Author Interview: Alan Glynn (“Limitless”)

by John Robert Marlow

Alan Glynn, author of Limitless (The Dark Fields) and Winterland

Alan Glynn is author of the novel The Dark Fields, which was adapted and republished as Limitless. The film adaptation, written and produced by Leslie Dixon, earned over $150M at the box office. (Click here for Leslie Dixon interview. Watch the Limitless trailer here.)

Alan is also the author of the novels Winterland (2009) and Bloodland (early 2012). Married with two children, he makes his home in Dublin, Ireland.

JRM: How and why did you come to be a writer—and how did you come to write The Dark Fields?

Alan Glynn: I’ve been a writer in my head since I was a small kid. I never made any contingency plans or trained for anything else, but I’m still constantly amazed that I’ve actually ended up doing it for a living. I think it was literally the feel of a pen in my hand that kicked it all off.

Fast forward a huge chunk of time to about 1999. Up to that point I’d written two novels and about fifteen short stories, all unpublished. Because there was no contingency plan, I just steamed ahead with the next novel, which became The Dark Fields.

The book started as a sort of what-if proposal. Thinking of the performance-enhancing drugs in sports, I thought, what if there were a performance-enhancing drug for businessmen, lawyers, politicians even?

And I worked it out from there. I also liked the idea of exploring a sort of latter-day Jay Gatsby, where the great re-invention of the self was reduced to a pill, a commodity.

NZT: the drug that changes Eddie's life (Limitless)
“Thinking of the performance-enhancing drugs in sports, I thought, what if there were a performance-enhancing drug for businessmen, lawyers, politicians even? I also liked the idea of a sort of latter-day Jay Gatsby, where the great re-invention of the self was reduced to a pill, a commodity.”


JRM: Your agent sold the novel—but how did you get an agent in the first place?

Alan Glynn: It was through a referral by a friend, another writer, who was with him. The agent read the first novel I’d written, liked it and took me on in 1997. He’d had no success placing either of my first two novels. Then he sold The Dark Fields at the very end of 1999.


JRM: What rights did you retain at that time—meaning which rights had you reserved to yourself when doing the book deal with the publisher?

Alan Glynn: I’m afraid my answer to this and to other questions regarding contracts will not be very informative, and may even be shocking to some. That’s because I trust my agent and don’t ask many questions.

Contracts give me a headache, even to look at. I was so happy to get that first deal with a publisher that I would have accepted any terms at all. But it was a fairly standard contract.


JRM: Wow. You know of course, that a great many writers end up in a great deal of trouble by doing precisely those things—signing the first contract put in front of them, and having their agent handle the contract instead of a lawyer.

Though the mere fact of having a reputable agent may well mean that the first contract you saw was already quite a bit better than what they would have sent if you’d had no agent.

Alan Glynn: I suppose I have been very lucky. My agent, Antony Harwood, was with a very well-established agency at the time, Gillon Aitken Associates in London. He negotiated the contract with the publisher, they went back and forth on the details, and then when he was satisfied he presented it to me as a good contract. So technically, I guess it wasn’t the first contract they sent out, but it was the first one I saw.

I did read it and understand what I was signing, but I didn’t have anything to compare it with and was in no real position to question any of the details. As I say, I trust Antony, who now runs his own agency, Antony Harwood Ltd. I’ve been with him for nearly fifteen years, and have never once had a problem or disagreement with him.


JRM: How did the “Limitless” adaptation of The Dark Fields come about?

Alan Glynn: My agent sent it out to various film companies before the book had even been published.


JRM: That’s impressive. Most book agents aren’t very effective at that because they lack the necessary film industry contacts.

Alan Glynn: Antony was very experienced; soon after the book sale, he outlined a strategy to me for submitting it to film companies.


JRM: Can you say how that went?

Alan Glynn: Oh dear, it’s all so long ago, and I don’t really remember much of it. It was spring of 2001. My agent sent it out to quite a few places, and pretty quickly we got expressions of interest from Tribeca and from Scott Rudin. And then from Miramax.

There was a bit of back and forth with each of them, though I don’t remember the details of what went on, but I do remember that Miramax was the only one that eventually made an option offer. It was the first step on a long journey.


