I CONFESS. I am a "novelizer," one of the lightning fast and usually pseudonymous writers who spin straw into money. Give me a script, a tight deadline and a handful of uppers and my novel, carrying the blurb "See the movie! Read the book!" will hit the stands at the very instant the critics are panning the film. I would have thought that "novelize" was, if you could find the verb at all, a neologism labeled "slang" in any dictionary. I was wrong. It's in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it's dated 1876, so "to novelize" has silently celebrated a recent centennial.
I confess. I'm in mighty good company. Richard Elman is a novelizer (Taxi Driver ) as is Rosalyn Drexler (Rocky ). Technically speaking, Erich Segal is a novelizer, Love Story was a script that Bob Evans of Paramount bought from Segal and then demanded a best seller first. David Seltzer is a novelizer; he turned his own script of The Omen into the number one paperback best seller. Herman Raucher is a novelizer.He turned his script, Ode To Billy Joe , into a novel that did well for Dell and for Raucher.
I confess. I'm hot. I have a book - A Star Is Born - on the paperback best seller list. By now, a million sold. Another of my books, Benji , sold some three million copies. Newsweek called me "the leader of the pack." Signature, the Diner's Club Magazine, said I was "the den mother of novelizers." (I'm a cat lover, why am I always labeled in canine terms?) The L.A. Times said I make a thousand bucks a day. I do, but I work a 12-day year. People magazine sent a photographer to follow me around; I hear they may even use the pictures. If you are into trivia collecting, collect me. I'm a good bet to show up in some paperback quiz book one of these days; but make sure you spell it Leonore with two "o"s.
I confess. I find the whole thing rather absurd. I paint by numbers, why drag me out of the closet? Because. Because the book business is turning into show business, and the novelization, once a meagre offshoot of the lowest-paid editorial functionary in the house, is now big business. Ode to Billy Joe and The Omen sold more than a million last year.
And this year? Remember The Sting? It sold over a million copies, and the film is coming back, to play the Radio City Music Hall in May. There goes another million copies. Because big business means big money, the days when a paperback house could pick up novelization rights from a studion for $2,000 are long gone. Dell Books' deal with Columbia for novelization rights to Close Encounters of the Third Kind was $200,000 plus escalators. And I have another big one coming up this year. The Lords Of Flatbush.
Lords is a funny kind of novelizing story, and it may show you how the business works. The film opened about three years ago, and died the death - a cute picture, but no winner. Still, it was set in the 1950s . . . Grease , right? American Graffiti , right? Bantam bought it for cheap, expecting it would be the pilot for a series on the 1950s. They lost. I, who had been hired for cheap, was told to shelve the project, and something called "Happy Days" went on the air instead. But - this little film starred four little people, cute kids all. Suddenly, wham, wham, wham, wham! all four are stars. Henry Winkler becomes the biggest thing in a leather jacket. Susan Blakely decorates "Rich Man, Poor Man." Perry King stars in "Once An Eagle." And Sylvester Stallone becomes Rocky , Academy Award nominee. I get a phone call from Bantam. They make me an offer I can't refuse. Write the book or refund the advance money. My kid needs new sneakers; have you price sneakers lately? I write the book. A little, buried, noting property is now one of the hottest things around.
I paint by numbers, I confess it. I pad out, supply background, impute motivation, invent gestures. I ride on the coat-tails of somebody else's creation. But work is work and I'm as good as the best of the rest - just ask my agent. Ask the kids who read Benji . Ask Stephen Sondheim and Tony Perkins; I novelized The Last of Sheila . They loved my book; I never saw their film. I never see any of the films. I'm lucky if I get to see stills. I'm writing fast on one coast while "they" - the Hollywood Pantheon - are filming fast on the other.
My first book was C.C. and CO. It starred Ann-Margret, Joe Namath and a Kawasaki Dirt Bike. The bike was the central character. Now, I have never ridden a motorcycle. Age, infirmity and overweight prevent me from taking any exercise more strenuous than running away from muggers. That book was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, next to giving up Godiva chocolates. It took me months of agony. I hit my kid; I bit my nails; I snarled at my cat; I tossed and turned, sleepless. Then a friends suggested that I get a whole lot of motorcycle magazines and read the ads, especially the Kawasaki ads. That turned the tide. My fingers flew over the keys. But not my fingers alone. My next-door neighbor's fingers. My ex-husband's fingers. Laura Cavestani's fingers. Jane Perin'f fingers.Typerwriters rattled collectively all over town, as my little world rallied to get that book in on time. It was my first assignment: $1,500 and no royalty. It was written for the Sonny Tufts of the book biz, Award Books. (Award books?) God bless Agnes Birnbaum, she took a chance on me, and I wrote six books for her-and for Award, all without royalties, each for $1,500, before I got wise.
Its almost eight years later now. I have 21 books in print, one in type, two on the fire, and a couple to follow. I'm older, mellower, and a little less broke. I belong to the authors guild. I have written for Award, for Ballantine, for Bantam, for Pocket, for Warner, for Pyramid and for Flash Books, the new Sonny Tufts of the book biz. (Flash Books?)
I have changed my ways.I no longer write on speed and loud music by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I no longer must bust ass to finish - mine or anybody else's. No longer a beggar, I bacame a chooser.I turned books down; I took only the best. It's not easy to get the best, though. When a publisher wishes to buy novelization rights he must, by a screen writers guild contract stipulation, offer the novelization to the screen writer himself first. In the old days, it was usually a formality. What Hollywood big shots would bother? But its different now. Look at Seltzer. He'll make a fortune from the novel of The Omen . And Raucher. Screen writers are saying "yes" and novelizers like me are in for hard times. Cold times. I may have to turn to another gig. Real writing maybe. Original writing.
I confess. It scares me.