By George Ebey
Recently I caught up with Howard Gordon to talk about his debut novel, Gideon’s War. Howard, you are mostly known for your writing and producing work on television. What made you decide to switch to the realm of books?
I was approached by Richard Abate, a book agent who at the time was working at Endeavor (later WME), about whether I might be interested in writing a thriller. Although I’ve been a fan of thrillers for many years, I was fairly intimidated by the proposition, but the 2008 Writers Guild strike gave me enough uninterrupted time to begin the project and eliminated the I’m-too-busy-writing-television excuse I’d been carrying around for so many years. I’m still working in television, though, so I wouldn’t quite characterize mine as a “switch” from television to books. Let’s wait and see how well Gideon’s War sells.
Having written for television, what challenges did you face in adapting your latest story as a novel?
Aside from the sheer volume of words, the biggest challenges were recognizing that certain narrative devices that have worked for me on television simply didn’t translate to fiction. Specifically, there was a major reveal in the book (someone we think is good turns out not to be) that in an earlier draft didn’t happen until toward the end of the book. But rather than feeling surprising, it felt unmotivated and confusing. Because there’s more detail in a novel, you can’t rely on the spare performance of an actor. You’re allowed fewer ambiguities.
Gideon’s War tells the story of two brothers who are at odds. What attracted you to this theme?
I’m the oldest of three brothers, and while we’re all very close, I’ve always been acutely aware of some other more nuanced dynamics among us, ranging from competition to political differences. I remember being fascinated by stories of brothers in the Bible: Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. It’s an especially charged relationship, rich with contradictions and shared history.
One character is an expert negotiator. The other is in special ops. Given the complicated nature of these professions, what research did you do in order to portray these specialized fields?
Most of my research is fairly haphazard, stuff I’ve gleaned from newspapers or from books and journals on foreign policy and military affairs. The internet is especially useful. Also, I was able to use a fair bit of the research I’d accumulated from working on 24 for the past nine years.
You are an active member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s Resiliency Task Force. Can you tell us a little bit more about these organizations?
I’m a new member of the Homeland Security Task Force, and since we’ve only just convened for the first time, I can’t speak with much authority about the group. It’s comprised of government and military professionals, academics, think tank analysts and a handful of media people. The basic mission will be to make a series of recommendations to Secretary Napolitano to help raise public awareness, and to make more effective the way citizens respond to acts of terrorism and natural disasters. As for the Pacific Council, I’ve been a member for eight years. Our membership includes business leaders, ambassadors, professors – people whose jobs and interests have some international component. Members can attend any number of policy briefings by high ranking government and military officials, both U.S. and foreign, on topics ranging from economics and trade to issues involving national security. Sometimes we’re presented with unique travel opportunities. For instance, this past May I was part of a group of seven members (including two former ambassadors) who travelled to Iraq to be briefed by high ranking Department of Defense and State Department officials, as well as Iraqi officials, with the intention of communicating to our respective constituencies back home on some of the challenges facing the drawdown of U.S. troops.