He is a highly accomplished author who is also a film director and screenwriter. He has a new novel out, Green Light For Murder. Heywood met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and publishing.
Tell us about Green Light For Murder.
Greenlight for Murder is the first in a series featuring Tommy Veasy, a Santa Monica homicide detective trying to hold on to his sanity by smoking weed and writing little poems. It’s also a tragic farce about the anonymous laborers in the vineyards of episodic TV—writers, directors, actors who have long since lost their sanity and are just trying to hold on to their jobs on shows on the verge of cancellation.
It was inspired by a writer who cornered me one one night and launched into a drunken monologue about a producer who had stolen his ideas, cheated him out of residuals and seduced a young actress away from him, but then stopped abruptly, pointed an accusing finger at the heavens and cried:
“All these murders. Everybody’s killing everybody. But nobody has ever killed a producer. Why…? Why…?”
Well, somebody is, at least in fiction. A crazed TV director is killing the producers he blames for destroying his career. He is making an imaginary movie, giving orders to an imaginary crew. The movie is in his mind, but the murders are real.
Still, the level of lunacy in LA is so high that nobody thinks twice about a guy in a safari jacket, peering through a view finder and muttering to himself on the Venice boardwalk. Nobody but Veasy who is convinced that these bodies popping up are not just, as a colleague puts it, “just another day in Paradise.”
How have you adapted your writing over the years and how does it reflect the changes in the publishing industry?
The big change is the drastic decrease in attention span (mine as well) brought on by the distractions of the internet, social media and general cultural overload. I’m obsessed with maintaining interest and suspense. The story telling is accomplished in short chapters each with a cliff hanger, or, at least, a question mark to keep those pages turning.
Also, with the rise of consumer reviewing you get opinions–mostly bewildered or downright outraged– from people who never would have heard of you in the past. You can’t change the work based on their criticisms. You have to stay true to your style and hope for the best.
You have worked in Hollywood. Do you think the attitude of the film industry has changed towards writers and how would you sum it up?
Most studio financed movies these days are sequels, prequels, remakes or franchises. The writer serves the formula and is not expected to contribute original ideas. Comedies are controlled by the stars, who dictate the stories to a team of writers like the TV comedians of the ’50’s and then ad lib most of the dialogue on the set. Independent films are story driven because of budget constraints. They are usually labors of love, years in gestation, with the scripts often written by the director. The working writer as a source of original ideas and a respected authority on story construction, dialogue and pacing is definitely an endangered species.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
I’ve had a burst of inexplicable productivity in the last few months. Have stories in two upcoming anthologies. Just finished a play, Bklyn ’59, about a numbers bank in pre hipster Brooklyn. Have a few chapters of a comic (I hope) memoir about being drafted into the US Army in the ’60’s. Greenlight for Murder is selling well, but not enough for the villa in Sardinia. Eternally sifting option offers for my last book Serial Killer’s Daughter, all of them free so they’re easy to decline. I can’t decide if this is a ploy or actually a sign of the times, but two people have actually been offended when I suggested a token payment. “You should be honored that I want to option your book,” one of them said. “Dishonor me,” I should have said. “Spatter me with filthy lucre.” But I always think of these lines hours later. That’s why I don’t do improv.
Thank you Heywood for a concise and perceptive interview.
“Green Light for Murder is offbeat and inventive. It is also hysterically funny—a sort of literary burlesque whose dialogue packs wallop after wallop…” Chapter 16
Visit Heywood Gould’s website for all his books and movies.