There are those who believe that writing horror or any genre fiction (i.e. Romance, Western, Fantasy, etc.) is a much easier endeavor than that which is referred to as pure literature. Masters of Horror, such as Peter Straub, prove just how faulty that line of thinking is in practice. Peter is the shining darkness of contemporary literary horror, a meticulous writer who enjoys words and the way they can fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't reveal itself until fully formed.
Although he has written in several genres, along with nonfiction and poetry, his base camp seems to be horror. A line on his own website states, "Horror itself, on the other hand, has not abandoned him, nor can it ever, a matter for which he feels the deepest gratitude." He co-wrote two novels (Black House and The Talisman) with Stephen King and has been on the bestseller lists time and again. He seemed the perfect man to speak to about book options. The interesting thing, for those of you thinking a million dollars are coming your way because your book was optioned, is that nothing of Straub's that is or was optioned has ever been made into a movie.
"Neither Julia or Ghost Story were optioned," he said. "They were purchased outright by entities (or people) that were prepared to make the movies. Ghost Story is still owned by Universal. The people who bought Julia disappeared long ago, and only detective work by my son finally unearthed the man who held the rights. He gladly turned them back over to us.
"I like the movie of Julia well enough. Anybody who wants to make a movie of one of my books is dandy with me. I wish somebody with good ideas and some passion would come along and give it a whirl. I'd like to see both of them remade. If I had my choice, I'd far prefer to make outright sales. So far, nothing optioned has ever been filmed. Some books and stories just go on being optioned.
"I did not have fantasies about being optioned. What surprised me, however, is how long the process can go on. From the start, I was pretty skeptical about options, happy to sell them and collect the small amounts of money they bring in. One day, I hope something will come of one or more of them.
"Most of my backlist is currently under option. My son, Ben, who lives in L.A. and has a lot of energy and optimism, has taken over my film representation, and he's doing a wonderful job. Ben has been working with, consulting with, the agent on behalf of my last novel, and Ben does handle the backlist very well too. Of course, it would be great to sell an option on Black House. The Talisman was purchased outright by Universal Studios in 1984."
Being a bestselling author Peter usually has no problem getting his novels discovered by the Hollywood crowd. But for the more neophyte writers in the group would the new method of delivery (eBooks) make discovery a little easier?
"I wonder -- it's a good question, and a lovely suggestion, but do studios really 'come across' books in this way? It seems to me that most studio people read treatments or screenplays instead of actual books."
Peter is the consummate novelist and writer. One would think that he would want to at least script a version of his own novels if for no other reason than to have a little more control over the final result.
"I don't have any idea of how to write a screenplay. If I tried to do one, it'd have long descriptions of clothes and furniture and way too much dialog. It would also be about 300 pages long.
"I never did that, no, and not because I was a purist. It just always seemed to me that fiction was enormously more significant than movies. People who wrote screenplays always seemed to be wasting their time on a secondary, more frivolous venture. You can't retain that degree of control. Whoever does your movie will do whatever he wants with your carefully-constructed screenplay."
As is usually the case with this column here are some final words of encouragement from one of the best in the field.
"Being optioned is not the Holy Grail, you know, not really. For a struggling writer, the first and most important goal should be the creation of a good work of fiction, a novel many, many people will want to read and reread, to experience and think about and remember for a long time to come. I mean, that's what we're supposed to be doing, trying to do anyhow. Screenwriting is a secondary occupation."
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Peter Straub can be found at his website www.peterstraub.net and Twitter @peterstraubnyc. He is also on Facebook.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com. If you have any information on the optioning of horror books he would love to hear from you.