By David Duhr
NEW YORK: Albert Brooks in The Muse compared being a screenwriter in Hollywood to being a eunuch at an orgy: “except that the eunuch can at least watch,” Brooks’ character says, “while the screenwriter is not even allowed on the set.” The film industry has always had a love/hate/ignore relationship with screenwriters; with the general public the dynamic is more ignore/ignore. Now, Mulholland Books, an imprint of Hachette’s Little, Brown and Company, is giving some of Hollywood’s unheralded voices a new outlet for their creativity: long-form prose. Suspense novels, to be precise. Named after the famous (and famously twisty-turny) L.A. road, Mulholland has announced titles from a diverse array of writers: screenwriters, journalists, seasoned novelists. Its first release was Guilt By Association, the debut novel from famed O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark.
Editor John Schoenfelder and Miriam Parker, Mulholland’s Marketing Director, joined the imprint early in 2010 and have been working steadily to build a website which posts daily content from a noir practitioner, including new short fiction from the likes of Brian Helgeland (screenwriter for L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) and Alvaro Rodriguez (Machete). The site is intended to be heavily interactive, with regular users eligible to obtain badges and to see their own work appear in the form of blog posts about their favorite suspense authors, books, and characters. “It’s all about a two-way communication pattern,” says Schoenfelder. “We’re taking a 21st-century attitude toward publishing, a web-forward approach.”
“We think people are really excited about the Mulholland site,” adds Parker, “so we tell them, ‘Come on in, we want you in here as well.’ It’s a fun and organic way to build a community.”
Mulholland also sponsors Popcorn Fiction, which offers weekly short fiction, mostly suspense and sci-fi, from writers like Eric Heisserer (screenwriter, the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street), Brian Koppelman (Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen), and Nichelle D. Tramble (novelist, The Dying Ground). “They’re the types of stories that we think could be adapted into screenplays,” Parker says. “The site is very avidly read by Hollywood executives looking for new material to adapt.”
(Note to potential submitters: beware the three-page legal document which must accompany all unsolicited submissions. As Schoenfelder says, “Yeah, that’s some interesting legalese.”)
With such a Raymond Chandler/Sunset Boulevard feel, I asked Schoenfelder and Parker if the imprint caters to more of an L.A. crowd than NYC, where Mulholland (the imprint, not the Drive) is based. “We’re a little more driven by the idea of what Mulholland Drive might say in a broader sense,” says Schoenfelder. “It’s a location that’s been featured prominently in so many classic noir and crime novels and films…but to me, Mulholland Drive isn’t as pinned down as L.A.; so we can continue to define that and move forward.”
The imprint’s tagline, “You never know what’s coming around the curve,” speaks to that. “That’s what we’re looking for in our books,” Parker says. “A story you can’t stop reading because you have no idea what’s about to happen.”
After launching the imprint with Clark’s novel, Mulholland has published subsequent titles by novelists Daniel Woodrell and Lawrence Block, with Michael Robotham’s The Wreckage. They also have several books in the offing from first-time novelists, many of them altogether new to the prose form. “The only difference is that oftentimes the conversation about the idea or prospective novel starts with me, the editor, before the book’s actually written,” Schoenfelder says about working with debut novelists. “These are people that are not familiar with the book industry…and they basically want to know that they’re going to have an outlet for time that they spend writing stories in book form.”
The company has made headlines with several innovative publishing partnerships, including a deal with Rockstar Games (creator of the Grand Theft Auto franchise) to produce an original e-book of short fiction as a companion to Rockstar’s L.A. Noire videogame. The book, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories will be released on Monday. Contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski, Megan Abbott and Andrew Vachss.
That said, perhaps the most notable news from Mulholland thus far is that they signed a book deal with J.J. Abrams, creator of the wildly-popular TV show Lost. Abrams will co-write his debut novel with Doug Dorst, author of Alive in Necropolis and The Surf Guru.
Lost captured the imagination of much of the world; which is fitting, since some of the most popular work in the suspense genre comes these days from places like Sweden, Germany, France, and Japan. Don’t be surprised if the next Mulholland writer comes from one of these countries. “Wherever people are creating and writing wonderful suspense fiction,” says Schoenfelder, “we’re probably talking to someone there.”
If the end goal is a film adaptation of the Mulholland Books story, they’ll have no shortage of talent with which to work.