You know how I feel about film deals. At first, sure, everyone’s excited.
It’s going to be the greatest movie ever made. You’ll be walking down
the red carpet in no time, Max. You’ll be doing blow off the naked backs
of strung-out starlets. But a few years later, and you know what? No
starlets. Not one.
Not that it’s all about the starlets. I’m happily married. I’m just
saying, it would be nice to be offered starlets. The point is, I have
discovered that there’s a lot that can derail a project between sign-on
and starlets. In fact, starlets seem to be the exception. Most of the time,
the movie never happens.
when the Machine Man deal happened,
I tried to steel myself. “Meh,” I told people. “Not as glamorous as it sounds.
Probably never go anywhere.” A few months ago, I heard Darren
Aronofsky was interested in directing. “Yeah, there’s always a big name who’s
interested,” I said. “Everyone’s always interested.”
Then he signed on. And today it’s public, being reported in
Hollywood Reporter and
Aronofsky is possibly the greatest director in the world. By which I mean,
if you wrote a book or a screenplay, and you wanted someone to make it
into a film, you would choose him. Because many people can do
smart and unsettling and entertaining, but not usually all at once.
His newest film is
which premieres in the US on December 3. It’s written by
Mark Heyman, who is also on board for Machine Man. So I’m
basically hoping Black Swan is the best movie of all time.
It is getting harder to stay cool about this.
By the way, Aronofsky was involved with the Robocop remake
before the studio imploded. So do you think he walked away with a head full
of unrealized ideas about bioaugmentation or what?
So I finished Machine Man. And I want to stay all cool and authory
about it, but honestly, I feel a little heartbroken. I think because when I tap out
THE END on a regular novel first draft, it means I finally have something I
can show people. But Machine Man wasn’t a regular first draft: it
was an experience, me posting one page at a time and checking the next morning
to see what people thought. That was freaking wonderful—terrifyingly wonderful—and now it’s over, I already miss it.
I think I will need to do this again. This, or something like it.
But my next step is turning the serial into
Every first draft can be better; my first drafts can be a lot better.
If you read this serial—even
if you only read some of it—I would love to know what you thought. I usually
distribute my first drafts to ten or twelve early readers. This time there are
600 of you, another three or four thousand in the free feeds. As a feedback
junkie, this makes me trembly and excited.
If you’ve got an opinion, please let me hear it. I want nothing more than to make
my stories as strong as they can be, and I need to figure out how this
book reads to someone who hasn’t written it. So please help me:
post a comment.
Or, if you’d prefer to keep it private, email me.
I tell all my early readers: I’m after what you felt.
Please don’t think you need to be a literary critic. Don’t try to imagine what other people might
like. Above all, don’t hold back because you can’t think how to justify what
the book made you feel.
Figuring out why you had a particular reaction and what to do about
it, that’s my job. I can do that. What I can’t do is read my own book for the first time.
The closest I can get is hearing you describe how you felt when you read it.
Please do tell me what you liked and what you didn’t. I’m looking for flaws,
but part of figuring out what to improve is understanding where its heart is.
Also, I tend to assume
that anything an early reader doesn’t mention she didn’t care terribly
much about, so it’s a candidate for the ax.
If you stopped reading at
some point, please tell me where. If you’re partway through,
please share your thoughts so far. If you don’t know what the
hell I’m talking about with feelings versus literary criticism and all
that, please comment
anyway. One-sentence thoughts are fine. I can’t get too much feedback.
Please. Tell me.
were in Hollywood trade Bible
really. True, you weren’t the main focus. The main focus was
OH BY THE WAY
THEY’RE MAKING A MACHINE MAN MOVIE.
Well, when I say “making,” I mean “it’s in development.” And
as we have learned, sometimes painfully, movies in development
often do not make it out of development, at least not in our lifetimes.
But still! This is a pretty amazing thing for a not-quite-finished
experiment in fiction.
“They” in this case is
who do actually get stuff made, and who I think get this concept
particularly well. I’m not saying they’re self-mutilators. I have no
proof of that. Let’s just say that if you were, I think they’d
So Marc Graser of Variety reported this, and look what he said!
…suggestions from readers are integrated into the plot as the story unfolds.
I’m not sure I want that in print. That seems like the kind of thing that
could lead to lawsuits. But, well, it’s
true: you guys post comments, I read them, and that affects what I write
the next day. So there you go. We have a film deal.
I have to mention (again) my Machine Man muse/tormentor
M.I. Minter, the guy who essentially
provoked me into doing this, because
his response to this latest development was:
It’s amazing the fantastic things that happen when you regularly
I’m starting to suspect that M.I. Minter will make one hell of a Daddy one day.
