Jimmy Juliano’s debut novel, “Dead Eleven,” has an unusual backstory.
The book, out Tuesday, is a spooky tale of a remote island where inhabitants are obsessed with ’90s nostalgia, which earned a coveted jacket blurb from “Goosebumps” guru R. L. Stine and already has a film development deal with A+E Studios. But Juliano is the first to admit that his path into publishing and Hollywood “feels like a back door into the industry.”
Juliano, an educator who works at Lake Forest High School in suburban Chicago, first made a name for himself as u/Red_Grin, a Reddit user posting scary stories to the NoSleep subreddit. The community, with over 17 million members, is “a place for redditors to share their scary personal experiences” — and while the stories (probably) aren’t real, “treat everything as though it is a true recount of events.”
With a love of authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz and a penchant for eye-catching titles, Juliano launched his first story in the subreddit in 2013 with the four-part “So, yeah…I’ve been intimate with a ghost.” Over the five years he posted regularly, 10 of his stories were voted to the No. 1 spot, including much-discussed selections like “Why I didn’t shower for 21 years” and “Uncle Gerry’s Family Fun Zone.”
“Shower” ended up being the first post which made an impact for him outside of Reddit.
“That story did really well, and I got a Reddit message from some producers out in Hollywood who were trying to put together this TV show,” he said. “At first I thought, ‘This is fake,’ but then I start Googling and it was legit.”
Although the proposed anthology show never took off, it gave Juliano the feeling that “something could happen with this if I keep at it.”
While Juliano didn’t have luck querying literary agents in the years before he started posting to NoSleep, another unusual opportunity came via Reddit messaging.
“My manager, Josh [Dove], messaged me,” Juliano said. “He saw the potential in my writing and thought he could flip some of these stories into TV or movie deals. Eventually I told him about the idea I had for ‘Dead Eleven,’ and he encouraged me to write it up as a novella. He had some contacts at Verve, and he got my novella in front of my now-agent, Liz [Parker]. She loved it and signed me and said, ‘You should expand this into a novel and we can try to get a book deal.’”
Eight months later, the book was finished, and after rounds of notes, feedback and drafts, the team went out with it in 2021 and got a book deal with Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
After the book was sold, Juliano was offered a meetings with two Verve producers, Foster Driver and Zoë Kent, who showed interest in developing the project for film via their company, Driver+Kent Media.
“I got such good vibes from them,” Juliano said. “They told me what their vision for ‘Dead Eleven’ was: Not necessarily a standalone movie or a miniseries, but maybe something that could be an ongoing thing. It happened really quickly — within four weeks, they had taken it to studios and they wanted it. So it’s been optioned through them and there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes right now, but I know it’s tough with the writers strike.”
Juliano, who is already busy writing his next book, says his story shows that there are many different avenues to get into the industry.
“I wouldn’t have got this book published if it wasn’t for starting out on Reddit,” he said.