Lynn Renee Maxcy is a successful film and television writer who is most known for her work on hit shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Covert Affairs. She is also a proud CU Denver alum who graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ creative writing program.
In advance of the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale—Hulu’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece of speculative fiction—Maxcy reflected on her work for the first three seasons of the series. Additionally, she offered advice for other aspiring writers and shared how she made her way from Denver to Los Angeles.
Read her responses to the questions below.
How would you describe your experience at CU Denver?
“My experience at CU Denver was great. I grew up in Arvada, and downtown Denver is my favorite part of the city. The funny thing is, despite my career now, I actually didn’t go through the screenwriting program at CU Denver. I was in creative writing because I thought I was going to be a novelist. To this day, I’ve never taken a screenwriting class—I just figured it out. But my experience at CU Denver was fantastic. It taught me how to pull an all-nighter, how to work until you’re done, which prepared me in a really great way for the crazy career I have today.”
What led you from Denver to Los Angeles?
“Haha, this is such an L.A. story—I met a cute boy who came into the coffee shop where I worked when I was a student, and he very much wanted to move to Los Angeles. He was a CU Denver student, too.”
“We got married, finished school, and then just packed up our cars and drove to California. We had no jobs and no apartment lined up, but we both wanted to be in the entertainment industry. So, it was New York or L.A. for us, and it doesn’t snow in L.A., which made the choice easy.”
Was there a part of this work you had to learn on the job?
“The things I learned in class were very much about the craft of writing. Once I got here, to L.A., I learned more about the relationship side of things. It’s just as important to connect with other people in a way that, as a fairly shy college student, I just sort of missed. But overall I was quite prepared.”
“For me, the best part of getting to work on any series or feature, and particularly The Handmaid’s Tale, is the people I get to collaborate with. I get to be inspired by and learn from so many different people who each have such different talents, both on the creative and production sides. The relationships I’ve taken away from my work are definitely the best part of that for me.”
Did you read The Handmaid’s Tale in school? How did you get involved with the show?
“Yes, I did. And I loved it, but I hadn’t read it since undergrad. I was having lunch at [The Handmaid’s Tale series creator] Bruce Miller’s house one day, and he just kind of offhandedly mentioned he was going to be doing Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu.”
“I told him how much I love the book and asked him to keep me updated. To prepare, I read it a couple more times before my first interview, and now I’m at the point where I have entire sections of it memorized because I’ve just spent so much time in it. Margaret Atwood is a genius.”
Are there characters or storylines you’re particularly invested in?
“On one level, the answer is yes, all of them. More specifically, though, in season one, I wrote the episode where we follow Luke, the main character June’s husband, and his story as he goes from the U.S. to Canada. Or, rather, from Gilead to Canada. Because of that, I was very invested in the Canada side of the story, the refugee stories. The more research I did, the more it opened up this entirely new world for me.”
“Realizing that Luke’s experience as a refugee was really happening all over the world, and learning there was something I could do about it made a huge difference in my life. I found an organization called Miry’s List that works to create practical, individualized support for new-arrival refugees, their families, and their community. Through that work telling a refugee’s story in Handmaid’s Tale, I started working with the organization, and at the beginning of this year I joined their board of directors.”
“Even though I’m no longer working on The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s just one way it’s changed my life. I’m just so passionate about Miry’s List and what they’re doing. We make lists of what things individual families need to get started, and donors can pick items and send them to the families. It creates a very special connection that’s different than just writing a check and sending money, because people know that they sent—for example, this exact set of dishes to this exact family—in the hope that it becomes part of their life and their experience in America.”
How would you describe the creative freedom for characters that were less present in the novel, like Luke?
“Because of the nature of the novel, we are completely in Offred’s—June’s—viewpoint, behind her ‘wings,’ so to speak. Anything that she herself doesn’t experience, we don’t see in the novel. But, on a TV series, we knew there was going to be space for telling stories of places only mentioned in the novel that we never saw, like the colonies.”
“Specifically, with Luke’s storyline, the idea came from a couple of lines in the novel where Offred offhandedly wonders what might have happened to Luke. She imagines three different options: one, that he’s dead, having died where they got split up; another option, that he’s in a Gilead prison somewhere; and third, maybe he did make it across the river to Canada. Offred talks about this, the idea that people would have met up with Luke, and that they would have taken care of him and fed him and given him clothes. She says, ‘It pleases me to dress him warmly.’ There was just something about that, the longing and the hope for goodness for someone she loved that I found fascinating.”
“We realized, if we told the story of Luke, that it would also give us a chance to explore not just the Canada storyline or the refugee storylines, but also the geopolitical situation of the world outside of Gilead. We could explore how the other countries of the world reacted to Gilead springing from the ashes of the United States, which is a really compelling, interesting story. It’s part of what I love about adapting novels for the screen: you get to find those lines that can go on forever. Going down those roads can be really fun.”
Are there any special behind-the-scenes memories you can share?
“One of my favorite, kind of magical moments came from an episode I wrote in season two. The episode starts with a handmaid’s funeral, and the night before it had snowed. It just made for this absolutely gorgeous tableau that we couldn’t have planned if we tried, and it melted the next day. It was one of those perfectly timed moments that we knew was going to be so beautiful on screen.”
What can you share about your current projects and what’s next for you?
“I’m currently writing a pilot for Amazon that’s based on a short story, but I can’t say a ton about my current projects because they haven’t been properly announced yet. In L.A., in this industry, you have to put a lot of irons in the fire and just see what comes from that. It’s such a weird life, but I think the rest of 2021 is going be great.”
“I’m living my dream career, so I would love to just continue to tell stories, both for TV and film. Running my own television series is kind of my next career goal. I spent a lot of time in London, too, before the pandemic, so being able to write in both London and L.A. is the trajectory I see next for myself.”
Any parting words of advice for students or anyone else who wants to build a successful career as a writer in film and television?
“Just keep writing. If you’re writing, then you’re a writer—you’re not an aspiring writer, you are a writer, so own it. In college and at the beginning of your career, you get to experiment with so many different kinds of writing and storytelling, so find what works best for you and what you love. Enjoying that time of experimenting and figuring out who you are as a writer is absolutely invaluable.”
“Also, find the writers you love and follow them wherever they are online. There are tons of writers who will put scripts online or will explain their process in podcasts. Taking in as much of that as you possibly can will help you figure out what works for you. I’m a professional writer, and I’m still finding other writers online and learning from them, even now that my career has started.”
“Remember, not everything works for every single person, but you’ll find what works best for you.”