Today, we have the chance to share the interview that The Book Review Station did with author, documentary producer, and ‘sometimes’ network executive, Paul Haddad. A Hollywood native, Paul has written numerous books in varying genres, including Paradise Palms: Red Menace Mob (check out its review here), Freewaytopia, and Aramid to just name a few.
Paul shared with us his insight into his experiences, passions, and more, including some excellent advice for aspiring script-writers and authors. Read on to know more!
Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.
Paul Haddad: I was born in Hollywood and have lived in Los Angeles my whole life. My “day job” is in television—primarily as a documentary producer and sometimes-network executive—but my passion these days really lies in writing books. I’ve been fortunate enough to have three novels and three nonfiction books published.
Rishika S.: You’ve always maintained that you love LA and Hollywood. What is the one thing you can pinpoint that you would say you love the most?
Paul Haddad: It’s tough to focus on just one thing, but I’d have to say the diversity. Much of the city’s vibrancy and culture can be attributed to its melting-pot population. And the varied landscape, which includes beaches and a mountain range (the Santa Monica Mountains) cutting across the city, makes it ideal for outdoor recreation and keeping fit.
Rishika S.: And if you absolutely had to pick one thing that you disliked, what would that be?
Paul Haddad: That’s easy—traffic! If there was one upside to the early days of the pandemic, it was that roads and freeways resembled the zombie apocalypse. Driving from Downtown L.A. to the Santa Monica Pier took less than 20 minutes. For a few fleeting months, the freeways revisited their utopian 1950s and ‘60s states, when transportation officials—and Angelenos—boasted that you could get anywhere in L.A. “in 20 minutes!”
Rishika S.: Tell us a little more about what inspired Paradise Palms? And what (and who) inspired its characters, especially David and Rae?
Paul Haddad: Paradise Palms represents the convergence of several ideas. I dedicate the book to my father, Jack, because he was kind of a mysterious guy to me growing up, much like Max Shapiro, the patriarch in my book who also hails from the then-mean streets of Chicago’s South Side. Though my dad didn’t run with mobsters, he had a friend from his childhood who trafficked in the world of loan sharks and illegal gambling. It was also rumored that this man had fathered a child through an extramarital affair with a woman from Alabama, which inspired the character of Rae. What if a real-life Rae, a self-possessed African American girl in the 1950s, were to reach out to her biological Jewish father and half-brothers when she turned 18? What’s more, what if it turned out she was the one who, ironically, helped keep the family together in the midst of their war with the mob?
Coupled with that, I wanted to set the novel in a hotel. This same friend of my father’s managed hotels throughout his life, and I got to see him operate. I also spent much of my childhood kicking around the Beverly Hills Hotel. Every day for two years, I took a city bus after school to the iconic hotel, where I waited for my mom to drive down the hill and pick me up. Those years of exploring its grounds seeped into my imagination (the hotel also hosted several family events over the years). In all three of my novels, I have set them in specific locations, which allows me to create character ensembles like you might find in a play. In my first novel, Skinny White Freak, it was a summer camp; in Aramid, my sci-fi YA book, it was a high school robotics class; and in Paradise Palms, it was the Paradise Palms Hotel.
The character of David—as the eldest son of Max Shapiro, he’s really the protagonist—was the closest character to serve as my surrogate. I understood his motivations and could relate to his active role in trying to guide his family unit, a role I’ve sometimes found myself in. I also related to his realization that the truism “no good deed goes unpunished” often applies to our lives!
Rishika S.: Tell us the best and worst experience you’ve had when filming for TV.
Paul Haddad: I’ve been lucky to have traveled much of the globe for my documentary work, including places like India, China, Bali, and Brazil. Those experiences really opened my eyes to other cultures and fed an insatiable appetite to explore more of the world, something I’m looking forward to resuming as everything opens up again.
My worst experience was in 2008. I was the VP of Programming & Development for an unnamed cable network that was having growing pains. Nonetheless, I felt confident (perhaps overly so) about my prospects of advancing through the company. One day, the heads of the network flew out to Los Angeles to host one of their “state of the union” assemblies with the whole company (about 200 employees), which were usually just cheerleading sessions. On the morning of the meeting, an HR representative told me my presence at the meeting was not required, and that I was to report to my superior’s office. When I did, my boss informed me with much regret that I was being let go due to budget cutbacks. It was one of those “this-isn’t-happening-leaving-my-body” moments. The assembly was essentially a bait-and-switch. While some employees did attend it, others—like myself—were pulled aside and fired. The suits had cleverly scheduled the companywide get-together to ensure that all employees showed up that day.
Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about writing for TV.
Paul Haddad: Because I am primarily a documentary and docu-series filmmaker, my writing for television is of the nonfiction variety. But the goal is the same whether you’re writing for scripted or unscripted shows: Every segment of every show should entice the viewer to stick around after each commercial break. Over the years, I’ve learned the value of crafting a good tease. Not only that, but writing for TV requires you to not waste time navel-gazing. You need to have an economy of language and be quick to turn around scripts due to deadlines. These two elements—teasing the next segment, and being prolific—have greatly informed my book-writing process. I’m fairly well-practiced in the art of cliffhangers to keep readers moving onto the next chapter, and have learned how to be efficient with my time, typically achieving a 1,000-word quota per day.
