Syrup has been optioned! Yes, the heartbreaking, inspirational story
of one novel’s quest to become a feature film continues. When the rights
became available again earlier this year, I was lucky
enough to have a couple of choices, and in the end I plumped for
Fortress Entertainment. This
is a brand new
financing & production company headed by a couple of guys who completely
got the story and made me think they could do great things with it.
Last time I went on this particular ride, the production company
got themselves a script I didn’t much like. For me it was too focused
on the logistics of Scat and 6’s challenges and not enough on their
relationship. But there was nothing I could do about this, because when
a studio buys the film rights to a novel, the last thing they want is
an author hanging around wringing his hands about how his precious words
are being changed. I just had to wait until the option expired, and start
So this time, with Fortress, I said I wanted to write the script.
This was greeted with a cautious, polite silence. I’ve never
written a screenplay, and authors have a reputation for being
generally terrible at adapting their own books, so Fortress, I
suspect, was not thrilled at the idea of throwing time and money
at me while I slowly discovered I can’t write for the screen.
Which is fair enough. So we came up with a solution: I’ll
write the first 20 or 30 pages, then they’ll either hire me
to write the whole thing, or go looking for someone else.
I started this a couple of weeks ago, in between Company
edits, and am almost finished. In a few days’ time, I’ll post my work
here, so you can judge for yourself: am I the man to deliver
this thing, or should I stick to my day job?
Now a community service announcement. If you’re a Struggling
Writer (TM) looking for ways to improve, head straight for
Or, possibly, read the rest of this blog, then head on over.
That might make more sense.
The toughest thing about writing a novel is the loss of
perspective. For me, the process usually goes like this:
- Hey, what a great idea for a book! This will rock!
- This story is going gangbusters. Look at all these plot
- I should really start to tie some of these plot threads
- Okay, now which threads are important and which aren’t?
What is this book really about?
- What makes a good story? Why do human beings read books?
- What is the meaning of life?
- Boo boo boo boo boo boo.
The best antidote to this is feedback. Or maybe therapy,
but I’ve never tried that. Feedback allows you to view your
story through the eyes of someone reading it for the first
time, something you the author can never do. When I get
good feedback, I weep with joy, and the realization that I
need to do three months of rewrites.
But there are two big problems with feedback:
- Some people are insane. They tell you to change all the
good parts of your book, and set it in space. Since you
have no perspective, it’s difficult to tell these
people are insane; you can think they’re really insightful.
- It’s embarrassing, at least for people who haven’t done
it very much. Writers are often touchy about receiving feedback,
and readers know this so they’re careful about giving it. The
result is feedback like: “I liked everything.” Which is
nice to hear, but completely useless. Or even harmful, if
it prevents you from seeing problems that need fixing.
The Internet Writing Workshop solves both of these problems.
First, you get lots of feedback, possibly a dozen
or so quick critiques, and this makes insane opinions stand
out. When ten people tell you they love your main character
and one person says you should rewrite him as a woman, you
know you can safely ignore that person, and everything he
Second, everything is via e-mail, so you don’t have to look
any weepy-eyed writers in the face as you critically
dissect their masterpieces. And they don’t have to look at
you, so the feedback you get is honest and free of any reflex
need to soothe your feelings. This doesn’t mean you’ll always
agree with it, but it will give you that invaluable glimpse
of your own book through someone else’s eyes.
The IWW is completely free, being run by hard-working and
soft-hearted volunteers. I used it all the time
when I was starting out, and it made me a better writer.
I need cheering up, I check out my web stats to see
what people were searching for when they visited my site. Most
search terms are sensible enough, like “jennifer government”,
but then there’s a long list of ones that… aren’t so much.
These are funny for two reasons: first, that—quite by accident—these
words do actually appear on one of my web pages, and secondly,
imagining the look of disappointment on these people’s faces when
they end up here instead of a page of, for example,
people telling the news”.
Here are my favorite maxbarry.com search terms from the past few
- heroic things drew barrymore has done
- pictures of women smashing up things wearing high heels
- jennifer lopez has tattoos where
- what is the government of italy called
- her sexy long legs are perfect for head locks
- help avoiding assholes
- a newspaper article on koalas only saying care for our koalas
- results of a study about where pop stars go or hang out
- deleted scenes from ninja turtles the movie
- sneeze or sneezed or sneezes or sneezing bless you
- the main reason why the government has a website
- lyrics german ooh la la ooh la la
- still looking for that marvel comic book with all the marvel women in bathing suits
There’s an especially long list of search terms involving Mary-Kate and
Ashley Olsen, just because I wrote
that one bit about them. Most of these
are as distasteful as you’d imagine, but others are… well, take a look:
- girls that look exactly like mary-kate and ashley
- what kind of jeans do mary-kate and ashley olsen like?
