"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Kevin Flanagan of District Magazine talks to Ken About the Art of Storytelling!

It was a great year for Irish film with The Room and Brooklyn receiving Oscar nominations. Kevin Flanagan talks to Hollywood producer and author Kenneth John Atchity, about the importance of story and why the Irish are good at telling them.

Kevin met Ken Atchity at the international writer’s symposium held recently in Dublin. There he was able to get the producer’s views on the magic of story from the man who is known internationally as a “Story Merchant.”

I love Hollywood.

In 2003 I spent a month in Los Angeles attempting to sell my script to a Hollywood agent. It was memorable queuing at the local Kinko’s store where they had a photocopying machine that only copied film scripts and the queue was long! People are friendly, once they heard I was from Ireland our individual projects were discussed and phone numbers were swapped. As they say, you have to be friendly in Tinseltown because you never know who you will need on the way up (and down).

The other thing I loved was sitting in my favourite coffee shop Urth Caffé on Melrose Avenue watching drop-dead gorgeous waitresses serve us coffee. They all looked, to my naive eye, like film stars. My cynical Irish friend burst my bubble. He had been working in Hollywood for years and said, between sips of his soya latte, ‘beautiful people are two-a-penny here!’.

As I continued to sit with my mouth wide-open my friend nudged me. A famed Hollywood producer had arrived outside the patio in an open-topped Bentley. Heads swivelled as he took a table, surrounded by a group of acolytes dancing attendance. Certainly the waitress perked up.

Everyone in Hollywood, I soon discovered, was climbing the greasy pole. Actresses, writers, directors, but at the top, wielding the real power, was the fabled Hollywood producer who can make (and break) anyone. You could smell their power and sense their arrogance.

My impression of Hollywood producers had not changed over the years till I meet Ken Atchity in Dublin this June past. Atchity has produced over 30 Hollywood movies and is known in the book world as the ‘Story Merchant’ because he also sells stories to publishers–and publishes them through Story Merchant Books. Soft spoken, educated, he is not at all like the usual hustler I saw on a daily basis in Hollywood. Ken Atchity is above all a reflective man who has built his life around the concept of “story.” He has been an academic, a writer, before he became a movie producer. He loves “story” and wants to share that love.

He certainly did that in Dublin when he spoke this summer to a group of writers, and what he said has stayed with me and helped inform my own work. According to Atchity, whatever the genre – movie, TV series, book or computer game – its core chances of success all come down to story. But story is not confined to the creative arts.

“Look at Brexit,” Atchity says as we sip a drink after his lecture in the bar of the famed Gresham Hotel, “the day after the referendum a lot of British people wanted to have another vote as they were led to believe Brexit was a story about the immigration crisis. But it was also about 200 other things as well: the value of pound and the stock market. But the story was moulded around immigration and national identity and people bought into it.”

Ken lowers his glass and smiles, “Lying is an old Catholic word for what we all do all day – another form of storytelling. If your wife walks down the steps after a long night out and asks “how am I looking?” do you tell the truth or a story to get by and not stir up a row?” He takes another sip. “Everybody is telling a story!”

Storytelling goes back to the dawn of man, Atchity insists, and Homer was the greatest storyteller of them all, probably as product of the oral tradition of storytelling having to be committed to memory. It becomes deeply ingrained.

“Stories are there to warn us what happens when people bring disaster on themselves and their people. To this day story still acts as an exhortation and a warning as what happens when someone brings destruction on all around him. Great stories are changing the world by changing the perception of people.”

Atchity believes storytelling impacts profoundly on both young and old.

“You hear parents saying disparaging remarks about groups of people – say Poles or black people – and you wake up one day as an adult and you believe fully in them.”

But despite this pessimistic view Atchity thinks things in the world are actually improving.

“Fewer people are dying in wars. People are giving up smoking. Communication is helping us. As the saying goes, living well is the best revenge and we are slowly learning to leave things behind. Optimism is the more logical of two options. I love the story of the optimist who was pushed off Empire State Building and half way down says, “Well, so far, so good!”’

Atchity has always believed in the power of “story” and I ask him why that is.

