#NaNoWriMo Exclusive: Josh Griffith on Writing Novels, Soaps and Why Hollywood Heights Needs a Sequel

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November is National Novel Writing Month. To mark the occasion in a soapgasmic way, I interviewed some of our favorite soap industry professionals who have redefined their careers by becoming novelists. First up is Josh Griffith.

The veteran soap scribe (Santa Barbara, One Life to Live, Sunset Beach, As The World Turns, The Young and the Restless), has published several novels and novellas since leaving Y&R in 2013. He's also found peace via Transcendental Meditation.

Daytime Confidential: Forget National Novel Writing Month. It seems like you've been turning out a novel or short story every 30 days or so since you left The Young and the Restless! How long have you been working on the stories of Detective Jason Chance?

Josh Griffith: This Lonely Town is actually the only Jason Chance mystery so far. The Lost Man and The Forgotten Place are stand-alone suspense novels, the first about a burned-out movie star and the psychotic fan he lets into his life; the second about a man who returns to his hometown for a high school reunion and is framed for the brutal homicide of a classmate. This Lonely Town is the first in a series that follows Jason Chance, a detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and in this one he investigates the death of a rock star named Nora Lord.

I wrote early drafts of This Lonely Town and The Lost Man between the time I left Y&R in 2008 and the time I started work on Hollywood Heights in 2011. After finishing up my second stint at Y&R in 2013, I went back to The Lost Man, did some revisions on it, and published it as an eBook. I wasn’t sure about publishing This Lonely Town, as I didn’t know yet if I wanted to commit to a series. Instead, I wrote The Forgotten Place, followed by the supernatural novellas Janie Dreams of The Dahlia and Stroke of Fear.

Once the novellas were finished and published, I was searching for a new idea and didn’t have one, so I took out the first draft of This Lonely Town and read it over. I fell back in love with the character of Jason and the others in his orbit, and I realized it was a world I’d like to live in for a while and go back to with subsequent books. So I dove it, did several revisions, and sent it in to be published. And as soon as I finished it, I had the hook for a follow-up novel! I’ve started work on the sequel, This Secret Town, and I hope to have that ready for publication in the fall of 2015.

DC: Did your time writing daytime and primetime serials, which by nature require prolific storytelling capabilities, aide in you managing to publish so many works so quickly?

JG: I've always been able to come up with ideas and stories quickly and easily, which is why I think I had a modicum of success in daytime. And writing for daytime serials is the best training any writer can get. Five hours of drama a week, 52 weeks a year. There’s no room for writer’s block. Not that writing novels is easy. It's just a different kind of hard! You at least have the luxury of time to keep tweaking and polishing until you feel it’s ready.

DC: You're no stranger to novels. With fellow One Life to Live writing alum Michael Malone you penned The Killing Club as the fictional character Marcie McBain. Did you know back then you would one day revisit novel writing?

JG: I’d always secretly dreamed of being a novelist and living that creative life, but I kept getting jobs in television and film, working with Francis Coppola on Twixt. Some people can handle both careers simultaneously, but I can't. So as the TV and film work kept coming, the possibility of writing novels slipped farther away. Finally, when I left Y&R in 2008, I made the decision to commit to it, and spent all my creative energy working on the first drafts of This Lonely Town and then The Lost Man. They weren’t ready yet to be published, so I set them aside for a bit, and then Hollywood Heights came along, and that led to a return to Y&R, albeit short-lived! That was another two years away from the books! So when I quit Y&R last year, I jumped back in with a vengeance. I guess I felt I needed to make up for lost time!

DC: One of my favorite authors, the late Sidney Sheldon had major success in television, before becoming one of the best-selling novelists of all time. In his biography, he talked at length about loving the freedom novels afforded him after decades in the more restrictive Hollywood game. Do you find yourself enjoying not being stifled by the collaborative structure of TV writing?

JG: They are such different beasts. I love the freedom of writing whatever I want and just letting the audience decide if they like it or not. It’s hard to be creative when a bunch of people are weighing in and second guessing everything you do. And while I think it’s dangerous to have too much collaboration in any creative process—because the voice can get muddled and lost—when the mix is right, the collaborative process can be exhilarating and incredibly creative.

