John Dixon’s Phoenix Island was released a couple weeks ago and has since seen widespread critical acclaim and the accompanying success of Intelligence, the new show his novel inspired. For the up and coming debut novelist, these last couple of weeks have been a flurry of pats on the back and excitement. It’s success like this that makes our jobs here at S&S worth it.
But, hey, don’t take it from me. Here’s John, himself, with a guest post regaling his big night:
My Big Night
By John Dixon
It was 20 below zero, so I didn’t expect the crowd.
For me, it was a big night—the release of my debut novel, Phoenix Island, corresponded with the premier of Intelligence, the CBS TV series it had inspired, and I was excited to read a section, answer some questions, and watch the pilot with everyone who had braved not just Arctic but Antarctic cold to attend. Looking out at the crowd, I saw so many people who had played crucial roles in the long road leading up to this event, including my unparalleled editor, Adam Wilson, and other supporters from Gallery Books; my wonderful agent, Christina Hogrebe, and half of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, all of them grinning and red-cheeked from the cold and nearly killing me with their kindness; friends who’d driven from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and across Manhattan; and my wife, who had spent the day in the emergency room with a severe allergic reaction. By that point, she had fully recovered and sat there smiling at me.
I avoided eye contact. The emotion of the moment—my excitement at this dream-come-true, the crushing gratitude I felt toward these people, and the weight of the sacrifices my wife made without complaint over the years—fixed a lump in my throat, and I knew that if I more than glanced at her, if I accidentally looked into her eyes and allowed that connection to solidify, I’d lose my slippery grip on the moment and make a sobbing fool of myself.
I held it together, though, and had a fantastic night.
Nearly 17 million people watched the pilot episode of Intelligence, making it the #1 new show of the season. I returned home to an avalanche of congratulatory messages from friends and family, including hundreds of people with whom I’d fallen completely out of contact: a guy I washed dishes with in high school, several long lost cousins, my beloved third-grade teacher. It was an unexpected outpouring of warmth that made for a truly surreal and wonderful moment…especially, I would argue, since I grew up in the country, with a black-and-white TV and a skeletal antenna that captured only three fuzzy channels.
On screen, the credits read, Based on the novel Phoenix Island by John Dixon, but I always say “inspired by” rather than “based on,” as the show has changed so much since I first started talking with executive producer Tripp Vinson about how best to turn my debut novel into a TV series. Ultimately, I’m overjoyed to have both versions of my story, no matter how divergent, out in the world. I’m grateful that Gallery Books never asked me to dovetail Phoenix Island with show, and that they’re allowing me to develop the series along my original intentions.
I’m having a blast watching Intelligence, and it’s been incredible, dipping a toe in Hollywood, whether that was working with West Coast geniuses, visiting the set, or receiving a happy birthday message from Marg Helgenberger herself. But still, I am most excited about the reaction to Phoenix Island, the book. I love that readers are digging the story and reacting so strongly to the main character, Carl. When I turn off the TV and internet, close the door, and get to work, it’s Carl who consumes me. Though flawed, he is my ideal hero, a tough-as-nails kid who battles injustice regardless of consequences. In the end, his is the story I have to tell. When an old friend got in touch, praising Phoenix Island, the first book he’d read in twenty years, and told me it had rekindled his interest in reading… well, some things mean even more than #1 TV ratings.