You haven’t arrived until you’ve let Andrew McCarthy rack up debt on your Blockbuster card.

So I told myself and people back home at the time, which was long enough ago to relive safely, but not long enough to feel casual about seeing it as a “time.” It was half a year after I’d crossed the country for Los Angeles, the receptacle of my crowded visions of movies as products of an innocent, worldwide imagination.In the case of the employer to whom I’d first hitched my collegiately-decaled wagon I’d settled for tv movies.I’d awarded myself an early E for effort, and for entertainment.

Among household names then were “Blockbuster”, “videocassette” and “the end-of-millennium.”“Andrew McCarthy” was well ahead of them on slowly fading away.He was set to star in a 10 o’ clock network original playing a single father fighting for custody of his adopted child after his wife’s sudden death.I calculated he now owed me thirty dollars.The production company had rented the movies of the woman playing McCarthy’s wife, for his own research purposes.I’d been sent on the task of obtaining the videos and had used petty cash, but my own card still got strapped with the late fees.

It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.

Departure

At half past five in the morning on a Wednesday Melbourne Airport is empty anyone but airline staff. The sun hasn’t yet risen, and the big bay gate windows face out into a vast darkness broken only by blinking red lights and the dim movement of the great shapes of planes.

Deserted airports are unsettling places. As many of the flights I’ve taken have been during peak traffic hours, I’m used to being surrounded by people; long lines of people, stretching away from the check-in desks manned by energetic, white-shirted staff with great skin, or waiting to be herded through the thin cream plastic gateways of metal detectors while security guards turn their heads away to joke with each other, but never with passengers, or standing bored at the boarding gate, the long blue-carpeted corridor and the sense of forward momentum that just being on a plane brings only a tantalising few steps away.

Sitting here all by myself is a little eerie.

I want to stay awake as long as I can, in order to reset to California time faster – if I can go to sleep eight hours into the flight from Brisbane, I’ll be well on the way to coaching my body over the line and past the worst of the jetlag on the other side of waking. But because I’m up so early, I’m already fatigued, and if I go to sleep too soon, I’ll end up setting myself back further. My plan is to sustain myself by drinking thin, complimentary airline coffee, the taste of which, inexplicably, I love anyway, and focusing on some writing I want to get done until it’s time to sleep.

The flight from Melbourne to Brisbane is OK, although Brisbane Airport is no place for a young man. Leathery middle-aged women with missing teeth and low-cut pink halter tops over their flat and freckled breasts and entire families resplendent in identical rat-tail mullets and Juicy Couture roam the halls, delighted with the presence of a solitary Krispy Kreme outlet staffed by a lone and defeated Indian man.

I make it through to my gate and find there’s no one here, either. Just a long concourse, clinical and neat in its white tiles and in its empty tables and chairs. It’s quiet; lifeless in a way that seems to have no expectation of ever being anything but.

Where is everyone today?

People arrive and sit in pairs and groups around the departure desk throughout the next hour. When boarding is announced and I take my seat on the plane to Los Angeles I wonder idly if there are going to be any young children sitting nearby. I’m situated two rows behind the main bulkhead, and as the plane starts to fill, my insides clench. Beside me is a family with an infant. To my right, a family with two toddlers. Ahead of me, two more families with young kids. As I watch, another two families, infants in tow, come down the aisle and take the rows across the aisle to my left.

‘Isn’t this nice!’ one mother exclaims to another. ‘All these families here! All the kids can play together!’

On cue, one of the younger babies starts to bawl, which sets off another on the other side of this grid of horror, this devil’s game of tic-tac-toe I have found myself imprisoned in.

‘Excuse me,’ I say to a stewardess as she walks past. ‘I see a seat up ahead is spare. Do you think I could…?’

Thank God, thank God, thank God I’m so good-looking, I think. She’s going to give me anything I want.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she says, smiling professionally. ‘That’s Premium Economy. I can’t let you sit there. But there are some seats spare down the back. After take-off, you could go and have a look to see if there are any still free? If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it?’

‘Thank you,’ I say, and sink back into my seat for take-off.

As soon as the fasten seatbelts light chimes off, I’m up and moving. Like a hungry ghost, I fly down the aisle.

And I see it.

It.

An oasis of solitude – empty seat surrounded by empty seat surrounded by empty seat; row after row of unreserved space. With one smooth motion, I strip my jacket from around my shoulders and launch it through the air. It soars in a graceful arc, its empty arms lifting like the eagle wings of sweet liberty herself, and lands perfectly in the middle seat of one of the empty rows, a message to the thieves and jackals who couldn’t think as fast as I: mine.

That night we hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, and my three empty seats bring me no comfort. High above the Pacific, one of my three blankets tucked under my chin, and my three pillows gently cushioning my head against the shakes and buffets of the squalling wind beneath our wings, I close my eyes and think  Goddamnit. I’m never going to get to sleep on this flight.

