The General

Who would think a car could be a character on a television show, complete with its own name and personality? Well, it happened once or twice, and resulted in the making of an icon. The 1969 Dodge Charger, otherwise known as The General Lee, was a powerful force on Dukes and was as much – maybe more – a part of the show as the actors that drove it.

For many of the show’s seasons, twenty-three or more Generals were on the lot at any given time. The team that worked on the cars made sure to maintain integrity and consistency; everything had to be exactly right, from the tire lugs to the license plate holder (which never identified the state where the General Lee was registered). During the show’s seven seasons, about 300 Chargers traveled through the air.

For a time, every General was mandated to early retirement after its first (and only) hard landing. But it wasn’t easy keeping a healthy supply of Generals on hand and eventually, the cars were reused. Scouts were always on the lookout for Chargers they could buy, sometimes chasing people down the road asking to buy them on the spot. For a time, they were being hunted by air, with Piper J-3 Cubs searching for replacement Generals.

Who knew that when we wrote a script note in the first episode that said, “Put a Confederate flag on top of the car,” The General become legendary. At first, I pictured a Pontiac Firebird, but the team presented a Dodge Charger and explained that it was a better match. I trusted them to make the right decision, as cars were their area of expertise, not mine. And boy, were they right.

What trivia do you have about The General to share with me?

What Do Country Music and Dukes of Hazzard Have in Common?

Loyal fans.

Country music was always a part of my life and contributed the creation of Dukes. I produced recording sessions in Nashville, going back to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, where I filmed a documentary on the country music Hall of Fame. Also, prior to Dukes, I directed several shows featuring country music singers.

When I sold Dukes to the network, I explained to them that country music was unlike any other musical genre because of its family based, loyal following. Country music fans started listening as kids and didn’t stop listening until they took their last breath. I figured Dukes would be appealing country music fans because of its similarity in feel and values. The network hadn’t considered this, but they were willing to give it a shot.

The unwritten rule was that for every Dukes episode, someone in Nashville ought to be able to write a country music song about it. I think the creative team on Dukes did a pretty good job of making this possible.

How Small is Your World?

How Small is Your World?

If there’s anything I would’ve like to have written and directed it’s Our Town, an iconic play by Thornton Wilder about Grover’s Corners, a fictional American community. It is particularly relevant to me because it explores the relationships between people in a small town. Having been raised in small communities around the South, I have a connection to places where everybody knows everybody else (for better and worse). People in those towns were my family’s extended family. We knew each other’s triumphs and downfalls, heartaches and miracles.

My history inspired the creation of Dukes. Hazzard County was comprised of a small community of people who helped and hurt each other; no matter what the circumstances, they were all connected by the place they lived (for better and worse). There was a southern simplicity to their small town, and those from the big-city were, as narrator Waylon Jennings described it when the Duke boys went to Atlanta, “…a little out of their picture when it comes to breakin’ in the big city.” All of the villains and troublemakers were from the big city, whether it was Atlanta or farther north.

That said, I think we’re all small town people. Even those in big cities stay close to their neighborhoods or boroughs. Most of us like the familiar feeling of walking into the market and seeing the same cashier and knowing them by name. There are countless “small towns” within big cities all over America and much of the world.

The way I see it, all of us stretch our arms as wide as they’ll reach, and whatever’s inside is our town.

One Armed Bandits

Welcome to Hazzard County, a stretch of land where three states converge, none of which claim Hazzard as their own because, frankly, they don’t want it. It’s also where the local sheriff, Rosco P. Coltrane smuggles hundreds of slot machines into the county, which is the premise of the Dukes of Hazzard pilot, “One Armed Bandits.”

That’s right––the sheriff is a gambler. He’s also in cahoots with the county commissioner, J.D. (Jefferson Davis) “Boss” Hogg, the wealthiest man in the county who has all that money because he owns almost all of Hazzard County’s property and businesses. Always at the ready to “Get them Duke Boys,” Hogg isn’t exactly on the right side of the law he supposedly upholds.

And the Duke boys, Beauregard “Bo” Duke and his cousin, Lukas K. “Luke” Duke, while finding their way to trouble in most every episode, are perhaps more morally sound than local law enforcement. In the pilot, the boys’ goal is to turn the illegal slot machine racket into a good deed.

Where did the idea of public servants being corrupt come from? Well, we know it happens from time-to-time that county commissioners have more power than state senators and some of them find their way to sideways activities––not all of them, of course.

I mention this because the first episode of Dukes of Hazzard aired January 26, 1979, thirty-seven years ago this week. It is because of Dukes that I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known, who taught me about the same deep morals and values that we tried to impart by way of the show––those people are you, the fans. Thank you for your consistent support throughout the years.

Uncle Jesse and My Grandfather McGill

There is a person in each of our lives who has a tremendous impact on us. For me, it was my grandfather. As a matter of fact, he inspired much of who you know Uncle Jesse to be on Dukes.

