Category Archives: Robert Gregory Browne

Living the Dream

by Robert Gregory Browne

I know I promised not to speak about this again, but promises are made to be broken, and someone in the comments said they were interested in this journey, so I decided to share the following, which, I confess, was written for another blog.  You’ve read variations of this story in past posts of mine, so I hope you don’t mind me repeating it.

But since I’m going down to Sony Studios tomorrow to see the final cut of the pilot, I thought it appropriate to post this.  We should know by the middle of next week where we stand for the upcoming season. 

So you’ll either witness me jumping for joy or silently slinking away… 🙂

———————

They stuck the girl in a wooden box and put her in the ground. I know because I was there. I saw the whole thing.

But don’t worry, I wasn’t witness to some horrible crime, although it was a little disconcerting to many of the people there. The woman sitting next to me started to squirm in her seat a bit, and looked genuinely concerned about the girl’s safety.

“I don’t like this,” she said solemnly.

I didn’t really blame her.

The girl in the box was a mere teenager. Beautiful by all accounts. Young. Vulnerable. And looking very alone as they put a pair of goggles on her face and lowered the lid over her, closing her inside. A moment later, they were throwing dirt on the lid, then three men climbed down into the hole, grabbed their shovels, and waited for the assistant director to shout, “Action!”

When the call came, they began scraping their shovels across the wood, then one of them — Dylan Walsh, the one playing Jack Donovan — dropped to his knees and began pulling desperately at the lid, breaking away parts of it to expose the pale hands of the teenage girl inside, which were bound together with rope.

As soon as those hands were revealed, the director shouted “Cut!” And everyone let out a breath.

*

I wrote the novel KISS HER GOODBYE about six years ago. The story of an ATF agent frantically trying to find his daughter after she’s been buried alive by a psychopath, it came at the end of a decade and a half of trying to get my screenplays produced in Hollywood.

I’d spent fifteen years struggling in the motion picture rat race, getting nibbles and bites, a solid sale, sitting through dozens of lunches and pitch meetings, and a few years working as a story editor and script writer for cartoon shows.

It was a difficult existence, with few emotional payoffs. I made money, to be sure, and a few good friends in the process — but I was never creatively satisfied, especially after winding up in the animation ghetto, putting words into the mouths of Spider-Man and Diabolik and the kids from Cyber 9.

It was a living, but not particularly fun.

When the animation gigs finally dried up, I decided to call it quits. The problem was that I wasn’t writing what was true to my heart. I had been putting words to someone else’s vision. Someone else’s ideas. And while I certainly did the best job I could — and took pride in that — the emotional investment in the work was, needless to say, lacking.

So I quit and decided it was time to write something for myself. Thanks to the urging of a novelist friend of mine, what had originally begun as an idea for a feature screenplay soon started taking shape in my mind as a book. A crime thriller with a twist that nobody had ever before seen.

I had never written a novel — or, at least, completed one — but sitting down at the computer every day was pure bliss. I was writing my OWN vision. My OWN idea. And I was no longer restricted by the rules of screenwriting. I could get inside the heads of my characters and tell the readers what the people I’d created were thinking and feeling and experiencing.

The task was liberating.

About three months after I wrote “the end,” KISS HER GOODBYE (then called A Measure of Darkness) sold to St. Martin’s Press. It was the first of the four novels I now have in print. Then, several months ago, my literary agent got an email. A young television producer had read the book and loved it, and wanted to know if the rights were available.

They were, and we optioned them to him. But even though I knew this young producer had a great track record and had just gotten a new show on the air — based on an Elmore Leonard story — I didn’t really expect anything from this. Properties are optioned all the time in Hollywood, and most of those options lapse.

But a few months later, I was surprised by a call from my agent. The book had been sold to CBS as the basis of a TV series and the producers had gotten the go ahead to write a pilot script. This was fantastic news, of course. But scripts are written all the time in Hollywood, and as I knew from my own experience, very few ever actually make it to production.

So again, I wasn’t expecting much — even though the guy who would be writing the script had an amazing track record. I just figured this was the last I’d hear of the project.

Oh, boy, was I wrong.

*

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a change in both television and movies.

In the old days, television always played second banana to the feature world. If you were in television you weren’t part of “the big show” and the work you did was often considered substandard. And there was certainly some truth to that. With a few exceptions, much of what was on TV in those days paled in comparison to the movies. Television shows were badly lit (shadows barely existed), often poorly acted, and looked as flat as can be.

Think Brady Bunch. Or Gilligan’s Island. Or any of the cookie cutter cop shows. All of which have warm places in many of our hearts, but let’s face it, the writing quality and production values were not equal to what you’d see in the movies.

Yes, there were wonderful, well-written shows at the time (Rockford Files comes to mind), and we could all sit around arguing about which ones were the best, but even the greatest TV series at the time were no match for “the big show.”

This is no longer true, I think. In fact, over the past decade, television has become one of the most consistent producers of quality episodic entertainment. I believe that the best writers, producers and directors are currently working for the small screen and I could point to shows like Law & Order, Nip/Tuck, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Dexter, The Big Bang and The Good Wife, just to name a very small handful.

Week after week we’re treated to not only amazing writing, but to top notch production values and some of the best acting in any medium. Movie actors are no longer ashamed to appear on TV shows, or even headline them, and TV actors can now find a home in movies.

Movies themselves, however, have begun a long, downward spiral punctuated only by flashes of brilliance. Most of the mainstream features being promoted today are unfunny comedies, overwrought dramas or juvenile action pictures that are all bang and no substance. The target audience is decidedly not adult, unless you venture into the independent world.

