Sunday, June 10, 2007

Robert Crais at Murder in the Grove

I attended Murder in the Grove over the weekend, where Robert Crais was the guest of honor and recipient of Idaho's Bloody Pen Award. Here he is giving a short talk at the group signing on opening night at a local Barnes and Noble.

Robert told several funny "signings from hell" stories:

  • At his first Costco signing (undertaken for his current book, The Watchman), he sat at a table with a massive number of his books and a gigantic poster of himself overhead. After one hour, he had sold maybe two books and an elderly gentleman came up pushing a cart. He approached the table, looked Robert over, and said, "Where can I find the batteries?"
  • At the same Costco signing, another gentleman approached and asked if he was a famous writer. Robert smiled and said yes. The man asked who he wrote like. Robert, aspiring to even greater heights of success, said Michael Connelly. The man said, "Who's that?" Then he continued, "How about James Peterson? Do you write like him?" To which Robert replied, "Do you mean James Patterson?" The man nodded. Robert simply said yes--and got his third book sale of the day.
  • On a "drive-by" signing early in his career, he visited a Barnes and Noble in Florida at the appointed time to sign stock. He approached the front desk and introduced himself. The clerk said, "Oh, yes, very nice to meet you. We've been looking forward to your visit. Please follow me." The clerk led Robert through the stockroom and into an office in the back where two other people were waiting behind a desk. They also expressed pleasure regarding his visit and asked him to sit down. Robert complied, but was beginning to get worried because he didn't see any of his books. Then one of the individuals behind the desk said, "Let's get started. Can you tell me why you think you're qualified for the assistant manager position?"
Later in the conference, Robert talked about his experiences with Hollywood on the "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Hollywood and Writers" panel. He has sold two of his novels for films: Demolition Angel and Hostage. He won't sell any of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books because he doesn't want to sully or contradict the mental images his readers have developed for the characters by having them portrayed on the screen by particular actors.

For the Angel movie, he very much wanted to write the script himself. Although he had TV-writing experience, the producers were skeptical, but agreed to let him take a crack at it. He did three drafts, and in the end, they were not accepted largely because his hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, depressed and emotionally unstable main character Carol Starkey was deemed "unlikeable." A number of other writers have been hired to "fix" the problem. The first tackled it by giving Starkey a dog. The second decided the issue was her first name. He changed it to Angie, and was paid $500,000 for his efforts. Robert said he stopped reading the new script drafts after that, and as yet the producers haven't found a version they like.

By the time of the Hostage deal, Robert had learned his lesson and explicitly told his agent that he was not willing to write the screenplay. However, this set of producers had seen one of Robert's drafts for Angel and liked it, so they insisted that he do so. Reluctantly, he agreed and produced a script. The producers told him they loved it and green lighted the film. But, part way into production, Robert began receiving new drafts of the script from writers he didn't even know were on the project. He was told they were just going to "punch up the dialogue a bit" and make other minor tweaks. But by the time the movie made it to the screen, so many other people had worked on the script that Robert didn't even receive a screenwriting credit (for which he was relieved).

I had a good time at the conference, getting to know Ken Kuhlken, whose book, The Do-Re-Mi, I really enjoyed. I also met and got to know the delightful Julia Pomeroy, whose book The Dark End of Town I picked up at our B&N signing. Finally I talked up a storm and had a few too many drinks with a great guy named Rick McMahan. Rick is a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) and his short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Techno Noire, Low Down & Derby, and the Mystery Writer’s of America Death Do Us Part, edited by Harlan Coben.

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