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Malone on literature, writing and his novels
Malone on daytime tv, One Life to Live, and Another World
Malone on Malone
Malone on his novels, literature, and writing
Question: What authors or movements in literature have had the biggest influence over you?
Malone: Undoubtedly 18th and 19th century British novels--the fat Victorian ones with a wide and diverse cast of characters, lots of humor and a strong narrator. Pre-eminently Dickens. (I don't think there're very many 20th century novelists who weren't powerfully influenced by Dickens.) But I was born and raised in the classic line from Fielding on. Then here in my native land, the strong Southern tradition of storytelling has naturally been part of my reading life since childhood--Poe, Twain, and so on through Thomas Wolfe and Eudora Welty right up to my contemporaries like Barry Hannah and Josephine Humphries. Of all Southern novelists Faulkner is (as Flannery O'Connor said) the Dixie Comet, and everybody else just has to stand back from the track and admire his smoke.
Question: Who are your favorite contemporary authors?
Malone: I spent so many years reading for write book reviews or to judge prizes, that for a while I overdosed on the current. And, still, today most of my reading is re-readingold favorites (a grab bag; it could be anything from Middlemarch to the Odyssey to Chandlers The Long Goodbye to a bunch of Russian plays). Or classics I never got around to before. I also love reading history and biography. Right now Im having a great time re-reading my neighbors here in North CarolinaAlan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Reynolds Price, Margaret Maron.
Question: Any chance that well ever get a sequel to Times Witness? I know that the mystery was solved, but Cuddys love life was left up in the air. Id love to know what happened between him and Nora.
Malone: Funny you should ask. Writing the sequel to Times Witness is exactly what Im doing right now. Its called First Lady and it does indeed take up Cuddys love lifewhich is threatened by a terrifying crime. His friend, Justin, who narrated Uncivil Seasons, tells this story. The First Lady of the title is, you may recall, Lee Haver Brookside, the governor's wife.
Question: When can we expect the new novel?
Malone: Im hoping to finish FIRST LADY by the early fall; it would probably come out the following September. Then I return to a romantic quest novel I've started that's about a young female Navy pilot whos searching for a mother shes never met.
Question: As a writer, would you ever give artistic control over to a screenwriter if one of your books were to go to the "big screen"?
Malone: A screenplay can never be the same as a novel. So, yes, whoever writes the script should have as much artistic control as the producers allow (often not much). Id love to see a great movie made of Times Witness, say, and I know that it would necessarily have to leave out lots of characters and stories and tones that I love in the book. A movie's a different art form. (Look at the excellent screenplay, for example, done of the extremely challenging novel LA CONFIDENTIAL.)
Question: In the acknowledgements section of Handling Sin, you say that Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to make a movie out of the book. What ever happened to those plans?
Malone: Yes they did, and that's the last time I ever announce a Hollywood plan in advance! Its like predicting when and where the wind will blow a dandelion. Fox first commissioned the screenplay from me. Then they had another script done by David Ward (who wrote among other movies THE STING). The producer was Lawrence Gordon (very talented--he did everything from Die Hard to Field of Dreams); Gordon left Fox, formed his own company, and I believe retired for a while after health problems. In the shuffle, Handling Sin was sadly lost. Others have optioned it, but the films never been made. I of course think it could (and should be) be a wonderful movie.
Question: Out of the books that youve written, do you have a personal favorite?
Malone: That's like asking for a favorite child. But Handling Sin is my wife's favorite of my novels and she's the professional literary critic in the family.
Question: What advice would you give to those of us who one day hope to write books?
Malone: To write them. Just write them. I cant tell you how many young people over my decades of teaching fiction have said to me that they want to "be writers." The only way to be a writer is to write. Find a voice, start a story, keep to a schedule (so many hours a day, or so many pages a day), and remember that the heart of fiction is always that we make readers want to know what happens next to people theyve come to care about.
Malone on Daytime TV, One Life to Live, and Another World
Question: What were the biggest challenges (if any) writing for characters already in existence, whose personalities and backstories were already fleshed out and in place?