Again there are exceptions. There always will be. But I take the position that movies and television are completely the opposite of what they were a decade or so ago. Movies now pale in comparison to many television shows.

So you can imagine that I was pretty thrilled when I got a phone call recently telling me that CBS had loved the script based on KISS HER GOODBYE and had given the green light to produce a pilot.

For those of you who don’t know what a pilot is, it’s a “test” episode that the network watches to help them decide whether or not to go to series. It’s usually the first episode you see if a show is picked up for the Fall.

The producers sent me a copy of the script and I sat down to read it with a feeling of giddy anticipation and outright dread. What if I didn’t like it? What if they had completely destroyed my story? Even though I knew that the person behind the script — Michael Dinner — consistently produced quality work, this was my baby we were talking about here. And I was hoping like hell he’d done it right.

He had. It’s hard for me to describe what it felt like to read that script. All of my set pieces were there. My characters. Much of my dialogue. Even some of my narrative had been used in the narrative of the script — the part that no one but the actors or production crew ever read. This to me, was the ultimate compliment to my work. It was as though Dinner had kept all of the things he felt were great about the book and saw no reason to change them.

What he did change, in order to get the story to make sense as a continuing series — and to cut it down to episode size — actually improved the story, and I have to admit that, about halfway through, I started getting tears in my eyes.

In short, the script was absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better adaptation. It was as if Dinner had somehow channeled my thoughts and knew exactly what to put on the page.

*

Once the pilot was approved for production, everything kicked into high gear. I was not involved in any of this, however. I was simply on the sidelines, getting occasional emails from the producer, Carl Beverly (along with partner Sarah Timberman), telling me about who had been cast for the show.

First Nip/Tuck’s Dylan Walsh came on board. I had been a fan for many years and I knew that Walsh was an excellent actor, especially when he’s allowed to show his darker side. The character of Jack Donovan certainly has a darker side as well, and Walsh is, in my estimation, perfect casting. He’s also damn good in the role.

After Walsh came Terry Kinney, playing the bad guy, Alex Gunderson, along with Donovan’s ATF team, consisting of Michael Rapaport, Sandrine Holt, Sean Patrick Thomas, Lorraine Toussaint, Felix Solis — and Emmy Clarke as Jack’s daughter, Jessie Donovan.

She’s the girl who was put in the box in the ground. A brave young woman, indeed, and an amazing actress.

The producers were kind enough to invite me out to the set, and my wife and I recently went to Chicago to watch the pilot being filmed. Because of my hefty writing schedule, we were only able to make it out for a few days, but I’m sure you can imagine how rewarding it is to see so many people working so hard — and so brilliantly — to bring your creation to life.

Cast and crew greeted us on the set warmly, I got the chance to kid around with the actors, talk shop with the producers and the director and see my book — the book that had originally been an idea for a screenplay — come full circle and be transformed into something alive and vibrant.

The first day we visited, they were filming several scenes at and around a lighthouse, in Evanston, IL. A special shed had been built and attached to one of the buildings and had I not been told it was a set, I would have believed it was the real thing.

For next several hours we watched a large crew of people run around like crazy, setting up shots, tending to the extras and the actors, jockeying lights, and doing what, to me, seemed like an almost impossible task. Yet they did it quickly and professionally and I was pretty much blown away by the whole thing.

I won’t kid you. I again got tears in my eyes — but quickly put on my sunglasses to hide them. It was hard for me to get my head around the fact that this all stemmed from my imagination. I had sat down a few years previously and begun letting this story unfold at my fingertips, not ever dreaming that I’d one day be sitting on a set, watching it all in real-time.

I think most writers dream that their book will sell to Hollywood, but there are so many obstacles in the way, that it usually remains a dream. I’m one of the lucky ones. And even if this never gets past the pilot stage, I’ll always have those days, and the hour of television that come from them, to remember.

And should the luck continue, I’ll look at that credit every week — “Based on the book ‘Kiss Her Goodbye’ by Robert Gregory Browne” — with intense pride.

 

Ten Questions: Mark Terry

by Rob Gregory Browne

I’m at the RT Booklovers Convention in Ohio this week, so it’s time for an author interview!

I met Mark Terry a few years back (boy, time flies) when his novel, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, was released. He hung out at my blog a lot and was kind enough to read and review KISS HER GOODBYE on his own blog.

Well, Mark is now out doing the rounds for his latest book and I thought this would be a good time for the folks at Murderati to get to know him a bit — and, of course, run out and buy his new book.

Okay, Mark. Why don’t we start with what I think are probably the most pressing questions an author can possibly be asked:

Is there intelligent life in outer space?

I’m not convinced there’s intelligent life on Earth, let alone in outer space.

Oooookay.  Let’s try something else.  How do you feel about cannibalism?

Depends. Are they juicy or tough? Fried or baked? What are the side dishes? Do they come with dessert?

You’re starting to scare me.  Why don’t we move on to writing? What’s your new book, THE FALLEN, about?

I’ll do that “high concept” thing and describe it as “Die Hard” at the G8 Summit. Basically, it features my series character, Dr. Derek Stillwater, who is a troubleshooter for Homeland Security and an expert on biological and chemical terrorism.

He’s undercover at the resort where the G8 Summit is being held in Colorado when a terrorist group calling itself The Fallen Angels takes over the Summit and threatens to kill a world leader every hour unless their demands are met. Derek’s trapped inside the resort picking off terrorists one by one.

