By Ian Walkley
Master screenwriter and author Heywood Gould (COCKTAIL; FORT APACHE, THE BRONX) casts a jaundiced eye on Hollywood in this madcap first in a series introducing Det. Tommy Veasy of the La Playita PD.
Having been suspended for beating up a suspect in a 10-year-old girl’s murder, Veasy is back on the force, much to the displeasure of police chief George Jonas. In between solving cases, Veasy ad-libs bad poetry and smokes weed. Meanwhile, washed-up director Jay Braffner (aka the Madman) is devising inventive ways of murdering various producers who have stolen his ideas and derailed his career, and he’s also directing an imaginary, and admiring, film crew while he does it.
Heywood Gould’s witty thriller is filled with his inside knowledge of the backstabbing, cutthroat, libidinous one-upmanship of the film industry. Gould got his start as a reporter for the NY Post. Later he financed years of rejection with the usual colorful jobs—cabdriver, mortician’s assistant, bartender and so on.
Gould has to his credit fourteen published books and nine screenplays, including BOYS FROM BRAZIL, COCKTAIL, ROLLING THUNDER and FORT APACHE, THE BRONX. He has directed four features, ONE GOOD COP starring Michael Keaton, TRIAL BY JURY with William Hurt, MISTRIAL starring Bill Pullman and DOUBLE BANG with William Baldwin.
Gould’s novels include THE SERIAL KILLER’S DAUGHTER (2011), which has been optioned for a feature film, and LEADING LADY (2008), which won the Independent Publishing Bronze Medal and was a finalist for the Hammett Prize and FORWARD MAGAZINE’S Mystery/Thriller of the Year.
What made you choose a veteran LA cop for this new series?
I lived in LA for twenty years. It is doesn’t get the proper credit for being a totally insane place in which everyone is shrieking inside and planning a desperate act while they go smiling through the motions of “another day in paradise.” It needs a bard.
What are readers going to find appealing about Tommy Veasy and his adventures?
I hope Veasy strikes a chord in the souls of millions of readers, reviewers, studio executives, bankable stars, supermodels, or—failing that—a few thousand librarians who haven’t overspent their budgets.
In GREEN LIGHT FOR MURDER, Veasy is up against several antagonists who are resentful, cynical and out for revenge? How much have these characters developed from your experiences in Hollywood?
All of them. Everybody in the movie business is bitter, unfulfilled and vindictive. Nobody is appreciated, just ask them. Everybody’s movie was ruined, everybody was screwed by somebody. With the possible exception of Stephen Spielberg, everybody hates everybody and is happy to tell you what a liar, bitch, no-talent phony they are. A producer once told me: “Root for TV shows to be canceled so you can get yours on the air and for movies to make money so the studios will have the money to make yours.” Then he reconsidered and said: “On second thought root for the movies to fail as well because fuck those rotten bastards I don’t wanna see them gloating around town.”
You’ve written fourteen books, both non-fiction and fiction, and nine hit screenplays across widely differing genres. What do you enjoy about this approach, contrasted with some writers who write one character in a long series?
I live in horror of repeating myself. I’d rather try something new and fail then go back to a formula that worked before. I want to keep trying to get better, even it means getting worse. You see, I just repeated myself.
How does the discipline of screenplay writing differ from writing novels? Do you have a preference for the novel?
A screenplay is the first step in a long collaborative process that leads to a finished film. The novel is the finished product. The screenwriter has plausible deniability—the director was wrong, the movie was miscast, the stupid actors changed the dialogue, the studio didn’t understand it The novelist has only him/herself to blame. In a screenplay you only have to get the story and the people right. In a novel every word counts.
You find yourself agonizing over whether to write “the” or “a.” You worry about “he saids” and character descriptions. A screenplay is part of a popular entertainment. A novel, even a category thriller, is written for the ages. It’s a paradox because books languish on shelves or are quickly pulped while movies stick around in one form or another forever. Right or wrong the novelist feels like part of an eternal process while the screenwriter is disposable, interchangeable and has no sense of mission.
You’ve worked with many famous actors in the movies of your screenplays, including Tom Cruise in COCKTAIL. How have you viewed the debate about Cruise as Jack Reacher?
I guess they were looking for another franchise now that MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is slowing down. The mistake was in picking a character that is so firmly established.
Kirkus Reviews describes your writing as being full of “infectious crackle and humor”. How important is wit in thrillers, and is this something that comes naturally to you?
I don’t intentionally write funny. I’m interested in people who have a unique way of looking at life. They are the witty ones; I’m just reporting what they say.
You’ve had an amazing career as a writer. What’s one of your most memorable experiences?
My most memorable experience is getting my new book in the mail. Holding it, reading a page here and there. It never gets old. The thrill of being published has actually gotten more intense.
What would you advise aspiring writers in the current publishing environment?
Get published any way you can. There is actually more opportunity for your work to be read through e-books, self-publishing, etc. You are not dependent upon the business plan of the subsidiary of a huge corporation. You can make your voice be heard. And can possibly find an audience—it happens every day.
Do you find the movie plot structure applies to thriller novels, or do novels have greater flexibility?
A novel is a leisurely walk through a picturesque setting. You can stop to admire a flowering shrub or have a chat with a passerby. A screenplay is a bullet train through the same countryside. The scenery goes by in a blur. It registers in a different part of your mind. The screenwriter has to highlight those landmarks that are the most important to the journey. Readers will stick with a book, give it time to develop, pick it up and turn back a few pages to catch up. Viewers are on for the ride. They have to be kept in suspense every second until the end. That’s how a novelist would answer the question.
A novelist can digress. A screenwriter has to keep the story moving. That’s how a screenwriter would answer the same question.
How will you be promoting GREEN LIGHT FOR MURDER?
I’m going to have signings, interviews, podcasts, seminars, panels, brain scans, massages (happy endings for orders of fifty or more), anything to sell books. If nothing else, it’s a way of keeping faith with the publishers.
Heywood Gould got his start as reporter for the NY Post. Later he financed years of rejection with the usual colorful jobs – cabdriver, mortician’s assistant, bartender. He is the author of fourteen published books and nine screenplays, including FORT APACHE, THE BRONX, BOYS FROM BRAZIL, COCKTAIL, and ROLLING THUNDER. He has directed four features, ONE GOOD COP, starring Michael Keaton, TRIAL BY JURY with William Hurt, MISTRIAL starring Bill Pullman and DOUBLE BANG with William Baldwin.
To learn more about Heywood, please visit his website.