"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

—Muriel Rukeyser

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The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People






The daily life of great authors, artists and philosophers has long been the subject of fascination among those who look upon their work in awe. After all, life can often feel like, to quote Elbert Hubbard, “one damned thing after another” -- a constant muddle of obligations and responsibilities interspersed with moments of fleeting pleasure, wrapped in gnawing low-level existential panic. (Or, at least, it does to me.) Yet some people manage to transcend this perpetual barrage of office meetings, commuter traffic and the unholy allure of reality TV to create brilliant work. It’s easy to think that the key to their success is how they structure their day.

Mason Currey’s blog-turned-book Daily Rituals describes the workaday life of great minds from W.H. Auden to Immanuel Kant, from Flannery O’Connor to Franz Kafka. The one thing that Currey’s project underlines is that there is no magic bullet. The daily routines are as varied as the people who follow them– though long walks, a ridiculously early wake up time and a stiff drink are common to many.

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New From Story Merchant Books Larry D. Thompson's The Trial: A Thriller







Luke Vaughan thought he had retired from trying lawsuits. That was his intent when he left Houston and moved Samantha, his teenage daughter, to his hometown of San Marcos, Texas, to establish a low-key office practice. Instead, he found that he traded the stress of trial work for the greater stress of raising a rebellious daughter. After Samantha volunteers as a subject in the clinical trial of a new antibiotic that both the drug company and the FDA knew was dangerous, she develops liver failure.

Unable to pay for a liver transplant, Luke is forced to return to the courtroom one more time in a last-ditch effort to save his daughter's life. When Luke's efforts expose fraud and corruption in both the drug company and the FDA, he is suddenly confronted with a ruthless adversary who is willing to resort to bribery, kidnapping, and even murder.

Echoing themes from today's headlines, The Trial is a classic David-and-Goliath tale of a small-town lawyer fighting the incestuous relationship of a giant pharmaceutical company with the FDA. In this fast-moving legal thriller, Thompson exposes the corruption involving the drug industry, which, all too often, leads to the approval of new and very dangerous drugs in the United States.





StoryHinge: Kenneth Atchity A Life of Stories



With more than forty years’ experience in the publishing world, and nearly thirty in entertainment, Dr. Ken Atchity is a “story merchant”– writer, editor, producer, career coach, teacher, and literary manager, responsible for launching hundreds of books and dozens of film and television productions. His life’s passion is finding great storytellers and turning them into bestselling authors and produced screenwriters.

In one of his recent works he produced the film called “The Meg” (Jason Statham, Warner Brothers), “Hysteria” (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Informant Media), “Expatriate” (Aaron Eckhart, Informant), the Emmy-nominated “The Kennedy Detail” (Discovery), “The Lost Valentine” (Betty White; Hallmark Hall of Fame), “Joe Somebody” (Tim Allen; Fox), “Life or Something Like It” (Angelina Jolie; Fox), and “14 Days with Alzheimer’s.”

His own books include novels, The Messiah Matrix and Seven Ways to Die, and nonfiction A Writer’s Time, Writing Treatments that Sell, and Sell Your Story to Hollywood.

Check Out Disturbing the Peace Trailer



A small-town marshal who hasn't carried a gun since he left the Texas Rangers after a tragic shooting must pick up his gun again to do battle with a gang of outlaw bikers that has invaded the town to pull off a brazen and violent heist.

Writer Chuck Hustmyre

Interview with Kenneth Atchity on The The Creative Penn Podcast For Writers With Joanna Penn



Many authors have a goal of seeing their book made into a film or TV series, but how can you maximize the chances of that happening? Ken Atchity has some tips for creating loglines and standing out in a crowded content market.

Listen to Podcast here

* How Ken went from academia to Hollywood
* What the journey looks like for a book that becomes a film
* Why it’s a good time for storytellers in Hollywood
* Tips on writing a treatment
* Why a clear premise sells a story
* Why character matters when finding a story’s premise
* Why it helps to have a representative in Hollywood
* Should you think about the budget when writing for the screen?


For Writers, Silence Might Not Be Golden After All



Certainly, many eminent writers from the past shunned clamor. Consider Marcel Proust. To remark that the French writer was sensitive to auditory interference would be an understatement. The man was positively neurotic about it. He treated the bedroom in his Paris apartment where he wrote like a sensory deprivation chamber—shutters closed, drapes drawn, the walls lined with sound-absorbing cork. It wasn’t enough. He wore earplugs too.

