Lee Sobel is my new literary agent and thanks to him, I get to be a paid writer again! It happened surprisingly fast which amazed both of us but in fairness, it had a rocky start. He had contacted me out of the blue via Facebook with the following message:
“Hi Dwayne – I’m a literary agent who specializes in pop culture memoirs and biographies. I am currently seeking writers for book projects. I’d like to read your Lee Marvin book to get a sense of your writing. If you already have an agent then disregard this message – otherwise please contact me if you are interested – thank you.”
Since my agent Mike Hamilburg passed away in 2016 I’ve had a lot of false starts trying to get an agent or even solicit projects to publishers on my own. I came close a few times when several university presses showed interest in my proposed Charles Bronson bio but ultimately, the advances offered were too small to live on. Worse, the idea of further researching and writing Bronson’s life and career proved uninspiring, especially those god awful Death Wish movies and other Cannon fodder.
Enter Lee Sobel. After he wrote me, I checked out his website and did some Googling. When I discovered he was not the charlatan some other agents I’ve approached proved to be, I wrote him back. Still, I was wary, as no agent had ever approached me since it was always the other way around. The conversation went smoothly but when I told him about my Bronson project he immediately shot it down. Actually, a good thing in the long run, but his quick dismissal of the project disappointed me. Okay, fast forward a few weeks later. He contacted me again stating he had sold several books about the making of individual films and asked if I’d be interested in something a long those lines. He suggested Point Blank (1967) and this time I shot him down. I immediately suggested The Dirty Dozen, released the same year but a film of Lee Marvin’s I liked MUCH better.
Now we were on to something. I discovered that unlike Mike Hamilburg, whom I adored as a complete mensch, Lee Sobel was very tech savvy. He explained how to go about writing a proposal in an extremely short period of time. For instance, in place of a sample chapter, I should include the section of Lee Marvin Point Blank about The Dirty Dozen. Ingenious move, Mr. Sobel. Still, it was a daunting task considering it took me nearly 20 years to get the Lee Marvin bio to market and Sobel wanted the proposal in one week! Much to my surprise, as well as my girlfriend Barbara, I pulled it off. I sent it to Lee, he tweaked it slightly and according to him, only hours after sending it to Kensington Publishing, he got this response from editor Gary Goldstein:
“I loved Mr. Epstein’s bio of Lee Marvin, thought he did a superb job. When I was publishing Ernie Borgnine’s autobiography in 2008, we talked a lot about Lee Marvin but especially DD……I remember my dad taking me to see DD when it first came out — in fact, he took me to see it a second time a week later and I went back a third and fourth time with my pals…Anyway, would it be possible for Mr. Epstein to knock out an overview of the book? Not a chapter by chapter breakdown but just a description of the events…Several sets of eyes will be perusing the proposal so I’d like it to be comprehensive as possible, especially for those at Kensington who weren’t even born when the movie came out.”
Another daunting task, right? Well the stars were aligned as I had just made contact with a British journalist named Tom Fordy who wrote a great online article on the making of the film. I gleaned his sources and wrote up something of my own as comprehensive as possible. Gave it to Lee who sent it on to Gary. Then the waiting began. In the mean time, I wasn’t sure if what I wrote was up to snuff (which you can read here).
Once again, the stars aligned, but in a very strange way. What happened was my girlfriend and I had to be out of our apartment for several days as our landlord was tenting the building to get rid of the termites. Not being able to access my phone proved to be a good thing. Lee had called several times wanting to tell me of Kensington’s offer. Because I never responded, the offer kept getting better. Finally while checking my e-mail on my laptop at the the library, I got Lee Sobel’s message via e-mail. The last and final offer was the best I ever received…EVER! I whooped out loud, library rules be damned!
Okay, so now, got the contract, received the advance and other than writing this blog, I am thoroughly entrenched in all things Dirty Dozen. “Killin’ Generals: The Making of The Dirty Dozen, The Most Icon WWII Film Ever Made” will be available Father’s Day, 2023 and I could not be happier about it. Thanks again, Lee…Sobel and Lee Marvin!
– Dwayne Epstein