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In Conversation With American Novelist, Television Writer, Screenwriter, Director, and Playwright, Howard Michael Gould
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Friday, November 19, 2021

 

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Howard Michael Gould.

Howard is a graduate fromAmherst College and spent five years working on Madison Avenue,winning three Clios and numerous other awards.

He was executive producerand head writer of CYBILL when it won the Golden Globe forBest Comedy Series and held the same positions on INSTANT MOMand THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW.

Howard wrote and directedthe feature film THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY, starring TimAllen, Elisha Cuthbert, Andie MacDowell, and Jenna Elfman. Other feature credits include MR. 3000 and SHREK THE THIRD.

His play DIVApremiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse andwas subsequently published by Samuel French and performed around thecountry.

He is the author of threesatirical crime novels, LAST LOOKS, BELOW THE LINE andnow PAY OR PLAY, all featuring tortured, eco-maniacalprivate eye Charlie Waldo.  

The first twowere nominated for Shamus awards by the Private Eye Writers ofAmerica.

Howard also wrote theupcoming film version of LAST LOOKS, which  stars Charlie Hunnamand Mel Gibson and is directed by Tim Kirkby.

Norm: How did you getstarted in writing? What keeps you going? 

Howard: I think of myselfas starting in high school. We had a 10-watt FM radio station, and bysenior year I had worked my way up to program director.

It was the best toy a17-year-old ever had. I gave myself a time slot for a monthlyone-hour comedy show and wrote all the sketches, goofing on theschool, the town, the radio station itself.

Then that summer beforecollege I worked as a radio counselor at a camp for the arts, and afriend who was a little older and taught creative writing theresuggested I try writing a play, and I was hooked.

I kept writing playsthrough college and beyond, one of which led to my first TV job, thenten years in TV, then ten in movies, then another ten doing a littleof each plus theater and my first novel, and now I mostly write booksbut keep a finger in Hollywood.

I wrote the screen versionof my first novel, which will be out after the first of the year, andI’m talking to some people about a new TV project. So maybe afinger and a thumb.  

What keeps me going is atrickier question. At this point in my life, to put a solid yearinto writing a crime novel, I need to have a story I’m truly hungryto tell.

Fortunately, I’ve gotone right now, a fourth Waldo that I’m excited about.

Norm: How did yourexperience in film and television inform the novel-writing process?


Howard: I think about thisa lot. It’s everything, really.

For starters, I didn’tcome into crime fiction like most authors do, aspiring to write abook like Michael Connelly’s or Carl Hiaasen’s or James LeeBurke’s, or whomever.

I came up with LASTLOOKS (my first novel) as a movie first, and actually wrote it asa movie first, then did the reverse adaptation much later.

The result was a book –and eventually a series – that isn’t quite like anything else inthe category, I don’t think, in that it aspires to both the weightof the straight mysteries and the humor of the lighter crimecomedies, plus there’s a satirical side that lets me have atwhatever is pissing me off.

In terms of process, Ioutline each book like it’s an overstuffed movie, basically thesame contours.  And I work that outline for months and months,generally about half a year before the chapter writing begins.

And then I do draft afterdraft – three drafts of each chapter before moving on to the next,and then at least another half dozen drafts of the whole thing beforeit’s published.

Those are screenwriterhabits; screenwriting is all rewriting. It’s all in service ofmaking each chapter, each page, each sentence as entertaining as Ipossibly can make it.

That tenacity is the bestthing I learned as a head writer of an A+ TV writing staff, whereprofessional pride took over and we just didn’t go home until wegot it as good as we could make it.

I’ve never written abook with a contract and a deadline, mostly because I’m willing totrade the security for the freedom to rewrite and rewrite until Ifeel I’ve gotten it where it needs to be.

Norm: What did you findmost useful in learning to write? What was least useful or mostdestructive? 

Howard: Well, that:rewriting. As a baby writer, I thought it was all about what happenedat the keyboard with a blank page in front of you. It’s not. It’sabout the magic when the red pen starts moving.

The most destructive thingis, unfortunately, a necessity for anyone who wants to make a livingas a writer, and that’s listening to the marketplace, or thegatekeepers to the marketplace.

You have to do that, butyou also have to fight the belief that pleasing them is the samething as becoming the best writer you can be. 

Finding that balancebetween professional viability and your own true north is thefundamental paradox of most working writers’ lives.

Norm: How many times inyour career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?

Howard: Rejection is theongoing baseline constant for any Hollywood screenwriter. Even thehottest writers have directors or actors passing on their work allthe time.

