The End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor is now out in the new issue of Space and Time. So here’s the backstory.
As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I love movies. Probably more than a decade ago (maybe twenty years? I’m honestly not sure) I had a great concept for a movie-based story. The world has somehow transformed into a movie reality where everyone has become a film character (I’ve no idea now what my original rationale for this transformation was), except for my protagonist. He’s conscious of what happened so instead of reacting as a character would, he can think outside the movie formula. In the opening scene, for example, he kills a vampire when they meet instead of blithely accepting the invitation to stay in his isolated castle overnight; the vamp dies baffled how the protagonist knew.
The two pages I wrote based on this idea then sat in my files for probably a decade. When I finally looked at the story again, I saw why. My protagonist was simply too detached, too ironic about what was happening. But hmm, what if he wasn’t detached? What if he was aware of the big change to reality, but also part of it? Knowing he was living a film cliche, but unable to change things?
So was born Harry Davis, hardboiled PI in a world that doesn’t make sense. Where the diner he meets his newest client at is frequented by the sailors from On the Town, commies from a 1950s Red Scare film and a cyborg from some direct-to-DVD SF adventure. Where you travel a few miles from the heart of New York and you find yourself at the isolated Hotel Alucard. Harry knows the real world ended, but he doesn’t know why the afterlife — if that’s what this is — looks the way it does. He doesn’t know why he alone remembers the old world, recognizes the movie characters around him. But he can’t stop events forcing him to live the life of a hardboiled PI movie. He can’t remember who he used to be. Much to his annoyance, he doesn’t recognize whatever actor’s face he wears now.
The plot centers on finding a mysterious McGuffin and allows me to take Harry from the rougher side of the Big Apple to battling Satanic cults to meeting with an old flame. I also got to include one of my favorite Bela Lugosi lines, borrowed from Black Dragons (“All people are in danger of dying …”).
While the setting drew heavily from old 1930s and 1940s movies, I worked to add more variety in the background characters. I had one supporting character who was modeled on 1970s blacksploitation films (a PI a la Shaft) but he got dropped when the story got too cumbersome. It wound up a less diverse story than I’d intended.
I got feedback from a couple of writing groups. One point, which I fixed quickly, was that in the draft of the story I’d read, we never learned who Harry looks like. I fixed that in the subsequent draft.
Another significant change was that I’d originally had an ending in which Harry mulls over what it all means. One which set him up for further adventures, even though I didn’t have any in mind (my mind doesn’t seem to run to series — too bad as they’re a good selling point). Someone suggested cutting that and they were right. The ending as it is now packs much more punch.
So there’s the story behind the story. Now go read (you can order online here) and (hopefully) enjoy.