Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Story Behind "The Midnight Special"

PhoefSuttonEmmy-award winning writer Phoef Sutton's THE DEAD MAN #12: THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, his wickedly funny and scary addition to the series, is out today... and it's the perfect way to end our "first season" of short novels. It's also Phoef's first published novel since his acclaimed ALWAYS SIX O'CLOCK back in 1999...and a real departure from his previous work.

So we asked him about the book...and his writing career.

You're a two-time, Emmy award winner for your work writing & producing CHEERS, and you've written for such shows as BOSTON LEGAL, NEWHART and TERRIERS. You're one of the few TV writers who has been able to move between comedy and drama. Why is that so uncommon and how have you been able to pull it off with such apparent ease?

It’s just that I approach them all in the same way.  As stories about characters involved in compelling situations.  When you think of it like that, the specific genre or style doesn’t become paramount.  The character’s journey is what matters.

How did your first novel come about? What did you think about the experience?

Writing is my work and my hobby,  I wrote my first novel in my spare time, just to see if I could do it.

Not only are you a TV writer and novelist, but you've also written several feature films, like THE FAN and MRS. WINTERBOURNE. What kind of writing are you most comfortable doing? Or is it just enough to be writing?

 I like all of it.  Doing different things helps keep me interested; that’s one of the reasons I keep branching out.  But of the three, screenwriting is the least friendly to the writer.  In TV, the writer can be the boss, at least if he’s the showrunner, up to a point.  In the novels, of course, the writer is the boss of everybody.  Because he makes everybody up!

 What attracted you to THE DEAD MAN series?

 I’ve always wanted to write horror.  I’m huge fan of that genre.  Richard Matheson was one of my boyhood idols.  For whatever reason, I’ve never gone in that direction professionally, so when Lee Goldberg mentioned this series to me, I jumped at the chance.  Of course, Lee was himself another attraction – we’ve been trying to work together for years and this is first time we’ve had the chance.

 What did you get out of writing THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL that you don't get from writing sitcoms, dramas, and movies? 

 There is one obvious thing you get out of writing novels that sets them apart from other forms of writing – no network or studio notes.  You’re writing this mostly the way you want to write it.  The other thing I love about fiction is the way it’s so easy to get inside your characters heads.  You want to let the reader know what he’s thinking?  You just write it.  No need to resort to voice-over or character foils or narrative tricks.  I revel in that!

 What sets your book apart from the others in the series?

 Some say it’s the humor.  I can’t help but find comedy – in even the most dire circumstances.  Not that the book’s laugh riot, but there is humor between the lines.  Let’s say the narrator of the book has a wry sense of macabre humor.  I also liked the narrative trick they used in the first book of flashing forward in time and I tried to use that as well.  I think the narrative voice of this book is closest in the series to the original.

 What were some of the challenges you faced writing the book?

 Action scenes.  I’ve never really done them before.  And writing them is a real bear. Try writing “he threw a punch” in seventeen different ways.   But I’m learning!

 What's next for you?

 I’m finishing a new novel – a bit of hard-boiled action called CRUSH.  And I’m producing a comedy for TVLand, THE SOUL MAN.  That should keep me busy through the summer.

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