b Papa Dog's Blog: The Biggest Opportunity I Ever Blew

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Biggest Opportunity I Ever Blew

Before Mama Dog took off for Chicago last week, I exchanged emails with an offsite orker curious about the announcement I sent out saying that I was taking a day and a half off for reasons to do with Oprah. When I told this orker the short form version of the story, she thought it was a shame that I wasn’t going along for the ride too. I told her that had been a possibility but that logistically it made more sense for me to stay home with the baby. Figuring out how to deal with the carseat issue alone seemed insurmountable. Then there’s the way the night flight would mess with the sleep schedule, how to deal with her throughout the taping of the show, and so on and so forth. Add to this the fact that I hate flying and haven’t done so since the summer of 2001* and that I can’t stand crowd scenes and it just didn’t seem like a trip I should be on. The orker** made a comment about how she had learned that whenever such brass ring moments present themselves, it’s best to grab them despite the hassle. I agreed that was probably true, but pointed out that it was Mama Dog who was grabbing the ring in this scenario. For me, getting to spend a weekday at home with my daughter was brass ring enough.

I was thinking about that exchange on the way home from work today, and took a moment to ponder those brass ring moments that actually were mine and which I gave a pass to in one way or another. My pre-Mama Dog life was a landscape littered with unfinished projects and (usually wilfully) squandered opportunities. The big one that stands out was when I was a young pup of 22 or 23. This was when I was writing and publishing comic books, and I managed to get a set of my books into the hands of a prominent not-science-fiction writer who was at the time a kind of (for want of a better word) hero of mine. I was very surprised a short time later when this selfsame not-science-fiction writer sent me a letter telling me he really liked my book, and later called me at my own personal home to ask me a question about it.

This would have been 1987 or 1988, I guess, when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted and went about very loudly sucking for its entire first season. Somewhere during that year I got a notion in my head that I could write a better script than what I was seeing on TV. It seemed a more constructive thing to do than just complain about how much the show blew. So I wrote this thing and realised I had no idea where to go from there. As it happened, the Less Marvellous Spouse (to whom I was then married) and I were going to be in the Los Angeles area for Thanksgiving, and we received an invitation to visit the not-science-fiction writer at his home. When I told him I’d written a Star Trek script with no contact and no prospects he said, “You know what that’s called, don’t you? That’s called jerking off.” He didn’t seem too enthused about looking at it, but I brought it along anyway for its hell.***

Perhaps wisely I didn’t talk about the script at all through lunch, or afterwards when we shot pool on the table in his study/library. I let him win, out of respect for his age and sympathy for his reach.**** When it came time to leave, I paused at the doorway and said, “So, there’s no way I can get you to look at my script?” “Oh, what the hell,” he said, and grabbed the thing from me, flipping rapidly through it and telling me what was wrong with it at first glance. Next thing I knew, he was calling the WGA, telling the secretary to send me all the necessary information for registering my script. I thought that was a big deal, but then next thing he was calling Mel Tormé’s son, who was at that time the Star Trek story editor. “I’ve got this kid here,” he said, “and he’s written a Star Trek script. He’s going to send it to you. He’s a good kid, you should look at it.”

So far so good. Within a week I had my script registered and sitting on the desk of the Star Trek story editor. I was already farther than I ever thought I’d get. Then Velvet Fog Jr. called me up, told me some stuff he didn’t like about the script, but said it had potential. The main thing was, they were killing off the character played by Der Bingle’s granddaughter. I had to rewrite the script without her.

And that’s where I choked. It’s insanely stupid, and I’m sure now it was just an act of perverse self-sabotage, but I couldn’t rewrite the thing. I couldn’t figure out a way to do it without that particular character playing out one particular scene. It seems ludicrous now. There were surely dozens of ways I could have reworked it, but somehow I just couldn’t find any of them. I dithered. I delayed. I procrastinated. Then the revolving door at Paramount took a spin and Velvet Fog Jr. was no longer the story editor. I no longer had an in, and my script was once again a big stack of jerking off.

So that was my big miss on the brass ring. I like to think that if I had that sort of shot again now, I wouldn’t hesitate. On the other hand, it’s in some ways just as well that I blew it; 17 years later with my perspective improved just the tiniest bit I can recognise just how much worse my script was than the crap I was deriding on the lousy first season of that show.
*Nothing to do with the unfortunate events of that September, but they didn’t help any.
**paul, that’s three right there.
***That is, the hell of it.
****Here I kid. He kicked my ass fair and square. I hope that in the unlikely event the not-science-fiction writer somehow happens upon this cheap shot it will not place me forever on his shit list.


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