CIR: Thanks for joining us, Brendan. Your experience as a book scout for Dimension Films basically groomed you for this thing you’re doing at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. According to your Nov 2011 interview with Publishing Perspectives, you broke ground with a YA novel entitled Tempest to not only manage the publishing rights, but also the film production. Summit Entertainment — the producers of Twilight — ended up pre-empting that directly from St. Martin’s. So how does that work? Summit is the company that will actually film it?
BD: Thanks for having me! Yes, my experience at the William Morris Agency (long before it became WME, Scott Rudin Productions, Dimension Films, Miramax Films and the Weinstein Company (not to mention working for 2 ½ years as a literary and film agent) definitely prepared me for a somewhat unique position in the publishing industry. On top of my primary duties as an Editor at Thomas Dunne Books (a division of St. Martin’s Press), I created Macmillan Films and we’ve got seven film or TV projects in various stages of development. There’s no guarantee any of these will get made but I’m confident that this somewhat new model is an exciting component in the future of publishing.
CIR: You’ve been ‘in the industry’ pretty much since you were 15 years old, having pitched your ideas for new superheroes to the likes of DC and Marvel Comics. According to my homework, about twenty years later, your idea of Scatterbrain got picked up by Markosia Comics. What I’m getting at is: you’ve definitely been through the submission game. Any advice for aspiring authors who are trying to find publication?
BD: My main piece of advice is to never give up. I wrote my first novel when I was 18, my second novel when I was 21, my third novel when I was 23, and then it took me 15 years to write my fourth novel. I started submitting ideas to Marvel and DC when I was 15. I moved to New York City to be a writer and an actor. And then all these random, wonderful things happened to me (part luck, part hard work, part sheer willpower). So, yeah, if you know what you want, just keep busting your ass for it, and great things will happen.
CIR: Writers are always told to show, however all one has to do is open any novel in a store and there are always narrative passages. What kind of ‘telling’ turns you off of a story?
BD: I personally don’t like it when there’s a lot of info dumping. I look for great world building, especially in genre fiction, but it has to be subtle. It’s tough to teach that kind of nuance. I think it comes from years of reading and writing.
CIR: It seems to me that the horror genre is struggling to stay in the game as far as major publishers go. (None of the non-writers that I know could name a recent horror novel, barring the legendary Stephen King—and apparently you kind of have a connection to him because you worked on 1408 with Dimension films, but I digress). Since you edit horror—I just bought my copy of Vacation by Matthew Costello…which you were trying to get into production as a film—what do you think is causing the slump? And if I’m way off base, then please explain otherwise.
BD: It’s a little hard to explain. Horror is still super hot at the box office but it’s easier to experience horror when it’s up on a big screen. It’s not easy to scare someone with just words on a page. That’s what makes Stephen King all the more amazing. I think people dismissed him for years as “just” a horror writer but now we realize that what he did (and still does sometimes) is really hard to replicate. Horror isn’t just about people getting killed in horrific ways. It taps into something much deeper and that is elusive. I am dying to find a good ghost story.
CIR: Who is your favorite super hero who has NOT made it to the big screen?
BD: I have a soft spot for Firestorm, a DC character (even though I’m much more of a Marvel zombie). The idea of two personalities fighting for dominance in one superhero is a fun idea. That costume would never work on the big screen though!
CIR: What are some of your favorite scary flicks and books?
BD: The Shining still scares the crap out of me. And speaking of Stephen King, I remember reading It while I was on vacation in a cabin in New Hampshire as a teen. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared during a reading experience.
CIR: Recently, I caught a glimmer of just how many movies are based on novels. So, it has piqued my curiosity. How, if at all, did publishing traditionally interface with movie deals? Specifically, could the publishers have sparked a negotiation into motion? How does merchandising typically play into all of it?
BD: Traditionally, the publisher has nothing to do with a movie deal. However, I (and some others like me) are changing that. For some of my projects, I’m able to create original book ideas, hire the authors, and then sell the rights into Hollywood. The author keeps his/her name on the book and shares in all profits. It really is kind of a win-win for everyone involved. As for merchandising, when you see the SEAL TEAM 666 lunchbox, you’ll know that my master plan has finally come full circle. Mu ha ha hahahahaha.
CIR: Thanks Brendan!
Interview conducted by Gusto Dave.