He has a knack of delivering delicious, crunchy praise with a chewy,
I discovered a word cloud generator, so naturally enough I pasted
Machine Man into it.
It looks like this:
Image courtesy wordle.net
That’s pretty awesome. I love the big Lola. I’m disappointed “just” is so big,
though. I have to stop using that. Possibly I am overdoing the similes, too,
with a “like” of those dimensions. But the scattering of body parts is nice.
in Publisher’s Weekly, Vintage Books will bring
Machine Man to life in print form in the US & Canada,
most likely in 2011. This will be a rewritten version of what’s
currently going up online—since I think the two mediums have very different
requirements, plus I haven’t yet seen a first draft I didn’t want to rewrite. Or
any draft, actually. But that’s my personal issue. So anyway, once I finish the serial,
probably later this year, I will start trying to figure out how the hell
I do that.
The particularly cool part is that Vintage (like Scribe in Australia & New Zealand)
is happy for me to keep the serial online. Which may sound obvious to you,
but that idea caused some publishing industry minds to EXPLODE. Their
natural inclination is to scrub the internet free of any potentially competing
versions whilst locking down e-books so tightly they don’t work on your
device. That’s possibly just my bitter experience talking. But this is a significant
step for a publisher, and I’m really happy Vintage took it. I didn’t want to
take down my online serial. That would be like leading my child into a forest and abandoning
her there. Then, I guess, going home and building a new child based on the
first one. And offering her in print form. Wait. This analogy may have gotten away from me.
What we’ll have, then, is the original, unedited serial online, and a more polished
(I was going to just say “polished,” but that could be a stretch) novel
based on it. Given
my track record of rewriting books until they cry, it will probably differ quite
a lot from the serial. But on the other hand, it won’t have reader comments.
Which is a shame, because those are awesome. It’s like book club five
days a week.
This all makes a pretty amazing outcome for a project I started just because
a reader bugged me. It’s been successful in a whole lot of ways. So thank you.
P.S. I can’t believe that Publisher’s Weekly’s “Deals” section,
by Rachel Deahl, isn’t called “Deahls.” That’s a no-brainer.
My favorite sci-fi site just posted an article
about this entitled
“Max Barry Jams In Public, Creates A New Publishing Model, Slices Your Legs Off.” Ahh, bless your nerdy hearts.
Yesterday I did something very cool. You might not think so. If you’re the
sort of person who paraglides, for example. Or leaves the house most days.
But for me: totally exciting.
In the morning, I carried my coffee upstairs to my office and checked my
email. This is almost always a bad idea, but still, hard to resist. I had a message
from Meredith, who said she was very much enjoying Machine Man.
That wasn’t the cool part. Well, it was. It’s always cool when someone
tells you they like something you wrote. It never gets old. But what came next was even
cooler: Meredith was a neuroscience major. She wrote:
I’m surprised he doesn’t have any phantom pain, since that’s extremely common; while the prosthetics would help trick the brain for sure, with that many limbs taken off, he would certainly have pain. No one totally understands phantom pain, but the idea is that our perceptions are not totally sensory; they are, in a large part, just our brain’s best guess. So, basically, the brain guesses that the limb is still there, but you can’t control it (unclench the phantom fist, etc.). A very simple technique has just been developed by Dr. Ramachandran at UCSD that is incredibly successful: Using a $5 drugstore mirror to make the arm that’s still there look like the arm that got cut off. This makes the brain think that what your one arm is doing, the phantom arm is doing. So those with phantom pain can get rid of an uncomfortable position.
I knew of phantom pain, of course, but thus far hadn’t thought of
anything interesting to do with it. Now, thanks to Meredith, I did.
Suddenly phantom pain seemed extremely interesting. So I opened up
a blank page and began writing.
Often people email me interesting things about the subject areas in which
I write. After Company, for example, I heard a lot of
terrific workplace horror stories. Which is great, but I always think, “I
wish I’d heard that two years ago.” Because then I could have used it in
Yesterday, I sat at my desk with no idea what I would write for that day’s
page, received an email from a neuroscience major, wrote
something based on her insights, and
published it. Then, to make it even
better, the first reader comment (from always-interesting Pev) was:
“Nice research on phantom limb pain, Max.”
This is the kind of research I can dig: the kind other people do for me,
before I even know enough to ask. It’s not the first
time it’s happened with this story. And it’s a totally unexpected
side-benefit of the real-time serial format. I’m loving this.