“I think it all goes back to my childhood growing up on front porches in my Cajun Louisiana (maternal) family. My uncles and cousins were storytellers – some accomplished, some not so good. I loved the feeling of community that happened when they began swapping stories and jokes. And though I studied analysis and logic in Jesuit classrooms my heart was with the storytellers. As an Italian friend of mine said one day, trying to explain his new wife’s erratic behavior, “Let me tell you a story instead–isn’t life, after all, just a story?” It’s the power of stories that change the world more than anything else.”

Among a vast oeuvre Atchity has produced his share of horror movies, including Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes. But horror is a genre in decline. Does Atchity have his views on why this is?

“Aristotle’s theory was about how audience needs catharsis. They see horror on stage, walk out of the theatre and give a sigh of relief that the “horror” does not affect their lives. But in today’s world all that has changed. Daily we hear and see horrific things – decapitations and mass murder at every turn. Horror is no longer escapism. Audiences now need to escape their daily dose of real live horror by going to the movie house. There they can watch heroes in blockbusters win and the bad guys lose.”

Despite the decline Atchity still continues to produce movies in the horror genre, “At the moment we are working on a very low budget horror spoof – Friday 31st – and that maybe is the way to go.” // We discuss our best loved horror movies. One of Atchity’s favorites was filmed on the campus he was attending at Georgetown University in Washington.

“Scenes from The Exorcist were shot at my alma mater. I remember reading the book in the early 70’s and being scared to death. Having been raised a Roman Catholic I believed it was all real! From a pure horror point of view it’s my favorite.”

The Exorcist was released in 1973 but not shown in Ireland till 1998. How things have changed! Now, according to Atchity, “horror movies are relegated to low-budget productions with an occasional excursion into brilliance. The market isn’t as robust as the general market is. It’s a selective audience, that doesn’t appear to be growing—because of the advent of alternate media such as online games, web series. Cheap ones are made because the loyal horror audience will see it and is enough by itself to make them profitable even if they don’t cross over to the larger audience.”

We move on to discussing another core shift in storytelling – the move from movies to TV mega stories, Game of Thrones being the prime example. Are these TV series successful because they allow “story” to be told in greater depth?

“A series or miniseries allows the storyteller to develop the characters more fully than the restricted time allowed for a film. The best writers and directors today are in television as well as film.”

Ken has enjoyed walking in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom while in Dublin, and I ask him for any words of wisdom for modern Irish writers.

“Tell a story with universal impact – something we all care about – and make sure it has three well-defined acts and each act is powerfully dramatic. It’s also important to make sure the main character is someone we can all relate to, even if he’s not likeable. Do all that and get someone in Hollywood to give you feedback on it.”

Irish writers get on the case – you know the right person in Hollywood to send it to!

Read more at District Magazine

Interesting eBook Sales Stats: Percent of US ebook unit sales by type of publisher


MC Raj
Am happy that I made it to this year’s Dublin Writers Conference organized by Mr. Laurence O’Bryan. He is a savvy media person who tweeted to me to have a look at the Conference plans. Having been ill for more than 10 months with a pre-cancer diagnosis I could not move out anywhere and was looking out for a chance to ‘escape’.

That I am a frequent international traveler had its advantage when Lufthansa quietly put me in the business class when I had only an economy class ticket. This was on my way back. Leave aside what happened to me and come back to the conference.

The weather in Dublin was like the English one. You never know when it would rain. It can rain anytime. Oh, we are not supposed to speak of weather in the beginning. It should come at the end, na?

But then it had a bearing on what was being discussed at the Conference. Just as the English weather, so is the world of publishing, with many unpredictable “gate keepers” playing the role of truant watchmen, who decide what material should be taken for publishing. How can one explain novels trashed by traditional publishers becoming best sellers elsewhere?

Ken Atchity
I smiled all the way to India when Ken Atchity used the term ‘gate keepers’ in his presentation. He had come all the way from the US for the Conference. He is special. He has produced 30 Hollywood films and published 50 books and calls himself a ‘story merchant’. A very interesting ‘human’ being indeed! The human touch in him is highly visible.

What of Art Johnson who lives in a wheelchair and yet made it to Dublin all the way from the US? His sharing was also exhilarating, to say the least.

Laurence O'Bryan
So as if to put the ‘gate-keepers’ to shame, Laurence shared his personal experience of having been published by Harper Collins and later took up self- publishing as his mission. He, now, is full of confidence of self-publishing and on Amazon.