You’d like to think yourbest work is what cuts through that somehow and makes it to thescreen, and maybe it works out that way for some lucky few, but myexperience has been the opposite.

I’d happily stand onMystery Dance, Law Man, The Handyman. You never heard of thosescripts, of course, because none of them got made. Two of them Inever even got paid for. 

I’ll tell you how thirtyyears of disappointment shaped me: it’s made me grateful for thissurprising twist my career’s taken.

Pay or Play was thebest writing I had in me for the year or so that I worked on it, andnow it’s out in the world, exactly as I intended it, available toanyone who’s interested in reading it.

I understand now thatthat’s a gift. I wouldn’t have appreciated that when I was 29.

Norm: Why have you beendrawn to writing satirical crime novels?

Howard: Novels for allthe reasons I’ve just mentioned, crime because mystery isinherently propulsive, and satirical because I need somewhere healthyto put the anger. 

Norm: Are thereaesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to satirical crimenovels? Does it have a particular form? 

Howard: Remember, this wasthe first prose fiction I’d written as an adult, and I hadn’tcome up as a voluminous reader of the genre, so I had to approach itas kind of an outsider and figure it out.

I devised some hardformatting guidelines for myself: all the Waldo books are exactlythirty chapters and come in at seventy to seventy-five thousandwords.

Other crime authors seemto think this is odd, if it comes up in conversation, but I findhaving those parameters makes the task clear, without compromisingcreativity.

That probably comes frommy network TV background, where I’d be responsible for filling up,say, twenty-two minutes and fifteen seconds, not a second more orless, so the job was to do exactly that as well as I could.

Norm: Do you thinkabout your reading public when you write? Do you imagine a specificreader when you write your satirical crime novels?

Howard: I read a greatanswer to a similar question years ago, from Jules Feiffer, who saidthat he came to realize he had about a dozen friends who’d reallyunderstood his work over the years, and he found himself writing forthem.

That’s about right. Withthese Waldo books, I find myself thinking about the very smartestpeople I know and try to write the book they’d want to read forfun.

Norm: What did youenjoy most about writing Pay or Play?

Howard:  Finishing,man. That’s always the answer.

Norm: Was thereanything you found particularly challenging in writing Payor Play

Howard:  Well, Isweated over this one the most. Even more drafts than the others. Idon’t know whether it’s because there was more stop and start toit, since I was simultaneously working on the Last Looks movieproduction, or whether I’d just grown a little more aware of mycraft, which made me less satisfied.

But there was a momentwhen I was finally finished on the movie set, and had written ¾ ofthe book, and I printed it all out to re-read it on the long planetrip back to California, hoping it would give me the momentum todrive to the end… and I just hated the whole thing. It was amiserable flight.

After I got home, I toreinto it again, started at the top and did another three or four hard,sharpening drafts of every single chapter. I think it paid offbecause people really seem to be enjoying this book.

Norm: How did youcreate the characters Charlie Waldo and Lorena Nascimento?

Howard: I originallythought of them as a TV show, a romantic detective comedy.

I was interested in aprivate eye who lived as a minimalist out of self-punishment for acase from his past that went horribly wrong, and then I gave him agirlfriend-slash-partner who’d be the biggest challenge for him, ashameless materialist.

Norm: Did you know theend of your story at the beginning?

Howard: There’s notreally a “beginning.” I poke around and outline for half a yearbefore I type the title page of the actual manuscript. You prettymuch have to, with such intricately plotted books.

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Pay or Play?

Howard:  MY WEBSITE has lots of links and information about thebooks and other work I’ve done over my career. I’m on Instagramat @HowardMichaelGould, and Twitter and Facebook at @HowardMGould.

Norm: What is next forHoward Michael Gould?

Howard: The Last Looksmovie is coming out early in 2022. Charlie Hunnam plays Waldo, andMel Gibson plays Alastair Pinch, a big Hollywood star who’s aviolent alcoholic and who may or may not have killed his wife duringa blackout drunk, and Waldo gets hired to figure that out.

They’re both terrific inthe movie, and the director Tim Kirkby did a great job. The releasegot delayed by the pandemic, but I’m excited that people arefinally going to get to see it.

Norm: As this interviewcomes to an end, what would you like to say to writers who arereading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, ifthey are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough toshare? 

Howard: I have a youngwriter friend who finished a poem and said to me how grateful shefelt to have written it.

At first that struck me asa curious emotion, what a very small thing it was to be grateful for,and all her own doing, of course… but slowly it dawned on me thatholding onto that thought really is the key. 

Norm: Thanks again andgood luck with all of your future endeavors.

Howard: Thank you, Norm.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Pay or Play

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
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Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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