Mel Gilden Interview
August 7th, 2006
Mel Gilden is a writer of books for children and adults. He is a member of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, and PEN. To demonstrate that he remains a force for good in our time Gilden lectures to school and library groups, and has been known to teach fiction writing. He lives in Los Angeles, California, and still hopes to be an astronaut when he grows up. Mel Gilden wrote the episode “The Creeping Terror”. Here you will see a small interview with Mel about his work and his experience with the show.
1. What style of writing would you classify your work as?
It’s a simple naturalistic style. I tell my stories using the best word I can think of, and try not to call attention to the style at all. If the reader says, “That’s a really cool turn of phrase,” I have probably done something wrong. Currently, my favorite writer is Larry McMurtry. On the other hand, I admire the writing on Raymond Chandler, who had many “gee whiz” phrases. In my mysteries, I’m usually a little more open to this sort of thing.
2. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new YA kid’s book called “Dr. Big.” I’m still in the outline stage, so I couldn’t tell you the plot of I wanted to. I’m also into the third draft of a big fantasy novel.
3. What have been some of your more successful writings over your career?
I believe my kids novels are all pretty successful. Some of my most successful works — the Zoot books, and the Fifth Grade Monster books — were written for a packager, so it doesn’t belong to me. I also created a character for the Kid’s Page of the Los Angeles Times. His name is Ignatz, and he’s a teddy bear from outer space. I think he turned out pretty well.
4. How did you get involved in MASK?
Seems to me there was something we used to call a “cattle call.” The studio or story editors called all the writers they knew and invited them to come in a learn about their new show. The big bug idea was one of the ideas I pitched — I wish I could remember the others — and it happened to be the one they liked.
5. Was MASK the first television show you wrote for? Did you write for any other shows?
>My first work with television was for He-Man. After that I wrote many episodes of many shows, from Heathcliff to James Bond, Jr. See my website for a more complete list.
6. Which episodes did you write for the show MASK?
The only one was “The Creeping Terror.” In it, the bad guy found a way to make giant insects and bugs and worms. I don’t remember what his object was, but since that episode aired my friends have been kidding me about “that episode with the giant worms.” As you probably know, a worm that size is impossible because of the infamous square-cube law.
7. How much freedom did you have for the episode you wrote? Where there guidelines you had to follow or where you aloud to create anything you could think up?
There are always guidelines. The story editors were very clear on what they wanted. As I recall, before I wrote the script I spent most of a day with the story editors while they told me exactly what they wanted to see. They tape-recorded the meeting so there would be no question later about what they had told me.
8. About how much time where you allocated to get your script in?
Seems to me I had a week or so to go from outline to full script. That’s not counting the time I waited for approval.
9. When writing for the show, did you ever have any vehicle or character ideas of your own that you wish you could have used?
The vehicles and characters were tied to the toys. They were very specific. Neither the story editors nor the toy company wanted to see anything new from the writers. We were hired to find exciting things for the existing toys and characters to do. Of course we invented guest characters, but they were designed to be secondary to the heroes and their machinery.
10. Do you have any advice for any of the readers out there who wish to try their luck at being a writer?
You have to love the work, because sometimes that’s all there is, especially when you start. The best advice I ever heard about becoming a writer is this: “If somebody can convince you not to be a writer, let ’em.”