MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT



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

TRULY EXCELLENT WRITING: The Ghosts of Ponce De Leon Park by Fred Willard



Part Two



How Sears transformed the retail scene in Atlanta

When it came down to it, Del didn't know jack-shit about Bob. He thought Bob could just as easy take off with the money and not come back, buy himself a decent dinner and keep all the wine for himself. He had the look of someone who knew how to take care of himself, all right.  His jeans, work shirt and heavy shoes were a lot newer than Del’s, whose clothes looked like they were about to rot off. Not that he cared anymore, but Del thought they smelled like it too.

At the shelter in Nashville, Bob had got hung with the name Normal Bob. He wasn't so damn normal, but he had the good luck to show up after Crazy Bob who got his instructions from a dog named Tick that nobody else could see. Mostly the dog told him to howl. So Bob became Normal Bob to tell him apart from Crazy Bob.

Normal Bob was going back to Atlanta so Del planned to tag along. Del had a little stash of money and Normal knew the city so it seemed like a good partnership.

Del laid out in his bedroll and put his head on his little bag of clothes and watched the puffy white clouds drift across the early evening sky. In a little while, the night would unzip its bag of tricks and spill the predators into the hundreds of pockets of darkness along this street of appetites, and by then Del hoped to be fed, drunk and sleeping unnoticed among the weeds.

Now that he'd got the weight off his legs, he noticed he was getting the shakes in his hands, but there wasn't nothing he could do about it till Bob got back with the wine. He lay like this about an hour, till twilight, when he heard a man approaching, looked up and saw Bob carrying a couple of sacks.

"I got us both a Chubby Decker Plate."

He handed Del a pint bottle. Del broke the seal, and took three or four gulps, and fought to keep them down. He didn't want to waste any of it.

"You going to eat anything with that?" Bob asked.

"First things first," Del said.

"You shouldn't have made this trip. It was too much for you," Bob said.

"Had to leave Nashville."

"It must have been big trouble," Bob said.

"No, I just wore out my welcome too many places. Life was getting too hard."

"Well, a lot of little trouble can be just as bad as big trouble," Bob said. "Tomorrow morning we can head up to St. Luke’s for breakfast. Talk to the guys there. See what's going on."

"I don't know if I can make it," Del said. "I don't think I'm going to be able to walk at all."

"I can call the Grady wagon then, they can take you to the hospital."

“I'm afraid they might have to cut my legs off."

Bob tried to change the subject.

"This place we're sitting is historic. It's the back end of the old Ponce de Leon Baseball Park. That magnolia tree would have been at dead center field. The Atlanta Crackers used to play here. I came to the games with my old man. They tore the place down when they built the new stadium for the Braves. Turned it into this parking lot."

"I never liked this place none," Del said.

"You been here then?"

"I lived in Atlanta a couple months when I was a kid. I came here with my father once," Del said. "What do they call that building across the street?"

"That would be the old Sears and Roebuck. It's got city offices now, so they call it City Hall East."

"I remember the Sears and Roebuck, you got of the trolley and walked across the street to the park."

"That's right, man, they still had the old electric trolleys when the Crackers played here."

"I never had no luck here. We shouldn't have stopped here."

"Hell, you were the one who wanted to stop, Del. You said your legs were bad. You never should have left Nashville with your legs like that."

"I know that, now," Del said. The memory of the old ball park pinned him to the ground like a stack of cement blocks on his chest.



