On the surface, it seemed like a simple decision: I should give fans what they want. Unfortunately, this topic is a lot more complex than it appears. The purpose of this blog is to give you a peek behind the curtain and to help you understand what led to my ultimate choice. Hopefully, it is decision that will satisfy everyone.
1) This summer was a rollercoaster, one filled with highs and lows. On July 9, The Prisoner’s Gold won the 2016 ITW Thriller Award for Book of the Year. Not only was I the first adventure author to win a Thriller Award, but The Prisoner’s Gold was the first self-published book to be honored. Normally a book/series/author is tied to a specific publisher that would reap the benefits of the award, but I am a free agent in the States. That put me in a unique position. In the days that followed, several editors contacted me (and my agent) about the Hunters series, but as negotiations dragged on, none of them blew us away with an offer. Ultimately, I decided to hold on to the rights to the series until the Hunters movie has started filming. Once we have film clips to show prospective publishers, I’m quite confident we’ll get the type of deal we’re looking for. And once we do, they’ll have a lot of input into my future books.
2) One month after winning the Thriller Award, I parted ways with my UK publisher (Headline/Hachette). No bridges were burned, and there’s always a chance I may return to their roster, but for the time being I opted to be a free agent. The biggest reasons for this were my health and happiness. I wanted the freedom to work on the Hunters movie (and a few secret projects) without having to worry about a ticking clock. Deadlines suck, and this is the first time in over a decade that one isn’t looming. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to wake up without that daily stress. It’s been a real eye-opener (pardon the pun).
3) The Hunters movie is currently in pre-production. If things go as planned, we’ll start filming this winter. Since this would be the first movie in a franchise, the producers have asked me to provide them with as much information about the series as possible to keep things on track. So far, one of their biggest issues has been the lack of a backstory for the major characters. If you think about the opening chapters of The Hunters, four members of the team (Jack Cobb, Sarah Ellis, Josh McNutt, and Hector Garcia) are in the midst of a daring heist in Brighton Beach. But what you don’t see is why these four were chosen and how they were assembled. I planned to reveal that information in future books, but the producers urged me to do it sooner.
So, that's where things stood. Over the past several months, all of that has been weighing on my mind. After many sleepless nights trying to figure out a solution that would satisfy everyone, I came upon a concept that I think you’ll be happy with. I’ve decided to create a series of novellas called THE HUNTERS: ORIGINS. Each short piece will delve into the history of the major characters in the Hunters series while setting the stage for future books and providing clues and insight into The Hunters movie.
The first story is called Before the Storm, and it focuses on the team leader of the Hunters. After his unexpected discharge from the U.S. Army, Jack Cobb finds it difficult to adjust to civilian life. Thankfully, two of his closest friends (Jonathon Payne and David Jones) come to his rescue. But their tales of adventure do more than cheer him up. They open Cobb’s eyes to an opportunity that will change his life forever.
Just to be clear, Before the Storm is not a full-length book. It is a 12,000-word novella that takes place prior to the opening scenes in The Hunters. The story is light on action and heavy on comedy. In fact, it is one of the funniest things I have ever written.
That’s right: it's already done and ready to go. As a holiday surprise to you, Before the Storm will be released on December 1 in the States (and most major markets). But you can order it now for the low price of $2.99. That’s less than a dollar per major character.
Oh, one more thing. Even though this series is called THE HUNTERS: ORIGINS, the stars of this first novella are Payne & Jones. If you’ve missed the duo, you definitely won’t want to miss Before the Storm.
For those who have never been there, it’s the type of place where you grab a plastic tray and point at one or more of the precooked entrees (Kung Pao chicken, beef & broccoli, etc.) sitting behind cafeteria glass, and they’ll scoop it onto a plate for you. To help you decide, they also offer free samples. Just tell them what you want to try, and they’ll pluck a piece of meat with a toothpick and hand it to you over the counter.
There was a short line when I got inside, which was fine with me because I had no idea what I wanted to eat. This was one of those times where my height was a huge advantage because I was able to see over the people in line—particularly the short, white millennial directly in front of me who was wearing a wife-beater, saggy gym shorts, and a knit stocking cap even though it was 78 degrees outside.
The server behind the counter whose sole job was to hand out samples saw me craning my neck above the crowd and asked if I wanted to try anything. I pointed at a chicken dish when Eminem snapped, “Did you just cut in front of me?”
I’m not a violent guy—I’m truly not—but if we had been somewhere without witnesses and security cameras, I would have punched him in the throat. There was just something about his attitude and disrespect that rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, given our size differential, I’m guessing the only reason he spoke to me like that was because of the public setting. Witnesses gave him courage.
