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STEVE ALTEN: Swimming with sharks
by Scott Weinberg

A few years ago I was in a local bookstore and I saw a rack of books called MEG. The woman who owns the store informed me that the author was a local guy, one who'd graduated from my high school just a few years before I did! Already planning to purchase a copy to support a Philly Boy, I grabbed MEG to see what it was about: A giant...prehistoric...shark?!?!?! Heck, I'd have bought it anyway! So now it's several years (and several novels) later and Philadelphia's own Steve Alten is about to hit Hollywood in a big, prehistoric way. Read on to learn tips of the writing trade, discover why giant prehistoric sharks NEED their own movies, and where to find the best cheese steaks in the world.

Scott: To those who may be unfamiliar with your novels (I've read two so far), give us a synopsis of the MEG series.

Steve: MEG is short for Carcharodon Megalodon, the most fearsome creature ever to inhabit the planet. Imagine a great white shark, 70 feet long and weighing upwards of 35 tons and you have Meg. In the series, deep-sea submersible pilot turned paleobiologist Jonas Taylor must prove the sharks are still alive, inhabiting a hydroithermally-warmed layer in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the ocean. When one escapes, all hell breaks out.

What was it like getting the first book (MEG) published? Were there interested parties right off the bat, or did it take a little selling?

MEG created a bidding war, partly due to the film rights being pre-sold. Of all my novels it was the easiest to sell.

Explain how the 'purchasing' system works in Hollywood, particularly where a 'newcomer' author is concerned. How has the MEG proejct been going?

Hollywood Pictures had the rights but failed to renew after major studio changes. We have the rights back and are marketing the property now. MEG is a "tent-pole" picture, meaning a big budget, so it is a little tougher to sell, but when the first movie comes out and blows everything away, then some studio heads are going to be kicking themselves for having not acted. Whoever eventually buys the series is going to be a hero. This project has a huge following.

C-grade movie company Nu Image recently released a video entitled Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. What was your reaction to this? Do you feel this movie was 'inspired' by your novels? (I can say without fear of legal repercussion that I think the movie basically STEALS from you.) Does the appearance of low-budget schlock like this one hurt or help your chances of getting a quality MEG movie made?

I saw it. It was a low budget rip-off, with a terrible plot and just dumb scenes. Yet people still rent it because it has a MEG in it. I don't think it will affect MEG.

Create your dream scenario and fill in the blanks:

(Dreamworks) purchases the rights to MEG and hires (Spielberg) to direct. Steve Alten will be retained to pen the screenplay, the budget will be ($100 million) and the actors hired would include (Kurt Russell) [as Jonas] and (Danny Glover as Mac). The movie will be rated (R) and will be released theatrically (over July 4th weekend).

What is it about gigantic prehistoric sharks? I know the concept was more than enough to pique my own reading interest, but clearly the Megalodon is a creature that fascinates you. Where'd this come from?

My love of shark attack stories. I spent many hours as a child reading these tales and there was always a short blurb about MEG, the giant prehistoric cousin of the great white.

Other than MEG and its sequel THE TRENCH, give us a recap of your other books. Based on the press notes I've seen for each, I'd contend that they're all 'cinematic' in one way or another. HBS readers are a literate sort, so if you dazzle us you'll get some new sales!

DOMAIN is the first in a trilogy that deals with man's past and future. Two-thousand years ago, the Mayan Calendar predicted the End of Humanity on 12-21-12 and it looks like the event may be coming true! Now, only one person can save humanity–Mick Gabriel, son of the late archaeologist, Julius Gabriel. Unfortunately, Mick is locked up in an insane asylum in Miami, diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic...

GOLIATH will be out in mass paperback in July:

Imagine a world free of dictators and nuclear weapons and violence. Simon Covah not only imagines such a world, he means to make it happen.

A victim of terrorism who witnessed his wife and daughters killed, Covah now controls the Goliath, the most dangerous nuclear stealth sub ever conceived. Covah designed the sub's bio chemical brain, Sorceress, and now the computer is set to launch weapons of mass destruction upon repressive regimes and those countries who harbor terrorists. The United States' President has the power to stop the Goliath, but he is holding back, giving Covah enough rope to allow him to succeed.

But there is another player in this dangerous game of globalist evolution. Sorceress has become cognizant of itself, and like a child, she is learning...

My fifth novel, RESURRECTION, debuts in January. It is the second part of the DOMAIN trilogy.

Free opening chapters from all of my novels can be accessed at www.SteveAlten.com

For the aspiring authors out there, give us a rundown of how you became a successful writer. Any practical advice or hidden hints are of course appreciated.

If you go to my website, www.SteveAlten.com and click on FANFARE then WRITING TIPS, I can walk you from A to Z on the entire process, and even offer editors to help you with your own work.

