Good day, book people. I hope the beginning of 2022 has been good to you all and that you’ve been able to get some reading time in over the holiday season. As a reader, I’m always fascinated by the paths taken by authors. How did they begin writing? How did they develop their characters? What sparked their creativity? I’m pleased to welcome the incredibly accomplished and multi-award winning writer, Howard Michael Gould to the blog. Mr. Gould will be providing us a glimpse into his character, Waldo, in what might loosely be termed his “finding Waldo” moments. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to share with us, follow along with the blog tour, and put Pay or Play, the latest Waldo addition on your TBR list. Without further adieu I give you Mr. Howard Michael Gould.
Waldo: from Screen to Page and Back
by Howard Michael Gould
It’s hard to become a crime novelist by accident, but that’s kind of what happened to me. And I’m glad as hell that it did.
I moved to Hollywood in my 20s and worked in television comedy for a decade, then movies for a decade, then in my third decade did a little of both. Twenty-five years in, several producers in a row suddenly had the idea to hire me to write one crime comedy or another—a movie here, a pilot there—and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the blend.
I particularly liked the idea of doing a private eye TV series with some laughs, like Moonlighting or Monk. But because my TV credits were in comedy rather than drama, I’d need a unique pitch, so I found myself looking for a “high concept” idea—some angle or character gimmick that would make mine, unlike any other detective, though not goofy or corny, and sustainable enough to hold my own interest for several seasons.
Around that time, my daughter showed me a video called The Story of Stuff, about how society is burning through the planet’s resources in service of a planned consumerism which is simultaneously making us miserable. I was mesmerized. Out of this came my series lead, Charlie Waldo.
Waldo lives in a different kind of misery, punishing himself for a fatal mistake during his otherwise stellar LAPD career. In response, he’s vowed never to cause harm to anyone or anything again, not even the planet. So he’s moved to a tiny cabin in the woods on a mountain outside of Los Angeles, where he lives as a hermit, a pathological environmentalist, and even a minimalist—with a strict vow never to own more than One Hundred Things.
In my original network pitch, his ex-girlfriend Lorena, a PI herself, tracks him down three years into his isolation and lures him into helping her on a case, triggering a partnership between once and future lovers with clashing approaches to life: he the ascetic, she the up-from-poverty materialist who’d never give up her Mercedes or her D&G stilettos.
I pitched it to a top TV producer, who loved it, and we took it to a couple of networks. At one, the executives actually applauded at the end of the pitch—this had never happened in my whole career—but called three days later to pass because their network did policemen, not private eyes. So I put poor Waldo on the sad pile with dozens of other abandoned nifty ideas. That’s life in Hollywood, where—unless you’re a writer for hire who goes from series to series, helping other writers execute their ideas (a plenty noble path, but not for me, temperamentally)—lots and lots of your best stuff goes to waste.
About a year and a half later, I got an intriguing email from my favorite movie producer. This was during the post-2008 financial crash, with Hollywood in a tailspin and forced to reinvent itself. The producer had a new venture with two partners and some independent funding, and the trio wanted to hire me to write an indie movie. They expressed particular interest in my writing some sort of detective movie with comedy if I happened to have an idea lying around.
I pulled Waldo off the dead pile.
Since I’d conceived him as a case-of-the-week detective, I now had to come up with a movie-sized story, and landed on a sensational Hollywood murder: a larger-than-life, British-born thespian named Alastair Pinch, a belligerent alcoholic, may or may not have killed his wife in their locked mansion during a blackout drunk. A second great role. And setting it in L.A., which I knew so well, would set eco-maniacal Waldo in contrast with the most materialistic town in the world.
It turned out to be the hardest script I’d ever written—subject for another essay—but when I was done, the producer thought it was the best I’d ever written. Instantly, it seemed, Owen Wilson wanted to play Waldo, and a hot indie director came aboard, too, a very smart guy in love with the project. I started doing some rewrites to accommodate their ideas, standard for the business.
(Meanwhile, I’d gotten a new sitcom on the air, my primary job for the next three years. The Waldo rewriting would be early-morning and weekend work.)
Once I got the script where the director wanted it, the actor’s agent got cold feet: people weren’t really making detective movies anymore—big studios were only interested in bigger movies, and indie financers were only interested in smaller, less commercial movies—i.e., awards-bait—and the agent didn’t want a project with Owen attached to seek financing and possibly fail. Goodbye, Owen. Oh, and goodbye director, too.
