The Midnight Special

PhoefSuttonEmmy-award winning writer Phoef Sutton's THE DEAD MAN #12: THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, his wickedly funny and scary addition to the series, is out today… and it's the perfect way to end our "first season" of short novels. It's also Phoef's first published novel since his acclaimed ALWAYS SIX O'CLOCK back in 1999…and a real departure from his previous work. 

So we asked him about the book…and his writing career.

You're a two-time, Emmy award winner for your work writing & producing CHEERS, and you've written for such shows as BOSTON LEGAL, NEWHART and TERRIERS. You're one of the few TV writers who has been able to move between comedy and drama. Why is that so uncommon and how have you been able to pull it off with such apparent ease?

It’s just that I approach them all in the same way.  As stories about characters involved in compelling situations.  When you think of it like that, the specific genre or style doesn’t become paramount.  The character’s journey is what matters. 

How did your first novel come about? What did you think about the experience? 

Writing is my work and my hobby,  I wrote my first novel in my spare time, just to see if I could do it.

Not only are you a TV writer and novelist, but you've also written several feature films, like THE FAN and MRS. WINTERBOURNE. What kind of writing are you most comfortable doing? Or is it just enough to be writing?

 I like all of it.  Doing different things helps keep me interested; that’s one of the reasons I keep branching out.  But of the three, screenwriting is the least friendly to the writer.  In TV, the writer can be the boss, at least if he’s the showrunner, up to a point.  In the novels, of course, the writer is the boss of everybody.  Because he makes everybody up!

 What attracted you to THE DEAD MAN series?

 I’ve always wanted to write horror.  I’m huge fan of that genre.  Richard Matheson was one of my boyhood idols.  For whatever reason, I’ve never gone in that direction professionally, so when Lee Goldberg mentioned this series to me, I jumped at the chance.  Of course, Lee was himself another attraction – we’ve been trying to work together for years and this is first time we’ve had the chance.

 What did you get out of writing THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL that you don't get from writing sitcoms, dramas, and movies?  0619 Lee Goldberg TDMS_MIDNIGHT SPECIAL_3

 There is one obvious thing you get out of writing novels that sets them apart from other forms of writing – no network or studio notes.  You’re writing this mostly the way you want to write it.  The other thing I love about fiction is the way it’s so easy to get inside your characters heads.  You want to let the reader know what he’s thinking?  You just write it.  No need to resort to voice-over or character foils or narrative tricks.  I revel in that!

 What sets your book apart from the others in the series?

 Some say it’s the humor.  I can’t help but find comedy – in even the most dire circumstances.  Not that the book’s laugh riot, but there is humor between the lines.  Let’s say the narrator of the book has a wry sense of macabre humor.  I also liked the narrative trick they used in the first book of flashing forward in time and I tried to use that as well.  I think the narrative voice of this book is closest in the series to the original.

 What were some of the challenges you faced writing the book?

 Action scenes.  I’ve never really done them before.  And writing them is a real bear. Try writing “he threw a punch” in seventeen different ways.   But I’m learning! 

 What's next for you?

 I’m finishing a new novel – a bit of hard-boiled action called CRUSH.  And I’m producing a comedy for TVLand, THE SOUL MAN.  That should keep me busy through the summer.


Outing Outskirts Press

The “Hollywood” package marketed by the vanity press Outskirts Press to naive, aspiring writers is such a blatantly outrageous and predatory rip-off that I am posting Victoria Strauss’ excellent Writer Beware blog post about the shameful scheme in full to make sure the word gets out to anyone foolish enough to be considering it (or the equally worthless one offered by Author Solutions) . 

Self-publishing service Outskirts Press–home of some of the sillier “book marketing” services–is taking advantage of one of writers’ most fevered pipe dreams with its new Book Your Trip to Hollywood service. Of course, the press release doesn’t put it that way: 

These services solve a real problem for many authors who dream of making it big in Hollywood. In fact, just getting Hollywood’s attention is nearly impossible, but with the Book Your Trip to Hollywood suite of services from Outskirts Press, authors receive turn-key, full-service assistance with the push of a button. And with each option, authors receive the feedback and/or participation of a real Hollywood producer and production company; the final results are added to a Hollywood database that is perused by industry professionals for new projects; and exclusive efforts to option the author’s book are immediately set into motion. The author doesn’t have to lift a finger.

Except to pull out his or her credit card.

The first of the “suite of services,” the Hollywood Book-to-Movie Treatment, costs a cool $3,299. For that, you get a 7-10 page “creative adaptation” of your book written by a screenwriter. Which screenwriter? What are his/her credits? Sorry, that info is not available.