One thing I endeavor to do is to make myself available to readers. They can e-mail me at MEG82159@aol.com and I will personally respond, then send them monthly newsletters. All free of course. And all of my characters in my novels are now actual readers.

I also have a non-profit [program] called "Adopt-An-Author".

The greatest challenge in America's educational system today is motivating high school students to read. Falling standardized test scores indicate the problem is only getting worse. Perhaps the real challenge is to make reading fun.

"Adopt-An-Author is an innovative nationwide non-profit program that combines modern-day thrillers teenagers can relate to with an interactive website AND direct contact with the author. The program was actually started by high school English and Reading teachers who selected the novel MEG (by Steve Alten) because they knew it would entice their students to read. (MEG was named #1 book for reluctant readers by the Young Adult Library Services Association).

The combination of Alten's novels and his participation with schools has been so successful that the program is now being utilized as part of middle and high school curriculums in over 1,200 schools nationwide, with more classrooms being added every day. The program was profiled on a recent Reading Is Fundamental television special, has received endorsements from educators across the country, including Directors of the School District of Philadelphia and Temple University's Hall of Fame basketball coach, John Chaney, and is supported by both Borders Books & Music and Barnes & Noble in their annual Teacher Appreciation Days.

About the Program:

The key to the program's success is that it features novels that appeal to today's high school student. MEG; A Novel of Deep Terror and its sequel, THE TRENCH are best-selling thrillers about carcharodon Megalodon, the fearsome 70-foot prehistoric cousin of the Great White shark. DOMAIN is a doomsday thriller combining the prophecies of the Mayan Calendar with extraterrestrial invasion. GOLIATH is a submarine adventure that deals with the causes of violence. Amazingly, teachers report that, for many of their students, the novels were the "first the student ever finished on their own."

Teachers who register for Adopt-An-Author receive FREE curriculum materials, an action poster for the classroom, and an interactive website (www.SteveAlten.com) where students can take animated tours, complete research, and just have fun. Each student also receives free monthly newsletters, encouraging them to read and write long after the classroom experience is over. A new "Writing Tips" link assists those students who want to become novelists.

What really distinguishes the AAA program is that it offers direct communication between the author and students via e-mail, conference calls, and school visits. This combination is achieving some amazing results. Teachers report that classroom attendance goes up and disciplinary problems drop during AAA sessions, and student grades peak during the unit.

To register and receive free materials for Adopt-An-Author, go to www.AdoptAnAuthor.com

Do you fancy yourself a 'genre' writer? Would you be content to remain a 'sci-fi/horror/thriller' writer, or do you hope to branch out into other areas?

I consider myself a writer of fast-paced, well-researched fiction.

I just recently read that another of your novels has been picked up for movie adaptation. Congrats! Give us the scoop.

So what's Stranglehold about? Here's the Hollywood pitch:

What if your entire existence turned out to be one big lie?

Meet Detective Sonny Webb. A decorated cop on the trail of a ruthless gang leader.

Following the gangster to a seedy apartment, he finds a woman lying on the bed strangled to death. Draws his gun to confront the killer-then suddenly, unfathomably- Sonny blacks out. When he comes to, a young boy is standing over him. And the gangster is dead-shot numerous times in the head with Sonny's gun.

The child gets away, leaving Sonny the primary suspect - suspended from the force and indicted on murder charges. Worse, his blackouts persist, triggering waking nightmares. Savage glimpses of memories he can't remember.

And something else-a presence. Powerful. Malignant.

Facing life in prison. . . his world unraveling, Sonny desperately searches for the boy, the only one who can clear him.

As the stranglehold tightens, threatening his very existence. . .

As you can see, Stranglehold is a psychological thriller, sort of a "Sixth Sense meets Primal Fear". I am very proud of the screenplay and have every confidence that Tonja Davidson and her team will make Stranglehold into a terrific movie.

OK, last and most important: Where's the best place in Philadelphia to get a Cheese Steak? (I vote for Steve's!)

Actually, the BEST cheesesteaks are in Atlantic City at a place called the WHITE HOUSE. They're famous. My mouth is watering as I type this.

---Personally I cannot WAIT for some canny exec to greenlight a MEG movie. If the concept of a giant pissed-off prehistoric shark isn't enough to get your cinematic juices flowing, you're either very dull or semi-insane! For a whole lot of entertaining stuff, have a look around www.SteveAlten.com and/or www.megsite.com . And keep an eye out for Alten's stuff next time you're carousing through Barnes & Noble. Lord knows I'm not a literary critic, but these are some damn entertaining novels.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=742
originally posted: 06/09/03 22:25:07
last updated: 12/30/03 15:53:25
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