Friday, July 20, 2012
The sound of hoof beats 'cross the glade
Good folk, lock up your son and daughter;
Beware the deadly flashing blade
Unless you want to end up shorter;
Black Adder, Black Adder, he rides a pitch black steed
Black Adder, Black Adder, he's very bad indeed!
............Black Adder Theme Song (1983)
* * *
Kathryn sighed the weary sigh of a sibling who has listened to bad brotherly puns for lo these many. "Beats the furry heck out of me," she said.
Chris said, "Because he was on Howl-iday."
There were three groans and a chortle. The chortle was Chris laughing at his own joke. The groans were from Kathryn, Yours Truly, and Chris' Lady Love, Karen.
The cabbie said, "One more like that, mate, and I'll bloody well treble the fare."
It was unwise to issue that sort of dare to Chris, who would pun at any cost. Fortunately, at that moment our destination hove into view - the Metropole Hotel in Brighton Beach, England, home of the 45th Annual World Science Fiction Convention.
Opposite, was the broad pebble beach Brighton is known for the world over. The air was British September brisk, so the beach was empty - a much treasured state if you were beach people like the four of us. We stood by the luggage, drinking in the salty breeze. It made us feel at home, although our stretch of shoreline was thousands of miles away and washed by the waters of the Pacific, instead of the Atlantic.
Off to one side was the famed Brighton Beach Pleasure Pier and we could hear loudspeaker Rock N' Roll, competing with a calliope, people having fun at the top of their voices; and with it the delicious scent of food-that-is-not-good-for-you wafted on the air. We drank it all in, longingly.
"I wanna go play," I said. "I don't wanna go to work."
"Werrrkkk!" Chris screeched in his best Maynard G. Krebbs imitation. "Werrrkkk."
Karen rose on her toes and gave him a quick kiss. "Poor baby," she said. Then, with a laugh, "Don't worry, Chrissy. Kathryn and I will think of you guys every single minute that we're off having fun."
A couple of bellboys got our luggage and we followed them inside, pushing through a bizarre crowd of Darth Vaders, Princess Leas, Wookies, Blade Runner androids, pointy-eared Spocks, and a host of other science fictiony characters.
It was mostly great fun, except when we passed through a band of robed Druids.
Chris wrinkled his nose, and said in that stage whisper of his: "Suckers smell like they haven't bathed since Stonehenge was a rock pile."
Kathryn punched his arm in warning, while Karen shushed him, saying, "They can hear!"
"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," Chris said.
Kathryn said, "That's what they'll be saying about you when your Thingie falls off from a Druid curse."
The Druids glared at us, and Chris started to glare back. Then, perhaps mindful of his baby sister's warning, he broke eye contact and pretty soon we were bellying up to the registration desk.
We had just enough time to dump our bags, then meet Norman Spinrad for lunch at one of the hotel restaurants. Norman was already at the table when we arrived, and he rose to greet us, his trademark sardonic grin creasing his face.
He put out a hand to shake, but Chris pushed it aside. "Fuck that shit," he said and wrapped Norman into a huge bear hug, lifting him off the ground and slapping his back with both hands.
When Chris dropped him, Norman and stepped away, laughing. "At least he didn't fucking kiss me," he told us.
Karen arched an eyebrow. "He never!"
Kathryn laughed. "I saw him," she said. "Right on the lips. It was just after Chris crashed his party by riding a motorcycle into his house."
Norman chuckled. "After that he fucking kidnapped me," he said.
We all settled down, ordered drinks and food, then Chris and Norman regaled us with stories about the "good old days," when Chris was in the Underground Press and writing for bike magazines, and Norman was launching a career that would eventually win him many awards, including the Hugo and Nebula, as well as being declared (much later) an SFWA Grand Master.
Finally we got to the bit of business that would let us put the lunch on our Masters' tab. (The Fox Network and Columbia Studios ).
"We want to hit you up for a big favor," Chris told Norman.
"Sure, if I can," Norman said.
"You know this new show that we're Story Execs on, right?"
"From what you told me back in LA," Norman said, "it sounds like it might be a decent show. If anything on television can ever be called that."
"We're going to be showing the pilot in the hotel theater later tonight," Chris said. "See for yourself."