Given the situation, I managed to keep my cool. I didn’t shove him, and I didn’t yell. Instead, I simply said, “I wasn’t cutting. I was just getting a sample.”
He mumbled some curse words under his breath, but I ignored them. I was too focused on my sample to care. I tried a piece of General Tso’s chicken, then put my toothpick in a plastic cup on the counter where everyone in line had disposed of theirs. It even had a small label wrapped around it that said, “USED TOOTHPICKS”.
After that, I stepped back in line behind Eminem and waited for my turn. By then, he was already placing his order to go. The main server filled his carton with food as he walked away from me toward the cash register. I figured he was out of my life for good when karma decided to teach him a lesson.
Instead of walking out the exit, Eminem decided to walk back through the line to brush past me. I saw him coming from a mile away and was prepared to strike if he so much as bumped me. He was glaring at me the entire time, but as he got closer, I think reality set in. I was ten inches taller, outweighed him by more than fifty pounds, and was willing to stand my ground. Unless he had a weapon, he was not going to win.
At the last moment, he reconsidered his decision and broke eye contact. At that point, I think he realized he couldn’t just turn around and walk the other way. It would’ve looked like he had chickened out, so he looked for something—anything—to help him save face. At that point, he spotted the cup of toothpicks on the counter. From his angle, the label on the cup said, “TOOTHPICKS”. From my angle, I could see the word, “USED”.
In this case, one little word made all the difference.
Eminem cut right in front of me, which I willingly allowed, and plucked a toothpick from the container. Keep in mind he didn’t have a sample and had been too focused on me to notice the other customers who had eaten meat off the toothpicks, licked sauce from them, and had picked morsels of food and built-up plaque from their teeth with these tiny spears. I watched in delight/horror as he put the used toothpick into his mouth, and I tried not to laugh/vomit when he made an obnoxious slurping sound, as if he had been expecting a normal toothpick but had gotten a flavored one instead. He enjoyed the taste so much he reached into the cup and pulled out three more toothpicks and shoved them under the brim of his stocking cap for later use.
To me, it was a gift that kept on giving.
At that point, I had to look away or else I was going to crack up. I glanced over the counter and happened to lock eyes with the server in charge of free samples. She had witnessed the whole scene and had placed both hands over her mouth to hold in laughter as her eyes moistened with tears of joy. My guess is she dealt with assholes like him all the time, and this was one of the few times the universe had stepped in to make things right. The main server had seen it, too, but her gag reflex got the better of her. I honestly thought she was going to throw up on the pork chow mein or honey walnut shrimp. Thankfully, she turned from the counter and ran toward the back of the kitchen before she spewed on the buffet.
What had started out as a potential fight ended in a karmic knockout. About the only thing I regret is not pointing out his mistake. I would have loved to see his reaction to his own stupidity. Then again, if I had pointed out his idiocy, he would have stopped with a single toothpick. But by keeping my cool and staying quiet, Eminem took four. What a dumbass!
In the end, the food was mediocre at best, but it was a meal I will remember fondly.
After a 16-year absence, PSU finally relented and agreed to play us this past weekend, and I attended the game at Heinz Field. In a thrilling classic, Pitt prevailed 42-39 in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event in the city of Pittsburgh. Because of the victory, we'll have bragging rights for another year. That's the seventeenth year in a row, if you're counting. Needless to say, I left the stadium ecstatic!
The day before the game I stopped by the Pitt campus to relive some fond memories, buy some new gear, and see all the changes that have been made to my alma mater in recent years. I also snapped some pictures along the way. You can see the photos here.
Now imagine that dollar bill is a ten. Or a twenty. Or even a hundred. Man oh man, if I found a hundred dollars on the street, I’d probably pull a Gene Kelly and start singin’ in the rain. Of course, that shouldn’t be too surprising since Gene Kelly is a University of Pittsburgh graduate, just like I am. But I digress….
Confused? Let me explain….
My main agent is Scott Miller at Trident Media. He handles all the big stuff in my writing career. But he doesn’t work alone. Trident also has a foreign rights department, which is in charge of sending my books to publishers around the world. My main contact is Claire Roberts, the managing director of foreign rights at Trident. But she doesn’t work alone, either. Because of language barriers, Trident has multiple foreign agents. They also work with sub-agents around the globe who are experts on their specific markets. That means when we try to sell a book to a publisher in—let’s say—Thailand, the process is rather complicated. I send the manuscript to Scott, who sends it to Claire, who sends it to the agent in charge of Asia, who sends it to a sub-agent in Thailand, who sends it to publishers in Bangkok. If a Thai publisher likes the book, an offer is negotiated, and the terms of the deal slowly make its way back to me through a long chain of forwarded emails and eventually stops in my inbox. Then I get to decide if I want to accept the deal or not.
