Where there's a Will

Will Clarke has a deal with a New York publisher and a Hollywood studio, and it only took him eight years to become an overnight success

Roy asked Clarke to send her Lord Vishnu after the conference, and, like most everyone else who comes in contact with it, adored the thing--so much so, she hooked him with New York agent Jenny Bent, who has quite a few clients who self-published before getting picked up by the big publishing houses.

"It's often the most interesting, the most intelligent, the most quirky books that need to be self-published before New York publishers can see their merits," Bent says. "New York publishing is done by committee. The editor has to like it, then the sales director and the publisher has to like it, and that takes a lot, and if there's something strange or unusual about the book, it's hard to pass through the committee. So it needs to be self-published so it can get a track record and prove itself before New York can go, 'It's successful, now we get it.'"

And it didn't hurt that just as New York was getting interested, so, too, were a few people in Hollywood.

Clarke hands out Vishnu finger puppets at book 
Clarke hands out Vishnu finger puppets at book signings.
Denise Roy, an editor at Simon & Schuster, brought Clarke on after meeting him at a writers' conference.
Marion Ettlinger
Denise Roy, an editor at Simon & Schuster, brought Clarke on after meeting him at a writers' conference.

Ultimately, this is as much a story about coincidence as it a tale of tenacity, which seems only appropriate when discussing a book about karma, of which Travis Anderson says toward the end of Lord Vishnu's Love Handles, "I've had enough of that shit to last a couple of lifetimes."

Take Ann Asprodites, a woman from New Orleans Clarke met at a Christmas party in 2003. Asprodites, who represents commercial directors, was in Dallas for a shindig being thrown by the Association of Independent Commercial Producers at the Hall of State in Fair Park when she met Clarke, who was there representing DDB. They got to talking, she mentioned how much she loved to read, he mentioned how he'd written a book, and next thing you know she's online buying a copy of Lord Vishnu. "It's cool to read a book written by somebody you know," she says. "And it turned out to be the most original novel I'd read in a long, long time."

Asprodites was so taken with the novel she gave it to her friend Grant Morris, a New Zealand screenwriter whose credits include The Return of the Swamp Thing and The Shrimp on the Barbie (the latter being so awful the director took his name off it). She wanted to know if he thought it would make a good movie. Morris, too, fell in love with it--"I thought it was extremely funny, original, well-written and clever," he says now--but told Asprodites surely someone's already making it into a movie. Nope, she told him, and gave him Clarke's number, which he dialed immediately to feel out the writer's interest in having his book turned into a screenplay.

"I guess I am to blame for it, happily," Asprodites says. "All this stuff could not have happened to a nicer person than Will. We've become really good friends."

So, he owes you, then?

"Not at all. I'm a firm believer in karma. This was supposed to happen."

To prove he was on the level, Morris sent Clarke an unmade screenplay called Comeback, about an imprisoned country singer stricken with Alzheimer's who's trying to get released before he can no longer perform. Clarke isn't a fan of screenplays--"they read like instructions to a story," he says--but liked Comeback. Still, he says, he kept blowing off Morris, who was not so easily dismissed. Finally, in February 2004, he sold Morris the option to the novel. For a buck.

"Will was crazy enough to trust me with it," Morris says. "We've only spent a number of hours together, but he's a great guy and easy to talk to and extremely intelligent and well-read, a fuckin' academic. He's a smart guy. He knows a lot of stuff. And he was very trusting. He's a very vibe-y guy. He goes on a vibe and got the vibe this would be a good thing and took a chance."

Morris then sent the book to his agent and manager, who began approaching Hollywood producers about turning Lord Vishnu into a film. Several were interested but wanted to know how Morris could turn so rich, dense and complex a narrative into a two-hour movie that could play the mega- mall googolplex. So, each time, Morris would go in and deliver his 35-minute pitch, and more often than not he'd be greeted by the same thing: wide grins and blank stares. They liked it but were also terrified of it.

"You have to be able to break down a complex and wild story like Will's that contains elements of comedy and modern relationships and the Hindu religion and metaphysical underpinnings and turn it into a movie with specific requirements," Morris says of his pitch. "It's like writing a song with a verse and a chorus. A movie has a beginning, middle and end in a specific structure, and you have to demonstrate to people putting up the money you can turn a wild story into something that has a structure as a film. I wanted to show this is a nothing more than the story of an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation."

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