Guest Blog: Lee Goldberg – Origins of THE DEAD MAN

The Dead Man: Hell In Heaven by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

My new book THE DEAD MAN: FACE OF EVIL began as a TV series idea that Bill Rabkin & I started pitching around Hollywood over 20 years ago. Here’s an excerpt from my original notes…

Bret Wallace was once a simple man, a lumberyard foreman who loved simple pleasures: a cold beer, a warm Barcalounger, and the Portland Trailblazers.

Now he is a soldier in the unseen, eternal battle between good and evil…between gifted mortals and dark entities only hinted about in lore…a battle waged every day in front of our eyes…and yet we cannot see. 

We all know it is there.
But only Bret Wallace can see the afflicted, and stop them before they strike.
Only Bret Wallace can defeat the Dark Man, a mysterious, supernatural figure who, with the help of his fearsome minions, lives for evil, and will do anything to stop him….and holds the secret to Bret’s miraculous rebirth.
Only the Dark Man can tell Bret whether he is still a man…or the walking dead.
For Bret Wallace, each day is a journey…into a supernatural world he knows nothing about…a quest for the answers to who he is, and what he has become…and a fight to save us, and his soul, from the clutches of pure evil.
The network and studio execs we pitched it to always enjoyed the presentation, but we were never able to make the sale, though we came very close in the early days of the USA Network, close enough that we were compelled for some crazy reason to write the script on spec, thinking that would close the deal. Not only that, but we came up with twelve story ideas to show the idea had legs.

But for reasons I don’t remember any more, it didn’t happen. We filed the idea away, coming back to it every few years and remembering how much we liked it. A few months ago, I pulled the pitch and the script out again and, although my fondness for the teleplay itself had dimmed considerably, I still loved the concept and  the last few lines of the pitch lingered with me…

There is good, and there is evil.
On November 12, Bret Wallace died, buried in an avalanche of snow.
On February 23rd, Bret Wallace came back to life.
Nothing has changed
There is still good, and there is still evil.
Only now… he can see it.


It suddenly occurred to me that it would be make a kick-ass series of books…and we already had the story lines for twelve of’em. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds to convince Bill to go along with idea…and then I ran the notion past a few trusted friends, just to see if we were nuts. But they were as enthusiastic about it as we were.

So now, convinced that we were on to something, all we had to do was write the book that would serve as our “pilot” and the second book, which would serve as “the first episode.” We scrapped the script, but kept the basic story structure, the essence of the character and, of course, the concept of the series (We also changed the hero’s name from “Bret Wallace” to “Matt Cahill” because, as author James Reasoner pointed out, “Bret Wallace” was the name of THE NINJA MASTER, the hero of an action-adventure series from the 1980s). That became DEAD MAN: FACE OF EVIL.
Writing the first book was an absolute blast… we had so much fun, we knew we could enjoy writing these books for a long time to come. But we also knew we wanted to work with writers the way we do on TV series… and to harken back to the heyday of those “men’s action adventure” paperbacks, most of which were written by score of writers, each offering their own take on the character in adventures that they came up with.

On a TV series, freelance writers get credited for their episodes. But in most “men’s action adventure” book series, the freelance writers do not. Either the “original writers” are credited for every book (like Don Pendleton on MACK BOLAN or Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir on THE DESTROYER) or all the credit goes to a shared house name (like “Tabor Evans” on LONGARM, etc.) The freelance writers are buried in small type on the copyright page (“Special thanks and acknowledgment to Kevin Dangler for his contributions to this work”)…if they even get mentioned at all.

But we knew we didn’t want to do it that way on THE DEAD MAN. We wanted the writers credited in big type on the cover…so everyone would know it was their unique take on our character, like a singer covering someone else’s song. We were eager to see what writers who we greatly admired, with similar sensibilities to ours, would do with the character and the concept. In some ways, that’s the most exciting part of THE DEAD MAN to us.

So while we were still writing DEAD MAN: FACE OF EVIL, we reached out to writers we know to see if they’d be interested. Every writer we approached said “hell yes!.” We gave them the twelve stories ideas we came up with two decades ago…and while a few of the writers chose them as jumping off points for their books, others came up with their own ideas.

We are now close to finishing DEAD MAN #2: HELL IN HEAVEN. After that, we’ve got DEAD MAN: RING OF KNIVES from James L. Daniels and THE DEAD MAN: THE DEAD WOMAN by David McAfee on deck, and books coming from Joel Goldman, James Reasoner, Bill Crider, Mel Odom, Burl Barer, Matt Witten...and, mixed in with those, probably another book or two by Bill Rabkin and me.

We can’t wait to read them and, we hope, you’ll soon feel the same way.

www.leegoldberg.com

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