A talented team helmed by award-winning producer Sky Conway, including actor fan favorites such as Walter Koenig, plan to embark on a television pilot next year for John E. Stith’s MANHATTAN TRANSFER, the Tor Books novel about the kidnapping of Manhattan by aliens.
We asked John to write a series of short pieces to chronicle this thirty-year journey.
Here is part five.
I left off in 1998 as the producers at Allied Stars were still giving me frequent updates that still made the big check sound imminent — the big check that was contractually required, not optional. They had “fourteen of the fifteen signatures” done, and people were again flying over to visit Credit Suisse. This mode continued partying into 1999. In March I heard they signed the “final deal” and that funds were due to be released in two weeks.
Then a glitch surfaced. And another. The big check was rescheduled for April, then May, then August. Then a person who was providing collateral for a loan was to be replaced. In October, they needed “one more banker signature.” In November I heard the “deal closed yesterday,” and the payout schedule was due in three days. In December 1999, the transfer of funds to their bank was “initiated today.”
I know what you’re asking yourself. Did it never occur to me that this really would never end, that it was all somehow a big con in which they paid me a lot of money to string me along for years? Absolutely. I wondered many times if this was all really legit and what could explain the interminable sequence of any-day-now. But their actions really didn’t fit any con job pattern I had seen. They did in fact pay me a good deal of money. When they defaulted on the contract, they made it clear I was free to accept other offers and that when they did get their money, they would honor the contract if I still agreed. And they emphasized that they liked my work to a degree that if MANHATTAN TRANSFER was sold by the time they finally got set up, they would pick another of my books. So not a standard con.
Things proceeded on this same track into 2000. Now they were waiting on Federal Reserve approval.
In February, the ex-Allied Stars producer contacted me again with another offer, this one slightly better than his previous offer, but it was for an option, so it was tiny compared to the contract sitting in my file cabinet. But by this time, yes, I had doubts about Allie Stars. So we set out to see if we could find a mutually agreeable deal.
This two-track period lasted a couple of months. We went back and forth on terms with the ex-Allied Stars producer, emphasizing that a deal was not agreed to until and unless the contract was signed.
In April, we were close to signing a contract with the ex-Allied Stars producer, and during this whole time the original Allied Starts people were still saying things like “funds should arrive by Monday.”
I was ready to give up on Allied Stars and sign the new contract, but even though the original deal had gone on so long, the promise of a huge sum of money for certain still looked way better than a small, iffy sum. The day I was ready to sign, the Allied Stars people said, “Funds are due in our account by Friday.” I decided I would give them until Friday and then that would be it. So I sent email to the ex-Allied Stars producer saying I’d like to wait a few days on the AS people just in case.
I got back an angry email from the ex-AS producer saying his deal was off and that he’d never touch the book. I was “throwing my career away” by not taking the deal.
In addition to that, the AS people, surprise! didn’t come through on Friday. What a perfect week. I could have called the ex-AS producer back, but he’d made his feelings pretty clear.
The Allied Stars people kept giving me “any day now” updates through November. In December, I was told “good-faith funds” would be wired to me. They did in fact send me $500.
The bright spot of 2000 was MANHATTAN TRANSFER being the number 1 bestselling ebook twice at Peanut Press/Palm Digital Media, the first company to move into ebook publishing and start making money. REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS did extremely well for them, too. Overall for the whole year, MT came in at number 12, and RR did even better at number 10.
Skip ahead to March 2001, and then April, then June when “the whole consortium was meeting in Bermuda.” Then July, and August, October, December.
You’d never guess what happened in 2002. Well, maybe you would. More of the same. By the end of 2002, the AS big check was hoped for by the end of January.
And now for something completely new and different. In March of 2003 I had a film rights inquiry from a man named Sky Conway. In April he came to visit me at my home in Colorado Springs. No deal happened at that point, but Sky’s enthusiasm is now the longest-lasting film-rights interest, and it’s that interest that in 2023, seems to be on the cusp of finally happening. You’ll understand if I’m really encouraged and optimistic, and very happy my work continues to inspire enthusiasm in at least some people, but way down deep a small part of me is not 100% certain it will really happen.
A few data points between 2003 and 2023: In August 2004, the AS people said they were going to try again for the new company financing. In December 2005, I called their number. Disconnected. I’ve never heard from them again. My theory is that they left the film business. I put this experience down to. not malice, but a reflection on just how unpredictable the film business and people in general can be. Add in lots of money and things get even harder to predict.
In 2006, the ex-AS producer contacted my agent again, with a new MT film-rights inquiry. This time we did sign an option contract, but no further deal materialized. We’re now on good terms.
This was in the middle of a tough period. I wrote about this in more detail in the afterword for PUSHBACK, but the short version includes a sequence of getting laid off from the engineering job, soon followed by my father’s death and bringing my mom live with us for her final couple of years. Within a year of my mom’s death, my wife, Annette, was diagnosed with cancer that relentlessly weakened her until her death four years later. Some people seem to have the willpower to write through almost anything. I don’t.
The 2010s were a decade of renewal on several levels and getting back on track. I met and married a wonderful woman named Karen. (Brief left turn here. If you need to refer to an entitled, pushy woman, just say that or use a different actual description. The United Club of Karens has some of the finest people in the world as its members, and there’s no need to be lazy and slur them all when just one specific person pushed your buttons.) But back to writing. As I got back in the groove, I wrote PUSHBACK, a thriller about a guy who goes to his ten-year high school reunion and doesn’t recognize one person there. The TINY TIME MACHINE novella turned into a trilogy. More short stories appeared in NATURE and elsewhere. I started work on a brand-new SF novel that will be out next year.
And Sky Conway maintained continued interest in MANHATTAN TRANSFER.
To be continued.
Copyright © 2023 by John E. Stith
John E. Stith is the author of REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS, a Nebula Award nominee, MANHATTAN TRANSFER, and numerous other novels and short stories. His works with Ace Books and Tor Books have been bought by the Science Fiction Book Club, optioned for film, and translated into many languages. He has optioned feature-film screenplays and has sold to television (Star Trek). Find him at www.neverend.com. His latest novellas are TINY TIME MACHINE and TINY TIME MACHINE 2: RETURN OF THE FATHER from Amazing Stories. His latest novel is PUSHBACK, a mystery-suspense novel. and a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. In 2024, look for TINY TIME MACHINE 3: MOTHER OF INVENTION, and his new SF novel, DISAVOWED, both from Amazing Stories.
To be on John’s list of occasional writing updates, visit http://eepurl.com/bGL4kj.
John’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/john.e.stith
The Facebook page for the streaming series is https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61552675967552 .
This story so far:
Part 1 In the Beginning https://amazingstories.com/2023/11/manhattan-transfer-the-motion-picture-in-the-beginning/
Part 3 The First Offer https://amazingstories.com/2023/11/manhattan-transfer-story-03-the-first-offer/
Part 4 Clouds Forming https://amazingstories.com/2023/12/manhattan-transfer-story-04-clouds-forming/