Thursday, 15 March 2012

Noah Hawley writes on being The Good Father

Today’s guest blog is by American film and television producer, screenwriter, composer and author Noah Hawley. He wrote and produced the television series Bones (2005-present). He is also the author of three previous novels. His most recent novel The Good Father is published today. He kindly took time out whilst at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas to give us an insight into his new novel.

The Good Father is an intense, psychological novel about one doctor's suspense-filled quest to unlock the mind of a suspected political assassin: his twenty-year old son.

The day your television show premieres is an event - if only because that night when you turn on the TV your show is on TV. And in the morning there are ratings and you know how you did. Same with a movie. On its release date the film is in the theatre and by Monday you know if you will sink or swim.

That's not the case with a novel. First, because the publication date is more of a suggestion. The book can be in stores a few days before or a few days after. But also because, well, books are not movies or TV shows. They play a far smaller role in our culture than they once did, mainly because they require a bigger commitment of time and focus. It takes days to read a book, sometimes weeks. Often we wait till we're done with the book we're reading before we buy a new one. And so the success of a book cannot be judged by how it does in the first week or even the first month. You have to be patient.

With movies there are tracking numbers. In TV you have awareness numbers and intent to view numbers. So going into your release the studios have a pretty clear idea of whether the film or TV show will be a hit. With books all you know is how many copies the stores have ordered, but this number is illusory, because stores can return the books at any time with no cost to themselves. So in publishing there is always that feeling, the waiting for the other shoe to drop feeling. Which is my way of saying my new book, The Good Father, is coming out on March and I have no idea what to expect. Which is unsettling. At the same time, my last TV show, My Generation, was cancelled after two episodes, and that is something that doesn't happen in publishing - they don't un-release your book if it's not selling. It stays in the stores, waiting to be discovered. So that's better at least.

The book is my fourth, and was written in two long stretches. The first half I completed while I waited to see if my first TV show, The Unusuals, would be picked up by ABC. The second half written after that show ended and before the next began. All in all a four year span, exactly mirroring the life of my daughter. Which is where the book started, with my wife pregnant and me wondering who this little girl would grow up to be. What kind of person? Which is, I discovered, a unifying act of parents everywhere, this fear - let's call it a fear - that our children, despite our best efforts, will turn out spoiled or damaged.

And from this fear came the idea for the book - about a father whose son is accused of a terrible crime and his journey to a) prove his son innocent and b) try to figure out where he might have gone wrong as a parent. A thriller, in other words, but an emotional one, concerned more with real life than with nail biting Hollywood endings.

The type of crime I wanted to write about was clear early on, that of a political
assassination. Both because I felt I had seen the more traditional story - of a child
accused of murder. And because there seemed to be an archetype - that of the twenty something lone gunman, cast out by society and desperate to trying make themselves visible, meaningful, through one powerful act - that loomed over the history of this country. Who were these young men, and why did they succumb to the gravitational pull of historic violence?

So I started writing a novel, because that's what the story wanted to be. I am lucky
enough to have the luxury of choice when it comes to choosing the medium for a story. And with each idea I have the question becomes, what form should it take? Movies are inherently visual, and as mediums go they are verbs, in that they are action driven, not in the sense of action movies, but in the sense that in movies you need to get to the point quickly and stick to it. There is little room in modern movies to meditate on character or theme (unless you're Terrence Malick), except as it colours the underlying action of the story.

TV shows are serialized and designed to run over a period of years, week in, week out.  They are open ended, constantly delaying their conclusion. A closed ended story, like that of a father trying to prove his son's innocence or come to terms with his guilt is not a story from which you can get 100 hours of television. But most importantly, the story wanted to be a book, because in addition to the main action of the father's journey, there was so much to say about all the characters and the themes that this story engendered. Which is the beauty of a book. While it is, at heart, a form of entertainment, it offers writers a unique opportunity to expand the potentials of a story, to turn thought into story, to blend fiction and non-fiction, to contemplate complicated ideas in a dramatic fashion.

And so now, four years later my daughter is in preschool, and doing well. And this novel, that started with a worried father-to-be's sleepless night, is being published. Unlike a film or television show, the final verdict on its commercial or cultural success may take a while to realize. But at the end of the day, all any writer can do is write the book. It's up to you to do the rest.

More information about Noah can be found on his website.

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