Books are Daughters
With the recent launch of “The Collectors” I experienced the same fine emotion I always feel when a book is shared with readers and reviewers. To me, each book is a like a daughter, stepping off the porch barefoot, a bit disheveled, but grinning – perhaps smirking – as she heads out into the real world. As I watch her head on up the road with her battered suitcase and tousled hair, I wish her all the best, confident that I have loved her and done my very best to raise her well. We’ve had our ups and downs, disagreements and arguments, but this was always in the spirit of helping her become the best that she can be.
As always, I hope her journey is good and interesting, just before the screen door slams and I head to my back office, where another young one is waiting to be born.
This is why when I’m asked about having a favorite Danser novel, the answer is always no. How can you and why would you ever favor one darling child over another?
All the best,
The Danser Novels
“Welcome to the film set, Mr. Kiharazaka. Please mind your step, we’re having a problem with vermin.”
The tall, thin man, fresh from Kyoto, adjusted his stride, placing each step of his spacesuit boots gingerly.
“I’m Rolf. Can I call you Zaka?” the assistant director went on.
“Please, no,” Mr. Kiharazaka replied demurely.
“Will we be going weightless? It was in the original scene.”
“We’re woking on that, yes.”
“A joke. Sort of.”
A few yards away, green gaffing tape marked the edge of the darkened film set. Rolf spoke into her headset and the lights came up, revealing the interior of the spacecraft: the complex helm and seating for the crew. The second set—the crew table and galley kitchen—was half-lit in the distance.
Mr. Kiharazaka stared with unreserved delight. The crew had accurately replicated the 1990s television series Tin Can’s two most famous locations.
Members of the film crew were already on the set, at their places among the equipment; lights, extended boom mics, and various cameras, some dollied and some shoulder-held. Mr. Kiharazaka had to rotate stiffly in his spacesuit, turning his helmet, visor up, to watch the young, professional film crew. He nodded to some and spoke to none. For the most part, these serious professionals looked right through him, focused on their craft.
“Please step in, Zaka. We’d like you to feel comfortable in both locations.”
“Where is the cast? The Robbins family?”
“Soon enough. Please.” Rolf extended her hand and Zaka crossed the green tape and stepped into the helm, noting that the flooring was white painted plywood. With the flight helmet on, the voices about the set were muted. Zaka stared at the helm, admiring, but not touching, the multiple displays. He stood back of Captain Robbins’s helm chair, taking in all the exacting details of the complex spacecraft controls. Easing between the captain and copilot chair, he turned to Rolf with his white gloved hand out to the second chair, asked, “May I?”
Rolf gave him her buttery professional smile.
“Captain, permission to man the helm?” Zaka asked.
Rolf rolled her eyes, up into the complex scaffolding above. The client was already in role, using the famous and familiar dialogue from the Tin Can series. Since none of the cast was yet on set, Rolf answered for Matt Stuck, the sod of an actor who played Captain Robbins.
“Aye, mate. Take thar helm,” she spoke the next well-known line with a grimace.
Zaka bowed to her voice and twisted around into the copilot’s chair.
She looked on as Zaka began the familiar series of taps and changes on the right side of the helm. She could hear him identifying each click and adjustment he made. He was doing a good job mimicking the terse, focused voice of copilot Sean Robbins, but his inflections were clearly Japanese.
The director, Rose Daiss, entered the soundstage, crossed to the set, and for once didn’t trip on the snakes of cables. She wobbled her large rear into the La-Z Boy with “Director” stenciled on the back. Her nickname was “Bottles” and never used in her presence—it was a reference to the many times she had washed up. Her pudgy face was nip-and-tuck stretched, her skin was rough, but rouged well. She did have good hair.
The director’s personal assistants entered the soundstage and roamed to their places just back of the cameras. They donned headsets and leisurely took up their positions, standing deferentially to Bottles’s side, their faces lit by the glow of their tablets.
Rolf shouted for status among the film’s crews, and they called back equally loud. Lighting, boom mics, and cameras leaned in on the set. Mr. Zaka climbed from the helm and walked back into the spacecraft along the equipment bays on the left wall—the right wall of equipment didn’t exist, providing the view for one of the many cameras. He tapped a brief series on the wall panel and the air lock door opened with a gasp. He stepped through, the door closing at his heels, and crossed the short area of soundstage to the side entrance of the crew and kitchen set. Zaka took in every detail of the reproduced Tin Can galley as he moved carefully through the room. He eased himself into his role and the chair assigned to Ruth Robbins, the flight crew’s matriarch.