JRM: Did you write the book with a movie in mind?

Alan Glynn: No, and I don’t think that’s ever a good strategy. As it turned out, the book was very Hollywood-friendly, and could be pitched in four words: “Viagra for the brain.”

But that wasn’t anything I thought about at the time. My subsequent two books, although similar in style and pacing, are much harder to pitch—at least in shorthand movie terms.

“As it turned out, the book was very Hollywood-friendly, and could be pitched in four words: Viagra for the brain. My subsequent two books, although similar in style and pacing, are much harder to pitch—at least in shorthand movie terms.”

Like a lot of fiction writers these days, I’m hugely influenced by a lifetime of watching movies and TV, and I think the visual grammar of film has worked its way into the DNA of modern prose.

Still, it’s an organic process. If you set out writing a book consciously thinking, this will make a great movie, then I think you’re going about it the wrong way and it probably won’t work.


JRM: So if you do want your book to be a movie—better in your opinion to prepare a book and a screenplay, rather than trying to make the book fit into some kind of Hollywood mold?

Alan Glynn: Maybe I’m wrong, and I can only speak for myself, but if you’re thinking of the movie before you’ve even written the book, you’ve got it ass-backwards. It means you’re allowing market considerations to shape what you’ll write, and that can only end in tears.

Novel writing is a massively complex, organic process that has to be allowed to breathe and transform itself as it goes along. You can’t rein it in as you write it, with the a priori requirements of its own screen adaptation.

If you want to write a movie, write a movie. Having said that, there could be a new synergistic paradigm out there, where book and movie are developed in tandem. I’ve heard people talk about that.


JRM: That paradigm is where I live and breathe. By the way—who came up with “Viagra for the brain?”

Alan Glynn: I’d like to say I did, but I actually think it was someone else. Can’t remember who, though. But I did come up with an even shorter pitch, three words: “a pharmaceutical Faust”.


JRM: I like them both—but of course more people know “Viagra” than “Faust.” For whatever that says about our time. Can you say what the option was like—was it one of those legendary one-dollar options, or was it something that actually paid some bills?

Alan Glynn: Bearing in mind that these things are always relative, and that I hadn’t yet been published or ever earned a penny from writing, and was forty years old, it paid some serious bills. And with option renewals every eighteen months or so for the following few years, it went on paying bills. Smaller ones, but bills are bills.


JRM: Can you say what the original book deal was like?

Alan Glynn: It was a one-book deal, worth about ten thousand pounds ($27,000) in 1999. Today, that would actually be pretty good for a first novel. But back then big advances were more common, and I had higher expectations.

But big advances can also be very dangerous, so it worked out well for me. With that deal and the movie option and some good translation-rights deals for The Dark Fields, I was able to give up my TESL day job.


JRM: TESL—teaching English as a second language?

Alan Glynn: Yes, which I did in Italy for five years and then back in my home town of Dublin for another seven.


JRM: You say that big advances can be dangerous. Most writers hope for those—so what are the dangers?

Alan Glynn: Well, a big advance is obviously great, and if I’d gotten one back in 2001 I’d have been very happy indeed. But they can bring enormous pressures, too.

If you don’t earn out your advance in sales, which can be extremely hard to do, then that can be the end. It can mean no one will go near your next book. And if the advance is for two books, the second book can suffer from the poor performance of the first, in terms of how much the publisher gets behind it.

A modest advance gives you some cover. The ideal, I suppose, is to make money on royalties rather than on an advance. If you do earn out your advance, and exceed it, then that’s a whole different ball game. But there are many examples out there of big advances being the last the world ever hears of certain writers.


JRM: How was the book doing before the Limitless movie came out, and what effect did the film have on book sales, your career, and your life in general? Can you paint before-and-after pictures?

Alan Glynn: Up until early 2008, I was fairly miserable and losing hope of ever being published again. The Dark Fields was very well reviewed when it first came out, but it didn’t sell particularly well.

After that I wrote a novel called The Paloma Stripe, but couldn’t find a publisher for it. Then I wrote another novel called Winterland, and initially we couldn’t find a publisher for that either.

