Oh no! Felistas is back in my life! I was kind of hoping I would never run into her again, because I don’t like her story, but she crept back – or rather she jumped straight out of the blue and grabbed my neck and is now strangling me with a promise of success. Well, what she has done is kick out this guy who I was growing to love, this guy who is stuck on a wheel chair and runs an illegal FM radio station from his bedroom.
Every writer has a garbage bin where he or she dumps the stories that collect too many rejection slips. Mine is a folder labelled ‘useless’, and Felistas suddenly clicked her way out of this folder, and now she has a grip on me that is threatening the completion of the documentary. Well, think about it, this wheelchair radio DJ also threatened the documentary, because he would creep up on me while I’m interviewing someone – I think he did it while I was talking to Dr Khrisna B Battachan, and for a few minutes I was not listening to the professor but to this guy screaming out of a radio – and for a while I couldn’t think of anything else but him. But Felistas has resurrected because someone is offering money to put her on the big screen.He came to me shortly after I watched the fabulous documentary, Murderball, and Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio, and I was looking for a story that I can work on when I return back home in a year or so, something that can be shot entirely on one location, or maybe 90% on one location. One single room. Once you put the equipment into the room, you shoot and don’t stop shooting until you are done. So this guy creeps into my head, and his only fan, a stressed housewife who falls in love with him, pops up at his window. Then his ex-girlfriend (she dumped him after the accident that bound him to the wheel chair), staggers into the scene. And these four characters (oops, the fan’s husband also looms somewhere nearby, he has a temper and a violently insatiable appetite for sex that leaves his wife feeling like a sex toy, one of those inflated rubber women who the guy jumps onto and bangs, bangs, bangs…), well these four were crawling out of the ground like zombies out of the grave when the ugly Felistas came screaming out of that land where rejection slips sent her to.
And that is threatening my concentration on this documentary (let’s say documentaries) and now suddenly I’m looking at the docs not as a masterpiece but as a stepping stone kind of thing.
Last year, I participated in a study about the most significant change that getting involved with Maisha had on me. One of Maisha’s donors wanted to find out, and this amazing Claudia Fontes, Argentinian beauty, came and took us through the session, which got me seriously thinking, and it made me realize that I had actually changed a great deal in terms of the kinds of stories I told since getting involved with Maisha.
At first, I used to love horror stories. I wanted to write like Edgar Poe and Steven King. Mostly because horrors have the biggest market share on the internet. I wanted someone to read what I write and e-zines seemed to be interested only in horrors, and fantasy, and sci-fi.
So when I started writing Felistas’s Fable, I wanted it to be a horror. I submitted it to Maisha for the 2006 Lab. When the mentors read the script, they told me, “No Dilman, this is not a horror, this is a romantic comedy!”
I tried to make any comparisons between a horror and a romantic comedy, but I couldn’t find any.
Some of the mentors told me that my niche is in funny stuff, and I didn’t believe them. I wanted to write horror. But like I mentioned during this ‘most significant change’ study, writing horror is very stressful. It makes you a loner, a depressive manic, and it might mean you end up a substance abuser like Steven King and Edgar Poe did, or a reclusive old man like HP Lovercroft.
What ultimately changed my perspective was my experience during making that documentary for UNICEF, where I went to Acholi and met some children who had suffered because of the twenty year war between the LRA and the UPDF.
Okay, so I started writing light stuff, but let’s go back to Felistas. I think that re-writing it with the help of Steve Cohen helped me to make it into a comedy, and though I didn’t think about it then, I started to shift focus. Evidence is in the story Homecoming, which I’d done maybe in 1999 as a morbid story about burying a bloated body, but which I re-wrote sometime in 2007/2008 for Gowanus Books, and it got me a nomination for the Million Writer’s Awards. Working for the UNICEF documentary was the most tangible evidence of my change in direction.
And now, I’ve got an email saying I’ve been awarded money from the Goteburg International Film Festival Fund, to make this film Felistas (something that started out as a horror but I turned into a romantic comedy – I should stress this for it’s a significant point in my career, or rather ambitions). Honestly, I didn’t submit the script to this fund, for I had long given up on making it. I am pessimistic most of the time, but a friend sent it on my behalf. He was a postman, really, and I wasn’t really thinking much about it until I saw that email.
And now Felistas is back. She is uglier than ever and more determined than ever to kidnap me and…. It might turn out to be a good film. But for now, I need to concentrate on finishing this documentary. I have to figure out a way to gently shove her back into my subconscious, while at the same time start to seriously look for ways of either securing more funds or shooting the whole thing with the little money Goteburg is offering.
It’s strange that Felistas returns almost at the same time that I develop a crush on this girl who sent me an email praising my work, ‘Homecoming’, and who I started to think of as a possible ‘first reader’. All my writing life, I’ve always wanted to fall in love with a woman who knows what writing is about, who reads a lot and not just for fun, and I think at the back of my mind that’s why I’ve never gotten really serious in any relationship, because I’ve never met a girl who actually enjoys reading fiction. And so here she comes, not only an avid reader, but one who sends me my first ever, genuine fan mail. Yes, it was fan mail! I can’t believe it, but that email of hers was my first ever fan mail, since it came from a complete stranger. Why then can I not have a crush on her?
And it must be a bigger crush than I’m admitting for within twenty-four hours of our first ‘real’ conversation – online – and by real I mean one where we were past that ‘who are you’ business, I wrote a short story about her. Or one that she inspired. I talked to her at night, maybe up to midnight, for about an hour or so, and in the morning, I woke up and went straight to my laptop, though it was freezing cold, and within an hour I had a 2000-word story. It must be a really big crush you know.
I hope it leads to something solid :-)) I hope she doesn’t read this, but if she does, maybe it will save me a lot of explaining to do later. Thank God for blogging (who invented it? He deserves a million dollars!) now shy guys can actually propose to a woman without meeting her face-to-face :-))
But I know how crappy my life is, I’m always having these silly crashes and sooner or later something will come up, and I’ll forget her.