For those of you who only know me as a novelist, you might be interested to know that my first real job was writing and drawing a daily comic strip. My strip was called Downstown, and it was syndicated by the same people that also represented Doonesbury, Cathy, The Far Side, and Calvin & Hobbes (I love to drop those names because it makes my strip sound more famous than it was). What, you’ve never heard of Downstown? Well, that might be because I retired the strip before some of you were even born—in 1986. Wow—I suddenly feel old.
Producing 6 dailies per week plus a color Sunday required a constant search for material. Holidays were a great source of ideas, and one of my favorite holidays was always Halloween. I never seemed to have a problem coming up with gags when Halloween rolled around, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it was the clever costumes that always got my creative juices flowing, or maybe it was just the childhood memories of good times blowing up mailboxes—I’m sorry, make that trick-or-treating.
I drew about 2500 comic strips during my cartooning career, and with Halloween approaching again I’m feeling a little nostalgic. For old time’s sake I thought I’d dig out a few of my old Halloween Downstown strips and post them on my website. Why don’t you drop by and take a look?
And Happy Halloween.
In a contest that was too close to call, Hugh Laurie narrowly edged out Jeff Goldblum to win the role of Dr. Nick Polchak, forensic entomologist. Mark Harmon, on the other hand, was the runaway favorite to play the role of FBI agent Nathan Donovan. The voting was close once again between Jennifer Garner and CSI's Marg Helgenberger for the role of counterterrorism expert Macy Donovan, but Garner edged out Helgenberger as the polls closed. Those are our winners, folks...What does everybody think?
It’s been about a week since I asked you to help cast an imaginary Bug Man movie starring Nick Polchak, Nathan Donovan, and Macy Donovan. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve had a lot of laughs over some of your casting suggestions. What surprised me most was the diversity of your responses. I expected to see just a handful of names repeated again and again, but what I found was just the opposite. Everyone seemed to have a different suggestion, which tells me something I find fascinating…
Everyone imagines my characters differently.
Take Nick Polchak, for example. How old do you imagine Nick to be? I’ll admit, I’ve never specified Nick’s age, but three of you actually suggested David McCallum to play the part—“Ducky” Mallard from NCIS. Seriously? McCallum is 76. Does anyone else remember him as Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? That was 1963!
Someone else suggested Jack Black to play Nathan Donovan—FBI special agent Nathan Donovan, the guy who used to prowl the streets of the Bronx at night looking for fistfights in my bioterrorism novel PlagueMaker. Jack Black—didn’t he do the voice of Kung Fu Panda?
I’d love to keep collecting your suggestions for casting my imaginary movie, but I’m on an imaginary production schedule and I need to keep things moving. On the form above I’ve listed the three most commonly offered suggestions for each role. Please vote for your favorite—or at least the one you hate the least.
And if you want a good laugh, you’ll find the complete list of suggestions here.
SPOILER ALERT! THIS POST DISCUSSES THE SURPRISE ENDING OF ENDS OF THE EARTH! READER BEWARE!
They say that all good things must come to an end, and that means I’m forced to set a deadline for voting on the cliffhanger ending of Ends of the Earth—so I’ve chosen Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, at midnight. It seems fitting, doesn’t it?
I hate to see this end because I’ve really enjoyed saying "cliffhanger ending"--not to mention reading all of your comments and opinions on how the story should (and definitely should NOT) conclude. I think Alena and Kathryn would both be encouraged to know how many champions they each have on their side. But the vote has to end, and that means somebody has to win—and lose. So if you care about the outcome and you haven’t voted yet, you’d better get to it. There’s only three weeks left until the deadline, and after that Nick’s romantic fate will be sealed.
And don’t forget to tell your friends! Each person can only vote once, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask a friend (or two or three) to vote your way. So go ahead, stuff the ballot box—it’s the American way.
The clock is ticking. See you at the polls.
I received a lovely card by snail mail today from Carol McKitrick of Findlay, Ohio. Her card reads:
I have no computer but I believe I have the best ending to your new book "Ends of the Earth." It should be Alena he has asked to marry him. He is not cut out for the snobby life with Kathryn. Alena offers a more challenging life & that is what Nick wants, a more knowledge-seeking life, plus she has taught her dogs to relax & be loving & that's what Nick needs to learn how to do.
P.S. This book gave me more science than I wanted to learn. Sorry.
I entered your vote myself, Carol. Thanks for going the extra mile.
Readers have often told me, "I can really see your book as a movie." Sorry, no film deals are in the works just yet--but why should we have to wait for Hollywood to start having fun? Let's cast the movie now.
Each of my novels has its own cast of characters, and I have my own mental image of what each of them looks like--it helps me to imagine them as I write. But you may have noticed that I don't include a lot of physical description of most of my characters. It's a lesson I learned from novelist Elmore Leonard: "Avoid detailed descriptions of characters." The idea is to let the character's actions and dialogue define him and leave it to the reader to decide what he looks like. In other words, it doesn't really matter what I think they look like. What matters is what you think.
But when my books are made into movies a real-life actor will have to be cast for each part, and then my character will be forever identified with that actor's face and form. Who can imagine Harry Potter without thinking of Daniel Radcliffe? So who would I select to embody quirky forensic entomologist Nick Polchak? Who would I cast in the roles of FBI agent Nathan Donovan and his wife, counterterrorism expert Macy Donovan? Who would I choose?
The question is: Who would you choose?
And don't forget, an imaginary movie has no budget--so hire the best.
Many of you have concluded your comments with the wish that I would write books faster. If you can’t get enough of Nick Polchak and you’d like a little something to tide you over between meals, then you need to know about something I make available on the home page of my website. I call it Moments with Nick: Weekly Words of Inspiration from Everyone’s Favorite Wiseguy.
Every Monday morning I send out an email blast containing an excerpt of dialogue between Nick and another character from one of my Bug Man novels. If you’ve read my latest novel, Ends of the Earth, you might remember this exchange between Nick and Sherman Pettigrew that I sent out just a couple of weeks ago:
Nick Polchak on “Respecting your colleagues”
“Why must you do that?” Dr. Pettigrew demanded.
“Do what?” Nick asked.
“Insult me. Humiliate me. Belittle my field of study.”
Nick shrugged. “Why do ants like to feed on maggots? Because they’re soft and squishy.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure, but the comparison was irresistible.”
“Now look here, Polchak—”
“Is it true your wife ran off with the exterminator? Because I would find that ironic.”
Pettigrew glared at him. “At least I was married—an accomplishment you’ve never attained.”
“Marriage is like football,” Nick said. “The goal isn’t just to catch the ball—you’re supposed to hang on to it.”
If you can’t get enough of Nick and you need a little something to get your week started off in the right direction, why not drop by my website and sign up—it’s free. And when you’re done reading, don’t forget to forward your Moments with Nick on to a friend. You don’t want to be the only one laughing. People will think you’re weird.