Thursday, July 23, 2009


Funny Boys, the latest novel by War of the Roses author Warren Adler about the Borscht Belt and Murder Inc.(circa1937) has been optioned for a film. It is the 12th novel of Mr. Adler’s bought or optioned by Hollywood.

Mr. Adler, whose The War of the Roses novel was adapted as a movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner and Random Hearts with Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, has published 30 novels which have been translated into 25 foreign languages.

Funny Boys is the story of a comedian, or in the Yiddish idiom of the time, a “tumler,” in a Catskill mountain resort hotel in 1937 who gets entangled with the mobsters of Murder Inc.

The story authentically reenacts the speech and customs of the era. In the thirties, forties and fifties the area was known as the Borscht Belt and nourished the careers of some of the most famous comedians of the time such as Milton Berle, Red Button, Jerry Lewis, Sam Levinson, Myron Cohen, Sid Caesar and scores of others.

Murder Inc. was one of the most feared and ruthless gangs in New York, a combination of Jewish and Italian mobsters who wreaked havoc in New York before World War II. The novel recreates the atmosphere and environment of one of the most colorful eras in the twentieth century.

“Every time I option or sell a book to the movies I have high hopes for the picture to be made and be a smash hit. I feel certain that the material in Funny Boys, if handled correctly, has all the ingredients to make that happen.”

Another novel by Mr. Adler and James Hume, Target Churchill, which deals with an assassination attempt on the life of Winston Churchill has also been optioned by another production company. Mr. Adler wrote the screenplay.

Three of Mr. Adler’s short stories in the acclaimed collection entitled The Sunset Gang were adapted into a three-hour trilogy and shown on the PBS network. A musical of the stories written by Mr. Adler with composer L. Russell Brown was performed in Manhattan.

Cited as one of the 100 Best Authors on Twitter, Mr. Adler is also a pioneer in electronic publishing having digitized his books starting more than a decade ago. All of his novels are available on Kindle, the SONY Reader and all digital devices and through bookstores worldwide.

“I am always baffled when a book of mine is either optioned or bought outright by the movie people,” Mr. Adler said. “I don’t write with the movies in mind. One of my books Private Lies was purchased outright for 1.2 million and, after more millions were invested to develop it, it was never made. This was also the fate of Trans-Siberian Express, Madeline’s Miracles, novels from my Fiona FitzGerald mystery series, and others, some of which were optioned and bought numerous times.
“It is a flawed system, but somehow it manages to survive. Unfortunately, original material gets short shrift in the face of Hollywood’s penchant to base its future productions on past marketplace experience. ”

Mr. Adler is often outspoken about the adaptations of his novels. He considers The War of the Roses one of the most successful adaptations of a book to a movie and cites the fact that it has become a classic depiction of divorce. The term a “War of the Roses divorce” is now part of the world-wide nomenclature to describe the existential battles between separating spouses. Mr. Adler has never been divorced.

He was not as complimentary about the way Random Hearts was adapted and wrote a critique of the film in The New York Times.

Mr. Adler is also a playwright and short story writer. His latest collection of stories is New York Echoes and his plays are currently being produced in Europe. He is in the fifth year of his short story contest which has fostered talent among many writers through the contest’s popularity on the Internet.

The option to Lime Orchard Production, helmed by Jami Gertz and Stacey Lubliner was arranged through Hughes Entertainment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Our Short Story Competition

As the fifth year of the Warren Adler Short Story Competition draws to a close I thought it would interesting to share some of my observations about what I have learned about these so-called “contests” and the nature and motivation of those who submit and those who judge.

Before such competition proliferated on the internet I was involved in two short story competitions as both motivator and judge sponsored by the State of Wyoming Arts Council, a state in which I happily resided for nearly two decades.

First, my own motivation in helping to initiate and sponsor such a contest. I have always loved the short story as a literary device. In my opinion it is a literary art form of great purity, requiring discipline, a sense of craft, the skillful use of condensation and the challenge of narrative drive to swiftly engage the reader’s interest. Slightly exaggerating the imagery, I look upon the form as creating a vast world on the head of a pin.

While the short story no longer has the earning potential or popularity of years past when one could actually earn a living as a short story writer, the method and the idea of short fiction will, as a consequence of the growing brevity of attention spans, return once again to its rightful place on the mantle of literary acceptance. The thirst for storytelling is locked into our DNA, both as teller and “listener.”

My motivation for involving myself in such a competition is quite simply the preservation, encouragement and dissemination of the short story form. There is no shortage of people who want to write short stories and there is no shortage of people who want to read them. Both recognition and a cash prize are, of course, lures for submissions, but I have found that the former, being cited for talent and skill, has a lot more meaning for the writer than the cash.

In fact, I have discovered that the passion to become a full time writer both in fiction and non-fiction is growing exponentially in intensity and the competition for publication and recognition is as fierce and combative as anything I have seen in my lifetime. As paying markets shrink and words proliferate unfettered on the internet, a serious writer is faced with the frustrating, daunting and, often impossible task, of gaining traction in the marketplace for a full time career.

