Saturday, December 20, 2014

Once Upon a Mad, Mad Time...

Once upon a mad, mad time in my life, I wanted to be a writer. I was eleven years old, and had fallen deeply in love with Star Trek, much to the dismay of my mother, my friends, and just about everyone who knew me. It's called an obsession, and it's an ugly thing. Very. Very. Ugly. It turns an otherwise sane human being into wild-eyed fanatic who can think about nothing else, talk about nothing else, and eventually drives those around her so certifiably insane that they stop answering the phone and go the other way when they see you coming. At that point, the only remaining outlet is to finagle a way to get one's hands on some manner of writing device.

Back in those days (she said with a toothless, evil grin), that device happened to be an ancient typewriter, original equipment in the Parthenon, and guaranteed to slice through even the most determined little fingers as they banged out story after story about Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the crew of that awesome starship known as Enterprise.

My mother said it wouldn't last. "In ten years, you won't even remember this Star Trek thing," she said one fine Sunday morning when she was trying to convince me that church was a good thing. "It's a fad. A flash in the pan. A lark."

So I spent that morning in Sunday school taking notes for my next grand writing project, all the while pretending to be studiously jotting down the names of the eight tiny reindeer... or maybe it was the twelve disciples. Don't rightly remember because my mind was filled with Romulans and Klingons and wondering just how in all the scattered worlds I might actually find the Guardian of Forever and beg his holiness to transport me out of that church pew and drop me somewhere in the general vicinity of Spock's quarters.

I was pathetic.

But somehow I survived those initial years of obsession, though I can't say it ever completely wore off. To the contrary. even after Star Trek was taken off the air and disappeared into obscurity for many years, I remained deeply involved in the love affair I had going with it - through my writing. All of it was absolutely dreadful, you realize. Pure, steaming crap. I ran across a smattering of it stuffed far in the back of a closet not long ago, and was horrified to realize that I could have died and been subject to deep embarrassment at my own funeral. The only hope for it was to burn it, so that it might at least provide some small manner of warmth for the ravens who sit on top of the chimney and speak in tongues about things of great importance.

But here's the thing. It was that obsession which led to the writing of my first pro book, KILLING TIME. Now generally accepted as the most controversial Star Trek book ever published, it nonetheless was published, and at the age of 24, that felt like a major accomplishment. I was a published, professional writer, and damn proud of myself. Puffed out my chest. Spoke with a vague hint of a British accent for a few weeks (even though I was born and raised in the deep south of Crazyville, aka Central Florida). Considered smoking a pipe and getting one of those corduroy jackets with the funny leather patches on the elbows.

Of course, for anyone who already knows the story, my victory was short-lived, for it wasn't long before the book was recalled by the publisher, re-edited, and re-issued... all without so much as even explaining to me precisely what the hell was going on.  Turns out, because I was a known writer of K/S fan fiction, it was an Absolute Fact that KILLING TIME was a professionally published book wherein Kirk and Spock were doing the nasty dance on every other page, while McCoy peered in from the sidelines with a twisted grin and Nurse Chapel mourned piteously because clearly Spock was spoken for by El Capitan.


That's what it really was.  Yes, I wrote fan fiction. Yes, I wrote some of the most explicit K/S out there at the time, though it would probably be considered tame by today's standards, and I have no regrets.  But I did NOT include any of that in KILLING TIME - and whoever chose to see it in there was just choosing to see it.  So, for the record, there never was any "super secret version" of KILLING TIME. I've heard all the rumors. I've even been called a liar for daring to say that the rumor is as ludicrous as those who choose to believe it.

