Mark Leiren-Young has worked across many genres and media. He serves as editor for Reel West magazine, and his journalism has appeared in the Walrus, the National Observer, TIME, The Hollywood Reporter, Maclean’s, and many other publications. Never Shoot a Stampede Queen – A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo (Heritage), his account of working at a small town newspaper during his early career, won the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. That book and his more recent memoir Free Magic Secrets Revealed (Harbour) are both being adapted into films. Other nonfiction works including The Green Chain: Nothing is Ever Clear Cut (Heritage) and This Crazy Time (Knopf), written with activist Tzeporah Berman, addressed the subject of environmentalism. His debut feature film The Green Chain, which he wrote, directed, and produced, earned him the most recent of his three nominations for the Writers Guild of Canada Award, and won the El Prat de Llobregat Award at the International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA). His stage plays have been widely acclaimed and produced in at least four countries, and translated into four languages. He has also written for a large number of television shows, including beloved Saturday morning cartoons such as ReBoot.
Shortly after meeting Mark in person for the first time on the streets of Victoria, I encountered him again in Vancouver, as we were both new students working towards the University of British Columbia’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Having enormous respect for his work, and for how he has handled himself as a working writer, I wanted to glean as much insight as I could from his extensive experience. Hence, this interview.
You’ve been writing in one form or another since the 80s. What are some of the most significant changes you have observed in the industry? Have journalism and entertainment writing changed to a similar extent, or in the same ways?
I started working for “real” newspapers while I was still in high school (not sure that can happen today). As a journalist the most significant and shocking change is the implosion of mainstream and alternative media. When I worked at the Williams Lake Tribune in 1985/86 we would complain that it was impossible for a staff of seven to properly cover a town with as much news as Williams Lake.
When my book about working at the Trib was published about two decades later I was interviewed by a student at the University of Victoria who’d worked at a paper in a Victoria suburb and she was in awe of the idea of a seven-person newsroom.
A few years later that same student (who I’d hired briefly as a researcher) went on to work in Nelson – a pretty sizeable town – and I think she was one of only two people at the paper there. And she was also expected to do video files.