It was 26 years ago this month that the seed that would become the MEG franchise took root in Steve Alten's mind!
I was thirty-five at the time and living in West Boca Raton, Florida in a rented townhouse with my second (and present) wife, Kim, her daughter Amanda (age 10), son Chad (age nine), and our six month old daughter, Kelsey. I had moved down to South Florida four years earlier to open a Water Resources distributorship, hiring and training sales reps to sell whole house water treatment systems. We struggled to break even and I eventually closed up the office, running reps out of the townhouse. After a year I was the only one left and began searching for a new career. I tried several MLMs but never made a dime. And then, in August of 1995, I read the cover story of this issue of TIME magazine which introduced me to hydrothermal vents and the Mariana Trench, the deepest most unexplored location on Earth. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if that prehistoric Great White shark I read about when I was a teen was still alive down there… hell, I’d read that book! Better yet…” I drove to the library in West Boca and found the picture of six nerdy scientists seated in a giant shark jaw. Researching Megalodon produced very little other than the fact that they were not like the marine reptiles that went extinct 65 million years ago, these sharks were super predators that only disappeared 2 million years ago or less…
As a sales manager and (before that) a basketball coach, I believed in the power of setting a goal (read THINK & GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill). Convinced I had a great story to tell, I set the goal to become a best-selling author. I would complete a week of extensive research at my local library (no internet back then), create an outline, and then begin writing the manuscript to “White Death.” Water treatment home demos ran from 4pm to 10 pm on weeknights and all day Saturdays, so the only time I could write was in the morning when I watched my daughter (Kim worked in a doctor’s office from 9am to 4pm) and late at night. Every morning I’d feed Kelsey breakfast, then pop on Barney while I wrote, editing the previous day’s 2-4 pages before working on new pages. At the time I did not own a p/c, the original 450 page (single space) manuscript was written on a word processor that could only save 3,000 words per file… ugh. Kim got home around 4pm and I’d head out to try and sell water systems door to door to pay the bills. Each night upon returning home, I’d say goodnight to my wife and worked from 11pm to about 3 am – often falling asleep on my keyboard.
QUESTION: How do you eat an elephant? ANSWER: One bite at a time. Same for writing a novel – you write a 400+ page manuscript a page at a time. By January I had completed the first phase of my goal (the manuscript); phase-2 was to get it to a publisher. With no connections or a clue, I purchased a book: How To Get Published which said I needed a literary agent.
Following the instructions, I wrote a 2-page query letter and sent it to every literary agent in the book that handled fiction. Of the 60 to 70 letters sent, I received about 30 rejection letters. The only interested agent was Ken Atchity at AEI in Los Angles. Ken believed my story had the potential to be a great book and movie – only it needed a ton of editing. He would assign an editor to work with me and teach me and then Ken would represent my manuscript to publishers, but his fee ($6,000) had to be paid up front. I didn’t have the money, but I did own a 1971 Chevy Malibu convertible my Dad had bought for me when I was eighteen. So I sold my car and borrowed the rest from a side job I had been working on and under the tutelage of my agent and editor, rewrote the book.
Meanwhile, I kept on writing every night and every weekend, and the new manuscript was amazing. In May, Ken and a producer associate (Warren Zide) optioned the first 100 pages of MEG and a treatment for the rest of the book on a first-look deal to Disney’s Hollywood Pics. And then, on Friday the 13th in September 1996 I went to work -- and was fired. Seems the Boys no longer needed me to babysit them. I drove home with no job and $45 in the bank. Kim was upset, but I said, “Don’t worry, hon – this is the best thing that could have happened - now I have more time to work on my next book!”
Steve with Ken Atchity and Joel McKuin signing his million dollar deal.
Four days later Ken started a bidding war between the top publishing houses in the U.S. for the pub rights to MEG and a treatment for a Mayan Doomsday story. We went with the second highest offer from Bantam-Doubleday, the pub who had published JAWS (a 2 book, $2.1 million deal) and the rollercoaster that has been my career over the last 25 years started up a steep slope.
In October, MEG was named book of the Frankfurt Book Fair, BDD optioning the pub rights to over 20 countries. In July of 1997 the hardback of MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror hit bookstores and in August the NY Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-seller list, buoyed by this interview:
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