A Note From the Editor
There is, in every city of some size, "a street of appetites" — a place where people with hungers congregate, a street where things happen in dark places. In Atlanta, The Bitter Southerner’s hometown, that street has always been Ponce de Leon Avenue. Ponce, as we call it, is home to the legendary Clermont Lounge, where strippers whose average age is 46.5 shake their moneymakers, and the Majestic Diner, which has been serving hangover prevention and cures 24/7 since 1929. Ponce always begs to be the setting of a novel. Back in 1997, an Atlanta writer named Fred Willard delivered a great one. “Down on Ponce” was hard-boiled crime fiction, solidly in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. “Down on Ponce” permanently planted itself in my brain. I was 36 years old when it came out, and I’ve gone back to reread it several times. For a guy like me, who loves crime fiction written with verve and feistiness, “Down on Ponce” was just the ticket, particularly because I knew its setting like the back of my hand. But in the last decade or so, the literary world hasn't seen much of Fred Willard's work. Then a few weeks ago, out of the blue, Willard sent The Bitter Southerner a short story. This made me a happy guy — happier still because his story is set once again on Ponce, Atlanta's “street of appetites,” as Willard so aptly describes it here. You'll experience two Ponces in this story. One is the Ponce of the 1990s, when the kudzu-shrouded, long-unused railroad tracks that bisect the street were still the home of much nefarious activity. Today, those tracks are a pedestrian trail called the BeltLine. The other is the Ponce of the mid-20th century, when the Negro League Atlanta Black Crackers and the minor-league Atlanta Crackers shared Ponce de Leon Park, an old baseball field now long gone. Today, a Whole Foods sits about where center field was. A crime does occur in this story, and the writing is as blunt as the best crime fiction, but in “The Ghosts of Ponce de Leon Park,” Willard is now exploring different characters with different hungers — the homeless. We meet Bob and Del soon after they arrive in Atlanta, having come to the city after Del “just wore out my welcome too many places” in Nashville. Speaking of welcomes, we’re happy to welcome one of our favorites, Fred Willard, to the pages of The Bitter Southerner. — Chuck Reece
Repost from the Bitter Southerner






DREAMWORKS: THE BROTHER IN VIETNAM Maxine Hong Kingston






THE BROTHER IN VIETNAM 

Maxine Hong Kingston 


When I went to Singapore, where I have maybe fifty relatives, I found part of the family that my mother left behind forty years ago, and never saw again, and will probably not see again. My newfound aunt told me she had dreamed that the ghost of her husband had escorted me to Singapore. "And what does your mother dream about?" she asked. I understood that if I am to know someone well, I have to know what she dreams about. Dreams are more telling than news about one's job or health. I told my mother's dreams, and so felt that I am a worthy connection between family members who are far apart.

To write thoroughly about people, tell not only what work they do but how they spend their days off, and tell what they dream. In the following excerpt, "The Brother in Vietnam," the brother has three nightmares as his ship sails to Asia. The on-scene killings that take place in this story occur in dreams.


From CHINA MEN 


My mother holding my hand, I went through a curtain into a dark, out of which came explosions and screams, voices shouting things I did not understand. In a rectangle of light—which grew and shrank according to how close or far away I thought it—men with scared eyes peered over the top of a big hole they were in. Helmets weighed down their skulls. Their cheekbones were black. The men ran, clutching guns, and fell, and crawled.

The explosions rolled them screaming on the ground. I saw the undersides of their boots. Their faces and hands were not flesh-color. Everyone wore the same outfits. The color had gone out of the world. I stumbled tanglelegged into my mother's skirt and the curtain and screamed with the soldiers. Suddenly they were all gone like a dream, and I was crying in the street. Years later I figured it had only been a movie, a war movie, an old sepia-tone. "Did you take me to an American movie when I was a baby?" I've asked. Usually my father took us to American movies, my mother to Chinese movies, where she could visit with friends during the boring parts, and children played and shouted without getting ejected. MaMa said, "You cried so much that the usher ghost threw me out of the theater." I worried about making her waste money on a ticket, and so she diverted me from the actual horror—I had seen a vision of war. . . . from her. 

So that was how babies were born. Our room turned white, and through the window flew a white Christmas card like a dove and landed on the floor. It had fluttered in the air. Forgetting about what we had seen through the cracks, my sister and I picked up the card. It was very beautiful with snow and sparkles. "There's no envelope," we said. "No stamp. No name. No mailman. How could it come through the window?" I checked the window; someone must have snuck up to the open window and thrown the card in. But screen and glass were shut tight against the winter. "You saw it too, didn't you?" my sister and I asked each other, our brother only about a year old and no help. "Yes, it flew through the glass near here." We pointed out the pane, one of the top ones. "How did this card come into the room?" we asked when an adult entered. "The baby's born," said the adult. That baby was my brother who was born on Christmas day. 