My grandfather, Franklin McGill, was a teller of tales. Country folk loved him; he had a way of sharing adventures that pulled you in and made you want to hear more. An Irishman, he had a wit about him that made every story hilarious, with possible embellishments that family and friends didn’t question or mind.

One of the stories he told time and again was about my uncle, when he was six years old. He made him drive horses down to a rail station in Foster, Kentucky to bring back feed. It was a precarious, steep road with a massive drop. (Imagine sending out your six-year-old to fetch anything on horseback on a single-person trail set on a cliff!) The depot workers asked my grandfather how he could trust the boy on such a road, wasn’t he worried? He casually responded, “You didn’t know the horses! I could’ve sent them alone!” This reinforced his belief that a well-trained animal could be trusted more than any human he knew, six-years-old or any age.

Grandfather McGill was a strong man. He shared stories about the Civil War. He had a massive stroke that left him half-paralyzed and partially blind yet he had unrelenting strength despite his physical challenges. With sage-like wisdom about any and all moral questions, I knew I was in good hands taking my problems to him. He always had an answer, but didn’t always have to be right. Humility came naturally to him, even with his tall tales.

His legacy lives on in my generation and of course in our beloved Uncle Jesse. Grandfather McGill had a major impact on my children and their children, all who have my grandfather’s ability to tell a story that draws a crowd.

Who has strongly influenced you?

Happy Thanksgiving

Most of my holidays were spent with three generations of family members; I was always with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was extremely fortunate in that I spent my summers and the holidays on a farm in Kentucky, an idyllic setting at any time of year.

Thanksgiving in my family meant food and more food. We had had a cornucopia to choose from––three or four types of meat, plus turkey. We cooked, killed, and cured the meat ourselves, and everyone would stay a week and eat our way through each day. The setting was idyllic and much of how you think of the American landscape, Norman Rockwell style.

I’m grateful for those times and a family that treasures spending the holidays together. And I’m particularly grateful that my kids and family are healthy and successful in their lives. While we may not be on the farm anymore, there is a special feeling when I see my kids with their children and we’re carrying on the multigenerational tradition of spending holidays together, eating too much food and laughing about old times.

Where will you be on Thanksgiving this year, and what are you grateful for?

What Is Fugue (and Why Did I Write About It?)

Fugue has a couple of meanings, both of which are used in my second book of the same name. There is a connection to the two meanings that runs like a thread through this romantic thriller, and adds to its suspense and cadence. The more commonly known definition of fugue is tied to music. It is defined as a composition based upon one or more themes that gradually build into a complex and marked climax at the end. It’s also the name of a rare psychiatric disorder, characterized by a loss of memory and dissociation. Some people suffering from fugue will take on entirely new identities and have no recollection of doing so. How do these two work together to become a romantic thriller? For starters, the main character of Fugue is living a double life as a concert pianist who is also a serial killer. He has no memory of committing the crimes. This makes for a perfect marriage of deceit, big trouble, guys chasing you (are they “good” or “bad”?), women throwing themselves at you, and plenty more. The fun of writing this novel was coupling the genius of musical composition with the complication of being a dissociated guy in the midst of something too big for him to comprehend Imagine that everything we read has a musical component to it, a build-up that ultimately leaves you breathless and wondering how it all manages to come together. This is what Fugue is all about. *Look for Fugue on shelves in the coming year. –Gy

The General Lee

My grandfather, Franklin, of whom Uncle Jesse was based said, “Never debate with one whom you must first educate; you’ll both lose.”

The discussion about the Confederate flag is impassioned and acrimonious, and I don’t want to heighten the tension or offend, defend, preach or justify.

Growing up in the South, I had an experience with the Confederate flag that perhaps those who reside outside the South may not understand. Family, friends, neighbors and local business owners had no attachment to racism or white supremacy, but many – most – did fly the flag from their porches. Seeing the flag flying was ordinary and uneventful yet seeped in culture. It represented not slavery nor racism, but Southern heritage—much like sweet tea, cobbler, playing country music on the back porch, or multiple dialects. It was unique to its setting, found almost everywhere, and most definitely not a symbol of racism.

To have it placed on the roof of the General Lee was not politically profound; it defined the culture of Hazzard County, which had nothing to do with racial superiority. And while “Southern lifestyle” is entangled with controversial definitions, the one referred to here crosses racial lines—I shared this experience with black and white friends throughout my lifetime.

My family history is entangled; two brothers fought on opposite sides of the Civil War and my great, great grandfather, Anthony McGill, owned slaves. One year before the war started, McGill became a Baptist Abolitionist, and as such, no longer had slaves under the dictates of his faith. Two of the then former slaves moved north, while another two, a couple, chose to stay on the plantation with McGill. They were sharecroppers, the first in the county, and were buried in our family graveyard after a long life of farming with my family. Generations later, we were active in the Civil Rights movement.

None of this is to mark my place with a particular opinion. I’m laying out my experience, not for an expiation of wrong-doing, because I am not a racist; it is merely to establish discourse and personal clarity. I hope you’ll join me in conversation and help deepen my understanding of all angles and thoughts on the matter.

–Gy

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