But here’s the thing: I have no idea what the book market is like in Thailand, so I rely on the advice of my agents. And if anyone in the process (the sub-agent, the foreign agent, Claire, or Scott) doesn’t like the deal, then they don’t pass it along. That means when I actually get one of these deals in my inbox, I always accept. And I mean, always. Which is why I compare it to found money.
Hello, Thailand. Nice to meet you. I will happily cash your check!
My latest offer is from Blanvalet, one of the main fiction imprints of Random House Germany. They recently acquired the German rights to the The Hunters and The Forbidden Tomb. This offer is extra special because some markets are more generous than others. For example, Slovenia doesn’t pay as much as Spain. And Afghanistan doesn’t pay as much as Australia. But Germany is top notch. They have millions of passionate readers who love thrillers, so this is a great fit for my books.
Early in my career, Sign of the Cross was published in Germany, and it quickly became a bestseller. Ten years later, I still get royalty checks from that deal. And when those checks arrive, guess what? I view them as found money, too!!!
The legal term is “rustius knivus”.
As you can probably imagine, I’m quite fond of my boys—and let’s be honest, so are the ladies—which is why I have kept so many things quiet during the past two years. Believe it or not, it has been a painful ordeal for me, filled with more lies and deception than all of my books combined.
Why? Because I am constantly bombarded by questions about the film. I get them from family and friends, readers and writers, and every single person who finds out about the movie. Don’t get me wrong: I understand their excitement. Heck, I'm excited!!! Truth be told, I would love to answer every question with the juiciest details possible, but the moment I signed that agreement, my priorities changed. I have to protect my loins and future generations of Kuzneskis. That's the only reason my last movie blog was over a year ago. I'm simply not allowed to talk about stuff.
Thankfully, the project is chugging along, and it looks like we'll be making some major announcements in the not-too-distant future. Of course, that will set up a whole different set of questions that I probably won't be allowed to answer—why did you cast so and so? Where will you be filming? Will the plot be the same as the book's? But that's fine with me. If nothing else, it means we're one step closer to having a movie!
The plan was to let him explain his vision for THE HUNTERS while I listened quietly. Then, if I liked what he had to say—and that was a very big if in my mind—I would talk things over with my agents and we would decide whether or not to have a second conversation with Piers. But I doubted that would happen.
Why was I so negative? Simply put, I had gone through this routine many times before with Hollywood, and it had always ended in disappointment. Despite my doubts, I was still willing to talk to Piers, if for no other reason than to avoid writing for an hour or so.
Before I describe what happened next, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not a big believer in fate. Never have been, never will be. Instead, I believe if you work hard and surround yourself with good people, then good things will happen to you. That philosophy has served me well over the years, which is why I lock myself in my office for months at a time while I’m working on a book and have fewer friends than fingers. In my world, success comes from hard work not because it's been preordained.
That said, the first five minutes of my phone call with Piers makes me think that there might be a magical element to the universe that brings people together at precisely the right time. Call it luck, coincidence, or serendipity—the truth is that both of us were so surprised and amused by what we discovered that we immediately sensed that this project was meant to be.
To help you understand, I have to go back in time approximately twelve hours to set the scene. The night before I was scheduled to chat with Piers, I was speaking to my mother about my youngest sister, who was in the middle of a business trip to the UK. I wanted to see how she was doing, and my mom assured me that she was having a blast. In fact, my sister had just called her to say that she had spent the day at Aldourie Castle in Scotland and it had been the best travel experience of her life. (And that was saying something because my sister has been in the travel industry for years and has been around the world about twenty times.)
Unfamiliar with the castle, I jumped online to glance at some photos and was immediately charmed by the place. Situated in one of the world’s most iconic locations, the Aldourie Estate is home to the only habitable castle on the southern shores of Loch Ness. The castle is 5 miles from the city of Inverness yet set on 500 acres of private grounds that look like they belong in a fairytale. No wonder she had so much fun. Florida (where I live) has some great beaches and sunsets, but very few castles. That night I went to bed envious of my sister, hoping that the Loch Ness monster crawled ashore and scared the shit out of her in the morning.
