Update 6-Dec-04: At Fortress’s request, I’ve removed the
script while they make their decision. Thanks to everyone who reviewed
it and made suggestions!
Okay, for anyone who’s interested: here’s my attempt at the first
twenty-something pages of a
This is what the Fortress guys will use to decide whether I’m the right
guy to write the full thing. I would really, really love to do that,
but I’m going to try to spend the next few weeks not fretting about it.
This is what I’ve decided: if they like the way I’ve done it, then
terrific, but if not, well, it’ll just mean that one of my most fervent
wishes is dashed in a highly public and embarrassing way. That’s all.
If you’re reading this via your web browser, you might notice
I’ve also added the ability for people to leave
comments in response to my blogs, something I’ve been threatening to do
for ages. This is more hand-written code on my part, so I apologize
in advance if something goes wrong, or the comments all disappear, or
my web host freaks out again at the load I’m generating on their server
(“Aahhhh! Scripts!”) and takes down the whole site.
Assuming this works, though, I’m very interested in what you guys think
of my draft. If I actually get this gig, I want to use any feedback
I get here to help me write the rest of it.
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?
I discovered that for some reason Canadian sales of
Syrup were somewhat weak. By this I mean that
in the last six months of 2003, I sold 6 copies. After I posted about
this on my site, several Canadians e-mailed me promising to snap up the book,
so I’ve been looking forward to
a big spike in my next royalty statement.
And here it is! My latest statement shows Canadian sales
have increased an incredible 183%. So that’s 17 copies.
Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. J.K. Rowling would
kill for sales growth like that. And, I suppose, cause the world to be
completely deforested. But come on, 17! In other parts of the world,
parts just on the other side of your border, Canada, it’s selling
great. In fact, it’s in its fourth or fifth printing, and the fact
that one of those times was because the publisher pulped a whole
bunch of copies before realizing my career wasn’t dead yet
The way I see it, there are three possible parties to blame:
- My publisher
I’m going with #3, because I have to work with #1 and #2. Pissing
off Canada, on the other hand, means—what, they’ll stop buying their
23 copies a year?
Actually, this gives me an idea. Given I
have so little to lose, what I need is to get Syrup banned there.
Banned books attract publicity and protest groups, and when the ban
is finally and inevitably lifted, they sell like gangbusters. Plus, being the author
of a banned book would give me all kinds of literary cachet. I
could get invited to top-class cocktail parties and tell
Salman Rushdie about the time I used him as an example of a
red-hot writerly stud muffin.
Surely it can’t be that hard to get banned; I just need to take a
sentence or two out of context, tell some hyper-twitchy group that
it’s aimed at them, and sit back and wait for Time to call.
The Church of Scientology, for example. Surely there’s something
I could find in Syrup that would offend them?
Today I received a Syrup royalty statement. This is usually
a depressing event, because it reveals either that vast numbers of people are not
buying Syrup, or, worse, that the book isn’t for sale any more. This statement, which is
the first since Viking brought Syrup back into print, is not quite so heinous.
People are buying it. This is a relief not because I get
75c from every copy—well, not just because of that—but because nothing
is quite as awful as watching your novel slowly sink into oblivion. Once
I got a royalty statement that had negative net sales. I didn’t even know that was
(It’s because bookstores can return unsold stock to the publisher for credit.
Even on the royalty statement I’m looking at right now, one bookstore—just
one!—returned one copy of the Syrup hardcover, almost five years after it
was published. They make me pay back my 75c for that.)
It seems that people are split pretty evenly over whether they prefer Syrup
or Jennifer Government, so I cling to the hope that one day the
former will be read by as many people as the latter. It still seems possible.
Except in Canada. Now, Canada and Syrup have long had a strained
relationship. It has always sold abysmally there, although I have no idea why.
I like Canada. I used to work with a Canadian at Hewlett-Packard, Mike, and we got
on fine; I don’t think he phoned home to say, “Quick, tell everyone not
to buy Max’s novel.” But this latest royalty statement makes the situation
truly bizarre. In the last six months of 2003, Canadian Syrup sales
Now, serendipitous references to the character in the novel aside, what the
hell is with that? Six!? I’ve bought more copies than that! If it was zero,
I’d think maybe the book wasn’t available at all, but six—six! It’s enough to
make me want to catch a plane to Vancouver and buy an armload full of copies,
just to treble national sales. Or maybe I’ll track down Mike and kick his butt.
Syrup is back in Australia and New Zealand! Apparently the publisher was checking down the back of a couch for a TV remote and instead found 2,000 copies. Or maybe it was a warehouse, not a couch. Whatever. This means that like in the US and Canada, while most bookstores won’t have Syrup on the shelves, they can now easily order it in for you.
Because there’s limited stock, if you’re keen to get your mitts on a copy in Australia or New Zealand, now’s the time to act. (By going to a bookstore and ordering a book. Was that clear already? Okay.)