Jay Bonansinga: A Prolific Author, Mensch, and A Literary Representative’s Dream.
Sometime back in 1993, I received a phone call from a Chicago-based filmmaker and author, Jay Bonansinga. He had just seen me on the Joan Rivers show and felt the urge to contact me. I’ve been working with Jay ever since that day, now going on 28 years. I had no idea I’d end representing some twenty books (or more) and film deals for him.
Jay was writing a script at the time — White Noise — which my associate then, Jennifer Robinson, and I read with interest. Unfortunately, we didn’t take it on. In communicating with Jay, he explained to me that he was a filmmaker, but also wanted to be a novelist. He had a couple of ideas and was working on his first novel, The Black Mariah, a pedal to the metal thriller with a perpetual motion motor. It sounded riveting.
The following summer, I had planned an African safari in Kenya with my wife at the time, Giselle. Coincidentally, Jay had just finished the first draft of the Black Mariah. I took the manuscript with me. In these days, we didn’t have e-readers, and all books were read in manuscript form by literary representatives and publishing editors. I’ll never forget this trip. I had been to Africa once before, but never on a safari. One of the most memorable things about it was that Giselle and I had to drop off our then 3 ½-year-old daughter Liseanne in Fort Worth, Texas, with her grandparents. We would then travel to London and Nairobi to begin our two-week-long safari.
I started reading the novel during the flights, and couldn’t put it down. Jay’s first novel, like almost every novel that he’s written, was a nail biter. He always creates a fantastic, fuel-injected motor within his stories, and has a unique talent in creating page-turning, entertaining fiction. I remember after reading his fourth novel Head Case, I called him up and yelled at him. I said,
“Dude, I have a bone to pick with you. You kept me up all night. I couldn’t put your book down!”
I guess that’s the best thing a literary rep can say to any author, and I’m proud to say that Jay is an active, accomplished, and prolific author that never stops.
In addition to his abilities as a novelist, he’s an accomplished screenwriter and filmmaker, and is presently adapting the late, great Stan Lee’s last remaining unproduced/unpublished work into a series of novels. I’m pleased to say that Jay’s first novel, The Black Mariah, wound up being a two-book deal at what was then called Warner Books, now Hachette. We had the pleasure of working with a senior editor there, Rick Horgan, and his accomplice in literary crimes, Mauro DiPreta. Rick is currently an executive editor at Scribner and Mauro is the Senior V.P. at William Morrow.
We made a substantial movie deal on The Black Mariah with New Line Cinema with an up and coming executive, Mike DeLuca, now the chairman of MGM. The film was to be directed by the brilliant director of Night of the Living Dead, George Romero. I had arranged for us to be represented by WME, and Jon Sheinberg (Sid Sheinberg’s son, former head of Universal Pictures) and he co-wrote the first draft script with Preston Whitmore. Jay and Preston did a fabulous job, and this was indeed a true thriller that should have been made, but for whatever reason was lost in development hell. I made several other movie deals for Jay, including one for The Killer’s Game, which has now been in development for over 22 years. When Jay told me he wanted to write this book, he sent me a one-pager and once again created a nail biter. I told him to go for it.
We made our second two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, in tandem with a terrific editor named Bob McKoy. We still await the film’s production. I’m partnered with the prolific Andrew Lazar (Mad Chance Productions) and in the last incarnation of this production, DJ Caruso was going to direct it. The lead was going to be played by Dave Bautista. We still hope this film gets made.
Jay is a versatile writer, and also writes brilliant nonfiction, and two that I particularly love. The first is The Sinking of the Eastland, about a ferry boat that capsized on Lake Michigan in 1915, was an award-winning book. Jay’s 2004 historical narrative, THE SINKING OF THE EASTLAND, received national acclaim as well as the certificate of merit from the Illinois State Historical Society, ultimately becoming the source for the hit musical, EASTLAND, staged in Chicago by the Tony-award winning theater company, Lookingglass. Jay has also participated as an expert “talking head” in the new PBS documentary feature “Chicago’s Deadliest Day” about the Eastland disaster.
The second is an amazing book is about Alan Pinkerton, called Pinkerton’s War: The Civil War’s Greatest Spy and the Birth of the U.S. Secret Service, which we’re discussing turning into a television series.
Not only is Jay a great writer, but many people would call him a mensch. He’s an all-around terrific guy, an accomplished musician, and fun to work with. I’m grateful for talent like Jay Bonansinga because working with seasoned professional authors is a literary representative’s dream come true. So thank you, Jay, for allowing me the opportunity to represent you over so many years, and this little homage to you is a celebration of our working together. May we be making deals forever
I invite you to learn more about Jay Bonansinga and walk through one of the most prolific authors I’ve ever managed.