He is an active advocate of people publishing their own stuff and the Dublin Writers Conference seemed to have this singular purpose of helping authors to move ahead on this line. His ‘BooksGoSocial’ is a veritable portal of multiple help to established and new authors.

Writing may be a joy. But what follows writing is the most important thing in the molding of the writer into an author and that too into a selling author. Editing comes first in the line. Jessica Bell made a marvelous two sessions presentations on editing. Though am an author of 25 books, some of her tips are still very helpful for me. To know that she is a publisher, a cover designer, and a musician gladdens the heart. A multifaceted personality indeed!

Not to be outdone was the highly professional Ben Galley from London who dwelt on the different and difficult dimensions of marketing. This is a much-needed area when one witnesses the struggles of many writers. They write. They need to know how to sell their writing.

There are those, like me, who write for the pleasure of writing. However, marketing is very important if one publishes. One does not write to lock it up in a box. The word and your joy of writing have to spread and be contagious. The art of marketing is as important as the art of writing and editing. Ben Galley argued well for the need for self-publishing.

In order to make one’s writing saleable it is important to know what sells. Sheila Bugler made an impressive and lively session on getting the first draft out.

There were many others whose presentations I could not attend. Am glad to have listened to Debbie Young and Laurence O’Bryan again on the last day making our knowledge bank/tank on writing overflow.

The interludes made significant contributions too. Laurence asked me to introduce myself and make a reading from my book during dinner in the Gresham Hotel. I chose my book Madderakka.

I understand that quite a few people liked it. Some came and told me so. The next morning Laurence came to me and said how happy he was to have me in the Dublin Writers Conference. He didn’t know how happy I was to be there. Or perhaps he knew. Who knows?

On the second day, they interviewed me on my book, The Crossbow Code. That was a double damaka. More than that I understand that there was an award function during dinner on the second day. Ken gave away some awards. I could not be present.

I extended a warm welcome to Laurence to visit Bangalore and Booshakthi Kendra and he asserted that he would come. Now that we have planned for an Asia Writers Conference on similar lines, am sure to see him soon in our place. It is a boon that two other resource persons have also expressed their desire to come for the Asia Conference. Requests in India have already started flowing. I love to have all of them here. Let’s see.

Outside of the Conference, the biggest event in my life was re-connecting with Sr. Annette whose contact was also because of Laurence, in a way. I was in a training in Thailand in the year 1989 on Justice and Faith for four months. Annette was my spiritual guide. This training and Annette turned my life around from compulsive anger to a more meaningful and tangible commitment.

Going through Myer’s Brigs and the Personality and Human Relations packages I began to work on myself with the assistance of Annette. Now am happy that my life has become worthy of living. Annette and I had lunch together on the last day. With that energy filling experience of meeting her after 27 years, I left for Frankfurt to take my flight back to India.

The surprise galore did not end there. At the airport in Frankfurt, I met Dr. G Parameshwar, the Home Minister of Karnataka. He is a long-time friend of ours. We both were very happy to see each other at the airport. On an earlier occasion too I met him at Goa airport. Lufthansa did me a favor by putting me in the business class. That made it possible for me to travel with Parameshwar.

Is it a past experience that I am narrating. NOOOOO! It’s a future hope that I am talking of. I am having my latest science fiction on hand and Ken Atchity will do something about it. That is a suspense for me as well as for you. Let’s remain in unending hope.

Congratulations to Laurence O’Bryan and his beautiful and efficient team for executing this coup. All the best wishes for them in the next Conferences. They also have indicated that I should go there the next year. Let’s hope that I can make it. There’s no end to our hopes.



Story Merchant Books Prepares to Launch MaryAnn and Joseph Anselmo's Through Fire and Rain!

Story Merchant Books is proud to be publishing MaryAnn and Joseph Anselmo with Lisa Cerasoli’s Through Fire and Rain. Look for it in the next week—an inspiring true story of a couple who survived and triumphed over four huge life-changing catastrophes with their love and spirit intact and thriving.

IN 2012, MARYANN ANSELMO WAS at the height of her career, headlining at Chico’s House of Jazz—the premiere venue in New Jersey for jazz artists. It was a sold-out show. The love of her life and husband, Joe, was by her side when she brought the house down. Her dreams were becoming a reality. Two days later she lost everything including the will to live when her son Dustin died unexpectedly.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a strong person…. After all, I’m just a jazz singer.”

