Writing was my best therapy. It had always been my best therapy. I could live vicariously through writing, but I could also vent and make sense of the thoughts tumbling around in my head; I could be biographical, through events, through characters, through emotions, whilst writing fiction; I could tell and share stories with the world around me … if I could ever make it.
Because making it was another matter entirely. Once, there’d been an unassailable self-belief that it would happen, but now I was pushing past my mid-20s, had a couple of (unpublished) novels, a handful of screenplays, and lots of short stories behind me, and I was still trying.
What I worked on now, taking solace in the act of writing itself, were the screenplays for a gritty crime show set in Victoria, to be entitled Street of Fire. One of the things I wanted to do was make it blackly comic, because for me that was life. Everybody else around that time was just doing straight drama or straight comedy. The two didn’t mix.
Streets of Fire had been gestating in my head since that original draft I’d written as a sample for Mike. Now, the rest came out. First, I wrote profiles on all the central characters. Then I drew a blueprint of their offices. Then diagrammed the families of the criminals. This was the way I always worked: I built the world I’d set my story in, and once I was comfortable it was as full as I’d get it, I’d write.
I rewrote the two hour pilot (a 120-page screenplay), and then twenty-two one-hour episodes (55-page scripts). I was surprised by how easy it emerged. The whole season was like a book, the episodes like chapters. As with whenever I wrote, the further I got into the story, the more story threads married and plot points developed that I never would’ve been able to plan or foresee. Writing was as much about discovery for me as it would be for a reader.
When I was done, I tried to sell the idea to Mike. He wasn’t interested, but he did ask me to write on spec (for free, that is) a cop show featuring two female leads he had in mind.
I had to meet him in the city to discuss it. Again, I had the same fears running around in my head. I got a lift with my dad, again going through my usual internal war. Again, I had the extra Xanax packed, just in case and, again, I gulped repeatedly for breath, but I never actually needed to take the Xanax. All that hung over me was the threat. I got to the city, sat down and talked with Mike for about an hour, then went home and wrote the script.
He liked it a lot but didn’t love it. I rewrote it for him but it never went any further than that because, I was finding out, that was the television industry. It was about timing. You had to take your opportunity while it was there.
Meanwhile, I continued to polish Streets of Fire. The first company I sent it to required me to sign a waiver before they read it – standard practice. The waiver states that the writer will not hold the company liable just in case they’re working on something similar. I signed the waiver. The company ultimately rejected the script. I rang to ask them why, hoping I could get some pointers. The guy I spoke to said he didn’t find it very realistic that you’d have this criminal gangwar unfolding on the streets of Melbourne, and that the police seemed too violent.
I dismissed his criticism. I didn’t usually. But, in this case, the Victorian police (at this time) were often in the news for their use of excessive force. And the underlying story of Streets of Fire – the criminal underworld erupting in a gang war right out in public – became remarkably prescient, (albeit by a number of years).
I continued to send Streets of Fire around while working on other screenplays and stories over the next several years. There were no bites for Streets. Most rejections were form. Some people told me it was too violent, or would be too expensive.
It was at this time that a new television show debuted – remarkably similar to Streets of Fire, and by the original company that had rejected it. My cousin Chris had been overseas during the show’s debut and run, but when he returned and saw it he assumed I’d sold Streets and it had been renamed. I told him no. He said the show was similar to Streets – premise, characters, even the way it was set-up. Chris offered to follow it up for me and found out that the person who’d read Streets was the executive producer of this new show. Chris then contacted the Writers’ Guild, who said because I’d signed the waiver I had no legal recourse. The company only had to say they were working on their idea at the same time they’d read mine and that was it, unless I wanted to try some lengthy and protracted legal battle.
I spoke to Mike and he suggested it was coincidence, although it wasn’t long before a friend told me another horror story about the ethics of the guy who’d read Streets. There was nothing to be done, though.
If Streets could’ve been a break, it was gone now.