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Apr. 6, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 10

Alumni Scene

TV writer turns novelist

Howard Gordon ’84 pens a page-turner involving a race to stop terrorists

By Katherine Federici Greenwood
Published in the April 6, 2011, issue


Howard Gordon ’84, a writer and executive producer of the TV show “24”, has published his first novel.
Courtesy Joe Viles/FOX
Howard Gordon ’84, a writer and executive producer of the TV show “24”, has published his first novel.


Many people know Howard Gordon ’84 as a successful television writer and producer — most recently as one of the principal shapers of the hit show 24, which followed the rugged counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer for eight seasons.  

Gordon has used some of the elements that made 24 popular — nonstop action in a compressed timeframe, a race to stop terrorists, a likable hero, and an exploration of the messiness of U.S. national security — in crafting his novel Gideon’s War , published by Touchstone in January. The novel’s hero, Princeton alumnus and former Princeton faculty member Gideon Davis, is an international peace negotiator who battles insurgents in the fictional Southeast Asian island nation of Mohan on his way to saving his brother and the crew of an oil rig.  

In writing the thriller, Gordon says, “I absolutely was flexing some of the same muscles I worked on for the last nine years on the show [24].”  

Unlike Bauer, who loves his guns and doesn’t hesitate to shoot to kill, Davis has sworn off violence. But when the president and a security adviser (a father figure to Davis) ask him to locate and stop his estranged brother — who is believed to have joined forces with a group of terrorists — Davis rethinks his position. With the clock ticking, he searches for his brother, confronting traps and thugs, until he makes it to the oil rig, where terrorists have planted bombs.  

“I wanted to take a guy who had come by that point of view” of eschewing guns and violence, but was willing to reconsider it, says Gordon.

An English major at Princeton, Gordon wrote a novel, “My Brother’s Keeper,” for the creative writing program. It never was published, but he still has the draft with Joyce Carol Oates’ positive comments on it. Like Gideon’s War, that novel centered on two orphaned brothers. The oldest of three brothers, Gordon says, “I’ve always been fascinated by ... the love and the competition [between brothers], that charged relationship brothers have.”  

After graduating from Princeton, he deferred admission to New York Uni­ver­sity’s M.F.A. program, and headed to Los Angeles with fellow English major Alex Gansa ’84 to give it a go in television. They worked together on television projects for nine years (Gansa later worked on the seventh and eighth seasons of 24), and they recently teamed up to write the script for a pilot, Homeland, for Showtime.

Adapted from an Israeli show, Homeland focuses on a U.S. soldier who went missing during the first invasion of Baghdad in 2003 and was presumed dead, before showing up nine years later in the rubble after a U.S. raid on an Al-Qaida safe house.  

Novel-writing is a more “private and intimate” experience than writing for television, which involves a staff of writers, and the input of actors, directors, and studio and network executives, observes Gordon. He isn’t done with Gideon Davis — Gordon already is working on the novel’s sequel, to be published in 2012.  
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