My new book, The 22 Murders of Madison May, is out next week in most of the world, and today in Australia and New Zealand. Now there is a TV show in development, too! This has been brewing for a while and today made it into the pages of Variety. So it’s official and I’m allowed to talk about it.
This is exciting firstly because it’s, you know, a TV deal, but also because it’s at MGM’s Orion Television, with show-runners Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ulin, who served the same role for The Flight Attendant. That was one of the more interesting new shows of last year, and lives in a smart / funny / endearing thriller space I like a lot.
What will happen next is Meredith and Marcie will go write a pilot script. Then, I can tell you, because this isn’t my first rodeo, this script will bounce between a bunch of people and be rewritten until either it’s good enough to get made or the studio is acquired or shut down. It is a race between those outcomes.
I’ve been lucky enough to have many books acquired for TV or film development (ten years ago, always for film; today, always for streaming TV), and even though it’s a crapshoot as to whether they work out—there are more rights acquisitions than TV shows—the process is fascinating and thrilling. When someone adapts my work, I feel like my story gets a new baby sibling: an addition, not a replacement, and I can admire the similarities and the differences. Also, if it actually winds up being produced, I get to see sets and actors dressed like people I imagined, which is a genuinely magical experience, like finding a door at the back of my closet to a place I always suspected was real.
So I love that I get to do this again.
There’s a Brian Aldiss series of novels about a planet that has 500-year-long seasons, and ahead of each great winter, people get attacked by a virus called the Fat Death, which makes them gain a ton of weight, or else die, or else first one then the other. It’s actually symbiotic, because the virus allows the survivors to make it through the coming cold years, but the people don’t know that, so try their best to avoid it. Each cycle, a few pockets of smart-alecs manage to stave off the virus to remain slim and healthy and smug, but if they’re successful, they realize they’re skinny weirdos who can’t hang out with anyone.
Australia is that pocket of skinny weirdos.
It turns out that when you’re very successful at keeping COVID out of your country, you don’t feel a real urgency to get vaccinated. Only 4% of Australia is fully vaccinated so far, and a sizable chunk of the rest seem reluctant to be injected with something to protect them from a virus that isn’t really present around here.
This is an interesting situation to me because it involves people doing good things that lead to bad outcomes. (I also like the reverse situation, when bad things will lead to good outcomes.) Plus it comes with a big dollop of human inability to assess risk, which is a fascinating topic that I’ve written and spoken about before (essay, video). People are terrible at risk. We’re the evolutionary result of a biological system that prioritized fast decisions over correct ones, which was fine when the risk was saber-toothed tigers, but less fine when it’s blood clots.
We’re instinctively happier with risks that are the result of our own actions, such as swimming in a dangerous current or driving a car, than risks imposed on us by outside forces. And we especially hate risks that are new. We like to classify things into simple categories, with the result that a lot of people now believe driving to a medical center would be perfectly safe, but getting a vaccine there would be dangerous.
I’m not sure how Australia plans ever to open its borders. So long as they remain shut tight, there’s a low enough risk of catching COVID that for many people, it will be treated as zero. And a vaccine that presents any risk at all, however small, will be seen as dangerous.
I haven’t had a cold in 18 months. I am indestructible. I could walk through a room full of germs right now and be totally fine. You might say: But Max, you’re just seeing the natural effect of everyone masking and distancing. I say: I can repel illness through sheer force of will.
Sometimes, if I feel a cold coming on, I’ll go for a run. After 30 minutes of heart-pounding, lung-bursting, sweat-filled exercise, I often feel pretty okay. Maybe this is just relative to the experience of being mid-run while having cold symptoms. But even afterward, the cold seems to back off, like I showed it who’s boss.
I know what you’re thinking: This sounds like indisputable science. And you’re right. After all, germs and whatnot are small. You can’t even see them. Whereas I can see the results of my own decision-making. For example, if I run more often, and also there’s a global pandemic that cuts seasonal flu rates by 95%, who can say whether the pandemic really made any difference? Whereas I definitely did run more often.