A month later, MaryAnn and her father, Artie, suffered a devastating car accident. Dad was going to be okay, but she shattered dozens of bones, and had a string of strokes she suffered while in a coma. This ultimately left her without the use of her left vocal cord.

“My girl had a string of strokes. She was in a coma for weeks. I believed in God, I trusted Him, but we had just recovered from the Crash of 2008, then Dustin died, and now this. It’s too much. She doesn’t deserve this. No one does.”

With Joe’s love and constant support, MaryAnn worked hard to recover, even starting from scratch with her longtime vocal coach. She was determined to sing again. Then in mid-November of 2013, she was given eighteen months to live, diagnosed with a high-grade glioblastoma—a later stage brain tumor.

“Everything happened so fast—the diagnosis, the surgery. chemo and radiation. Joe kept saying, ‘It’s going to be fine, Mare, it’s going to be fine.’ And I believed him. Even when we had to stop the chemo because it was killing me, I knew I’d be okay.”

Joe did not know it was going to be okay, but he needed MaryAnn to feel secure, to feel loved, to have faith. Joe, for the second time in less than two years, left a job he had built from the ground up since the crash, and made finding a way to save his wife his life’s mission. He called all over the world—no doctor too far, no medical procedure out of reach. What Joe discovered was a new type of procedure called genomic sequencing. It fell under the category of Precision Medicine, and it was going to change their lives; he felt it.

Through Fire and Rain is a story of deep loss and salvation found through love, prayer, and faith in the future of medicine. They had made it through the fire. They had survived so much. This was just a little rain…. Joe Anselmo believed that, and his wife, MaryAnn was convinced of one thing: Joe’s love for her was without boundaries. She had seen this kind of love before in her parents. Her dreams of becoming a world-renowned jazz singer was still “in the works.” For decades it had been, but she had found something perfect in this imperfect world—the love of a great man—and this is what would save her life.

MaryAnn Anselmo recently spoke at The 2016 National Brain Tumor Society event in New Jersey.

“…In 2013, I was diagnosed with something I couldn’t even pronounce—a high grade glioblastoma multiforme. The prognosis was 18 to 24 months. Like I said, I don’t believe in self pity, but I do believe in miracles. For I am still here.

I went through surgery and radiation like most cancer patients, but it nearly killed me. I had no other options until my tissue was genetically sequenced and a mutation found in melanoma patients was discovered in my brain. Joe researched and I got into a clinical trial for this mutation, and 2 ½ years later I am thrilled to say that I am tumor free!

Your body and brain can take a lot. Fight through this and you can fight through anything. Don’t ever give up! For there is hope.

With the grace of God and the power of science you will get through this. The future is here!”

Joe and MaryAnn don’t believe in coincidences; they believe in the power of God and Precision Medicine. That is why they’re sharing their story with the world. They believe this happened to MaryAnn so that they can create awareness, bring hope, change they way the word “cancer” is perceived, and open up minds to new possibilities.

Shortly after Dustin’s untimely death in 2012, Joe and MaryAnn created The Bungalow Foundation. They created this to initially help people with depression through music and art, but then expanded it to become a public charity that funds bio-medical Precision Medicine Initiatives by way of grants to post-doctoral and clinical research fellows working with academic, medical or research institutions. This is their mission.

Through Fire and Rain, their memoir of impossible loss and deep faith is a story for all people from every walk of life. Just like cancer, their story does not discriminate. Unlike cancer, they will never be defeated. Their purpose is to share their story with the world in the hopes that more people see the possibilities in Precision Medicine: Believe that the future is now!

Register Now for Ken Atchity's FREE Training Program July 14th

You’re invited to a brand new free training program I put together based on my forthcoming book called...  

