Charlie Waldo Probes a Decades-Old Fraternity Death

As penance for a professional misstep, former LAPD detective Charlie Waldo lives deep in the woods, owning no more than 100 things. In Pay or Play, Waldo’s old adversary strongarms him into investigating a vagrant’s death.

Howard Michael Gould’s eco-obsessed star detective returns in Pay or Play

As penance for a professional misstep, former LAPD detective Charlie Waldo lives deep in the woods, owning no more than 100 things. In Pay or Play, Waldo’s old adversary strongarms him into investigating a vagrant’s death. Simultaneously, Waldo takes the case of a popular TV judge whose new mega-deal makes her a blackmail target. Howard Michael Gould draws upon his distinguished career as a showrunner, screenwriter, and Hollywood director to add showbiz fun to Waldo’s third book.

What inspired you to create this character?

Years ago, I saw a remarkable animated video short called The Story of Stuff, about how we’re depleting the planet’s resources in service of planned consumerism which at the same time is making us miserable. It struck a chord; I kept watching it over and over. Around that time, we decided to move into a smaller house, and I started getting rid of my stuff. All of which got me thinking about a character who did the same, not just enthusiastically, like I did, but obsessively—and what might make him that way. Then I did a little research on minimalism, and found people committed to owning no more than 100 possessions. I knew right away that I’d found the gift that would keep on giving.

How was your experience working with Charlie Hunnam on the upcoming Waldo movie?

Charlie’s immersion and deep study blew me away. He came to Atlanta with 100 things himself, and even spent two weeks right before production living in isolation in the woods, like the character. Charlie and director Tim Kirkby wanted me on location in Atlanta more than I’d originally intended, but the three of us built a fantastic bond and a rare three-way working relationship. We’re all hoping the movie will be successful enough to justify doing another.

How soon after starting the novels did you begin to imagine Waldo on screen?

It happened the other way around:  I first imagined Waldo as a TV series detective. I pitched him to CBS about 12 years ago, and they actually clapped at the end of the pitch—I’ve never had that happen in my career. Then, naturally, they passed. At the time I hadn’t written prose fiction in 35 years, since I was a teenager. But I loved this character and this story and I didn’t want this one to die.  So I wrote it, got an agent, and it sold right away.  

What kind of research went into creating Judge Ida’s television show?

Well, I knew how TV got produced from the inside, so mostly it was a lot of watching: hours and hours of Judge Judy and Jerry Springer. My family kept walking through the TV room, shaking their heads. But I knew those shows and their sensibilities would give me the clay I’d use to build that Judge Ida Mudge show. I’m really pleased with those chapters—some of the funniest writing I’ve ever done.

This novel is set in 2018 when Waldo “could see that the nation was collapsing under a collective mental health crisis.” How would you assess California in 2021?

Confused. Struggling to find our way back from COVID, which seemed to make all the problems we already had even worse. The homeless situation—a key theme in Pay or Play—has metastasized, and nobody seems to know what to do about it, even as we keep voting for bonds and allocating more money. We’re worried about the effect of climate change on wildfires—rightly—but at the same time we’re closing emissions-free nuclear plants before we have clean energy to replace them, increasing emissions and making climate change worse.  And for the first time, we’re losing population. 

How does it feel to write novels after so much time working in film and television?

Deeply satisfying. In TV and film, unless you’re one of the blessed few at any given moment who are “hot” enough to do whatever they want, you’re always writing (or worse, pitching, i.e., talking about writing) what you hope will be some producer’s idea of what some executive will think his boss will believe some imaginary desired audience will want to watch. Writing the Waldo books, I’m always aware that I’m creating a piece of entertainment, but it’s fully by my own lights. I just think about the smartest people I know, and I try to write the book they’d want to read for fun. 


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