May 19, 2010

TWILIGHT EYES From the Author

TWILIGHT EYES was re-released in December (2007) by Berkley.

The cowboy movie star Roy Rogers and his cowgirl wife, Dale Evans, were perhaps the first husband and wife in the American public eye to have different last names.

Roy’s horse, Trigger, had no last name because he didn’t want to alienate either Roy or Dale by taking the other’s surname. If you remember rightly, Roy and Dale were basically gentle Christian cowfolk, so Trigger didn’t fear that either of them would beat him or deny him oats were he to take the other’s name. He was just a thoughtful horse, and kind; he desperately wished to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, which is why he could never turn down an offered apple from one of Roy’s or Dale’s fans, even when he’d had his fill of apples hours ago. This led to a recurring weight problem, eventually to a tragic apple addiction, and finally to adult-onset diabetes.

Buttermilk, Dale’s horse, had no last name, either, but knew better than Trigger how to finesse Roy’s and Dale’s fans. When she’d had enough apples, Buttermilk had a way of letting fans know that she preferred money to fruit—a dollar or half dollar, or even a quarter. Buttermilk was also a canny investor; when she died in a freak accident—the collapse of a grandstand from which, with other horse friends, she was watching a greyhound race—her estate was bigger than those of Roy and Dale combined.

Roy’s and Dale’s dog, Bullet, had a last name, Pettiwinkel, but he was ahead of his time in the recognition that one day some of the very biggest of stars would be known by one name. He successfully dropped Pettiwinkel, but he could not persuade Roy and Dale to change his first name either to Cher or to Madonna.

In my day, many kids wanted to run away from home and be cowboys. Not me. Horses always seemed a little psychotic to me. Besides, there were all the stubborn cows and the raging bulls, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, weird sidekicks spitting tobacco juice on everyone, shooting your way out of a box canyon every other week, cattle barons killing sheep sultans, sheep themselves retaliating against cattle. No thanks.

I wanted to run away and join the carnival.

My childhood was dark because of poverty and because of a violent alcoholic father, although it was not without moments of light because my mother was a wonderful person and because my imagination offered many routes of escape, not least of all through books. I have always been an optimist even in dark times, even as a child, yet I wanted to run away.

We lived across the highway from the county fairground, to which each August came a carnival that flooded “the largest midway in Pennsylvania” with amusements of many kinds: thrill rides, games, fortunetellers, freak shows (which I was too young to enter), girly shows (which I was too young and shy to enter), and livestock exhibits (in which the giant hogs fascinated me). Because I knew numerous ways to sneak through or under the fairground fence, I virtually lived on the midway during that week. I saved up gift money and odd-job money all year for the carnival, so I had a few bucks to spend, but mostly I just hung around because the carnies and their colorful life fascinated me.

I never ran away with the carnival, but for many years I pursued an interest in it, collecting everything I could find on the subject. Inevitably, I would write a book set in a carnival.

A publisher of limited editions suggested I write something for him that could be heavily illustrated. The illustrator he wanted to use was Phil Parks, an extremely talented guy whose work I admired. When I learned that Phil also had a horse named Buttermilk and a dog named Cher, I knew this was kismet. All right, Phil didn’t have a horse, and his dog was not named Cher, but I was nonetheless excited about working with him.

The publisher asked me to write a 40,000-word novella, and I delivered a 100,000-word novel. I am sometimes a bad boy. Because the publisher liked the story, he went ahead with the project even though he swallowed hard when he considered the additional production costs. Phil produced more than thirty brilliant illustrations, and TWILIGHT EYES was released in both a trade edition and a limited, signed, numbered edition. It contained the material in Part One of the book you currently hold in your hands, except for the last two words—”Which follows.”

Although the book was finished, I couldn’t stop thinking about Slim, Rya, the carnies, and their war with the goblins. Subsequent to the publication of the hardcover but before the Berkley paperback, I continued the story with another 80,000 words.

TWILIGHT EYES has been in print continuously since its first publication, which is gratifying; and it would be a source of nothing but happy memories if I had not, idiot that I am, agreed to fashion a TV series based upon it. If you have read a few of the other afterwords in these new Berkley editions of my books, you know that Hollywood is, for me, a steaming tar pit, and I am a lumbering brontosaurus that wanders witlessly and repeatedly into the reeking slough.

