The movie rights were sold before a Spencer Township native’s novel even hit store shelves.
Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay picked up the rights to Black River High School graduate Jobie Hughes’ young adult novel, “I Am Number Four,” on June 26. The novel does not come out until September 2010.
“They bought the rights to an unpublished book … before we had interest in the book, the movie rights were done and sold,” said Hughes, 29, who grew up in the township and now resides in New York City. “Usually it’s always done the other way around.”
Spielberg and Bay were not the only ones interested in the novel. Represented by Beverly Hills-based Endeavor Talent Agency, Hughes said there was a bidding war between Spielberg and Bay and producer J.J. Abrams for rights to the story.
Now, DreamWorks LLC, a film studio co-founded by Spielberg, anticipates the film to be out in July 2011.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Hughes said via phone Sunday.
Before the Hollywood glamour, however, came the task of writing “I Am Number Four.”
Hughes has a co-author, James Frey, who wrote the memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.”
Hughes did not name Frey specifically, he said, because the partnership was originally supposed to be secret. However, other media have named Frey as the co-author of the book.
Hughes and Frey met in March 2008 at Columbia University, where Hughes was attending graduate school for creative writing when Frey came to speak to the school’s film department. They exchanged e-mail addresses and built a friendship.
In January, Frey approached him with an idea for a novel he wanted Hughes to co-author.
“I Am Number Four,” is the first of a planned six novels that will become The Loric Legacies. It is set in Paradise, Ohio, an amalgamation of Spencer, LaGrange and Wellington. Athens, Ohio, where Hughes attended Ohio University, also plays a major role in the novel.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of a 15-year-old alien named John Smith. He is one of nine aliens to escape his home planet Lorien, which is under attack by inhabitants of the planet Mogadore. The nine come to Earth as young children, and though they assimilate, they hope to one day return to Lorien.
However, the Mogadorians have other ideas and travel to Earth to “finish the job” and kill the Lorien teens one by one. They are to be slaughtered chronologically, according to a number assigned to each one. When the novel opens, the Mogadorians already have killed the first three. Smith is number four.
While Frey came up with the concept, Hughes wrote the novel, sending three drafts to Frey, who revised them and is writing the final manuscript.
In the wake of the success of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, Hughes is hoping the Loric Legacies will be the next teenage craze.
“Harry Potter is just about done, all of the Twilight books are published, we’re hoping to have the next big series,” Hughes said. “That remains to be seen, but we feel confident what we’ve written we will continue to write in the future.”
That future bodes well. Rights to “I Am Number Four,” have been sold to 33 countries worldwide and will be translated into 12 languages. In the United States, HarperCollins bought the first four books in the series. A company in Taiwan bought all six.
Hughes said his sudden success has taken him by surprise. It was just 11 years ago that the Black River High School graduate won a state wrestling title in 1998 before heading to Ohio University to attend business school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I went into business and hated every second of it,” Hughes said.
He graduated from Ohio University in 2002 and worked “odd jobs” in Cleveland for about four years and in Chicago for a year.
Hughes had never taken creative writing classes or many English courses, and he had never picked up a pen to try writing. But he was getting an education by reading Ernest Hemingway throughout college. He even has the author’s initials tattooed on the underside of his left wrist.
“It was through happenstance that I picked up a pen and started writing one day, and now the rest is history,” he said.
Now he writes at least 1,000 words a day, often heading to a coffee shop to do so.
Hughes said the Loric Legacies are a little outside of his comfort zone as he usually pens serious adult fiction.
“Really, this project is far from what I normally do,” he said. He added: “Even though this book is a departure from what I normally do, I didn’t try to dumb down its style. Even if the genre is different, I’m still as proud of it as anything else I’ve written.”
Hughes will get a chance to show off his adult writing with the novel “Agony at Dawn,” which is being reviewed by publishers. It follows the life of 27-year-old Stratton Brown, who has an uncertain past and dreams of writing something great. In the meantime, he falls in love with a girl from whom he tries to keep his past. The novel is set in Spencer and Chicago, Hughes said.
Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.