Fans of the AMC Network's series, "Hell on Wheels," were no doubt delighted to learn that the show will return for a third season. But what Washington and Lee fans might not know is that a W&L alumnus, Mark Richard, of the Class of 1980, is an executive producer and has written several episodes during the show's first two years.
For the uninitiated, "Hell on Wheels" is a post-Civil War western set in a town that travels with and services the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
Mark is the author of two award-winning short story collections, "The Ice at the Bottom of the World" and "Charity," a bestselling novel, "Fishboy," and, most recently, a highly-praised memoir, "House of Prayer No. 2." The memoir, now in its fifth printing, was listed as one of the Top 10 books of 2011 by The Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly and was a book-of-the-month selection of The New Yorker.
"Hell on Wheels" is not Mark's first foray into writing for television. He's also written for such shows as "Party of Five," "Chicago Hope" and "Huff."
In a 2011 interview with the website Blogcritics, Mark talked about writing for television:
Television writing is the most difficult for me. It’s a craft all to itself. So much information to transmit in such a short amount of time. There’s a shorthand to television writing that I am still learning and am a great admirer of when I see it done well. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of room for nuance in a lot of cases. An early producer told me 'If it’s not on the nose, it’s not on the page.'
He described "Hell on Wheels" as "large in scope – veterans, Irish workers, freed slaves, robber barons, Indians — all colliding on the Great Plains."
Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, and a National Magazine Award for Fiction. He teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at the University of Southern California. You can watch a PBS interview with Mark talking to Tavis Smiley here.
"Hell on Wheels," which stars Anson Mount, is scheduled to return in the third quarter of 2013 with 10 new one-hour episodes.