Interview: '24's' Howard Gordon Turns Novelist
Howard Gordon has perhaps one of the most impressive resumes for a TV producer working today. His credits include Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, The X-Files, The Inside and 24. With 24 ending, you'd think he might finally take a vacation - but you'd be wrong. In addition to developing two new series, he also found the time to write his first novel. Howard reunited with me on Monday evening to talk about Gideon's War and what it's like to switch from TV boss to novelist.
What made you decide to write a novel?
It was actually a longtime ambition. In college, I was a creative writing major and I wrote a short novel for my thesis. I was fascinated with the theme of brotherhood. Between that aspiration and the WGA strike, I had the perfect storm.
Every writer has a unique creative process. How did you approach writing the book? Did you do outlines or heavy prep?
One word at a time, one page at a time. Starting off with characters who were intriguing. If you do outlines, you take a bit of the energy out of the process.
Gideon's War is about terrorism, and you just wrapped 24. Were you at all concerned about covering the same territory with your first novel that you handled so well on your television series?
I was more concerned with creating a character who would be compared with Jack Bauer. Because Gideon is this peacemaker, I feel like I was able to avoid that. It is a thriller on the geopolitical stage, so obviously there are going to be scenes that any thriller shares with 24.
What were some of the biggest differences between writing for television and writing your first novel?
Television is a far more collaborative experience. You write a script and it's a blueprint for actors and directors. Even among the writers, it's a much more group experience. Novel writing is far more solitary. It's an experience shared between the writer and the reader.
With all you have going on in television, are you planning on pursuing a further career as a novelist, or will this be more of a one-time project for you?
Believe it or not, I'm actually contracted to do a second novel as a sequel. I'm at the beginning stages of that. So at least I hope to have a second novel out.
Did anything you've learned or experienced in television inform you in approaching the novel?
I think you really flex similar muscles. You learn how to develop a pretty lean narrative writing for television. I'm sure that the muscles I developed as a TV writer came in handy. It's about really trying to understand who a character is, and that goes for television or a novel. It's "Who is this person and why is this person the way they are?"
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the many television shows you've worked on, several of which are among the best TV series we've seen in years. What has the experience been like to be consistently involved in remarkable projects? Do you have a favorite?
I have to say 24 is absolutely my favorite because it's the one that I feel the most connected to, and in terms of longevity, it was the one that I was with the longest. Buffy, I was there for such a brief time. X-Files is a close second. I feel very lucky. A lot of writers never get the chance to be a part of something that makes that kind of cultural impact.
How do you work on a new series after that? I know for fans, once you've seen a great series on TV, it's hard not to compare a new project to the old one.
It's such an interesting dilemma. It really is. I think one thing to do is take one's expectations and lower them. Just do your best. I understand very soberly that 24 will probably be the highlight of my career and I'm grateful for it.
You were also involved in the American remake of the British series Ultraviolet, which I loved. You've been quoted as saying that it didn't go well. What went wrong?
I cannot believe you know that. I loved that one so much. We brought Idris Elba over. I tried a handful of times to resurrect it. We'll have to wait for the next vampire cycle.
After what you've accomplished, is there anything in your career that you still aspire to?
I guess I'm aspiring to become a novelist. This is all very new to me and very exciting because it's so new, both as a creative experience and as a business proposition, so I consider myself an aspiring novelist.
Be honest - when was the last time you took a vacation?
I took a vacation over Christmas and I was working the whole time. I should take that up with my shrink.
My thanks to Howard Gordon for this interview! Gideon's War hits shelves tomorrow, and you can tune in here to read my review.