Author Barry Napier was the winner of the “You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel” contest last year….and his book, THE DEAD MAN #18: STREETS OF BLOOD, has just been published by Amazon/47North. I’ve invited Barry to talk about his experience writing the book:
I won Amazon’s You Can Write a Dead Man Novel contest last year. The months between October – January were spent writing and editing it. If I’m being honest, I learned a lot from writing it, some of which I think most writers can either relate to or need to know.
First, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin were very kind about pointing out a few of my flaws…flaws that have plagued me since writing my first short story at the age of 14. Among them…I’m too wordy. I tend to wax poetic when it’s not called for. I try to create back story that serves as a story in and of itself (this one, I will argue to my last breath, is often necessary and pivotal for longer works). When I try to write about someone collecting information or being smacked by insight, I tend to come off as too passive.
The great thing is that I have had these things pointed out by editors in the past. But with TheDead Man #18: Streets of Blood, these things were not only pointed out, but highlighted with blood and gore. Writing this book was perhaps my biggest lesson in reigning myself in when I wanted to get too wordy or experimental when it wasn’t called for.
This book was equally odd to write because of its content. It’s one of the bloodier things I have written in a while. When you consider the fact that I was writing a faith-based suspense novel at the same time, it was a very challenging and eye-opening few months.
So, while researching parts of scripture for the faith-based novel, I was also having to research old morbid nursery rhymes for my Dead Man book.
I’m not going to lie…it was sort of fun.
So again, a big thanks to Lee Goldberg for helping me through the process. It was an intensive course in writing short novels while helping me to further cripple some of the mistakes that I still wrestle with in my writing.
Random House is going all-out promoting THE HEIST, the novel I wrote with Janet Evanovich. They’ve produced three trailers and a slick national TV commercial for the June 18th roll-out. I’ve never had that kind of promotional support before and it’s very exciting. I think they’ve done a good job selling the “franchise” and tone of the book in just a few seconds. I’ll have the commercial and trailers posted on the site soon…but in the mean time, here are links to them on YouTube. Let me know what you think!
Well, it’s official: The nine most frightening words to cross a television screen are: “Executive Produced, Created, Written and Directed By Tyler Perry.”
Whatever hopes Perry had for this overwrought, derivative story line are dashed almost immediately by acting that can only be described as uniformly terrible and an unrelenting background score the likes of which has not been heard since talkies were invented.
Characters utter meaningless sentences into the air in front of the camera and then just stare at each other while maddening mood music insists that we feel something.
The show may be crap, but it scored record high ratings for Oprah’s struggling network. It will be interesting to see if those same viewers who sampled the show return for episode two…
It’s easier to win admission to the Harvard Medical School than a seat in Professor Walter’s legendary screenwriting seminars at UCLA
Richard Walter was my screenwriting professor at UCLA…and, in large part thanks to what I learned from him, I’ve had a long and successful career as a TV writer/producer and screenwriter. His former students have taken Hollywood by storm…just in the last four years, graduates of his seminars have won three Oscars and five Oscar nominations and have written ten movies for Steven Spielberg. Now, for the first time, he’s opening his acclaimed class to non-UCLA students for a special session June 24-Aug 2nd. Enrollment is limited…so sign up fast.
I thought this would be a good opportunity to corner Richard and get some of his insights into the bevy of “screenwriting gurus” out there, the state of movie & TV biz, and how the craft of screenwriting has changed in the last few years.
LEE: What can aspiring writers get from your class that they can’t get from the myriad of script gurus teaching courses out there?
RICHARD WALTER: For openers, this is an advanced screenwriting seminar at the UCLA film school – not a private for-profit weekend lecture—that is available both to UCLA and non-UCLA students alike. All students receive 8 college credits. It’s not a one-shot but an on-going six-week series of workshops light on lectures and heavy on in-class writing challenges and analysis of in-progress student pages. It is very much a hands-on writing seminar.
LEE: What will they gain from this class that they can’t derive from the 10,000 screenwriting books out there (including your own)?
RW: It’s a chance to put the principles from those 10,000 screenwriting books (including my own) into use, to try them out in the context of creating a dramatic narrative under the guidance of, well, me. The course is not about books about writing, nor is it even about writing; it is writing.
LEE: How should an aspiring writer judge the “merits” of a screenwriting teacher/guru/consultant. How do you find the “real” ones from the “hucksters?”