Malone: Among the tremendous strengths of daytime serials (and I believe the genre to be a great and one of the few truly original American art forms) are the richness, complexity, longevity of the characters. Unless you're writing a series (like Nero Wolfe or Anne of Green Gables), when you start a novel, you give birth to characters full-blown. In daytime, you adopt many of them already formed. You have to study their histories, discuss their personalities with the actors who play them (and know them in some ways far more deeply than you ever will), and develop stories for them that evolve FROM their characters. Aristotle's credo, Character is Action, is nowhere truer than in daytime drama where story must be driven not by plot but by character.
On the other hand, that very strength of a character's full past leads to potential weaknesses in daytime that must be guarded against: One is repetition (after a quarter of a century, Viki Lord is likely to have suffered every calamity, illness, lost love, family crisis, financial woe, moral dilemma, dynastic rivalry, that can befall a woman (even a woman with multiple personalities). The un-tried plot becomes an increasing challenge.
The open-endedness (everlastingness) of daytime is another strength that causes a weakness: Art likes to have a beginning, middle and end--to have a shape, a form, a denouement. The curtain closes when the lovers kiss, the novel ends when the couple says I do. Daytime has to keep going. And going and going.
Question: To what extent did the fans (if they did at all) dictate the decisions you made as a head writer? Would you, for instance, give the fans a particular storyline that they were asking for?
Malone: As with any dramatic art form, the audience is part of the performance--two stagings of Uncle Vanya will be different because the audience is different. The intense interest daytime fans take in "their stories" and "their characters" naturally plays a role in the story-telling. (And also makes re-casts terribly challenging.)
It is not so much that fans dictate story in a specific sense (someone doesn't call up and say, "Kill SoandSo" and the person's dead!), but the love fans feel for characters certainly affects their longevity on the show. And
vice versa. Todd Manning began on One Life as a short-term non-contract player called "Frat Boy # 1); the rest, as they say, is history.
Question: When you decided to break up Clint and Viki Buchanan (OLTL) many long time fans were upset. Was it ever your intention to reunite them--some place down the road?
Malone: Breaking up a couple as firmly established in a marriage as Clint and Viki Buchanan can feel as traumatic to writers as the collapse of a marriage of real friends or family. That's how everyone at One Life felt when we made the decision to explore the dramatic possibilities in a mid-age ex-marital affair for Viki. We did so at a time when she was emotionally vulnerable because she had lost her daughter Megan, and chose as her partner General Sloan Carpenter, the father of the minister with whom she'd dealt with Megan's illness.
There was tremendous dramatic potential in such a story BECAUSE Viki and Clint were such good people, had been through so much together, had shared children and a home, shared professsions (running the Banner together), and were both highly moral, fair, faithful leaders of their community. The story evolved directly out of the Accusation (the Billy Douglas/Andrew Carpenter homophobia story), which itself would later grow into the Marty's Rape story: What would happen if a girl was known in town to be a dangerous liar (she had falsely accused Andrew of making sexual advances to Billy because Andrew had rejected her flirtatious overtures), and she then accused four young men at the local university of raping her. Would anybody believe
her, particularly if she then admitted that she'd made a mistake about at least one of the boys (Kevin Buchanan).
As the Accusation developed, we brought General Sloan Carpenter to Llanview and led him into conflict with Viki over Andrew's embattled effort to bring the Aids quilt to town. Viki's leading Sloan to a more compassionate, tolerant view of his homosexual son's death from AIDS (she ultimately persuaded him to join her in placing a panel in the quilt), evoked in them feelings for each other that both worked long and hard to suppress because of Viki's commitment to her marriage. At the same time, Clint took a different moral position on the issue and that distanced him from Viki. And at the same time, Dorian began in her inimitable way, to do everything she could to foment jealousy.
All these threads worked to create drama: Viki's moral torture, Clint's pain, the children's distress, Sloan's evolution from a cold, withdrawn man to a loving heart--all gave us rich sources of story for months and months.
With an actress as astonishingly gifted as Eriki Slezak, drama of that sort is a writer's joy.
After Sloan and Viki married, Clint and Viki were able to reconnect and to sustain a friendship based on a love deeper than their hurt and loss, as Viki was struck by Sloan's critical illness and death.
