Just Write the Book Already

Imagining a first bestseller is easy––the sales, interviews on national television, the Pulitzer Prize, the big parties and book signings…but what about actually writing the book?

For me, it takes tremendous discipline, consistency, and commitment just to get the words out, never mind creativity and at least a smidgen of talent. I knew going into my first novel that it wouldn’t be easy, as I’d had many years’ experience writing for theater and television where rewrites and late nights were the norms. Sure, screenwriting was tough work, but I loved the challenge. Hard work didn’t scare me then nor does it now.

Writing novels comes with a different set of demands than screenwriting. For one, there’s not a team of writers to collaborate with, as I write alone. The group effort and tight deadlines meant that others counted on me. But writing a book, well, I could just walk past my office for days, never write a thing, and no one would know…except me.

When there’s a problem with a specific scene and I’m stuck, the onus is on me to get out of a creative jam. At times, I will sit and work on it for hours and other times I will walk away for a little while. And the rewrites are tough. My second novel Fugue required four drafts, each one with substantial editing. Tedious work. But let me tell you, the freedom in book writing – particularly fiction – is boundless. If you want to create a one million-man army, go ahead. There’s no budget that chokes your creativity, no one saying that it won’t work in the frame or on the stage.

But all good writing, no matter how liberating, has to be edited or you may as well not do it at all. And the excitement of finishing a book is like no other creative experience I’ve encountered. After seemingly countless drafts, deep dive edits, proofreading, and a few trusted sets of eyes to review it, that manuscript is all your doing. It’s a major achievement no matter what follows, even if you don’t win the Pulitzer this time around.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” Well, I must agree. Writing a book is painful and challenging, but boy, is it worth it.
Do you like to write?

–Gy Waldron
Author of Twist of Time, Fugue, and a third novel on the way

Funny Isn’t Easy

Humor is the flavor of all writing, and there’s a lot of great comedy out there. Collectively, there are enough funny movies, television programs, books, and live performances in which to engage for a year straight and still have plenty more to enjoy. What dumbfounds me is the talent it takes to write quality comedy; this is an elite group we’re talking about.

I had the pleasure of working with Norman Lear, the genius behind All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and other television hits. He had a writing team that could write “funny” in their sleep. I was fascinated and awestruck by them. Now, for the sake of fairness, I could write some funny stuff from time-to-time, but nothing touched what they could do.

Lear’s teams had been writing together for decades. They wrote for Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball…everybody who was anybody in comedy. You’d be hard pressed to sit in a room with these guys and not cry from laughter.

One time in particular, they pulled a fast one on a producer who was working for Gleason. After putting in a full day, the guy wanted to see the writers’ pages for their next piece within a couple of hours. The team needed more time and – being the innovators they were – found it by pulling a prank. With the added element of this guy being a jerk, they had no qualms about concocting a brilliant solution to getting him off their backs and buying more writing time.

The team set-up a recording of a typewriter inside their office closet to make it seem like they’d already written material. When the producer would go to their office the writers pointed to the door and said, “The secretary’s got the first ten pages.” The sound of the typewriter tip tapping away pacified him. “When she’s finished, we’ll get it to you,” they’d say, and off he’d go.

They thought of doing the same thing to me when I was struggling to keep-up with them and they knew I was scared out of my mind. I was supposed to write the first part of a script and they were to write the second part. They were in the next office over. I could hear them laughing and carrying on.

I was sitting in my office, slightly tortured by their talent and insecure about my own. I timidly went in to show them my work, and I’ll be damned, they found that I had a funny line.

They said, “Hey, Gy. This is funny. A classy joke. We love classy jokes.” The problem was, I had one ‘classy joke’ in 15 pages; the rest were just funny. Big difference.

It’s the same pressure as saying to someone, “Say something funny. Make me laugh…now!” This is no easy feat, being put on the spot to be funny.

Comedy changes everything. It doesn’t matter what you write, whether it’s a thriller, drama, or horror film, the writer can always add humor to get their audience going. As I wrote my first two novels, I realized that while there is no such thing as a funny crime scene, something can happen in the crime scene that is funny.

When George Seaton visited the great actor Edmund Gwenn who lay dying, he sympathetically said, “This must be terribly difficult for you.” Gwenn is reputed to have said, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

Tell me, what makes you laugh?

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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Four Fictional Characters I Wish I’d Created

characters bannerAs writers, we all dream of creating a character who is so identifiable, so real to the audience that people start following that character’s story as if he or she were part of the family. It is what we live for as creators. I’ll start this out with a caveat – there are infinitely more than four characters that I wish I’d created. But, these four immediately come to mind when I try to narrow down my favorite fictional characters of film and print.

