So, here I am again, at the apex of the latest draft of my new novel–trying to come up with the right ending while praying to the muse that everything in front of it holds up the rest of the story better than Chinese drywall. This is the third shot at “The Bureau of Lost Films.” The first two died because I just couldn’t make the story work–and by “not work” I mean I couldn’t make it “not shit.” My problem as a novelist is that I jump into these ideas with kamikaze fervor and then figure out that there’s not really a story there or I simply fall out of love with the whole concept. Actually, reaching a sort of third draft is a milestone to be celebrated because it means I REALLY DO want this to work.
Like most of my ideas, this one’s been kicking around for about five or six years–and that’s a lot of time rolling around inside my head. The genesis for the project was derived from a short story called “The Answer Tree,” by Steven Boyett, collected in the horror anthology, “The Silent Scream.” Buy it. It’s awesome. The story is about a film professor who goes to see a rarely-screened surrealist movie by a notorious filmmaker–the film has the reputation that someone at every screening dies from it–and is seriously affected by the story’s meaning. I love the story–still don’t know why what happens happens, but I was so impressed, I came up with my own short-story variation called “The Chair of Tears.” The title came from a picture illustration some extreme masochism.
In any event, my story featured a film that when screened, causes at least one audience member to end up on the film in the titular chair, basically getting tortured. Was it a bad copy of a good story? Yes, Boo Boo. The only thing I liked was the title–I thought it would be a great one for a horror film. Imagine my chagrin a few years later, when pursuing the discount bin at Half Price Books, I saw a DVD for “The Chair of Tears.” It wasn’t exactly the same as my story, but pretty close. Amazing how two people sometimes can come up with pretty much the same concept.
So, with failure one concluded, the idea of a killer move didn’t fade from my brain. It simply got archived for future use and then dusted off from time to time for further consideration. I got excited about it again when I came up with a title: “This Film Will Kill You.” I had a great intro for it: A cop, chasing a perp–goes into a movie theatre to find everyone in the audience slaughtered except for a traumatized young woman who keeps muttering, “Laugh? I Thought I’d die.” The conceit behind the story was that there was a former silent movie clown hiding in one of his old pictures and he was the murderer and the copy would have to get him—or his surrogate out in the open to stop. Shades of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” In theory, I liked it a lot. In practice, however, I don’t like to have cops as characters because that means I have to involve more cops and then it becomes something I loathe: a police procedural. Lots of people like those. I don’t and I don’t know how to write one…nor do i care to write one. So, scratch the cop concept and a great title….which, incidentally, I nicked from the old H.G. Lewis film, “This Stuff’ll Kill Ya,” about murderous moonshiners. After all, ninety percent of inspiration is theft.
I tried variations on the cop theme without having cops in it. My lead character was a courier, hired to help a collector get a valuable old print of a film to an archive–but the collector is killed by two women who look like Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Who are they? Look it up. That’s as far as that concept got before it was abandoned like five day-old Chinese food. Then, I thought I’d make my lead character a former cop who had quit his job over guilt when his wife was killed in an “Accidental” car wreck while he was out having an affair. He was hired by the film school where his wife taught to retrieve a film that a faculty member had stolen in order to obtain the right to participate at a crazy competition which would lead him to a long lost Charlie Chaplin picture. In the meantime, the film is being sought by…again…Lillian and Dorothy Gish–who have some other worldly powers (Sssh! They’re actually film). It was a neat concept and kind of “meta” within “meta,” but trying to translate my pictorial notions into print proved to be impossible. Flush that sucker down the toilet.
TO BE CONTINUED.