Machine Man Blog
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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.
So 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 Variety.
Now, 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 “Black Swan,” 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 a novel. 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.
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 Mandalay Pictures, 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 be sympathetic.
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 produce work.
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, you-can-do-even-better center.
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.
As reported 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.
P.P.S. 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.
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 the book.
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.