It's official: Marc Guggenheim deserves a vacation. In the past few years, he's not only been executive producing and writing The CW's Arrow, he's also been penning screenplays (Green Lantern, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Perry Mason for Robert Downey Jr.), and agreeing to take over the X-Men comic at Marvel. Oh, and he just published his first novel, a political legal thriller called Overwatch. Who needs sleep, right?
TV Guide Magazine: OK, seriously, where did you find the time to write a book with everything else on your plate?
Marc Guggenheim: I get asked that a lot, as you might imagine. The truth of the matter is, a lot of the writing gets done when I wake up at five in the morning. I do some before the kids wake up. And I do a lot of writing in my head. I'm in the car a lot because I live in Los Angeles. When I'm in the shower. Whenever my mind starts to wander or my wife is telling me about her day. She loves that joke, by the way!
TV Guide Magazine: And you get it done?
Guggenheim: There were portions of the novel I dictated into my iPhone and then just transcribed. There is no magic to it. And the workload seems more impressive than it really is. It's a bit of a parlor trick in the sense that each project I work on has its own time. Believe it or not, I do have a life, I have kids and a wife. I don't get a lot of sleep, but I don't think my wife and kids feel very neglected.
TV Guide Magazine: You basically wrote Overwatch at the same time you were working on Arrow and Percy Jackson?
Guggenheim: Yeah, there was pretty much an exact overlap. I actually started it right after I finished on [ABC's defunct] FlashForward, so that was almost four years ago. What happened was, I started writing it and got about halfway through the novel right around the time I was writing Percy Jackson. And you know, you get to the middle point — especially with your first novel — and you go, I have no idea if this is any good and now I have to finish it? So I felt like I needed to show it to people, and it wound up in the hands of a woman who is now my book agent. And she was like 'Oh yeah, this is good. I think I can sell this.' And she did! She sold it based on the first half and the outline I was working off of. Then I had to finish the darn thing. And that happened during the year we were doing the Arrow pilot. I finished it up during Christmas hiatus of year one.
TV Guide Magazine: That means since you started writing it, you have also done a ton of other things.
Guggenheim: Yeah. I was also working on No Ordinary Family, the Green Lantern movie was done but I co-wrote The Flash movie, I did two other screenplays for Warner Bros., one for Fox 2000, I did the Perry Mason movie for Robert Downey Jr. There are a whole bunch of projects that haven't wound up on my IMDb page for various vagueries. Yeah. For better or worse, people only know the tip of the iceberg. [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Where did this talent for extreme multitasking come from?
Guggenheim: I was raised as an attorney and that's a big part of it. Sometimes you have to juggle about 20 cases, five of which are really active at any given time. And each client has to feel like they are your only client. So it's important to me that when I work on something, I never say, "I can't finish your screenplay this week because I have a novel to work on." My process is designed to be invisible to the various people I am working with. And something else I have learned is, generally speaking, the TV studio is not particularly interested in the movies I'm writing, and the feature producers aren't interested in my other projects. At the end of the day, it's the work I do for them that matters.
TV Guide Magazine: And you can clearly deliver.
Guggenheim: The practice of law did it. It teaches time management and also, I used to have to write 50-page briefs in a single night. So much of writing is about decisions. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I am writing, but I don't waste a lot of time hemming and hawing over creative decisions. I sort of have an instinct that I trust. I go with my gut and I trust it. So even though I will spend a lot of time crafting a scene or a line of dialogue, I won't spend that much time deciding if a character should do X or Y. I have a strong sense that they should do X. You know?
TV Guide Magazine: I think for a lot of people who know your TV and comic book work, we were expecting your first novel to be more of a genre piece.
Guggenheim: Ahh, that is interesting! I'm glad to hear that actually because at the start of my career, I was in danger of being typecast as a legal writer. My first four years in the business were writing for The Practice and Law & Order. I had a grand old time on Law & Order, but when I got to the end of my contract, I made a very conscious decision. I didn't want to get pigeonholed and thought if I didn't leave then and do something non-procedural, that is all I would get to do for the rest of my career. I had other kind of stories I wanted to tell and I'm glad I made that choice. If you notice, there are a lot less law shows on than there used to be.=
TV Guide Magazine: And more genre shows than before...
Guggenheim: That is funny because, for the longest time, I hadn't done any genre in TV. I was an executive producer coming off of Eli Stone before I did FlashForward, which was really my first genre work on television. That was very much by design because I had been doing all of this comic book work and video game work up until then and I really wanted to start bringing my genre work into TV. I was fortunate enough that David Goyer hired me to work on FlashForward with him, then No Ordinary Family came next, then Arrow after that.
TV Guide Magazine: And where did you find the story for Overwatch?