Because of this, the so-called short story contest has proliferated. There are so many being promoted and advertised that I sometimes think it a miracle that our contest has been able to sustain itself for half a decade. In the last two contests we have been forced to charge a modest fee of fifteen dollars to cover the expense of administration. It hardly pays for the cash prizes, which are largely my own contribution, offered happily and satisfying my own compulsion to advance the cause of the short story.

Of course, the key to the competition lies in the integrity of the judges, their point of view, their dedication to the process and the assurance that each submission will be read and evaluated in a fair and equitable manner. That is the standard that motivates our contest. Nothing matters than the story itself.

By its nature, the process is subjective and each judge brings to it a point of view that, like judges everywhere, requires a fierce inner debate and a sense of emotional connection with the author’s artistry. An experience in judging a Wyoming short story contest in which I was one of three judges taught me a severe and painful lesson in integrity and the necessity of maintaining standards.

One year, I nor the other two judges, both creative writing academics, could find in the submissions any short story that was worthy of being chosen for a grand prize. We were torn between fulfilling our mandate or simply not awarding a prize for that year. We chose not to award a prize. The decision was unanimous. The Wyoming Arts Council was furious. We had challenged the bureaucracy, sin of sins. The following year I was asked to leave the turf. So much for standards. Were we right or wrong?

As an aside, I must confess that I am wary of most awards for literature, from the Pulitzer, the Booker and on and on. Perhaps even the Nobel. Do the judges actually read all those books submitted or are they subject to panels of “screeners” who get to screen only the most hyped books by publishers and critics then toss them over to the high powered names to make the final selections. I guess I must be cynical to the core if I dare question whether even those prestigious judges actually read every book of those authors who are chosen. This is not to say I disagree with the choices. But I do get depressed when I discover that many of those authors chosen have not stood the test of time and are mostly forgotten.

Our present competition has three judges, Thane Rosenberg, a serious writer of novels and non-fiction, Kirsten Neuhaus, an agent who understands the marketplace, and yours truly. We make our choices and will undoubtedly fiercely debate the so-called winners, an agonizing decision, since so many of the submissions display the skill and talent of dedicated writers.

We are all presently deep in the process of reading submissions and will announce the winners in a few weeks and then we will post the winners on our website Our previous winners are posted on the site as well. We are proud of our choices and we hope that their skill and talent will engage their readers as they engaged us.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

At Last, A True Film About the Professional Soldier

The Hurt Locker, a film about a bomb squad in Iraq is a most amazing film, and one of the few films of recent vintage which actually tells the truth about what it means to be a professional soldier. Indeed, it is so different from the usual politically charged tripe about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that one wonders how the director Kathryn Bigelow ever got it made.
Indeed, ever since Vietnam, American servicemen, especially those in enlisted status have been characterized by the mediaocrity as using the services as a kind of last resort, a collection of losers at the bottom of the social barrel who join the Army to suck up benefits they could not get as civilians. Hollywood, which gets its cue from the same source, has often failed to understand the motivation of the professional soldier.
At the screening I attended, Kathryn Bigelow was on hand to answer questions posed by the audience. It was a theater in the west side of Manhattan, a place that is normally characterized as ground zero of the liberal intellectual elite, where ferment, contention and argument are in the oxygen.
By itself the movie is mesmerizing and the puzzle of the bomb defuser’s motivation is posed by a quote at the beginning that indicates that war was as addictive as drugs. The soldier defuser, despite the danger and risk, clearly loves his work. Played by a superb actor, he brings to his role absolute fidelity and while those who asked questions admired the movie, they seemed unable to understand the man’s motivation, which was far from what passed for the prevailing opinion in this area.
I wished I had gotten up and asked a question largely because I wanted instead to make an assertion based on my own experience as a soldier. I was more of an observer, a reluctant conscript, but I did observe the professional soldier in action. Like any true professional, a dancer, a writer, a mechanic, an athlete and on and on, the consummate professional is indeed addicted to his work. In the case of the hero of this movie, yes he is addicted to his job, not war, but the job itself.
This man is proud of his expertise. Despite the horrendous risk and danger, he loves the defusing process, the challenge of the wiring, the instinctive discovery of how the bomb was constructed and placed for maximum impact. He must get into the mind and motivation of the bomber to fulfill the objective of his job.
The bottom line of his effort is to prevent the bomb from killing people. Thus, the movie at its heart is about saving lives. By the tenor of the questions asked of Ms. Bigelow, the audience seemed reluctant to admit that it was possible for a soldier to love his work and to be proud of his expertise.
Indeed, the movie makes clear that the soldier feels never more alive than when he is doing his job on the battlefield. In recent years, however one feels about the origins and conduct of the various wars in which America has been engaged, somehow the military man has suffered the brunt of the negative criticism. This movie turns that concept on its head.
Looking back on my years in the Army, I have come to deeply respect the professional soldier. I saw many of them in action, doing their job with professional pride, just as in any occupation and calling. These are not people at the bottom, not, as some have portrayed them, life’s losers. No way. We are lucky to have them.
Kathryn Bigelow and her team are to be congratulated for their courage and persistence in getting this independent film made.