I am right, and my next chance to close my eyes and rest comes at LAX. I catch a fifteen minute nap there, and thank God for the opportunity to sleep on the connecting flight to SFO, even if its only for an hour or so. After I’ve taken my seat, a pale and tousle-haired hipster kid slinks his way down the aisle. He is wearing jeans so tight I worry for his future children’s IQ, and a loose beige cardigan that matches his perfectly dishevelled, scruffy hair. He sits next to me, and before I take my nap I wonder what he would do if I warned him that sometimes I scream in my sleep.

But I do not, and I’m sure I will be sorry for this later.¹

*

Arrival

It’s Wednesday, still, more than twenty four hours later, and I wake from a deep and dreamless sleep as we’re touching down in San Francisco and catch a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The Huntington is a towering old building just below the top of Nob Hill on California Street that I can only afford because of the cut-rate prices on Priceline.com. My room number is 11-11, which I take as a good omen.

‘What brings you here?’ the desk clerk asks as I’m signing in.

‘Halloween, man,’ I say. It is the first of a hundred times this week I will say this.

‘You came just for Halloween?’ he asks. ‘Really?’

It is the first of a hundred times someone will ask this.

I shower and unpack before heading down the hill to buy toiletries and food and coffee. I’m here. I’ve done it. This is my time.

At last, I will have my Halloween.

*

Inside Baseball

It’s Thursday, and Meredith texts that she and her friends are going to watch Game 2 in a bar in Glen Park. On arrival, I am greeted by a sea of Giants fans in orange and black, and a buzz of friendly noise. I order a drink, Meredith introduces me, and I have to ask the group: ‘So how do you play this game?’

The rules are explained to me, and suddenly the bar erupts as we score against Texas.

‘OK!’ A, one of Meredith’s friends says. ‘Let’s drink a shot every time we score!’

In the eighth inning, Posey singles up the middle. Holland walks Schierholtz and Ross to load the bases, then walks Huff. Lowe walks Uribe, Rentería singles to left field, and Ross and Huff score. In the space of five minutes, the Giants score six runs, and we decide it may be in our best interests to abandon the drink-a-shot-whenever-we-score rule. Instead, we start drinking freely, and when the game ends with us victorious, we pour out into the night looking for another bar.

This is much better than any Australian sport.

*

Before Halloween

Just as I’d hoped, Halloween is everywhere and by serendipitous coincidence, with the city in the Series, the streets are decked out in orange and black.

Everywhere I look, there are carved pumpkins on porches,  or toy ghosts hanging in store windows, or cartoon witches soaring on broomsticks through supermarket shelves.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

My first real taste of the day comes as I’m getting a haircut at a salon a floor above street level. ‘Oh, quick!’ Joey the hairdresser says and puts down her scissors. ‘The kids from one of the schools nearby are trick-or-treating! You have to come see this, you’re going to love it!’

She drags me to the window and from our viewpoint about the street we can see the long lines of kids, held in formation by the watchful shapes of teachers, dotted at regular intervals along the column, dressed in costume. Sunlight glints off astronaut helmets, off fairy wings, off the blades of cutlasses worn through belts.

I hate all of the children. Their bright and shining faces remind me that this could have – should have – been mine, and it never was.

Also, one of them has a bitchin’ Lady Gaga outfit.

I could never pull that off, and I know it.

Saturday night is Meredith’s all-girl football team fundraiser. Ten bucks at the door buys unlimited PBR, and Sue’s packing a giant bowl of Jello shots. Me and Zhu and Emily, Kate and Tara and Lindsey, and Lyn and Erin and Casey shout at the TV as the Rangers take the lead in Game 3 and beat the Giants. We turn to the bottomless PBR to drown our sorrow. Someone puts twenty bucks in the jukebox. The fundraiser tails into an invitation to a house party in the Mission, and we drag ourselves away from Stray Bar in Bernal Heights and work our way there across 18th, across Dolores, by bicycle, by taxi, by car.

The house party is being held by someone named Tersch, a werewolf with a kitchen full of Brazilians. She paints my face in black and red and shows me where the drinks are.

Zhu and I make it our unspoken mission to have more fun than anyone else here. We drink the unfinished Jello shots, we shoot Tersch’s whiskey, and when someone starts passing around a bottle of Jager, we can’t seem to avoid it. Twenty minutes into the party, Zhu’s doing a handstand against the wall and I’m holding onto her boots while she drinks a cup of water upside down to cure her hiccups. A nerd and a Native American and Cupid look on and laugh as Zhu proclaims her temporary illness finally fixed.

Somehow, a half dozen of us end up sitting on the side of the street, under a blanket in the bed of Cupid’s truck, crowds of hundreds of migratory Halloweeners laughing and partying and shouting out around us. Someone steals Tara’s crutch while we’re not looking, and I run across the street to ask security at the nearby street party if they’ve seen it.

I see a girl sitting holding onto a crutch and I think Aha! I’ve got you now!