Later the adults said that they found him naked under a pine tee, but I know what I had seen: blood and a flash of white flying, a flash of flying white. . . . . One brother got married a few months before the draft exemption for married men was canceled. But one brother enlisted in the Navy and the other was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. I drove my youngest brother to the airport in the middle of the night. He didn't want the flowers I brought; he had already refused to carry the chickens and puddings that MaMa had cooked. He was in his uniform like the middy that he wore in his baby picture. He said not to wait for him to board or for the plane to take off. "Go on," he said. "Don't wait around." So I only got to see him check his luggage. As I drove past the terminal, I saw him sitting by himself on a cement bench under a light. . . . He was assigned to a ship, an aircraft carrier.

 The beams and cables of the Golden Gate Bridge swung overhead. A few people up there waved and gave the peace sign. The Bay was gray like the pewter-color rocket launchers bolted to the decks. For a frantic second the brother wanted to turn the ship around. It was like a moving island of planes and jeeps and tanks. Maybe those khaki torpedoes and silver rockets were H-bombs. Or they were flares. He didn't know what an H-bomb looked like, perhaps a cassette or a crystal chip. . . . As the ship moved toward Asia, he dreamed fiercely. 

The dreams came more and more quickly; the land sent them: An army enters a city to free it from an enemy. A soldier of the rescuing army, he walks through a castle into the dungeons. Going down the stairs, he sees at face level—bodies hanging, some upside down, some brown and dried up, black hair and arms swaying, feet turning this way, then that, bodies with black hair in their middles, corpses with sections missing and askew, but mercifully all dead, hanging by hooks and ropes. Laundry tubs drain beneath the bodies. 

The live women and children on the ironing tables, the last captured, are being dissected. It has to be a dream or a movie, he thinks, but he blinks his eyes, and the sights do not go away. He takes up his sword and hacks into the enemy, slicing them; they come apart in rings and rolls. He grits his teeth and goes into a frenzy, cutting whatever human meat comes within range. When he stops, he finds that he has cut up the victims too, who are his own relatives. The faces of the strung-up people are also those of his own family, Chinese faces, Chinese eyes, noses, and cheekbones. He woke terrified. The live bodies he had cut up had not screamed or wept because their mouths had been gagged and eyes blindfolded. Scared awake, he looked at the underside of the rack above him and at the sleeping man across the aisle; it was only the closeness in these berths that had made him dream like that. 

He went to sleep again, and another dream recurred: Armies crawl like alligators under barbed wire. They have been ordered to charge a beach like at Normandy—only the beach is as wide as the Sahara Desert or the Gobi or Death Valley. In a panic of attack all those miles, they crawl and charge for years. It is an army of burrowing animals, moles, groundhogs, prairie dogs, ostriches. Frightened by shadows and sounds, they dig deeper. Nursing cubs and kids wriggle beneath bigger animals. Turkeys burrow under one another and die in a pile. Administering first aid, he cuts open their chests and sees gross internal damage. He tries unstacking the animals, weaning them. The alligators, left arm and leg, then right arm and leg, crawl toward battle. Occasionally, a wild stallion rears up and is shot. He woke again, wondering why he should have such disorderly animal dreams when the ship was a machine. These dreams must have come from his years of poultry chores. 

When he slept again, he dreamed that he was a barkless dog tied to a table leg in a kitchen equipped with a sink, oven, and operating table. Families—mother, father, and one child—are in kitchens like this all over the world. A voice comes over the loudspeaker: "Children, take up your knives; women, forks; men, spoons." Then with their arms around one another, the wife picks up the fork, and the husband the spoon. The loudspeaker says for them to kill themselves by forking and scooping. "Spoon, knife, or fork?" the loudspeaker asks the barkless dog, who knows that if he took the sharpest instrument, he would deprive someone else of a quick death. 

He chooses the spoon, but is not willing to gouge himself to death. Because he is a dog and not watched as closely as human beings, he runs out of the kitchen-surgery, but outside, the shooting war has begun. He runs in and out the door, unable to decide whether it is better to commit suicide or to kill.