Anton Chekhov was similarly beset by hypersensitivity to sound. So was fellow obsessive Frank Kafka, who described his condition in his signature surreal style by saying that “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’—that wouldn’t be enough—but like a dead man.” Sadly, by the time he got his wish, it was too late to do anything about it.

The correlation between high-level inventiveness and difficulty in filtering out sensory inputs is understandable, given that open-mindedness is a hallmark of the creative personality. The problem for off-the-chart geniuses like Proust, Chekhov, and Kafka was that their minds were a bit too open. Everything got through. Hence the extreme measures they took to avoid being immobilized by incoming stimuli.

...silence isn’t as golden as it sounds. Absolute noiselessness tends to focus our attention, which is helpful for tasks that entail accuracy, fine detail, and linear reasoning, such as balancing our checkbook or fixing a Swiss watch. It’s less supportive of the broad, big-picture, abstract mind-wandering that leads to fresh perspectives and a creative work product. On the other hand, excessive noise overwhelms our sensory apparatus and hinders our ability to properly process information at all. In between lies the sweet spot—noise not so loud that we can’t hear ourselves think, and not so quiet that we can’t help but hear ourselves think.

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A HISTORY OF BUYING BOOKS ONTO THE BESTSELLER LIST

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In November, Donald Trump Jr.’s Triggered hit number one on the New York Times bestsellers list—with an asterisk. Or more accurately, a dagger (†). This is the first time many people noticed this dagger and learned that it means the NYT believes the book has made it onto the list with the help of bulk purchases. It is, however, far from the first book to do this.
In fact, his father helped pioneer the practice among business people.
According to former Trump executive Jack O’Donnell in his 1991 book Trumped, the Trump organization purchased tens of thousands of copies of the Art of the Deal upon its release in 1987. They put copies of the book on pillows during turn-down service. He also pressured his executives to buy 4,000 or more copies of the book each. 
Though Trump helped to bring the idea mainstream, he was following in some authors’ footsteps from a decade earlier. Some of the first books known to make the list with the help of bulk purchases were Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 Valley of the Dolls and Wayne Dyer’s 1976 Your Erroneous ZonesThe list started in 1931, so there are probably authors who used this method we’ll never know about.
For those unaware of how bestseller lists work, here’s a primer. They each use different metrics and data sources, but the NYT is considered to be the most “curated,” with a secretive process. It is known that they poll a large selection of independent booksellers and major retailers. These are often called “reporting” bookstores. Those looking to game the system with bulk sales will only order from sources known or highly suspected to be reporting. The general wisdom is that you need to sell somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 copies a week to make most of their lists.
The NYT list is usually seen as the most prestigious, with the Wall Street Journal’s list being highly respected in business circles. The USA Today list is broader, with no category breakdowns—just a simple list of the top 150 books that week in print and electronic formats. These are considered “easier” to hit than the NYT list.
You’ll most often seen folks touting an “Amazon bestseller” label, or sometimes they’ll simply say “bestseller.” Marketer Brent Underwood blew the lid off these claims with a charming experiment and article in 2016. I myself am a #1 Amazon bestseller in “Teen & Young Adult LGBT Fiction,” but I don’t advertise that.
In 1995, the New York Times introduced the dagger symbol to indicate a book that had benefited from a bulk purchase after authors Fred Wiersema and Michael Treacy allegedly spent a quarter of a million dollars on their own book. But that didn’t stop businessmen and politicians from doing the same.
Politicians like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Joe Lieberman have used campaign funds to purchase their own books as donor thank-you gifts. In 2015, Ted Cruz got in a very public fight with the New York Times over their decision to not include him on the list at all, citing bulk purchases. Donald Trump’s campaign, again in 2016, spent $55,055 on purchasing his book Crippled America, which would have hit the list even without this purchase.
In 2015, Mitt Romney switched it up a bit, requiring hosts of his speaking gigs to make large purchases of his book No Apology in lieu of a speaking fee. As a bonus, many people applauded him for “speaking for free.”

