“I Don’t Know Why I’m Writing This” happens to be the opening line of Alex Michaelides’ debut thriller, “The Silent Patient,” which is now in its 46th week on the paperback bestseller list. . This phrase appears in a character’s diary, but one can imagine it crossing the author’s mind after his screenplay ambitions have crumbled.
“It’s been a pretty rocky career, to be polite,” Michaelides said in a phone interview. “I did three movies and they went from bad to worse.”
He declined to name the movies (they’re listed on IMDb), but explained that “one was so bad it wasn’t released,” another went straight to DVD, and the third was briefly released in theaters.
“I was at a party in Los Angeles and I was talking to someone and it turned out he had seen a movie that I had made,” said Michaelides, who grew up in Cyprus and now lives in London. “He said, ‘Wow, after seeing that movie, I didn’t expect you to be so interesting.’ That’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to stop writing movies. I’m finally going to write this novel that I’ve been putting off for 25 years.'”
With Agatha Christie as inspiration, Michaelides set to work on “The Silent Patient.” He approached the project casually, so as not to feel undue pressure (“It was just this stack of pages I was carrying around”). He quit drinking while writing the first draft and meditated three times a day for 30 minutes. “If you go to bed sober and you’ve been meditating and thinking about the book, that permeates your dreams,” he explained. “You stay in the river, so to speak, for weeks at a time.”
Four years later, a month after his 40th birthday, Michaelides sold the book. Not only has it been a mainstay on hardcover, paperback and audio bestseller lists, “The Silent Patient” has inspired a slew of #BookTok videos with 14 million viewers. A film is in preparation. Selling the film rights provided a nice looping moment for Michaelides, who is now grateful for the “edge of despair” that pushed him into the book-writing arena in the first place. “I had spent my life trying to meet these producers,” he said. “When the film rights went up for auction, a few of them, who will remain anonymous, whom I had been desperately trying to meet for years, got hold of my cell phone number and called me at 11 p.m. evening hours and were trying to persuade me to sign with them.
Elisabeth Egan is editor of the Book Review and author of “A Window Opens”.