But you know what? There is one moment I remember vividly that suggests to me an inevitable move back together of Clint and Viki. As least in the pure narrative sense (I mean, taking away all the external factors that control story in daytime--actors move to Hollywood, networks cut costs, contract negotiations fail, recasts don't work, etc.) That moment was a shot of Clint (tired and unhappy) walking up the stairs to be with a crying Jessica during the time when he and Viki were working out the divorce. I always thought of it as the "John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" shot--it revealed Clint as the quiet man who would never stop loving a woman his whole life long. And that makes the audience hope that someday, some way, maybe she'd
come back to him.
Question: Whose decision was it to flesh out Todd from Marty's gangrapist into the character he ultimately became at the end of your run? If it was someone else's decision, how did you feel about it? If it was your decision, what reaction did it get from the higher-ups?
Malone: One of the things I love about daytime writing (which makes it very different from the solitary creation of novels and more like the communal creation over decades of a great medieval cathedral) is that the story-telling is a genuine collaboration, not just among writers but by the actors. Directors, producers, and audience have their input as well. In the creation of Todd Manning, no one played a larger role than the remarkably talented Josh Griffith, first associate head writer, then co-head writer, during my stay at One Life. Josh loved, lived and breathed Todd and fought passionately for his position on the show.
Second, Todd never would have evolved from "first frat boy" to the major cast member he became without the powerful talent of Roger Howarth. Because of Roger's ability to convey the complexity of Todd (the hurt as well as anger, the insecurity as well as bluster, the brains, yearning, manipulativeness, sexiness, tenderness, nastiness) we were able to explore both the deeply dark side of this character (the effort to destroy Marty to cover the rape, the attempted revenge on his lawyer Nora, the attack on Luna) and at the same time slowly uncover his growing struggle (usually a failed struggle) towards some kind of redemption.
Romantic leads have often begun their careers playing villains (Valentino, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart among them). These characters appeal because they make women feel both the thrill of the "bad" and the lure of the hidden "good": they can lead the man to change through love. "I'll save him!" Fans loved Todd from the beginning because he always had that appeal. The network was therefore happy to have him return to Llanview whenever Roger would come back, and happy to have him move into story in major ways.
Making him Viki's younger brother and an heir to the Lord fortune gave us huge story--first because we could lead in with the mystery of the false heir (the David Vickers con man and his corruption of Tina) and then develop Todd not only as Viki's unwanted sibling (what horror for the good Viki to learn that the bad Todd was her blood), but as her professional rival when he uses a splashy tabloid newspaper to wipe out her venerable Banner.
The spiritual journey that a man like Todd might make towards being offered forgiveness and being able to accept forgiveness (sometimes the harder task) always intrigued me as a story--and particularly so because Roger was too honest an actor ever to make the journey an easy one for a character as dangerously wounded as Todd.
Any reformation of Todd of course had to lead to a re-confrontation with Marty. That's why he had to risk his freedom after his prison break to pull her from the car wreckage, and even donate to her his blood. That's why
later he did what he could to help her and Patrick Thornhart. But nothing could ever make Todd feel less twisted about the crime he had committed against Marty, and nothing could balance the scales for Marty until she had found a way to deal with her rage against Todd.
Frankly, I could have seen the tangled relationship between those two playing out for years to come. But sadly Marty has left Llanview and Todd doesn't seem to stay very long. And like life daytime keeps moving in other ways.
Question: What made you choose to pair Blair with Todd? I never would have thought of these two together.
Malone: Todd and Blair were a great deal alike, two bad apples, two lost souls: conniving, deceitful, wounded and hiding the wounds for all they were worth behind a smart and sexy facade. Both were very much on guard against ever being susceptible to love. (A Scarlett and Rhett match-up, to use my perennial GWTW analogy that used to drive Josh Griffith crazy. I loved the movie, he didn't.) The idea for Todd/Blair came from wondering what would happen if two tricksters set out to trick each other, with no genuine thought of romance,
and what if the ultimate trick was on them and they fell in love? In the beginning, Blair was trying to marry Todd for his money before he found out he was the heir to the Lord fortune, and Todd was trying to hurt any and
everybody in town. Slowly they learned how much they had in common--both had rotten childhoods that left them with deep insecurities, both had rotten reputations in Llanview (and deserved them), both were willing to go to any lengths to get what they wanted--the safety of immense wealth, the thrill of somebody else's spouse, social acceptance by those who'd rejected them.