I can smell a movie deal already.  Do you do a lot of research for your books?

You mean, do I go to the Middle East and spend two weeks at an Al Qaeda training camp learning how to kill innocent people? Uh, no.

But I do read a lot about terrorism and the history of biological and chemical warfare, keep track of what’s going on in the current Global War on Terror, or whatever it’s currently being called, and I research the cities Derek’s stories take place in and talk to experts as needed. Google and I are on a first-name basis.

What’s your writing routine like?

Well, I’m a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist, so I treat it pretty much as a regular job. The schedule varies a bit depending on my kids’ school schedule, but I’m typically at my desk around 8:00 AM, work until 10:30 or so, head off to the gym, grab lunch, then work for a couple more hours, pick up my kids, work for a couple more hours.

Depending on workload and deadlines for various projects, I’ll work in the evenings and weekends.

Which do you prefer writing? Sex scenes or murder scenes?

Murder scenes. I don’t know if it’s just me, and no, I don’t want you to ask my wife, but I can think of a lot more ways to kill people than I can ways to hook up. Perhaps it’s as the old line goes, “What do I know about sex, I’m married.” [Rimshot]

What’s the name of your muse?

Tommy the Terse, but I’m hoping to replace him with Larry the Loquacious.

My muse is female.  She looks a lot like Sharon Stone (obscure Albert Brooks movie reference). When you’re not writing, what do you do?

Hang with my family, read, go to the gym, run, bike, kayak, study karate, and I’m the secretary of the local school system’s band boosters (my wife is the president) so we’re always involved in various fundraisers and events. I also play guitar. God, how do I ever find time to write?

Pick three famous people. Which one would you like to sleep with, which one would you like to marry, and which one would you like to use as a victim in one of your books?

Wow, really bizarre. Penelope Cruz, Sandra Bullock, and Dick Cheney. I’ll let you guess which ones are which. 

Okay, I guess it’s time to get serious again. What’s next for Derek?

After THE FALLEN, the fourth Derek Stillwater novel is written and scheduled for September 2011. I’m currently working on the fifth and I have a Stillwater novella I want to write and will either make it available on my website or as a Kindle e-book. Of course, I have to write it first.

Okay, that about does it.  Thanks for playing, Mark.

And for our studio audience, feel free to ask Mark any questions you might have, but also answer the same one poor Mark was subjected to:

Pick three famous people — real or fictional. Which one would you like to sleep with, which one would you like to marry, and which one would you like to use (or see used) as a victim in a book?

See you in the comments.

How to Seduce Your Readers

by Rob Gregory Browne

I’m sure everyone’s sick of hearing me talk about the CBS pilot, so I’ll try to avoid that today, other than to say that if you’d like to see some photos of my visit to the set last week, click here.

And because I seem to be on a perpetual deadline, I’m once again taking the easy way out:

Let’s talk about sex.Those of you who are uncomfortable with the subject, feel free to bail out now. I’m likely to get pretty raunchy.

Still with me? I thought so.

When we make love, most of us have a particular goal in mind: that moment when our entire body seems to stem from one central point, when every nerve-ending tingles wildly as fireworks assault our brain.

That moment, of course, is orgasm, and anyone who has experienced one (or two or three), — especially with a willing and enthusiastic partner (or two or three) — knows that it can be an exquisitely pleasurable sensation.

But are all orgasms created equal?

Of course not. The quality of our orgasms is directly related to the quality of the fun and games that precede them, not to mention our emotional bond with our partner, and our willingness (or unwillingness) to surrender ourselves fully to the moment.

Orgasm is the cherry on top of the sundae — and that cherry wouldn’t taste nearly as good if we forgot to eat the ice cream first.

So what, you’re probably wondering, does any of this have to do with writing?

YOUR WILLING PARTNER

Writing is an extremely intimate act. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King describes it as a form of telepathy. We put our thoughts on paper, and days, months or even years later, someone literally reads our mind.

Think about it. With a simple arrangement of words, we have the potential to pull our audience into our mind where they can be stroked and fondled and toyed with — sometimes gently, sometimes rough.

The result is often a partnership so strong and emotionally satisfying that neither of us ever wants to let go.

Who of us here can forget those times when we’ve read a book or watched a movie we didn’t want to end? And when the end did come, we felt drained, elated and thoroughly satisfied, much like we do after a night of unbridled passion.

Getting to that place wasn’t an accident. The writer of the book — at least in most cases — didn’t merely fumble his way toward climax. If he (or she) did his job, every step was carefully choreographed to lead us around the third act corner toward the final pay-off. And the quality of that pay-off is related to one important thing:

THE GENTLE ART OF LOVEMAKING

We’re often reminded in how-to books that the typical story is broken into three acts: Set-up, Confrontation, and Resolution. Sounds pretty cold and uncaring, doesn’t it? Not to mention dull.

But what if we were to beat the lovemaking analogy into the ground and refer to the three acts in this way: Seduction, Foreplay, and Climax.

Certainly puts a whole new slant on things, doesn’t it? And if we’re to have a successful story with a successful and satisfying ending — one that keeps our partners wanting more — we must pay careful attention to these three words.

Seduction.

The beginning of a story, any story, cannot and should not be referred to as anything other than a seduction. It is our job to make our audience want us.

