by John Dwaine McKenna
This week’s interview is with Howard Michael Gould, whose first novel, Last Looks, is reviewed in MBR No. 364, and since he’s got a been-there, done-that resumé that’s longer than Seabiscuit’s hind leg, lets get right to our first question:
Where do you write?
I write in public. I start with a few hours at a coffee shop about ¾ of a mile from my house, then I’ll take a walk for half an hour and go somewhere else for an early lunch and another hour of writing. It gives me a feeling of going out to work in the morning, keeping that separate from the rest of my day. With earbuds and music I can pretty well seal out distractions, but it also keeps the job of “novelist” (a new one for me, after many years working in Hollywood) from feeling as isolating as it might otherwise.
When do you write?
Mornings. I wake up early and whenever I can get myself in gear, usually between 6 and 7, I head out and get started. Often I’m shot for the day by 12:30 or so, but sometimes I’ll put in another hour or two later, especially if I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough done.
Who’s your favorite author?
Close call between Philip Roth and John Updike. My favorite in the crime genre (to which I’m a relative latecomer, even as a reader) is Richard Price.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I outline more thoroughly and obsessively than anyone I know. The Waldo books take me almost a year, and fully half the time is spent on a detailed prose outline which will run almost half the length of the completed book. I keep talking to and reading interviews with authors who wing it, and I honestly don’t know how they do it. I’ve always got something in chapter 29 which needs to be set up in chapter 24, which needs its own setup in chapter 16, and so on. And I don’t have just one of those strings, but dozens — clues, character arcs, comedic runners. The outline’s the cake; the prose is just the frosting.
What method do you use to keep track of plot details?
I have an index card software program called Writers Blocks, to which I’m addicted. Each story line gets its own color (or maybe a couple of similar colors), and I lay out all the beats within it, then start moving them around into chapters until it finds a flow, adding cards and details to cards as I go. So I’ll have 200 to 250 cards, many with lots and lots of information, before I even start writing that long outline. Building the story is its own immersive experience, which I absolutely consider “writing” as well.
Does your style make use of adjectives and adverbs?
Aplenty. Adverbs, in particular, get a bad rap in some quarters. I don’t get it.
Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?
Maybe this is a good time to talk about the fact that I came very late to prose fiction. I wrote some stories in high school and college, like everybody else, but turned to plays around the time I was twenty, which led to a series of careers — as an advertising writer, then as a television writer and showrunner, and finally as a feature screenwriter. LAST LOOKS started as a screenplay that kept coming painfully close to getting produced (in fact, even now, it’s painfully close to getting produced), and out of frustration I decided to try my hand at prose and reverse-adapt it into a novel. I enjoyed the process and it’s been well received, so I’ve kept at it. All of which is to say, so far I’ve only written in a close third person. In the Waldo books, we’re inside his head, and only his head. I’ve got a standalone comic novel that’s almost completed, which pops around among eight different points of view, but all of those are in close third, too.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Through my website, howardmichaelgould.com. Thanks for having me.
Many thanks, Howard, for sharing your thoughts and insights with us and please let us know when Below the Line, comes out.
Howard Michael Gould graduated from Amherst College and spent five years working on Madison Avenue, winning three Clios and numerous other awards.
In television, he was executive producer and head writer of CYBILL when it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series, and held the same positions on INSTANT MOM and THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW.
He wrote and directed the feature film THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY, starring Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman. Other feature credits include MR. 3000 and SHREK THE THIRD.
His play DIVA premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse, and was subsequently published by Samuel French and performed around the country.
LAST LOOKS, his first novel, was published by Dutton in August. A sequel, BELOW THE LINE, will follow in summer 2019.