1st Outline: “I, Proteus”

Right, back to the tangled roots of the Doctor Who audio project called something-Proteus-something.

You might remember the background.  Neil Marsh and I were working on a fan audiodrama where the Doctor was female.  Fanboy dickering drove the project into a ditch twice before.  A big popularity contest.  Sort of like high school, only shorter.  We moved on to Afterhell after that.

The worst of it faded into the background noise of the scriptwriting process.  Unfortunately that was an even bigger mess.

I started on a full outline of the whole storyline, cliffhangers and all.  Then Neil sent an e-mail, panicking.  Forget the outline, he said.  He could really use a script, something to show people.

I wrote the first few scripts based on what I had.  Then he grew concerned about the plotting.  Stop the scriptwriting.  He wanted the outline after all.

I went back to the outline, only to get more e-mails begging for scripts.

And so on and and so on.

Neil was always nervous.  Never satisfied.  Whatever I gave him, he needed more.  All this while writing Afterhell.  Yup, he had me writing two radio series at the same time.  And like an idiot, I went through this vicious cycle a few times, back and forth.  Recipe for burnout.

Anyway, after the jump,  this is the rough but completed outline for “I, Proteus.”

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Shock Treatment

I’m trying to calm down. I just did something that makes me nervous, and I need to let it go or it’s going to be with me all day.

I just wrote something dangerous.

Oh, I’m glad I did it. Well, maybe not glad. I’ve just done something I’ve never done to one of my characters before. I’ve killed plenty, driven a few mad, subjected a couple to utter despair. But not this. It took a tall glass of Guinness, but I did it.

Now I know how Anthony Burgess and William Peter Blatty felt. Burgess relived the murder of his wife to write A Clockwork Orange. Writing The Exorcist, Blatty had to do something to sweet little Regan so horrible that even he thought it was too much. I frown on the idea of an artist needing to chemically mood-alter to accomplish anything, but creation is just as much a grey area as it is green. You survive however you can.

The story I wrote is a script outline for my Afterhell audio project. I wanted something disturbing, but above all, thought-provoking. No answers, just a lot of disturbing questions. The working title is “Damning Praise.” The story is a blatant indictment of SF fandom, relentlessly so. And in it, a couple of fanboys…assault…an elven princess.

It happens in real life, with real people, sometimes at conventions. I remind myself of that. It happens. But nobody talks about it.

It can be taken as symbolic of fandom’s treatment of their flesh-and-blood heroes, the writers and the actors, but it’s more than just a metaphor for me. I deliberately slapped fandom in the face. They say they protect their own, but they don’t. Women get hurt, harassed, abused. Nobody protects them at the cons. Con security can only do so much. For all the flames, fanboys look out for each other. They rarely speak out unless they have a stake in what happens, an axe they’d like to grind…preferably on their rival’s skull. They hide each other’s dirty laundry when it suits them. They air it when it doesn’t. Good people suffered because of it. And I hate them for it.

Maybe it’s naivete on my part. I never bought the party line that fans were intrinsically better than mundanes. But I wanted the proof. I wanted to see us make some of our dreams come true. Instead I saw a lot of dreams getting held back. A lot of “don’t rock the boat.” A lot of head games and sexual harassment.

So I did something to a character that they’ve been doing to themselves for God knows how long. Part of me is defiant, proud to push the envelope, even if it’s only my own. Part of me feels sick inside. Elven princesses aren’t real, but this one is real enough to me.

And I know that I’ll have to go back into that dark place again. Not because it’s fun. Because it’s true. Because I’m angry, aching to lash out at the human race and its apparent lack of humanity. At the fanboy ubermensch wannabes who failed to be worthy of their passions.

This story is bound to tick people off. Even I think I’ve gone too far.

Someone might accuse me of only trying to shock people, resorting to cheap tactics. Duh. Of course I did! And I want this to hurt.

Well, it hurts me. Disturbs me. I can only assume that means I did my job well…and hope it does more good than harm.

Meanwhile I wait for my friend Neil to give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Is he going to be too shocked, too outraged to sanction this?

He takes forever to answer mail these days. This is gonna be a long wait.

I’ll Explain Later

I’ve spent the last few weeks fighting off a really persistent cold, and I’m only just coming out of it. Nasty little bug. For a cold, it took me and Jamie down pretty hard. Almost at the same time.

In a weird way, it was also the best vacation I’ve gotten in years. Being a writer means no paid holidays. When you’re a freelancer, it means no holidays at all. I got a lot of reading done, soaked in quite a few DVD’s in bed, courtesy of my laptop and a pair of headphones. And with one carefully worded e-mail, a lot of my job stress suddenly disappeared.

