Steven Robert Alten (born August 21, 1959, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American science-fiction author. He is best known for his Meg series of novels set around the fictitious survival of the megalodon, a giant, prehistoric shark. Alten holds a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University, a master’s in sports medicine from the University of Delaware, and a doctorate in sports administration from Temple University. Alten is the founder and director of Adopt-An-Author, a nationwide secondary-school free-reading program promoting works from six authors, including his own.
Exclusive Interview with Author Steve Alten
Q: Megalodon is actually creature that now an extinct species of shark that lived from about 23million to 3.6 million years ago during the early Miocene to Pliocene period. What led you to study the megalodon and study shark history as well?
S.A : How did I get started with megalodon? When I was 15 years old I read “Jaws,” as a lot of teens did and really became curious about the great white sharks. I started going to the library, picking up every book I could find about real great white shark attacks. There was always a little blurb listed about its prehistoric cousin — the megalodon. Usually there was a black and white photo of six scientists sitting in a jaw.
But nothing was ever written about it that you could follow up with. When I was 35 years old, I got a magazine in the mail — it’s right here as a matter of fact — Time Magazine, and it talked about the deep and new findings about hydrothermal vents and the Mariana Trench, which is this 1500 mile long, a 40 mile wide gorge at the bottom of the North Pacific Ocean, running in the Western Pacific Ocean. And it’s largely unexplored. I thought, what was that shark I used to be so enamored with back in high school? I went to the library because we had no internet in 1995. I found the picture and information about it. I spent the next 30 days basically creating a treatment for a new book.
Q: Do you know how the megalodon became extinct? What was the reason for that — the weather or lack of food?
S.A: That’s a great question because these weren’t dinosaurs that died off 65 million years ago when an asteroid struck the planet. These were creatures that were around the miocene period which is about 30 million years ago up until fairly recently.
It remains a mystery why these apex predators would have died off. There was plenty of food, plenty of whales for them to eat. The great whites were not a threat.
One threat that was there were orca packs which could take out a single megalodon. But the megalodon simply had to go deep to avoid orcas which can only descend to about a thousand feet or even less. So the answer is in that statement — to escape threats on the surface, the megalodons went way deep as in the Mariana Trench. We’ve only explored 5% of our oceans and less than 1% of our deep water. Anything could be down there. We simply have no idea.
Q: The megalodon is considered one of the largest predator fish in history. Their size is mostly known only from fragmentary remains, such as those estimated from their teeth. The appearance and large size is still unknown.
S.A : This is a great white tooth. The tooth measures from the point to the longest root is about an inch and a half. So, they say, there’s about 10 feet of shark for every inch of a tooth. This shark would have been about 15 feet long. Now here’s one from a megalodon.
Q: It’s like four or five times bigger than that.
SA: An inch of tooth equals 10 feet of shark. This is about six to six and a half inches. We’re looking at about a 60- to 70-foot shark here. And the sides. It’s too tiny to see, but these sides are all serrated like a knife. You have the point here. You have the serration. Now, this is a bottom tooth. The difference between a bottom tooth and a top tooth is the thickness of the shape of it. The bottom teeth are more like forks. They’re more pointy. Top teeth are like bludgeons. So it captures it like a fork and then the top tooth comes down and smashes it.
Q: Wow, once a megalodon took a bite out of a whale, it would just take one bite to kill them easily.
S.A : It does a lot of damage.
Q: The megalodon lived all over the world. They spread around the ocean, and were likely to target a small whale, seal or sea turtles and other large animals. I was really surprised that they were eating whales even if it’s a small sized one. It’s a huge animal even if you know the size of whale.
S.A : You have to realize a whale is not a predator. A baleen whale is not a predator. It doesn’t have any defense against a megalodon. The megalodon doesn’t have to eat it in one bite, it just has to wound it to kill it. You can do that by tearing off its pectoral fin, or a bite to its abdomen. Whales are great for a megalodon because it’s very fat and fat is the best kind of energy source in the ocean. It burns easily and lasts a long time. The megalodon has to eat something that’s got enough resources of energy in it and fat is the best source for it to take care of itself.
Q: Let’s talk about the “Meg” movie with Jason Statham. In 1996, before you released your first book of the Meg series, Disney’s Hollywood Pictures bought the rights to the first book. It didn’t work out. What was the reason for that to happen before you released the first book?
S.A: I wrote the original manuscript from 1995 to ’96. Once it was done, I was lucky enough to find a great agent, Ken Atchity of AEI in Los Angeles. Ken thought the idea would make a great movie and book, but it needed a lot of editing. So he brought me on board to edit with him. In May, 1996, I had just about finished the book and he asked me to give him the first hundred pages and a treatment for the rest. He took it to another producer on a first look deal with Disney’s Hollywood Pictures.
The objective was to get a movie deal committed first and then put the book out to other publishers and get a better publishing deal. That’s what we did. But then Hollywood Pictures never made the movie. They had the rights to it but then the president of Hollywood Pictures was fired. When an incoming president comes into a studio, the last thing they want is their predecessor’s projects. If it does well, it makes the other guy look good. It’s all about ego and business.
Q: They didn’t take over the previous project. That’s so hard. It’s so Hollywood.
S.A: They had a nice previous project, but the new studio head wasn’t going to give credit to the other guys. It turned out to be a big hit like it did. So the rights reverted back to me. About six or seven years ago, through a friend, we were able to get optioned by New Line Cinema. They hired their own screenwriter and it turned out to be “Moby Dick” with sharks. It was not the original project and fortunately wasn’t approved so the rights reverted again back to me. We were 0 for 2 at the altar, you might say.
