Earlier today, Sarah Weinman tweeted a link to a fascinating article about an author who lived in invented worlds of his own imagination. I'm not talking merely about getting in touch with characters, I'm talking about creating your own life out of fiction--sporting accomplishments, educational achievements, publishing and film successes--in an effort to sell a book.
When I saw who the subject of the article was, I couldn't help but laugh. I'd actually had my own run in with him half a decade ago. Then, on page three of the article, I saw that my interactions were a part of the story.
Here is that article, as written by Thomas Mullen for Atlanta Magazine.
For the rest of this to make any sense, you'll have to read the article. After the break, I give the other details I remember.
A few years ago, Richard Garbarini (the attorney) for the victim, called the Big Earth/Bleak House office, and the Big Earth people called me and asked that I talk to him.
As it turned out, he was looking for money that Mitchell said was owed to him for his contribution to THESE GUNS FOR HIRE (Bleak House 2006, edited by J.A. Konrath). I don't remember the exact sum, but it was tens of thousands of dollars that Mitchell said he was owed for his short story. I told Mr. Garbarini that he was barking up the wrong tree, and that Mitchell had been paid from the advance that Bleak House paid to Konrath and that it, along with any subsequent earnings, was significantly less by a magnitude of a couple zeros.
I also told him of my dealings with Mitchell and Majestic Descending (aka "Die Hard 4: On a Cruise Ship).
Peter Rubie brought the book to us with all of the talk of Cherokee Productions, Bruce Willis, James Garner, and Sandra Locke. Mitchell said the movie would move forward as soon as a book deal was in place, but that he'd need at least a $20,000 advance. When we asked to know more, he offered to introduce us to film producer "Justin Harbin" who, he warned us, had recently had throat surgery and talked in a funny voice.
And, indeed, "Justin Harbin" did speak as though his vocal chords were pulled tight and coated with gravel. He was amiable enough and wanted us to know how big of a fan of Mitchell and Majestic Descending he was. This, he assured us, was going to be box office gold.
We got pretty excited around the Bleak House office. A few days/weeks (the time gets a little blurry now) later, Mitchell came to Wisconsin and had lunch with us (Alison, me, and some other folks), regaling us with stories of his fencing prowess and how he had once embarrassed a "sword fighter" at a science fiction convention who had made the mistake of asking Mitchell to come out of the audience for a demonstration.
Also of note, and not the least bit coincidental, on his flight to Madison, Mitchell sat next to a woman on the plane who was reading his book (The Fifth Ring). He cleared his throat to get her attention and asked if he looked familiar, then pointed at the back of the book. Of course, the lady freaked out when she realized she was sitting next to (surely) one of her literary heroes.
(In the string of biographical facts we were given, it turned out that Mitchell was also a highly accomplished brain surgeon, one of the only men who could perform a particularly complicated surgery. The exact details are lost to time, but I remember feeling like the guy just couldn’t stop adding to his biography.)
Dave Oskin (now deceased) and I kinda assumed the dude was a bullshit artist, but at the same time, as a small press, the mere fact that it seemed possible was enough to keep pursuing it. I’m not going to lie or pretend to be above the past—the book was absolutely not good. This was a carefree time when we thought all it would take to get us on the map would be one big hit, and we could overlook shitty literary quality if it helped fund much more deserving projects.
But then the phone call.
"Justin Harbin" was supposed to call Dave to discuss particulars about Majestic Descending and Bleak House. Dave's phone rang and sure enough "Justin Harbin" was on the phone in his scratchy voice, but the caller ID said Mitchell Graham. When Dave asked him how that happened, “Justin” quickly said, "Let me call you back, there seems to be some static on the line..." and hung up.
Dave called me and said it was weird. The more Dave and I talked about it and added up all of the missing details, the incomplete IMDB listings, etc. we finally gave up on the idea of it being on the up and up.
I called Peter Rubie and said I thought Mitchell was full of shit and I hoped nobody was trying to con us. There was a slight attempt to explain it off as a misunderstanding, but not with any real conviction. Mitchell and “Justin” both tried calling us a few times, but we never took the calls.
A few months later we saw that Majestic Descending had found a publisher. I figured at this point, any of the con associated with the movie would surely have been put to rest. But Tor’s website had an interview with Mitchell, and he was still namedropping Sandra Locke and a movie deal.
I think I made an attempt to talk to somebody to talk to somebody, but then I gave up and figured it’d all come out eventually. I confess that I did check the Bookscan numbers for a few weeks before losing interest.
Though we often joked about it at Bleak House, and later at Tyrus, it was only an interesting footnote in our history until I got the call from Mr. Garbarini, and realized that it was a significantly bigger case than just a movie and book hustle. As we compared details, it was clear that some parts of the story had to be modified over time to keep certain cons going, but that we’d both heard many of the same tales.
Sometime later I talked to an agent who coincidentally mentioned that he was working with a guy named Mitchell Graham about a golf book. It didn’t take long to figure out we were talking about the same guy. I told him what I knew.
There is no golf book by Mitchell to check out on Bookscan.
According to Mr. Garbarini, Mitchell had more pressing matters to address.