DeathBite

 

The actual deadliest snake in the world is the taipan, which means "Number One Man" in Chinese. If you're bitten by it and aren't immediately injected with antivenin or chop off the bitten appendage within minutes, you're dead. Imagine a genetic aberration of the normal taipan, twice as long at seventeen feet! It's illegally brought from an Indonesian island to the United States by a millionaire for reasons of obsession and revenge. A good-guy herpetologist gets involved as well, and, of course, the snake gets loose and leaves a path of destruction before the guy gets the girl.

While we were both acting in a production of The Boys in the Band, fellow actor Michael Maryk remarked to me that he had a great idea for a novel - but was having trouble setting it to words. I had written a sci-fi novel in graduate school, which I still think is good but haven't gotten around to reworking. I submitted my work without an agent "over the transom" to three publishers: a recipe for failure. Two rejected it without reading it, while the third returned the manuscript three years later with a note: "Your ms. fell behind the radiator. We didn't find it until we moved. Hope this hasn't inconvenienced you. p.s. We're not interested." Nevertheless, I told Michael that I had read perhaps 500 novels to that date and had had an excellent education in writing technique and analysis from my favorite teacher of all time, Dr. Joanna Ratych of Rutgers Univeristy. The fact that this education was all in the German language only made the discipline that much more thorough.

So we set out working together.

Michael had connections everywhere. He knew a book rep who represented Andrews & McMeel, two gentlemen who had been making a fortune at the Universal Press Syndicate packaging top cartoonists and columnists. Mssrs. Andrews and McMeel wanted to branch out into fiction. The same year, 1979, they also introduced the novice writer William Kienzle, whose "Catholic murder mysteries," such as The Rosary Murders, became bestsellers. They loved our novel and backed it 150%, including a book tour with an 11' Indian Rock Python named Minnie. Their advance offer tied with Lucien Truscott's Dress Grey for most money paid for a first novel that year. Michael also knew the agent/lawyer who represented Peter Benchley and convinced him to represent us. He eventually caught the interest of Barbra Streisand's once-and-present agent, Marty Ehrlichmann, who bought the movie rights and then dumped it off to a movie company in Canada back during the heyday of tax shelters. The company subsequently went under and basically a bank made the movie, under the name Cinequity.

It's bad enough when producers get their hands on your work - but bankers? When they tried to pre-sell the film at the Cannes Film Festival, they got wind of two other "snake films": one was never produced, while the other barely made a ripple. But Cinequity was so frightened that they jettisoned our story, kept a few scenes and created a snake with telepathic powers. They also hired a Canadian director of comedy movies whose idea of terror was to skip the tension and go right for the gore. In SPASMS, Oliver Reed outrageously overacts and Peter Fonda sleepwalks through a horrible script. Ah well. Michael and I did very well financially on the film sale, but it did nothing for our writing careers.

In spite of the fact that the novel was edited by Laura Knebel, a famous NYC editor and wife of Fletcher Knebel of Seven Days in May fame, it is clearly a first effort. It also cashed in on the animal terror craze ignited by Benchley's JAWS and the Spielberg adaptation to the cinema. It's fact-filled fun for snake lovers…or haters.