The Dark Fields had gone out of print around 2006, and the possibility of a movie being made of it was the one hope I was clinging to, but even that seemed to be receding.

I even had negative thoughts about what might happen if it did get made, first worrying that the movie wouldn’t be any good, and second thinking that, even if it was good, what kind of a personal success would it be, given that it would be based on work I’d written a decade before?

And what about The Paloma Stripe and Winterland, the two novels I’d written since? So my worldview at the time was quite negative and bleak.

“I was fairly miserable and losing hope of ever being published again. The book had gone out of print around 2006, and the possibility of a movie being made of it was the one hope I was clinging to, but even that seemed to be receding. So my worldview at the time was quite negative and bleak.”

Eddie before NZT (Limitless)

Then early in 2008, an editor in New York, John Schoenfelder, bought the US rights to Winterland, and soon after that Faber in London bought the UK and Commonwealth rights. Those developments immediately changed my circumstances and my frame of mind.

And then Bradley Cooper signed on to do the movie, and the future began to look very bright indeed.

Also, as a consequence of the movie going ahead with Bradley, I signed new book deals with Faber and Picador, to republish The Dark Fields—which ultimately appeared under the title “Limitless” to match the film title.

In November 2009, Winterland was published to great reviews, so even before the movie came out I was a happy, well-adjusted and, most important of all, published author again.

The publicity surrounding the movie raised my profile considerably. That and sales of the re-issued Limitless novel as a film tie-in have helped tremendously with promoting my other books.

Unless you’re in the major leagues, your books generally don’t get advertised in a mainstream way. And suddenly I was watching a tv spot for the Limitless movie, playing during the Super Bowl. It was sort of a collateral ad for the book, but it was pretty extraordinary.


JRM: And then of course everyone who sees the movie sees “based on your novel” up on the screen.

Alan Glynn: Yes and that, for me, was the best frame in the whole movie. Big thrill. And it definitely sends people out to bookstores.

“Unless you’re in the major leagues, your books generally don’t get advertised in a mainstream way. And suddenly I’m watching a tv spot for the Limitless movie, playing during the Super Bowl. And the movie definitely sends people out to bookstores.”


JRM: What was your level of involvement, if any, in the adaptation itself—the process of turning the book into a screenplay?

Alan Glynn: I had no direct involvement. [Screenwriter/producer] Leslie Dixon asked me a few questions at the beginning, to clarify certain points, but that was it. I knew she “got” the book and wasn’t going to turn it into a musical or a romantic comedy, so I wasn’t worried in the slightest.


JRM: Movies seldom wind up what the original author envisioned. How satisfied were you with the completed film?

Alan Glynn: I was very satisfied indeed. In some respects it’s very faithful to the book, and in other respects it goes its own way. Which is fine.

The thing is, if you think you’re saying something or making a point in a book you’ve written, you’d be foolish to expect a movie version to say exactly the same thing or make exactly the same point.

There are some things in the movie I’d like to change, but that’s hardly a surprise. When I first saw it, sitting at the premiere in New York, I absolutely loved it, and found the whole experience exhilarating. My attitude has always been that it’s my book, their movie.


JRM: I understand the premiere had a rather unusual guest, who also did a promotional spot for the film, in which he attributes his success to the same drug used in the movie: NZT.

Alan Glynn: Yes, I turned around at one point and saw this aging, Christ-like figure a few rows behind me, with a blonde beard and flowing locks. At first I thought, who is that? And then the penny dropped, and I realized it was billionaire Richard Branson, whose company Virgin Produced helped finance the film. That was pretty wild.

“I was very satisfied with the movie. In some respects it’s very faithful to the book, and in other respects it goes its own way. But you’d be foolish to expect a movie version to say exactly the same thing or make exactly the same point that you did in the book. ”


JRM: What did you think of the new title, Limitless?

Alan Glynn: At first, I was very unhappy with it. I love the original title, The Dark Fields. It’s taken from the last page of The Great Gatsby, and speaks to certain themes in the book. But I got used to Limitless pretty quickly, and given the changes they made, in a way it actually makes more sense as a title for the film.