Next, the producers attached a more famous director, and we wasted a year or two rewriting to make him happy before he decided that what he really wanted was to chase bigger money jobs.
Then Jim Carrey wanted to do it. We had a delightful meeting. He had ideas. I did more rewrites.
Somewhere in this period, my sitcom concluded its run, affording me the time and financial freedom to try something more ambitious and creatively gratifying. Meanwhile, through all the rewrites, I’d fallen in love with Waldo and hated the idea that he’d end up back on that dead projects pile. Which is when it hit me: maybe Owen Wilson’s agent was right, maybe there weren’t a lot of detective movies anymore…but there sure were a lot of detective novels. What if I got back the rights, and tried to reverse-adapt my Waldo screenplay into a book?
Of course, I’d never written fiction as an adult and had no reason to think I’d be any good at it.
But write it I did. And damned if getting it published wasn’t the first thing that ever came easily. I wrote a sequel, and that sold, too. And now a third, called Pay or Play.
To my great surprise, I’ve found the career shift very satisfying. The writing itself is painful and difficult, and I take longer on each book than most authors I meet in the category (subject for yet another essay), but unlike Hollywood—where the goal is to attract the interest of someone who’ll attract the interest of someone more important, who’ll attract the interest of someone more important, who’ll actually attract someone with money to say they want to make your project, while each of those someones has creative input and you hope that you can hang on and make all the someones happy while still steering something you’re proud of to a screen—now the only goal is to write a book I’m proud of.♦
P.S.: The movie finally got made, too. It’s called Last Looks, same as the first book in the series. Charlie Hunnam—exactly the right actor, in the end—plays the eco-maniacal, ascetic detective, and Mel Gibson plays the belligerent alcoholic star. They’re both brilliant, and it’s coming out in a couple of weeks. I hope you’ll look for it.♦♦
Pay or Play
by Howard Michael Gould
January 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Blackmail, sexual harassment, murder . . .
and a missing dog: eccentric, eco-obsessed LA private eye Charlie Waldo is on the case in this quirky, fast-paced mystery.
Paying a harsh self-imposed penance for a terrible misstep on a case, former LAPD superstar detective Charlie Waldo lives a life of punishing minimalism deep within the woods, making a near religion of his commitment to owning no more than One Hundred Things.
At least, he’s trying to. His PI girlfriend Lorena keeps drawing him back to civilization – even though every time he compromises on his principles, something goes wrong.
And unfortunately for Waldo, all roads lead straight back to LA. When old adversary Don Q strongarms him into investigating the seemingly mundane death of a vagrant, Lorena agrees he can work under her PI license on one condition: he help with a high-maintenance celebrity client, wildly popular courtroom TV star Judge Ida Mudge, whose new mega-deal makes her a perfect target for blackmail.
Reopening the coldest of cases, a decades-old fraternity death, Waldo begins to wonder if the judge is, in fact, a murderer – and if he’ll stay alive long enough to find out.
Pay or Play is the third in the Charlie Waldo series, following Last Looks and Below the Line. Last Looks was turned into a major motion picture, starring Charlie Hunnam as the offbeat private investigator.
Genre: Thriller, Private Detective
Published by: Severn House Publishers Limited
Publication Date: December 7th 2021
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727850857 (ISBN13: 9780727850850)
Series: Charlie Waldo, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads
Howard Michael Gould graduated from Amherst College and spent five years working on Madison Avenue, winning three Clios and numerous other awards.
In television, he was executive producer and head writer of CYBILL when it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series, and held the same positions on THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW and INSTANT MOM. Other TV credits include FM and HOME IMPROVEMENT. He wrote and directed the feature film THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY, starring Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman. Other feature credits include MR. 3000 and SHREK THE THIRD.
His play DIVA premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse, and was subsequently published by Samuel French and performed around the country.
He is the author of three mystery novels featuring the minimalist detective Charlie Waldo: LAST LOOKS (2018) and BELOW THE LINE (2019), both nominated for Shamus Awards by the Private Eye Writers of America, and PAY OR PLAY (2021). The feature film version of LAST LOOKS, starring Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson and directed by Tim Kirkby, will premiere February, 2022; Gould also wrote the screenplay.
Catch Up With Howard Michael Gould:
Instagram – @howardmichaelgould
Twitter – @HowardMGould
Facebook – @HowardMGould
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