So I am a doughy Iowan named James, and a few years ago I wrote Rome Sweet Rome, a story about a Marine unit flung into conflict with the Roman Empire, in an AskReddit thread. It went viral and I ended up getting a screenplay deal with Warner Brothers out of it.

That led to other opportunities: I've written ad copy for IBM and articles for Wired, Slate, Boing Boing, Mental Floss and others, and today my first novel is being released.

AMA about my novel, my screenplay, or my other ridiculous adventures: I won on Jeopardy and I've written two encyclopedias. My knees do this weird thing. I won $30k in the lottery once. I've never found a four-leaf clover.


Order Acadia here: please and thank you!

EDIT: I may be a bit late in replying for a bit because I'm about to go on Kathie Lee and Hoda. I shit you not.

EDIT: Forgot to mention because I'M TERRIBLE AT PUBLICITY - I'm doing a reading tonight from 6:30 to 7:30 at 155 Rivington, Floor 2, in Manhattan. $20 admission includes a signed copy!

EDIT EDIT: I am in the Reddit NYC office with /u/chooter, Victoria!

MOAR EDIT: The ebook link on Amazon is live!

EDIT 2.0: Taking a break for lunch and heading out soon. Thanks so much to Victoria for her hospitality and for helping out!

YET ANOTHER EDIT: dying down so I'll call it. Thanks to everyone: I'll try to hop in and answer more questions over the next couple of days: feel free to keep asking! I hope you'll give Acadia a shot! Thanks!

Comments: 1785 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

crystalistwo1511 karma

Did you freak out when you discovered that you'd have to tie your reddit account to your real name? Did you delete a lot?

Prufrock4511323 karma

I - luckily- have been pretty good about what I posted on reddit.

I stand behind what I have posted, before and after ROME SWEET ROME. There's nothing in the history that is shocking or terrifying (I hope).

AtLeastItsNotCrack1297 karma

cue at least one redditor gleaning through your comment history like a whale does seawater for krill

IversonAtPractice1076 karma

He posted in /r/incest a few times.

Prufrock4511290 karma

I believe I went in there to make a joke once. YOU SEE HOW THE PAST WILL HAUNT YOU

rebelmonk1362 karma

So, of course, any updates regarding the production of ”Rome Sweet Rome”?

Also, is there anyway I can order Acadia in digital form? I am from Romania, and it would take a while until a copy would get here...

Prufrock451941 karma

We're still processing stuff through Amazon and expect that we'll be able to get ebooks available through them later today. There's an amazing amount of headache involved in going through a small publisher, but I've had great partners at Breadpig who have helped me from Day One of kickstartering and creating this novel.

Check out the Subscribe link at I'll announce when it's available!

ntlord897 karma

So that was an adept deflection. Any updates on Rome Sweet Rome?


Prufrock4511016 karma

Ha! I was just getting to that.

(I'm writing in the basement of 30 Rock and they just asked my wife and I to briefly go on the Today Show. Lots going on today!)

So here's what I know: the studio bought my draft, and then they commissioned a second draft, and it's very likely they will commission a third draft from another writer who's not me. So the project is not dead: they very much want to make a movie once all the people involved in this project agree fundamentally on a story and a script that does it justice. This is a hard goal, and it's one that a lot of movies never reach. I want it to happen for obvious reasons, but the biggest is this: I've thought from the beginning this would make a great movie and I want to see it.

tituphenay611 karma

In 2006 I sold a screenplay to a major studio after years of work. They paid me a big option, gave me a William Morris agent, I moved to LA and told everyone I'd made it. Three genuine A-list actors were "attached," and I had star-struck meetings with all of them--all super enthusiastic--as well as a cool young director. Then one of the actors had a scheduling problem, and production was delayed. Then by the time they found a replacement, a B+-lister, the director dropped out. Then the financing and the insurance had a dispute. Then another actor who was SO SORRY blah blah blah had to pull out.

