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The praise for Adam Novak’s new novel is pretty jaw-dropping. He’s got quotes from Game of Thrones creator D.B. Weiss, Permanent Midnight scribe Jerry Stahl, The Player author Michael Tolkin and Internal Affairs writer Henry Bean. Stahl applauds Novak’s “slit-wrist wit,” Tolkin loves the writer’s “merciless eye for society,” and Bean calls the book “brilliant.”
Novak’s third book, titled Freaks of the Industry, is out now, and, unlike those quotes, it’s not so easy to trim down to a quick and easy logline. Basically, it follows the exploits of a few complicated characters, including a studio executive fresh from a prostitution scandal, a low-budget horror filmmaker working with a junkie turned Oscar-winning movie star and a script reader at the oldest talent agency in Hollywood.
The latter is not that far off from the real-life Novak, who has been with William Morris (now WME-IMG) for more than 28 years. Asked to confirm his position, he says that he prefers “senior reader,” rather than the more formal “head of story development.” He’s also the author of The Non-Pro and Take Fountain, and with his latest, Novak, who jokes that he’s “pushing 50” years old, says that he’s earned a “respectable” distinction from his publisher, Rare Bird Books. He offered more than respectable answers when The Hollywood Reporter caught up with him to discuss this latest tome.
How did you get started in your career?
I started when I was a screenwriting major at USC Film School. When we were freshman, we all said, “I hope I’m not a reader when I get out of here.” By senior year, it was, “God, I hope I’m a reader.” It’s extraordinary. I enjoy myself more now than that summer when I was Charlie Sheen’s personal script reader. My gift is not my own [writing], but it is recognizing the greatness of other screenplays. I’ve made that my life’s work, and it’s the joy of my work. I’m in the discovery business.
How much are you reading?
The amount of material that is required is amazing. The sheer number would actually astonish people. It isn’t about the number, but about the quality. I often think of the great advice from [partner and agent] Mike Simpson, which was this: “Think not what the client does for script, but what script does for the client.” That has guided me every time I pick up a script and start reading.
What are your favorite books?
I have read three novels that have changed my life: Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, Michael Tolkin’s The Player and Bruce Wagner’s Force Majeure. They all have something in common, and that is the absurdity and humanity of the business.
What was your inspiration for your third book, Freaks of the Industry?
This novel came to me when I was writing my first novel, Non-Pro. I came up with a story about a reader who reads for the biggest movie star in the world who may be the Antichrist. In that story, there is also an agent who is a sex addict who is on a collision course with his daughter, who is a prostitute. Those stories have stayed with me for years. It turned out to be Freaks of the Industry. I would describe it as the child of Magnolia and The Player.
Like both your other books, this one takes an inside look at Hollywood. Are you always thinking about creating plot points based on your real-life job duties?
I think it’s when it strikes. I’m always ready. I could be driving, stuck in traffic, and a lightning bolt hits and has nothing to do with my work. The blessing of what I do and the blessing of writing novels is that I get to live in my head. I can live in my head and do what I do, and they can coexist.
Talk to me about the dedications in the front of the book to the late Josh Gilbert and Karen Glasser.
Karen was my first boss in the story department at William Morris 27 years ago. Words fail me. Karen came to every one of my book parties. I’m devastated that she won’t be sitting in the front row for Freaks of the Industry. Josh Gilbert was my best friend since film school. He also is best known for directing the documentary on Tommy Chong a/k/a Tommy Chong. To lose both of them while writing this book … I had to dedicate this book to them. It’s a challenge for me thinking about what to say about them.
The praise for this book is pretty tremendous …
Jerry Stahl is another of my literary heroes whom I’ve gotten to know over the years. When he wrote what he wrote, I collapsed. I couldn’t believe that he had such nice things to say about Take Fountain [either]. Dan Weiss, as busy as he is in Ireland, he took the time to say something about a novel I had written. I am totally grateful.
What’s your writing process like?
My golden rule is that when I’m working on a novel, I don’t talk about it to anyone. It’s like the first rule of Fight Club: Don’t talk about Fight Club. That allows you to remain in your head, free of distraction and, frankly, open yourself up to things that maybe shouldn’t go in there. In terms of writing, it’s a question of when. I take a long view of when I have time. With a full-time job and a totally demanding and totally fulfilling career, I make time, but it’s possible that it’s more thinking than writing, and maybe that’s how I’ve been able to manage. I’ve never been happier doing what I’m doing now and never been more confident going forward.
I read this story Peter Bart wrote about you in 2015 in which he addressed the depletion of story departments at major agencies. What is life like today in the halls of WME?
Speaking for myself, there’s nothing more satisfying than reading quality material. I’m reading and evaluating quality material every day of the week. And so, to me, the takeaway is how extraordinary some of these screenplays are and figuring out who they are good for. There’s no better perch than inside this agency to recognize material. Screenplays are the currency of the business. The state of the union is excellent. The future is bright.
How do you hope Freaks of the Industry is received?
It’s out there now. I’m in the discovery business, and I hope it’s discovered.
How many books do you have left in you?
The first rule of Fight Club is …
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