Saturday, April 25, 2009

Haunted By Hollows Part One

" don't pitch 'Buffy' with 'The Body.' You earn that. You pitch it with the premise, and then you get to all the stuff that you're really doing it for."
-- Joss Whedon
This will take a little explanation. I'll try to keep it brief. [I lied. This so is not brief.]

Back around the early 1980s, I wrote a story mostly for my own benefit; entertaining myself and trying to teach myself how to write. I never got the story to a final draft. It took many incarnations. It was a poem at one time. Then a short story. Then it became the inspiration for a comic book I could never draw. Then I game mastered DC Heroes for friends and elements of the story filtered in. This story grew and blossomed and I still carry it with me. It's more than one story now. It's a lot of stories. Far too many than I could ever tell. And while parts of it remain solid in my mind, other parts remain fluid. The majority of the foundation was built in the early eighties, but now and then I return to this place in my mind - it's an entire city now - and I find more there that I hadn't found before, like I'm a tourist, or a journalist, or even an archeologist, digging up more streets and buildings and people and places and things. Like it's all always been there waiting for me to discover it.

Currently I tell myself stories about one of the estranged granddaughters of one of the characters in the original tale. She doesn't even know about her past. Part of the ongoing narrative is that eventually she's supposed to figure it out, but so far she hasn't, because ironically her personality tends to look forward and not back. I should get all this down on paper somehow. I have tried. It's just bigger and better inside my head than my humble talents to tell it on paper. I can't convey it in a way that would enrapture an audience as much as it has already enraptured me.

Every now and then, I see elements of my story show up elsewhere. In movies. In books. Other talented people telling their stories, and I see reflections of my story in theirs. Like ripples of my own reflection in a disturbed pond owned by someone else. I can't grasp my reflection and claim it as mine. As soon as it's there, it's gone.

The movie Mask for example, with Jim Carrey. It reminds me painfully of my failure to tell Justin Grave's story. Elements of a character in my own story called Harlequin, that I came up with easily a decade before I saw the movie, appear in Mask. There's no way the writer of Mask could have known about my story cuz I never got it down on paper in any public manner. I never published it. However, watching Mask the first time left me a little disturbed. It's not the story of Harlequin. There's a lot of major differences. However, a mask that gives powers to whomever wears it? That was the impetus; the germinal idea behind Harlequin's character. The Mask just did it better than I could ever do. And the humor.. well, Justin started as a standup comedian who couldn't be funny, but the mask had the spirit of a medieval jester that over time ...well Justin learns how to laugh, but he also learns how to grieve. It was the whole tragedy versus comedy mask thing. I guess the story could still work. Maybe there'd be an audience. However, after seeing The Mask with Jim Carrey, I felt the wind knocked out of my sails. I couldn't ever make Harlequin better than Mask.

There have been other examples of this, but as I said when I started, I wanted to keep this brief. Enough preamble. Tonight I felt it happen again. Another character from this city, her name was Evelyn Hollows. She was a colleague of Justin's after he got the mask, and after she got to die.

Evelyn was a popular and successful equestrian who competed with her favorite mare, but there were people who didn't want Evelyn to continue winning, so they drugged her horse just before a competition. The plan was for the horse to go crazy during the routine and throw the contest. The people who drugged her horse didn't know that the mare would throw Evelyn off and then trample her to death. It wasn't the mare's fault, but the drugs ruined her and after an animal publically kills a human being, there's little that can be done but put her down.

So Evelyn and her mare both died that night. However, Evelyn had previously made a bargain with supernatural forces, and challenged the Reaper to a game of chess for her soul. She won, and was able to return to life in her original body. The Reaper didn't tell her though, that she'd come back to a body that was supernaturally enhanced, and linked to a minor diety that had her own agenda. Evelyn wanted to come back to life to investigate her death and that of her horse, but first the minor diety had to be appeased, and Evelyn didn't want to do what the diety wanted her to do. Evelyn essentially returned to the streets of her childhood as an undead thing. Unable to do more but observe her loved ones from afar, and tho the minor diety was powerful enough to grant her special abilities, there were also limitations and side effects to this imitation of life.