But no matter. Despite all the infamy of KILLING TIME, anyone who read the book and later saw the first reboot Star Trek movie (2009) might just recognize the plot of the book on the great big screen. Captain Spock. Ensign Kirk. Time-tampering Romulans altering the past and therefore changing the future. Sound familiar?  It did to me... but, hey, I'm just the black-listed writer of a very old book.  KILLING TIME came out in 1984, and it is a fact that the contracts on those books were iron-clad.  Bottom line - the writers of those books retain NO rights, receive NO royalties beyond a certain point, absolutely NO royalties on ebook sales (and KILLING TIME has sold a butt-load of e-books!), and, to top it all off with a bitter cherry, the powers that be can just take the books, plot and all, slam them up on the big screen... and the writer never sees a dime. Not. One. Dime.

Yes, I signed the contract. I write that one off to being young and stupid, and desperately wanting to be a writer. If I had it to do over again? I'd throw the manuscript in the deepest pit, damn the environmentalists, and light fire to the underbrush before I would ever sign another contract like that one!

Though I've told the story of what really happened with KILLING TIME many times in the past, I'll include it here in abbreviated form. Long story short, back in those days, there were at least 3 or 4 copies of the manuscript floating around the publisher's office. One copy was the original. Another copy went to the editor. Another went to the offices at Paramount. And still another (eventually) went to the typesetter. (For those too young to know what a typesetter is... look it up).  So... what's supposed to happen is that Paramount does their editing changes, returns the manuscript to the publisher, at which point the editor makes any other necessary changes (copy editing, typos, etc), and then the twice-edited manuscript is sent on to the typesetter prior to publication.  Well... somewhere in all that chaos, whatever copy Paramount edited got lost in the frazzle, and the original manuscript got sent straight to the typesetter.  Not surprising, since there were at least 3 or 4 different editors on KILLING TIME from the time it was submitted until it was finally published over four years later.  So... any relevant changes, deletions, alterations that had been made were not included in the version that eventually got published.

All of this, of course, became my fault. (Isn't it always the writer's fault when the publisher who is 3000 miles away makes a drastic and irreversible error?) Writers make good scapegoats, as you will undoubtedly learn if you are a writer or hoping to become one. At any rate, my editor was on the phone literally screaming in my ear, and all I could think was - What the hell was I thinking when I was thinking I wanted to be a writer?

I should be absolutely clear that I have no regrets about writing KILLING TIME. I don't even really care that it was made into a movie (and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt, let alone a screen credit!). What really annoys me with the whole shebang is that writers have always been treated like second class citizens, and probably always will be. Would it really be so much to ask for the publishers to throw even a small royalty for e-books in the writer's direction? After all, publishers have NO overhead where e-pubs are concerned, and just because they can get away with it doesn't mean they should. Then again... I was raised on Star Trek - a series that postulated the idea of good over evil, fairness above greed, and so on. But I tend to forget... that's still science fiction.

So for my first entry in my writer's blog, this is just one horror story among many.  But it's enough for now.  I will conclude by saying that I wish I had taken up brain surgery or advanced string theory.  Either would be far more straightforward and far less painful than the absurd task of trying to be a writer.

Am I bitter? Sure, but what writer isn't? Did I have the good sense to quit and get my brain surgeon license? Of course not, but what writer has 'good sense'?

Am I still writing? That's debatable. The little voices in my head continue to whisper from time to time, telling me stories which they insist I should put to paper. Paper? Really? No such thing anymore.

So is it really writing if nothing is written down, but only scribbled on the transient fabric of cyberspace? Jury's still out.

This is the part where I'm supposed to put on a happy face and convince you that your experience will be different. You will be The One upon whom sunbeams shine brightly while fairies scatter glitter in your wake.  But I'm not going to lie to you and I'm not going to pretend writing is easy. Maybe - if you're lucky enough or crazy enough - writing can be 'fun' on some level. But if you're a realist, you'll soon figure out that the business of writing is about as much fun as hemorrhoids. There was a time when a writer wrote, a publisher published, an ad agency advertised, and consumers actually bought books instead of figuring out ways to steal them from 'free download' pirate sites.

Yup, those were the days (or so the story goes).

For what it's worth, my agenda with this blog is to tell you the truth about writing. It'll probably the best horror story ever written.
Copyright 2014 by Della Van Hise

No comments:

Post a Comment