- which one is mary kate
Then there are two that are distasteful, but too bizarre
to pass up:
- mary kate and ashley olsen naked pics without bras
- mary-kate and ashley jennifer government sex
There are plenty of people looking for naked pictures of Mary-Kate
and Ashley, but this first guy went to the special effort of specifying
that they be naked without bras. Clever. Then someone was apparently
interested in whether the Olsen twins had ever engaged in hanky-panky
with a character I made up. You know that line between fantasy and
reality? Right, exactly: you do. This guy doesn’t.
occasionally some wacky marketing stunt I dreamed up for one of my novels
comes true. Films as advertisements, logo tattoos, naming people after
no matter how outrageous I try to be, real-world marketers are
scampering along right behind.
But this is something else. First, a few lines from
of Jennifer Government:
The Johns smiled. “We started selling [Nike] Mercurys six months ago. You know how many
pairs we’ve shifted since then?”
Hack shook his head. They cost thousands of dollars a pair, but that wouldn’t stop
people from buying them. They were the hottest sneakers in the world. “A million?”
“Two hundred million?”
“No. Two hundred pairs.”
“John here,” the other John said, “pioneered the concept of marketing by refusing
to sell any products. It drives the market insane.”
This green thing
is an invitation to the launch of
new range of Nike shoes that has gotten coolhunters drooling
down their buttoned silk shirts. And what’s that down the bottom?
700 pairs worldwide, 140 in the US only
The next step, in Jennifer Government, is to throw open the warehouse
doors and try to shift as many pairs as possible before the aura of exclusivity
wears off. Also to shoot a few customers to make it look as if demand
for the shoes is so hot that people are killing each other for them. If that turns
out to be Nike’s plan in real life, too, I’m putting in a call for
I know you’re dying to know whether I made it around
that 10km/6mi course
without medical assistance, so: yes! This pic is of me just after the race,
and if you’re wondering about that smile on my face, it’s due to the
endorphins—I declined to test the benefits of Vaseline.
My time was 1 hour 1 minute and 19 seconds,
which I was very happy with; so happy, in fact, that as soon as I’d attained it,
I tried to faint. But a table was kind enough to catch me and then I realized
it would be a good idea to drink some water.
I’m kind of addicted to running now, but a little worried about
whether it’ll get in the way of my writing.
For the last few years I’ve had a routine
of falling out of bed and into my chair in the study, where I start typing
more or less whatever’s in my head. This has worked better than you might
expect, so I’m leery of
postponing that crucial time when I start thinking about stories. But a run
first thing in the morning helps me, too.
Today I decided to try something new. I got up, turned on my
computer, and read over the last page or so of Company, which is
what I’m currently working on. Once the scene was fresh in my mind, I laced
up my shoes and headed out the door. I live on top of a hill, and have been
advised that if I run down hills my knees will explode on my 40th birthday,
so I did a fast walk for six or seven minutes, mulling over the novel.
It was all working nicely: I was having some good thoughts,
and still getting my exercise.
Then I reached the bottom of the hill and started to run. I took two steps
and looked down. I wasn’t wearing my sneakers. I was wearing my casual shoes.
I’m doing an online interview this Saturday/Sunday, so if you want to
ask/demand/accuse me of something without waiting 20 weeks for a response
via e-mail, now’s your chance. It’s run by the
NationStates moderators, but open
to anyone who can figure out
IRC. If that’s you, I’ll be
in the #nationstates channel on
irc.esper.net this weekend; for the time where you live,
here’s the World Clock.
And if you’re wondering what it’ll be like, the answer is
Speaking of interviews, there’s a new one with me up at
piedriver.com. I did
this about 6 months ago, but the guy only recently gotten around to
posting it, so my answers are new and surprising even to me.
The other day some money inexplicably appeared in my bank account.
This intrigued me. I wanted to know more, like: Who put it there?
And: Could they send more? It turned out it was from my agent,
Luke. “Oh, that’s royalties,” he said. “Jennifer Government
earned out the advance.”
Authors earn money in two ways: royalties and advances. Royalties
are the cut the author receives from the sale of each book (usually
around 10% of the cover price, but can be much higher or lower
depending on the edition, country, and how much more famous they are than me).
An advance is a payment made to the author before the
book goes on sale.
It can take a year or more for a book to hit the
shelves after a publisher has accepted it, and months or
years to sell significant numbers of copies, and six months
on top of that for it to show up in a royalty statement with a check attached.
So if there were no advances, authors would turn up to bookstore
readings with their possessions in a shopping cart.
Because this would be embarrassing for all concerned, the publisher makes
a kind of bet: they guess how many copies they’ll sell, and
pay the author the equivalent of a year or two’s royalties.
The author doesn’t earn anything else until actual royalties
exceed the advance.
You don’t have to pay back an advance even if the
publisher over-estimates, which is fortunate because
otherwise I’d be washing dishes in the Penguin Putnam cafeteria.
They expected to sell more copies of Syrup than they did,
so my royalties have never earned out the advance. On the one hand,
this makes me one lucky asshole, because I got overpaid. On the other,
it’s largely the reason why Penguin dumped me from their list,
so I think it mostly works out.
Anyway, the point is this is the first time I have
earned actual royalties. I’m so excited about it.
I feel as if I am a real author, not just a guy
with an attack-dog literary agent. I’m making a living from