As soon as we put them together, the chemistry between Roger and Kassie was wonderful and we knew they would work as a couple. But deepest down, we planned to play that Blair was still in love in Max. That old flame was going to flare up and start fireworks as she and Todd started to fight over the ultimate prize of their daughter, Starr.
Different producers, network folk, different writers took their story other places.
Question: There have many changes on One Life To Live since you left...some feel that the changes have not been for the better. Bo and Nora are no longer together, the Angel Square community is barely in existence, Todd Manning, Patrick and Marty Thornhart, Dorian Lord, and Andi Harrison Vega (to name just a few) are
no longer on the show, and many others such as Andrew Carpenter and Carlotta Vega are rarely seen. Do you ever watch the show these days? If so, what changes would you make?
Malone: No, it was a heartbreak for me to leave One Life, and the truth is, I don't watch the show except rarely--for example if a friend mentions a particular episode for which he or she has written a favorite breakdown or script. But I hear and have heard about many of the changes you describe and some of them
are naturally distressing.
The changes I would make would be the changes I made the first time. When I first came to Llanview, it was vitally important to me to restore the heritage of the Lords, which seemed to have been absorbed and swamped by Buchanans. To revitalize a matriarchal rivalry by opening up the history between Viki and Dorian and by giving Dorian's side some allies (the Cramer women--Blair and Kelly). To find the human core of established characters and let them act out of that core.
I wanted very much to broaden Llanview's citizenship from its white-bread class-less comfort to a rich and troublesome diversity: To bring in more African Americans (Hank and RJ and Rachel Gannon). To create and develop a world of working class people who didn't have the advantages of the Lords and the Buchanans (Angel Square). To explore spiritual sensibilities--from Luna's New Age faith to Andrew Carpenter's traditional Protestant ministry. To make realistic workplaces and create stories out of them: This is why we made Bo a police officer, Andi a cop, Nora a lawyer, Hank a DA. It's why we reestablished The Banner for Viki and the Buchanans and gave Dorian/Todd a rival paper. (We had just started to create a comparable medical world with Marty when I left.)
Most of all, I wanted to tell stories that brought together all these very different kinds of people in highly dramatic situations (lfor example Marty's rape trial or Dorian's trial for the murder of Victor Lord) where I
could let strongly positioned and fully realized characters act out of that character. If you create strong characters with real human natures and habits and strengths and flaws, characters who are true to themselves, they will always tell you what their stories are. You just have to listen. And follow them.
Contorting plots for artificial drama, violating the integrity of character for special effects, deeply troubles me. We get enough of it in the movies. Daytime is uniquely positioned to tell story through the development of
character and relationships, through not just romantic love, but family feelings, friendships, work relationships, social factions, race and class and age differences, and that's what it ought to be doing.
Question: Im a big fan of Bo and Nora, though theyre no longer a couple (which is a travesty!). I think that, with these two characters, you created one of the best, most fun and down to earth couples that Ive ever seen on TV. Its been said that you cant have a happily married couple on a soap without having them become boring and stale, therefore they cant stay happy for long. Do you agree with this theory?
Malone: Nora and Bo were magic to me from the first audition screen between Bob and Hillary. They had the classic chemistry of the great romantic comedy stars of films--that Tracy/Hepburn thing. They were equals, 50/50, strong, bright, opinionated, shared tastes, same age, but with very different personalities. Their romantic sparring was as perfect as their offbeat wedding. I absolutely believed in their relationship from the start. In their battles (whether they were over her defending clients he'd arrested or just over the choice of furniture for the house), Bo and Nora were worthy adversaries and real lovers. To me, breaking up Nora and Bo could only be for the purpose of bringing them back together.
I say this knowing that the lack of an ending to soap opera stories is always a narrative challenge--and nowhere more so than in the crucial area of romance. Our very concept of romantic love is classically founded in obstacles. The lovers cannot be together because of some barrier--their families hate each other (Romeo&Juliet), because the woman is married and the man is a minister (The Scarlet Letter), or the man is a married minister (The Sandpiper), or both are married, or one is rich and one is poor, one is black and one is white, one is Jewish and one is Christian, and so on and so on. If these problems aren't worked out, the curtain closes on a tragedy (Anna Karenina jumps in front of the train). If they are resolved, the curtain closes on the marriage proposal or the marriage ceremonoy (as it does in all romantic comedies from Tom Jones and Pride and Prejudice to You've Got Mail.)
