In blog interviews I’m often asked to name my favorite authors and the ones that have influenced me. Instead of naming the usual suspects, I rely: Rod Serling. He wasn’t a mystery writer and he didn’t write novels but he was a grand storyteller.
Most people remember Serling for the groundbreaking TV series The Twilight Zone that proved that science fiction was more than little green Martians with ray guns. Serling was an accomplished screenwriter years before TZ (which is why he had the clout to create the series in the first place).
By the time TZ aired Serling had already earned three Emmys for teleplays on various TV anthology shows: “Patterns,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “The Comedian.” Each was a taunt, dramatic tale filled with memorable characters.
Serling went on to earn two more Emmys for his writing on TZ. His sixth and final award was for an adaptation of “It’s Mental Work” for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”
He wonder many other awards including one not for his writing-a Golden Globe for Best TV Star Male (and he wasn’t even an actor)!
He began his career writing scripts on a typewriter in a trailer where he lived with his wife, Carole, in the married student housing at Antioch College in Ohio. After college he wrote for a radio station in Cincinnati while freelancing TV scripts to New York production companies. He relocated to NYC until most TV production moved west to Los Angeles.
Serling was highly prolific, churning out hundreds of TV and movie scripts. In L.A. he worked from home, turning a poolside cabana into an office. He ditched the typewriter and recited his scripts into Dictaphones for secretaries to type up. He often acted out the characters as he dictated (interestingly, one TZ episode was about a work-at-home writer who created real people by describing them into a tape recorder). Serling worked so hard he wore out several Dictaphones.
Why do I admire Serling? Besides his vast body of work that I couldn’t possibly duplicate, I love his writing style, the crackling sharp dialogue, and his large-than-life characters. At times his plays were overly talky (Serling was influenced by radio drama), bombastic and sometimes too on-the-nose. But he chose his words well and was a master at using dialogue instead of narration to define his characters.
I like his ethical stance. Many of his stories taught a hard-hitting moral lesson about the dangers of success at any cost, the corporate world, war, a beauty-obsessed culture, ageism, racism, the poor and vulnerable, and injustice.
Serling fought many battles with the TV networks to maintain a high quality in his shows. He raged against advertisers for meddling in his scripts. He felt that TV should do more than simply entertain and sell products. He saw television as a medium that could enlighten, educate and inspire.
In my writing, I try to impart life lessons as well. I write humorous cozy mysteries but beneath the jokes and clues I also address the human condition. My amateur sleuth, former teen idol Sandy Fairfax, is trying to restore broken relationships and become a better person. He helps the people around him and cares enough to look into suspicious deaths.
In my stories, good always triumph; the bad guy is caught and brought to justice. I want to leave the reader with a sense of hope, not despair.
So thank you, Rod Serling, for leaving the world with such a rich legacy of words and wisdom.
What are your favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes? Comments are welcome!