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The lure of the tie-in

My pride told me real writers didn't pen novels based on films or TV shows. And yet . . .

August 24, 2008|Tod Goldberg | Special to The Times

"I'm a huge Indiana Jones fan," Rollins says, whose 2007 novel "The Judas Strain" has sold more than 200,000 copies. "To be able to even put a fingerprint upon that legacy, what more could an adventure writer want? I was only paid a fraction of what I get for one of my regular novels, but I could not pass up this chance. If they asked me to, I would've written this in my own blood."

Max Allan Collins practically did write a book with his own blood. Collins is the undisputed king of the media tie-in, having written more than 50 of them (including 10 "CSI" novels and several puzzles, video games and comics also based on the program) since 1990, but he nearly ripped a hole in the fabric of the time/space continuum by novelizing the screenplay based on his graphic novel "Road to Perdition." (Do the math in your head for that one.)

"The 'Road to Perdition' novelization was a nightmare, frankly," Collins says. "I went after it for obvious reasons -- I didn't want a 'Perdition' novel written by someone else out there. I proceeded to write the best novelization of my career, staying faithful to David Self's script -- which was already fairly faithful to my graphic novel -- but fleshed out the script with characterization, expanded dialogue scenes and just generally turning it into a quality novel of around 100,000 words. After I submitted it and had the New York editor say it was the best tie-in novel he'd ever read, the licensing person at DreamWorks required me to cut everything in the novel that wasn't in the script. That I was the creator of the property held no sway. I was made to butcher the book down to 40,000 words."

Going into writing "The Fix" I pledged that I was going to be emotionless about the process. It was silly to think this, of course, because it's hard for me not to feel dominion over a character once I've inhabited his skin, even when, unlike for Collins, the characters in "The Fix" belong in whole cloth to someone else. But I challenge anyone to spend 64 straight days and nights with anyone or anything without developing a Patty Hearstian level of attachment. I came to the conclusion that I had to start thinking of myself like a musician covering a hit song -- in order to make it my own, I had to tweak it a little, give something of myself in the process and make it fresh and new to the fans who already love the original by adding additional elements they might not be expecting. Think "Walk This Way" by Run-DMC versus Aerosmith's original. Same song, different experience.

My brother once told me he couldn't do a tie-in for something he wasn't emotionally invested in, but for me it feels like the opposite has occurred. I've become fond of the show in a new way. I want to protect it.

At a book signing recently, a man walked up to me, after waiting in line for 10 minutes, to tell me how much he hated the show, how it made him twitch, and how he wouldn't be reading my book, either. It was a level of antipathy I wasn't previously familiar with -- loathing that gets you out of bed on a Saturday to tell someone that you hate them. I didn't mind that he wasn't going to buy my book, but his slight against the show felt far more personal. Now, I find myself feeling defensive if it receives a bad television review somewhere and am growing concerned that my obsessive self-Googling might turn a dark corner into obsessive "Burn Notice" Googling too, which is not a train I want to ride.

None of this is what I could have predicted, but with two more books to write in the series, I've learned that writing about a cool ex-spy I didn't create can be a gratifying experience. Now, if I could just find out who owns the "Partridge Family" rights, I could really get happy.

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Tod Goldberg's other books are "Living Dead Girl," "Fake Liar Cheat" and "Simplify."

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