Today: A Scam, F1 Foes & Romance
A newsletter about intellectual property; I do the reading for you
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I’m so excited about the great selection of stories this week that I just want to dive right into the list. I’m particularly high on a couple of backlist gems — a Ray Bradbury novel and a thrilling auto racing story — and a not-yet-published fake identity story from the author behind the viral McDonald’s Monopoly scam story. Also there’s a great Latinx drama set in New York City. So let’s get to it!
Backlist Gems (books deserving a second look)
From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 2001) ‘Weird family with special powers’ is a perennial hook that encompasses everything from The Addams Family to the X-Men and this Bradbury book, which was previously optioned by MGM and Netflix, is a particularly fun example. Here we have the Elliotts, a family of ghouls and monsters, who gather at Halloween (of course) for family reunions. There’s the immortal thousand times a great grandmother matriarch, the vampire parents, the bedridden sister who teleports herself into other people to experience the world and the green-winged Uncle Einar who flies around the youngest, Timothy, a normal orphan boy adopted by the family. Bradbury is a master at creating weird but relatable characters and putting them in a unique world. Ultimately though, this is about understanding yourself and wanting to be accepted for who you are. This novel has the distinction of being simultaneously one of Bradbury’s first and last pieces of writing. Published in 2001, it collects a series of six short stories about the Elliott family that began with 1946’s “Homecoming.” To connect them together and make it more of a cohesive book, Bradbury added three new short stories and several connective chapters. Obviously, this project screams “Tim Burton” and of course he’d be great, but I’m curious what a Taika Waiti or Alfonso Cuarón version would look like. Cuarón’s Harry Potter was one of the best films in the series and don’t forget early on he did an adaptation of The Little Princess. (If the cover illustration — not to mention the premise — makes you think Addams family, you’re not imaging things. Bradbury and Addams were going to collaborate on an Elliott family book back in the 1940s before other projects for both got in the way, but Addams ended up doing the illustration for “Homecoming”. No wonder the Elliott’s house looks so much like the Addams family’s mansion.) REPS: UTA
The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit by Michael Cannell (Twelve, 2011) I instantly loved this thrilling race car book about the rivalry that consumed the 1961 Formula 1 season and the dangers that drivers (and fans) faced when I first read it in 2011. It was originally optioned by Tobey Maguire and later in development at AMC but the rights have now reverted to the author. With the success of Ford vs. Ferrari and the popularity of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series, the time might finally be right to get this on the screen. It has all the ingredients necessary for a great limited series. There are two main characters who, in the great tradition of sports rivalries, are opposites: American Phil Hill, a self-taught country boy with genius mechanical skills, a sensitive disposition, jittery nerves and a methodical approach to racing versus his Ferrari teammate the German Count Wolfgang Von Trips (seriously writers couldn’t invent a better name), a handsome charismatic bon vivant and ladies man, whose approach to driving is more instinctual than intellectual. There are great supporting characters, most notably Enzo Ferrari, here part auto genius and part villainous mogul (after a driver died in a crash he remarked, “What a pity. What about the car?”). And it is set in a great world: mid-century Grand Prix racing, with its seat-of-the-pants technology, exotic European locations, cool fashions and omnipresent dangers (a hood that went flying off a car in a crash decapitated an entire row of spectators). The 1961 season provides a nice narrative structure to the story, though there’s plenty of material about both men’s early careers to sustain more than one season. And there’s a heartbreaking ending to it all: Battling for the world title at the end of the 1961 season, Von Trips died in a spectacular crash that also killed 15 spectators. Von Trips death handed the title to Hill, making him the first American to win it. But it was a bittersweet victory. He retired the next season saying, “I don't have as much hunger anymore. I am no longer willing to risk killing myself.” REPS: CAA
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America's Jack the Ripper by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur, Sept) Everyone knows Ness from his Untouchables days pursuing Al Capone but few know much about his career after that, which is the subject of this book by Stashower, who has won Edgar and Christie awards for crime writing. Ness left Chicago to become the Director of Public Safety in Cleveland in 1935 and soon got involved in the hunt for the serial grisly serial killer known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, who dismembered his victims with surgical precision and even beheaded some while they were still alive (eww). Ness had a suspect — one he secretly interrogated in a hotel for days and gave a polygraph to that he failed, but Ness could never get enough to convict him. That failure haunted him for the rest of his life, especially since the suspect, a local doctor, taunted Ness with cryptic postcards up until the lawman died in 1957. This is a great serial killer cat-and-mouse thriller with a famous lead in a story that’s not well known to most people. And here we have a Ness maybe more attuned to modern audiences — crusading yes, but not perfect and not always successful. To me a flawed Ness is a more interesting leading character than the Costner version. This is perfect for a limited series where it would get the room to stretch its legs a little but given the arc of Ness' life it probably doesn't lend itself to an ongoing series, unless it was deeply fictionalized. Surprisingly, no one has adapted this part of Ness' life for the screen yet, though there was a doc. REPS: Hotchkiss Daily
Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale (Penguin Young Readers, May 10) I'm a sucker for a good YA romcom and this rivals-to-lovers story scratches that itch with great characters (both lead and side), good banter, fun settings and Vale's ability to bring alive their world. And it's got a diverse cast — lead Kavya is South Asian (she's the besharam which translates as "too much,” as in too pushy, too mouthy, too ambitious), her love interest, Ian, is Korean. Their friends are of Lebanese, Mexican, and Sengalese descent. A couple are LGBTQ. YA really leads the way with diversity. There's a great specificity to the characters and settings from Kavya's Indian-American family to her book nerd friends (the Moon Girls) who love Sailor Moon and Percy Jackson to the summer job playing a Prince and Princess at little kids' birthday parties that throws rivals Kavya and Ian together. The plot is contrived but in the fun way YA plots often are: Kavya and Ian's friends set up a summer-long competition between the two to end the rivalry and as they face off romance blossoms. Aww. REPS: Sandra Dijkstra Lit
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz (Flatiron, Sept) Set during the Great Recession of the early 2000s, we find fiftysomething Cara Romero laid off from her job at lamp factory and meeting with a job counselor. Job help quickly turns into a therapeutic session that has Cara, over 12 sessions, narrate her life from her love affairs to her hot-and-cold friendships with her sister and a neighbor to how she became estranged from her son, set against the backdrop of her struggles with financial hardships, gentrification and loss. The job counseling therapy settings are a great setting to frame the story and allow Cara to smoothly break the fourth wall. The flashback story called to mind everything from Elana Ferrante to Cruz's award-winning previous novel Dominicana (A GMA book club pick and in development), about a Dominican teen girl's arranged marriage to an older man and immigration to New York in the 1960s. Cruz does a great job fleshing out a rich Latinx New York world that we – or at least I – don't think we always see onscreen but is universally relatable to anyone whose family immigrated to the US. REPS: ICM
Truly, Madly: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, and the Romance of the Century by Stephen Galloway (Grand Central, March) There's so much interest in old Hollywood stories right now — My Week with Marilyn, Fosse/Verdon, Pam & Tommy (LOL old to some), the forthcoming Godfather making-of series The Offer — that this retelling of the tempestuous love affair between Leigh and Laurence should get a lot of attention. I initially hesitated to include this since Galloway is an old colleague from my Hollywood Reporter days but I probably overcompensated. The reviews have been strong and the book immediately landed on the NYT bestseller list, showing how public interest in the love affair (or any tumultuous love affair) remains strong. Though there have been other books (and memoirs) about the couple, Galloway distinguishes Truly, Madly with prodigious research and a sensitive modern eye to Leigh's bipolar disorder. The heart of the story — and one that could sustain multiple seasons of an adaptation — is their romance that begins in the mid-1930s when the were married to others that continues through their two decade marriage and ends with their divorce in 1960. In between there are public successes and private dramas (mental illness, affairs, miscarriages). Honestly what actor or actress wouldn't jump at the chance to play to Hollywood legends like Olivier and Leigh in this particularly juicy story? REPS: ICM
“Back to School” by Jeff Maysh (Outlet/date TBD). On the run from from the cops for car theft, 31-year-old Michael Backman re-enrolls in his old high school, claims he's Diana Ross' nephew, stars on the debate team and the choir, and wins over his new classmates before his past catches up with him. Maysh has a shrewd eye for stories that Hollywood likes having seen many of his pieces optioned — most famously the one about the McDonald’s Monopoly game scam that went insanely viral and was optioned by Ben and Matt's Pearl Street Films. (Maysh hasn't settled on an outlet to publish the story yet.) REPS: Joel Gotler/IPG
“The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 Languages,” by Jessica Contrera (Washington Post, April 5, 2022) This is a wildly fascinating story about "the savant with a secret," a fortysomething carpet cleaner in the DC area who is a hyper-polyglot — that is he knows something like 37 languages and the scientists trying to figure out what makes their brains different. What really distinguishes this story is Vaughn Smith, the carpet cleaner at the center of the story, who was a middling student and just a high school graduate who more or less taught himself all these languages. He narrates his story in a really charming way as he connects how he learned this or that language through people and things: the Belgium cousins, his mom's French records, the Brazilian clique he joined in school, the shy Ethiopian girl who taught him Amharic. And then there's the scientist trying to figure out how his brain is wired. (One cool tidbit: MRI scans show that instead of being bigger, the language processing parts of his brain is actually smaller and is hyper-efficient in its use blood and oxygen when he's using it.) REPS: Storied Media Group
Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and happy reading. See you back here next week. Remember, the free beta period is coming to a close.
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