That was 2006. It's still "in development" and I have to have a call at least once a week updating me on the latest cool person that's read the script and loved it, I've had at least 30 lunches about this stupid movie, and I'm tired and want to go home. The studio clearly doesn't really want to make the film, but with the infrastructure they have there's no reason for them not to string me along indefinitely just in case something in it becomes Zeitgeisty and it makes bottom-line sense actually to shoot it. They are all of them, the producers, execs, actors, inveterate liars and frauds.

Good luck.

Prufrock451318 karma

It's nightmarishly hard, so much more so when you have a bit of hope for such an unlikely thing. I've just had a small taste of what they're serving you. I'm grateful for your wishes and I hope the same tenfold for you.

itsjakeandelwood181 karma

Shit, dude, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it's "asked my wife and me."

Prufrock451346 karma

takes off crown

My kingdom is now yours.

Yenraven37 karma

Three writers? Are you going to be the lead writer, final decision maker? Will you have power in the process to demand your creative vision or is Warner Bros going to turn this into what they think an audience wants to see?

Prufrock451135 karma

Anytime you start a project with a $100 million dollar budget, a few people are going to want a say in how it turns out - especially if they are putting out the $100 million dollars.

So I went in expecting this whole thing to be a very collaborative process. I went in expecting my ideas to be only part of what ended up on screen. And I made my peace with that, before I wrote one word of the screenplay, which is what you have to do if you want to stay sane.

As far as what happens next, or who gets credit for the final screenplay, that just depends on which ideas the studio ends up liking and which resonate with the plot that gets devised. And I don't have a lot of control over that process. And all I can really do is what I've done until this point, which is do the best work I can, keep a positive attitude.

TYLERvsBEER211 karma

I thought for a sec that Rome Sweet Rome was going to be a novel before it was adapted into a screenplay and got super excited.

Honestly, Rome Sweet Rome would make a sick mini-series.

Prufrock451684 karma

I was discussing that possibility with my manager when Warner Brothers called him and said "Can this be a movie?"

When that happens you say "YES WARNER BROTHERS IT SURE AS SHIT CAN"

renegade_division44 karma

It says that you have a book reading somewhere in Manhattan, but I couldn't find any details about that. Is the reading still going to happen, where?

Prufrock45154 karma

At 6:30 tonight, 155 Rivington!

Check out /r/acadia, there's a post about it.

ptouchstone772 karma

Is it hard to walk with a horseshoe buried in your backside?

Prufrock451922 karma

I must have literally drowned in shit in my last life because I'm not sure opening the door for old ladies justifies the luck I've had in this one.

Spodson260 karma

But you seem to appreciate it which makes it OK.

Prufrock451113 karma

I really do. I've been incredibly lucky.

Luna_LoveWell501 karma

I am a (somewhat) aspiring author. I write a lot on /r/Writingprompts and people there have gotten to know me a bit.

I am currently working on a book based on a writing prompt (An alternate history where Rome never fell), and hope to finish it by the end of this month. I have my own subreddit where I post all of my stuff that I kind of use as a proxy for having my own blog/website. So when I go to pitch the book to a publisher, I will have to talk about that (because it is important for first-time authors to have an established audience like you do).

My question is: how did your following on Reddit help you get a publisher on board for Acadia? When speaking with a potential agent or publisher, how did you describe Reddit itself and your interactions with the community?

Prufrock451333 karma

The publicity was a huge help. I've landed interviews on national radio and I've been on TV in Canada and Japan and I've had all kinds of other ridiculous opportunities no first-time author should get. Without RSR, there's no way I'd have launched a successful Kickstarter campaign.

And the publicity also convinced editors at a few publishing houses to reach out to me; Acadia grew out of a book proposal for Amazon's publishing wing, and editors at a couple of the Big Five houses want to see my next manuscript. Super lucky.

Virtually everyone I've talked to in publishing understands Reddit, and the value of that instant feedback and community, and they also understand some of the limitations involved in working on Reddit. I'll tell you what, though, when it comes to the Terms of Service: if someone really wants to buy your work they will find a way.

Luna_LoveWell278 karma

So the secret is to have publishers banging down your door. Got it.