Sell to Hollywood: How to Tell If Your Story Idea Will Sell To Hollywood for Big Bucks  (Guidelines For The Neophyte)

Why should you attend?  When you do you’ll discover:

·        Why TODAY it’s easier than ever to sell your story to Hollywood… but it must contain certain elements that most authors are oblivious to… you’ll get in the inside track during this training
·        The counter-intuitive path from taking an idea to a book to a New York Times bestseller to a sold story in Hollywood production.
·        Why so many novelists fail to ever sell one of their books to Hollywood… and how you can avoid their mistakes
·        Master producing the key document that actually sells a story to Hollywood (hint: it’s not a book)
·        The “tune up” most stories need before they will sell to Hollywood
·        Plus, much more…

Here are the details:
Day: Thursday, July 14
Time: 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific 

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your story on the big (or small) screen this is a must-attend event.

In The Rooms Book Club Recommends William G. Borchert's How I Became My Father ... A Drunk!

How I Became My Father…a Drunk

By William G. Borchert
William G. Borchert’s inspiring and courageous memoir probing the intimate details of a family devastated by the disease of alcoholism, and blessed by recovery. Borchert wrote the screenplay of My Name Is Bill W, the most-watched television movie ever made. “I am a fan of neither pain nor discomfort which is what this effort of disgorging the past entailed,” Borchert reports. “But some very good friends finally convinced me over a period of time that sharing my own experiences in addition to the generous input from those in my family closest to me could offer hope to other alcoholics and show families devastated by the disease that there is a way out. In an age when there are still more than 44,000,000 alcoholics affecting at least eight others around them, over 200,000,000 people are looking for help. That is a plague. My personal experience with this disease proves there is help available as well as a pathway to a new life beyond their wildest dreams.” The author of eight books and producer of other successful films, Borchert not only wrote the Bill W story about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, starring James Woods, James Garner and JoBeth Williams but also the highly acclaimed movie, When Love Is Not Enough, about the founding of Al-Anon, starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. The author and screenwriter said his new book was by its very nature even more difficult to write.

MEG Production Set to Begin August 29, 2016!

Warner Bros. has set a March 2, 2018, release date for the pic.
Fan Bingbing  Courtesy of Warner Bros.; Courtesy of Apelles Publishing
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, joins Jason Statham in Meg, the creature feature being made by Warner Bros. and Chinese company Gravity Pictures.

At the same time, Warner Bros. has set a March 2, 2018, release date for the pic, which will be directed Jon Turteltaub, best known as helmer of the National Treasure movies. Gravity will distribute the film in China, while Warners will release it throughout the rest of the world.

Dean Georgaris wrote the latest script for the project, which has been swimming upstream for 20 years in order to adapt the book by Steve Alten. It centers on a Carcharodon Megalodon, the 70-foot, 40-ton prehistoric kin to the great white shark.

The studio put forth the plot of Meg as such:

An international underwater observation program, led by Chinese scientists, is under attack by an unknown danger, and its deep-sea submersible lies disabled and trapped at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. With time running out, former Naval Captain and expert deep sea diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by Dr. Zhang Suyin, lead oceanographer of the program, for what is likely a suicide mission. 
Years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying threat, which forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew, resulting in disgrace and a dishonorable discharge. Now, Taylor must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below … bringing him face to face once more with the apex predator of all time.

Fan’s next English-language movie is Skiptrace, the Renny Harlin-directed action movie starring Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville.

Marketing Ideas That Can Help Authors Increase Sales: Prepare Your Book Marketing Assets

Write a killer elevator pitch. Write a concise, snappy elevator pitch that shows what the book is about, what kind of world readers will be immersed in, why readers should care, and what accolades the book and author have received. A strong elevator pitch will make your book more enticing to readers deciding whether or not to purchase.

Poll your audience to test marketing copy. Use polling software like PickFu to test variations of description or marketing copy and see which variation your audience likes better. Always test and optimize to discover what copy will resonate best with readers.

 A/B test marketing copy. Unlike polling, A/B tests give you quantitative data (i.e., the number of clicks). Use your email service provider to run A/B test emails and see which copy has the highest click-through rate, or use ad platforms like Facebook to A/B test your copy.

Get blurbs from reputable authors in your genre. Blurbs can effectively catch readers’ attention, especially if they’re familiar with the quoting author or publication, and can help entice them to make that final purchasing decision. Our tests showed that book descriptions including blurbs got an average of 22.6% higher click-through rates than those without blurbs.

Create images for teasers and quotes. You can easily turn your quotes into vibrant images using free apps like Canva. Publish these teasers to your website and social media accounts in the weeks and months prior to a book’s release.

Read more at BookBub