You also get an evaluation and a 3-year optioning effort from a Hollywood production company. Which company? What films has it produced? What further compensation might be due if it does manage to get someone to option your treatment? Oh dear–Outskirts isn’t telling you that, either. (The disclaimer that authors have to sign in order to buy the service mentions a “partner production company” with the initials “VM”; that’s too little information even for Writer Beware’s sleuthing superpowers.) 

The second service, the Complete Hollywood Screenplay, has a sticker price of $1,999. Hmmm, you might be thinking; why does an entire screenplay cost less than a 7-10 page treatment? Because the $1,999 is only a downpayment, you big silly! It puts you in touch with a screenwriter (once again, no info on identities or credits) to “discuss additional details”; if you want to proceed, you’ll owe an extra $9,940. (What happens if you don’t want to proceed? Can you get your downpayment back? No word on that from Outskirts.)

Since buying the treatment service is a pre-requisite to buying the screenplay service, the total bill for your Hollywood pipe dream comes to $15,239. Outskirts can even claim that this is a bargain: the very similar services offered by Author Solutions will set you back over $18,000. 

It hurts my heart, and my brain, to think that authors might actually shell out this kind of money for services that would likely net them zero results even if performed by skilled professionals at reasonable prices. Selling a book to Hollywood is one of the most fervent writerly ambitions; it’s also one of the most unattainable. And as much as you may roll your eyes and think, “Surely no one would fall for a scheme like this,” the fact is that people do–or the schemes wouldn’t exist.


Lee here again…
Remember, Outskirts Press is not a publisher. They are a printer. They aren’t making dreams come true…they are taking advantage of the gullibility and desperation of aspiring writers. And they have ZERO credibility and influence with the studios and networks in Hollywood. Give your $15,000 to the first homeless person you see instead… not only would it be a better use of your money, you would also have exactly the same chance of making a movie sale as you would giving it to Outskirts.

The Mail I Get – Sell My Show Edition

I get a lot of emails from complete strangers with TV series they want me to help them sell. This one is typical:

I am coming into Los Angeles on a trip. If you are free this week, I would like to buy you lunch. I have created a TV series I think you would like. All the scripts are written so all you have to do is sell it.

Is that all? Here's another:

I enjoyed reading your Successful Television Writing book. I have read everything on the subject and yours is superior. I am a writer from Vermont, new to Hollywood, with a fully written TV series in my back pocket. Is there any chance I could buy you lunch some time? XYZ and XYZ are my mentors, if you need references.

If he read my book, then he'd know this is not the way to get your series sold. Not only were the two people he used as references not friends of mine, I'd never heard of either one of them. Turns out one of the guys is among the six credited writers on a Big Tentpole Superhero Movie, the other is a guy who wrote Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s. As mentors go, though, they aren't doing a great job. The first thing they should have told him is not to hit up complete strangers to help you sell your series…and certainly not a guy who hasn't succeeded in getting a series of his own on the air. 

Here's another one, from a "an actor/writer who resides in the Bible belt of the USA":

For the past year I have been working on a series I want to pitch to network. I had an agent that was going to help me out. She asked a producer friend to read the short sizzle script. Producer said it was defiantly worth shopping around, next thing I knew that agent was closing her doors. She couldn’t handle the stress of the biz. Now after talking to a producer in LA that says it is worth shopping around as well. Told to expand it into an hour drama instead of the 30 min one, and get together a budget. […]I’m currently trying to find a more flexible job in the industry so I can pursue my acting/writing career and looking for a mentor to guide me. I look forward to hearing from you.

I have been in the TV business for over twenty years and I have no idea what a "short sizzle script" is. Maybe I need a mentor to guide me. And if she's already talked to "a producer in LA that says it is worth shopping around," why isn't she busy shopping the project with him instead of contacting strangers like me?

Mr. Monk is a Mess

Mr. Monk is a MessMy 14th and second-to-last Monk novel, MR. MONK IS A MESS, comes out today. It's a direct sequel to my earlier book, MR. MONK ON PATROL and it resolves, to some degree, the cliffhanger ending of that book. Here's the story…

No one likes to come home to a mess–least of all Monk and Natalie. But when they return briefly to San Francisco from an extended stay working as cops in New Jersey, Natalie discovers somebody has been sleeping in her bed. But this Goldilocks is not asleep. She's dead.

If that's not bad enough, investigators find marked money from a Federal sting operation stuffed under Natalie's mattress. Now her life is a real mess and she needs Monk's help to clean it up.

But Monk has problems of his own. His brother Ambrose is desperate to find Yuki, his missing lover, but his agoraphobia prevents him from leaving the house. Ambrose needs a man on the outside–and that man is Monk, who is torn, because he's glad to see her go.