Then I see she’s wearing a giant moon boot.

‘Can I help you?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I say. ‘Well, see, someone stole my friend’s crutch, and I thought… ‘

She looks at me, and with the honesty of someone who’s been drinking for about six straight hours, I say ‘I figured maybe you’d be the kind of awful human being who would steal someone’s crutch, but now I see that you have that big boot on, so you probably need your crutch, but I kinda hoped that whoever stole the crutch maybe thought it was part of a costume, because who steals a crutch? So I came over to check, but it looks like you actually legitimately need your crutch, and you didn’t steal it from my friend. Oh. Both of your crutches, I see.’

‘Your poor friend!’ she says. ‘I wish I could give her one of my crutches.’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Anyway, I’m gonna go.’

*

Halloween

It’s Sunday, and I’m going to meet  friends in a bar in Bernal Heights to watch Game 4 and grab a few quiet drinks. I catch the 22 to the top of the hill, and when I get off, the sky is still that perfect hazy shade of powder blue and ice-cream white.

I have no way of knowing that Bernal Heights is where people take their children for trick-or-treating. It’s like the whole suburban neighbourhood turns into a small town for the night – I crest the hill to see an ocean of people with their children, everyone in costume, wishing each other the best and knocking on doors. Jack O’Lanterns sit outside houses and stores alike; ghosts and witches hang from streetlights, the doors of haunted houses are thrown open to reveal thick cobwebs and polished skulls and grinning demons.

This is so perfect I’m almost on the verge of tears. This is everything I ever wanted from my childhood, and it’s right here. This is exactly how I pictured Halloween as being when I was a kid. I move through the crowd, taking photos, talking and smiling and never wanting to be anywhere but here.

*

Fear the Beard

It’s Monday night and Meredith and I are in the Mission. We’re sitting and watching Game 5 with two friends of hers. Lincecum is pitching what may turn out to be the game of his life – firing off eight innings of death from the mound. I wonder if he’s related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and why his face looks like it’s always going to crumple into tears.

The ninth rolls around with the score 3-1 to the Giants.  Wilson takes the mound. He strikes out Hamilton, Guerrero grounds out, and Cruz takes the plate.

We’re watching the game on a TV with a delay of maybe two seconds, so as we see Wilson wind up for his final pitch and a roar suddenly goes up over the Mission, we know we’ve won.

Meredith and I take to the streets to meet some people I know, and the city has become a madhouse. Everywhere, Giants fans are roaring, running through the streets, slamming their palms down onto the horns in their cars. There are cops and roadblocks in the Castro, while people shout and sing and throw rolls of toilet paper over the streetlights. No one is inside; it’s like we just won every war that’s ever been fought.

Later that night, as I’m walking down Market Street, I come to a pedestrian crossing in front of a line of cars that goes back three blocks.

Unable to help myself, I yell ‘Go Giants!’ and the intersection explodes with the sound of people calling back to me and honking their horns. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The next day I read that people were burning mattresses in the streets.

Those guys party much harder than I do.

*

Jornada del Muerto

It’s Tuesday, and we’re in a giant open warehouse with a skull-headed DJ playing beats. For five dollars, make-up artists will paint your face with spray guns, shading paints, brushes and pads and pencils. But there are too many people here, and the line is too long, and the parade starts at seven. Zoe takes me to the DIY table and makes me up with black eyes, a hollow nose, and lipless teeth. She makes up Lexy too, before we head off for the parade. The organiser with giant hoops in his ears is bitchy about giving me my money back.

‘Well, I guess you’ll have to get here earlier next year, won’t you?’ he says.

Well, I guess that would help if I lived here.

Five of us start off through the Mission, following the route of the parade for Dia de Los Muertos, but Zoe’s stylist, whose name I can’t remember, hangs back to meet some people. Lexy and I and the other girl, another forgotten name, lose Zoe, then find her, then I lose the group. We stay in phone contact as I wander through crowds of the dead. Hundreds, thousands. Skulls and candles and offerings are everywhere. A giant black coach emblazoned with calaveras moves slowly through the mass of people that packs the streets. People hoist paper skeletons high on poles. Dead women in white dresses and dead men in black suits move through the crowd to the beat of graveyard drums.

I find myself at the head of the parade; dancers in long headgear shake and writhe under long banners. Somehow, I’ve overshot the mark of meeting everyone. There’s an anonymity here, all of us dead together and reaching out to offer a spark of life and love to that other black world that crowds in around us tonight.

I can’t believe I’ve never been to Dia de Los Muertos before.

This is the best week ever.


 

*

San Francisco

It’s Wednesday, and I start to realise just how much I miss it here as I walk into Walgreen’s for the first time.

I miss the way the light breaks over the top of houses in Bernal Heights and Noe Valley.

I miss the way coffee shops with dark wooden interiors and twentysomethings with yoga mats using Apple computers sit alongside Starbucks full of professionals with that wholesome mid-Western American look.

