I live up in the hills of Santa Barbara, in an area known as the Riviera, which is just as nice as it sounds. From my deck I can see a panoramic view of downtown, with the Mesa Hills on the far side. There’s even a glimpse of the ocean to be had. It’s one of the oldest areas of the city; my apartment dates back nearly a century. It’s near the back of a group of four bungalows in a small bucolic walk-in court, hidden by banana trees, night-blooming jasmine and hedges, with an orange tree close enough to, at times, pluck a perfectly round fruit the color of a sunset from my kitchen window. The neighbors are pleasant. It’s kind of a back fence community.
I’ll be sorry to leave.
Unfortunately, however, I must. Why? Because I have Parkinson’s Disease. I’ve had it for nearly 20 years. For the first 15 or so it wasn’t bad — in fact, entire days would pass when I could almost forget I had it. But though individual days would pass unremarkably, individual weeks would not. Nor would months, or years. I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of a new surgical treatment: DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation). It’s basically a pacemaker for the brain. It slowed the progress of the disease dramatically. There are only about a million people on the planet who have it.
But it didn’t stop it.
Because there’s no cure.
Its chronic and ideopathic; that there’s doctor talk for “We don’t know what causes it, and we got no idea how to fix it.” It’s like being dipped in extremely slow-hardening cement. It’s hard to get around much, unless I swallow a pharmacy’s weight in pills every day. PD has also pretty much destroyed my ability to speak coherently. I can communicate sometimes, although most people aren’t fluent in Village Idiot. And it’s become nearly impossible to type anymore. I used to be able to type over 100 wpm; now I’m lucky if I can do ten.
I’ve had over 400 TV scripts and nearly a dozen movies produced; I’ve had 2 dozen novels published, as well as comic books, graphic novels, and short stories. I’ve won an Emmy and been nominated for several more awards, including a second Emmy, a Writers Guild Award, a Hugo and a Nebula. I’ve been making a living as a writer for over thirty years; if you watched TV at all as a kid, you’ve seen something I’ve written. But when I go out in public now, people watch me like I’m Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.
I’m not rich by any means; the disease and attendant depression (not to mention the divorce) took care of most of that. I get by, but only if I keep working. Which I have no problem with philosophically; most writers I know intend to die at the keyboard, and I feel the same. But, again, I didn’t count on being this stiff before I died.
What finally decided me to make the move was disembarking from my caregiver’s car one afternoon. It was an extremely windy day, and when I stepped away from the car the wind caught my coat and threw me off balance. I fell backwards down the steeplycanted street, and hit my head — not hard, but enough to feel it.
I realized then (well, not exactly then; all I had room for at that moment was OWWW-!!) that I couldn’t live here any longer. The aspects that were so pleasing to me were the same things that represented hidden danger. If I fell — or choked on my food, or had any of a dozen traumatic events — during the week, all the neighbors would be at work. I’d be alone.
I looked into one of those big red buttons that I could wear, and press if something bad happened. But I knew it would take an EMT at least 20 minutes to find the street, let alone the house.
So I’m moving. Truth to tell, I’d already made up my mind to do so; it was just a question of when. As much as I disliked the idea of going back to LA, I had a pressing reason to (other than dodging the bullet).
My latest project is producing a feature film; sort of a cross-breed (or cross-bleed) of genres. I think of it as Vamp Noir. It was a movie idea that I had decided to spec before shopping it.
I called it “Blood Kiss“.
My agent loved it. I know because he said, “I love it. But I can’t sell it.”
I’ve heard the term “cognitive dissonance” bandied about for some time. This is the first time I’ve really understood what it meant.
When I’d stopped yelling and cursing, he explained that, as far as the studios were concerned, there was only one type of vampire these days: the forever young, “only bitecha cause they loveya” kind that go all twinkly-sparkly in the sunlight. Which my vampires were definitely not.
Doncha love this town? I know I do.
So I shoved “Blood Kiss” in an increasingly growing file I call “Not Right For This Planet” and fell into a righteous sulk. Where I remained, until a few weeks later, when I was talking to Neil Gaiman about an unrelated project and I mentioned the cavalier treatment my vamp script was getting.
Neil had read it; I’d sent it to him sometime earlier to see what he thought of it. “It’s bloody brilliant,” he’d said. (He can say stuff like that and get away with it because he’s British.) It wasn’t until then that I realized that (I can be slow sometimes) that I’d tailored the part of one of the vampires exactly for Neil.
So I asked to be in my movie. And he agreed. After I hung up, I realized that this put me back in the game. It was a perfect stunt cast … Okay, maybe not as big as Bob Dylan on “Dharma and Greg” or even Steven Hawking on “Star Trek: TNG”, but big enough. I could definitely get in the door at most of the independents with this package.
But did I really want to? I had no desire to direct it; besides, a speechless director makes about as much sense as a one-legged marathoner. But about 20 years ago, R.C. Matheson and I had written a spec about werewolf cops, and sold it as an HBO Movie of the Week. Which I was pretty jazzed about, until HBO informed us that unless it was directed by a helmer of their choice, the movie wouldn’t ever get made. And this guy couldn’t direct a lemming over a cliff.
So we agreed. And the movie got made. Poorly. Not “Hide-behind-the-couch-and-putyour-fingers-in-your-ears-and go-LALALAWHOOPSICAN’THEARYOU!!!!” poorly, but …pretty bad.
So I began to look a about for alternatives. And about this time a friend of mine, a showrunner with considerable cred, was wondering the same thing.
And he came across Kickstarter.
And he told me about it.
And the rest, I devoutly hope, will soon be history.
Michael Reaves has written and produced literally hundreds of scripts for various TV series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Twilight Zone, Sliders, The Flash, Father Dowling Mysteries, and Disney’s Gargoyles (the only animated TV series ever to be reviewed in The New York Times). He won an Emmy and was nominated for a second Emmy as a story editor and writer on Batman: The Animated Series. He also won a Howie Award for his H.P. Lovecraft-related work in film, as well as the prestigious Hampton’s Award. Check out his blog at Michaelreaveswriter.blogspot.com.