The only downside to TV writing—if you could even call it that—is that once you finish a script, it is then subjected to a multitude of voices, usually network executives. Often their input is great and crystallizes your messaging. Other times, they may feel compelled to make changes for the sake of justifying their jobs, or to fulfill an agenda that is not aligned with yours. Usually one can reach a compromise; one must pick one’s battles and know what’s worth fighting for. For this reason, book-writing is a purer process because in the end, my voice is more unadulterated in the final product, and a copy editor often only improves it while keeping the integrity of my vision.
Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.
Paul Haddad: The one thing I hate is not so much about the process of writing, but the process of getting people interested in my writing. Full confession: I have never been able to land a literary agent. And yet all six of my books were released through legitimate publishers. How did I do it? After getting dozens of rejections from agents—the reasons were varied, though often they just didn’t spark to my ideas—I ultimately decided to directly approach publishers who published books similar to mine (Note: some publishers won’t consider manuscripts from unrepresented writers, but many of them probably would’ve rejected my more niche-genre books anyway). By cutting out the middleman (agents) and strategically going right to the source (publishers), I was able to achieve success far more quickly, and with far fewer rejections and time wasted. Granted, an agent would’ve been nice to negotiate book contracts, but you can simply pay a flat fee to a literary lawyer if you desire, and that way you also save 10% agent commissions on your royalties. Bottom line: If you reach a dead-end with agents, hook a U-Turn and try a different path that leads directly to publishers.
Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?
Paul Haddad: Skinny White Freak, which is middle-school YA, is by far my most personal because it’s loosely based on my experiences of being tormented by a camp bully at Malibu Hills sleepaway camp. But I do think that Paradise Palms, as my most recent work, was the first book in which everything came together to tell a compelling, tight narrative of an era (1950s Hollywood) I find endlessly fascinating. I also feel that I’ve made strides as a writer, and that’s probably reflected in the final product.
Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on for TV?
Paul Haddad: I just came off an investigative documentary series for Vice network about the underbelly of the NFL called Dark Side of Football. I helped write a lot of it and was the co-executive producer. I was really proud of that one since it dealt with a lot of hot-button issues. I also just directed a series of short-form documentaries for producer Norman Lear’s nonprofit company. If his name sounds familiar, Lear is the television genius who created All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and countless hit TV shows in the 1970s that I grew up on. He’s 99 now and remains an inspiration!
Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?
Paul Haddad: I’m super-excited about my latest book, which released on October 5. It’s called Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles. Like the name implies, it’s a nonfiction book that looks at how freeways gave rise to Los Angeles. I spent a year researching it and interviewing people, and it also includes some rare photographs and maps from transportation archives. Freeways are such a signature of Los Angeles, I was shocked to realize no one had ever really written a book about them in a way that wasn’t overly academic. My book is for the masses; like a lot of my nonfiction, it’s written in a breezy, conversational tone that is hopefully infectious. I also like nonfiction because it often allows for “sneaky learning.” In this case, readers learn about the social, economic, and racial history of L.A. through the stories behind its freeways.
Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it in the world of television?
Paul Haddad: If you’re in college, I highly recommend internships. Internships are a great entry-level way to get your foot in the door and be a fly on the wall on how shows are put together. It also allows you to survey the landscape to see if there’s an area you really like, like editing, writing, story producing, production, etc. I have hired several former interns for low-level paying positions (production assistants and associate producers), and once these people got their foot in the door—and proved their worth by working hard and making meaningful contributions—they were off to the races to have careers in television.
Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author?
Paul Haddad: Don’t try to write for the marketplace or whatever the trend du jour is. Write for yourself. In other words, don’t reverse-engineer a book idea; start with a great idea that is very personal to you and then figure out which genre and voice (first or third person) in which to tell it. Even the most personal stories contain universal truths—themes everyone can relate to. Readers will be able to insert themselves in your characters’ situations if the characters are authentic.
Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?
Paul Haddad: More than ever, promoting your work is as important as writing it. It’s an area, frankly, that I still need to improve, partly because I get more joy out of the act of writing than trying to sell myself or my works. But by the same token, books are meant to be read; no one wants to have dozens of copies of their book—which you’ve invested so much time and energy on—collecting dust on their bookcase. Whether you hire a book publicist or establish a presence on social media platforms, author outreach is essential to generate awareness and interest. Some of my most rewarding moments as an author have come from author events at bookstores, where I get to engage with the reading community, all of which serve to remind me why I write in the first place!
I would definitely recommend reading Paul Haddad’s Paradise Palms if you haven’t already, especially for readers who enjoy a more gritty, noir read. You can follow Paul Haddad on Goodreads here. We hope you enjoyed the amazing insight Paul provided. Thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.