Eventually, with the help of the father of her best friend (a paranormal investigator named Brandon Witcher) Evelyn Hollows was able to both appease the minor diety that gave her a second life, and discover that her life was ended by someone close to her. The discovery of this betrayal struck her more painfully than any horse's hoof, and she no longer wanted this illusion of life. However, the deal struck allowed the minor diety and her lord and master to keep her animated as long as she wanted, and she wanted Evelyn to convince people to worship her again, because more believers and converts means more power. That's about where she's at when Evelyn encounters Brandon Witcher's granddaughter some thirty-odd years later.

Now, I guess based on the above description, anyone who saw tonight's episode of The Dollhouse, which was titled Haunted, would probably not see what I saw. Again, this isn't the same story. However, I see elements of Hallow's Eve reflected in Haunted. I see a story better told than I could tell. The equestrian woman who gets a second chance at life is older than Evelyn, and it's not a minor diety she strikes a bargain with but Adele DeWitt of the Dollhouse. Still, the pain of learning how her family members really felt about her when she lived - I gasped. The look on Eliza Dushku's face in that moment is the look I see on Evelyn Hollows every time my mind's eye looks upon her. The sadness and frailty of knowing in death what one could never have known in life. The realization of how precious every waking breath truly is, that you can only know when you are trapped inside a body that no longer needs to draw a breath.

Now, in this incarnation, the equestrian woman came back in a younger form, and was able to talk to her family directly. That wasn't the case with Evelyn. She could never go near them because she looked too ghastly. She needed someone to intervene on her behalf, which is where Bewitcher came into the picture. He was a paranormal investigator. Murders involving people not really dead? Kinda one of his specialties. So there are obvious differences, but I can honestly say Haunted was a far superior way to tell the kind of story I wanted to tell back in 1987 when I first tried to get all this down on paper somehow.

It both hurt and helped, to see on a screen images that I had previously only seen in my mind's eye. I'd never thought about it before but dark eyes, dark hair, pale skin. Eliza Dushku woulda made a good Evelyn Hollows... ten years ago. It's too late to tell the story now.

My problem has always been that I can't dissect it. When I see the story, I see the big picture. I keep trying to whittle it down to just something that I could manage into a single meal for an audience, but the end result loses its flavor. The relationships between Witcher and Graves and Hollows are intertwined, and yet they're not at all because they're each separate individuals with their own lives to live, but I can't seem to introduce one without finding myself having to describe the others. Never to my satisfaction, and all I do is lose the audience.

It's all connected, but Whedon was right. You have to earn that. I was never able to find an in into the overall story arc. I had hoped Witcher's granddaughter would be the in, but she looks forward, and so much of the story is now trapped in the past. Locked forever in 1987. Graves is long since dead, Witcher is missing, but Hollows is still there. ..and is she even still Evelyn anymore? I can't tell, and I created her. I think she's fooling even me.

Oh my God. It's Evelyn's body but it's no longer her soul! Of course! If she'd been an actual zombie she woulda bit me. But that means.. Who the hell is she? The diety? Did she actually get a church started? How strong is she? Have I misplaced Evelyn's soul, or is that part of why Witcher disappeared? I thought Witcher disappeared because of Malcolm Factor but that was long since over by then. Maybe he took Evelyn's soul somewhere that minor diety couldn't get to her. Which would explain why he can't return.

Damn. This story is just bigger than me. It always has been. I can never get a grip on it. The more I learn, the more I don't know. I haven't earned any of this. I have to find the story in the story - the part that an audience would actually want to know. A meal that isn't biting off more than can be chewed. If that worked, from there I could get to the rest of it, maybe someday.

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