As the two investigations begin, and the body count rises, it quickly becomes clear to Monk that Yuki has a dangerous past…and that they are pursuing a ruthless, cold-blooded killer that nobody would ever want to mess with…

It was a lot of fun to write, because the relationships between all of the characters were very much in flux, and it meant that Monk had to approach the world, and his cases, in an entirely new way.  It also made things more challenging, surprising and interesting for me, setting the stage for the final book in the series (well, at least the last one that I've written)  

I'll be signing the book on June 6th at the Barnes & Noble in Evansville, IN and June 14-17 at the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro KY, and June 23 at Mysteries to Die For bookstore in Thousand Oaks, CA. I hope if you're near one of those places when I am signing that you'll stop by. 

The Mail I Get – No Comment Edition

I got this today. All I have omitted is her address:

Dear Lee!

My name is Inna. I am from Russia. I am very happy write the letter to you!! I am in love in you and your creative!You help me survive when i was in trouble. First I would like to thank you for enjoing you give by writing. Your books realy give relax and happy to readers!!!!You know the best crime book  i read  was called "Face of Evil". So unexpected final!  When i feel bad i think about the work and i fell good myself. It was very very exiting!!!But that would be beautiful to read in in your native language))) Thank you very-very-very much for my the happiest houres with your book!!!!!!  I just want to thank!!! I am a big fan of crime  books sinse i met yours!!! And  now study english for read your book in english!!!I have been studing english for year. I am trying read the book in  english  but only with a diccionary. Bur i have goal and i will do it!!!! I going to know english as a first language))))).Your creative made my life better. I think in the way more positively. By the way there is not much yours book in Russia:((((((i would love to read all your works!!! your creative inspire me very much!!! Thank you for all!!! You are wonderful writer!!! You have so nice name! I saw your photo. You are the most handsome man!!! I wish i live in your country. Then i could meet you and speak with you one day).You are sinshine for me. I respect you very much! When i feel i dont understand an english tense or rule i go to your blog and watch cover of yours works. And i feel how it inspire me!!! Well i believe i will speak fluently english one day)))I would like to ask you for autograph. If you can please send me signed paper please))))) I will be the happiest persone in the earth!!! Thank you for your time. It is very important to me you have read this letter)Please write more so interesting books!!! I would happy to give your work to my child one day. 

Have a nice day.

Best wishes.

Helth, love and happy!!!

my address is XYZ

Big Apple Bound

I'm heading off today to New York City…Amazon is sending me there to attend Book Expo America, the big publishing industry trade show, and meet booksellers, librarians, reviewers and reporters. I love attending the show. I've only done it a few times, and I've always had a great time and come away with tons of galleys. This time, though, I want to control myself and try not to grab every galley that I see. 

After that, I head off to Kentucky, where I will be directing a music video featuring my friend Matt Branham performing his kick-ass Dead Man Theme. I'll be working again with my good friends at Firelight Entertainment Group, the production team behind my short film Bumsicle, which will be premiering at the International Mystery Writers Festival on June 16 in Owensboro. We've got a terrific group of people working on the video… including actors Silvio Wolf BuschMisty Sisco, Aaron Taylor and Alex Booty and the special effects make-up team at Eriksen Services.  

I'll report back from NYC and Kentucky on my adventures…. 

Dictator Tate

Those lovely people at Tate Publishing, the sleazy vanity press, are in the news again, this time over president Ryan Tate's firing of 25 employees,and the circumstances surrounding the action, and for threatening financial ruin to any others who dare to speak about the company's plans to outsource their operation to the Philippines.

Tate Publishing President Ryan Tate said the company is opening an office in the Philippines, but denies there are any layoffs planned. He said the 25 workers who lost their jobs Thursday were terminated for breaching confidentiality agreements in their employment contracts after leaking rumors about the outsourcing.

[…]In a recording of an employee meeting held this week obtained from a Tate employee by The Journal Record, Ryan Tate threatened to sue staff members and file liens against their houses and cars if they violated their employee contracts by talking to the media or sharing information about the company on Facebook and Twitter.

In the recording, Ryan Tate said he would fire 25 production workers after no one came forward to take responsibility for the anonymous email sent out to employees on Sunday that decried the rumored layoffs.

“Good people are going to lose their jobs – it’s not fair,” Ryan Tate said in the recording. “It’s not right, but that’s the reality of the situation. Jesus himself is the perfect mix of mercy, grace and justice. I have probably failed you in that I have been a little too lenient and a little too on the side of mercy and grace and not on the side of justice.”

At the meeting, Ryan Tate then went on to say several employees had already been named as defendants in a $7.8 million lawsuit for breaching their employee confidentiality agreements. A search of state and federal court filings revealed that no such litigation has been filed as of Thursday, a fact Ryan Tate later confirmed. 

What a great guy…and such a fine example of the Christian values he espouses and ueses to selling his outrageously over-priced and utterly worthless vanity press "services." His behavior in the 17 minute recording of the meeting is truly appalling and shows his true colors…you can hear it in its entirety on the Journal Record site