Friday, January 1, 2010

Introducing Patrick Lee, Serial Resolver

Today the Pens are thrilled to be hosting Patrick Lee, the new year's hot new debut thriller writer.

Lee Child calls THE BREACH "Audacious and terrifying-- and uncannily believable."

Patrick says that since THE BREACH landed on the bookshelves only a few days ago, he's still too geeked about it to do much of anything productive, with the obvious exception of guest-blogging. Learn more about Patrick and his book here.






New Decade's Day

by Patrick Lee

This week's topic fits me pretty well; I make a lot of resolutions. Actually, I should amend that: what I really do is make the same resolution, for years on end, until it comes true. So I'm a... serial resolution maker? Serial resolver. There you go.

To avoid starting the decade on a depressing note, I'll skip over the resolution I made in vain all through high-school. Hey, I had braces. And glasses. And I hadn't filled out yet.

So let's start with New Year's Day in 1995. Eighteen years old, just kicking around the idea of trying to be a screenwriter. My resolution that year was straightforward, if presumptuous: sell a screenplay.

I jumped into it with an idea I thought had amazing potential. I couldn't believe no one had done it yet. There'd been all kinds of violent movies about aliens and zombies and werewolves and vampires, but there was something obvious missing from the lineup:

Bigfoot.

Sure, there'd been movies featuring bigfeet (?) of one kind or another. Harry and the Hendersons, The Legend of Boggy Creek... and possibly a few others. (Given that Amazon.com didn't exist yet, and I wouldn't be online anyway until mid-1996, I lacked the ability to easily discover that, in fact, there were dozens of craptastic movies built on the premise of people getting killed by bigfoot.) It was too perfect to pass up. I rolled up my sleeves and got writing.

Long about August of that year I printed off my masterpiece, a 200-page brick of dot-matrix brilliance. I'd read somewhere that 110 pages was about right for a script, but as long as it was 200 pages of awesomeness, who would complain?

First crack in the armor: a friend read it and, after some awkward throat-clearing, offered two pieces of encouraging feedback. (1) "Typing up that many pages of anything is a pretty big accomplishment." (2) "I'll say this for it: a dark comedy about bigfoot is at least original."

New Year's resolution, 1996: sell a screenplay.

New Year's resolution, 1997: sell a screenplay.

New Year's resolution, 1998: sell a screenplay.

New Year's resolution, 1999: sell a screenplay.

The thing is, the one in 1999 actually came true. In fact it came true nineteen days after I made it, with a script I'd written over a year earlier and had been trying to sell ever since. I think, by that time, I'd developed a useful philosophy: there are only so many ways to screw something up, and after you exhaust enough of them, you stumble onto one of the ways to not screw it up.

Granted, this is not a workable philosophy for airline pilots or suspension bridge engineers. But it's not bad for writers.

Sadly, that first sold script never got made. So, New Year's resolution, 2000: sell another screenplay. Missed it that year.

New Year's resolution, 2001: sell another screenplay. That year I managed to get sale number two. But, as before, no greenlight. Aww.

You've probably noticed a pattern in my resolutions, by now. That pattern continued for a few years beyond 2001, but after a while things changed. In retrospect, they should've changed sooner. Maybe that's one of the drawbacks to resolve: it can keep you moving toward a certain goal, even if you don't necessarily want that goal anymore.

I love movies, no doubt about it. I really, really wanted every script to sell, and I would've given anything for either of the two I sold to go into production. But by the midpoint of this past decade, even as I felt like I had a better grasp on what made screenwriting work (I had ten years' worth of mistakes to learn from by then), I just couldn't help noticing a few things. Like the fact that I had hundreds of books, and only a couple dozen DVDs. Like the fact that, sometimes, just for fun, I'd write a first chapter or two of some hypothetical novel, and it would only take a few hours, and it would be surprisingly fun, and when I'd read that material a month later I'd still like it.

Hmm, the clues were all pointing somewhere. But where?

Then there was this: when I'd read an interview of a big-name screenwriter, or listen to one speaking on the audio commentary of a DVD, I always got the feeling that he or she loved the actual process of screenwriting, and not just the potential end result. Which was exactly the way I felt... about writing books. Not so much on scripts. (Admittedly, though, the end result with scripts is one hell of a tempting goal.)

So...

New Year's resolution, 2007: Write at least two novels. (For once I decided on a resolution that was entirely under my control.) Which I did. And please don't throw anything at me, but with the first book I got an agent (the deity-like Janet Reid), and with the second book I got a deal with HarperCollins. That book hit the stands three days ago. So it's possible that all those people saying "Do what you really enjoy" aren't just screwing with you.

New Year's resolution, 2010: Keep writing books. And eat fewer Doritos. I'll manage one of the two.

21 comments:

Gary Corby said...

Hey Patrick, as long as the resolution you stick with is the one about writing books, life is fine. Doritos are good for you, btw.

 Patrick Lee said...

