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VALLEY WEEKEND | WORDS & IMAGES

Writer's Novel Idea Takes Form of Book-in-a-Magazine

The publication is supported by ads and provided free by the advertisers with their products.

August 22, 1996|Patricia Ward Biederman

At Art's Deli in Studio City, you can order a nice corned beef sandwich, with a free novel on the side.

Two weeks ago, Toluca Lake-based publisher Paul Chitlik released 10,000 copies of his new book-in-a-magazine, the "Dime Novel." Featuring a full-length original mystery, the 60-page magazine is available at bookstores, restaurants, coffee houses and shops throughout the Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Free to readers, the Dime Novel is supported entirely by advertisers, including Art's Deli and Chitlik's brother, a financial consultant who paid up to $300 for a full-page ad. Many of the advertisers slip a copy of the book, printed on newsprint, into patrons' take-out orders.

Chitlik wrote the new magazine's first novel, "Berns With an 'E,' " under the nom de computer Paul Leiken--a family name. As the 48-year-old TV writer explains, he hopes to publish the magazine at least four times a year, each time featuring an original work steeped in local color, "novels that speak to, from and about the Los Angeles area." He is considering several submissions from other Southland writers for the next issue, scheduled for November.

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In Chitlik's own effort, the protagonist is first seen flouting the law by racing his all-terrain bike along the horse trails in Griffith Park (Chitlik, too, is an avid cyclist). There Berns, a radio talk-show host, discovers the body of an 80-year-old neighbor from his Burbank condo complex. The dead man is a photographer, whose experiences in his native Germany are enough to get him killed and to put Berns in mortal danger. Berns is a soulful guy, haunted by the death of a child and the breakup of his marriage. The book is as much about self-discovery as it is about uncovering a murderer.

Chitlik sees the advertiser-sponsored book as a novel medium, but one with ties to the low-cost, mass-marketed dime novels that made celebrities of Buffalo Bill Cody and others in the last century. In a world in which Tom Clancy's new "Executive Orders" retails for $27.95, a free book has the potential to reach both regular book buyers and people who get most of their fiction on television. "I wanted to make good, entertaining reading as easy to get hold of as 'NYPD Blue' or a page on the World Wide Web," Chitlik said.

A Burbank resident, Chitlik describes his foray into self-publishing as the literary equivalent of the self-producing that many bands now do, a phenomenon made economically feasible by new technology. "Every bar band has a CD available after their performance," he said. "Writers haven't been able to do that before." Unlike vanity publishing, electronic publishing has no stigma, even a certain cachet. Chitlik created and formatted the publication with a PC and desktop-publishing software. A printer recommended by a friend produced 10,000 copies for less than $2,000.

A successful TV writer whose credits include "The New Twilight Zone" and "Who's the Boss?," Chitlik has also been coordinating producer of "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol." He also directs and has written several features as well. But when he wrote "Berns With an 'E,' " he wasn't able to interest a conventional publisher or his usual agent in the project. "I had trouble convincing agents that it was a book, not a movie," he says, recalling criticism that the manuscript was "too cinematic." Finally, a friend suggested he publish it himself, bankrolled by advertisers.

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Born in Cleveland, Chitlik wrote and directed his first play when he was 11. He received a "degree in comparative literature and tear gas at UC Berkeley." As a student in the last years of Franco's Spain, Chitlik polished his Spanish while tracing his Sephardic roots. He was a journalist, translator, bilingual educator and bicycling advocate before he broke into TV a dozen years ago.

As anyone on the inside knows, television pays munificently but worships youth and, as a collaborative enterprise, limits the control writers have over their work. Writing novels pays in autonomy. "My ultimate goal is to be able to live where I want to live and write whatever I want to write," he said. "Nobody changed a word in this but me." And gray hair seems to be less of an issue for novelists than for people in TV land. As Chitlik pointed out, "Nobody knows how old Dick Francis is, and nobody cares."

In its Dime Novel form, Chitlik's mystery isn't going to make him rich. He does hope, however, that his book will come to the attention of a Hollywood studio. To help that happen, he packed the back of his Bronco with copies and drove up to every studio gate in town, explaining that he had a delivery for their company store (or newsstand or commissary). Everyone took copies, although none has yet called his agent.

When seeking advertisers, Chitlik first approached people whose shops and services he patronizes, such as Portrait of a Bookstore in Toluca Lake and the Pedal Shop in North Hollywood.

The advertisers have been enthusiastic partners in the publishing project, Chitlik says. Prestige Wine and Spirits in Toluca Lake often makes soda and upscale water deliveries to film and TV sets, and the Prestige staff make sure copies of the book are included with their Hollywood deliveries.

"Maybe it will get to David Kelly," a Prestige staffer bundling up a delivery told Chitlik recently. "This one's going to 'Chicago Hope.' "

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