DC: You seem very at home with dark, gritty, psychological stories. I've seen your excited tweets and Facebook posts about the return of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Who are some of your other favorite writers?

JG: In film, Lynch is a master and my absolute favorite writer-director. Others whose work I love and whom have most inspired me are Francis Coppola—with whom I had the grand privilege of working; he's a friend and mentor—Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, The Cohen Brothers, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Pedro Almodovar, Dario Argento, Christopher Nolan, Wim Wenders, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson. Novelists who’ve had the biggest impact on me are Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Peter Straub, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Michael Malone (another mentor and close friend), Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly. These two lists could actually go on for pages, so I better stop here!

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DC:  I've interviewed countless novelists and it seems everyone has a different process. Jackie Collins doesn't outline. She told me she starts with a character, or sometimes even a title, then just lets the story tell itself. Others I've spoken with, swear by the outline. Where do you fall?

JG: It’s different for me with every book. The Lost Man started out as a screenplay, but I felt after finishing the first draft that it would work more effectively as a novel; so I rewrote it completely, using the screenplay draft as my "outline". With This Lonely Town, which is a murder mystery, I had the overall arc in my head, and I then sketched out the scenario, very roughly, before starting to write the actual novel. I needed to know the ending so I could set the murder clues in place. Once I get into writing the actual novel, though, things changed, and so in subsequent versions, I had to go back and add new clues and adjust other ones to accommodate those changes. Conversely, when I started The Forgotten Place, I had no idea where it was going, except that I wanted to write a story about a down-on-his-luck guy who returns home and is framed for the murder of an old classmate. Beyond that, I had nothing, and I found the story as I went along. Interestingly, it’s my favorite of the three novels, whatever that’s worth. The first draft for me is always about finding the book, whether following some guide or making it up completely as I go along. Rewriting is where a lot of the magic happens.

(Keep reading to Page 2!)

Hollywood Heights

DC: I couldn't get enough of your fun Nick-at-Nite soap Hollywood Heights. Apparently, neither can Viacom. They keep re-airing it on TeenNick! Would you be up for adapting another telenovela for the U.S. market?

JG: If it was a project I could fall in love with, as I did with Hollywood Heights, then yes, absolutely. I’d even love to do a second Hollywood Heights, a sequel, and from all I hear and read, the fans want one, too! There are a lot more stories for Loren and Eddie! I don't like to rule out anything. I love writing novels, but I love writing and creating in general. Any opportunity to do that, as long as I'm happy with the project and the people I’m going to work with, and where I feel I can bring something to the table, is enticing.

DC: You caught a lot of flack, even from this blogger, for deciding to write a story that saw sweet little Delia Abbott killed off on The Young and the Restless. The story won like a bazillion Daytime Emmys. Was that gratifying?

JG: Of course! It was a great Emmy evening for Y&R. It’s my understanding that the show won more awards that night than ever before. And "Curve in the Road" was my last story for the show before I left, so the accolades meant a lot to me.

DC: Why do you think we soap fans go so nuts over death in daytime, yet a good chunk of us don't flinch when Shonda Rhimes kills a kid on Scandal?

JG: I have no idea. To me a powerful story is a powerful story. I never understood the flack. Death is dramatic. Hamlet would be a snooze if nobody died. And the story was not about Delia dying, but the aftermath and its effect on core characters. The stakes couldn’t have been higher, and that creates a powerhouse arena for dramatic conflict and storytelling.

DC: I know I said to forget about National Novel Writing Month, but I was only kidding! What advice would you give all those aspiring writers out there who watched your stories play out five-days-a-week on daytime television?

JG: Write what excites you, because if you’re not excited, I guarantee the audience won’t be, either. And never give up. It’s as much about persistence as it is about passion. Find your niche. There are so many venues these days. The internet is exploding with new shows. It’s easier than ever to self-publish if you want to write fiction. Anybody with a video camera can make a movie now. You just have to have the will to express yourself, and then find an arena where you can make it happen. Do it because you love it, because you can't imagine doing anything else. Don’t chase the money. Chase the dream.  And meditate, every day. Seriously. Find a TM course near you and take it. It will give you access to a pool of unbounded awareness and creativity.

For more on Josh Griffith's novels and novellas, click here.