Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest today, Author, Television Writer and Producer, Douglas Lieblein. For nearly twenty-years Douglas has been writing and producing half-hour television comedy. His credits include Hannah Montana, Life With Boys and various other projects for both Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel. He is a multiple Teen Choice Award winner and a four-time Emmy nominee, although in his bio he refers to himself a being a four-time Emmy loser

Douglas has recently authored his first novel, Flight of the Akero:The Book of Milo.

Norm:

Good day Douglas and thanks for participating in our interview.  How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Douglas:

I started writing as a fluke.  As an undergrad Theater major, and an admitted control freak, I was drawn to directing.  I enjoyed my time as a director, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.   As a director, I was bound to the playwright’s vision. It was an interpretive art form with very little raw creation.  To satiate my need to create, I started writing plays for myself to direct.  And by the time I graduated, I had been bitten by the bug.  No matter how much I wanted to direct, the blank page called.  And I’ve been answering that call, in a variety of different forms, ever since. Through grad school, a career in television, and now as a novelist, I have been lucky enough to pay the bills while feeding my desire to entertain.

What keeps me going?  I don’t think I have a choice.  If you are ever blessed enough to find your calling in life, and then you can fool someone into paying you to do it, you never stop.  Why would you?

Norm:

Was there anything you found particularly challenging writing television episodes as well as writing your novel, Flight of the Akero: The Book of Milo?

Douglas:

Writing is always challenging for me.  No matter the form or format, writing is always difficult.  It is also, always satisfying.   When I first started this long strange trip, I was reminded of a writer’s adage that is as true today as it was the day I heard it, “I hate writing.  I love to have written.”

The two mediums, however, provide a variety of unique challenges.  As a television writer, you deal with hundreds of ancillary concerns that shape your storytelling; the network's directives, the studio’s financial concerns, the actor’s limitations, hard deadlines, inflexible formats, and on and on.  Whereas the novelist deals with the most difficult challenge of all, infinite freedom.

Norm:

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Douglas:

I have always believed that a good writer writes what they know.  All great works, be they non-fiction or fantasy, are somehow products of their writer’s real life experiences.  As for myself, every episode of television, every piece of prose, is a written expression of my life’s adventures.  There are episodes of Hannah Montana that are literal retellings of my childhood stories, just as there are moments in Flight of The Akero that are allegories examining specific emotional journeys I’ve taken throughout my life.  Specifically regarding Flight, I wrote the book for my kids.  The story was born from my life with them, as their father and their friend.  They were my audience and my inspiration.  And without that experience, there would be nothing but a blank page.

Norm:

Do you have a specific writing style?

Douglas:

Yes.  I let it happen.  I don’t think or judge or obsess.  I just write.  And sometimes, if I’m lucky, what comes out isn’t total crap.

Norm:

Flight of the Akero: The Book of Milo is your first novel. How did you decide you were ready to write the book and how has the process being different than writing for television? Which do you prefer?

Douglas:

Why did I decide to write a novel?  The short answer: I had never taken a proper selfie.

The long answer: Writing for television is a collaborative art. Hundreds of heads and thousands of opinions help shape every moment on screen. Actors voices, budgetary limitations, network directives, studio concerns, they all get poured into the meat grinder before the “writer” can crank out their draft. And although this community effort often results in a more polished, more universally palatable, more successful and far more lucrative work, it almost always produces a far different work than the “writer" had originally intended.

A painter, on the other hand, paints. And if you like it, you buy it. If you don’t, you smile politely, whisper a snide comment to your friends and move on. The audience tells the painter if the work is worthy. The audience gives the notes. There is no middle man, no veil between painter and patron. No safety net between artist and audience. For better or worse, the painter is alone. He stands naked, stoned and stabbed. (And calls it a bargain. The best he's ever had.) The painter’s work, no matter the subject, is always a self-portrait, a pure depiction of their inner expression.

Why did I decide to write a novel? Simple. I had never taken a proper selfie.