My main problem with the title change was that it meant the publishers were going to re-issue the book under the new title. That’s really a pity, as far as I’m concerned, because for book itself, “Limitless” doesn’t make as much sense as “The Dark Fields” at all. I’m also now saddled with the slight practical confusion that arises from having a book with two titles.


JRM: Well, the way Vikas Swarup explained it to me, when I asked about the title of his novel Q & A being changed to Slumdog Millionaire for the movie tie-in book, he said he was ready to call a lawyer.

Until it was explained to him that people who’ve never heard of his book will see the movie, see that it was based on a book, and then walk into bookstores asking for the Slumdog Millionaire book. And the bookstore clerks would say, “I’m sorry, but there is no book called Slumdog Millionaire.”

So he could stick with the original title and lose all of those sales, or he could live with the new title and make a pile of money. After careful reflection, he decided he could live with it.

Alan Glynn: Yes. I was never going to lawyer up over it. First, because it was in the contract that they could change the title, and second, the logic you outlined above was clear.

It’s just a pity they had to change it in the first place. The marketing folks like to think of the testing they do as an exact science, but I think it’s more like William Goldman territory—no one knows anything.


JRM: Many authors find that because there are caps on earnings—maximum amounts on the film side—a successful adaptation brings them more money through increased book sales than they make from the movie deal. Would you say that’s true of your situation?

Eddie's Maserati (Limitless)
“Given that I sold the rights as a total unknown, I’ve done very well out of the film.”

Alan Glynn: Not so far. Given that I sold the rights ten years ago, and as a total unknown, I’ve done very well out of the film. Increased book sales have been significant, but they haven’t been spectacular. These things are hard to quantify, though, and it may prove different over the long haul.


JRM: Regarding increased book sales—as it was out of print for five or six years, one might say the movie brought the book back from the dead.

Alan Glynn: Yes, absolutely. Lazarus-like. I always felt that it should have done better the first time round. The central idea really appeals to people, and everyone I’ve spoken to who’s read the book seems to love it.

What a movie does, is bring more people to the book, make them aware of it and give them a chance to read it, and then hopefully my other books as well. I’m very glad that the book has had a second chance. It doesn’t often happen, and I realize I’m quite lucky in that regard.


JRM: Here’s another effect of the movie: when I searched your original hardcover on amazon and ebay, it was going for $148. I decided to go with the movie tie-in. But if you’ve got a box of those things, now might be a good time to divest. After all—yours will be signed…

Alan Glynn: I’ve given quite a few away, but what I’ve got left I’m keeping for my sons. Though who knows . . . one day, when I’m down on my luck. I’ve just checked on Amazon and one seller is asking $498.52


JRM: How do your film-side earnings compare with your book-side earnings, generally speaking if you don’t care to get into specifics?

Alan Glynn: No, I’d rather not get into specifics. I can say that the original movie rights option, the various option renewals and then the eventual buy-out on the first day of principal photography, all added together, exceed anything I’ve ever earned on the book side.

But then, unless you’re in the big leagues, there’s very little money in books. And though my earnings from the movie deal were great and I’m not complaining for a second, it’s still peanuts compared to what other major players involved in the movie get.

There would be no movie without the book and yet, relatively speaking, they don’t have to pay that much to acquire the book—mainly because most writers are poor and happy to accept the first offer that comes along.


JRM: What was the whole, first-time Hollywood experience like?

Alan Glynn: Generally, it was great. For the nearly ten years that the film was in development, everything was filtered through Leslie Dixon. My only direct contact with the whole process was visiting the set, attending the premiere, and meeting [star] Bradley Cooper and [director] Neil Burger, all of which was wonderful and stress-free.

The whole protracted, stop-start, ten-year thing, though, was a bit of a bummer, even from the remove I was at. I don’t know how people can work in the movie industry and stay sane. And the answer to that, of course, is that they probably don’t.

Having said that, everyone I met was very nice and friendly. But that’s possibly because I posed no threat to anyone. I have heard some horror stories, stuff that would be nightmarish to be involved in but was extremely entertaining to hear about.


JRM: And Leslie Dixon?