So for writers the problem is to find the drama for a "happily married couple." It has to come from the outside: conflicts in career (she's a defense attorney, he's a police chief) or conflicts in principle or a tragedy: one of them is ill or whatever. The couple can even THINK they've fallen out of love, they can even believe they're in love with someone else, they can even think the other one's dead, but the audience will always think
they're wrong. The audience is always going to want the great couples back together. That's how I feel about Bo and Nora.
Question: You gave OLTL so many unique and interesting characters. Do you have one favorite character that you created? How about one favorite couple?
Malone: Oh no, I could never say a favorite character or favorite couple. I really loved them all. just as much as the characters in my novels. And that includes characters I DIDN'T create--like Viki and Dorian and Asa and Bo and Megan and Cord and Tina and Renee.
I suppose I have a special fondness for my original children: Luna who parachuted into a party at Viki's on the first day of my air shows, and Blair who stirred up the town with Dorian's secret and then snapped up Max and then stole Asa, and Andrew who fell in love with Megan against all his scruples, and Marty who was so unhappy and destructive. The remarkable Nora. The Irish Patrick. Carlotta and her sons Antonio and Christian. The Gannons. I loved deeply characters we created who didn't get to stay in Llanview--among
many, Maggie, and the tormented Billy Douglas and the rapscallion con artist Cain Rogan.
I love too the way we reintroduced former characters. Like Alex Olanov, taking her into outrageous comedy and power-lust until she married Asa from her Cleopatra barge and tried to take over Llanview!
Question: Which story did you have the hardest time getting by the OLTL Powers that be that actually made it on the air?
Malone: Ironically, there was initial opposition to stories that proved the most successful in ratings terms. The story of Marty's rape, for example. And the homophobia story (originally we'd wanted to bring it closer to home by having Joey Buchanan reveal that he was gay.) In both these cases, the courage and daring of our producer Linda Gottlieb was crucial. She fought for the stories and she won. Some stories never got told because of network concerns or they never were told as they should have been because network fears weakened or compromised them.
But I must say that, at least during my tenure there, ABC tried hard in general to be supportive even of stories they weren't sure about--allowing us to re-open the mystery of who killed Victor Lord, for example, which took us into the risky territory of multiple personality and childhood incest abuse. Other times, stories can get truncated or dropped for unavoidable external reasons--an actor quits, or the network learns that a highly similiar story is being told on another network.
Of course, about that I used to say, it doesn't matter. All the stories have already been told anyhow. Just not by
all the storytellers.
Question: Soaps today are facing declining audiences and falling victim to cancellation (Another World, Sunset Beach) What do you feel soap operas are doing wrong and how should the problem be corrected?
Answer: The problems are fear, stagnation, and impatience. The fear leads to impatience on the one hand and to a stagnant return to outmoded content and style that is ignorant of, or at least indifferent to, the current culture.
The people who own the soaps (ABC, CBS, NBC, P&G) say they want to change but they don't appear to mean it. In their fear, they fall victim to naive marketing analyses and endless second-guessing.
What is needed is boldness, commitment and clarity.
Genres come and go. We don't have Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show now; instead we have MTV. Big nighttime hits rarely last more than ten years (Cheers, Seinfeld), much less thirty years. So we could say that daytime drama has had a good long run, and its time is over. But I don't believe that. I think longevity is proof of a remarkable appeal still there to be tapped. This genre was largely created by women, and like so many art forms for which that is true (the novel and quilt--to take two), daytime is sometimes considered second-rate, and it has sadly sometimes treated itself that way. But I have always believed that the daytime serial is not only one of the few original American narrative forms (musical comedy is another), but that it is a great narrative form and should never be treated as otherwise, never apologized for, never looked down upon.