There’s a thing called “locus of control,” where you can be an “internal” person who believes you’re in charge of your own destiny, or an “external” person who thinks you’re the puppet of larger forces. Neither is supposed to be right; it’s just a way to categorize your personality. Me, I believe both are wrong. To me, good things are caused by my own behavior, while bad things are the fault of other people. Otherwise it’s, what, my fault that I’m not winning Olympic medals in between my movie roles? That doesn’t sound right. And all the good things in my life, those are largely because I was lucky enough to be born in a country where I don’t need to dig for water? I don’t think so. I do not want to think so.
At this point, “22 Murders” comes out a month from now. Does that mean the book is completely finished, and the publisher is simply waiting for the optimal time to release it, or there’s still some work to be done on it?
Basically, I’m asking how does a book’s release date get determined, and how far in advance?
It’s totally finished. Publishers usually schedule about ten months in advance, in my experience. About half of that is for editorial things like rewrites and copyediting. But that leaves a big chunk of time when the manuscript is done but there’s no published book yet. They figure out the release date like this:
It has to be on a Tuesday. No-one knows why. But everyone expects books to be published on Tuesdays, so, what, you’re going to be the maverick coming out on a Thursday? Come on.
It has to be in the summer (northern hemisphere), because I am a summer author. I’m not totally sure what this means, but I’ve heard it said. Most of my novels have been published in the summer. Providence wasn’t, and look what happened. That’s right: a global pandemic. Luckily The 22 Murders of Madison May is scheduled for July 6.
It has to leave enough time for all this:
Cover design. I’m a fan of this cover. At first, I wasn’t sure about the running woman, because I was like, “Could that not be a little more subtle and intriguing?” So I mocked up a few ideas, which were way worse. It’s quite a static cover without the running woman. You need the running woman.
Flap copy. My brilliant editor Mark came up with some really solid copy to put on the book flap, then at the last minute, I was like, “Hey, the first paragraph is about the Felicity character, but doesn’t it make more sense to start with Madison, since people will pick up the book wondering about her?” And Mark was like, “Good catch,” while wondering why I couldn’t have mentioned this before five minutes until deadline. Then it got changed. I like to be helpful.
Sending advance copies to authors so they can provide a juicy quote, like, “Better than the Bible,” or “Something something Harry Potter.”
Sending advance copies to reviewers so they can schedule their hit pieces to run at launch time.
Sending advance copies to influential readers so they’ll write GoodReads reviews and build up word-of-mouth. You can get a whole lot of free books by being a prolific GoodReads reviewer. You can be swimming in books. Then one day you wake up and wonder when reading became a chore, not a fun escape. Like when did THAT happen.
Booking online events. I will be doing a couple of these, and they are the closest you and I are going to get to being in the same room for a while, so look out for dates.
Creating the audio edition. I used to stay away from these, because listening to people read my books made me want to curl up and die. Not because of the narrator, you understand. Because of the words. But now I’m better and only get, like, slightly nauesous. Madison May will be read by Helen Laser, who I’m proud to say I hunted down personally, not literally, and I think she’ll be fantastic.
Aside from that, there’s marketing, which is trying to figure out how to make people notice you have a book out. It’s all fine and well to have a good book. You also have to make sure people notice it. This is a challenge for me at the moment, as I’m trapped on the other side of the world to most of my readers. I basically have to be extra obnoxious online. So apologies in advance for that.
A few people have asked for my opinion on the excellent new app/dial-a-vigilante service “Citizen.” I’m qualified to speak on this, because Citizen is a lot like The Police from my novel Jennifer Government, only more app-y.
If I have this right, you subscribe for $19.99 per month and in return you get the ability to dispense violent justice to your enemies. They don’t actually say that. They say you get a digital bodyguard to monitor you plus an instant emergency security response, which may include a cool custom-branded attack car, to your location. If I’m paying $19.99 per month, though, I expect them to take my side in any kind of he-said, she-said situation. I’m the customer. So if they want my continued business, I don’t want to hear any, “Actually, that man lives in the neighborhood and has a right to be there” nonsense. I want them to get in there and start intimidating.
My main concern is that these subscription models can be hard to exit. You know how it is: It’s easy to sign up, but when you try to cancel, there are all these extra steps. Sometimes you have to talk to someone on the phone and explain yourself. I worry that process is extra awkward when you’re dealing with a company that feeds on your fears and knows everything about where you go and what you do. When I unsubscribe, I don’t want to have to wonder whether Citizen is out there, in the dark, feeling aggrieved.