This time I was lured into the tar by a producer who seemed to be neither a crook nor a maniac, and the fact that he had nine distinct personalities, seven more than the average producer and four fewer than the average director, seemed to be something with which I could easily deal. Indeed, I liked all his personalities except for Viola, a reincarnation who claimed to have been a mistress of Napoleon’s and a poisoner of clergymen in 19th-century France.

As we developed a pitch to take to the various networks, we had only two serious disagreements, the first being that he wanted Rya Raines not to be an entrepreneur in the carnival, as she was in the novel, but instead to be a stripper in one of the girly shows. He had a young actress in mind for the part, one who, as he put it, “has knockers that would cast a shadow to Japan if she was standing on the Malibu beach at sunrise.” If our female lead in fact proved to be that prodigiously endowed, most of our budget per episode would have been spent on elaborate lighting set-ups to ensure that the other cast members were not perpetually in a mammary eclipse. I wondered if she could get close enough to a dinner table to reach her food, and if her arms looked as out of proportion to her bosom as the arms of a T-Rex were out of proportion to its head. I had a few nightmares about this, and I count myself lucky never to have met the poor woman.

After only a few weeks of debate, I won the point, Rya remained an entrepreneur, and then the producer moved on to the argument that Slim, in addition to having the unusual sixth sense that he does, should be a Kung Fu master. Fortunately, I had exhausted him in the entrepreneur-or-stripper debate, and he gave up on Kung Fu Slim after less than a week of discussion and after I shot him in the foot. All right, I didn’t shoot him in the foot, but I considered doing so.

After taking a number of meetings at the networks and major cable channels, we had two interested buyers. The book had been set in 1963, the year that John Kennedy was assassinated, but the producer and I agreed that because of the added production costs of a period piece, we should move the story to the present. Both networks had that condition, but they both also wanted to ditch the carnival background because it was “dated.”

In a follow-up meeting, one network executive—let’s call him Clueless, though that was not his name—wanted the series to be set in a circus. This confused my producer, who said, “A carnival is a circus.”

“No,” said Clueless, “a carnival doesn’t have clowns.”

“No, no,” said the producer, “carnivals are crawling with clowns, they just don’t have elephants.”

“I don’t care about elephants,” Clueless said. “There’s no role in this series for an elephant.”

“Rya Raines could be a trapeze artist,” said the producer. “They wear those tight little costumes.”

I spoke up to confirm that carnivals do not have clowns or elephants or trapeze artists.

“But clowns are essential to the mood of this,” Clueless said. “I really want clowns.”

My producer said, “I want clowns, too.”

In all the rambling, ever spiraling, frequently insane discussions that I’d had with my producer, the subject of clowns had never arisen. I felt bozo blindsided.

I didn’t want clowns. In fact, I suggested I’d accept an elephant before I’d add clowns. They assured me that clowns are really scary, and one of them—I no longer recall which—wanted me to understand that clowns are scarier than elephants.

Let’s just say that over the course of the meeting, I came to the conclusion that I would cut off my left leg before I would develop the series for this network. I still have both legs.

At the other network, an executive—let’s call him Hopeless, although that wasn’t his name—didn’t want the carnival, but he did not want the circus, either. He thought that Slim should be a homicide detective who sees the goblins among us. Hopeless also felt that Slim, in addition to his sixth sense, should be able to transform himself into a “good goblin” who could beat the crap out of the bad creatures. In this scenario, Rya would be a “sexy Internal Affairs investigator or a sexy reporter” who loves Slim but is always half a step away from discovering that he is a shapeshifter. In addition, Slim should have a thirteen-year-old sister whom he has had to look after ever since goblins killed their parents, and the sister “should have a teenage-girl garage band that brings a rocker sensibility into the war against the goblins.”

I shot him in both feet and declined to develop such a series. Okay, you know me by now: I’m always claiming to have shot people in the feet, but it’s never true. The rest of it is true, however, and TWILIGHT EYES never became a TV series. I am, however working on a script for a series about a sexy Internal Affairs investigator who has a pet elephant.

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