Prufrock451194 karma

Ha! Exactly. If I knew the formula to make that happen, I would not have a day job.

daringtherobot420 karma

Hi, your wife here. Any plans for your next adventure?

Prufrock451340 karma

So to confirm, yes you are actually my wife.

My next novel or my next story (not necessarily my next adventure) - I think that so much of what's happened to me has just been accepting the opportunities, and making the most of the opportunities I have had in my life, and I think that a big part of that is your presence in it.

I'm making Victoria type this! Hahaha!

GISP322 karma

Baah, i hoped that the it was a proof of NOT finding a four-leaf clover... - Instead it was just a random bloke on twitter :(

Prufrock451183 karma

I can, given a day or two, come back with a notarized statement that I've never found one, but that's all I've got!

Kovhert219 karma

What weird thing do your knees do?

Prufrock451196 karma


Someone posted proof of that. Hold on.

I'm in too deep now. I gotta do it.

completely rotates knees outwards into bowlegged stance and begins to walk around office with arms outstretched, then pops them back in

That's what they do.

Basim96199 karma

How much did they pay you for the screen play?

Prufrock451578 karma

My stock reply is "more than reasonable and less than desirable."

The_Eagle_Has_Landed182 karma

How does one actually write an encyclopedia? Do you use other encyclopedias as reference and then just re-word it in your own style?

Prufrock451237 karma

I read hundreds of sources, everything from books to old letters and memoirs and naval logs. Wherever I could, I relied on primary sources. It's exhausting work and as satisfying as it was I don't think I'll be doing another.

OptionalAccountant78 karma

Were you hired to write the encyclopedia or did you just do it? It's gotta be so hard to not miss something. You must have done this before the internet came out, right? I just don't understand why we would need new encyclopedias with the internet.

Prufrock45178 karma

I worried quite a bit about that, but my job was to provide a comprehensive overview, not every possible fact. And the Internet, as vital as it is for research, hasn't yet removed the necessity for encyclopedias. Wikipedia is, stone-cold, the last resource humanity needs for something like atomic numbers, but it's far from perfect when it comes to something like history that relies on interpretation.

Alyssayan182 karma

Do writers have to be full of emotions to write a novel? Sometimes when I got frustrated I tend to write them down, but my writing grades aren't good,is that means I am not a born writer?

Prufrock451822 karma

Look, every human is born to tell stories. Our feelings are unique and they are important. Our ability to share what we are feeling and thinking is one of the most incredible things in the universe. Never be ashamed of writing. Never be afraid to speak out.

You don't have to be full of emotions to write: Look at the popularity of novels by, say, Asimov or Heinlein, which are pretty Olympian and detached and seem to do fairly well.

Your grades are a snapshot of what one person thinks of one part of your writing at one point in your life. That doesn't define you as a writer. You should always welcome feedback and use it to improve. Experiment with different styles and in different genres. It will take you some time to find your voice, and probably more time to find an audience for it.

But never, never believe it's impossible. Never think that you are not a born writer. Writers are made. They make themselves.

bengigameur230 karma

Fantastic reply. Fifty pages into my novel and I really needed to read this.

Prufrock451334 karma


bengigameur102 karma


B4DD264 karma

/u/bengigameur is secretly George R.R. Martin, at a depressingly short distance into The Winds of Winter. KEEP GOING.

bengigameur43 karma

Haha! No, I'm the stereotypical redditor down to a t. Sorry to disappoint!

Prufrock451208 karma

That's JUST what GRRM would peck out with two fingers over the course of seven minutes

Velocicopter51179 karma


Prufrock451212 karma

I weirded them up playing soccer in high school! I'll get a picture up later.

AlexCourt389131 karma

What is your book Acadia about? And what gave you inspiration to write such a novel?

Prufrock451242 karma

Acadia takes place a hundred years from now, when humanity is on the verge of reaching for the stars. A secret force which has manipulated the course of the 21st century threatens all of humanity, and a small group of humans and AIs must fight to change the course of history.

The book came out of an idea I had a few years ago of a woman alone in space, which, a year before Gravity, was an exciting new thing. Books take a long time.

robosnud109 karma

Alright let's get to it. How much did you make from the sale? And did reddit take a cut?