Like any art form, daytime has to change to last and change is scary. We can't assume that what worked in the 1970's or 1980's or even 1990's, will work in the 21st century, anymore that we can assume that the 18-34 yr old woman of today thinks/feels/cries/laughs/lives the way her older sister or her mother did. Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, and E.R. are all successful television doctor shows, but they are very very different in content, in structure, in pace and in style. And maybe most of all, in TONE and RHYTHM. E.R. succeeds today because it is written in a tone and rhythm that makes sense for today's audience. (For example, there are three times as many scenes in E.R. as in Marcus Welby, which means the scenes are three times shorter, the pace is three times faster.)
Real daytime change cannot and will not come out of fear. Concern about shifting demographics, the alternatives offered by cable, the return of women to the workplace, etc, etc, all the variables that have led to falling ratings have unfortunately driven networks to worsen the very dilemma they are so desperate to correct. By failing to understand the audience, by impatiently changing casts and writers, by trunacating stories, by chasing this gimmick, then that, soap operas are neither gaining new audience nor maintaining old audience.
There is only one way to change that: Tell compelling stories about clusters of characters that the audience identifies with, finds highly attractive, cares about emotionally, and has to be familiar with because they want to share knowledge about what's happened to these characters with their cohorts--the way nighttime audiences felt they had to watch or talk about Seinfeld or Friends. Cast those parts right and stay with them. Choose people to tell those stories, empower them to do so, and then committ to what they do. It is the unity of style, the constancy of casting, the committment to story, that has kept Bill Bell's Young and the Restless so successful for so long. I'm not at all saying other shows should be like Young and the Restless. They shouldn't. They should be what they are. My sense is that many shows today don't even know who they are, much less stay true to it. I believe that in the early nineties we gave One Life a real identity, that a new audience started watching because they liked what they saw--its boldness, its contemporary feel--and when that identity went away, so did they.
Shakespeare's Othello is a great story, but if a committee rewrote it out of fear, and if Othello couldn't be black because an interracial marriage might bother some people, and Iago couldn't trick him because the actor doesn't want to look foolish, and Iago can't be evil because that would make him hateful, and Othello can't really kill Desdemona on purpose because he's the rooting interest, so he can only accidentally push her down the steps--we end up with a safe and boring story about indistinctive people to whom nothing much of real consequence happens.
Question: If you had OLTL to do over again, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Answer: Dayrime is like a huge slow moving river and the tiniest choice can lead miles and miles away to a shift in a whole direction. There are thousands of such tiny choices I know I could have made better. But mostly I would have fought harder--about casting, about story--to maintain the wholeness of vision we tried to put in place.
The heart of a soap opera has a unique and steady beat. every part of the show must be unified to keep that beat true. When it is true--when it has honesty, integrity, clarity, consistency--when it never violates the truth of human nature (and that doesn't mean that stories can't have ghosts and dreams and angels and devils and fantasies), then the audience comes to feel so close to the heart beat of the show that they can't bear not to keep hearing it. They come to love the people, to feel a part of their lives. When your audience really wants to know what is going to happen next to people they care about deeply, that's when you have daytime at it's best. And that's when the ratings go back up.
Question: Would you ever consider a return to daytime? If so, under what circumstances? If not, why?
Answer: I have no plans to return to daytime--right now I'm trying to finish a novel called FIRST LADY, the sequel to TIME'S WITNESS--but then I had no plans to go into daytime in the first place either, and look at how much I loved it. So, I've learned to never say never. Under what circumstances? I would want the power to tell the stories right and the right team to tell them with. I'd either want to go back to One Life which I know and already feel a part of, or to create a new show. I still believe there's a great waiting market for a late-night soap of the sort we did for Fox(13 Bourbon Street) Most of all I would want to feel a strong commitment from a network to a shared vision of what daytime drama can be--and must be if it is to survive.
Question: Why was your time so short at AW, and why did you ultimately decide to leave?
Answer: I very much liked the stories I was starting to tell on Another World, I was happy with the ways in which the canvas was broadening and its people connecting. But it soon became harder to tell the stories, and then impossible.
