ARRRGGGHHH!!! VAMPED AGAIN!!! June 18, 2007Posted by Administrator in : Politics , trackback
Wanna hear a writer’s worst nightmare?
One of them, anyway.
When I got up this morning I went directly to my desk in order to finish a book proposal I’ve basically been refining for about twenty years.
The novel that I ultimately came to call Sweeter Than Wine is about a young man who gets separated from his infantry unit shortly after D-Day and spends several weeks lying low in a wine cellar to avoid the Germans in small French town. The bad news — and the good news, as well — is that he isn’t alone. He soon discovers that he’s sharing his little hiding place with a gorgeous female fighter pilot connected with the Romanian government in exile. With all that wine, very little food, and the stimulus of shared danger, the inevitable happens.
Weeks later, when the Allies sweep the Germans from the town, his enamorata suddenly disappears, and our hero discovers that he can’t come out into the daylight. He’s caught the virus that is the cause of the syndrome everybody calls “vampirism”. Allowing himself to remain Missing in Action and presumed dead, he works his way back to the States, settles in Denver, and starts a new life — as a private detective.
The story proper begins 63 years later — or at least it would have, until I chanced to check out a new TV show being advertised for this fall that’s built on an almost identical premise. It’s extremely difficult to describe my feelings, reading about this coming TV series, especially since it’s the second time this has happened to me.
When I first conceived of what I call my “ethical vampire”, there had been no Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and therefore no Angel or Spike). There had been no Blade, no From Dusk Till Dawn, no John Carpenter’s Vampires. Ann Rice was around, but I hadn’t read her books.
But my agent at the time had me thoroughly typecast — in his mind — and he couldn’t be bothered to represent a vampire story created by a science fiction writer. I was busy with other projects, two or three years went by, and suddenly there was Forever Knight, a syndicated Canadian TV series about, what else, an ethical vampire. Although there were substantial differences between those stories and mine, I didn’t want to be accused of copying somebody else’s work. I shelved the project and forgot about it as a vampire renaissance swept the culture.
This time, I don’t plan to be swept — although it’s going to take a little energy to make it happen. In an attempt to get myself some representation again, I’ve wrote to hundreds of agents over the past several months, letting them know what kinds of projects I’m working on. I thought for a while that Sweeter Than Wine might become a graphic novel (what a swell one it would be) so I included it in the list.
One of those agents — supposedly one of the most respected in the business — wrote back that “vampires are apparently over-published right now”, and that in any event, he didn’t really want to work with me.
That put me in mind of the agent I mentioned earlier. My wife had written about one third of a swell novel that was way, way out at the edge of the envelope for its time. “Nobody,” my then-agent informed her loftily, “will be interested in reading a novel about a computer virus.” This is the same guy who, because of a single line in her book, declared that “nobody will remember Bernie Goetz five years from now.”
If you don’t know who he is, look him up.
One thing I know by now is that, whatever I write, it’ll turn out different than anything anybody else might write on the same topic. I could give ten writers one of my outlines, but only one story — mine — would be the L. Neil Smith story of the bunch. Given the nature of network television, whatever I write will almost certainly be better.
My story also has the advantage of not being part of a continuing series, so I can put my hero in danger and the reader won’t know if he’ll really survive. Something else: an editor at Ballantine Books once told me (and I have found myself guided by it ever since) that all truly great stories are love stories, one way or another. That’s something network television almost never gets right. They seem to have a morbidly pathological aversion to romantic love and stable marriage.
Of course this pesky new series could always do a flop in three or four episodes. Nobody in that business knows what they’re doing. Clearly television networks are run — and always have been — by a gaggle of blind, epileptic chimpanzees of the sort who cancelled the original Star Trek, discontinued Next Generation and Enterprise, substituted The Ghost Whimperer for Tru Calling, banished Alyson Hannigan to a grotesque situation comedy, and let Buffy slip through their comical monkey fingertoes to end its triumphal run on another network.
Whatever happens this time, I’ll send Sweeter Than Wine to my new agent, urging him to hawk it as if this new TV series never existed. It’ll make a good book, a better comic, and, given the copycat predilection of network TV, maybe competition for the new TV series.
Then it’ll be their turn to say “Arrrggghhh!”