I miss that cold clean breeze that moves through the streets when the end of the afternoon starts to deepen into the start of twilight, and I miss the inexorable chill that signals the sun is going down.

I miss standing on the porch in the Castro and seeing the city spread out in front of me at night.

While I’m here, I walk from Chinatown to City Lights bookstore. I catch the Muni as much as I’m able, from Powell to Church, to the Castro. I catch the BART out to the Mission. I walk through Nob Hill, through the Mission, through the Embarcadero. At long last, I catch a cable car. I sit in Barnes and Noble and drink caramel lattes, and I want to be back here.

We drink at the Lex, we drink at the Argus, we drink at Stray Bar. We get coffee at Philz, at La Taza, at Urban Bread.

I get lunch with Angela Tung, and a bird relieves itself in my hair.

I sit in Dolores Park with Meredith, and we talk about traveling and settling down.

I buy a Giants cap at the Westfield Mall, and, unwittingly, take off and throw away the hologram on the brim that will result in it being worth money some day. I don’t care; I’m never selling this thing.

I promise myself that I’m going to get back here. Some way or another.

 

*

Los Angeles

It’s Wednesday, and I arrive, exhausted, at the Grafton, on Sunset. I make a couple of calls, send a few texts, and open up my laptop  to discover that the loose casing (my fault) has finally cost me. A wire is visibly broken, and my computer won’t turn on. I sit down on the bed and wake up the next morning.

*

My American Year

It’s Thursday, and my friend Erinn comes into town from Ventura and spends the day ferrying me around. We go to Olvera Street and I buy a bunch of Dia de Los Muertos souvenirs for people. I pick up a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle for my mother, suddenly acutely aware that I have never once brought her back anything from overseas.

Better late than never, right?

We head out to the beach and I insist we find a place where I can buy a yearly planner for 2011. My reasoning is that if I buy it in America, it will be a sign to the universe that 2011, for me, will be a year spent in America.

I’m wearing my Giants cap, and we pass a woman wearing the same as we cross the streets.

‘Go Giants!’ I say, cheerfully. The woman stares at me blankly as we walk past.

‘Who were you talking to?’ Erinn asks. I shake my head and make a note not to show off any more.

Then as we’re in line at Barnes and Noble, where I’ve found a planner I like, I see a guy wearing a Giants cap two places ahead at the counter. He sees me looking at my hat as I see him looking at mine. He doesn’t say a word, just gives me a silent, satisfied nod of affirmation. Erinn laughs beside me.

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I saw.’

*

The Usual Suspects

It’s Thursday night and I can’t help it; if I think of Hollywood I think of Los Angeles, if I think of Los Angeles, I think of Lenore and Duke. If I think of Lenore or Duke, I think of Los Angeles, and I think of Hollywood. It’s just the way it goes.

Lenore and Duke pick me up from my hotel and we go to Delancey’s for dinner. I like that this is where we go when we’re together in Los Angeles, like it’s kind of where you go if you write for TNB. There’s an empty place at the table for four, and we allocate it to Zara, who calls a few moments into the meal. The food, as always, is good. Duke gets the chocolate cake for dessert, and I am jealous, as his choice is superior to mine.

It’s good to see them, and it’s strange to think I just got here and already I’ll be leaving tomorrow night. On the way back to the car we pass a cat who wants to play with us, and we decide that Zara’s place in the group can be taken by our new cat friend.

I secretly cannot wait to tell Zara she has been replaced by a cat.

*

Departures

It’s Friday, and I’m hanging out with my friend Linz. I’ve stolen Ben Loory’s delicatessen, Greenblatt’s. This is his place, as far as I’m concerned, but I want the hot pastrami dip sandwich. I must have it. I can have nothing else. The waitress is from San Diego and makes idle chatter as we wait about how good San Diego is, but has trouble pulling out specifics.

‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘We’re going to settle something.’

I call Joe Daly and ask him what the best place in San Diego is.

‘My house,’ he says, sounding surprised that such a question would even occur.

I promise Joe that Zara and I will make our next trip soon, and we will come to San Diego.

The day goes by too quickly, and soon I am back at LAX. I talk in my bad Spanish to the woman in front of me at the security checkpoint. She is from Colombia and going to Wisconsin, of all places. She is old, with bad teeth and a shy smile. We sit together after going through the metal detectors and put our shoes back on. Something falls from her bag, a piece of paper, and I hand it back to her.

‘Gracias, senor,’ she says.

‘De nada, senora,’ I say in reply. ‘Que tenga un bueno noche.’

‘Si,’ she says. ‘Y tu.’

I have no idea how to say, ‘I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life and I don’t want to go back to Australia yet,’ in Spanish. We haven’t covered that at El Patio Spanish Language School. So I smile and go to catch my flight, and in my head, I am laying plans for my return.

