Robert Ward's Red Baker won the PEN West prize for Best Novel of 1985. After a stint in Hollywood writing for such shows as Miami Vice, he's back with his latest Baltimore tome, Four Kinds of Rain.
What do Red Baker and Four Kinds of Rain have in common?
Both of them are angry books, but Four Kinds of Rain is almost nihilistic. The more I look at our generation, the more angry I get. We were going to save the world, we were the Woodstock Generation, but all that meant in the end is that most of us embraced hip style with no content. So I started thinking, what if there was a guy who didn't sell out? He's a radical shrink, and he lives in the ghetto, and he's still running a Free Clinic and trying to rally the people. What kind of life would he lead? It got darker and darker because I eventually realized that he would have nothing at all. Not only would he have no money, but he would also have no dignity, something he hadn't counted on.
What made Bob Ward go Hollywood?
I had about three grand in the bank, and I was burned out writing pieces for magazines. So along comes this gig to write Hill Street Blues, and they want to pay me a couple hundred grand a year to start. I not only wanted the money, but I saw this as a way to keep alive as a writer. If I could just learn how to write TV, I could come back to novels later, without that feeling that the world was collapsing beneath my feet. So I went to Hollywood and learned how to write dramatic TV series. It was hard, but I got to work with the best guys of my generation in TV, Jeff Lewis, David Milch, Dick Wolfe, Waylon Greene.
What's the difference in writing novels and writing for television?
Well, the main thing is that your novel is yours. Some other cat can't come along and write over you. That's a very big deal. I was talking to Mike Homler, my editor at St. Martin's, a few months back and we were debating a little move in my novel. He wanted me to change it, I thought it was cool the way it was. Finally, he says, "Okay, I see your point and it's your book, Bob." That was it. We left it the way it was. That's something you aren't going to hear with TV. Books are still civil. You need a plot, you need great language, you need real passion.