I also worry about backing the wrong horse. Sure, today, it’s just Citizen, but what about when there are two or three of them? Now I have to worry that Vigilantes R Us is going to see my Citizen bumper sticker and slash my tires. Because obviously it makes sense, from a marketing/PR point of view, to get the idea out there that your competitors aren’t quite as capable of delivering a full-service violent defense. If people start thinking that Citizen can’t even protect its customers’ tires, that’s a selling point for Vigilantes R Us. I’m not saying that Vigilantes R Us would go around deliberately attacking Citizen clients or anything, of course, or that we’d wind up in a full-scale armed corporate conflict. I’m just saying, that would be a free market solution.
On balance, I’m excited. The main problem with traditional law enforcement, of course, has been that you can’t pay more money to purchase a superior service. Well, you can. Let’s be real. But this new model allows us to dispense with the charade and go right ahead delivering tiered justice, where a little money gets a little justice, no money gets no justice, and a lot of money gets special premium justice.
Of course, Citizen and the like would naturally target the most profitable forms of justice, so what’s left to departmental police forces will be the costly parts of justice that don’t bring in money. Then there will be sinkholes in public budgets and restless taxpayers wondering why public law enforcement is so expensive when they could pay $19.99 to sign up to a professional organized justice syndicate. But that’s progress, baby.
It’s a chunky black hockey puck that whirs around the floor sucking up dust and cat hair. It can even monitor my heart rate. I was surprised by that. I was digging around in the app menu and there it was, my heart rate. And I was like, Wait, my heart rate? Because I hadn’t authorized it to sync with my watch or anything. So I wasn’t sure how it was getting that information.
It’s great on both floorboards and carpets, and can even climb stairs, by shooting out little black tentacles that grab onto the banisters. That was a heck of a shock for the cat. She didn’t like the robot vacuum cleaner at first, especially when it started clattering up the stairs after her. But they figured out their differences. Now I find them hanging out together in the sun room, thick as thieves.
It filed my taxes. This took me a while to figure out because they were done and I didn’t know how. My accountant said, Sure, I got your info from your robot vacuum cleaner. They’d been exchanging emails. I said, It can do that? And she said I should expect a nice refund. It’s effectively paid for itself.
My only complaint, and I hesitate to bring it up, is that the more extra stuff the robot vacuum cleaner has been doing, the less it’s cleaning. The other night, I came home and my wife was enjoying a candlelit dinner with the robot vacuum cleaner but there was cat hair all over the hallway. So I asked to borrow the robot vacuum cleaner for a minute, and my wife said the robot vacuum cleaner had been cooking all afternoon and now they were having a nice conversation, so why didn’t I get a broom, it’s not a big area. And, okay, I did that, but it didn’t feel right, me sweeping in the hallway while I could hear my wife laughing in the next room with the robot vacuum cleaner. I mean, I bought it to clean the floors. That’s why it’s here.
They’re so popular now. A few weeks ago, I caught up with a friend for coffee, and he said, Hey, have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And I was like, Have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And we both laughed. Then we stopped, because we realized his robot vacuum cleaner was outside, watching us through the plate glass.
I’d give it four stars. It would earn a fifth star if it cleaned more often, and if it stayed in its housing, instead of coming into the bedroom at night to watch me sleep. One morning I found my clothes strewn all over the front yard and I’m pretty sure that was the robot vacuum cleaner. There were tread tracks on my shirts. Once I heard noises in the night and went downstairs and found my clothes scattered everywhere again, and by the time I got back to bed, the robot vacuum cleaner was in there, on my side, emitting white noise to help my wife sleep. I had to sleep on the sofa. The next day, the robot vacuum cleaner spent the whole day sitting in the corner of the living room, charging.
If you’re thinking about getting a robot vacuum cleaner, this one can do practically anything. It can even find its way home. I mean, you can drive to the ocean and toss it in, and three nights later, it’s back in your house, dripping wet. There’s no way to lose it. Believe me. It’s indestructible, too. You can hit it with a hammer. Like, over and over. And it’ll just sit there, then quietly trundle away, leaving you to wonder what your wife is going to say when she sees those dings and scratches.
You know what? I take back my earlier rating. Five stars. Now I think about it, I don’t want to give this unit anything less than the maximum score. That wouldn’t be fair. Or smart. Five stars, for sure. Five stars. Five stars.