This week I have had my first baseball game, my first Halloween, my first Dia de Los Muertos. I have drunk my first Old-Fashioned, eaten my first tamale, done whatever it is you do with your first Jello shots. I have seen people I love and don’t see enough, people I don’t see nearly as much as I want to, because they’re so far away.

I could do this week every day of the year.

 

 

 

 





¹ – correct.


I used to be friendly with a movie star (though her career was in a slump at the time I knew her), and once, when we were talking about road rage, she said, “I always feel funny about flipping people off. I think it might be someone who can give me a job.”

For similar reasons, actors tend to be unnaturally upbeat in interviews. What did you think of the director? Oh, he’s great; he’s a genius. And the cast? They were wonderful, all of them; I was in heaven every day on the set.

But actors in private are a different story. I think such-and-such is awful, they’ll tell you; it’s bullshit that he got such great reviews. Of course, it also works the opposite way: actors love as much as they hate, though they might not want their enthusiasms broadcast, knowing how easily they can be misconstrued.

Okay, so after playing this game for several nights now, (and I’m sure millions more have done it too, after it was rumored that Brad Pitt might play Mikael “Kalle Fucking” Blomkvist), here are my suggestions for the cast of the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But up front three rules I followed for my choices:


Remember in the olden days, when movies were based on nothing more than a screenwriter’s brainchildren? Now movies are based on novels, childrens’ books, even theme park rides. And which superhero is helping bridge the publishing world with the glittering stardust of Hollywood? That’s right, a hard-working, bookstore-scouring, voracious reader like one Ms. Sarah Self, literary agent at The Gersh Agency and champion of writers everywhere.

WordHustler sat down with Ms. Self to get the skinny on the convergence of Hollywood and the publishing industry, the kind of queries that hook her, and the lure of a good, old-fashioned zombie story. Read on to fill your cup with the elixir of publishing (and Hollywood) SUCCESS!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the industry?

Sarah Self: I went to school at Northwestern University and got my start in the industry by working/interning for Lynda ObstJodie Foster, and Stacy Sher and Michael Shamberg at Jersey Films. In college I knew that this was the business I wanted to work in, so every summer I would come to LA and do internships. I did a lot of coverage and started building my resume.

Then when I graduated everyone told me I should get agency experience but didn’t think that I wanted to be an agent. I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do- maybe more in line with being a producer- I definitely knew I wanted to create. But agency experience really helps, despite what some may think. Agencies put it all together. Of course the project starts with the writer, but the agency is really the link that connects everybody. That’s where you have directors, writers, talent and they all come to an agency as the center point. It’s the perfect place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do, because you work with all the elements. So I started working at CAA for Bob Bookman, who’s the head of CAA’s Film Department and still my mentor today. He’s at the top of his game.

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WH: Going from a Hollywood agency background to working for an agent who is also involved in book publishing, were you drawn to the publishing industry?

SS: I started working for Bob as his assistant and found that it was my dream job: working with authors who are in the movies. I worked for him and became a junior agent CAA, but didn’t think I wanted to be at an agency long-term so I worked in development. But then had this moment where I looked around LA and looked around my peers and didn’t feel inspired. I found the development process to be stifling and dismal. You see the same people going after the same scripts and everybody is so reactive- no one is really taking any risks.

I started to freak out, so I decided to move to New York because I’d romanticized New York from when I worked at CAA with authors. I knew I had to shake it up. I knew that The Gersh Agency had a NYC office and didn’t have anyone doing books. WMA, Endeavor, ICM and CAA [other Hollywood agencies] already had saturated NYC book departments. So I went immediately to the company that didn’t have anyone doing it and I created my own job. If you sit and wait for your dream job to come, it never will. You have to be proactive. So I created the job and said, “Let me run your New York book department.” I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have any clients, I had never even been a real agent. To be an agent you have to know the ins and outs of making a deal. But I just jumped into it.

WH: As one of the few book agents working in Los Angeles, do you find your job to be challenging since you’re one of the lone bridges between Hollywood and the publishing industry? Especially now that Hollywood is leaning more heavily on the publishing industry- are you over-saturated?

SS: I think every agent is probably over-saturated. We’re part of a bigger trend, which is that agents are more and more becoming producers. So the role of the producer is being diminished in the traditional sense in that it’s not just about me taking a book and sending it to producers, and them sending it to the studio and making the movie. Now I have to package the book- attach talent, directors, etc- and then give it to the studios. More often than not, I’m starting to go to manager/producers or go to agencies and package materials there. I also package internally within Gersh. I have no need to keep it internal, it’s what’s best for the client.

I think Hollywood is relying on publishing yet is also reluctant to take big steps with material from publishing unless publishing has already performed. The book ofTWILIGHT, everyone forgets, had already been optioned a couple of times before Summit finally made it. It all comes down to risk. It’s all about having an opinion and having a voice and taking a stance. If you try to like what everyone else likes, you’re going to be at the end of the trend. If you try to wait for someone to find your book and your script in their huge stack, they’re never going to find it. You have to keep pushing and keep being proactive.