How do we accomplish that? First we start with character. We must create characters that our audience won’t mind, figuratively speaking, getting into bed with. Particularly the lead. Is he or she someone we find attractive? Does he have a problem or flaws we can relate to? Are his life circumstances universal yet unique enough to pique our interest?

The next element is mystery. Every story should be a mystery. Remember the girl in college the guys all wanted but knew so little about? A big part of her allure was the hint of mystery she carried. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you should never, never, never put all of your cards on the table at the beginning of the game. Instead you must reveal them one at a time, each new card offering a clue to the mystery of our characters and their stories.

The third and most important element of seduction is giving your characters a goal. And not just your lead. Every single character you write should have a goal of some kind. Put two characters with opposing goals in a room and you have drama.

But the goal of your hero must be compelling enough to intrigue us and hold our interest. In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford is wrongly convicted of killing his wife, escapes to find her killer, and soon discovers he’s being hunted himself by a relentless cop who doesn’t care whether or not Ford is guilty. All three elements of seduction are satisfied and guess what? We’re hooked.

Foreplay.

Once we get our audience into bed, however, we certainly can’t let them down. As you would with a lover, you explore and tease and make new discoveries — which can often lead your partner (in this case, the audience) to discover something about his or herself that, until that moment, remained dormant.

The foreplay in the second act is a continuation of the seduction but on a deeper, more intimate level. This is when we really begin to understand and root for the characters, and when their stake in the outcome becomes more and more important. Surprises are sprung, secrets are revealed, and our emotions and feelings build with each new scene, gradually working us toward the moment we’re all waiting for:

The Climax.

And this is why we’re here today, class, to talk about that most crucial of Act Three moments: the time when all of the work you’ve done for the last three hundred or so pages comes together like the pieces of a puzzle, where plot and subplot intertwine to create the only ending that makes sense within the context of the story you’ve told — a thrilling and, hopefully, explosive orgasm of emotion. The final kiss; the final death; the final revelation that sends your audience soaring.

But you can’t get there without laying the proper groundwork.

A wise writer once said that the first page of a novel sells that novel and the last page sells the next one. This is certainly true, but what he doesn’t say is that what comes between is what sells that last page. Without masterful seduction and foreplay it is virtually impossible to reach a satisfying climax.

Act Three is a culmination of all that came before it, and if the preceding two acts are anything short of spectacular, you’ll be lucky if your audience even sticks around for number three.

It’s all up to you.

Every time you sit down to write, you must remember that your audience is your partner, your lover, and in order to make them happy you must seduce, thrill and, most importantly, satisfy.


Oops!

by Rob Gregory Browne

First, I want to take a moment this morning to offer my condolences to Louise.  As everyone knows by now, she lost her husband to cancer yesterday and I can’t even begin to know what that feels like.  Louise, it’s probably small comfort at the moment, but we’re all thinking about you.  I’m so sorry for your loss.

Those of you who get up at the crack of dawn to read Murderati will note that I’m a little late this morning. Two reasons:  first, I’m working like crazy on a new book and completely lost track of time, date, day of week. Second, my wife and I are gearing up to go to Chicago this weekend.

Why Chicago?  As I said in a previous post, the dream has come true and KISS HER GOODBYE is in the midst of becoming a television series pilot for CBS.  They are in production as we speak, they’re calling it THE LINE, and it stars Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck), Michael Rapaport (Prison Break), Terry Kinney (The Mentalist), Sandrine Holt (24, The L Word), and a host of others.

For those interested in seeing some photos of the shoot in progress, a spectator took these shots and posted them HERE.

So, in other words, I’m just so freakin’ busy and crazy with excitement about visiting the set (not to mention prepping to go), that I didn’t even realize that today was my Murderati day until my wife informed me not ten minutes ago.  Sigh.

As a result, I’m going to repost an oldie.  Feel free to kick me in the ass in the comments.

———-

To use an old cliche:  ideas are a dime a dozen.

Truth is, there aren’t all that many ideas to spare. How many times have we seen the same story over and over again, dressed up in new clothing?

A man is accused of murdering his wife, escapes custody and hunts down the real killer.

A daughter commits suicide but her mother thinks it was murder.

Two young teenagers go on a killing spree.

A house/car/insane asylum/ship/airplane/cave is haunted by ghosts. A man/woman/boy/girl/dog/cat is possessed by evil spirits.

A husband/wife/daughter/son is kidnapped and the spouse/mother/father risks his or her life to save them.

A man and a woman meet, hate each other, fall in love, break apart after a huge misunderstanding and finally get back together again.

That last is the plot of many romance books and countless romantic comedy movies.

And you know what?  It doesn’t matter that these ideas are constantly recycled.  Because, as numerous writers have pointed out in my lifetime, it’s not the idea that counts, but the execution.

Or as The Swallows once sang:

It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
It’s the movement, it isn’t the stock

For example, let’s take a look at movies. I choose movies over books for the simple reason that a) I love them as much as books (but in a different way); and b) it’s much easier to find people who have all seen the same movie.

If we go back to the romantic comedy example — the meet, fall in love, break up, get back together plot line — we could, as I said, point to just about every romantic comedy ever made.

But which ones do we remember?

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY comes to mind. Not because it’s my daughter’s favorite movie of all time (she can quote entire passages of dialog), but because it was a huge, huge hit for everyone involved and most of us have seen it.

But it also comes to mind for another, all important reason:  it is a beautifully written, beautifully executed movie. 

Harry and Sally meet while they’re on the road to New York. Harry’s very opinionated about women and relationships, Sally’s a picky, high-maintenance girl who thinks he’s a jerk and they part ways not liking each other much.

