Interview with Marshal Younger

Yes, Marshal Younger, talented writer, director, and published author shares his insights about Adventures in Odyssey. Marshal contributed to Odyssey for many years, and without him, we would never have enjoyed AIO as much as we do. Having written many episodes and introduced the Kidsboro book series, Marshal has left a wonderful mark on the show. In the following interview, Marshal shares his involvement with Focus on the Family, his best memories, and a little about what he is doing now and in the future.

How did you first get associated with Adventures in Odyssey and what did your job involve while you were there?

I started with AIO in 1992 when I wrote a freelance script called "The Living Nativity."  I wrote five more in the next year, and then I was brought on staff as a writer. At that point, it was just Paul McCusker and Phil Lollar writing the scripts, so they were looking for someone to take some of the load off. I wrote my own scripts and did various other jobs like writing promos, casting, etc.

What did you like most about working with Adventures in Odyssey?

Working with the team. At first, it wasn't so much of a team thing, it was Phil, Paul and I kind of doing our own thing, and while I learned just about everything I know about writing from Paul in those years, I did feel a bit isolated. As the years went by, that changed, our team grew, and the work became more collaborative. I remember sitting in a room with Bob Hoose, Kathy Wierenga, John Fornof and Nathan Hoobler for half a day and outlining "No Way Out" together. We didn't do that very often, but we did it that time, and it was exhilarating. And not only that, but the team was so much fun. I rarely laughed harder than during a week-long Creative Meeting. I loved all the sound guys too--Dave, Jonathan, Mark, Nate, Rob, Glenn, Chris, Bob, Rudy--they were all so much fun and mind-bogglingly talented.

Who has been your favorite character on Adventures in Odyssey and why?

I absolutely adore Wooton. I was privileged enough to be on the other end of the phone when Jess Harnell first did Wooton's voice for us. I knew there was something special in store. He is so goofy, yet has so much depth and heart to him. I never caught the fever when it came to Harlow, but to me, Wooton is nothing like Harlow.  Wooton ultimately has a point.
I like Jared too. I grieved for days when I found out that Brandon Gilberstadt was leaving us for TV (and right in the middle of my second draft of "The YAK Problem"). 
I guess the reason I like writing for those two is because neither one of them have to make sense. It's a challenge to write sometimes because logic has to be a gatekeeper. Not with these characters. As long as the their outrageous dialogue makes sense to them, then it's okay as far as I'm concerned. I once got a note from another writer after I wrote a Wooton script that said, "Why would Wooton do this?" My answer was, "If you are going to force Wooton to make sense, you are going to ruin his character."

What episode, that you wrote, do you like best?

I usually answer that question "A Lesson From Mike", because it has personal importance to me and I think it may be the most important show I've written. 
But I also like "A Lamb's Tale" (which got mixed reviews from my co-workers at the time, but I do love this show). It's one of the few that I like listening to multiple times. The scene with Nick and Mike Mulligan where Nick says, "You got the raw end of that deal" and Mike says, "You're wrong" is one of my favorite moments in Odyssey history. It's also one of Chris Anthony's favorite--she called me and told me how much the scene with the army guy's father meant to her. That meant a lot to me that she said that. 
"The Underground Railroad" will always be a favorite of mine. The acting was absolutely superb, and it made me look good. You always look for that as a writer.
"The Triangled Web" was a favorite. There was a moment in the studio when I looked through the glass, and I saw Dave Madden, Paul Herlinger, Katie Leigh, Will Ryan, Dave Griffin, Genni and Donald Long, and Fabio Stephens. And I turned to Dave Arnold and I said, "Look at the talent in there. I am so blessed to be a part of this moment." One of the many times I had to say to myself, "What am I doing here?" 
"Relatively Annoying" was one of my favorites, too. I like the simplicity of it. But I can't take credit for the tomato stomping. That was Paul McCusker's idea. Brilliant.

Which aspect of your career with Focus did you prefer: writing, directing, or acting?

