The Right Thing

There was a gaping hole in television that parked itself between California and New York. It was a the size of an orange 1969 Dodge Charger, and its drivers were Bo and Luke.

As I was finishing a project for Norman Lear, I was approached by producer Phil Mandelker, who was interested in writing a TV show about runaways. He asked what I’d written, and I told him about a movie I’d done called Moonrunners. He said he’d have a look at it, and hurried to call me after watching it. He said, “Stop writing what you’re writing for me. I want you to write something like Moonrunners for television.” He asked if I could make it funny. I told him, sure, I could—that was the easy part.

Before I knew it, I was creating an iconoclastic show that all of Middle America was waiting to see. The ratings skyrocketed by the second week, and by the tenth episode we were number one in the country.

Some people think only hillbillies watched Dukes of Hazzard. Hardly true. One story about moral lessons learned from Dukes that has stuck with me for years is of a philosophy professor at Wofford College in South Carolina. Once a year, the professor arrives at class dressed as Boss Hogg, complete with a white suit and white hat. He uses the costume to make a point about moral dilemmas: A frequent theme in Dukes is to pause during the middle of a chase scene. The guys will ask each other and themselves, “Is this right? Should we be doing this?” And the guys asking are the criminals! There is irony and humor in that, but the deeper meaning is that all of us at one time or another stop and ask ourselves that same question.

When we can do that with a show about car chases, we know we’re reaching the deeper universal element of right and wrong that lives in us all.

Just last year, I received a letter from a fan. He and his mother were going to a Dukes of Hazzard festival in Tennessee. He was driving late at night to get to the festival, when their car broke down three hours away from their destination. The son turns to his mother and asks, “What would Bo and Luke do?”

It’s clear to me, after chatting with many Dukes fans over the years, that the question of integrity and morality comes into play every time. There is frequently a meaningful conversation about the lesson the show taught, about right and wrong.

I hope you’re inspired to pause and ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?” I look forward to hearing when you’ve done this and how it’s turned out for you.

–Gy

Every Character Matters

I began my writing career in journalism as an investigative reporter. Eventually, I wrote one-act plays, and the transition from journalism to playwriting wasn’t as bumpy as you might think. From there, I moved into television.

Of all the television work I undertook, miniseries were my favorite to write. They have a defined beginning, middle and end. They’re steadily fast paced and culminate swiftly. There’s no time to waste. While there was more to my television career, it was predominately replete with writing, and I liked that a lot.

Shortly after my last television job, before I had a chance to know it was happening, I found myself writing my first novel. It didn’t occur to me to write a book, until it did, and the transition was seamless

Miniseries gather momentum and I enjoy the swiftness with which we get to know characters, so I chose to write novels this way. By the time you’ve finished the second chapter, you know who everyone is; they all have a purpose for being there, and everyone – even the thugs – have at least a little good in them.

In “Fugue,” my second and latest novel, every chapter is laid out like a piece of music. There’s a rhythm to the paragraphs that echoes the structure of classical composition. My background in music helped this along, but a lot of it was luck. It felt easy, which is a blessing because most of my writing is more an act of sprezzatura, or effortful nonchalance—difficult and challenging with the appearance of simplicity and ease.

Now that I’m well into my third novel, a stylistic pattern is well under way, in that I operate on two levels: Every book I write has an element of mystery, and there is something to learn. I write what I know (borrowing from Twain), and find the subject interesting. I hope you do, too.

–Gy

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