After three decades of pitching his screenplays, Allan Folsom had a handful of credits: two episodes of the 1980s television series “Hart to Hart,” a nature documentary and a syndicated TV movie.
Then came the kind of blockbuster break that struggling writers dream about. But it was not for a TV show or a movie.
In 1993, Mr. Folsom sold a thriller novel, “The Day After Tomorrow,” to a publisher for $2 million — the most ever, at that point, for a first-time novelist.
“I still think $2 million is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times a few weeks after the deal went through. “But on the other hand, if you amortize it over the 30 years I’ve been working, it isn’t that much.”
Mr. Folsom died May 23 in a Santa Barbara, Calif., hospital at 72. The cause was complications from melanoma, the skin cancer he had been battling for 20 years, said his wife, Karen Folsom.
Although Mr. Folsom completed four more novels, none made as much of a stir as “The Day After Tomorrow” — which had no relation to the 2004 disaster movie of the same name. The $2 million winning bid for the book, which involved murder, revenge and a neo-Nazi cult, was just for the North American rights.
Mr. Folsom received additional payments from publishers around the world, and the film option went for $750,000, though a movie was never made. In fact, none of his novels was adapted for the screen.
“He was very disappointed about that,” Karen Folsom said. “He had such success as a novelist, but he still always harbored this dream of having a movie made. It’s why he got in the car and drove out to L.A., right after he graduated college.”
Allan Folsom was born Dec. 9, 1941, in Orlando. When he was a toddler, his parents moved the family to suburban Boston.
Mr. Folsom attended Boston University, where he won a screenwriting award in 1963 from the academic Society of Cinematologists. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications, he found work in Los Angeles as a delivery driver for producer David Wolper. He also worked as a film editor and cameraman, all while writing and trying to sell his screenplays.
One, based on the tragic life of poet Anne Sexton, looked promising because Natalie Wood was interested in playing the lead role. But in 1981, Wood drowned at age 43 near Catalina Island, off the coast of Orange County in Southern California.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Folsom sent some of his short stories to literary agent Aaron Priest, who told him there was little commercial interest in that form. “But I told him, ‘If you can write a book that’s as good as these stories, we will be off and running,’ ” Priest recalled.
Mr. Folsom started writing the novel in 1990 “as a sort of hedge against the crazy film industry,” he told the Times.
Almost three years later, the manuscript arrived at the agent’s office. It was more than 900 pages long but had a tightly woven plot with a lot of action.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is great, but maybe it should be cut somewhere,’ ” said Priest, who gave the manuscript to an editor on his staff. “She read it and said, ‘There is no place to cut this.’ ”
A few days after Time Warner, which owned Little, Brown and other publishers, received the manuscript, it made the record-shattering bid, cutting off competition from other publishing companies.
When “The Day After Tomorrow” was published in 1994, Los Angeles Times reviewer Robert Ward wrote, “The suspense is almost always unbearable, the story hugely entertaining.”
Although Mr. Folsom was disappointed that his subsequent novels did not do as well, he kept it in perspective, his wife said. “He thought of what happened with the first novel as manna from heaven,” Karen Folsom said. “I think he was mature enough to realize that it was such a gift.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Folsom’s survivors include a daughter and a sister.