith.
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