A few years and a couple of relationships later, they meet again in an airport, wind up sitting together on a plane and Harry once again demonstrates what an opinionated jerk he is — only he’s a little more endearing than he was before.

They part ways, only to meet again a couple years later in a bookstore. Next thing you know they’re hanging out together, become great friends and — unknown to both of them, of course, but obvious as all hell to the audience — they begin falling in love.

In the middle of a personal crisis, they finally succumb to their attraction and sleep together. Only Harry, being afraid of commitment, freaks out a little and Sally, sensing his hesitation gets pissed and they stop seeing each other.

The story continues along the usual romantic comedy path, and the two eventually wind up together after Harry races to a New Year’s Eve party to find Sally. And here is an example of where the execution is so important:

Sally at first rejects him. She’s not his consolation prize. But as people are counting down to the new year around them, Harry, desperately in love and wanting to win her over, goes into a speech naming every quirk that Sally has and how much he loves those quirks and wants to be with her for the rest of his life.

Sally, pissed off, tears in her eyes, just looks at him and says, “Now, you see? It’s just like you, Harry, to make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you, Harry. I really hate you.”

And then they kiss.

That, my friends, is genius execution.  And with a movie filled with this kind of execution it’s no wonder that people love it.

It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion that makes your daddy wanna rock.

So what are your favorite examples of same old plot but GREAT execution?

AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!

by Rob

Okay.

I feel a little better now.

As I write this it’s yesterday.  The title is an expression of my complete and utter frustration.  My uncontrolled fury.

At what?

Technology.

Normally, I’m a pretty easy going guy.  And I’ve been a power user on computers for a couple decades now. There is very little in the world of technology that gets me frustrated.

But today (yesterday for the rest of you) I had a very simple technological task to take care of and everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.  Of course.

Let me explain.

About a week ago, I received my first pass proofs of my fourth book, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN (ready for pre-order on Amazon and B & N!!!).  In general, I hate going over galleys.  By the time I get them I’ve been through a US rewrite and copy edit, as well as a UK rewrite and copy edit.  Which means I’ve already read the book in question about eleventy billion times.

After you’ve read a book that many times, the words tend to look like mud before your eyes and that’s probably not a great thing to be seeing when the galleys arrive.

Anyway, I was given a “return by” date and once I had some other chores taken care of, I sat down and started in on the galley corrections.  As usual, however, I pushed it up to the deadline because, like I said — eleventy billion times.

My plan was to mark up the pages that had typos, then scan them all, export them into a pdf file and email them to my editor.

Nice plan.

Haha.

Three hours before my deadline, I finished the corrections.  Time to scan.  But for some reason the scanner wouldn’t work with the computer I normally use with it.  I didn’t have time to deal with fixing it, so I took the scanner to another computer.

It wouldn’t work with that one either.

Okay.  I checked the scanner and it looks fine.  Just having driver issues, apparently.

So I hook it up to my Mac, thinking, Apple makes everything easy, right?

Wrong.

My Mac saw the scanner as a printer only.  I couldn’t scan anything if my life depended on it.  And since a couple hours have passed by now, my life probably does.

Okay.  One last try.  I hook it up to a Windows 7 machine.  Success!  I scan all the pages into a single file and save it as a pdf.

One problem.  The pdf is 18 megabytes in size.  Too big to email.

Shit.

So now I have to download a special program to reduce the file size.  This takes forever, but when I finally do the reduction, the pdf looks like crap.

Sigh.

Ten minutes before deadline.

I spend the next THREE HOURS trying to get that pdf down to a size I can actually email.  I won’t go over all the hoops I had to jump through, but let’s just say it was a colossal bitch of a project.

In the past, it has taken me about twenty minutes to do this.  And I honestly don’t know why it was so diffcult this time.

Needless to say, by the end of this whole process, I was literally SCREAMING AT MY COMPUTERS.  All of them.

If I had had a sledge hammer at that moment, I would have smashed every single one of them AND half of my house.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten that angry and frustrated and, honestly, the only way to vent was to scream bloody murder.  I’m sure all the neighbors heard me.

I know my family did.

But I really needed those screams.  They were the only thing that kept me from imploding.

So now I sit here, my file has been sent, all is well — except that I’m completely drained and rather than do a decent blog post today I’m merely venting my frustration.

And I ask all of you — how often do you find yourself angry or frustrated enough to scream.  Or, if not a scream, what do you do to vent?

Mad man out.

 

The Long and Winding Road

by Rob Gregory Browne

I wrote this last week when I first got the news I’m about to share.  But after reading Louise’s post yesterday, I wondered if I should be sharing my good news on the heels of such a heartbreaking post.   Then I thought that Louise probably wouldn’t want us to hold back, so I decided to let it stand.

Before I get started, however — Louise, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you and your husband.   You are in my thoughts and prayers.

——————-

When I was seventeen years old, I wrote my first serious piece of fiction.

Okay, maybe not that serious.  Let me revise that.

When I was seventeen years old, I took my writing seriously for the first time.  

A lover of all things David Janssen, and a huge fan of the show HARRY O, in which Janssen played a retired San Diego cop, I sat down one day and wrote a sixty page teleplay for the show.

No, I don’t consider HARRY O serious fiction.  But I do — and did then — consider it FUN fiction and wanted very badly to write episodes for the show for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know anything about writing teleplays except what I’d read in some obscure book at the time (which probably got most of it wrong), but that didn’t keep me from sitting down and pumping out those sixty pages in a frenzy of enthusiasm.

