The SETI Story-Idea to 3-Book Anthology


Evolution of a Story

From Idea-Screenplay-Manuscript-Book


Frederick Fichman


I’m going to tell you a story about Evolution. Not about single-cell aquatic creatures evolving into human beings. No, this is a tale about how a single story idea evolved and flourished. It grew into a screenplay optioned by a major Hollywood studio to a  print book published by two major international publishing companies to eBooks published and now available on Kindle, Nook, and the Apple iBookstore. In fact, that single story idea turned into an anthology of all three books published as the anthology volume, “The SETI Trilogy.”

Before Carl Sagan and after Albert Einstein there was a generation of physicists who changed life on earth as we know it. Phillip Morrison was one of those physicists. He was one of the creators of the atomic bomb, working directly under J. Robert Oppenheimer. In the back seat of a Dodge sedan, July 1945, he was in the New Mexico desert carrying the nuclear core of the Trinity test device to the test site of the world’s first nuclear detonation. He was a leader in the Project Alberta pit crew in the South Pacific on Tinian Island as that crew loaded the atomic bombs destined for history, targeted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war he became a voice for nuclear nonproliferation, he published papers that established gamma ray astronomy, and he won numerous accolades and recognition throughout his career.

He eventually became a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. With physicist Giuseppe Cocconi he published an article in the serious academic British science journal, “Nature”, titled, “Searching for Interstellar Communications.” It was the birth of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

From this work a worldwide search for alien radio signals in the electromagnetic spectrum is currently underway. And from his work astronomers with the help of radio and optical telescopes on the ground and in space have to-date discovered well over a thousand candidate extraterrestrial planets.

As a beginning screenplay writer, working in the corporate world at ABC-TV studios in Hollywood, I read about his work in the mid-1980’s and came to the immediate conclusion that somehow this electrifying search could be turned into a fascinating dramatic fictional story for film.

I developed a storyline, a set of characters, learned how to format and write a screenplay…and I wrote the screenplay, “SETI.” Because of my knowledge of how Hollywood worked I was able to get my screenplay in front of Producer Shel Schrager who was flush with his success from the then recently released “The Karate Kid.” I got an option for feature film development from Columbia Studios and I did several re-writes per his notes and suggestions. Then suddenly, Columbia Pictures gets sold, studio head David Putnam leaves and with him his slate of films, including “SETI.”

Disappointed, I still believed that the story and subject were solid. I was determined to turn the screenplay into a novel. Working days, writing nights for six months that is exactly what I did. The result, my manuscript, “SETI,” was published by the ROC imprint of Penguin USA in the U.S. and Canada. It was then picked up by Headline Press in London for the U.K. and Australia.

On my initial trip to New York to meet my editor at ROC we discussed my work on the manuscript for book number two in the SETI trilogy. I will never forget one minor piece of info the editor was giving me while we were in the middle of an intersection crossing some incredibly busy street in New York. He told me at that moment in the publication cycle the initial first print of “SETI” was selling better than Stephen King’s first printing of his book, “Carrie.” I stopped cold in that busy intersection stunned at the astonishing news my first book was selling better than Stephen King’s first book. I had to be dragged by the editor to the sidewalk to avoid being run over. I thought this was it, I was on my way.

Flash forward, ROC culls its list of books and authors and I am on that list.

I can’t tell you how exciting and exhilarating it is to see your book on the bookshelf in a Covent Garden mammoth bookstore in London. Stacked neatly, ten copies across. Your book. Your title. Your name. And to have it suddenly come to an end for some inexplicable reason is the antipode, the exact opposite of that feeling.

Book number two, “SETI, The Journey, had been copy-edited and was ready for press at Roc, Penguin USA. But now, the party was over.

I retreated and never gave up on my story and my dream to finish my SETI trilogy.

Flash forward again to the eBook revolution and thank the heavens above for Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Kindle starts up and the eBook publishing world explodes. I seized the opportunity and digitally published book number one, “SETI,” book number two, “SETI, The Journey,” and book number three, “SETI, Conception” and finally and recently an anthology of all three books into one volume, “The SETI Trilogy.”

A single idea, a single article from physicist Phillip Morrison set me on a long journey to fulfill my dreams to become a published author, with many more books as well. It also has made me remember and silently thank a boss I once had at ABC-TV who heard of my fledgling writing career. He gave me a great piece of advice I recall again and again to this day. He told me never hold onto a dream so tightly that no one else can see it, share it and experience it. Be bold and show it to the world.

I thought about those words of wisdom over the years. Without them, my creation of “The SETI Trilogy” would have never happened.

–Frederick Fichman is author of 25 books and can be found on Amazon Kindle, BarnesandNoble Nook, KOBO and the Apple iBookstore.