24/7 (Ballantine, November), by Jim Brown, is a novel that explores the darker side of human nature when a live reality TV series turns deadly. Brown has worked in radio, print and TV journalism for 25 years. He is a three-time winner of the Associated Press Best Newscast Award and lives in Fresno, Calif.
Writing about a popular trend is always a gamble. The odds are that by the time the book is finished, so is the trend. But Jim Brown's thriller 24/7 is hitting bookstore shelves just in time to accommodate the public's increasing appetite for reality TV shows.
"I didn't want to write something that would only be popular for a short amount of time," says Brown, 43. "Hopefully, the interest in reality television will cause people to pick up the book, and hopefully it will be the story that keeps them reading and coming back for more."
In what the author says is a wake-up call about the dangers of such "socialized voyeurism," the book amplifies the constant vulnerability of reality television. In 24/7, the host and crew of a new series are killed off, and the game's 12 contestants are forced to play on. The catch: The viewing public votes—and willingly so—on who lives and who dies.
"The subtext is kind of a warning about reality television," he says. "We know that these shows are going to become more and more violent and outrageous because you have to satisfy the audience. But what I'm concerned about is the X-factor.
"Being a journalist, you tend to see the worst in people, and you tend to be a cynic. And I've been worried that there's going to be someone in the context of one of these shows who'll do something he shouldn't do."
So, by wrapping a trendy hook around the fast pace, paranoia and high energy of a thriller, Brown was able to adapt his story into a marketable concept. As proof of the idea's strength, 24/7 sold to Ballantine on the basis of a lone outline when Brown and his agent—hoping to secure a two-book deal—presented the outline with an already finished thriller titled 99 Einstein (November 2002).
And though Ballantine bought both books, it was Brown who pushed for 24/7 to be released first—even if it meant he'd only have seven months in which to write it.
"Because 24/7 deals with reality television, and the topic's pretty hot and timely right now, it just made sense marketing wise," he says. "I thought it would be better to have the novel come out while this is still going on rather than waiting a few years, and maybe the trend has passed or has already peaked."
Despite his market-savvy approach to publishing, it's the creative process, not the next potential sell, that drives Brown to continue writing. Currently working to complete two more novels, he's getting closer and closer to fulfilling his dream of life as a writer:
"When I first approached my agent with this, I said, 'I want to sell a book, but what I really want is a writing career.' And that's the direction we went. A writer writes, so that's what I'm doing."