weird ideas since 1973
SYRUP: A novelSyrup icon
Syrup Cover

I want to be famous. Really famous.

I want to be so famous that movie stars hang out with me and talk about what a bummer their lives are. I want to beat up photographers who catch me in hotel lobbies with Winona Ryder. I want to be implicated in vicious rumors about Drew Barrymore's sex parties. And, finally, I want to be pronounced DOA in a small, tired LA hospital after doing speedballs with Matt Damon.

I want it all. I want the American dream.

The average person has three million-dollar ideas per year. Scat, an unemployed marketing graduate who knows you don't get noticed calling yourself Michael, has had his first. It's a sure-fire ticket to the life of shallow fame and fleeting celebrity he craves. But first he has to deal with 6, who is possibly the love of Scat's life or possibly ripping him off, and Sneaky Pete, marketing genius, refugee from Tokyo, and Scat's best friend—as far as Scat knows.

amazon.comindiebound.orgBarnes & NobleiBookstore

PageSyrup Blog

Displaying blogs about Syrup. View all Max's blogs

Wed 13

A Real Book


Not really a question, but it was really interesting to see your book Lexicon in my local library!


Why, because it’s not a real book? Because I go around slipping self-printed copies of my novels onto library shelves and into bookstores just so I can pretend for a few vain moments that my life and work matter? Because that is PREPOSTEROUS.

I’ve blogged about this before, but the first time I saw my novel in an actual bookstore, it felt a lot like someone put it there by accident. It wasn’t like, “Wow, I have a real book.” It was: “Look at all those real books, plus mine.”

Tue 21



I loved the Syrup movie, but who would have been your dream casting choices for the main characters?


I’m not sure I get to answer this after the movie is made. That seems like it would be rude. Probably no-one wants to have people come along and look at a job you did and discuss who would have done it better.

I never have a dream cast in mind for my own books anyway. It’s like trying to imagine movie stars playing your family. Whoever you pick, it’s going to be weird.

But I do love the cast I got. I especially love that Amber Heard, who plays 6, is right now being pursued by the Australian government for smuggling two tiny dogs into the country, in what has become known as Terriergate. I was fortunate enough to meet Pistol, one of the smuggled dogs, on the Syrup set, and let me tell you: It was no surprise to me when he ended up in the middle of an international incident. Australia has very strict quarrantine laws, being an island, but I don’t think we want to push Amber on this one. She really loves that dog.

Sat 13

Secrets of the Printer’s Key

Syrup That row of numbers on a book’s copyright page is called the printer’s key and tells you whether you’re holding a first edition or fourth or what. First editions look like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

… and each time the publisher goes back to the presses for a reprinting, they delete a number. So this:

5 6 7 8 9 10

… is a fifth printing of that edition.

This isn’t really a secret. I just thought that was a funny blog title. But reprintings are great, because they mean the book sold more than the publisher’s worst fears. It’s a constant source of joy to me that while the Syrup hardcover was such a commercial disaster that you can more easily find remaindered copies than real ones, the paperback keeps getting reprinted, fourteen years on. Last month, I flipped to a Syrup copyright page and saw this:

20 19 18 17 16 15

I don’t care if they are running off eight books at a time; that’s awesome. It’s so sad when a book goes out of print. It’s like a little death. I hope e-books will save authors from those.

Syrup movie tie-in edition, showing Amber Heard, Kellan Lutz, Brittany Snow,
and Shiloh Fernandez Also, Syrup just got itself a movie tie-in edition! As a reader, I’ve always disdained movie tie-in editions. I’m all, “If I wanted to see the movie, I would, like, see it.” But as an author, it makes me stupidly happy. I mean, movie tie-in edition. Who wouldn’t want one of those. And I’ve never really loved the existing Syrup covers. I don’t hate them. But I don’t love them. The US paperback in particular looks to me like an ironic comment on marketing, only without the ironic part.

Plus, these will make excellent gifts for people who have no intention of reading the book but will be impressed by the fact that it’s a movie.

Tue 18

Watching “Syrup”

Syrup My fifth novel, Lexicon, is out today in the US & Canada, so I’m going to spend some of today visiting New York bookstores, looking at it, and feeling weird. The early press on this book has been kind of shockingly good, like what you dream about as an author but never actually happens, so I’m daring to think that THIS COULD BE IT, the book that allows me to use the word “bestselling” without abusing its definition. Poor word. It has been so stretched.

Bookstore Events: New York, Los Angeles.