Kenneth Atchity. Dreamworks 3:3: 1983 (Dreamworks Magazine) . Story Merchant Books.  






Ken Atchity Quote...

“If you have a dream, you have a responsibility to yourself and to us to make it come true. That’s the most important thing in your life. Don’t let anything stand in its way.”

― Kenneth John Atchity, The Messiah Matrix



Read The New Rinaldi In September!

 



Set for release this coming September, "PANIC ATTACK" is the sixth in the award-winning series of mystery thrillers from the mind of Dennis Palumbo.

This time, Pittsburgh psychologist and police consultant Daniel Rinaldi finds himself caught up in the investigation of a series of seemingly random sniper attacks.

The hunt for the Steel City Sniper leads to a heart-stopping conclusion that readers will never forget!

To pre-order "PANIC ATTACK," please click here for Amazon Books. Or order from your favorite local independent bookstore or from the publisher’s website, Poisoned Pen Press.

For those who’ve yet to make the acquaintance of Pittsburgh’s most famous fictional psychologist, check out the previous five books (below) in the Daniel Rinaldi series.

Psychologist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime--those who’ve survived an armed robbery, kidnapping, or sexual assault, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them. 

PANIC ATTACK” is the sixth in the Daniel Rinaldi Mysteries series written by Palumbo.



New From Story Merchant Books

Down on Ponce by Fred Willard




SAM FULLER, a man who lives on the edge of the law, is offered $50,000 to murder a man’s wife. Instead of committing the crime, he warns the wife and runs with the money. The next day Sam’s trailer is set afire and his friend JIMMY is killed; Sam knows he was the intended victim.⁠
Sam goes underground, hiding out in the Ponce de Leon section of downtown Atlanta. He befriends CHARLIE SHELNUT, a late 20s rockabilly undertaker, and several misfit street cons who trace Jimmy’s death to a Dixie Mob money-laundering scheme. Sam devises an elaborate plan to make the murderers pay, literally -- he’ll rip off their drug profits.⁠
Sam’s crew soon find themselves in the middle of a turf war between the Dixie mob and a disgraced ex-district attorney whose own drug abuse has pulled him into the money laundering trade. The climax of this riveting, often hilarious tale comes in an explosive confrontation as Sam and his crew exact final retribution for the killing of Sam’s friend.⁠


TRULY EXCELLENT WRITING: The Ghosts of Ponce De Leon Park by Fred Willard

Part One

Drive bye: Saying farewell to the Ponce de Leon Zesto - Atlanta ...




“We can thumb some more or just walk down the railroad tracks to Ponce," Bob said.