Alan Glynn: I was very lucky with Leslie, lucky to have hooked up with someone who was so tenacious and committed to the project. And also someone who, being a writer herself, was so sympathetic to the needs and anxieties of a fellow writer.

She kept me informed of everything that was going on all through the process, which I believe is pretty unusual. She was very sensitive to what I’d think about everything—script decisions she’d made, casting choices, who’d direct and so on.

Also, I knew from the beginning that she understood the book and wanted to be as faithful to it as possible. I trusted her and we became friends, and even if it’s the only thing we ever work on together, we’ll always be friends.

It was a long, often painful process, but we came out intact, never had a cross word, and ended up with a movie we’re both proud of.


JRM: Had you ever thought of writing the screenplay yourself?

Alan Glynn: No. When you write a novel you live with it so intimately and for so long that the idea of going back to it, deconstructing it and putting it back together again in another form just seems nightmarish-to me at least. When I finish a book, I want to move on.


JRM: Many of the people reading this will be book authors who intend to sell film rights, or adapt the book themselves or with the help of someone else and then sell the screenplay. Do you have any thoughts on the best route to pursue in getting your book or other story adapted for the screen?

Alan Glynn: I don’t really know. My experience is so limited that I would hesitate to offer advice. But I think it’s generally accepted that writing a screenplay, original or adapted, and then trying to sell it on spec is a pretty tough road to go down.

Doing it this way, you also tend to become very attached to your work, and precious about it, so that when—if you’re lucky—a studio or producer comes in and starts tearing it apart and making changes, you may find it all that more difficult to stomach.

I’d imagine working from the position of a deal or agreement/understanding with a producer first is a better, more practical place to start.


JRM: Ah, but do you think there’s a danger there—particularly if you’ve made no effort to render the book deliberately cinematic, or if the book doesn’t just happen to be fairly cinematic on its own terms—as Dark Fields was—that the producer or whomever won’t “see” the movie in the book? Whereas they might well see the movie in the screenplay.

Alan Glynn: Sure, a script is a big step closer to a movie, assuming you or someone you’re working with has a clear idea of what’s possible and practical and it has a real chance of being made. Otherwise you’re working in a vacuum.

“A script is a big step closer to a movie, assuming you or someone you’re working with has a clear idea of what’s possible and practical. Otherwise you’re working in a vacuum.”

Eddie hard at work (Limitless)

The other route is to pitch the book or idea to a producer before you write the whole screenplay, though I’m not sure how practical that is these days.


JRM: It’s tough. I spoke with [Limitless screenwriter/producer] Leslie just the other day, and one of the things she pointed out was that, because of the economy and the high cost of turning pitches into screenplays, there’s not a whole lot of interest in “development” anymore.

Unless you’ve already got a bestselling property or some kind of name brand on your hands, they want to see the finished product, meaning the screenplay. It’s gotten to the point where Sony recently announced that they wouldn’t even look at pitches for a time, only complete screenplays. Basically, the studios are cutting their development budgets and shifting the time and cost burden of development onto the seller.

Alan Glynn: That’s interesting, and Leslie would certainly know a lot more about this than I would. As I writer, I actually prefer the idea of finishing a screenplay in splendid isolation and then sending it out.

It’s just that, if you sell it, unlike with novels, you’re almost certainly guaranteed the heartache of seeing your work twisted and changed out of all recognition, and multiple times. I’m not sure I’d have the stomach for that.


JRM: As Leslie says, “Welcome to my world.” She likens it to selling a house that someone else remodels. At least you get a fabulous price for the house. I guess a rights sale is more like selling the lot: nice view, good neighborhood—but someone’s still got to build the house.

At least you still have the book, which reflects your own vision, regardless of script changes.

Alan Glynn: Yes, and I think it was Robert Harris who used that house selling analogy as well, about selling the movie rights to your book, and how if you sell your house you can’t very well come back in six months and complain to the new owners about how they’ve rearranged the furniture or decorated the bathroom.

The difference, as you point out, is that the original book remains intact and available, whereas the original script often remains in a drawer, which maybe goes some way to explaining the “fabulous price” Leslie refers to.

