1- What runs through your mind when you're introduced as the man who created Rambo?
In my writing book, THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, I mention that one of the hardest tasks for an author is to have a subject matter or an approach or a character recognizable to readers. At a party or a similar event, when people learn that someone is an author, almost the first thing they say is (note the negative), “I don’t suppose you’ve written anything that I’ve read.” When they say this, they almost always shake their heads from side to side. In my case, even if they haven’t read FIRST BLOOD or seen the film based on it, they’ve heard of the character. There are only about 5 action characters that are recognized pretty much anywhere around the world—Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, James Bond, Rambo, and Harry Potter. It’s a strange feeling to have created a character who is in that group. At the same time, whenever Rambo is mentioned in the media or wherever (which is almost every day), it always takes me a moment to remember that I’m the creator of the character—he became so much a part of world culture that he’s like a son who grew up and out of the control of his father. In fact, I sometimes autograph books as Rambo’s father.
2- Rambo was a violent, guilt-ridden character--were you happy with the way Sylvester Stallone handled the complexities of your character on the big screen?
The film FIRST BLOOD went through 5 studios and 26 scripts before Carolco finally produced it with Sylvester Stallone in 1982. Some of the reasons are due to miscasting. While it sounds like a great idea to have Steve McQueen as Rambo, the director who was assigned to that possible production, Sydney Pollack, told me that it took them 3 months of preparation before they realized the fatal flaw—that Steve McQueen was in his mid 40s. In 1975, there weren’t any 45-year-old Vietnam veterans. Other possible productions emphasized the violence of my novel as well as Rambo’s anger, and that caused producers to be hesitant—they wanted to soften the character. Finally the Carolco script by William Sackheim, Michael Kozoll, and Sylvester inserted the scene at the beginning where Rambo speaks to the woman whose son was in Rambo’s Vietnam unit and who died from Agent Orange. The intent was to make Rambo a victim, which is a different interpretation of the character but an effective one for film purposes. Many years later, when Sylvester was preparing the fourth Rambo film, he phoned me and said that he didn’t think any of the previous films truly captured the character as I wrote him and that the fourth film would have more of the angry tone of the original novel. As for Sylvester as Rambo, Richard Crenna told me that in his long career, only two actors really knew what to do in front of a camera, with regard to their eyes and their use of props—they were Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone.
3- What made you decide to publish The Naked Edge and 9 other backlisted novels as Kindle books?
Amazon came to my agent, Jane Dystel, and asked if I’d be interested in offering a lot of my backlist in exclusive Kindle e-book editions. As it happens, I’d been thinking a lot about e-books and the current broken state of publishing. Printed books currently have a shelf life of 6 weeks. The hardback is given 18 months in a warehouse before the copies are remaindered. The paperback lasts a little longer. But an e-book doesn’t go out of print, and in the Amazon Kindle model, it can be available within a minute almost anywhere in the world. Australia, Japan, Germany, France, on and on. It’s mind spinning to think of how quick and easy it is for a reader to have access to an e-book—and I repeat, the access is global, not dependent on creaky warehouse procedures or smoke-spewing delivery trucks. I’m not turning my back on printed books. Not at all. I collect books by certain authors and want signed copies of each one. I love to give books as gifts. I prize the books that are on my shelves. But as an author, I need to realize that it is sometimes difficult for readers to buy physical books. To give one example, I once had a novel for which a warehouse screw-up caused the books to arrive in stores 3 weeks after the publication date, long after my publicity tour and the expense of the print ads and 40 radio interviews that each averaged 20 minutes in length. Then almost immediately the books were shipped back to the warehouse. So much waste. Many other authors have similar stories. To draw attention to the e-books of my backlist, I decided to go all the way with the experiment and add a brand-new, never-before-published novel, THE NAKED EDGE. No established author ever did that before. Then I decided to experiment with the e-book format and add 18 color photographs of fine-art knives that are mentioned in THE NAKED EDGE. These include the most expensive knife in the world, Buster Warenski’s solid-gold replica of King Tut’s dagger. In a printed book, the 18 color photographs would have pushed the price to $50. But in an e-book, that sort of extra material can be added easily and with no extra cost. Similarly, my novel THE TOTEM exists in two drastically different versions. For the e-book, we put both versions together. A printed volume that contained both versions would have been huge and costly. But not the e-book.
4- Amidst all the great reviews on Amazon for The Naked Edge, I noticed one disparaging remark from someone in the print industry who clearly never read the book but used this platform to remark how the digital world is destroying jobs for hard-working individuals. Have you received any flack from people within the industry about your decision--or was this simply a matter of an individual Horse and Buggy driver shaking his fist at a Model T?
Some readers said they were old-fashioned and would always stick with printed books. We’ll see. Current predictions are that e-books will amount to 50% of book sales within the next five years. I personally think it’ll be closer to 60% for e-books and that it’ll happen sooner. When was the last time your readers bought a music CD as opposed to downloading something? On my FACEBOOK page, I did a survey, and the vast majority hadn’t bought a CD in years. Tower Records went out of business. Best Buy and Sam’s Club and the chain sores reduced the space they devote to CDs. The music business is the model I think publishing will follow. I’m not saying this is good or bad. I’m saying it’s reality. As for the one-star review on Amazon, it came from someone who readily admitted that he hadn’t read the book. He said he was in the print industry and that the e-book trend would put him out of a job and that it was un-American. I understood his frustration. In my many years, I’ve never seen cultural changes happening this fast. But I wish he hadn’t condemned a book that he’d never read. That didn’t seem right to me.
5- Your best guess--what does the publishing industry look like in ten years?
Barnes & Noble told mall developers that it was going to reduce the size and number of its physical stores. The model they envision is a kiosk store that emphasizes their Nook e-reader. As the chains downsize, I think we’ll also see more independent bookstores close (some of this is due to atrophy as owners age and retire). After that, I believe that the surviving independent bookstores will do well—because they can offer signed copies of printed books to a dedicated clientele. Audio books will be almost entirely in a download form. E-books will dominate the general market. In that form, distribution will be global even more than it is now. I recently heard from a U.S. soldier in the Persian Gulf. He has a Kindle, on which he can store a thousand books—and he can get those books the day they are published, even those he’s on a remote military base. That’s what he did with THE NAKED DGE. Wow.