Then I had a friend who had recently met Belle Avery, a producer, and I sold an option for her to make “Meg.” She spent the next six or seven years independently raising the financing for the movie so that the studio wouldn’t have control over what the script was. In the end, she was able to get a Chinese company called Gravity Pictures to put up the money and co-produced it with her. Then they brought in the studio for distribution.
Q: When they had it with New Line Cinema, I believe that Guillermo Del Toro was producing and Jan De Bont from “Speed” was about to direct the film. That was with the New Line Cinema. if the script was OK, it would go along with your intention for your script. It would have worked out fine then. But, the script wasn’t great. Luckily, you got it made with the Chinese. The budget was close to 100 million, right?
S.A: I’m not sure what the final version was. I’m just guessing, but it might have been about 150 or more. I have no way of knowing for sure. Once Warner Brothers came in as a partner, not just for distribution, they bought into the package too.
Q: But since it took almost 20 years to make an original Meg movie, how much did…
S.A: 23, but who’s counting. If I did, I’d be an old man.
Q: How much were you involved in the original film? Did you get involved in the casting process? It had like three screenwriters. What did you discuss with director John Turtletaub?
S.A: The original script that was sold as the project was mine along with Belle Avery. We co-wrote it. But once they brought in the screenwriters, that was it for me. and which is the normal process but I really like the script we wrote. Their screenwriters did a great job too and whether they keep me involved or not… Basically I’m allowed to park the cars [chuckles]. I’m not allowed to do anything. They keep me over on my island and they’re all the way on the other side.
Q: They respect you, the book, and the essence coming from your idea. What do you think of the choice of casting Jason Statham on this one? There are lots of action actors in Hollywood. Was he close to your first choice? Did it surprise you after they cast him and you saw his performance?
S.A: He was my first choice. I loved it when they picked him.Even his first name was similar to the hero’s initials, Jonas as in Jonas Taylor. So I just thought it was meant to be and it was great.
Q: He’s coming back for the second one as well.
They had such success. They’re bringing back Statham, but the rest of the cast is different from the original film. They’ve even chosen a different director, Ben Wheatley, known for making great indie films. What do you think about their choice of cast and director this time?
S. A: I haven’t read the script, so it would be unfair for me to give a compliment or begrudge it. I want to go see it with everybody else. Then you can ask me. I’m sure I’ll give a positive answer because I’m sure it’s going to be a great movie. The one thing with the movies and the books, though, is that people don’t realize like with “Jaws,” there was Peter Benchley’s original book, and then there was a “Jaws 2” that somebody had been hired to put together and that was it.
The movies continued on with “Jaws 3D,” “Jaws 4” and whatever mess that followed. They all were half as good as the previous movie. The first movie by Spielberg was terrific. Then each generation lost something in the next movie. The books actually get better than the next one.
As source material, there’ll be a total of seven books packaged together in a seven book set called “The Meg Legacy,” which I’m really excited about. Not only are all seven books in the seven volumes, but the novellas that I wrote, the special projects, and the comic books that made up the graphic stories — everything possibly Meg is in the seven book set.
I want to see what’s coming up and read the entire series. That’s the best way to do it and it’s sold on my website: SteveAlten.com.
Q: Your seven-volume collectors edition of the entire Meg series is coming out. You have extra contents in there, all packaged together.
S.A: Everything about the last 25 years of the Meg series, since it was published years ago is in the seven volumes. You’re not just reading the major novel of each volume. You’re also getting the back stories, the behind-the-scenes, the novellas that connect the next two novels. There were gaps in between the novels. I wrote the first book and then four years passed for the second in the series. Four years went by in the storyline.
Then it leaps forward 18 years. So there’s two big gaps there that I wanted to fill, to go back to later. I wrote short stories to fill those gaps. Then when the seven book series was designed, we laid everything out so that it was as if you were to watch a series in its original format, but one after the other after the other. As far as the timeline is concerned, it’s much better reading because it fills in all the gaps while you’re sitting there reading it for the first time.
Q: That’s a great way to tell the story. There’s a prequel in there as well?
S.A: There’s the prequel and that’s another thing. One of the things that’s going on and a major change is the 25th anniversary edition of “Meg,” the first book, which is only in the legacy seven book series. It occupies most of the first volume but it’s brand new because I took the prequel and worked it into the first book so that it all appears at once through flashbacks, through something that is a bit more interesting than just reading a standalone prequel.
Q: Right. That’s a great idea to tell the story all together. It’s amazing. What do you want your reader to take away from your wonderful book series?
S.A: What do I want my readers to take away? Yeah well it’s a good question because the seventh book in this series and the last one is Meg Purgatory. But it leads to something that the readers are going to be shocked at a surprise ending that they had no idea was coming for them. And in Meg Legacy, in the seventh book.. I’m going to expand upon the book and put that special treat in there so that you can only get it through reading.
But as far as the, you know, I really created the Meg Legacy series, the seven books, because for the last 25 years, readers have been contacting me and saying, where can we get the original hardbacks that have the entire collection? And you can’t really because they’re all out of print or the fact that three different publishers handle the printing. you know they don’t work together very well.
Right, I see. So by taking it upon myself through our own publishing company and putting it out there as a collector’s edition with faux leather, hardbacks, you know everything, the deluxe version of everything, pages in gold or silver trim, and not having to worry about the page camp like a lot of publishers do so I can load up on things like the best graphic artists, best images, the best maps, the best… Everything that put the series together the way I wanted it to, full of visual things, it’s all in there, plus authors commentary on different pages. So they have an idea of what was going through my head when I created this. So everything you could possibly think it was in the series.