RW: Ask around, and ask for references. It can’t be about the marketing–only the writing. Run as fast as you can from anyone who even merely suggests that there’s a good chance after working with him that the writer will win representation and the script will sell. There are truly excellent consultants available and affordable, and it’s becoming increasingly routine (and in my opinion also smart) to work with a consultant who can ask the hard questions before the studio asks them. One of the most damaging and common mistakes writers make is to show their scripts too soon, before they’re truly ready. I regularly refer writers to worthy consultants.
LEE: Are Hollywood “pitchfests” useful or a swindle that takes advantage of aspiring writers?
RW: Swindle is a strong word. I’ll only say it’s not called screen-talking.
I’m sure it’s possible to make some connections and get a script considered, but the person doing the considering is likely not authorized to green-light any thing. He can only pitch it to his bosses. What writer wants someone else pitching his story? The pitcher will likely blow it. “Oh yeah, and there’s something about an iceberg.” Consider also that writers have far greater control over a movie that starts as a spec script compared to one from a pitch.
LEE: How has the screenwriting business changed?
RW: There has never been a greater time to engage the screenwriting racket. When I came to town forty years ago there were seven studios and three broadcast networks. All of those are now toast. The action is in cable and the web, and it’s soaring. This is not the future; it is now. When does anyone see in a theater anything a thousandth as brilliant as a Homeland episode or one from Breaking Bad? This is the golden age of television, except it’s not television. There are exponentially more buyers now operating out of ever-growing companies. There is more product than ever, which means more opportunities for writers (also actors, directors, editors, cinematographers) and expanded offerings for consumers to choose. What’s not to like?
Also, at cable and the web, the producers are the writers and vice versa. They control. In those formats it is not the writer but the director who is “for hire.” There, the writer is the boss, as well she should be.
LEE: Are development executives looking for different things from a script than they were five or ten years ago? Do audiences have different expectations of stories and characters these days?
RW: No, and no. Narrative is narrative. It’s all about story. All audiences care about throughout the millennia is story. Make your screenplay tell a compelling story. Demonstrate in every script your strength as a storytellers
LEE: Are the principles you’re teaching applicable to TV as well as film? What if someone is more interested in writing a spec pilot than a spec feature?
RW: The principles apply to all dramatic narratives, including opera librettos and novels. The only difference between a spec pilot and a spec feature is that the latter is longer.
LEE: Is TV easier to break into than film? Or is it the other way around? And if so, why?
RW: The other way around. Why would anybody want to break into film? Film is in the midst of an unspeakable, smothering war against originality.
LEE: Are studios and networks relying more on “proven” writers than newbies?
RW: Every experienced, established, successful, adored, wealthy writer without exception was once a newbie. Newbies should take heart in knowing that they are in great company
Author Stant Litore is warning horror writers to be wary of publisher/editor Anthony Giangregorio and his much-maligned Open Casket Press. Litore alleges that Griangregorio goes far beyond traditional book editing, massively rewriting manuscripts and then publishing the altered works without the consent of the authors. Griangregorio has been known to change the gender of characters and add rape scenes. This outrageously over-the-top editing and rewriting amounts to what Litore calls “a crime against intellectual property.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly unprofessional, unethical and inept. Another blogger, Cussedness Corner, warns authors away from Giangregorio as well by offering a horrifying, line-by-line analysis of Open Casket’s terrible author contract.
For the past few days, I’ve been attending the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii, where my short film Bumsicle is screening. I’ve seen quite a few shorts and I’ve been struck by how slick they are technically…and how weak so many of them are when it comes to story telling. It’s as if the film-makers had an idea for a moment, or a character, and then went ahead and made a movie before figuring out if they actually had a story to tell. It’s incredibly frustrating. So many of the shorts start out with promise and then peter out into nothing.
What these film-makers don’t seem to understand is that the story is the most important element… not the kind of camera, editing software, or lighting package you’ve got. All of the technology , all of the acting, all of the directing, are in the service of one thing: telling a great story. If you have a great story, then you can overcome poor production values, iffy sound, and weak acting and still have a strong film. But if you have terrific production values, great sound, and good acting, but your story sucks, or doesn’t go anywhere, your gonna have a crap film, guaranteed.
That said, I’ve also seen some really great stuff here. I think my favorite film so far was PERVERTIGO, a very clever, refreshingly original noir/comedy about a peeping tom who gets strong-armed into committing a murder. It was a technically top-notch for an ultra-low-budget film and the script was terrific.