But a few days ago I finally watched Syrup and I need to tell you what that was like! I’ve been building this up for about five years and then I did one tweet, so people have been asking HEY WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FILM. But I was traveling and not sleeping and didn’t get the opportunity. Now I’m writing this from a New York hotel room at 3:30am, so I’m making my own opportunity, like Tony Robbins.

I had been holding out to see Syrup in a theater, since that was what I’d always dreamed about. But then I realized I had a problem, because I could only see it in a theater in the US, and my wife, Jen, wouldn’t be there. Jen was a huge part of writing Syrup; she read the first draft one chapter at a time and got all excited about it in a highly motivating and sexy way that made me keep writing. Plus she’s an awesome person to see a movie with. But we could only get a DVD in Australia, not see a theater showing.

So I made an executive decision: The night before I hopped a plane (Melbourne to Sydney to Los Angeles to Houston to Columbus all in one 32-hour Friday), Jen and I dragged the sofa up to the TV and closed the curtains, so it would be like a real theater. We were both nervous and held hands and said things like, “Whatever it’s like, it doesn’t change the book.”

And! Then! We! Played! It!

I have trouble summarizing my reaction because I reacted in pieces. I would see a scene and think, “Oh! I wrote this one!” or “Wait that is different!” and I didn’t process it at all like a normal person watching a movie. It was all about individual scenes. But my first thoughts were:

“Oh no this is too confusing.” The first time I watched it, I was a little shocked at how little setup there was, especially at the start, and thought no-one would understand what was going on. Everything moved so fast. But I’ve since seen it again (in a theater in Columbus with an actual live audience, and ohhh, how amazing to watch it like a proper movie), and I felt this far less. I think my initial reaction was a novelist kind of thing; films can move faster and the audience still picks up the gist of what’s happening.

“This looks really good.” The visuals of the movie are really strong. I knew the filmmakers were very big on this, and had an experienced and highly skilled cinematographer in Julio Macat, but boy does that show. Every shot is beautiful and interesting.

“This scene I wrote is awesome!” My favorite parts, for completely selfish reasons, were scenes that played out just like I’d written them in some screenplay draft or other. And then they were on the screen! Some I loved because they were just like I’d imagined (6 making Scat breakfast, Scat shaking a dummy), and seeing them come to life was thrilling; some were awesome because they took my material in unexpected directions, elevating the scene beyond what I’d expected (the monologues, ZephCo’s corporate goons—which Josh Pais and Christopher Evan Welch play hilariously well).

I thought this must mean that I am an amazing screenwriter, but later the director showed me some deleted scenes, which included lots of stuff that played out just like I’d written and was really horrible, so I realized the truth was they just kept my good parts. The rest, which turned out to suck when filmed, were quietly executed. So that’s lucky for me.

“Amber Heard is amazing.” Holy crap. Amber Heard is amazing. I was always worried about how 6 would turn out, but Amber annihilated that character. In a good way. My favorite part of the whole movie is her monologue about marketing love; I think that’s perfect. I love Shiloh, too, and many many others, but Amber is amazing. You should make a note so that when everyone else catches on you can be all like, “I actually preferred her earlier work in Syrup.”

“How did they do all this?” I’ve thought this before, when I was on set, but I keep re-thinking it. Novels are easy compared to films. Novels, I just sit there and type and things happen. Films require people to painstakingly create every detail that winds up on screen. It’s so practical. They have to wrestle the real world into submission. They have to make decisions based on trade-offs and logistics. And it’s so easy to forget because the end result looks effortless.

“OMG ending.” I’d heard they changed the ending. I’m not going to say how, because, you know, spoilers. But I had written a particular kind of ending in pretty much every screenplay draft, and then the film went and did something completely different. And it’s better! I saw my original ending as a deleted scene and boy did it suck. It sucked a lot. The new one is actually thought-provoking and makes you want to go back and rewrite some screenplays. That may just be me. But I love the ending.

Overall, I think the film is very true to the book, not just in its tone and characters but in how they are both kind of raw and and messy but steam ahead powered by earnest, youthful enthusiasm, never worrying about whether they’re being too ridiculous. The film is an indie and if that was a thing for books, the book would be, too. They are a good match. As an author, that’s what you want your film adaptation to be. Well, also super successful. But most of all, you want it to be true. This film is true.