Acting? Are you really asking about my acting? While I enjoyed doing the few parts that I was able to fill, I absolutely despise the final product. Listening to "The Triangle" was absolute torture for me. It feels like I stand out like a sore thumb in the middle of all those great actors. I don't know how you guys can handle it. And Officer Burke could not intimidate any criminal, even with a weapon.
I loved directing, and it was mainly because the actors were always so great to work with. But while I was writing 20-40 hours a week most weeks, I directed for about 20-40 hours a year (at least when I was producer). It was such a small (albeit important) part of my job. 
Writing will always be my first love. Robert McKee says that no serious writer actually enjoys writing, but he's wrong in my case (or perhaps I'm not a serious writer?) I absolutely love the creative process.

What does the typical writing process involve for you?

The outline has always been very important to me. It just never made sense to me to start a first draft if the kinks from the outline haven't been worked out yet. After a solid outline is done, I stop before every scene that I write and say, "How can I make the most out of this scene? Where can I set it? What can the characters be doing during the scene? Should I have Connie pulling weeds during this scene--can pulling weeds lead to any kind of comedy? When I was just starting out, my scenes were too static. Dynamic scenes are a goal for me.

If you could improve one thing about your writing, directing, etc., what would it be?

My weakness is character. I find that I can write for other people's characters better than my own in most cases.  I wish I had a better feel for creating interesting and three-dimensional characters. Directing?  I'm probably not picky enough. I let things go too often.

Looking back, what is your biggest memory and lesson you learned during the time you spent with AIO and Focus on the Family?

The Live Show was probably the best day of my career, and probably one of the ten best days of my life, period. The crowd, the reception, talking with fans and actors... it was indescribably wonderful. I was laid off three months after that, and I now look at the Live Show as God telling me, "Okay, you did well. This is your reward--one fantastic day to remember for the rest of your life. Now it's time to move on."
One of the many lessons I take from AIO is the importance of excellence. The team works so hard to create an excellent product, and that's the reason why it's lasted this long. God wants our best, and nothing less.

What events in your life led you away from the Adventures in Odyssey team?

I look back on the events that led to me leaving Focus, and it's pretty obvious that it was orchestrated by God. For whatever reason, I feel like God pushed me away from AIO because I probably never would have pulled away myself. I had an absolutely wonderful run, and I will always treasure my time there, but apparently God has other plans for me.
Not that it was my decision. Focus was experiencing difficult economic times (as was everyone), and they had to make deep, painful cuts across the ministry. It was strictly a financial decision to let me go.  At the time, it was devastating and I had no idea what I was going to do.  There just aren't very many jobs out there for audio drama writers.  I panicked, my wife panicked, my kids panicked, we wondered if we would lose our house, etc. But God was faithful and kept providing, week after week, and it actually enabled me to look back and realize how God was working the whole time. At this point, it's actually exciting to see what God is going to do. I would appreciate your prayers as my family continues on a new, exhilarating, and pretty scary journey.

What types of things are you doing now?

I actually have so much work, I don't have enough time to do it all. God has blessed me with projects that have come out of nowhere. I have written two Odyssey scripts, plus I just finished writing a screenplay with Torry Martin (Odyssey writer and creator of Wooton). There is also a TV producer in Charlotte that is looking at a TV series of mine. And I just finished a 32-page picture book... But the thing that is taking up most of my time right now is Lamplighter Theater, which is audio drama adaptations of rare books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The publisher is Lamplighter Publishing, and the founder wants a whole bunch of his books adapted. The funny thing is that the crew is all former AIO staff--me, John Fornof, Kathy Buchanan, and Mark Drury! I love working with all of them--it makes the whole process that much more fun. They are great stories with a nice historical charm to them.

What words of inspiration would you like to leave to AIO fans? Also, what would you say to those out there who are interested in a career in any or all aspects of radio drama?

If you are a writer who wants to write radio drama, don't pigeonhole yourself into that type of writing. Write everything.  Take advantage of every opportunity to write--scripts, plays, novels, short stories, poetry, journal entries, blogs, etc. You hit for a better average when you hit to all parts of the field. If you are a sound designer... I have no idea. Ask Jonathan Crowe or somebody.
Not that this is the end of my time with AIO forever, but I did want to say how much the fans have meant to me over the years. If I had a dime for every time I would get discouraged or apathetic about my job, then I would read a letter from a fan and I would remember why God led me to the staff of AIO. I will always look upon my time there as some of the best years of my life.

Thanks for taking time out of your day to talk to us!




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