When I was done, my father — being the world’s greatest salesman — managed to get my script to the producers of the show.

Now let me tell you how impossible a feat like that is.  Especially back then, in the stone age.  As anyone who has ever tried to market a screenplay knows, Hollywood is a closed playground.  There are ways to get your scripts read, but they’re often a combination of luck and really good fence climbing skills.  If you’re from a different neighborhood, you might as well take your toys and go home.

My dad was an amazing fence climber.  And once he got over that fence, he had this uncanny ability to make the people whose land he was trespassing on fall in love with him.  It’s a gift I’ve always envied but never acquired.

So, anyway, he got my script to the producers of the show and a couple weeks later, I got a letter (yes, this was before email) from one of the producers who kindly explained to me what overwriting is, thus giving me one of the best writing lessons I’ve ever received.

After that, I wrote a ROCKFORD FILES (which my dad managed to get to one of the show’s stars), an original movie of the week (something about a husband and wife truck driving team) and a couple other teleplays for shows I can’t remember the names of.

Getting no success, however, I gave up for a while and concentrated on music — which was my true passion — and tried to be the next James Taylor by writing a lot of songs but never performing for anyone outside my family and friends.  Kinda of a tough way to go about it.

But the bug to write for television never left me.  At one point I wrote an episode of LOU GRANT and got it into the hands of the producers (I was a messenger in Hollywood by then and was on the studio lot nearly every day).  

Several years later, I fell in love with a show called THE EQUALIZER.  And when the writers went on strike during that time — a long, drawn out strike that seemed to last forever — I wrote an episode of the show, NOT to be a strike breaker, but to have a script ready to go the MOMENT the strike was over, because I knew they’d be hungry for scripts.

And guess what?  Based only on a letter, the producers agreed to read it two days after the strike ended.

Unfortunately, they didn’t like it and that script, like all those other attempts, sits in a box somewhere in my cluttered garage.

A few years later I wrote my first feature screenplay — a thriller about a navy guy coming back from sea to find his wife has been murdered — and happened to win the Nicholl fellowship with it, which got me an agent and a deal with Showtime.

I had finally arrived.  Unfortunately, after casting, location scouting, etc., the whole project fell apart and the script was never made.  Flash forward about ten years or so and you’ve got a very frustrated Robby writing Spider-Man cartoons to make a living.  A story I’ve bored you all with before, and while fun, not exactly what I’d had in mind when I wrote that HARRY O.

So, after giving up on Hollywood, I took a friend’s advice and wrote a book — my first novel, called KISS HER GOODBYE.  It took me a long time to write it, but once it was done, it sold it to St. Martin’s, in large part because I had a fabulous agent who felt passionate about my work.  (Thanks, Scott!)

Writing that novel was liberating.  I no longer felt constrained by the restrictions of screenplays — although the idea for the book had originally been a movie idea.  And I have to say, I felt like I had finally found my home.

So where am I going with this, other than to rehash history once again?

Just this past Thursday I was sent a teleplay.  A teleplay written by a VERY talented man.  And as I sat reading the teleplay — which, quite frankly, was one of the best I’ve ever read — I got about halfway through it when I started to choke up a little and got tears in my eyes.

You see, that teleplay was the pilot episode for a proposed television series on a major network.  The network loved the idea, loved the pilot teleplay and has ordered the pilot into production in Chicago.  So there will soon be actors, cameras and crew running around the streets of Chicago shooting what will hopefully be the first episode of a new series.  

Oh, and I’ll be there too.  I’ve been invited to visit the set.

Why?  The same reason I got so choked up when I was reading another man’s teleplay.  Because that teleplay was an adaptation of KISS HER GOODBYE.  And because that very talented man did an amazing job of adapting it.  He stayed true to the book, and when he had to stray from the storyline — which was rare — it made the story even better, ending with a setup for the series that is extremely compelling.

So, after this long and winding road that has lasted almost my entire life, something I wrote (beyond cartoon super heroes) is finally making it to TV.  Whether it will actually become a series, is anyone’s guess — such things are always a crapshoot — but at least it’s getting to the screen. 

And, believe me, I couldn’t be happier right now.  While I didn’t write the script myself, I don’t care.  It’s my story.  My characters.  My situations.  And I certainly couldn’t have done a better job of it.

And those characters could potentially live on TV for years to come: ATF agent Jack Donovan, his daughter Jessie, his partners A.J. and Waxman, his assistant Rachel Wu, and the baddest of bad guys, Alex Gunderson.

Although not quite as he envisioned it, the dream of that seventeen year old kid who sat down to write an episode of HARRY O is finally being fulfilled.

I think I like this version better.

 

Chasing the Deadline

by Rob Gregory Browne

Every book I write, there comes a time when I’m getting really close to the end, my deadline is looming, and I suddenly go into a panic thinking, shit, I’m not gonna make it.

Okay, missing your deadline by a few days or even a week is probably not all that bad — probably not really that big of a deal as long as you talk to your editor about it, and actually get the thing in when you say you’re going to.  But I hate like hell missing deadlines.

And I have to admit I’ve missed a couple.  One by a few days, one by a couple weeks, but always with the understanding from my editor that it’s okay.  “We’d rather have a great book than a rushed one.”

But the truth is, I’m not so sure rushed makes a difference.  