Aldourie Castle (Inverness, Scotland)
Flash forward to the following day: Piers called me from England as planned and we made some small talk to get to know each other before we chatted about THE HUNTERS. My sister was still fresh on my mind, so I mentioned that she was currently in Scotland but was heading to England in a day or two. Instantly curious, he asked where she was staying in Scotland. After telling him some castle near Loch Ness, there was a long pause in the conversation. So long, in fact, that I thought we might have been disconnected. Finally, he asked, “Was it Aldourie Castle?” When I told him yes, he started to laugh. I didn’t understand his laughter at all until he told me the punchline. He said, “You’re not going to believe this, but my brother owns Aldourie Castle!”
Knowing little about Piers, I didn’t know if he was pulling my leg or not. He assured me that it was the latter, then explained how his brother had acquired the property and had painstakingly restored it to its former beauty. He went on to name the people who ran the grounds and described many things about the place that I had heard from my mom the night before.
Needless to say, I was stunned.
As you know, the world is a very big place, so it seemed pretty remarkable that my sister had stayed at his brother’s castle the night before my first meeting with Piers. Actually, now that I think about it, depending on when her group checked out of Aldourie, she still might have been at the castle when Piers called me from England. How freaky is that?
Not surprisingly, my play-it-cool facade crumbled almost immediately, and so did my doubts about Piers. Twenty minutes later, I was so excited about our matching visions for the movie that we started to discuss directors, writers, and a star-studded cast. And yes, I did say writers. We agreed early on that I should stay focused on my novels while an experienced screenwriter adapted THE HUNTERS for film. Maybe things will be different in the future—I’ve always wanted to write a screenplay, and I think I’d be pretty good at it—but for now, my role with the film will be more as a creative advisor. After all, I’m the only one who knows where this series is going, so they can’t get rid of me quite yet.
1) Who will be starring in the film?
2) What the hell is an option deal?
It’s way too early to answer #1. Even if I knew who will be in the movie, I’m not allowed to reveal anything until I’m given permission by the production team, which is led by Piers Tempest and Jo Bamford but also includes Mark Huffam (Prometheus) and Chris Clark (Johnny English). And that isn’t going to happen with major news until the details are announced to the worldwide media. My website might be popular, but it doesn’t have the readership of the New York Times—or the graffiti in the men’s room at my local Hooters.
As for question #2, that’s a great topic for today. In the film industry, an option deal is a contractual agreement between a writer (like me) who holds ownership of a book (like THE HUNTERS) and a film producer (in this case, Tempo).
The option agreement details the tasks that a producer must complete to initiate the movie-making process—including financing, talent, and a hell of a lot more—and it sets the specific length of time that the producer has to accomplish those tasks. In exchange, the person (me) owning the property gives the producer exclusive rights to the material for the duration of the option agreement. If a project takes longer than expected, an option deal can be renewed by the same producer for another year or two. Of course, if the producer decides to part ways with a project (for whatever reason), the same book can be optioned by a different producer, who is then given another window of time to get the film together.
Believe it or not, this happens a lot. I know many authors who have made a small fortune by optioning the same books over and over again without a movie being made. For writing icons like James Patterson or John Grisham, most of their books are optioned before they are even published because filmmakers know that they will be instant bestsellers. With that in mind, how many of their books have actually been made into films? Maybe ten percent. That means the other ninety percent of their books have been optioned multiple times over the years. After a while, that money adds up!
Most of the time, book options aren’t announced to the general public unless a project has a lot of momentum going for it. And thankfully that’s what happened with THE HUNTERS. I was first contacted by Piers in March 2013, but we didn’t divulge anything about the option deal until April 2014—more than a year after our initial conversation.
So, why did we finally decide to announce the deal?
I’ll talk about that in a future blog....
Back in March 2013, I was notified by Scott Miller (my literary agent at Trident Media in New York) and Jon Cassir (my film agent at CAA in Hollywood) that a British movie producer wanted to speak to me about THE HUNTERS, a book that had been released two months earlier in the UK. It had received rave reviews in England’s and Australia’s largest newspapers, and a buzz was building about the potential of the series.
All of that good press had drawn the attention of Piers Tempest, a veteran of the movie business who has worked with Ben Kingsley, Kate Winslet, Toni Collette, Gillian Anderson, and a long list of Hollywood stars. Piers had made his name on independent films, but his success in that arena had led him to big-budget features. Financially backed by Jo Bamford (of JCB manufacturing), all Piers needed was the right material to work with.
As soon as he read THE HUNTERS, he knew it had everything he was looking for. Not only does it have the action and suspense to be a blockbuster, but he realized it could potentially spawn treasure-hunting sequels for years to come. At least that’s his hope—and mine, too!
Obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming months for this movie to become a reality. We still need several things to go our way to get this book filmed and into cinemas around the world, but I have to admit I’m cautiously optimistic about the project.