Jack Bauer
Jack’s Back! Need I say more? One of the most complex characters I’ve ever had the joy of watching on television. Of course, having the luxury of multiple seasons of 24 to build up the character’s back story certainly helps, but the name Jack Bauer is synonymous to fans with badass-ness, angst, grit, ingenuity, loyalty and otherworld survival skills. Kiefer Sutherland is absolutely brilliant as Jack, only adding to the rich depth of the character’s struggles, pain, deep suffering and dogged determination to save the world — whether the world wants to be saved or not. Everybody say it with me, “DAMMIT!!” (Sorry … if you don’t watch 24 you won’t get that)

Jason Bourne
Like Jack Bauer, the Jason Bourne character only grows in depth with every page of every book. A highly skilled CIA assassin with extreme memory loss – yeah, what could go wrong there? Brought to life brilliantly in the Bourne Series by the late Robert Ludlum, and then carried expertly into the new millennium by Eric Van Lustbader, Jason Bourne is the quintessential character that you 1) root for, and 2) should be scared to death of. A hero with serious trust issues and a license to kill. When a character like Jason Bourne is brought to life to the extent that he can capture a fan base spanning multiple decades and multiple novels, the writer(s) have done a masterful job of “playing God.”

Jane Tennison
Of all the wonderful TV detectives, Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison from the Prime Suspect series may be my favorite. Played by the incomparable Helen Mirren, Tennison is one of the first Detective Chief Inspectors in Greater London’s Metro Police Service. As such, she must negotiate the land mines of the male-dominated profession and those who are outright hoping for her failure. Jane Tennison is not only the smartest person in the room; she may be the most insecure. And, if her job weren’t stressful enough, she must constantly find a way to maintain stable relationships outside of work. A genius character in an equally genius series. If you have never seen it – go stream it today!

And, just to show my sensitive side – I thought I’d throw in some comedy as well. And, it’s not just one character in this case – I couldn’t narrow down to just one from this comedic masterpiece.

The Entire Character Ensemble of Frasier
I still watch the reruns. Every time I come across Frasier playing on my TV, I stop what I’m doing and I watch. And I laugh until I cry. The brilliance of the Frasier/Niles quirky, nutty dynamic is played to absolute perfection by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce. Two psychiatrists with considerably more quirks than their patients. And to round out the nutfest: the lovable producer Roz Doyle, played by Peri Gilpin; the moon bat physical therapist Daphne Moon, played by Jane Leeves; and the curmudgeon dad Marty Crane, played so hilariously by John Mahoney – God what a brilliantly funny show/cast/concept. If I’m around 50 years from now, that show will still be on TV (if there is TV) and I’ll still watch every hilarious minute! WOW – I would love to have been a fly on the wall at some of those table readings!

As I said at the outset, there is no way to narrow my list to four memorable characters. I could list 4000. God I love to create. Here’s to the creators!
Blessings,
Gy

50 Shades of Great

I have been extremely blessed to have a career in writing for the better part of my life. Starting out as a director at a news station in Atlanta, I never imagined that one day I would be writing novels – after spending three decades in TV and film. Making the jump from TV to novels has literally been the most liberating experience in my creative existence as a writer.

I feel like the shackles have been removed. There are no budgets for my stories. If I want my character to go from Santa Barbara to Paris, it just takes a few taps on my keyboard. And best of all – I don’t get a call from the studio head two hours later telling me global excursions from California to France are not in the budget. Writing novels has given me total creative license to kill who I want, when I want, how I want and where I want. Ok, that sounds better in my head than it looks on my computer screen 🙂 But, with that freedom comes a sense of walking a new rope without a net.

The point is that my writing career has taken me to many, many stops – from Atlanta to Hazzard County to Los Angeles and beyond. I have made life long friends through my writing. And now, in this next phase of my writing career, I’m making new friends. But, I do feel like I’m starting over – learning a new craft, and wondering if my writing chops from another entertainment medium will translate to novels. I believe that they will – but as writers, we are constantly hoping that we aren’t out of ideas. That we still have something to say that people will want to hear … or read. I’m completely humbled by the kind words I constantly receive from Dukes fans, and from folks who are probably just amazed that I’m still upright and kicking. And, I’m incredibly impressed by the authors I’ve learned about who are writing series of novels and building fan bases that rival anything I’ve ever seen in TV and film. You are ALL my heroes and my inspiration.

I read a quote today from E.L. James – “I’m not a great writer.” That made me laugh out loud. Untold millions of folks would argue otherwise dear! It also got me to thinking – what constitutes “great” writing? To me, great writing is simply great storytelling. Nothing more and nothing less. Taste, style, genre, and any other moniker don’t really matter. Great stories are great stories – PERIOD. And, Ms. James, if you can write a story (or a trilogy) that millions of people clamor to read – and will line up to see when your story moves to the silver screen – you are a pretty great writer in my book! 50 Shades of Great!

Blessings,
Gy