Prufrock451104 karma

There are some numbers, which are out there, if you do a little bit of research. But I don't think I'm really allowed to talk about it. Suffice to say that I was treated very fairly, and I think that the sum was part of a good decision. And reddit did not take a cut.

AliveJohnDoe98 karma

Hey! If you are looking for an overweight guy who sits on the computer all day for your movie can i audition for it? Many thanks for this AMA!

Prufrock451268 karma

If there wasn't already an overweight guy in front of a computer this story wouldn't exist. :)

lime_and_coconut69 karma

Do you have any advice for those of us just out of college with eng and creative writing degrees? And what's up with your knees?

Prufrock451164 karma

Write every day, read every day. Before any talent or big idea, you need to have the fundamentals down cold, and the most important fundamental is producing words.

And if you're going to write, write what you want to write. The odds against any creator are insane. If you're going to devote months of your time, don't let it be for an idea you think will sell. Odds are it won't. Write something you want to write, or need to write. Write for yourself before anyone else. I'd rather read someone who is excited and passionate about what they want to say than someone who's obviously trying to say what they think I want to hear.

RakoGumi54 karma

Congrats, so here are my questions.

  • How did you get the inspiration of Rome sweet Rome?

  • Did want to be a writer?

  • How do you cope with fame?

  • Have you ever tried to eat your fries with Mayonnaise?

  • What is your favourite colour?

Thank you and good luck with the sale of your book and good day.

Prufrock451109 karma

Thank you!

-Rome Sweet Rome (as you can see in the link I posted) was a response to a question on Reddit. Everything sort of clicked and I punched that whole thing out in an hour. I'm not entirely sure how, or I'd do that over every lunch hour.

-Always. And it's what I've done as a day job for years (writing software manuals and other documentation), so I had some preparation when all this happened.

-I have a very comfortable level of fame where virtually no one ever anywhere realizes I'm famous* but I still get to tell fun stories at cocktail parties.

*This may actually be the definition of "not famous."

-I love fries with mayo. Well, like three or four fries with mayo. I'm 40, I can't eat piles of junk like I used to.

-Green? What does that say about me? Am I a madman?

rawbery7949 karma

You're an Iowan? Sweet. Do us proud!

Prufrock45139 karma


jmwpc31 karma

Did you find some kind of method for converting reddit karma into real-world karma?

Prufrock45139 karma

The only trick I know is putting yourself in situations where something exciting might happen. Cultivate an attitude of excitement and curiosity, and things tend to fall in place. Easier said than done, and Lord knows individual results may vary.

patientpedestrian28 karma

What did you do before your writing career took off? Did you always plan to work commercially as a writer and did you have some sort of fall back plan in case that didn't work out?

Prufrock45173 karma

I work for a massive corporation. For me, writing screenplays is my fallback plan. :)

If this had happened back when I was a single barista, I'd be sweating it out in LA right now. But I'm a plump suburban dad with a wife and kids and dogs and a mortgage and a big deck and that whole deal.

I don't regret that choice. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've had.

mo4fun28 karma

How did they contact you for the rights to your reply?

Prufrock45169 karma

Through Reddit's messaging system! That was a crazy-ass day.

drocks2727 karma

Have you ever talked to Andy Weir? He didn't start on reddit but he does reddit ( /u/sephalon) and his online story The Martian is being made into a movie. Just wondering if he would be able to give you any tips of pointers to move the movie along.

Edit: I also grew up in Iowa so thanks for representing us well!

Prufrock45135 karma

I loved The Martian and I'm really excited to see the movie. Never talked to Andy, though.

(And go Hawks!)

Idleworker23 karma

  • What was the final jeopardy question you were asked?
  • How firm was Alex Trebek's handshake?
  • Are your knees the source of your special powers?
  • What would taste better? MREs or Moretum.

Prufrock45141 karma

I was asked three questions and biffed them all. I bet $15,000 on the last one. "No one's gotten a Final Jeopardy all week. It has to be easy. I'll bet a lot." NOPE. It was something along the lines of "this phrase started out meaning 'a substitute for correction'" and I got it super-wrong and went home. Still: I got to gamble $15,000 in front of millions of people and that was fun.