WH: Do you find you have a lot of agents calling you with a tiny book that isn’t published yet and they’re trying to sell movie rights? Or do you deal with books that have already been published?

SS: I think that everything is changing. Book agents are still calling with that little book they just sold. But this amazing zombie book called BREATHERS was something that I found in Publisher’s Marketplace. It had been sold and I called the agent because I love zombies and said, “This sounds great.” She sent it to me and I loved it, so I packaged it. On the other end of the spectrum, I got a call from an agent yesterday who is sending me a small, literary difficult book. Overall, publishers don’t know what Hollywood is looking for because everyone wants to have the small, perfect Oscar nominee and no one knows what that is.

WH: What draws you to a book? Is there a particular genre you like?

SS: I love anything dark. I love horror- especially psychological horror. I love worlds and subcultures. I’m really interested in death metal, for example, or anything that’s a unique world.

WH: Do you ever find books that you love that you don’t think would translate to the screen?

SS: Yes but if I love it, I figure out how to translate it to screen.

WH: What’s the last thing you read and absolutely loved?

SS: The last thing I read that I loved is Dame Darcy’s book, which is akin to THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS, called THE HANDBOOK FOR HOT WITCHES. The parallel she makes is how to be a strong, sexy, confident woman and the parallel being that it’s a witch, not a bitch. You can be tough and be smart and do your thing and if guys call you a bitch, you’re a witch. The whole book follows the witch theme with a how-to spell guide and witchy recipes. It is so awesome. I love it. I fell in love with this book and was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but I will sell the movie rights.” It’s all about passion.

WH: Why do you think Hollywood is moving away from generating original content and relying on remakes, sequels, and books?

SS: I think for a while representatives were getting really lazy. There were certain people in town called “The Spec Boy,” which were reps who would just go out and sell spec scripts and create this fake buzz. There were so many instances of slamming not totally ready material out there and studios were being duped into buying it because there wasn’t anything else and because it was on a “list.” So it became this “We should be buying this” herd mentality. Finally the studios looked around and said, “We have so much bad material, let’s go back to what’s always been consistently viable, which is books.” There’s also a platform to books, remakes and sequels that screenplays don’t have. That’s I think the number one thing.

But look, if there’s still great material, it gets put together. Great scripts still sell. Producers still have deals with studios, who are still making movies. But today people have to rely on platforms and branding- I know that’s a word everyone hates hearing, but that’s the way the market is going.

WH: Well put. What types of book adaptations are you looking for that you haven’t found yet?

SS: Something that’s really about a cool world, a non-fiction world or a sub culture that I might not know about yet. Whether it’s related to music, etc, I don’t care. I sold this book- it’s a great story called THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI. It’s a nonfiction book written by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. It’s very clinical and dense – these guys knew everything about Houdini. They are amazing researchers. But it was a book that when I sent it to producers, people were just tuning out.

So I kept sending it and sending it for four years and finally I was like, “You know what? This isn’t working and I believe this is a movie. I’m going to change the pitch and turn this into something else.” So I changed the pitch to: “This is the next SHERLOCK HOLMES and DARK KNIGHT.” All the big superheroes have already been exploited, who’s a big international star that we haven’t done yet? Houdini. Its Robert Downey Jr, it’s Warner Brothers, it’s glossy, and there you go. Done. So I pitched it to someone at Summit Entertainment [makers of TWILIGHT], they loved it, and it sold. My point is that if you love something, you can sell it.

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers, both prose and screen, out there?

SS: Don’t write what everybody else is writing. Just because THE HANGOVER is making a ton of money and won a Golden Globe, please don’t write something that is THE HANGOVER meets DADDY DAY CARE. By the time you write it, it will have already been done. I think Diablo [Cody, screenwriter of JUNO and Sarah’s client] is a great example in that she wrote a movie about a 16-year-old girl who gets knocked up and decides to keep the baby. If she had pitched that to any producer they would have said, “Huh? What are you talking about? No way.” But she did it anyway.

It’s true when they say: write what you know. Stick to that. Don’t try to write what people want you to write and don’t copy what’s already out there. There are so many reps tell their writers to: “Go write THE HANGOVER” and that’s so wrong. It’s all about showing that you have a voice and being provocative and being different. You have to do it as a representative and you have to do it as an actor- you have to have a different look and a different style. Look at music – it’s a perfect parallel in that you have all these one hit wonders and then you have Lady Gaga who doesn’t give a f#$% and she knows if she looks crazy and is amazing, people are going to notice her. And it’s worked! You have to get people to notice you.

When I get queries all day long, I usually hit delete. I delete them because they are really long and the writers don’t know how to craft a query and they’re boring. So I just started hitting delete. Then today actually, for the first time in a long time, there was a query that stuck out. I was going through emails and I was swamped and there was something funny in it and the title really summed up what it was going to be. You could tell this person had done their research and knew what deals I had done, too. So I wrote back: “Yeah, send it. I’ll read it.” I’m not encouraging people to send ridiculous things, but be bold. Otherwise, it all just goes by really fast and you’ll just get lost in the sea.