"My legs don't feel so good," Del said. "The doctors at the clinic said my circulation is bad."
"I know, man. You already told me. Maybe walking will get your circulation going."
"Maybe so. I don't know about that. I just know my legs don't feel good."
Del looked down the rail bed. A tree line on either side hid it from the apartments and the shopping center and as the line curved gently in the distance to the left it also hid the destination.
"How far is it," he asked.
"Maybe a mile."
"I guess we might as well walk it. We might stand around that long waiting for a ride."
They walked between the rails matching strides to the wooden ties.
"I don't know if I can keep this up," Del said.
"We can slow down."
"It ain't the speed it's the reach."
"The gravel's harder."
"I'm going to walk over to the side on the dirt," Del said. He stepped over to the worn path on the edge of the right of way.
"It's softer here," he said.
"That's your problem," Bob said. "You're too damn soft. It's like you never worked."
"I worked plenty."
"Down there is where the snakes are," Bob said.
"I don't see any damn snakes."
Del was slowly falling behind Bob's strides on the railroad ties.
"Hold on. What's the damn hurry?"
"You're in bad shape."
"It's the circulation. The doctors said I might get gangrene. Then they'd have to cut my legs off."
"That's the other thing, your circulation. I can tell you hadn't been working, not without any circulation. So where did you get that stash of money?"
"I ain't got that much."
"But where did you get it? You been sucking dicks?"
"Why did you go and say something like that?"
"Well have you?"
"Hell, no."
"Where did you get the money, then?"
"Sold blood."
"No wonder you can't walk."
"You never sold blood?"
"I never been in bad shape like you are."
"So if I'm in bad shape, why don't you just slow down? It ain't polite running off like that."
"I'll slow down. but this cut-through scares the hell out of me sometimes."
"Why's that?"
"All sorts of bad shit happens back here. The skinheads catch you and they kick your ass. They killed a couple homeless along these tracks. Stomped this one guy till his heart exploded."
"Now you're frightening me. What do they do — hide in the trees till you come by?"
"No. They just use it as a cut-through. They walk over from Little Five Points, go up to Piedmont Park to beat queers. Keep your eyes open. We see anybody, we can get off the tracks and hide. I just don't like thinking about it."
"You wouldn't run off and leave me, if you saw the skinheads coming, would you?"
"I don't know, man. There wouldn't be much point in my sticking around for an ass-whipping if I couldn't do nothing, would there?"
"I'll try to walk faster, but my legs are killing me. If we see some skinheads, help me hide in the trees before you run off."
"I'll do that, Del."
The track had been following a gentle curve, but as it straightened they could see Ponce de Leon Avenue ahead.
"It isn't that much further," Bob said.
They didn't talk as they tried to make time. Del's legs felt raw. They were swelling and he walked with them stiff in a fast shuffle so he could keep up. He counted steps to help the time pass. When they were almost to Ponce he said, "My legs are no good, I got to lay down."
"We farted around so long we can't get nothing at the Open Door or St. Luke’s," Bob said. "I guess we might as well spend the night in this kudzu field. You want to buy us both a dinner since we missed it because of your damn circulation."
"You can get us dinner and a couple pints of sherry," Del said.
They walked to the kudzu-covered field to the right of the tracks, and found a little depression where they wouldn't be as visible and unrolled their bedrolls. Del pulled some money out of his stash and handed it to Bob.
"Why don't you take a water bottle."
"Okay, I got to go to Green's then up to the Zesto, so it's going to take me some time, so just hang on."
"I ain't going nowhere,"  Del said.


A Note From the Editor
There is, in every city of some size, "a street of appetites" — a place where people with hungers congregate, a street where things happen in dark places. In Atlanta, The Bitter Southerner’s hometown, that street has always been Ponce de Leon Avenue. Ponce, as we call it, is home to the legendary Clermont Lounge, where strippers whose average age is 46.5 shake their moneymakers, and the Majestic Diner, which has been serving hangover prevention and cures 24/7 since 1929. Ponce always begs to be the setting of a novel. Back in 1997, an Atlanta writer named Fred Willard delivered a great one. “Down on Ponce” was hard-boiled crime fiction, solidly in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. “Down on Ponce” permanently planted itself in my brain. I was 36 years old when it came out, and I’ve gone back to reread it several times. For a guy like me, who loves crime fiction written with verve and feistiness, “Down on Ponce” was just the ticket, particularly because I knew its setting like the back of my hand. But in the last decade or so, the literary world hasn't seen much of Fred Willard's work. Then a few weeks ago, out of the blue, Willard sent The Bitter Southerner a short story. This made me a happy guy — happier still because his story is set once again on Ponce, Atlanta's “street of appetites,” as Willard so aptly describes it here. You'll experience two Ponces in this story. One is the Ponce of the 1990s, when the kudzu-shrouded, long-unused railroad tracks that bisect the street were still the home of much nefarious activity. Today, those tracks are a pedestrian trail called the BeltLine. The other is the Ponce of the mid-20th century, when the Negro League Atlanta Black Crackers and the minor-league Atlanta Crackers shared Ponce de Leon Park, an old baseball field now long gone. Today, a Whole Foods sits about where center field was. A crime does occur in this story, and the writing is as blunt as the best crime fiction, but in “The Ghosts of Ponce de Leon Park,” Willard is now exploring different characters with different hungers — the homeless. We meet Bob and Del soon after they arrive in Atlanta, having come to the city after Del “just wore out my welcome too many places” in Nashville. Speaking of welcomes, we’re happy to welcome one of our favorites, Fred Willard, to the pages of The Bitter Southerner. — Chuck Reece
Repost from the Bitter Southerner





3 Things Every Great Story Has To Have by Dr. Ken Atchity



Film Courage: What three things does a great story have to have?

