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.

Veteran of the Psychic Wars

If things get any weirder, I’ll have to check the water supply. Just when I thought things were going to calm down, this weekend delivered a better curveball than any I’ve ever seen in Major League Baseball. And I want it all to go away, just for a day.

I had a different attitude about change once. Change isn’t necessarily bad. It’s the way of the universe. There would be no life without it. Every belief and creed is based on that: God calls forth Light; Vishnu dreams a new dream; a void explodes; the end of a cosmic status quo. Change can be exciting. I can’t be the only one to think so.

Still, some people panic. They run and hide, assuming the worst, lashing out. They hold true to the ancient Chinese curse and make it prophecy. May you live in interesting times. So you can imagine what a downer it is when somebody freaks out and you have to spend the next several days picking up the pieces.

I’ll bet you’ve noticed a total lack of hard info in my kvetching here. I won’t go into the specifics, not here. I’m tired of that. It’s the trend, not the event, that’s getting to me. The schtick, not the dialogue.

I’ve spent the last few days kicking ass and naming names. I never wanted to do it in the first place. I keep getting volunteered to be the pointman in someone else’s war, knocking down their personal demons just to defend myself. I want to speak in a soft tone, civil, mature and sensible. I’m tired of shouting. I feel like I ought to carry around a water cannon just to have it on hand in case someone flips out again.

Again. It always happens again. No rest, no peace. The pace and the tension goes up a notch every day. It takes so many energy–sheer willpower–to keep someone under control when they don’t want to be. Each day for the last three years, my will gets spent faster than I can recover it. It gets harder to get out of bed. To eat. To write. To care. And I have to keep doing it because no one says it should stop. No one except me, anyway.

Hence the references to Blue Oyster Cult at the top. (No, no fraggin’ omlaut. Deal.) The song of that title was based on Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, the cosmic hero reincarnated again and again to yet another conflict he must resolve. In college I lost my interest in the mordant weariness of the character in all his guises. When my life began to take on the tone of those stories, I finally understood the character. He wasn’t morbid or world-weary. He was burned out. The battle between Order and Chaos never ends. In it, ethics become a luxury.

I’m the only one playing by a set of rules. A few entries back, I raised the question of whether preying on other people was the right way to go. It’s times like this when the idea seems the most appealing. I feel beaten down, and yet the only time anyone gives any quarter is when I beat them down in return. It happens so much that I wonder whether this is supposed to be Life’s Great Lesson or something. I was raised to believe in the Golden Rule. Left to my own devices, that’s how I’d do things. But that doesn’t protect me…more like the opposite. It leaves me vulnerable to those who won’t play by the same rules. I’m forced to fight just as dirty just to make them back off. And the arguments get more brutal, more draining, each time.

Ironically I started the weekend on a very different note…courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Jamie got a copy of the DVD in a steal of a deal, so I filled my brain with webbing for almost 24 hours. It brought up a lot of memories.

Strange as it sounds, I learned more about ethics and morals from comic books and the Bible more than I ever did from my parents. Even now, I see ol’ Spidey as a spiritual mentor. A totem, maybe? And while lots of people have written off Sam Raimi’s flick as just another soul-sucking, money-hungry Hollywood blockbuster, he captures the heart of that character. For all the garish color and adolescent wish fulfillment, there is a strong philosophical message in Spider-Man. “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s the whole point of the character and thus the movie. The script places protagonist and antagonist on opposite ends of the issue of power. The Green Goblin represents a reckless, selfish use of power, the darker and older instinct in humanity. Spidey has realizes that someone else suffers when power is used selfishly. He made that mistake once and, as Spider-Man, struggles and sacrifices to atone. Instead of being a martyr, paralyzed and impotent, he grows into maturity and becomes something greater than he was at the start.

And it’s that message that informs my actions, even now, after three decades. I just hope I have the strength to stay in there and…well, keep swinging.

What’s In A Name….

I figured I oughta tackle this before I get too deep into anything else. What’s with the handle, right?

Like most things on the net, it’s the name I could still get and it’s the one I’m best known by in cyberspace. It started with a character I had to roll up for a Cyberpunk 2020 RPG. He was a netrunner, a hacker basically, and I was trying to figure out how to translate the Shadow into cyberpunk. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men”–red scarf, black slouch, big schnoz, a .45 in each hand–that guy. Naming my character “Shadow” was too easy in my mind, too obvious and pretentious. I went through various permutations of dark, shade, shadow, mystery, etc etc. Dark Karma was the one that stuck. It sounded ominous and mysterious. And it doesn’t mean any one thing. “Karma” as in destiny, spirit, aura? Is having a dark one necessarily bad, and for whom? Anyway it had the feel I wanted. Style triumphs; substance had better keep up.

(FWIW it turned into a interesting character and he has the makings of a cool story: a hacker who had a black-cat rep for making things crash just by walking past them, literally.)

Anyway, when Jamie and I decided to sign up on a friend’s BBS back in late 1992, that was my handle. Most of the kids thought it had sufficient street cred (especially when I was able to punt losers offline). Ever since, it’s a handle I keep going back to. It makes people sit up and look twice in a chat room. “Kewl, wassat mean?” Now and again, I can someone online…er, borrow it. (Remind me to trademark it.)

And when the thought of my own stupid blog was too big to ignore, I just knew it had to be Dark Karma. I have to be angry, surly, and snide somewhere. I would’ve sign up on Dead Journal, but they sold out and stopped offering free accounts. (I’ll bet the sales dept here at Blogger will love that!) If I’m stylin’, whatever. That’s okay too, I guess. As long as I leave a mark–something inoperable. Dark Karma isn’t necessarily good luck or bad. I’m sure it’s bad news for somebody. But the secret, kiddies, is to make it bad news for someone you don’t like!

Now there’s a thought for this Election Day, huh? Vote angry! Vote to hurt, shoot to kill, aim to maim! The system has failed for a lot of people, but only because they’ve failed to use it. If you can’t vote for something, vote against something else!

And now, to make sure this still fits in with the miasma of narcissism that is blogdom, a Gratuitous Shallow Moment: “Oh, the Backstreet Boys are so the bomb!!!!”

Stink bomb, perhaps. Shaddup, go back to the record store and check out some CD racks full of grown-ups, you dinkette.

And here I was thinking this wasn’t going to sound angry enough by the end….