Come on, lucky seven…
After a couple of years dealing with the Star Trek people, I had developed a real love-hate relationship with the “establishment.” My work started getting just enough attention and encouragement from editors and producers to keep me going, but there was always something that stood between me and making an actual sale. That I had come as close as I did was both a source of pride and frustration. It reminded me of the lyrics from that Howard Jones song: “You can see the summit, but you can’t reach it / Last piece of the puzzle, but you just can’t make it fit.” Ol’ Howard may have been crooning about love, but he could have just as easily been talking about unpublished writers.
Since my book Echo in the Dark disappeared into a black hole at Pocket Books, I had pretty much given up on that route and moved on to other things. I tooled around with a few ideas here and there, but didn’t get much traction until my dad came to the rescue with an interesting development. He had videotaped the L.A. Dodger fantasy camps in Vero Beach for a number of years, which gave him the chance to meet a lot of west-coasters who came to Florida to play ball and hang out with the baseball heroes of their youth. One of them was a guy named David Foster, who had produced some pretty popular films, including Running Scared and The River Wild, and would later go on to produce Collateral Damage and The Mask of Zorro. Dad told Foster that his son was an aspiring writer, and Foster–being the friendly guy that he is–said he wouldn’t mind taking a look at a couple of scripts if I happened to send them his way.
It’s amazing how quickly you find inspiration when you hear something like this, and in short order I was back at my computer banging out a feature film screenplay. I had wanted to do a contemporary thriller ever since writing Storm Front, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I eventually came up with Black Fire, which followed the adventures of a female FBI agent named Hunter Lambert as she connects a series of brutal murders to a large terrorist conspiracy. I did some heavy research on the Bureau, Middle East politics, nuclear weapons and the Former Soviet Union to weave together this tale of international intrigue, a blend of the serial killer and technothriller genres.
An associate at Foster’s production company read the script and liked it, but didn’t think it was something they could handle at the time. It was a tough break, but I really liked the story and my plucky heroine–enough to think they had some real potential. So I set about doing something I had never done before: adapting my own screenplay into a novel. It took about a year, after which I ended up with The Trinity Project, a longish manuscript that clocked in at around 700 pages.
Building on my previous experiences with Pocket Books, I took a decidedly different approach to market this novel. Instead of going directly to the publishers, I tried my luck with literary agents. I’d had some dealings with agents in the past–nothing you could call a working relationship, but enough to sour my outlook on them–but thought that maybe things would be different this time. To my utter shock I was right, as I found out when a rather well-established agency called me back a few days after I mailed out my initial queries.
Jay Garon and Associates (which represented John Grisham at the time) requested the entire manuscript, and within a couple of weeks signed me as a client. I was in hog heaven, as you can imagine, picturing dollar signs and movie deals, all because I was now in the same league as GRISHAM! Since this book is under the heading of “Unpublished Work,” though, you can probably guess what happened next.
My agent worked pretty hard getting my novel out to some major publishers, most of whom really liked my prose style and the character of Hunter Lambert; but again, there was always that indefinable something that kept them from making an offer. My agent suggested that I do some major revisions on the book, which I did–but by that time the momentum had slowed, and the writing was on the wall. Grisham left the agency over some contract dispute, and in the resulting confusion I became a somewhat lower priority. A few more manuscripts trickled out, but the jury had pretty much spoken. Close kid, but no cigar.
On the bright side, I now had a collection of very nice rejection letters. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I figured if those editors were even slightly impressed with Trinity, they might be willing to read more of my stuff. Besides, I still had a literary agent, which was key to the big publishing houses. All I had to do was come up with another novel, and then maybe, finally, victory would be mine. Besides, I didn’t have anything better to do, right?
Yeah, sure. Shows you what I know.