“Highly productive ADD” helped him finish debut novel, “Gideon's War”
Former "24" show runner Howard Gordon, who just released his debut novel while working on two new shows, writes the way Jack Bauer saves the world: in minute-by-minute bursts of action.
Gordon's "Gideon's War," which the New York Times calls "not only a gift to conspiracy theorists, but also to anyone with pedal-to-the-metal taste," follows two brothers. One is trying to start a war, and the other to stop it.
Gordon wrote it while wrapping the final season of "24," and co-writing Showtime's much-anticipated "Homeland," starring Claire Danes as a CIA agent who thinks a returned P.O.W. is plotting against America. He may also executive produce the pilot of NBC's "REM," about a man who wakes up from a fatal accident to find his life split into two equally tragic realities.
And he's working on a followup to "Gideon's War."
How does he do it? In the first installment of The Writer's Room, TheWrap's new feature about writers and how they write, he credits short bursts of writing — and jumping between all of his projects so he always has momentum. He says he spends long hours on a project in its early stages, then works on individual sections — in little explosions that would do Bauer proud.
Where did you find the time to finish a novel?
I think I have some sort of highly productive ADD where I tend to split my focus and like a collage, eventually things get written. … It’s a fractured accretion of effort.
I do little microsessions of 20 minutes or a half an hour and then maybe I’ll take a phone call or jump to another. Sometimes juggling helps. One [project] informs the other or you have a block or you run out of energy on one thing but the other is still pretty vibrant. They actually help feed each other. …
It helps to have a contract and and something and have someone that you owe something to. I think left to my own devices I would be still working on the first page of the first script I ever wrote.
Can you walk us through your day as a writer?
When I’m really under the gun I tend to wake up at 4:30, 5 in the morning. When I’m really on deadline I do very little sleeping. I tend to wake up and do a good four hours. It is project-specific and when I’m starting a project I try to be monomaniacal about that project. Once it’s on its feet I can jump around a little bit.
When did you start "Gideon's War"?
It was started during the writer's strike when I wasn’t doing anything else, when my attention was really focused on picketing and arguing with people. It was sort of a bit of a sanctuary from that. But once "24" started I really had to do it in the margins of the show, late nights, early mornings, or weekends — sometimes putting it down for months at a time when "24" was particularly demanding.
Running a show seems like an incredible time-suck.
I could never take a movie assignment. I really didn’t do any pilots during that time. It was really a year-round, 24/7 experience. It’s such a consuming narrative. That was hard. And trying to see as far down the road as you could, which oftentimes wasn’t very far.
Why did you want to tell this story?
The idea of brothers has always been a literary idea I’m fascinated with. I’m the oldest of three brothers … Brothers have always been a very charged, dynamic relationship from loyalty to competition to love.
That married to the idea of telling a story that I think reflected my own wrestling with how America exercises its power abroad. Is it through strength that we protect our power or is it through softer methods like diplomacy and culture and engagement?
I tried to take a fairly simple premise and … it’s not that simple. Sometimes the simplest conceit can run terribly amock. But I really wanted to choose material I felt very confident about and confident I’d be able to see my way to the end of rather than talk myself out of it. In some ways I aspired to a more modest story.
Do you have any input in the "24" movie?
I’d very much like to be involved in it. I feel like with the exclusion of Kiefer I know Jack Bauer as well as anyone else.