I wrote my very first book in about four years.  Granted, I was only writing sporatically during that time. Squeezing in a few pages here and there and sometimes going for weeks without writing a word.  But it took me four years to finally finish it.

With my second book, I was on deadline.  They gave me a year to write it and, believe me, I took that year.  In fact, I had such a horrible, horrible case of second-bookitis that I needed every second I could squeeze out of that year in order to a) regain my confidence; and b) get what was in my head down on paper.

Then around comes book number three.  I’m not sure what happened, but I must have gone to too many conferences that year.  I wound up spending more time goofing off (and working my day job) than I did writing, and it took me about five months to do that particular book.

The next one I wrote took me four months.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

Obviously, I’m getting faster at this game.  But has the work suffered because of it?  How the hell do I know?

I never feel completely satisfied with any of my books, so I’m probably not the guy to ask.  Somehow what I’ve got in my head when I conceive of an idea — the pristine beauty of it — never quite seems to make it to the page.  So, again, I have no idea if slower means better.

But I suspect it doesn’t.  Even though I might feel that a scene was rushed and I could have spent more time on it, the absolute truth is, I could tinker with every single one of my books for years on end, because I’ve got this niggling little trait that I suffer mightily for:  I’m a perfectionist.  At least when it comes to doing anything creative.

Honestly, if I’m photoshopping a damn family portrait, I’ll spend hours adjusting the colors, fixing the levels, softening the skin tones, tweaking the exposure — then I’ll throw it all out and start from scratch.

Now, I never throw anything out when it comes to books, because I rarely write more than I need, but if you give me the time to do it, I will tinker each scene to death, will rearrange the words in a sentence a hundred times, until I’m almost but not quite completely satisfied with it.

So taking a year to write a book is probably not a good idea for me.  Four months seems comfortable, although I certainly would love a couple extra months to procrastinate.  I’m very good at procrastinating.

One of my favorite ways to goof off is to diddle around on the web.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Murderati.  Reddit.  Digg.  Amazon.  Abe’s Books.  

And when I’m chasing a deadline, it just gets worse.  Even though I know I only have a couple weeks to finish a book, I find myself wanting to goof off more and more.   I think this is because those last fifty or so pages are absolutely the most difficult for me.  So avoidance is the game.  And I’m certainly good at avoidance.

Which, when it comes down to it, is what I’m doing now.  Avoiding writing the book that’s due in a couple weeks.  Instead, I’m writing this completely insignificant post and going on a lot longer than I had intended, because I know when I finish I’ll have to go back and write those last pages.

And the funny thing is, I like this book.  I think it’s some of the best work I’ve done.

But look at me.  I’m just rambling on.  What I had intended to do was what my wife suggested (since I’m on deadline) and write a blog about short little life tips, or author tips or some such thing.

Problem is, I don’t have any goddamn life tips, and or any kind of tips at all.

Well, maybe two.  The first courtesy of my lovely wife.  So here goes:

1.  Never wear a red shirt then shop at Target.

2.  When you attend Bouchercon for the first time, don’t go around pronouncing it Boo-shay-con.  At least not out loud.

And that’s it.  I’m spent.  That’s the extent of my genius.  The breadth of my knowledge.

Now, to be merciful to those of you who are still reading, I will stop here. Because I truly am on deadline and I really do have to get back to those pages.

But not until I procrastinate for a few seconds more and ask you to tell us all about your problems with deadlines, your pursuit of perfectionism, how slower is better (get your mind out of the gutter, girls) or best of all, just give us some damn life tips.

Then maybe I can steal a few.  Once I’m finished with this friggin’ book.

 

The Things I Hate

by Rob Gregory Browne

Now that we’ve had our season of joy and happiness and good tidings for all, let me tell you about some of the things I hate. 

I’m not normally a hateful guy, but there are things that just bug the crap out of me, and after an incredibly bad day recently, I began channeling Denis Leary and came up with this list:

10.  Standing in line at the grocery store, with one item to buy, as the person in front of you pulls out a checkbook and proceeds to take five minutes to write a check for two dollars and fifteen cents.

Get a freaking bank card, will you?  Checks should be banned.

9.  Going to the home water color and discovering that there’s not enough water left to make your morning coffee.  Those five gallon bottles are heavy, awkward and a giant pain in the ass.

8.  Water cooler again:  using the hot water spigot.  Because they don’t want to get sued, the manufacturer makes you push an extra button and hold it down as the water comes out at half-speed.  Fuck you.  I want an opt-out for this mechanism.  What do I look like, the McDonald’s crotch coffee lady?  I’m not an idiot, thank you.

7.  Ants.  Especially ants in your kitchen after you’ve cleaned it so well you could do heart surgery on the friggin’ counter (assuming you have counter space — see #5) 

The other day, I discovered that the inside of my sugar bowl was crawling with ants.  And this was when it was SITTING IN THE DISHWASHER and HAD ALREADY BEEN WASHED with soap and scalding hot water.  WTF? Do I need a new dishwasher? Industrial strength ant spray?

6.  Piece of shit dishwashers that won’t let you put a decent sized pan in the bottom rack because they get in the way of the rotating spray mechanism.  Douchebaggery at its finest.

Advice:  take your dishes with you when you buy a dishwasher.  Make sure they fit to your satisfaction.  DO NOT leave this one up to chance.

5.  Not enough counter space in your kitchen.  Don’t buy a house in a hurry.  And if you must, make sure that kitchen has PLENTY of freaking room. 

With the day’s dishes on one side, the multitude of appliances I’ve collected on the other side and a big fat stove top taking up the rest, where the hell am I supposed to cut my tomatoes?

