Old Friends

Like House, M.D., whose episode titles reflect not just the path taken by the central medical mystery but the overall theme of the episode, I carefully chose today’s title.

For writers, old friends can come in many different shapes and sizes.

I had occasion to e-mail one last night. I’m getting ready to start Act Two of the play, and I realized that I had no real idea of how a child custody hearing with a judge would play out (outside of what I’ve seen on episodes of the various Law and Order programs). Last December I got called for jury duty, but I only had to show up for one of the five scheduled days, and even then I wasn’t chosen (if three people hadn’t shown up, I probably would have).

Now when it comes to Act Two, Scene One, I know I’ll probably have to cheat a bit for dramatic effect. But I want the scene to have at least one foot in reality. The audience for live theater is wonderful about suspending disbelief. This is why you can get away with having, say, a bar scene by putting out two stools on a darkened stage and giving the two characters who sit on them a beer mug. If you’ve done your job as a playwright, the audience fills in the details.

(Shakespeare understood this as well – and at times he even invited his audience to fill in those gaps – as evidenced in one of my favorite Shakespeare moments, the Chorus’ prologue to Henry V. It’s a wonderful transcendent moment in theater, I think.)

Anyway, to help me keep one leg in reality, I dropped a line to one of my oldest friends who is an aspiring novelist, a published writer, a firefighter, and, as it happens, an attorney. Even more interesting is the fact that he recently supplied the same information to mystery author C.J. Box – so it looks like he’s becoming Wyoming’s hottest attorney for literary research.

So anyway, my old friend came through for me in record time with the information I needed to take the play into the judge’s quarters. Meantime, all I have to do in return is give him a critique of his second novel.* From the looks of things, I’m going to come out ahead on the deal because the new book looks great.

I also received a visit from another old friend last night – about an hour after I was supposed to have gone to bed.

For years I have entertained the idea of writing a play about a rock star who developed agoraphobia, and the ex-girlfriend who goes into his dimly lit, claustrophobic, foil-over-the-windows house and tries to bring him back into the real world. But I haven’t thought about that idea in years – perhaps twenty. Thus, I was surprised to see it when it showed up last night.

Regular readers know that I often say that good ideas never completely go away. They pop in from time to time, and when they show up, they often bring a new friend with them. So when the agoraphobia plot knocked on the door, the old friend brought company.

One was another old friend. It wasn’t really a plot line, just a concern of mine – namely that perhaps some of the best and brightest new talents of our time are being Prozaced into inactivity. I’ve known people who have taken Prozac or other antidepressants for one reason or another, and I’ve watched with horror as their creative spark was snuffed out.

Watching these two old friends sitting in my living room chatting, I realized that they should be together. So I did a little literary matchmaking, and I changed the agoraphobic rock star into someone who had been Prozaced into apathy. Then I decided that the rock star was a cliche and that the creative in question should be a writer. That gave me a couple of new developments – the woman was no longer an ex-flame but a new editor at the writer’s publishing house, who is after the final book of the contract, still owed by the author. There’s a new character, an agent, who introduces them. And there’s another new friend. A title.

Zombies of the Universe.

That part might have been influenced by watching two House episodes back-to-back last night, and admiring how the titles served multiple purposes, as already discussed. As it was, I was thinking of a way the author could describe himself on antidepressants, liking the line, “I feel like a zombie.” Next came the line, “there’s millions of us out here now, full to the gills with antidepressants, underachieving in comparison with our former lives. But thanks to the antidepressants, we’re okay with that. We’re the zombies of the universe.”

As soon as I thought that line through, I knew it had to be the title. Besides, it can also be the title of the author’s most famous work, and just to keep it from looking like a swipe at Stephen King, Zombies of the Universe is a literary novel. That gives me a wonderful dual-purpose Houseian title.

So what’s next for Zombies of the Universe? I forget about it. Easy enough to do. It could spend another twenty dormant while it looks for some more friends to bring to the next party.

Or it could show up again tomorrow with more new friends.

Naturally, I’d appreciate it if it waited at least until I finished my current project before visiting again. But in this business, you never know.

She weighted her brother down with stones
And sent him off to Davey Jones
All they ever found were some bones
And occasional pieces of skin

(via iPod Shuffle)

*Don’t get your hopes up. I only do this for old friends. If you have to ask if you qualify, odds are you don’t.


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