This week’s Insight is from C.S. Haviland, read on to learn about his long and winding road to Faerie. Be sure to leave a comment for a change to win a free ecopy of “Reality Divison. (Next Week’s Insight: David Sherman)
HOW FAIRIES FOUND ME
It all began when I graduated from the University of North Texas in 1988 with a BA in Radio/TV/Film production, and in early 1989 I moved to Orlando, Florida and began to work as a production assistant, stand-in and extra on several TV series and films shooting at Universal Studios Florida (in the production studio, before the theme park was built). I worked with the original cast of Leave It to Beaver on their new spinoff show, and followed Superboy around with a parasol over his head to keep the Florida sun from running his makeup onto the blue suit, and fetched actor Chris Sarandon from the airport, and got myself fired from the set of Psycho IV... Oh yeah, lots of adventures in those years.
In the summer of 1989, while waiting around on the set of a b-movie as an extra, I was inspired to write a low budget comedy screenplay entitled When It Rains.
It featured two boys, Scott and Terry, both in their early 20's (my age at the time), who get caught up in a spy scandal with a family of young girls (named Anne, Kelly, Gina, Molly, Katy and Stephanie). Terry had too much confidence; Scott had too little. But the two were friends, and Terry found an opportunity to help Scott get over his fear of girls.
Until then I had only written in science fiction, fantasy or horror, so writing a comedy was new territory for me. The script was so-so. It had a few cute scenes and pieces of dialog, but otherwise I didn't feel particularly proud of it. I have never had a great interest in pure coming-of-age comedies.
About that same time I had started a fantasy screenplay I called Magicia, about a couple of college-aged boys who lived in an apartment in New York City, and one day they came home to find a beautiful young girl with small white-feathered wings in their kitchen, playing with their food. The boys could never identify exactly what she was or where she came from, but her name was Fawn, and the plot centered around keeping her hidden from the outside world. I only wrote the first 15 pages, and then was stopped.
In late 1989 I was given an office at Universal Studios Florida to work as a reader for a small company there. In March, 1990, I partnered with my cousin, Paul Sirmons, and formed a production company called SHO Entertainment (SHO was to refer to Sirmons Haviland Organization, a future "parent" entity, which never materialized). We took over the lease for my office at Universal, and that is where I spent every single day until late 1993. The initial Universal theme park was built in those days, and I attended its opening ceremonies in the Spring of 1990 as a VIP. That evening I stood in a small room with tons of actors -- Michael J. Fox, Sylvester Stallone, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Bill Cosby, etc -- and brushed past the whole lot so I could talk to Steven Spielberg. I had a pleasant chat with him, but it didn't lead to anything.
Most of the time I wrote new screenplays, hoping to use one to raise private financing and make an independent film. But my low-budget scripts were too weak, and my strong scripts were too expensive to make independently. I tried to sell them as spec scripts but science fiction and fantasy are hard to sell on spec, especially if you're an unknown without an agent.
In 1991 I tried to revitalize Magicia as a low budget fantasy named Fawn. This version was about a 14 year old boy named Ronnie who lived in a future where society had moved underground, due to pollution. He ran away from his abusive parents and discovered a fairy with small brown-feathered wings on her back, named Fawn. But again, I stalled about 15 pages into the story.
In 1992, director Joe Dante (who made Gremlins) moved into an office two doors down the hall from me to shoot the movie Matinee, starring John Goodman. I got to know many of the cast and crewmembers. One day I was playing the soundtrack of Gremlins in my office and, like some kind of pied-piper effect, Gremlins producer Mike Finnell wandered into my office and said, "I know that music." That's how I got to meet him. I met Joe when I simply invited him in to sign my poster of The Howling. But I never spoke to either of them about my scriptwriting. I was afraid it would set up a barrier, and anyway, I didn't feel that I had completed anything they would have any interest in.
But as fate would have it, the producer's assistant asked me if I had any screenplays to submit to Joe. I felt that was opportunity knocking, and hard. Though I didn't have anything on hand that would suit Joe's taste, I told her I would come up with one he'd like. So in May 1992 I pulled out my unfinished screenplays When It Rains, Magicia and Fawn, reworked the ideas and plotlines, thought about something I felt Joe would be interested in visually, and rewrote a new story called The Tree. This script featured three orphan boys, Terry (the eldest teen), Scott (about 14) and Ronnie (pre-teen), who crashed a car in the woods and discovered a giant tree. Inside a cottage under the tree lived a family of young girls (Ellen, Anne, Katy, Libby, Belle and Mariam) who turn out to be fairies (or dryads, more exactly), each with tall pointed ears and brown-feathered wings on their backs (similar to Fawn). For whatever reason, the combination of characters took on a life of its own, and the story fell into place almost automatically. At least 95% of the plot remains the same to this day, but that final 5% would be subject to numerous rewrites.
I wrote my first draft in 40 days (my fastest work until I wrote Code & Chemistry years later, which took only 7 days), but by the time I was done, Joe and his company moved back out to California. I mailed the script to them, but it was rejected by their readers without explanation, and that was that. Neither Joe nor Mike had seen it. Not being the best networker in the world, I blew it.
I rewrote The Tree numerous times between 1992 and 2002 as my life changed and my writing matured. Many of the rewrites were driven by a determination to make it more popular in screenwriting contests (a market in which fairy fantasies, especially at that time, tended not to do so well). I dropped the character of Belle rather quickly, to simplify things, but the scenes I kept changing the most were in the climax. I knew what I wanted, but I couldn't make it work just right.