4.  When someone asks you to do something for them, then stands over you and tells you how to do it. 

If you have time to stand over me and give me instructions (although I’ve done the task a billion times), then you can friggin’ do it yourself.  Don’t like the way I’ve mopped the floor?  Put that tongue to better use.

3.  Lame television commercials.  9.9 out of 10 commercials are inane, annoying and a waste of TV watching time.  Which is why I now buy DVDs of my favorite shows, or record them to my DVR. 

2.  When some idiot makes a right turn directly in front of you, and proceeds to drive at a speed at which no human should travel on FOOT, let alone in a car, forcing you to ease off the gas or even hit your brakes to avoid a two-car pile up.  AND THERE’S NO ONE BEHIND YOU. 

If they had waited three seconds more, they wouldn’t have you riding their assssssss.

1.  People who use cell phones while driving. FUCK YOU.  FUCK YOUR KIDS.  FUCK YOUR FAMILY.  AND all of your friends.  Especially the ones who call you while you’re driving.  Oh, and get the hell out of my way.  I’m trying to get somewhere, not make a doctor’s appointment.

And a special bonus hate:

*  Hypocrites. The do as I say, not as I do crowd. 

I once worked with a woman who was very strict about company policies and rules — except when it came to HER and the people she liked.  Then all bets were off. 

If you pointed out to her that “rules are rules,” (as she always loved to say), you jumped immediately to her shit list and she’d do everything in her power to screw you.  Behind your back.  While smiling sweetly at you every morning.

Okay, that’s it.  Rant over.  

Now it’s your turn.

 

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

We’re going to be on a minimal posting schedule through the New Year. Not a complete hiatus, but semi-regular postings, since many of us are traveling and trying to get a real break from the Interwebs. We’ll be back at full force January 2.

We truly appreciate that you take the time to stop by, to participate, to be a part of this fabulous community all year long. We value your input so much that we thought we’d throw the field open to you.

If you comment over the next week, you’ll be entered into our Festivus Contest!

And what, pray tell, may the glorious prize be for commenting? Why, a package of signed Murderati books, of course!

14 books from 14 authors.

Now that’s a deal.

Here’s what we want to know:

(answer as many as you wish, but only one answer is necessary to be included in the contest.)

 What are you doing for the holidays?

What are you reading?

What topics would you like us to cover in the New Year?

What questions do you have for any or all of us?


 We wish you and your families the very best of holiday joy!

The Story I’m Not Supposed to Tell (But Always Do)

by Rob Gregory Browne

My writer friends warn me that I should never talk about how I got my literary agent. 

Why? 

Because I didn’t have to go through the hell they went through, and they assure me I’ll be jumped if I tell the story. 

You see, I was lucky enough to — as William Goldman put it in Adventures of the Screen Trade — jump past all the shit.

Years ago, I won an international screenwriting competition sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences that opened up all the Hollywood doors and got me a screen agent.  The next thing I knew I had a deal at Showtime and life was good.

Fast forward as my career took a slow, steady nosedive and I wound up writing cartoons.  And I don’t mean The Simpsons.

When that finally dried up (taking my desire to write along with it), I shuffled around for awhile, wondering what I was going to do.

My screen agent left agenting, became my manager for awhile, then finally moved on.  After a couple more years of banging my head against the wall with a new agent, I decided screw it and went out and got a nine to five job, figuring I was done with writing for good.

Oh, if only it were that easy.  As the writers in the crowd know, you’re not done with writing until it’s done with you and before I knew it, I started to get the bug again.  So I finally wrote the novel I’d always been threatening to write — working sporadically over the next three or so years until it was done.

Once it was finished, I thought I had something pretty special, hoped I wasn’t deluded, so I contact my former agent — the first one who had quit agenting while I was still her client.

You see, this former agent — whom I’ll call Marion (mostly because that’s her name) — had a LOT of connections, and I figured if anyone could help me get representation for the book, it would be her.

So I sent her an email, asking if she’d be willing to read the book.  She answered immediately and said, “Of course.”  I fired off the manuscript and a week later she called me and said, “Do you mind if I send this to a friend of mine in New York?”

Well, that friend happened to run Trident Media Group and a couple weeks later a hot young agent there — whom I’ll call Scott Miller (mostly because that’s his name) — called me and said he’d like to represent me for this book “and anything else you want to write.”

About three months later we had a deal with St. Martin’s Press.

You see why my friends warn me not to tell this story?

Please don’t jump me.

Believe me, I’m not gloating when I tell it.  I’m a very lucky, lucky guy.  But if anyone thinks I didn’t pay my dues, be assured that I spent many, many years getting kicked around in Hollywood, so I paid my fair share.

(And the great thing is, is that I’ve been able to return the favor, so to speak, by recommending a couple of writers to Scott)

So what’s this got to do with anything?

The REASON I’m telling you all this is because that aforementioned agent — Mr. Miller (is that really his name?) — has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us, and give us some insight into the agenting process.

Before he can do that, however, I need a nice, fresh set of questions to ask him.  So I want to ask YOU what YOU’D like me to ask Scott.  I’ll cull the best questions, talk to Scott and do a nice little write-up about him next time.

So imagine this:  You’re an aspiring writer.  If you could sit across from one of the hottest agents in New York (meaning you-know-who), what would you ask?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear “how I got my agent” stories from the writers in the crowd.  Everyone’s way in is different.

Until next time…

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