As a screenwriter, I tend to think about things in a three-act structure.
My first act was preparing for and becoming a doctor. I grew up in suburban New York, went to Harvard, then Tufts Medical School, then internship and residency in internal medicine at the New England Deaconess Hospital, then fellowship in infectious diseases at the Massachusetts General Hospital before starting an internal medicine practice. In college, rather than majoring in something traditional like biochemistry, I got my degree in archaeology. I spent a lot of time on digs, particularly in England, and as a young student working for a University of Chicago professor, I met my wife Tessa, who happened to be the boss’s daughter, and many years later we’re still an item. The mindset of archaeologists --- the thrill of finding things, the wanderlust, the gravitation to pubs and bars --- all of it got incorporated into my DNA.
As the second act approached, I was getting disillusioned with medical practice. On a day-to-day basis, I was loosing the adrenaline rush and I was just starting! So I was in receptive mode when I got a call from a brilliant physician who was rebuilding the medical group at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and wanted a young Ivy League-trained infectious diseases specialist to run some clinical research programs.
Thus began act two: corporate life. I started climbing the corporate ladder at Lilly and realized I had a fair bit of business acumen --- where I got it, I’ll never know. After a spell with Lilly back in the UK, I decided to take the plunge and join a start-up biotech company in North Carolina followed by another start-up in Ohio. Finally, I moved back to Massachusetts to begin a 16 year tenure as the CEO of Indevus Pharmaceuticals. With the help of a large number of very talented people, I grew the company from thirty employees with no revenues to 300 employees and over a hundred million dollars in sales with a great portfolio of products for cancer, urology and endocrinology disorders. It was inevitable that eventually we would be swallowed by a bigger fish, and Indevus was indeed acquired by a larger company in early 2009, the kind of dramatic event that typically precedes a third act.
During act two, on nights and weekends I started writing – a lot – mostly screenplays, twenty or so, to date. My early screenplays were awfully weak, but over the years they kept getting better, to the point where I sold/optioned several of them to Hollywood producers. The frustration of selling scripts that never got produced drove me crazy, crazy enough to do something about it. So, in my spare time, (instead of playing golf like my fellow execs!), I enrolled at the Boston University Film School and although I never graduated, I took the lion’s share of courses toward an MFA. Rather than doing a thesis film, I jumped in with both feet, formed a production company called Lascaux Pictures with my good friend and lawyer, George Tobia, and co-wrote and produced a feature film, a psychological thriller called Long Distance. It premiered at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and was sold for distribution in the US and over thirty countries where it has enjoyed a good commercial success.
Act three, novel writing, began with a few pages of a new script called Library of the Dead. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, but after a short while, the thought of writing another big-budget script that was unlikely to get produced set me thinking about structuring it as a novel. Cut to one year later, and the finished manuscript wasn’t too bad, in my humble opinion. Lacking an agent, I approached the process the old-fashioned way and sent out blind query letters to sixty agencies. Steve Kasdin, a new agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, thought the query was too over-the-top to ignore and requested a partial than a full then boldly signed me up. After a great agent-guided re-write we were off to the races and in the blink of an eye had worldwide two-book deals for Library of the Dead and Book of Souls with fantastic publishers like HarperCollins and Random House and translation rights in 23 languages. Steve was plucked away by Amazon to take a leading role in their Kindle group and I found a new home with the incredible uber-agent, Simon Lipskar at Writers House.
So, act three is beginning. I’m writing full-time and love hanging out in front of the fireplace in my library in a house built in 1669, doing research, reading and working on new books. Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village during the witch trials, moved to the house in 1696 after he was booted from his post by a congregation that was smarting after twenty of its members were hung or pressed to death. Here he stubbornly set up a new one-room ministry – in my library. He lived at the house, on and off, accompanied perhaps by one or more of his “bewitched” daughters till his death in 1720 and someone, a female, is still haunting the place. I can’t blame a lack of atmospherics for a failure of inspiration.
I usually plot out all three acts before I start a writing project but in the case of this third act, I have no idea where it’s going to go.