Dr. Ken Atchity, Author, Publisher, Producer: What three things? Well, it has to have a hook that gets people instantly involved in the story and that’s a huge part of the story itself. And it’s got to have a very strong character in the story that you care about and other than that, it has to have twists and turns that lead to a surprise ending. If I had to just say three things, I guess that’s what I would say the three things are. Every story needs that because a story about nothing is not going to hold anyone’s interest.

And sometimes writers when they begin their careers think that if they just write, they can write about anything but the truth is they need to write from their heart about things that matter to everyone and if they do that, you can hardly go wrong. Because stories are really not about words or word choice or anything like that. They’re about conveying the power of a character facing a dilemma that you have no idea how he or she will resolve and when you do that you’ve got everyone’s attention.

And in ancient times there was a thing called The Oral Tradition which I used to teach as a professor of Homeric Greek. The Iliad and the Odyssey were sung at campfires and everyone in the culture knew the stories. We are publishing a book right now on Homeric song and how it worked and how it held culture together. And my first book those…I call those stories the shield of memory and it was because of those stories that a person knew how to deal with himself in battle or when facing an attacking boar or when facing an angry wife or when facing pillagers trying to burn down his village. He would instantly think of the story of Heracles who did this or that or the story of Aegean who did this and that and that’s all they had. They didn’t have books for learning. It was all passed along through the oral tradition. And I think stories have never failed to play that role in human life and when you think about it you know “What’s your story?” is probably the most human response to any encounter and it goes from the court of law where the jury is trying to decide which of the two stories do they believe, to a political campaign where the voters are making that decision, to a first date where you are going “Do I believe his story? I just don’t believe it? I can’t buy his story?”  That’s the ultimate human turn down, you can’t buy the story. And it goes through everything. Advertising is conveying stories that people will want to buy the product. This is how humans operate on a daily basis so to me it’s absolutely amazing that an industry has been created where people will pay millions of dollars for stories and where stories can basically conquer the world and I believe unite the world.

I mean look at all the work we are now doing with China in the movie business. I just saw Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (the new version of it) where the male lead is Chinese and she is Western and clearly as a producer I’m watching it going “This was a Chinese financed movie,” because I understand how it works for the market…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

Ken's Weekly Book Recommendation: Stressed in the U.S. by Meg Van Deusen

Dr. Meg Van Deusen has gleaned a wealth of knowledge during her twenty-seven years as a clinical psychologist. She has worked with a multitude of people from varying backgrounds. and is passionate about attachment theory, its relationship to stress, and how we can use it to feel less harried and improve our lives.⁠





Check out her book Stressed in the US: 12 Tools to

Tackle Anxiety, Loneliness, Tech-Addiction, and more

AVAILABLE on AMAZON


HEALTH MEDIA NOW INTERVIEWS DR. MEG VAN DEUSEN-STRESSED IN THE US

 


 

Meg Van Deusen received her BA in English from Santa Clara University in 1985 and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles in 1992. She has worked with children, adolescents, and adults both in inpatient and outpatient settings throughout the Los Angeles and Seattle areas. Her knowledge of and passion for attachment theory, mindfulness, interpersonal neurobiology, sleep and dreams informs her belief that meaningful connection with ourselves and others helps us handle stress. In her review of the literature and interviews with researchers, everyday Americans, and clients, she has cultivated a first-hand understanding of how our current American culture is creating barriers to human attachments and, therefore, weakening our ability to handle the stressors we face today.


Check out her book Stressed in the US: 12 Tools to

Tackle Anxiety, Loneliness, Tech-Addiction, and more

AVAILABLE on AMAZON



Voyage LA Interviews Ken Atchity






Meet Ken Atchity


All my life I’ve been focused on stories–writing and editing them,; publishing them; analyzing them as a professor of comparative literature and Fulbright professor at the University of Bologna; reviewing them for The Los Angeles Times Book Review; developing them; representing them; and producing them. 