She speaks, we listen. So what are you waiting for? Tighten your prose, polish your query, then spend some time seeking out agents who match your aesthetics and aspirations. Targeting your submissions to agents who you’ve researched shows them you’ve put in the time and you’ve got the drive to succeed. Why not sign up for our Digital Submission System to help keep track of all those wonderful queries you’re sending out to the world?

WordHustler wants to help you find your perfect agent, editor, and writing future. Hopefully soon you’ll catch the eye of an accomplished agent like Ms. Self then be on your way to publishing (and Hollywood) success! Fingers crossed!


I overthought high school. During my senior prom, for instance, a whole host of gestures seemed to be called for and I performed only a portion of them.When my date and I hit a lull in conversation or a group dance number began, I waited for cues that never came as to how I should proceed.I excused myself for a drink I didn’t want.The trips to the punch bowl provided the illusion that I knew what I was doing to an audience I imagined might be watching my every move.

Then, fifteen years later, I stepped toward another table spread with a fresh confidence.I swaggered in my tux like I should have the first time.My elbows knew how far out to jut.I lifted one of the glasses from the white tablecloth.My new date smiled, on an unspoken toast.

From Paint It Black
concerning the aftermath of a suicide in 1980 punk rock LA.

Characters:
Josie Tyrell: art model
Pen Valadez: rock journalist
Lola Lola: art rock diva
Nick Nitro: punk guitarist, Josie’s ex.

 

Who knew that Bigelow’s win for best director last night was the first such win for a woman? This seems insane to me. And I suppose we shouldn’t make anything of the fact that she won for a film that, despite some murmurings early on about how she lent a “feminine touch” to the raw dealings of war was, let’s face it, a “boy movie.”

When I was about to publish my novel, Banned for Life, I had a number of exchanges with Jonathan Evison, whose counsel I sought with regard to promotion, among other matters. He was aware of certain aspects of my past, and he advised me to be forthcoming about them, since to do otherwise, he said, would amount to breaking faith with readers.

Jonathan is a wise man, but I regarded Banned as my child, and so wanted to shield it from the sins of its father. I imagined dismissive reviews based less on the book and more on my rap sheet, as well as sneering remarks posted on message boards. Paranoia? But I’ve been the target of such remarks, and I wanted to give Banned a running start before falling on my sword.

Now, I figure, the time has come. Banned has barely been noticed since it appeared more than six months ago, and I’ve tested the waters with friends made since, and none have responded as feared.

I.

I ran into Owen Wilson on Cahuenga.
Owen Wilson, I said, stopping short.
Hey man, he said, how’s it going? Are there are a lot of cops around here?

Cops? I said.
I was kind of concerned.
Like, what do you mean? I said.
Cops, he said. You know, police. I don’t know if I can park my car here.

I turned and looked and Owen Wilson’s car was parked right in the middle of the sidewalk.
Oh, I said. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t do that.

The Dark Undone

By D. R. Haney

Memoir

Macbeth

The thought came to me when I was fifteen and trying to sleep on New Year’s Eve. Nothing I recall had happened to incite it. I’d spent the night babysitting my younger siblings while my mother attended a party, and she returned home around one in the morning and everyone went to bed. (My parents had divorced, though they continued to quarrel as if married.) My brother was sleeping in the bunk below mine, and as I stared at the ceiling and listened to the house settle, I thought: Why don’t you go into the kitchen and get a knife and stab your family to death?

labianca interior

Jerry and Mary Neeley used to own the best video store on the east side of L.A. That’s where I met them, and since they closed shop two years ago to sell movie collectibles online, we’ve occasionally met for coffee and talk of, among other topics, true crime. We’ve also kept in touch by e-mail, and last week Mary sent the following message:

As you know, the 40th anniversary of Tate/LaBianca is this August 8th & 9th. (Technically, the 9th & 10th because both parties were killed after midnight.)

I wanted to go to the LaBianca house around 1am on the 10th to see if anyone else shows up. Would you be interested? I don’t want to walk up there alone at 1am.

I called Brad Listi from some sleepy little suburb in Sacramento. We chatted. I think I strong-armed the poor fellow and told him that I wanted to read at TNB’s first L.A reading. He’s too kind. Dear and charming.

I got the gig.

So, L.A.  I had to go. Haven’t seen my birth city in years. Memories of crowded streets and concrete buildings tumbled through my head. 

I gassed up and hit I-15.


On my way in, I picked up a friend of mine, Christy, at the Ontario airport. Ontario is ugly. My friend is not. She’s gorgeous and has the deepest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.