Trebek's handshake is exactly right. The man oozes professionalism.

My knees are the source of my most special power, which is complaining about moving.

Prufrock45116 karma

I think MREs would be great with a healthy splash of garum.

Volleyballa22 karma

How was your experience with "upvoted"? Do you think it will be a successful podcast?

Prufrock45142 karma

I certainly hope so! I loved talking with /u/kn0thing and I'm excited to meet Alexis in the flesh today. That rich buttery voice!

JakeTheHawk14 karma

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Prufrock45137 karma

If my sons were in the room, I would have to say Spinosaurus because they both dearly love that big bastard.

But truthfully, my favorite is Therizinosaurus. Big lazy happy sloth-thing with claws that will destroy anything that comes too close.

eightiesladies13 karma

Why are you so lucky? Do you do weird rituals?

Prufrock45125 karma

puts on Boba Fett Helmet

I generally don't put on a Boba Fett helmet. This is a new and wonderful thing for me...

It's so beautiful inside here! I can hear the badassery! I want to say something badass like I throw a steak at a wall, and eat it before it descends to the ground

As far as rituals go, the one ritual I have is... one thing that I try to do is I try to just leave myself open to new things. And I try to put myself in situations where fun things could happen. I got my first book deal because I (on a whim) sent a paragraph to a publisher, asking "Hey, can I publish this book?"

I got on JEOPARDY! because I decided Hey, let's take a test.

I got ROME SWEET ROME because I went on reddit and said I could write a story, and it might be crazy, but I'll go ahead and write it anyway.

And I mean- I've been rewarded, pretty well, for just deciding to take a chance on things.

And that's not always easy to do, you know? It's not always easy to throw yourself into the sea of Fate. But as far as a ritual goes, that's probably as close as I get when this sort of thing happens.

Prufrock45120 karma

riuseche12 karma

Will you be writing more following this story? What could we expect for the future of your series?

Prufrock45120 karma

I have a few ideas in progress, but mostly I'm dealing with the aftershocks of this novel. I've written a couple of anthologized stories as well.

I would love to do a sequel to Acadia in the future, depending on the response to the book, and I have some ideas laid out for that as well which are TOP SECRET.

jchabotte6 karma

Who requested you to go on KL&H? assuming you now have an agent, is that something that they say: "This should be good for you" ?

Prufrock45110 karma

I came here for the wifi (and it's on the way to the Reddit office from my hotel, where I'll be answering more questions with Victoria later!) and a staffer approached my wife and I, so we'll have a funny story about a white lie she told me on the air tomorrow. Completely unrelated. Fun stuff happens to us, it seems...

fitzlurker6 karma

So, I'm working on a novel that tweaks history to fit it into my narrative. Do you find it easier or more difficult to work with an established timeline/history? Thanks!

Prufrock4518 karma

As a trained historian I can tell you that, for better or worse, there are a thousand people interested in a great story for every one who wants hyper-accuracy...

Death_Machine_2 karma

What would you be doing if Reddit never existed?

Prufrock4512 karma

My job, probably.

Hanako_lkezawa2 karma

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized Marines or 1 Elephant sized Legionnaire?

Prufrock4514 karma

sits back

So a duck-sized marine would still have firepower. And if they have duck-scaled heavy weaponry, then I'm absolutely dead. So I'd have to say an elephant-sized Legionnaire because an elephant-sized Legionnaire would have such excruciating back pain that he wouldn't be able to move, so I could pick him off from there.

aquintana1 karma

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind wanting to start again?

Prufrock4511 karma

More like a pair of scuttling claws. :)

keffkeffiyeh0 karma

How does one pronounce Prufrock451?

Prufrock4513 karma

My favorite pronunciation is "PROOF-rock four fifty one" but it's a free country.

veramay0 karma

Encyclopaedia ?? Spelling .

Prufrock4518 karma

I refuse to include the "a" since those bastards at Britannica broke my heart by going under.