Thursday, October 6, 2022

Q&A with Paul R. Friedman


Paul R. Friedman is the author of the novel The Unexpected Danny Green. He spent many years working for CBS Television, including as vice president and creative director at CBS Marketing.


Q: What inspired you to write The Unexpected Danny Green, and how did you create your character Danny?


A: I wanted to write about an American hero. A smart, physically gifted young man who works hard to realize his potential and achieve the goals he sets for himself.


I thought a lot about the world Danny comes from. He grows up on the wrong side of the tracks but fortunately to the right family; not sophisticated people but educated, with good values. Athletics are emphasized in the home and so is education.


When I launched Danny into the world it was interesting to see how, with his background and upbringing in the rural South, he was going to react to big cities, New York and Hollywood. He carries basic principles of decency with him. Things don’t always come easily to Danny but persistence pays off. When he sees his efforts get results he is spurred on, becomes more confident in his abilities, but never arrogant.  


Sports have always fascinated me, especially individual ones, boxing being chief among them. You only have your preparation, skills, endurance, desire, and ultimately self to rely on. There are no excuses in the ring. A fighter puts his life on the line every time he steps between the ropes and is challenged both physically and mentally to always do his best.


I’m certainly not the first to say this, but on some fundamental level, boxing can be viewed as a metaphor for life - especially if you want to get somewhere.


So I threw some obstacles at Danny. As I put him in various situations and he reacted to them, the character began talking and the flesh-and-blood person emerged. As we move through the story, Danny matures, learns life lessons, navigates personal and business relationships, and develops self-awareness.


Q: Can you say more about why you decided to focus on boxing in the novel? What do you think Danny's experiences say about the sport?


A: I enjoy team sports: football, baseball, basketball, but interestingly as fans we usually remember and thrill to great individual effort in these sports: The exceptional catch, the levitation before a dunk, an incredible backhand in tennis that seals the victory, or the three-punch combination that leads to a knockout.


Sports allow us to see individuals transcend the ordinary and something in us wants to celebrate that.


Early in Danny’s career he has everything to prove when he fights older, stronger men. Then he learns the finer points of boxing, strategy, and develops true skill. Ultimately Danny realizes bashing people’s heads in or getting repeatedly struck himself is not the way he wants to live his life.


There is something desperate and terribly sad about a washed-up boxer. You can’t glamorize it. Danny wants to avoid that fate and once he leaves the ring, he doesn’t look back.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I did not know how the novel would end. Part of the thrill of writing it was the discovery along the way. Where is the story going? Which character will demand to be heard? 


I have basic ideas, a rough outline before I start, but I love when characters take on a life of their own and start responding to me. I like to give them their voice, let them run amuck, maybe reign them in occasionally but mostly encourage them to take the lead.


One thing I deliberately do is write myself into a corner, then go out for a jog, have some dreams, and find my way out of the tough situation. It’s fun to fly without a net.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I want readers to feel that given the opportunity anything is possible. With preparation and persistence goals are reachable. They bring with them a rich sense of self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. I think from the reader responses and reviews I have received so far many people seem to be getting this message.  


Trying not to sound like I’m preaching here, but unfortunately we are not always encouraged to follow our dreams or things we feel passionate about. People need “poetry” - in the broadest sense of the word - in their lives. Whether through work or a hobby, finding something that goes beyond earning a paycheck can be enormously gratifying. 


Don’t get me wrong, money is good, we all need it, but there is also great pleasure in setting a personal goal, working towards it, and achieving.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a multi-part 1940s private eye “noir” TV drama  called Angel Town I’m working on and excited about.


Plus, coming in December, a provocative fact-and-fiction-based new novel that combines a family saga with a young man’s adventures in New York and Hollywood. It’s called Boisterous Behavior and it’s going to shock, surprise, and maybe even tick off some people.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Be thankful, appreciate what we have, and enjoy life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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