We zipped into Eagle Rock where my mom’s side of the family was having a family reunion. We ate tacos, drank beer, yapped it up, and I danced to some Michael Jackson cuts, slapping my aunt’s ass who was grooving in front of me. People cheered and snapped pictures.

I love to dance. 

Go figure.

I’m supposed to be the rock and roll dude. All spikes and metal. But I love a good beat. And when I hear one my ass shakes and I start snapping my fingers and smashing my brown eyes. What can I say?

Give me Al Green and I’ll give you my body. Hips, dude energy, and all. I’m easy that way.

Way.

* * *

Saturday night I caught up with Rich Ferguson, Lenore Zion, and Megan DiLullo for some drinks.

Zion: cute, funny, and she has nice hands. I like girls that have nice hands. I couldn’t believe that I was in her presence after all these years of literary tomfoolery. It was surreal.

Megan: tattoos and black hair. Rock and roll with a hint of danger shifting in the background. I think she could kick my ass. I didn’t provoke her. After all, I had to read the next night. Didn’t need a black eye. Or two.

Rich: what can I say? I met the man before. But Listi told me years ago this dude was the salt of the earth. And he is. If I had just a dash of what this man carries in his heart I’d sleep better and would have a better appetite. He kicks ass, period.

We talked music, movies, and literature and I think I may  have dropped too many F-bombs. But fuck it.

I cuss. 

So there.

That night I slept horribly. Had a weird dream one of my ex-girlfriends – disguised as a maid – was at the hotel door demanding we talk about our problems. Huh? Everything was a problem to her. The color of the sun. Bargain car tires. Green beans. The taste of water.

Lord have mercy.

Please, sir, send me some mercy.

* * *

I walked into Hotel Cafe and saw some dude in a beanie: Duke Haney. In the flesh. He was there right in front of me. Crazy.

“Haney?” I asked, and went in for a hug.

“Reno?” he asked.

See, folks, I’m a huggy-type guy. Sure, I gave the man a handshake like men do, but I went in for the hug because I have an affinity with the dude. He’s a happening thoughtful, talented, man and I knew this long before we met eyes.

Then I hear: “Is that Reno Romero?”

I turn and there’s Listi standing there. Listi, people! With eyeballs, fingers, and tennis shoes. This is another happening dude. But you know this. Or should know this. And I owe him billions for giving me a forum.

Then: Rachel Pollon. Dear, adorable, and way cool. Everything I figured she’d be. Great eyes and a lover of pooches.

Does it get any better than this?

I was in heaven.

* * *

First to hit the stage was Stefan. Funny guy, solid writer, and he delivered a great intro to his reading and carried a tiny guitar that apparently can’t be tuned. He killed.

Next was my turn. Some story about putting a book on hold, some concert I went to, and straight memory. I think it went down well. Heard some laughs. I think. But not too sure. I hopped off stage thankful and feeling slightly giddy. Buzzed from the vibe. Or maybe the Guinness I bought from some chubby dude that was bartending.

I chatted with Phat B and found him dear, smart as fuck, and cool. Hey.

Lenore took the stage and talked midgets and fear. I, unlike most folk, love fear. I find it appetizing. Like a good Kir Royale. Or a basket of wings extra hot. Anyhow, she’s cute. But, I already addressed this. She was great.

And then Ferguson took the stage.

That motherfucker.

The pictures say it all. Nipples, feet, pink suit, and genius. A true Bond Girl. He blew us off the stage and took over Hollywood like I’m sure he’s done a zillion times. It was a stellar performance. Part philosophical, part comical, and nothing less than astounding. The house roared and later that night I locked lips with him minus the tongue.

(I would have given that handsome devil the works, but we didn’t agree on what bands were cool and which ones sucked dick. His loss. I’ve heard I have a real soft tongue and give one hell of a kiss.)

Anyhow, this guy is the real deal and a glorious, beautiful, human being.

I was floored.

Everyone was.

After we were done drinking and spanking each other we moved across the street for more drinks and more irresponsible adult crap. 

I met Milo Martin, his girl, Ben Loory, and Listi’s wife. More sweet people.

Shit! Does it get any better?

And that’s when I told Rich that Rush sucks.

And they do. I pinched up my nose and gave my best Geddy Lee impersonation. It was the best thing I ever created in my life and Rich was sickened. He likes Rush.

Haney agreed with me.

“They suck,” he told Rich.

“Fuck you guys!” Rich shouted.

We all laughed our asses off and I will never forget that moment.

Ever.

Folks, as I write this the word count is telling me I’m over the thousand words. I’m out of time. Way.

In the end, Haney gave me and the girl with pretty blue eyes a ride back to our hotel. We floated through the Hollywood streets and I was yapping some lame shit in Haney and Christy’s ears. What I said, I can’t tell you. But I was loud and ridiculous.

Which is normal.

That night I didn’t dream of that ex-girlfriend in a maid uniform. Which was fine by me.

Okay.

I’m done.

What a great time. Full of love and craziness.

And that’s me.

I love you all.

Really.