Guggenheim: I love the arena of law and the possibilities it presents for dramatic storytelling. I also happen to be a big fan of thrillers in the vein of Tom Clancy. Big, big Clancy fan. So it was my sister-in-law who told me that the CIA had a legal department, and when I found that out, it struck me as a golden opportunity to combine two loves of mine. One is legal thrillers and the other is techno-thrillers, espionage stories. It's what I call a Reese's Peanut-Butter Cup Opportunity...two great tastes that taste great together. [Laughs] It also spoke to one of my other interests, which is that I am fascinated with conspiracy theories and secret societies and shadow organizations. Not to spoil anything, but there is certainly a shadow organization at the heart of Overwatch. In this milieu, that is not genre at all, but the idea of a secret group is kind of the kissing cousin to genre. Look at shows like The X-Files and Lost, you know?
TV Guide Magazine: Your hero, Alex Garnett, is a young attorney for the CIA and he definitely feels more like a Barry Allen than an Oliver Queen.
Guggenheim: I would say that is probably true. The biggest challenge for Andrew [Kreisberg], Greg [Berlanti] and I in writing the Arrow pilot was the fact that Oliver was not at all the character we typically write. He's so taciturn, especially at the beginning of the series. We really wrote Felicity into episode 3 to scratch our itch for verbose, witty characters. Everyone on the show was so quiet! So Alex is more in the Barry Allen vein, he talks a mile a minute. And for me, it is very difficult to write an attorney who isn't verbose or quick-witted. On the litigation side, which is what I have experience with and a creative love for, you make your living being articulate and thinking on your feat and talking fast. That is your bread and butter.
TV Guide Magazine: Is he someone you knew from your days as a lawyer?
Guggenheim: I will say, it was very easy to write him but I wish I knew where he came from! There are certainly elements of Alex I think I've personally brought to the character. He is a little wish fulfillment for me in that he is more clever than I am. He is smarter than I am. He has a quicker wit than I do. Then there are elements I have no idea where they came from. They don't have any resemblance to me. At the beginning of the novel, he is very much a person at sea. He has had a bunch of different jobs and he doesn't quite know what he wants to do with his life. I have never really been that person. I knew I wanted to be an attorney, and when I knew I wanted to stop doing that, I knew the other career would be writing. The notion of Alex struggling because he lives in his father's shadow doesn't come from anything in my personal life. Quite frankly, one of the things I love about writing so much is that I discover these corners of my mind I didn't know even existed until I start on a given project. I find that fascinating, I love that process of discovery.
TV Guide Magazine: Where do you see this guy going?
Guggenheim: When I set off to write the novel, it was just "tell this one story." The character of Alex, the intersection of espionage and law, and the shadow agency, were the three elements I was attracted to. I felt that it was a fun story to tell with those ingredients. But as I started to near the end of the manuscript, I started to have ideas. I use Evernote to organize my thoughts, so I opened up a file and started filling it with notions. As I was wrapping up Alex's story, I had all of these questions about what would become of him after I wrote the end. What would happen to his dad, and other characters...for me, the best ideas are the ones that come unforced. It was easy to start coming up with all of these nuggets of ideas. I wouldn't say I have the full story yet, but I have an intriguing jumping-off point and ultimate destination for the story moving forward. The closer I got to the end of Overwatch, the more ideas I had for the next book.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you started on it yet?
Guggenheim: Not yet. Not in earnest. I haven't sat down with my yellow pads and had a dialogue with myself yet. I will write down ideas, I'll ask questions and write out answers. Somehow that unlocks a lot of stuff for me. Then I move from the notepads to my laptop.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you cast Alex or the other Overwatch characters in your mind?
Guggenheim: No. I do that with some projects, yes, and other projects, no. With respect to Overwatch, because it was designed to be a novel, the work product is the end product. It's not produced as a film or show. Maybe someday, but it's not designed for that. Or to be acted. Yes, I would love for the world of Overwatch to become a series of novels, but I am a big believer that they are different mediums and they require different processes to realize your vision.
TV Guide Magazine: You leave it up to the reader to cast Alex.
Guggenheim: Exactly. I didn't have any one person in mind when I was writing him. I feel like I should now, but I don't! [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: One last question: It's mentioned on the book flap that you live in L.A. with your wife, two daughters, a dog, a cat and a turtle that "may or may not be alive at the time of this writing." Is the turtle still alive?
Guggenheim: Wow, yes! Thank you. You did read everything, didn't you? This is a very interesting subject in my house. That turtle is hanging in there against all odds! The turtle is one of two. But its mate passed away and it's not sickly, it's just that...how do I say this? My daughters are wonderful people, they're not particularly wonderful at keeping living things in the state of living. [Laughs]