Norman nodded, which was an encouraging sign. He was an old hand, experienced in dealing with Hollywood, and was wise to be cautious.
Chris said, "We told Lupo we might be able to con you into doing an episode. It'd be a real coup if we could. Not just for us, but for the show."
I said, "If it's the hit we think it's going to be, we'd like to get other prominent authors to write for the show. You'd be sort of paving the way."
Chris added, "Kind of like Roddenberry did on Star Trek, except without screwing the writers."
Little known Gene Roddenberry bit: He'd cozen famous names in science fiction to write for his show, then, after they'd turn in the first draft, he'd act all humble and say that it had always been his dream to have his name associated with writers of their caliber. And would they mind if he put his name on the script as well? They'd feel flattered and agree. What they didn't know was that Roddenberry would end up getting a share of the script and story fee, plus residuals whenever the episode ran until the end of time, or people stopped watching Star Trek - whichever came first. (To see how that sort of scam was pulled on us, see How To Steal A Million Dollars.)
Norman had written an episode of Star Trek - the Doomsday Machine - which also credited Genial Gene, but kept his experience and opinions to himself.
Instead, he asked for more information about Werewolf and to our delight - he eventually agreed to our request - subject to viewing the pilot. (Eventually, Norman did write a brilliant episode, titled Gray Wolf, which appeared right after we killed Chuck Connors. It featured the new Werewolf King, played by Brian Thompson. Norman later called the writing experience one of the best he'd ever had in Hollywood.)
With that small victory under our belt we went at our other Convention duties with gusto. We participated in the usual panel discussions, bought drinks for old pals at the SFWA Suite, worshipped at the feet of Gods like Doris Lessing (Guest Of Honor, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature), Robert Silverberg, and Roger Zelazny.
We also had a great conversation with Special Effects & Makeup Maestro Ray Harryhausen - (Chris had interviewed Ray during his days as a freelance magazine writer.) Ray had a lot of nice things to say about Rick Baker - the young rising Makeup and Effects star who created the Werewolf suits for our show.
Later that night we screened Frank Lupo 's pilot episode of Werewolf (Part I; Part II), as well as two of our episodes: Black Ship and The Wolf Who Thought He Was A Man. (To read that script and others, visit The Werewolf Page ) The buzz prior to the showing must have been enormous, because the theater crowd spilled out into the hallway. Eventually, we had to promise a midnight showing to soothe disappointed fans.
Our big moment, however, came the next day. We were due to give a talk about our experiences as science fiction writers, toiling in Hollywood. I've long since lost the poster for the event, but it went something like this:
STEN SERIES AUTHORS
ALLAN COLE & CHRIS BUNCH
ADVENTURES IN LA-LA LAND
WHY HOLLYWOOD SCREWS UP SCIENCE FICTION
We didn't expect much of a crowd. At that point in time, the 8-novel Sten series was only half completed, had appeared only in the English language, and was only sold in North American bookstores - meaning the U.S. and Canada.
As Chris put it: "They've never fuckin' heard of us here, Cole. What'll we do if nobody shows?"
Before I could offer up phony reassurances, the nice Convention guide arrived to escort us to the speaking hall. Kathryn and Karen came along for support, and also to give us cues, like, speak louder; or, time's up; or, Run Like Hell!
When we entered the hall we were dismayed.
"It's fucking huge," Chris said.
And it was. Hundreds of chairs huge. Big damned speaker's table on a raised dais huge. Not only that, but:
"Shit," Chris said. "It's fucking empty."
And so it was. There was not one single, solitary soul in the immense hall. At the speaker's table, there were only a pair of microphones on small desk stands, and a pitcher of water with two glasses.
Kathryn squeezed my hand and said, "It's early yet."
Karen patted Chris. "It doesn't even start for ten minutes."
I sighed. "Well, no matter how many show up, we still owe them a good time, right?"
"Yep," Chris said, resigned.
We had appeared in public many times before. Had a regular little act we'd rehearsed. Also, we'd been on television, radio, plus those all important autograph sessions. You never know what's going to happen at a book signing. Sometimes you get zip support from the store - no advertising, no notices in the newspaper. Nothing, except maybe a poster in the window. The store owners just pocket the publisher's ad and PR money and shrug their shoulders at you.
