The Big Pitch

Screenwriter Craig Mazin has some excellent advice on pitching. Here’s an example:

First, understand what it is that you’re pitching.  You’re not pitching a script.  You’re not pitching a story.

You’re pitching a movie. Don’t give me that blank
look. You’ve already done it. Ever see a movie and then have someone
ask you to describe it? That’s movie pitching.

What you want to do is achieve the same effect with the producer or exec.  You want them to believe that you have already seen a great movie, and you’re just telling them about it.

Craig’s pointers also work for pitching a series. But there’s one thing he doesn’t bring up. Be flexible. Be prepared to get, and consider, the input of the person you’re pitching to.  Today we pitched a series to a major production company. The exec we were pitching on got hooked on one aspect of the pitch and said, basically, how would you feel if you just went with that one aspect and tossed the rest? And, what if we added this extra element?

And you know what? It was a damn good idea. We jumped on it. And so did the exec, who is now as invested in the idea as we are and taking it to his superiors with enthusiasm. Will it go anywhere? Who knows. But it would definitely have gone nowhere with that company if we hadn’t been willing to consider other possibilities.

Lee Child Writing Bond? is reporting that the Ian Fleming estate is looking for a major-league author to pen a new James Bond novel… and that author Lee Child is among the contenders.

Plans for a one-off, new James Bond novel, to celebrate the centenary of its
creator, are being finalised by the estate of Ian Fleming.

As yet no author has been chosen for the project, but following the
surprising worldwide success of Charlie Higson’s young Bond novels, Ian Fleming
Publications say they are keen to commission a big, established name.

Early favourites to be approached include British thriller writer Lee Child,
spy novelist John le Carré and The Day of the Jackal author Frederick Forsyth.

The Scotsman asked Ian Rankin how he would approach a Bond novel.

"I think if I was writing it I would give it a little twist. That is what
they did in the movies when Pierce Brosnan came along, they made M a woman for
example…but it really needs a good spy writer who is interested in technology
because people who are interested in the Bond books tend to be technophiles –
which sort of counts me out as I can hardly work a word processor."

UPDATE (Sept 2) Lee Child responds on Galleycat to his name being in contention for the Bond gig.

I heard the first rumblings of this stuff about three years ago. I am obviously
very flattered to be in their thoughts, but I guess fundamentally my answer
would be generated by what the estate itself calls the need for a "professional"
writer … which means, what are they gonna pay? More than I make from a Reacher
book? (I’m not the type of guy who can do two projects at the same time.) That’s
possibly unlikely.

If it worked out though, it would be fun. Fleming was both very British and
very frustrated by Britain – lived as an exile, etc. That shows up in the
original Bond texts and it would be a background theme I would share. As would
be a sense that as time moves on Bond is operating in a changed Britain … the
contrast between the Eden/Macmillan years and the Blair years is huge, and it’s
a contrast that the existence of the fictional Bond helped create. My yardstick
would be Jill Paton Walsh’s first Wimsey book (Thrones and Dominions?) which was
both a superb Wimsey novel and simultaneously an embedded critique of the series
itself and the society that spawned it.


Sitting out Bouchercon

Everyone in the mystery community is heading off to Boucheron, which begins tomorrow  in Chicago. Well, almost everyone. I’m staying home.  Author Bill Crider, a veteran of 20 Bouchercons, has seen the convention change, and in some ways not for the better.

As the attendance has increased, the focus has
changed. The convention used to be all about the fans. Now it seems to be all
about the writers, with people going just to get a glimpse of their current
favorites, and a lot of the writers seem to be there just to hawk their latest
book. A line I’ve heard more than once: "I don’t have a book out this fall, so I
won’t be going.") I’m not sure this is change for the better.

I do have books out this fall,  but I’m still not going. I just couldn’t see schlepping to Chicago on Labor Day weekend. And it was inconvenient for me. My wife and daughter just got back from three weeks away Friday. And today was my daughter’s first day back-to-school.

If it wasn’t for the bad timing, I’d be there.

I go to Bouchercon as a mystery fan first and a mystery author second. I love buying books. I love meeting the authors I admire. I love meeting people who’ve read my books and have enjoyed them. I love discovering new authors and new books to read. I love getting all those free books in my book bag. But most of all, I love the comraderie of fellow writers, talking shop and learning from shared experiences.

From a business stand-point, Bouchercon is a great opportunity to network and meet up with your agent and editors. You can also learn stuff from the panels but, to be honest, I only attend a small fraction of them because I’ve heard most of the authors, and their stories, a thousand times before.

But the one thing I don’t go to Bouchercon to do is sell books. 

Many authors who are ordinarily calm, easy-going people become obnoxious hucksters at Boucheron, relentlessly pushing their books to any warm body that goes by and littering the place with fliers and bookmarks and t-shirts and whistles and other promotional crap.  I think it’s actually counter-productive, that you will sell more books by not trying to sell books and just being yourself.

It’s not Bouchercon that I’ll miss this year, it’s the authors and readers I won’t get a chance to see. And the books I won’t buy.

Maybe next year.


20050831151909990017I have spent hours today in front of the television, watching the footage of the damage left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. The magnitude of the disaster is almost too much to comprehend…an entire American city devastated and soon to be completely abandoned.  It’s astonishing. I have a few friends in New Orleans…and luckily, they got out before the storm hit, but their homes and  possessions are probably gone, submerged under twenty feet of water.   20050830171609990006Being a writer, you can’t help but think of all the amazing stories coming from this disaster —  heart-breaking and horrifying,  heartwarming and life-affirming  — many of them playing out right in front of us on the TV screen.

