Screenwriter and Novelist Zack Stentz Talks ‘Colin Fischer’ and Advice for SJND’s Aspiring Writers
On Tuesday, October 17, screenwriter and novelist Zack Stentz stopped by the SJND campus to speak to SJND freshmen and field questions about Colin Fischer, a book all incoming freshmen read about an autistic modern-day Sherlock Holmes.
Stentz, who got his big break as a screenwriter for Agent Cody Banks (2003), more recently contributed to movie screenplays including Thor (2011) and X-Men: First Class (2011), and wrote episodes for The Flash TV series on CW. He discussed major differences between screenwriting and writing for a novel and the inception of Colin Fischer, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, was born from a TV pilot. When Fischer didn’t work out for television, he and his writing partner revisited it as a novel.
“I was really interested in doing a TV show about Sherlock Holmes,” Stentz explained. “I thought, what if Sherlock has autism and Watson is the school bully?”
The topic of autism is personal for Stentz, who has one child on the autism spectrum and has been described as exhibiting autistic characteristics himself.
“I really had to dig deep to write [Colin Fischer]. I was going into my daughter’s head and even digging into my own psyche,” Stentz explained. “Colin is very personal to me in a lot of ways.”
Fischer (Holmes), whose name is a tribute to a specialist who worked with Stentz’s daughter, is described as a kid searching for human connection. He sets out to prove the innocence of school bully Wayne Connelly (Watson), who Stentz says is looking for another person to believe in him. He hopes the two characters resonate with kids with autism.
“Even if they feel like the world is difficult to understand, they should know there are people out there just waiting to be friends.”
Also interested in Stentz’s screenwriting success, SJND students asked about his career path and how he got to where he is today.
Stentz did not start out aspiring to be a screenwriter. Rather, being the editor of his high school newspaper propelled him into an early career in journalism, majoring in the subject in college and going on to work for newspapers in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, screenwriting was just a hobby for him.
After moving to Los Angeles in the 90s and continuing to teach himself how to screenwrite, Stentz got his start in entertainment, and eventually teamed up with his writing partner, Ashley Miller, whom he went on to create various projects with, including Colin Fischer.
When asked if he’s ever experienced rejection in his career, Stentz laughed and nodded his head.
“Rejection is like an iceberg,” he said, explaining that you focus on the successes at the top, but that there’s usually a whole mass of things hidden underwater which goes unnoticed. “There’s no cure for the heartbreak of rejection. But if you’re really passionate about something, maybe it’s just not the right medium. Keep working,” he encouraged.
Stentz finished his talk with a few pieces of advice for aspiring writers: latch onto an idea, set a word count goal, and write every day.
“You get better at anything just by practicing,” he remarked. “Outline it and set a daily word count. You’ll have a draft in no time.”