I also got the chance to spend a few minutes chatting with Saturday Night Live castmember Kate McKinnon, who is one of the Festival’s special guests. This is her first season on the show and she was an immediate, break-out hit with her impersonations of Ellen DeGeneres, Penelope Cruz, and Martha Stewart, among others. But you’d never know that talking to her. She’s very soft-spoken, low-key and self-deprecating. Success is still new to her…a little over a year ago, she was reeling from the cancellation of her show on the Logo network. She told us she got by on unemployment benefits and writing children’s books under a pseudonym. Every year, Kate sent an audition tape to SNL and never heard anything…but this time was different. She got a call-back and, much to her surprise, got hired as a new cast member. The season finale was only last week, so she’s still getting used to the fact that she’s got a steady job on a hit show. It was nice to meet a TV star who is still very much a “normal person.” I hope she stays that way, despite the success and fame that is surely coming her way.
Our chat reminded me of another celebrity encounter I had many years ago. My wife and I were vacationing in the Bahamas and shared a bus ride to the airport with George Clooney, who was a regular on Sisters at the time. He was friendly, approachable, and came across as a nice, average guy, despite his celebrity gig. We had a very pleasant, relaxed conversation. The bus driver, an older woman, complimented him on his straw hat, and he told her some amusing anecdote about how he got it. The bus broke down and the driver started crying, distraught that we’d miss our planes. Clooney reassured her that it was no big deal, that these things happen, and gave her the straw hat on his head as a gift to calm her down. Every time I see Clooney in a movie, I remember that encounter and hope he’s still the same, nice guy despite his wealth and fame.
With WONDERLAND, Ace Atkins flawlessly captures Parker’s narrative voice and has written the best Spenser novel in his years. It reads like Parker in his prime, and even without Hawk appearing in the book. There isn’t a single false note in the plotting, character, pacing or prose. It’s an astonishing feat, it’s like he’s channeling Parker from the great beyond. It’s actually better, and truer to Parker and his characters, than the last few Spenser novels that Parker himself wrote. It’s a shame Atkins can’t take on Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole, too.
Virgin Jon Snow brings cunnilingus to the Wildings
I got a big kick out of GAME OF THRONES last Sunday…when virgin Jon Snow introduced the Wildings to cunnilingus and won the undying devotion of his lover, who was “amazed” at “that thing you did with your mouth.” It was hilarious, matched only by the ridiculous moment in Jean Auel’s novel VALLEY OF THE HORSES when blond Cro-Magnon cavewoman Ayla gave her astonished Neanderthal lover Jondalar a blowjob, demonstrating one of the ingenious reasons why Cro-Magnons would survive and Neanderthals wouldn’t. It was a rare GAME OF THRONES misstep, but entertaining nonetheless.
And there’s the Signed Collector’s Edition, which is the same as the standard edition, except that it’s hand-signed by Janet and me on a special pre-title page… it will be available at Target and some independent mystery bookstores.
Janet Evanovich and I will be going on a book tour on June 18, starting with some media interviews in NY and then hitting Westlake, Ohio with our first booksigning that night. We’ll be in Dallas on June 19, Houston the next day, then finishing up in Atlanta on June 21st. The complete schedule is below.
But if you can’t see us in one of those cities, don’t despair…signed copies of THE HEIST will be available at some select retailers. I’ll let you know as soon as I have a list.
Westlake Ohio, June 18
Barnes & Noble – 6 PM
Signing with Janet & Lee
198 Crocker Park Blvd.
Dallas, Texas – June 19
Barnes & Noble – 6 PM
Signing with Janet & Lee
7700 West Northwest Hwy., Ste. 300
Houston, Texas – June 20
*TICKETS REQUIRED* Murder by the Book presents a Q&A with Janet and Lee – 7 PM
The Renaissance Houston
Greenway Plaza Hotel
6 Greenway Plaza East
Event is in the Greenway Ballroom
*Murder by the Book really wanted to have a special evening for their customers. The $35 ticket includes a seat for the Q&A, a pre-signed copy of The Heist and hotel parking.
Companion seat tickets are $8 (if a companion comes separate from the main ticket holder, please see a Murder by the Book employee to have parking validated.) Murder by the Book will have books for sale at the event, but you are welcome to bring books from home to be signed.
Purchase tickets in-person, starting on May 9, at…
* Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet Street
* Over the phone (713-524-8597)
* Online at murderbooks.com.
Atlanta, Georgia – June 21
Barnes & Noble – 6 PM
Signing with Janet & Lee
1217 Caroline St. at Moreland Ave.