Dreaming of a Novel (American Way)

Then, in 2007, I was invited to serve on the jury for the Camerimage Film Festival in Lodz, Poland. I initially thought it was a mistake, since I wasn’t directly involved in the film industry, but the organizers told me that they had read some of my books and it was no mistake. Since a few of my books had been published in Poland I met with two of the publishers in Warsaw. One of them, Axis Mundi’s Marta Szelichowska, was so enthusiastic about the books she published that I was smitten by her. Finally, I had found a publisher I could talk with, share ideas, expand on dreams.  She asked me what I was working on and I mentioned that I had finished a novel but needed to rewrite it. She asked if she might see it.

When I returned from Poland I reread Catch a Fallen Star and got back to work.  When I finished, I sent it to Marta. I was not submitting it to her, but looking for her opinion.  She surprised me when she wrote saying she would like to publish it.

My own agent had told me he didn’t want to read it because he knew he would have a hard time finding a publisher for a novel. “I can sell your nonfiction,” he told me, “but novels are tough, especially these days.”  Now here was a publisher in Poland who wanted to publish it—my first novel, my life’s dream—in a language I couldn’t understand.  I had mentioned that it had begun as a serialization and sent her the three issues where it appeared. She responded by hiring an illustrator to do eighteen illustrations, one per chapter.  Now it would become a beautiful book to skim through, even if I couldn’t read it.

I felt like the character Burgess Meredith played in an old episode of The Twilight Zone, where he was in a closed bank vault when the world ended by a nuclear disaster. When he came out he was the last man on Earth. At first he was in despair and thought of ending his life, until he stumbled onto the steps of what was once a public library. He saw all the books scattered about and meticulously collected and stacked them, so that he would have something to read every month for the rest of his life. He was a bookworm and his despair gave way to great hope…until his thick glasses fell from his face and cracked. Without his glasses, all was a blur. He couldn’t read a word.

Here I had finally found a publisher for my novel. I was going to achieve my dream. I had this to look forward to. But I wouldn’t be able to read a word of it.

Would this still qualify as a pipe-smoking event?  Would the illustrations tell enough of the story to make me feel that it was really my words on the page?

When I told Brett Ratner, the director of the Rush Hour movies, along with the X-Men sequel and Hannibal, about this, he asked to see the novel. Ratner had started a small publishing company called Rat Press and had reprinted my Brando book and put out a book of my interview with producer Robert Evans. I sent it to him and he gave it to a reader in his production company.  A few weeks later he told me, “Your book got great coverage. I’ll send it to you.”

His reader read the manuscript and wrote a long synopsis of the story, along with a comment, an assessment of its commercial potential, and a “script evaluation.”  The comment was this: “It’s easy to poke fun at Hollywood stereotypes but a story that is more about human foibles with Hollywood as a backdrop can be engaging.  Such is the case with CATCH A FALLEN STAR.  It’s about a 45 year old man no longer at the top of his game and is desperately trying to hold together his crumbling family.  That’s something a lot of people can relate to.  There are plenty of funny and memorable supporting characters in this story.  Playing on the classic theme of ‘fame won’t always bring you happiness’ CATCH A FALLEN STAR is worthy of development and with a strong adaptation would certainly attract a lot of star talent.”

The Commercial Potential: “Insider look at Hollywood like The Player but with thematic elements of Wonder Boys.  Engaging character study that could translate into an equally engaging feature.”

And the Script Evaluation: “CONSIDER FOR DEVELOPMENT.”

But there was no script. It was a novel. 557 manuscript pages. If Ratner wanted to make a movie out of it, great. But first it had to appear as a novel. The way it was going to appear in Poland. In Polish.

“You should publish it,” I said to Brett. “It wouldn’t be the true first edition, but it would be the first edition in English.”

“I’d have to read it first,” he said.

“When do you have time to read such a manuscript?”

“I don’t.”

But that’s OK. I told Marta I’m perfectly fine with it coming out in Poland. In Polish. And maybe at the next Frankfurt Book Fair she might interest publishers in France and Germany to put out French and German editions. And, who knows, it might just circle its way around the globe and wind up in the hands of an American or English publisher, who might say, “Hey, how did this Hollywood novel slip by us?”

And I’ll light my pipe and say, “I have no idea.”

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