Julia Hannafin ’11 

You were recently a staff writer for the TV show The L Word: Generation Q, which is a reboot of the original show that debuted in 2004. How has LGBTQ representation shifted since the original show aired? 
The biggest shift was an expansion of the ways to be queer with a wider span of ages and queer experiences. There’s not one right way to be a part of the community. 

What attracted you initially to write for the show?
The showrunner, Marja-Lewis Ryan, is a playwright and theater director, as well as a TV writer, screenwriter, and screen director. I wanted to work with her: to write about queer people and queer families. I grew up with two moms and I’m queer myself. Being able to write about that experience in a show that doesn’t delegate that experience to just a single character was exciting. 

How did you get your start in television?
Having a diary has always been important to me. When I was younger, I was a big Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Being able to write characters that the audience can grow with over time was appealing, but I didn’t know how to make a career out of writing. I moved to Los Angeles after college with the goal of writing for film and TV while I pursued novels and fiction writing on the side. I read a lot of TV scripts and assisted a writer in his work as an executive producer. Once I met Marja, I started working on a TV sample, which encouraged me to improve. When I heard that Marja had gotten The L Word job, I reached out to her. I was a writer’s assistant on the show the first two seasons and wrote part of an episode before being hired as a writer for the third season.
Given that the Writers Guild of America recently went on strike, as a writer in the industry, what is most at stake? How does the result of this strike affect how you move forward with your craft?  
What’s most at stake is a future for those entering the industry. These are the writers who are aspiring to be full-time staff writers. Studios are interested in using AI and trying to collapse the work into fewer and fewer overworked jobs. As professionals, writers want and deserve stable work and acknowledgement of writing as a respected craft. This moment is a chance to reset a broken system so that writers can work, get compensated fairly, and continue growing creatively. 

Your first novel is Cascade, a propulsive drama set in the Farallons. What was your inspiration?
The idea came from a conversation I had with former College Prep English teacher, Nancy Steele, and a dear friend of hers, Steve Parcells, who spoke of tagging elephant seals. I had never heard someone talk about science in a way that so deeply involved the body. It was a physical, exciting experience of science. Steve’s story gave me a starting place. I often write about grief and addiction, which is something that is in my family line that I’m trying to untangle in my life and in my writing. 

What is your writing process and do you have a dream project?
I often start with writing in a voice long enough to learn about who this person is. I write several drafts and with each revision, it is easier to think more honestly about what the characters would actually do in a situation. I’m interested in the surreal and doing something survival based, whether in fiction or in film and TV. Perhaps something along the lines of Station 11, which was an adaptation of a novel that follows the world post respiratory flu outbreak that wiped out most of the population. The way that show depicted survival and creativity—what stays in the past and what moves to the present—was really inspiring.
What are some of the unique challenges and rewards between writing for TV versus books? Do you have a preference for one over the other?
TV is collaborative. It’s never just you making the final creative choice. When writing fiction, you have fewer constraints, but it’s just you which can be lonely. I really appreciate that my life has included a mix of both. TV puts me in the world and connects me to a concrete product that involves a whole village of people to create. On an artistic level, writing fiction and having a community of writers around me who also write fiction and non-fiction, is my favorite. 

What has been your experience working with an independent publisher?
Great Place Books was started by three writers. Their vision was to carve out a space in publishing for weird books, for unwieldy books, for books that might not have the easiest sell. The editing process is collaborative and I have a lot of autonomy.

When you were a student at College Prep, did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there a particular class that influenced you?
Nancy Steel’s Rebels With a Cause class and her poetry class for seniors really impacted me. She was such a cool teacher and strict about grammar, but very open to a wide range of human experiences. That aliveness in her and how it came through in her poetry, as well as the poetry that she gave us to read, made an impression on me. I had a sense of myself as a writer in high school, but I still didn’t know how realistic or sustaining that that might be.

What have been some of the key resources for you along your career path?
The best thing was finding a writing community. One of my friends from College Prep, Kai Wilson, and I organized a weekly writer’s group for several years in people’s homes before the pandemic. We would share what we had read, and also the writing for which we wanted feedback. That improved my writing and my confidence.

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