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Creative: Murder They Wrote

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Elmore Leonard has spent the past 40 years producing as many novels, but it was at Campbell Mithun in Detroit that he started his writing career. He worked there for more than a decade and had already published five books when he left to write full time. Then, of course, there's James Patterson, junior copywriter turned chairman of J. Walter Thompson turned full-time writing industry. The genre, again, is the thriller, the writing straight-up and the plot Hollywood-friendly. The latest comers: BBDO executive creative director Jimmy Siegel (that's James to his readers), 48, and Ted Bell, 56, vice chairman and worldwide creative director at Young & Rubicam before he retired two years ago. -MARIAN BERELOWITZ

DERAILED, by James Siegel and HAWKE, by Ted Bell

THE PLOT

DERAILED: A creative at a New York agency meets a beautiful woman on a train. Betrayal, blackmail, rape and murder ensue. He eventually gets fired from the agency, confesses to his wife, changes his identity and gets revenge on the evildoer.

HAWKE: Lord Alexander Hawke, a descendant of the pirate Blackhawke, is a British naval hero on a secret mission for the U.S. government: find a Russian sub armed with nuclear warheads that's believed to be in the hands of a destabilized Cuban government.

SUCCESS FACTOR

DERAILED: Derailed debuted in mid-February and landed at No. 16 on the New York Times best-seller list on March 9.

HAWKE: An Atria Books rep says the novel, due out June 3, will be one of its lead summer thrillers.

ON WRITING VS. COPYWRITING

DERAILED: "[One similarity is] you have to learn how to pare down in commercials. [For a thriller], you have to keep things moving. Sometimes it was painful [to cut scenes]. In advertising, you sit around trying to come up with a great simple idea - the writing tends to be fairly easy. For fiction, you sit down and you slug through, try to get three, four pages down every time. Advertising is more social, more collaborative. Writing is a much more solitary pursuit."

HAWKE: "As a copywriter, you tell little short stories," Bell says, citing an AT&T spot Y&R did in 1998 that showed a young Marine going to Vietnam because his father had been there. "You learn a lot about compression, sketching in characters that come alive quickly for the reader. [Fiction] writing is completely unstressful and very liberating - I'm trying only to please myself. It's joyful, I love it. It's not, Oh, God, I gotta go do that again."

THE PITCH

DERAILED: Warner Books' $500,000 campaign includes a steamy 30-second commercial created by Siegel, along with print and transit ads that use the spot's themeline: "What if you walked on a train one morning and everything changed?"

HAWKE: Bell says Atria is planning a $250,000 campaign that will include 15-second spots created by Bell and print ads he's working on with the publisher's in-house team.

WHAT JAMES PATTERSON SAYS

DERAILED: "Derailed sure derailed me for a couple of nights. What a neat, twisty, well-written thriller. James Siegel has arrived in high style."

HAWKE: "Ted Bell is the new Clive Cussler; Alex Hawke is the new James Bond. ... Hawke is a swashbuckling, spine tingling, bloody good masterpiece of an adventure novel." If Patterson sounds more amped-up about Bell, it may be a neighborly gesture: The two live close by in Palm Beach, Fla.

HOLLYWOOD ENDING?

DERAILED: Variety announced last week that Miramax Films has bought the screen rights to Derailed. Who does Siegel envision playing the lead? "Myself, of course."

HAWKE: "A name Hollywood star has read [Hawke] and loves it," says Bell. Meanwhile he's adapting his first novel, Nick of Time - an "old-fashioned sea adventure" published in 2000 - which has been optioned by Crusader Entertainment.

WHAT'S NEXT

DERAILED: Has a new two-book contract from Warner Books, and is at work on another thriller, also involving "an ordinary person caught in a situation that's outside ordinary experience," Siegel says.

HAWKE: Bell is halfway through a sequel to Hawke, which Atria says is tentatively set for a summer 2004 release.