Long ago an ambassador from a middle eastern country told me: “You’re like your Phoenician ancestors–you’re a story merchant,” and the more I thought about that the more I liked it. Especially because the Phoenicians, the great merchants of antiquity, invented the alphabet to make story exchange–from Indian to Greece, Egypt to Rome, China to Italy–easier. 

I’ve written and published more than 20 books of my own, both fictions, like The Messiah Matrix, and nonfiction, like A Writer’s Time–which the New York Times called “the best book on writing.” 

As a literary manager producer, I’ve made hundreds of deals for my clients for film and television, and produced over 30 films. We were nominated for an Emmy for The Kennedy Detail and saw The Meg, a book/film we developed, sell nearly $600 million in the global market. I’ve always believed that the world we humans inhabit “is made not of atoms but of stories.”

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?

You begin to see it as a smooth road, the longer you endure the journey. What seemed like bumps at the time, looking back are merely the natural patterns, the ups and downs of the most exciting and least secure career in the story marketplace. The struggles were about clarifying and securing rights, dealing with people whose egos have suddenly blossomed, herding cats to get a project into production or a book into press, and, always, finding a way to stay “at the baccarat table” until the payoff comes. But if you have lots of ideas, there’s no downtime that isn’t filled with making them happen one way or the other.

We’d love to hear more about your business.

We set up movies and television series on one coast, books on the other and through our own imprint, but my favorite activity is the one we’re known best at: developing intellectual properties for the widest possible markets. What sets us apart is that we’ve done it all, for over thirty years–we’re even dealing with theater and opera. We specialize in recognizing great stories.

What were you like growing up?

Born in Louisiana Cajun country and growing up in Kansas City, I was a serious student, especially of languages–Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and by the time I got my PhD from Yale Italian, German and recently just published a book on “domestic Japanese.” I love language because they unlock stories, so learned Greek to read Homer, Spanish to read Don Quixote, Italian to read Dante, etc. 

Raised in a family that loved jokes, I soon learned to recognize that jokes, too, were stories and observed who knew how to tell them, who didn’t. I also noticed that EVERYTHING we do seems to be about storytelling, whether it’s serving on a jury and judging which of the opposing attorneys I believe; buying a car from a salesman; listening for a political candidate’s message; or deciding, on a first meeting, whether I “like her story” or not. I was, from early days, intent. One day in graduate school, I was walking across Harvard Square when a woman crossed my path and said, “Smile, sir!”



A Screenwriter's Life in the Waiting Room



How long can I wait?

Screenwriters ask me that all the time, becoming impatient and anxious that their script is taking so long to make it to the screen.

My answer surprises them:

Don’t wait at all.

Waiting is a massive waste of time and can lead to depression and/or existential despair, and who knows what else. Write something while you wait. Plant another seed, cultivate it, and train it to grow straight. And while it’s taking its sweet time to bud and then bloom, do something else. Start a new spec script!

Back in my own “waiting room” in the sixties, I reviewed a great book by Barry Stevens: Don’t Push the River, It Flows by Itself. I translated Stevens’ Zen advice to Hollywood where every project has its own clock and will happen when and only when that clock reaches the appointed hour. Other than keeping that project on track the best you can by responding when asked to or when appropriate, there’s nothing much you can do—other than financing it yourself (a serious option, by the way) to speed up that project’s clock. By the nature of things, the project clock is invisible, which means extra frustration for the creator—unless you refuse to wait.

Recently, I, and my dear producing partner Norman Stephens, produced a sweet little Christmas movie called Angels in the Snow. I had only been trying to get that movie produced for twenty years! I sold it to TNN once and came close to a deal at Hallmark another time. My client Steve Alten’s Meg is currently, after twenty-one years, shooting in New Zealand. What was I doing for the last twenty years? Writing twelve scripts and producing other films for television and cinema, managing hundreds of books, writing and publishing ten of my own, playing tennis, traveling, having a wonderful life. Not waiting.