Chris and I had done signings where several hundred people showed up, arms loaded with books. And one where only a single person dropped by. For that event we'd driven for an hour an half. Even so, we gave that one solitary fan the full Bunch & Cole Magilla Gorilla. (Bit of Bunch & Cole Trivia: Chris' had named his loan-out corporation, Whatever The Gorilla Wants, Inc.)
Meanwhile, back at the empty speaking hall, we squared our shoulders and marched to the front. Mounted the dais, slid into seats behind the microphone stands, and poured glasses of water.
The sound of the pouring water echoed in the empty chamber.
We tapped our fingers. Played with pieces of paper with sweat-smeared notes on them. Sipped water. Cleared our throats. Looked at watches, many, many times. Then up at the meeting hall.
And still, the only people there were our loyal sweethearts, sitting way in the back by the big double doors. There was a large clock above them, numbered in the Roman style, big hand ticking toward the top of the hour.
Then, just as it reached the XII, there was a noise. Footsteps? A boom as the doors were thrown open and a few people entered the room.
We waved them forward - there's nothing more ridiculous than a audience of six scattered over several zillion empty chairs.
There was a sudden buzz of voices, and Chris sat up straight.
"Shit, Cole. Would you fucking look at that!"
"I am, I am," I said.
Totally out of it. God damned Stunned.
Because those few people were only the beginning of an outright onslaught of lovely human beings. Scores and scores of people swarmed through the doors. Most in costume and with painted faces, and among them there were even the odiferous Druids.
Before we knew it the whole place was packed. Every one of the several hundred seats bore the weight of Wookies, and Hans Solos, and Spocks, and Aliens, and Witches and Warlocks.
A veritable invasion of otherworldly forces.
But now, instead of worrying about being ignored, we were suffering the beginnings of stage fright.
"So fucking many," Chris said.
As my stomach churned and heart trip-hammered I remembered reading that even that great master of the boards Lord (then Sir) Laurence Olivier confessed that he suffered badly from stage fright. Frozen in fear before every single performance.
But then our greenies cut in.
Chris said, "Come on, Cole."
He jumped to his feet and grabbed a microphone off its stand. I snatched up the other one. We hopped off the dais and got right down on the floor with our audience.
And we heard an announcer's voice boom: "Gentlebeings. The authors of the Sten series, Allan Cole and Chris Bunch."
A half beat before the applause began, Chris shouted: "Direct from Hollywood! At enormous fucking expense!"
Well, they just roared. And the applause was - as they say - deafening. I'd heard loud applause before. But, never for me!
We started talking and spinning tales of our misadventures in Hollywood. Many of which, I've related here.
It was an amazing experience. I knew for the first time what it must be like for real stars. You get a high like no drug could ever provide.
Then, when we were done with our act, it was time for questions and answers. They came thick and fast. To our amazement, most of them were about the Sten series.
In the middle of it all, Chris had a question of his own: "I just gotta ask you guys," he said to the audience, "how do you even know about Sten."
There were hoots of laughter, then one guy shouted, "Forbidden Planet." (A famous SF bookstore in London). Then others called out the names of science fiction bookstores up and down the country.
(We learned later that in those days specialty bookstores would order whole cartons of American books from intermediaries in the States, getting around stupid regulations imposed by U.S. publishers. The upshot being, Sten was almost as well known in the U.K., as it was in the States.)
Finally, Kathryn gave us the high sign - a throat cutting motion - that time was up. Karen pointed ostentatiously at her watch.
We called for the final question.
One of the Druid priestesses shouted, "What's your favorite British television show."
I was quickly running through Masterpiece Theater programs and probably would have ended up saying something Rawther pompous.
The applause was double - no triple - what it had been before.
Out of the corner of his mouth, Chris said, "Can you fucking believe this, Cole?"
And we collected our ladies and exited - floating on air.
NEXT: KILLING PEOPLE IS FUN
(NOTE FROM ALLAN: TO SAMPLE SOME OF THE SCRIPTS WE WROTE FOR THE SHOW, CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE WEREWOLF PAGE.)
THE COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!
THE VITAL LINKS:
The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we've now passed the 150,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!*****
STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH!
Told in four parts, Episode One now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link.
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode One ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur!
Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace.
THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK
Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.
Posted by Allan Cole at 8:02 AM