The director shouted at her assistants, barking orders and questions, sounding semi-lucid. Rose’s drug-addled, fast-clipped voice received intimidated replies. She was enjoying their pale, cowering expressions while chasing two lines of thought, a mixture of movie-making aesthetics and redundant direction. Her face was beading with drug sweat on her upper lip and brow.
“Where’s my cast?” Rose bellowed, finishing the tirade. That done, she promptly nodded off, delighting Rolf, who then inherited the director’s role.
Zaka was exploring the many displays embedded in the galley table, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Heat it up,” Rolf instructed her underling
The assistant typed a series of brief commands on his tablet and the script dialogue for Ruth Robbins—whom Zaka had paid dearly to portray—appeared. The script was scroll ready and at an angle on the galley table that couldn’t be seen by the cameras.
Rolf heard the cast crossing to the set, a scuffing of moon boots and voices approaching from the soundstage. A sweeping flashlight beam guided their way. The cast moved into the back glow from the lights on the set. Rolf pressed the inside of her cheek between her teeth and bit down. Most of the original cast had been hired or persuaded to appear in the remake of the famous season seven-ending cat fight scene. The brawl between the Robbins’ daughters was nominally, impotently, refereed by the only member of the flight crew who was not a member of the family: the handsome, irreverent, and sociopathic engineer, Greer Nails.
Twenty-two years had been most unkind to the once-famous family members. Greer Nails appeared overinflated; the penchant for food and wine, and dessert, over the past years of dimming celebrity had taken their toll. His formerly idolized face was jowled, reddened, and fat. His spacesuit looked like a white dirigible.
The other cast members were naked save their space helmets. Time and gravity and overindulgence had also taken a toll on their bodies. Greer Nails was the lone holdout from nudity, and with obese good reason.
The scene that Zaka had chosen from the menu provided by the studio had cost him a breathless $3.7 million. An additional $1.3 million was invoiced when he selected the option off the Premiere menu for the cast to be nude except for space helmets. He had expressed his desire to be part of the famous scene’s reenactment, in the role of Ruth Robbins, the space family matriarch. Most of his role was to be aghast at the start of a violent family shouting match and brawl. Later, he would be able to view the vignette time and again, for all eternity, receiving sole ownership of the footage of this and the other short scene as part of the package he had paid for.
Zaka watched his castmates approach, trying to keep his eyes on their helmets, not their nakedness. He was delighted and light headed with his proximity to the famous—the real flesh instead of celluloid, but their memorized faces were distorted by their helmets.
Nods were used in lieu of greetings. They had met during rehearsal earlier in the day. Places were taken, and Rolf reviewed the lighting and camera placements.
The first scene was succinctly re-rehearsed. This was of little use to Zaka, who had the script committed to memory. But the rehearsal helped him dissolve some of his lighter-than-air headiness. The rest of the cast drolly joined the read and walk through, their acting marked by a blend of boredom, professionalism, and chemicals.
Zaka was delighted. Here he was, a real actor with an important part in the infamous scene’s reenactment. It was all he could to not giggle. He somehow found the ability to maintain Ruth Robbins’s dithering mothering role.
Julianne, the slutty smart sister, stepped past Greer and pantomimed the jerk-off gesture that would set off her sibling, “Cy,” as in Cyborg. In the television series, Cy had been Greer Nail’s budding romantic interest.
Zaka was enthralled, but also concerned. He had paid for Captain Robbins to sit at the head of the galley table, and he was nowhere to be seen.A booming, authoritative voice carried from the back of the soundstage.
“Welcome to Tin Can Two, Mr. Kiharazaka. You are certainly star material, mm-hmm!” Fatima Mosley called out.
Fatima was the studio head, noticeably short and burdened by a massive chest that gave her stride a wobble. She was dressed in an elegant and trendy style, including a beret. She had a titanium leg, the original lost to disease. The metal ratcheted when her knee articulated.
“Zaka’s doing a great job.” Rolf called over, not turning from the rehearsal.
“It’s Kiharazaka, please,” Zaka politely corrected Rolf again.
“Actually, it’s Ruth Robbins,” Fatima smiled, causing her cheeks to fill and her eyes to disappear.
Zaka flushed with pride at being addressed as Ruth.
“All is well, mm-hmm?” Fatima asked Zaka.