In a sad way, it’s also one of those great, unifying moments for our nation. When something like this happens, we aren’t New Yorkers or Californians, Democrats or Republicans… we are all Americans.  The tragedy draws us closer together as a nation. Yes, it happened to the Gulf Coast but we all feel the horror and the sadness. We all know someone who is personally affected by this. My heart goes out to all the victims and their loved ones. I can’t imagine what it must feel like.

And that’s the other thing this tragedy brings home. It could happen here. No, it will happen here.

I live in Los Angeles, where a cataclysmic earthquake isn’t a possibility, it’s a certainty…one we all choose to ignore (or to pretend won’t happen in our lifetime). Likewise, everybody knew that New Orleans was built in a bowl below sea level, that massive flooding was inevitable, that everyone living there was on borrowed time.  What happened in the Gulf Coast this week is a horrifying reminder of what we here will face some day.

Can You Get My Portrait Signed?

I got this email today:

My wife and I have been huge Dick Van Dyke fans since the early 1960’s.  Would
you please consider forwarding this email to Mr. Van Dyke, since it concerns a
portrait of him that I recently completed.  I’m hoping to persuade him to sign
one of my prints for my private art collection of celebrity portraits…

… I realize that this is a brazen request, but I hope that you will consider it
anyway.  If you would like, I’ll send you a digital photo so that you can
determine if my Dick Van Dyke drawing is worthy of a signature.

Please don’t.

WGA Still Doesn’t Get It

Variety reports that The Writers Guild of America’s board voted 11-3 to rescind their decision to honor ex-WGA president Victoria Riskin with the Valentine Davies Award for her contributions to the industry and the community at large.

The big question is why they voted in favor of it 7-6 before, considering that Riskin resigned in a scandal that revealed she wasn’t an active member and, therefore, was  never qualified to be President in the first place (Her successor Charles Holland was forced to resign two months later when the LA Times revealed he’d, um, fictionalized his military service record and his college football achievements).

Despite the vote, there are still members of the WGA leadership… including secretary-treasurer and current presidential candidate Patric Verrone…who don’t get why it was a really, really stupid idea to honor Riskin so soon after she’d embarrassed the Guild with her actions.

Allan Burns [Chairman of the Awards Panel] told Daily Variety he was "stunned" at the board’s vote. He
insisted the awards panel tapped Riskin strictly because of her qualifications
and asserted that there was no concern that naming Riskin would create any
subsequent controversy.

"It’s a slap in the face to the awards committee," Burns added. "I don’t
think the board understands what the award is about."

How clueless can Burns be? He didn’t realize the choice would create controversy? How couldn’t he?? Apparently, even Dan Petrie, our current president and a man I greatly respect, doesnt’ get it either.  He told Variety:

"I would hope that these judgments would be tempered by compassion for someone
who has already suffered and, for that matter, for a Guild that has already

She brought the suffering on herself by running for office when she knew she wasn’t qualified to serve. And The Guild brought the suffering on itself by not doing their job confirming her work status before she ran and, now, by naming her for this award so soon after the scandal. I won’t even go into the miss-steps surrounding Holland and their vote of confidence in someone who was so clearly being dishonest. I haven’t been very proud of my Guild membership lately.

But some good has come out of this latest embarrassing episode:  It’s going to help me, and a lot of other members, make up our minds about who to vote for in the upcoming election.

Killshot Shot

Variety reports that production has begun in Toronto on KILLSHOT, the Weinstein Co. adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel. Diane Lane, Thomas Jane and Mickey Rourke star in the movie, which was written by Hossein Amini and is being directed by John Madden. 

For the most part, adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s contemporary novels over the last twenty years have sucked unless they are written are written by Scott Frank or Quentin Tarantino. Remember BE COOL? Or BG BOUNCE? Or CAT CHASER? Let’s hope this one breaks the curse.


I got this email today:

I’m having trouble presenting a multiple location event in my screenplay. Let’s say, for example, there are 5 peace rallies in 5 US cities all going on at the same time. At each event there is some action and dialogue. We stay only briefly at each location. How the heck is that written? Every way I try to present it seems awkward. Thanks for your time.

Here’s how I replied. I think one reason it’s awkward is that the situation isn’t very conducive to good story telling. It’s hard to create conflict, or reveal much character, or tell a story, while cutting back and forth between five very similar events. My first bit of advice would be to restructure your story so you DON’T have to cut between five nearly identical events. But, barring that, you need to make it as simple as you can.


Griffith Park is crowded with THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE (don’t you just love CGI? How did people make movies before?) It’s pouring rain. Biff and Joan make love in the mud while everyone around them sings Koombaya. Joan has great breasts. INTERCUT WITH:


Convention Center. There are TENS OF THOUSANDS of peace-loving people here. But we don’t care about them. We FIND Jake creeping under the stage, carrying the BOMB that’s hidden inside the
INFLATABLE WOMAN. She has great breasts, too. INTERCUT WITH:


Hundreds of people mill around the base of the SPACE NEEDLE, holding hands and chanting. We PAN UP to the observation tower of the Space Needle, where HOYT, 12, is about to pour a cup of STARBUCK COFFEE on the people below, some of whom have great breasts and some of whom don’t. INTERCUT WITH:

and when you’re done visiting your five locations (I am exhausted just thinking about it), you end the sequence with a simple END INTERCUT.

Good News for Mystery Writers in LATBR

I heard David Ulin, the new editor of the LA Times Book Review,  interviewed on KCRW. He promises that, in his revamped LATBR, there will be greater attention paid to contemporary novels, including mysteries and thrillers. He said he loves hardboiled  mystery novels, which he called an "indigenous L.A. art form" and "the literary equivalent of the blues." It all sounds very encouraging to me.