Gary--

I might switch to whole-grain organic Doritos with zero carbs. They must make those, right?

Rachael Herron said...

Congrats about hitting the book stands; all the best of luck! I love that part about novel-writing -- the sale IS the greenlight.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh now, as a more experienced sister round these parts, I caution you strongly about trying to find virtue in your junk food. The virtue-vice balance is absolutely critical to writers and should be respected - the food eaten while writing colors the story, and i for one do NOT want to read some namby-pamby, good-for-me BREACH II!!

PS thanks for being here, you're like our very own new year's cherub!!

Janet Reid said...

Let's all remember that the first book was so good Harper bought book 2 based on a cocktail napkin plot outline and the promise of more to come. And the reason they wanted a book other than book one, was they wanted MORE...a series.

Dan Krokos said...

Still laughing over Bigfoot as a dark comedy.

Great post, Patrick!

 Patrick Lee said...

Rachael--
Thank you! Yeah, that's definitely one of the things I love about books over scripts: after you write it, you don't have to hope they get an A-list star. (They also don't tell you the action scenes are too expensive to print.)

Sophie--
Good point. The 1.2 carbs-per-Dorito may well be the creative fuel that makes it all possible. I shouldn't tamper with it too much.

Janet--
But I wrote with really amazing penmanship on that napkin; that must have helped a little.

Dan--
The crazy thing is, it almost seems like that could work. The key would be writing it as a comedy on purpose...

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Loved this part. "there are only so many ways to screw something up, and after you exhaust enough of them, you stumble onto one of the ways to not screw it up." Congratulations Patrick, I can't wait to read "The Breach".

Oh yeah, when I think of Bigfoot, two things come immediately to mind; Leonard Nimoy and The Six Millon Dollar Man. If you are a certain age, you'll know what I mean.

Joelle Anthony said...

Great post! I had that "sell a book" goal every year for too many to count before it actually happened. It was when I added reading to the mix, instead of just writing, that I got over that hump. Weird how that works, eh? Not really. I expect all your books and lack of DVDs had something to do with your success with your first book landing Janet Reid. Congrats.

 Patrick Lee said...

Sean--
In Search Of Sasquatch! :) It always used to creep me out that there was a native word for Bigfoot--it made the whole idea seem that much more plausible.

Joelle--
I definitely agree! I think Stephen King summed it up really well: "Read a lot, write a lot."

Ronda Laveen said...

Being true to your heart sounds so cliche but for a good reason, it seems.

My father-in-law saw bigfoot, here in upper northern California. It is a plot I could get behind.

Gary Corby said...

I don't know about zero carbs, but I'm pretty sure you can get caffeine-free Doritos.

I think I'd rather see a romantic comedy starring Bigfoot and the latest starlet.

 Patrick Lee said...

Ronda--
Your father-in-law may have seen my cousin with his shirt off. It's not a pretty sight.

Lauren said...

Congratulations! Thanks for illustrating the importance of persistence.

Question: Do you think that screenplay writing was an asset to you in writing the novel? I had heard that from another author. Was curious to hear what you thought about it. Thanks.

Sophie Littlefield said...

OMG, do you think mythical forest creatures are the new zombies? all writing friends who care about me, get in touch asap so we can plot xoxo

 Patrick Lee said...

Lauren--
I think it probably helped, though it's hard to know in what way. I always wonder what it would've been like if I'd started with books from day one.

What I love about writing novels is that the narration (even if it's third person) tends to come from inside a character's mind, whereas with scripts it's obviously a lot more external, describing events the way a camera would see them.

Good screenwriters (not claiming I was one) can still show a character's thoughts using a lot of cool techniques. (Think of Denzel Washington in Philadelphia, glancing at every single object in his office that Tom Hanks touches, paranoid about catching the disease from him.) But with a book, you're just automatically in the character's thoughts at all times, and I think that makes it more immersive for both the writer and the reader.

Sophie--
What about a zombie bigfoot?

Lauren said...

Thanks, Patrick. I guess screen writing can be pretty restrictive. Maybe my author friend was referring more to action scenes, which makes sense, writing just what the camera sees.

Zina said...

I am not making this up: right before I followed Janet's link over here, I went downstairs and got a bag of Doritos, which I opened and started eating as I read this post.

(Also, one of my New Year's Resolutions makes allusion to Doritos.)

Congratulations on finding your medium!

 Patrick Lee said...

Zina--
My vague, mostly impractical psychic powers must be flickering back to life. :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

Zina: clearly the gods are smiling on you. Write now while you have the juice!!!

Barbara said...

Jumping on the screenwriting use in fiction writing discussion: a writing group member a few years back brought an exercise where he asked us to draw scenes from the story we were working on as storyboards so that we could see the camera distance. Then he told us that the closer the camera, the more vivid the sensory images were, i.e. strong smells in a closeup. It really helped me put oomph in my stories using all 5 senses. Not that I have an agent yet or anything for my completed "menopausal chick" novel... that's 2010's goal.