Occasionally The Tree screenplay would compete in writing contests. My draft of 1993 was a quarterfinalist in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, the most prestigious contest for unproduced screenwriters, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (of Oscar/Emmy fame). It was in the top 10% of 4000 submissions world wide. I got calls from agencies due to that, including Circle of Confusion, who would later discover the Wachowski brothers who made the Matrix movies. But I wasn't able to catch any fish. I entered various other contests but failed to rank.
So I began rewriting The Tree again, trying to tease out its best chemistry. But I didn't have a lot of free time in those days. I moved to New York in 1996 and fell backwards into the internet industry, and was a member of the startup staff of the network that would become About.com, and in 1998 I founded the advertising operations staff in the startup called Mail.com. In the middle of all this craziness, in 1997, I also invested quite a bit of my time and money in an independent feature film written by my associate Gary Rogers and directed by my cousin Paul Sirmons, produced by our company SHO Entertainment, called The First of May. Shot in the Fall of 1997 it starred Julie Harris, Dan Byrd, Charles Nelson Reilly, Mickey Rooney, and the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, as himself. (Joe D died a year later, but he reportedly had watched his scene on a video screen in the hospital room the day before he died, and was very pleased with it.) I received two credits on the film: co-producer and location manager. (It would later debut on HBO in 1999-2003 and has won a dozen awards.) Based on the young adult novel The Golden Days by Gail Radley, the movie was about a foster child and an old lady in a nursing home who find something in common and run away together.
In 1998 I finally completed another rewrite of The Tree and submitted it to the Chesterfield Writer's Film Project screenwriting contest, sponsored by Steven Spielberg's Amblin' Entertainment and Universal Studios. It became a semifinalist, among several thousand entries. In 1999, The Tree garnered a semifinalist status once again, this time in the Maui Writers Conference Screenwriting Competition, being one of the 50 scripts out of 550 submissions.
After yet another tweak to the script I submitted it again to the Chesterfield contest in early 2001, this time partnered with my science fiction screenplay Code & Chemistry (which was written for--and competed in--the first Project Greenlight contest, in 2000, where it failed to rank with the hordes of competitive wannabes). Together, the two scripts gave me a semifinalist ranking again. The Tree was also an "Honorable Mention" in The Writers Network contest around that time.
But there was still something wrong. The climax wasn't working for me. I needed the reader to feel more empathy toward my orphans.
On September 11, 2001, I witnessed the horrible destruction of the World Trade Centers outside my office window in New York City. Soon after this shocking event sank into my daily reflection, I realized what I wanted to do with the climax of my story. I quickly wrote a new draft. Suddenly the whole story came together, as if it was waiting for that final emotional punch all these years. In late 2001 it was a finalist in the People's Picture Show contest. In 2002 it became a quarterfinalist in the New Century Writer Awards and also a quarterfinalist in the 2002 Screenwriting Expo screenplay competition (sponsored by Creative Screenwriting Magazine). At the prompting of my cousin / business partner Paul Sirmons, in late 2002--barely more than 10 years after its first screenplay draft--I decided to give The Tree a new, more descriptive name: Faith & Fairies.
In 2002, my wife was tutoring the daughter of Caldecott award-winning children's book illustrator and author Ed Young. Ed was in my apartment one day and we got to chatting about my screenplay, and the difficulties I've had in getting anyone in the industry to read it without an agent. So he referred me to his agency, McIntosh & Otis, in NYC. So I sent the script to an agent at McIntosh & Otis who picked it up and shopped it around Hollywood for about a year. It got a lot of attention, but no takers. Part of the problem is that the movie business is still shy of making fantasy unless it is based on bestselling books, like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, etc. When I had pitched it at the 2002 Maui Writers Conference some people advised me to write it as a novel. Selling it as a screenplay right away wasn't doing the story justice.
This seemed like a good idea. Anyway, one of my biggest frustrations with these many rewrites was the 120-130 page limitation of the screenplay format. There was too much story I wanted to tell. So in late 2002 I decided to rewrite Faith & Fairies as a novel, expanding the story to include a dragon, many more fairies, and more plot points that interested me. It was at this time I introduced the scenes with the butterflies (inspired by my wife's love of the insect), the city of snorts and the sub-plot with the nail, the bowing scene near the end, Horde-Kaa and her fight with the Empress Mother, and a few other things.
While the story still lives as a screenplay, and I still shop it now and then, I'm very satisfied with Faith & Fairies as a novel, and my readership seems to love it. It was this book that caught author Danielle Ackley-McPhail's eye, who found me on MySpace and asked if I wanted to participate in the anthology, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad. She explained the theme to me, and gave me a list of ideas that were already taken, which in fact included many I would have wanted to try. (I may have been one of the last to join the project.) Her directive was to think outside the box, to re-imagine what fairies are. Without overlapping someone else's approach. And make them bad-ass.
I tried a couple of ideas and scrapped them. The idea I finally came up with wrote itself, as many stories do, and in the end I wasn't sure if it really fit the theme or not. The idea was about a union of fairies that keeps our reality separated from other realities... What if this union goes on strike? While I liked the idea, trying to "bad-assify" my fairy characters, and make them less like traditional fairies, was an unexpected challenge.
At any rate, "The Reality Division" became my entry in Bad-Ass Faeries 2.