My big project right now is an audio series called “AfterHell,” a horror anthology. It feels like my co-producer and I have been playing patty-cake with the pilot script ever since I wrote it a few years ago. And the whole time, he’s been nickel-and-diming it to death. It runs too short, can you add a scene here, can you develop this business here, it’s still running five minutes short, etc etc. Rinse, lather, repeat. Every time I did a rewrite, he insisted I write more. And when we got two more scripts in, he did exactly the same thing with each of them. So I was stuck rewriting three scripts at the same time, the only explanation given being they were always “too short.”

Wait a minute. Two years of edits, additions, and myriad changes–and they’re all too short?!

This all came to a head on the third script. He loved it to death. He even went so far to say it was the right length. (It didn’t stop him from wanting more scenes, but it was apparently the right length.) Now this didn’t make any sense to me. I did the scripting on that one, the same way I did the first story. The formatting and spacing was the same. Until then, his page counts and mine never tallied. I wrote 25 pages for the pilot. He counted 22. But on the third script, we both counted 28 pages. We tried to put our heads together on this over the phone and got absolutely nowhere. He started lecturing me about the page-to-minute ratio on scripts when, ironically, I’d been scriptwriting a lot longer than he ever had. I decided to take another shot at nailing down the page count differential, making sure the format and spacing on the first script was exactly the same as the third one. I ended up with about 26 pages. But when I turned it in, he sent back an e-mail explaining that he “fixed” the spacing again and that it still came out to 22 pages. And he added a smiley.

He might as well have said, “Nice try, now get back to work. 🙂 “

The whole situation was ridiculous all by itself. Two years, no explanations, no progress. My project–my story–has been held up like this for two years. And the best he can do is say the same thing over and over again, except this time with a smug little smiley. He thought he was being nice, defusing a situation with a cute smiley. Sure, smileys are cute. But when I want something and I’m not getting it, ah hates cute.

Man, I wanted to flame him good. Unload both barrels of my modem on ‘im, that’s what I wanted to do. It took all my willpower to keep myself from char-broiling his butt. And my cold was in full gear by then, so I had about as much patience as a boll weevil in heat. (I was in Yosemite Sam mode, as you can see.) Instead, I went on strike. Time to put up or shut up. Figure out a script format that works.

I told Jamie, “Watch this, he’s going to find out I was right the whole time.”

Guess what he said five days later. She’s my witness.

My co-producer writes back, “No doubt you’ll want to kill me by the end of this, but it turns out you were absolutely correct the whole time.” I just threw my hands up in the air.

At least it’s not my problem anymore. He’s working the problem, not me. And it frees up a lot of my time, not to mention a lot of the pressure. I get to work on some stories I’ve been meaning to write for a while now.

One of them is one of several stories planned for “AfterHell” brings in an old character of mine, a time traveler known to all and sundry as Harlan. I first made up him for some ancient Doctor Who fan fiction stories I did back in the 80’s. (A version of him appears in a fanvid I finished only just a few years ago, “The Prisoner and the Time Lord,” found here: http://www.theta-g.com/drwho/prisoner/ ) I must’ve written 20 stories with that characters, but he never got much exposure. Every time I submitted a Harlan fanfic to a DW zine, the zine folded before it ever saw print.

At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, it may be just as well. I’m tired of Doctor Who fandom–just about any fandom, for that matter–and I’m disgusted by the state of the books that tried to continue the stories long after the series ended in ’89. I miss Doctor Who a lot, the show and the character I knew. I’ve watched it go through many changes, adapted to them as best I could, but I don’t follow it slavishly like a junkie waiting for his fix. I can see DW just fine. I don’t need anyone to describe it to me which, as I said, may be just as well. Very few writers don’t envision very clearly or very well at all anymore.

Maybe this AfterHell story will help me get this Harlan character into a form that works without Doctor Who. So much of his identity is based in that universe, because I loved it so much. Now that dream world feels like a stone around my neck. People outside as well as inside fandom don’t understand how I feel about DW, or how I perceive it. To the fanboys, it’s whatever they’re told it is. To everyone else, it’s another blip in the background radiation of the world. Whenever this time of the year comes around, the day of JFK’s assassination and the first premiere of Doctor Who, that all the unresolved issues I have come back. And part of me wants to be free of the disappointment. The sense of isolation follows me, but that’s not going away no matter what I do.

Maybe one day I’ll get a fair shot and someone’ll listen. A sense of belonging wouldn’t come as easily as that, but it’d be nice to be welcomed back into a community I was once a part of. I just have a point of view, one that diverges from the norm.

I’ll explain later.