Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why Dan Brown is the Number One Author in the World.

"For Blythe."

I had this dream last night. I was on a ship. I was explaining to the workers around me why I was running this particular division.

"It's because," I said, "I volunteered at the bottom and just made myself useful."

The dream was very detailed as I showed them how, by following orders and being creative, trying to stay out invisible and small, and out of the way of the Captain and the powers that be, I eventually just figured out how to make it all work, by effortlessly utilizing and empowering volunteers.

When I woke up, I had this big smile on my face because the last "scene" in my dream was that I was being secretly slipped down into the kitchen, by other workers on the bottom of the totem pole, to eat some freshly caught fish. And I knew exactly where this dream came from.

It reminded me of a saying from Stephen Mitchell's translation of Lao Tsu:
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Jim was still asleep, so I went over to the couch and began quietly pecking on my keyboard. Holding it up on my lap was Dan Brown's newest book, "The Lost Symbol." I remembered back to the first day I arrived at the now-defunct National Academy of Songwriters. My big goal, at the time, was to learn about the music business. But, for the day, it was just show up and be useful as a volunteer, much like I'm doing at Kulak's Woodshed, helping out on camera 3.

I said to them, that day, in a city swirling with movie moguls and people reaching, desperately, for more and more power, "Might as well give me something to do because I've got nowhere else to go." So, they put me on the front desk answering the 800 line.

A year later, NAS was deeply in debt. Everyone on salary got pink-slipped and they gave me the responsibility to keep the services going, which led to a mad scramble on my part to bring in more volunteers, which led to my giving a desk and a totally made-up title and division, Director of Artistic Development (since we couldn't afford to pay her) to a woman named Blythe who, like me, walked in looking for a way to be useful.

One day, a sweet, shy fellow named Dan Brown walked through her door wanting to learn about the music business, not realizing that that volunteer would one day become his wife.

I've told this story before, and reporters keep contacting me, asking me about "the secrets" to Dan Brown success. But, really, it's not a complicated story. He did it with hard work and with the assistance of a woman who loves him. My part was small.

New York. September 1996. We were doing a staged reading of "The Last Session." I was barely back from the grave. Dan and Blythe, now married and living out east where Dan was teaching at Phillips Exeter Academy, came to listen because Dan loved the song "Going It Alone," and Jim had published his (Jim's) book, "Lucy In The Afternoon," about his days playing backgammon with Lucille Ball (a relationship that began when Jim slipped a script into her mailbox).

Dan approached Jim and said how much he'd love to be a writer, so Jim told him to get up every morning and just write. Dedicate yourself to it and don't stop.

A short time later, out of the blue, we received a book in the mail called "Digital Fortress." In the front, it was signed from Dan, saying how much he was inspired by what we had done.

It was sweet. Little Dan had a book!

We were so happy for the two of them, and they worked their butts off, going from book store to book store, trying to promote it. Sadly, the book didn't sell all that much, but he kept at it. One book after another. They still didn't do all that well, so he changed his agent or his publisher or something and...

One day -- and I remember this day vividly because I was sitting in my doctor's office waiting on some test results -- I picked up the New York Times there on the table in the waiting room, and opened it to a full page ad for a new book called, "The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown," complete with a fantastic review by Janet Maslin. I called Blythe, immediately, and she said, with a giggle and a whisper, "Can you keep a secret? Don't tell anyone, but Dan's next book is going to debut at number one on the NY Times best-seller list."

And the next thing you know, slowly but surely, no matter where we went, there would be someone holding that book. It was on every plane, in every bookstore window. Everywhere. Soon, all his other books were on the shelves next to "The Da Vinci Code" and it just kept going on and on and on.

As we sit here in Washington DC, (another town filled with people fighting for power and position, and, ironically, the setting for "The Lost Symbol," our hotel situated two blocks from the grand Masonic Lodge depicted in the opening sequence, on the same street, 16th street, two blocks from where "Zero Hour" is playing at Theater J), I can't help but marvel at how life can move in such unexpected ways.

On the inside of "The Lost Symbol," there's a single dedication: For Blythe.

Only two words.

But, for me, an entire history which all began the day I showed up in Hollywood with the simple intention of making myself useful, the lowest guy on the lowest totem pole in Hollywood. And who became my "assistant?" Blythe.

And that's how Dan Brown became the number one selling author in the world.
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