The New Hope Film Festival honored Nelson Adrian Blish on July 21 at a ceremony in the suburban Philadelphia town. With more than 300 submissions, Blish’s screenplay adaptation of his previously published novel, “The Taking of the King” (Penguin Books, 2006) was selected as best screenplay.
After receiving the electronic manuscript, New Hope Film Festival contacted Blish via email, suggesting the slight change of title — “Taking the King” — and asking for two hard copies.
At the film festival, Blish was introduced to a Hollywood producer and they discussed the screenplay over breakfast. In the past two weeks, Blish has incorporated a number of changes based on that conversation, including adding some flashbacks and shortening the dialogue to increase the pace of the action-oriented script.
“It’s been a learning process,” Blish said. “How do you take a 400-page novel, reduce it to a maximum of 120 pages, and format it to the specific submission requirements for a screenplay? There are slug lines [to set the time of day and location], stage directions [to guide the actors], and dialogue. All have to be formatted with specific margins, a particular font, and obviously kept concise.”
Blish, senior counsel for Eastman Kodak Company for the past 18 years, started writing fiction while still in the Naval Reserves in the late 1980s. The concept for his first novel actually came from a small newspaper article about a group of men trying to steal a submarine.
“I thought: ‘How would you steal a submarine? And who would want to?’” Blish said.
After 30 years with the U.S. Navy, Blish has more than a theoretical knowledge of submarines. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy, Blish was commissioned as an ensign, and went on to earn a master’s degree in Systems Engineering at Michigan State University, followed by Navy Nuclear Power School and Submarine School.
In 1971 Blish reported to the USS Alexander Hamilton, a ballistic missile submarine. As the main propulsion assistant, he supervised a division of 40 nuclear power trained machinist mates and also served as diving officer.
After leaving active duty in the U.S. Navy, he continued in the Naval Reserves, earning his juris doctor from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. During law school, he interned at NASA’s Research Center at Langley, Va., where he prepared patents on advanced airframe designs.
It was while working as patent counsel at Philip Morris that he began writing the story that became “The Taking of the King.”
“I wrote on scraps of paper and would devote spare minutes to crafting my first novel,” he said. “With my fictional story finally on paper, the Soviet Union dissolved, which created a conflict over who owned certain weapons between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and required a complete rewrite.”
Meanwhile, Blish drafted a second novel, titled “Ishmael’s Son,” and succeeded in getting it published in 2003. Ironically, this was the second in a series that began with “The Taking of the King,” but it was another three years until Penguin Books picked up what was chronologically the first novel in the series.
“When trying to sell the first novel, I sent hundreds of letters to agents and publishers,” Blish said. “Anyone who has tried to get published knows just how much competition there is. I was lucky enough to have an agent for the second novel.”
Blish has two more “unpublished” novels — i.e., completed manuscripts that won’t be truly completed until a publisher accepts them for publication.
His novel, “Silent Terror,” is the third in the series involving main character Joshua Clark. The fourth novel is not part of the Joshua Clark series and is about a Nobel Prize winning scientist who tries to fix a major social problem and creates something significantly worse.
“A modern day Pandora,” Blish said of his most recent novel.
However, in the short term, besides fine tuning his “Taking the King” screenplay, and with some serious possibilities of a movie deal — Blish is revising his screenplay adaptation of “Ishmael’s Son,” incorporating what he learned making revisions to his first screenplay project.