From what you and Leslie have said I actually find it quite encouraging that the quickest route into the movie business right now seems to be via a strong, completed and fully realized script.

“I find it quite encouraging that the quickest route into the movie business right now seems to be via a strong, completed and fully realized script.”

Regardless of what may happen later, I think from a creative point of view that’s a healthy environment for writers to be working in.


JRM: Do you have another book in the works and, if so, how has the Limitless adaptation affected your next book deal—assuming you know at this point?

Alan Glynn: I have a new novel out in September 2011 with Faber and in early 2012 with Picador USA. It’s called Bloodland, and is a sort of sequel to Winterland. I am also contracted for a third book, Graveland —the last in what will be a loose trilogy.

These deals were made well before the Limitless movie was released, so the selling price wasn’t really affected—but they were certainly informed by and helped by the whole movie and book tie-in situation. It’s difficult to quantify, but it’s clear there was some degree of synergy going on between the two areas.

My next deal, theoretically, in a year or so, will most likely be based on how well Bloodland and Graveland do, and I reckon that by that stage Limitless will be ancient history, at least as far as its heat-seeking powers are concerned.


JRM: Do you also reckon that the sales of those books will be higher because the film has made more readers aware of your works?

Alan Glynn: Sure. Generally speaking, I can say that getting the adaptation made, from a practical business point of view and over the long term, has been the most significant and lucrative event in my career as a writer.

Enhanced Eddie, on NZT (Limitless)
“Getting the adaptation made, from a practical business point of view and over the long term, has been the most significant and lucrative event in my career as a writer.”

But it’s also true to say that if the book wasn’t any good, and if the film had turned out to be a turkey, then the deal, all along, simply wouldn’t have been anywhere near as significant and lucrative as it has proved to be. If that makes sense.

In other words, an option doesn’t automatically mean success. And other essential but hard-to-pin-down factors need to be in play as well.


JRM: I can see where it makes sense on the book side, if that’s what you mean; a bad book wouldn’t have been optioned, and a bad movie isn’t going to sell a lot of books, even good ones.

But on the film side, where you’ve so far made far more than you have on the book side, the typical deal is to pay you most if not all of that money no later than the first day of principal photography. So it seems you’d have made the same amount of money–on the film side–even if the movie had been a complete disaster, instead of the brilliant film it is. Because you’re paid before it ever comes out.

Alan Glynn: I see what you mean, and I suppose it’s true. What I really mean is that if the book wasn’t any good in the first place, I doubt that it would have been pursued as tenaciously as it was, over such a long period of time.

The option might not have been renewed so many times, and there might not have been so many other producers waiting in the wings to pick up the rights if they became available.

And there were; I had many lunches where I was courted and pitched to within an inch of my life. There’s a motor in the book, and in Leslie’s script, that I think kept the project alive. And that went a long distance towards ensuring that it was going to get made into a movie one way or another.

I can imagine a situation where a less dynamic book gets optioned, but then sinks into the quicksand of development, never to be heard from again.


JRM: Do you have any particular work habits or environments that you
adhere to or find helpful?

Alan Glynn: Frank O’Connor’s advice to writers was, ‘Glue your arse to the seat’, and that’s about it, really. I have two small children and live in a small house, so helpful environments conducive to writing are hard to come by.

Just get it done however you can. I listen to instrumental music, jazz, soundtracks, modern classical. I get up early. Drink coffee. Nap frequently. Who wants to hear any of this?


JRM: Writers looking to learn how pros find their groove.

Alan Glynn: Okay, and I’m actually always fascinated to hear how other writers answer these questions. Working as a writer requires enormous self-discipline, because it is so easy to get distracted, or to get caught up in displacement activities.

And unless you are a naturally self-disciplined type of person—which I am not—this can lead to a lot of self-recrimination, and even self-loathing.

But I think one important thing to remember—even if this sounds like a rationalization for loafing—is that your subconscious does a lot of the work for you, and sometimes it has to be given space.

Writing a novel or screenplay is a 24/7 job. You’re never off, so you sometimes have to allow for some latitude in defining what your official so-called “working hours” are.