One of the great and to my mind still unsolved dilemmas of daytime drama production (a genre that is in general brilliantly constructed in its organization--indeed I've often said that it's the last American machine that
really works) is the potential for problematic differences between a head writer and an executive producer. In nighttime of course, the show's creator/writers and the show's executive producers are usually the same
The traditional assumption in daytime has been that the enormous ongoing demands of serial drama make it impossible not to split up these two demanding jobs. If the EP and the HW were ideal soulmates, that would be fine. They rarely are. The more integral the dramatic vision for a show, the more successful that show will be. This is even truer for daytime than for other genres, because daytime is about characters, not plots, and if
characters are to evolve with integrity, they must grow from inside their on-going stories. Over the years, creators with authority over their shows (Agnes Nixon, Bill Bell) have proved the success of this strong and single empowered vision.
It is possible to write a show where the producer has the vision and subservient writers are hired to implement it. It is also possible to write a show where the writer's vision is the "boss" and the executive producer does what the words of the title say: he or she executes the production. But where the proverbial "artistic differences" lead to a collapse of support between a strong head writer and an organization in which the executive producer "runs" the show, conflict is inevitable and inevitably harmful to the Herculean effort that a whole company of dedicated talented professionals has to make to produce a show daily. Someone has to go. And that's why my stay at Another World was so brief.
Malone on Malone
Question: If you couldn't write, what other line of work would you persue?
Answer: Throughout most of my writing career, I've taught college, usually fiction, but also courses in film and literature and drama (For example, "The Rise and Fall of the Great American Musical, "Dreams of Love and War") at places like Penn, Yale, Connecticut College, and Swarthmore. So teaching has been my "other line of work". Sometimes when I'm disgruntled with the solitude of the attic where I'm working on a novel, I say I'm going to get a job at the post office. Delivering mail is good exercise and you meet people, or at least their dogs.
What would I like to do? I've wanted to have so many careers--a ball player, a jazz musician, a surgoen, a trial lawyer, a pilot--that I think I picked the very best profession of all, because as a writer, I get to be everything! I'm a police detective in one book, a newspaper man in another, a night club owner on this show, a con artist in that play. On One LIfe, I could participate in Andrew's occupation as a priest, Viki's as an editor, Bo's as a cop, Nora's as a lawyer. Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you write.
Question: Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Answer: Of course everyone who comes into your life helps make you who you are. And in the same way, all of the widely different characters a writer creates are little parts of that writer mixed together with parts of all the people he or she has ever met.
In my life, there have been teachers and friends and neighbors and colleagues who have taught me ways of growing, of letting go or hanging on, or breaking through or sitting still when I needed to. But if I could only pick three influences, I would pick three women (women are always the best guides in life--Sacagawea led Lewis and Clark west and Beatrice got Dante all the way to heaven). Those three women are my mother, a fourth-grade teacher who lived her life with a passion for justice and a delight in the world around her, both of nature and of the human comedy. My wife Maureen Quilligan, Chair of the Duke University English Department, a generous partner, a fearless defender of all that's worth defending in life, and the best reader I ever knew.
And my brilliant young daughter Maggie, now in television production, who has gently and humorously helped drag her old dad into the 21st century.
All three of these women have shared with me great gifts of faith, of intelligence and integrity, and of courage.
Question: Most writers go through a struggle at the beginning of their careers. What was your "big break"?
Answer: I've been writing since I could scribble loops and squiggles with a big yellow pencil. By seven, I was forcing my poor younger siblings to performa extraordinarily long plays I was writing. (One, The Prince of the Chinese Elephants, had, I recall, 37 sets and 49 major characters. Obviously, I was destined to write big novels and soap operas.)
In my teens I took to writing poetry (mostly to get girls) and then in my twenties I wrote my first novel. I was in graduate school at the time, and worked on the novel as a way of avoiding working on my dissertation. I sent the book to Random House (because that's where Faulkner had been published) and they accepted it. So blissfully naive was I that I had no real notion of what incredible luck this was! The book was called PAINTING THE ROSES RED, and fortunately there are very few copies of it available any more. Random House also published my second book, THE DELECTALBE MOUNTAINS, but it wasn't till my third, DINGLEY FALLS, that I felt I was coming into my own as a novelist.
As for daytime, I was brought to One Life by Linda Gottlieb for whom I'd written a film at MGM. She knew my novels and had the brave faith to believe a novelist working on a broad canvas would be the right kind of storyteller for a serial drama.