“Yes, yes. Might I ask? Is Captain Robbins ready? And son Sean Robbins?”
“Why, here’s Sean now,” Fatima answered, her crunched face dissolving downward, revealing her wise, ferret eyes. She didn’t explain Captain Robbins’s absence, and Zaka showed good manners by not repeating his question.
Sure enough, Sean Robbins, the Tin Can’s copilot appeared from the shadows of the soundstage, naked save his helmet and boots, looking slightly sedated—well, a lot sedated. His birdlike wrists hung limp.
There was a white worm of drool creeping from his face, now ravaged by years of amphetamine addiction. He was escorted by two of the bigger grips, who held his scarecrow thin arms and pulled him along, his moon boots sketching the soundstage flooring.
The sisters, Cy and Julianne, did not look pleased to be reanimating their once famous daughter roles, no matter the money. They were clearly drugged to an agitated condition and firing foul slurs, even before the shoot began. Julianne had a wrench tattoo on her naked, once-perfect boob. Cy’s sensual body was scarecrow thin, as though drawn of all blood.
The grips assisted Sean Robbins into the hot lights and seated him at the galley table. He opened one eye and panned it across the cameras and lights aimed on him, then barfed into his own lap.
“Unpleasant, mm-hmm,” Fatima observed.
Zaka did the brave thing—he stayed in role, putting on his best Mrs. Robbins bemused and maternal expression.
“Nice,” Rolf encouraged him.
One of the grips wiped up Sean’s vomit. The other cleaned off his chest. Sean stood up and looked on, patting one of the men on the top of the head.
Rolf called out, “I have the set!”
From the film crews came sharp, short calls, and the boom mics lowered overhead.
“Quiet, quiet!” Rolf delighted in her temporary directing role.
“Lock it up,” she hollered.
“Places,” she shouted to the cast.
A young woman appeared with an electric slate, shouted a brief stream of incomprehensible code, clacked the device, and disappeared.
Zaka did well, not looking to Captain Robbins’s empty seat at the head of the table.
Rolf yelled, “Action,” and the movie magic began.
For Zaka, there was a spiritual lift, even as he stayed in his rehearsed movements. He allowed himself to experience the elation, but stayed in the role of motherly concern.
Julianne entered the scene from the door to the helm. She moved behind Sean, who had a line of dialogue but missed. Staring at Cy, she stepped to Greer’s side and hefted the weight of his groin. Cy transitioned fast and smooth, from agog to madness. She fired forward and attacked, going for the smirk on her sister’s face with a clawed left hand and the space cup in the other.
As scripted, Mrs. Robbins took one step back from her end of the table, her expression alarmed and offended.
Greer was looking down at his groped crotch like he was just then realizing he had one. He leaned back as Cy collided with Julianne, and the brawl exploded with screams and nails and fists. The two careened off the galley counter and shelving, swinging and connecting blows.
If Captain Robbins had been at the head of the table, he would have moved fast to separate the two, looking sad and determined and disappointed. Instead, a bit of ad lib occurred, the two brawlers tumbling low in the shot, fists and knees swinging and pumping. Greer performed the ad lib, turning to the mayhem with a slack expression and barfing on himself again.
Mrs. Robbins went into action. She stomped manfully to her scuffling daughters, arms shooing, intending to break up the chaos on the spaceship floor. She was two strides away when Greer stepped out and pushed her back. Mrs. Robbins resisted, flailing her arms, eyes wide with alarm. Greer held her true. The fight continued, the sisters grunting and gasping. Hair was grabbed, a low fist was thrown. Julianne coughed in pain. Cy let out a cry, “You bitch!”
That was Zaka’s cue. He looked away, eyes upward and spoke the season-ending line, “My daughters. The sluts.”
“Cut. Cut. Cuu. Cuush . . .” Rose Daiss, the replaced director, called out in a trailing off slur. She was ignored.
The brawl continued. A mangy rat crossed the plywood set boards, scurrying away from the fisticuffs. The two beefy grips stepped to the edge of the set, poised to separate the sisters. The brawl looked real enough to them.
Rolf took the director’s prerogative, screaming at everyone.
Biography: Greg Jolley earned a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of San Francisco and lives in the very small town of Ormond Beach, Florida. When not writing, he researches historical crime, primarily those of the 1800s. Or goes surfing.
“The Collectors” and all the Danser novels are available at: http://amzn.to/2o4tIob