I’m so delighted today to host one of the most generous authors I know, M.J. Rose–whom the Washington Post calls “an unusually skillful storyteller.” M.J. has an absolutely terrific new novel out this week, The Witch of Painted Sorrows, which Kirkus calls “A cliffhanger … Sensual, evocative, mysterious and haunting.” It’s been selected by Indie Booksellers for the Indie Next List and by librarians for the Library Reads List. And M.J. is sharing a story here today about the differences between the New York publishing world and Hollywood. Read on! – Meg
M.J. Rose: Steal My Script
I was one of those crazy kids who read walking down the street but I didn’t think about being a writer. I wanted to be a painter. I started going to art school when I was 6 and graduated college with a fine arts degree.
Out of college I landed a job on Madison Ave in a top ad agency and rose up the creative /corporate ladder fast. By the time I was in my late 20’s I was the creative director of a $150 million agency and by the time I was in my mid 30’s, I’d written and produced over 100 commercials for all kinds of products from McDonald’s to Opium perfume.
It was time for a new challenge. I knew how to write tiny mini-movies, maybe I could write an actual movie.
About 5 scripts later, I’d been optioned 3 times, flown out to LA twice and was hard at work juggling a full time career in ad land and trying to break into the movie biz.
But it was the script that a certain A list actress’s film company “borrowed” and “forgot” to pay me for or give me credit for that turned me into a novelist.
I sat through two showings of my – not my – movie in the theater. As I watched my idea, my characters, even some of my dialog up there on the silver screen, first I cried, then I got mad. And after I left the theater, I called my lawyer.
Yes, he said, he had all the letters from the production company saying they were considering optioning it but the cost of fighting that giant was going to be more than what I would be owed. I’d lose the tiny reputation I was building. And, my lawyer reminded me, the movie had been a flop and lost millions. Did I even want to associate myself with it?
A few months later over drinks with a screen writer friend in from LA, I complained that I was having trouble starting a new script. I was paralyzed by the thought that if it too were stolen, there was nothing I could do about it.
“If you want to protect your ideas and really be “in” the movie biz, you need to move out to LA.”
I gave him the top 3 reasons I didn’t want to — I loved New York, I adored my job, and my family was here.
“Well if you’re determined to write and determined to stay in NY, write a novel. The publishing world is here. And they almost never steal books.”
The next day I took the idea I’d been trying to write as a movie and began writing it… as a book.
A stolen script, my passion for Manhattan, my family, and my advertising career turned me into a novelist. And yes, a lifelong love of reading. - M.J.