When did I know I was ready to write a novel? I didn’t.  I still don’t.  If I would have waited until I thought I was ready, I would never have done it.

Which process do I prefer?  That’s Sophie’s choice.  They are both horrible and wonderful, both amazingly satisfying and insanely frustrating.  With either one it’s the same… “I hate to write. I love to have written.”

Norm:  

Could you tell our audience a little about the novel? As a follow up, was writing your novel improvisational or did you have a set plan?

Douglas:

Flight of The Akero is the story of lonely and disconnected twelve year-old Milo Wolfe.  As Milo is ripped from his isolated life and forced to embark on an unexpected journey to find a father he’s never met, the pre-teen with bedraggled black hair and dark sunken eyes learns that nothing in his world is as it appears.  And no one can be trusted, not the dead Russian wizard who dominates his dreams, not the mysterious green-eyed teen who seems to be stalking him, not even himself. 

Flight is an unorthodox adventure full of head-spinning surprises (I hope) in which Milo journeys half-way across the world, ultimately uncovering the answers he seeks in a dank laboratory hidden in the basement of an abandoned Cuban church.  There he not only discovers his true identity, but also unveils a shocking truth regarding humanity’s symbiotic relationship with myth and the supernatural.  This discovery drives him into an even larger adventure where he ultimately, and most importantly, finds the connections that his isolated life was lacking.

And, yes, I had a plan. Sometimes when I write, I know the beginning of a story, but I’m not sure where I want it to go.  In the case of Flight, I knew exactly where I wanted it to go, I just didn’t know how I was going to get there.  The fun was in letting the journey be my guide, letting the characters tell me how I was going to get to the ending I had in my mind.

Norm:  

Who is your intended audience for Flight of the Akero: The Book of Milo? As a follow up, what purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?

Douglas:

Flight of The Akero is for everyone.  It was originally conceived as a teen fantasy, primarily geared towards boys, but when it was released it quickly captivated a far wider audience.  Everyone, from teen boys and girls to adults of all ages, seems to embrace Milo and his desire to find a connection to the outside world.  I think that most people gravitate toward Milo’s emotional journey and empathize with him, because at one point in most people’s life, they’ve been him.  In addition, I’ve found that most folks appreciate Flight’s unique view on history and Man’s place in the eternal timeline.

As far as the book’s purpose, ultimately, I hope it entertains.  But I also hope that the story’s bold questioning of reality will give readers a safe space in which to question their own “realities”.  We are all products of our conventions.  Flight strips clean those conventions and forces the reader to rethink everything they have ever known to be true.  And in my humble opinion, nothing bad has ever come from questioning the norm.

Norm:

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your novel?

Douglas:

That Fritz Coleman spends a whole lot of time in the Starbucks next to Bob’s Big Boy.

Norm:

What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

Douglas:

I would tell them what I tell all aspiring writers, just keep writing and never give up.  The one thing all successful writers have in common is that they never gave up.  Plus, the more you write, the better you will get.  And stop judging yourself.  Even the best writers write crap most of the time.

Norm:

How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors?

Douglas:

People can follow me on MY WEBSITE or on TWITTER or on FACEBOOK at or they can visit my vaguely incomplete and curiously inaccurate IMDB PAGE or they can just go to Hugo's in Studio City. I’m usually there for breakfast.


Norm:

What is next for Douglas Lieblein?

Douglas:

I am currently working on the sequel to Flight of the Akero as well as writing and Co-Executive Producing a new show for Nickelodeon called Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn.

Norm:  

As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

Douglas:

I am often asked what someone can do to become a better writer.  And although continuing to write is a solid answer, I think the most productive answer is to live life.  Have experiences.  Risk, venture, feel.  Yes, good readers make the best writers.  True, television watchers make the best television writers.  But if you don’t have a life to draw from, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve read or watched, when the blank page calls, your well will be dry.  Get out.  Shut down your computer, turn off your television, close your book, and walk out the front door.

Norm:  

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

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