After the success of Time After Time, novelist and screenwriter Karl Alexander began looking for another project. It was at that time that shifts started to happen on his road to success that he could never have imagined. In Part Two Karl talks about the road he's traveled. Need a refresher? Catch up with part one of Del's interview with Karl Alexander.
FEARnet: Then what happened?
Karl Alexander: What happened was I had an agent that I got shortly thereafter thanks to Nick Meyers’ attorney. He was supposedly a book agent and he is actually relatively famous. His initials are Mike Hamilburg. I wrote another book very quickly (A Private Investigation). It was a detective story about a woman detective which at the time was pretty cutting edge. I sold the film rights of that to Elizabeth Montgomery and they made a movie out of it (Missing Pieces - 1983), for some reason I’ll never get clear on this, but it was actually a pilot that was supposed to be a feature to begin with but it became a World Premiere Television movie. The movie wasn’t good.
You didn’t write the screenplay?
No, I didn’t. The book got great reviews. It got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and the whole bit. The book didn’t have a good title, which was my editor’s fault. Then I wrote a book which was my attempt to write a psychological horror story and I called it The Preda Legacy because I set it in Eastern Europe. But the publisher changed the title to The Curse of the Vampire (1982) even though the book wasn’t about vampires. It probably had one of the worst covers imaginable. In fact, I signed one of those in Dark Delicacies today. The book sold very, very well and then the publisher (Pinnacle) went Chapter 13. So I never saw any royalties from them. I found out from my editor at Tor/Forge that I was one of about 37 writers who got screwed out of an enormous amount of money. In the meantime I had also gone back to work as a lighting director and I was doing that to help pay the bills.
At this point are you thinking that maybe you should go back to being a professor?
I didn’t think that. I know why. I remember when I taught it was about 60 hours a week, not in class time but in preparation time. It was basically more than a full time job and that’s pretty much why I didn’t want to do it.
While I was an academia I had lived in Cuba for four months. I got invited there because I was a student radical and I had a little bit of fame behind my name and everything. I was a guest of the government and I fell in love with the country and I fell in love with the people. I became an aficionado of the Cuban Revolution. So ever since then, which was 1970-71, I read everything I could find about the Cuban Revolution.
Around 1973-74 I was having lunch at Universal with a couple of writers. We were kicking around ideas. I was probably too young and stupid to realize that you don’t share ideas with other writers. So I said, “What about a novel about Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro and Hemingway becomes a friend and surrogate father for Castro then ends up saving his life from an assassination attempt by the CIA?” They looked at me and said, “You’re out of your mind.” Well, the idea never went away. So fifteen years later I started doing research on Ernest. I read everything I could find. This was before the internet so I got the old articles from the New York Times written by Herbert Matthews who was probably the most knowledgeable journalist about the situation. I wrote a treatment to begin with. My agent didn’t read the treatment but he said, “What’s this about?” I told him. He said, “Well, I’m not going to represent you anymore.” because of the, so called, politics of it.
Anyway, long story short, I wrote the book. I got a new agent, a good agent who unfortunately died a few years later. He helped me through the process of the book which I wrote during getting divorced at the same time. I ended up writing it in an artist loft studio. It was my brother's in Market Street in Venice. So that was Papa and Fidel. I sold the film rights right away and was commissioned to do a screenplay by Bo St. Clair who now runs Dreamtime which is a pretty big and important film company. She couldn't put it together. Then I got everybody excited at Ted Turner's in Atlanta. But Ted said, "This may be really good but I'm never going to make a movie about a personal friend of mine…" who happened to be Fidel Castro. Other people came and went. The book got great reviews, starred reviews in Publishers Weekly. Everybody was really excited about it. But for some reason the publisher never got behind the book.
Who was that publisher at the time?
That was Tor Books. They brought the book out two years ago. They did a reprint of it and it got more good reviews. But I still don't think it's selling well. Maybe it's because I'm prejudice against the subject matter and other people aren’t interested. Who knows?
Are the film rights out there again?
Nobody is holding them. Actually there was a producer who had written up an option agreement last year and he was going to include it as part of a Cuba Fest, which is the new festival. Neither the festival nor the options came to be even though the guy has made twelve or thirteen films. That's too bad. That's the one thing about a story that's a historical thriller is that it never really goes out of date. If somebody wants to make a movie about it they will.
So that brings us up to Jacquelyn the Ripper. I had also written a lot of other manuscripts after Papa and Fidel that didn't go anywhere.
Karl Alexander can be found 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.