Waiting makes writers neurotic. If I allowed myself to express my neurosis, as many writers have not yet learned not to do, I would drive those involved in making my or my clients’ stories into films crazy—and risk losing their support or return calls. The question I personally hate hearing the most, “What’s going on?” is one I have to force myself to refrain from asking. Your job, when it’s your turn to move your story forward, is to “get the ball out of your court” as efficiently, as well, and as soon as possible. Then, on that particular project, you have to wait for it to be returned to your court. Very few actual events requiring your help occur along the way, leaving a huge gap of dead time in between them, like super novae separated by vast time years of space. But it’s not dead time if you use it for something else creative.

If the glacial pace of the Hollywood creative business fills you with dread, you’re in the wrong business or you’re dealing with it the wrong way. Don’t wait. Do. As the great photographer Ansel Adams put it: “Start doing more. It’ll get rid of all those moods you’re having.”



Writer/producer/literary manager and former professor Ken Atchity’s most recent book for writers is Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business (to accompany his online course realfasthollywooddeal.com. This article is adapted from that book.

Write Your Novel to Be a Film by Kenneth Atchity




Novelists seeking representation complain that none of their books have been made into films. At any given moment, we have literally stacks of novels from New York publishers on our desks in Los Angeles. Going through them to find the ones that might make motion pictures or television movies, we — and other producers, managers, and agents — are constantly running into the same problems:

    “There’s no third act... It just trickles out.”

    “There are way too many characters and it’s not clear till page 200 who the protagonist is.”

    “I can’t relate to anyone in the book.”

    “At the end, the antagonist lays out the entire plot to the protagonist.”

    “There’s not enough action.”

    “There’s nothing new here. This concept has been used to death.”

    “We don’t know who to root for.”

    “The whole thing is overly contrived.”

    “There’s no dialogue, so we don’t know what the character sounds like.”

    “There’s no high concept here. How do we pitch this?”

    “There’s no real pacing.”

    “The protagonist is reactive instead of proactive.”

    “At the end of the day, I have no idea what this story is about.”

    “The main character is 80, and speaks only Latvian.”

    “It’s set in Papago...in the 1960s, and is filled with long passages in Uto-Aztecan.”

    “There are no set pieces.”

Of course anyone with the mind of a researcher can list a film or two that got made despite one of these objections. But for novelists who are frustrated at not getting their books made into films, that should be small consolation and is, practically speaking, a useless observation. Yes, you might get lucky and find a famous Bulgarian director, who’s fascinated with the angst of octogenarians, studied pacing with John Sales or Jim Jarmusch, and loves ambiguous endings.

But if you regard your career as a business instead of a quixotic crusade, you should be planning your novel from the outset to make it appealing to filmmakers.

Give us a strong (preferably male) lead who, good or bad, is eminently relatable — and who’s in the “star age range” of 35-50 (where at any given moment 20 male stars reside; a star being a name that can set up the film by his attachment to it).

Make sure a dramatist looking at your book will clearly see three well-defined acts: act one (the setup), act two (rhythmic development, rising and falling action), and act three (climax leading to conclusive ending).

Express your character’s personality in dialogue that distinguishes him, and makes him a role a star would die to play.

Have someone in the film industry read your synopsis before you commit to writing the novel.

Though I’ve observed the phenomena for several decades now, it still surprises me that even bestselling novelists, even the ones who complain that no one has made a film from their books yet, don’t write novels dramatic enough to lend themselves easily to mainstream film. It’s a well-known phenomenon in publishing that, with very few exceptions, the more books a novelist sells the less critical his publisher’s editors are of his work. So time and again we read novels that start out well, roar along to the halfway point, then peter off into the bogs of formless character development or action resolution.

A publisher invests between $25,000 and $100,000 or more in publishing your novel. A low-budget feature film from a major Hollywood studio today costs at least $40 million. There is, from a business point of view, no comparison. Risking $40 million means the critical factor is raised as high as can be imagined when your book hits the “story department” — much higher than the critical factor of even the finest publishers. Hollywood studies what audiences want by logging, in box office dollars, cents, and surveys, what they respond best to.

If you want to add film to your profit centers as a novelist, it would behoove you to study what makes films work. Disdaining Hollywood may be a fashionable defense for writers who haven’t gotten either rich or famous from it, but it’s not productive in furthering your cinematic career.