How To Watch Syrup: So it turns out the movie is only playing in a super-limited number of theaters and will mostly be an iTunes/On Demand/DVD kind of thing. At which it’s doing well; it’s been sitting in the Top 100 Movie Rentals charts for a month (currently #52), and wrestling with three or four others for the #1 Indie spot. Thank you so much if you had something to do with making that happen. It makes a massive difference to the people who sweated and toiled for months or years on this, doing unspeakable things in the name of making a good film. Outside the US, I still don’t know; I keep hearing there will be some kind of release in most major international markets, but all I know for sure is Australia gets it in November.

Thu 02

Thoughts As My Movie Comes Out


Official Syrup WebsiteTrailerWatch on iTunes (US)Cable On Demand (US)Early Theater Screenings (US)Clip Where Max Tries to Act

People are about to watch my movie. Seriously. This is happening. Until now, I’ve been able to say, “Oh yes, I have a movie,” and no-one could say, “Yeah, I thought that SUCKED.” Because no-one had seen it. That time is over.

Today, May 2, 2013, Syrup launches as a “sneak” on Video on Demand, which is something I had no idea about until very recently, but I have since learned is how you release an indie movie to generate buzz ahead of its theatrical release. If you live in the US, you can rent it right now from iTunes. Also, if you have some kind of premium digital cable thing, you can use that. I’m not sure of the details there. I don’t live in the US. But it’s something like that.

The dream here is that Syrup breaks into the Top 10 Movie Rentals on iTunes. That would be huge. So if you are in the US and want to help push it up the list, today is the day.

But back to me. Over the last few years I’ve thought a lot about what happens if, like, the movie turns out to be so bad that they write newspaper articles about it and people come to my house asking why I would visit such an abomination upon the earth. Also, what if it becomes the breakout hit of the year and they write newspaper articles about it and people come to my house asking can I help them sleep with Kellan Lutz.

Because movies get seen by a lot of people. And those people have strong opinions. That’s a little daunting. Also, some people who read the novel have been amazingly supportive of my career over 10 or 15 years, and I don’t want them to be disappointed. Yet that’s kind of unavoidable, when adapting a book, since a film can never match what’s in your head.

On top of this, I still haven’t seen the movie. A while back, I decided to wait until I could see it in a theater, since it’s kind of a big moment for me. But I didn’t anticipate this on-demand sneak thing. I’m in Australia, where the film isn’t released until November, and now I have this slightly awkward scenario where a lot of people will see it before me.

So the movie is suddenly here and I don’t know what people will think. Before I have a book published, I’ve at least seen some early reviews, and the publisher has completed a print run (thrillingly high or alarmingly small), which gives me a general idea of what to expect. But today: nope. Which is kind of scary.

But I am going to try not to become lost in that, and remember to enjoy how awesome it is to, you know, have a freaking movie. I’ve seen authors do this: they dream of being published, but when it finally happens, they’re so preoccupied with whether it will be a hit that they don’t seem to actually enjoy the moment.

The reality is most books and movies aren’t breakout hits: they are read or seen by some people, and some of those people love it and some don’t. And that’s it. This isn’t very romantic, not the kind of thing you imagine about when you dream of being an author or actor or filmmaker. But it’s still pretty great.

One of my favorite moments as an author is an email I received from a 14-year-old who said Jennifer Government was the best book he’d read in his life. It was so cute. I mean, obviously he hadn’t read that many books. But no-one could be more gushingly, genuinely enthusiastic than this kid. I will never get a more delighted email, no matter how many books I write, or how many people read them. As far as creating something that connects with people, that’s as good as it gets.

This movie process has been awesome all the way through. I got to write scripts, swap ideas with the director, hang out on set, and try not to strangle Amber Heard with a necklace. These are all amazing moments that I would have killed for as a 23-year-old, writing the novel in my car during lunch breaks from my sales job. And today is another one.

ONE MORE THING: How similar is the movie to the book?

Although I haven’t seen it, and don’t know how much of various scripts I wrote are in the final movie, I do know I wrote a lot of stuff that departed heavily from the book’s plot. I didn’t change the characters or the world much, but I changed what they did. I mention this because I don’t think you should go into the film expecting it to be exactly the same. I never wanted the film to be like the book only with all the parts you imagined now filled in. I wanted it to be something new.

Wed 01

Max Barry, Act-or

Syrup A clip from Syrup featuring my big-screen debut. Look at me rocking that role. You could totally believe I was a waiter. Some assistance provided by Amber Heard.

Here is the blog I wrote about filming that day, by the way, if you’d like to relive my gut-churning terror.

Older posts »