In April 2018, bookseller Emily Pullen pointed out that four of the books on the nonfiction list, all by conservatives, had the telling little dagger next to them. A few weeks later, Pullen posted an image of a donation the library had received of Our 50-State Border Crisis sent directly from Barnes & Noble, theorizing this was all part of the scheme.
Many businessmen found an easier—but more expensive—route. In 2012, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll and wife Grace hit #1 on the list with Real Marriage, but it was revealed in 2014 that he did so by paying ResultSource over 200k to make it happen. The resulting backlash caused the company to adopt a lower profile, even though they were very public about what they were doing before then. In 2013, Soren Kaplan spoke openly about hiring the firm to get his book Leapfrogging on the Wall Street Journal’s list. ResultSource had an endorsement from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and breakdown of their campaign for his book Delivering Happiness. In an article about the companyForbes called it “essentially a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is.” We may never know some of the “bestselling” books that used this service.
ResultSource was able to help these books make lists without that dagger symbol by carefully placing orders in a way to not trigger those bulk order alerts. Which is exactly how Lani Sarem of Handbook for Mortals infamy managed to hit the list with sales for books that may not have actually ever existed. After investigating the issue, the New York Times reissued the list without her book on it.
Why does any of this matter? There’s no denying the phrase “New York Times bestselling author” lends credibility and gravitas to people and to ideas. Many say it allows people in certain political circles to claim their ideas are more mainstream than they are in reality. There’s financial incentive, too. Hitting the list creates momentum and many of these books continued to stay on the bestseller list for weeks after their bulk buys. Booksellers know when a book hits a list, they will see more people coming in to purchase those books the following week. Lani Sarem was attempting to leverage the list into a movie deal.
And it also matters because only people who already have excessive assets are able to participate. You’ll never see one of these daggers next to a no-name middle- or lower-class writer. So it’s just another way that people of means can game the system in their favor, widening the gap between financial classes.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” —C.S. Lewis

As the man who found everything he was looking for in his “retirement,” Dr. Atchity is a shining example of the never-ending potential of dreams and aspirations. In a HuffPost interview with Jeff Rivera Ken outlines many of the problems he encountered when shifting to a new career along with some useful advice for those looking to go down the same road.







Taking into account how the film industry has changed over the past couple of years, what advice would you give today that you wouldn’t have given two years ago?

I think it’s becoming harder to sell anything to big studios because they have become almost entirely married to producing big franchises and pre-sold concepts. Marketing has taken over the entertainment industry. Even in the publishing world, big publishers are only interested in how many copies of a certain book they can sell.

For new voices it can be extremely difficult to get published and this is very much the case in Hollywood. It’s often easier to get your work produced independently or through the MD method than it is to go to the studios. Keep in mind that the big studios used to produce hundreds of movies every year whereas now they produce dozens. Some studios are completing as little as three movies a year, but they’re making $400 million films from pre-established franchises like Spider-Man and Captain America.

There’s a global market for these movies and it’s a safer bet for them to spend a lot of money on one movie and earn it all back plus extra. This can make it even more difficult for new writers to sell their ideas, although I think writers can be proactive in finding ways to draw attention to their stories.

If someone, for example, lived in Nebraska and had a story about a family that lived in a cornfield, would they have any hope of having a studio make that film?

Always remember that if you don’t have hope then you shouldn’t be doing it, and hope is never something that can be analyzed statistically. It comes from within. In any industry, looking at the odds can be more than a little discouraging but if you believe them then you might as well go back to work as a bank teller. You have to think to yourself, what can I do? How can I think outside the box to draw attention to my story?

These days, the internet can be hugely beneficial if you’re looking to get your story out there as it provides millions, if not billions, of people access to you work. If you’re looking to generate interest then the internet is the best tool you can use. Studios have executives who do nothing but trawl through the internet looking for new stories. The Hunger Games is one of the biggest success stories of the last 10 years in this sense.

I think the gatekeepers are becoming predictable because they’re so enslaved to their corporate owners but what the true creative executives are looking for is someone who’s not saying the same thing as everyone else. Anyone who has a following as the result of their work is a potential line of interest. So, if I were in Nebraska facing that dilemma, I would focus on the thing that I have in front of me – that everyone has in front of them – the internet. You just have to find a way to pierce that golden shield.

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Indie Film Hustle: What Makes a Good Story With Ken Atchity

Today guest is author, publisher, and producer Ken Atchity. Ken recently produced the global blockbuster (Jason Statham) and is the founder of Story Merchant. Ken wrote the best-seller Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer's Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business.

I wanted Ken on the show to discuss the business side of screenwriting, a part of the industry that isn't spoken about enough. We also discuss the "story market."

Enjoy a conversation with Kenneth Atchity

A Thought for the New Year...




"My dear, In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that…In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back."

- Albert Camus