JRM: For those new to this whole thing, as far as adaptation or the film
world, what are your perceptions on the difference between the book
and film worlds?

Alan Glynn: Again my experience is limited, but I’d say very different. My experiences with book publishers so far have been uniformly positive.

The editors and publishers I’ve met have all been smart and passionate about books, respectful of writers and generally a sane bunch. Sales and marketing people in publishing do what sales and marketing people do, okay, but nothing too extreme.

My personal experiences with film people have actually been fine, too, but that’s because I’ve never been on the front lines. What I understand from war stories I’ve heard, however, is that it’s a pretty brutal and insane world to work in, especially if you’re a writer, a schmuck with an Underwood.

There is simply no respect for writers. So don’t expect any. I think it has to do with the budgets movies require. With that kind of money at stake, hard-nosed producers and studio honchos aren’t going to listen to some lousy writer.

Plus, there are so many other people involved, alpha personality types, the director, the DP, the actors. In publishing it’s really just you and your editor, so they can’t very well ignore you, and it makes more sense anyway if you get on well.


JRM: When first-time authors signs a standard publisher’s contract, they sometimes fail to realize they’re signing away rights to or income from film, multimedia, merchandising sales—things that might be important down the road if Hollywood takes an interest, because studios want those rights. Was this any kind of an issue for you?

Alan Glynn: No, and that’s because, as I said before, I have a very good, attentive agent who I trust completely. He was familiar with all of these aspects and wouldn’t have let me needlessly sign anything away.


JRM: Were there any surprises for you in the specifics of the film deal?

Alan Glynn: Not really. Though at one point I naively believed that my back-end net points actually meant something. Then I read David Mamet’s famous declaration, ‘There is no net’ and I wised up.


JRM: Having been through the adaptation process now, what would you say are the most important things for a book author or other creator or rights-holder to know going into the situation, or pursuing a film adaptation or responding to someone pursuing their property for an adaptation?

Alan Glynn: It’s a complex area, and the only advice I can give, based on my experience, is to get a good agent who knows what they’re doing, who can explain stuff to you and answer your questions. Of course you have to find an agent you can really trust, and I realize that’s probably easier said than done.


JRM: Given what you know now, if faced with the same situation today—an option offer—is there anything you’d do differently?

Alan Glynn: No.


JRM: If you could go back to a time before the big doors opened, before the success of the book and the movie, and talk to yourself, what advice would you give?

Alan Glynn: I’d tell myself not to get too excited, and not to expect anything to happen in a hurry, and not to waste time waiting around for stuff to happen, for phone calls or emails, but to get on with other work.


JRM: I do have one gripe about the book [huge book spoiler coming in next two questions]: in the end, you kill Eddie.

Alan Glynn: Yeah, Eddie dies. The movie is sort of post-Empire, in the current Brett Easton Ellis sense of the phrase—a just-say-yes, consequence-free rollercoaster ride—whereas the book is maybe more traditionally Empire; a morality tale, a Faustian pact where Eddie ultimately has to pay.


JRM: And yet we don’t actually see him die. Which begs the question…

Alan Glynn: Yes, I have thought of doing a sequel.


JRM: Where can I score some NZT—or MDT, as it’s called in the book?

Alan Glynn: At a reading I did at Partners & Crime in New York when the book first came out someone asked me this question and I said that I would be filling out prescriptions after the Q&A. Which got a laugh. But I do get the question a lot, and I wish I had a satisfactory answer.

On the imdb discussion board for the movie there are endless debates about what NZT might really be, Adderall, Ritalin, Provigil, ecstasy, caffeine, whatever. I chose the name MDT-48 quite carefully, to reflect or subtly suggest MDA, MDMA, DMT and LSD-25.

I chose the 48 because of Bach’s well-tempered Clavier, the 48, to suggest complexity, structure and beauty. But it’s obviously made-up shit. Custom made for the story.

I did do a lot of research—a great book I read was Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens—but when it came to it the drug was purely a product of my imagination.

So where can you score some? I’ll be selling vials of my blood after the interview…


Author photo courtesy Alan Glynn / Limitless movie stills owned by Relativity Media


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