As of June/July, 2022, literally twenty years after the show went off the air, long after almost anyone else cared, my long, long relationship with LEXX comes to an end, with the release of trade paperbacks of each of the four volume LEXX Unauthorized series, and the release of an audio-book version of volume one.
This feels significant, if only to me. But here I am, I’ve got a blog, so I’ve got a forum to talk about it.
To begin with: What is LEXX?
It’s a television series that ran four seasons from 1997 to 2002, about an organic spaceship, a ten mile long dragonfly designed to blow up planets. The ship was stolen by a wayward crew of misfits – Stanley Tweedle, a former security guard fourth class; Zev or Xev Bellringer, a rebellious wife and escaped love slave; Kai, an undead former assassin, and 790 a love-struck robot head.
Over the course of four seasons, they fought an evil empire, destroyed a planet sized bug, presided over the destruction of an entire universe, went to heaven and hell, and ended up on Earth, where things didn’t go well.
It was also a marvellously surreal and subversive show, owing as much to Barbarella and film makers like Bunuel and Jodorowsky as it did Star Trek and Star Wars. It frequently indulged surrealist and absurdist sensibilities, introducing stunning images and ideas. It was, quite simply unique.
And it was a thoroughly Canadian product, even a regional product, conceived, produced and populated by Atlantic Canadians, from Salter Street Films in Halifax. The background story of its creation and production was almost as unconventional, bizarre and entertaining as anything on camera.
I loved it.
I loved it enough to write books about it.
My history with LEXX goes way back, beyond the show itself, back to my University days in Fredericton.
Maybe even before then, now that I think of it: I grew up working at a drive in theater. By the time I graduated high school B-movies, pulp sci fi and cult cinema was in my blood. I was always interested in this sort of outre, quirky stuff. I think I was primed.
Anyway, back in University, in Fredericton, I first encountered Paul Donovan and Salter Street Films. They’d released their second film, Siege, and it was playing at a local theatre. I went to see it and found an energetic low budget thriller that was apparently locally made. I looked it up and made a note to follow the careers of the Donovan Brothers and Salter Street films.
Fast forward a couple of years, I’m in Winnipeg, and I see Denys Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire, and Newfoundland’s Faustus Bidgood, and I’m enthralled by both. Wow. Canadians can make films, Canadians can make entertaining films, challenging films.
The Faustus Bidgood crew hooks up with Salter Street, and they start making a name for themselves. I’m there in the background, not a stalker or anything, but paying attention, watching fro the output, seeing what they do next.
So when LEXX was in development, it showed up on my radar. I was very intrigued. Even back then, I wanted to write the book.
When the movies aired on television, it was glorious. So often in life, we have these elevated expectations, we have all this hype and anticipation, and then when the event happens, its disappointing. Fizzles, rather than fireworks, are the rule. That’s just life.
But LEXX, it was subversive and funny and smart and cynical, it just seized your attention, never let go and just blew me away. It was great. It was amazing. It was brilliant. In a world where satisfaction is often faded tapestry and weak tea, this was just bursting with life and colour.
I was hooked. I was totally a fan.
I even went to Halifax for an informal convention, and out of that, I pitched Salter Street with a book. I never heard back from them. But I wrote about the show online, relentlessly and enthusiastically, and that got noticed by Paul Donovan, and the next thing you know, I had an invitation to write the book.
Back then, I was working hard at developing a career as a writer – I was doing a lot of short stories, they were getting published – nowhere big yet – but I was racking up credits and getting honourable mentions in year’s best anthologies. I’d written a couple of novels, and one of them seemed to be getting some interest.
But the chance to do a book about LEXX! That was a dream come true. It felt like my whole life had been pointing me towards this project. The chance to delve into the show, to embrace something whose history had been a thread for much of my life, the chance to leverage this project into a career as a writer. That was fantastic.
I threw in completely, travelled out to Halifax and Toronto, conducted dozens upon dozens of interviews in person and over the phone, collected magazine and newspaper articles, traded for memorabilia and mementos. It was more than a project, it was an obsession, a compulsion, a labour of love.
There was no contract of any kind, just the invitation, and a sort of grudging tolerance. They were busy people, focused on actually making the series. That was fine.
Along the way, we started hitting on publishers, TV Books was interested, but fell. Eventually, ECW Press picked it up, but then dropped it, when Alliance Atlantis took over and proved hard to deal with. Titan Books came in at the last minute, looking to do a cheap cash in. There was an indy press at one point.
Interestingly, every publisher that came in had their own writer in mind, but each time, I fought for my place as the writer. Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered.
In 2002, maybe early 2003, I came very close to getting a LEXX book published through Titan Books in England. But it turned out that they were colossal assholes. For them it was just a cheap pick up, they planned on a very brief, shitty formulaic book, for which they’d offer me crap money, demand four years of notes, interviews and all my copyrights, and then, this was the best part, they’d rewrite the book in the ‘house style.’
So far up to the present, telling Titan Books to go fuck themselves has been the single, greatest, most satisfying, feel good moment of my writing career. Rather ironic.
Here’s another irony, years later, the worst moment of my writing career was finally selling my novel… in literally the same moments as I was learning that my father was dying of cancer.
Life is funny.
With Titan, it wasn’t the money, or their abominable contract, in the end, what offended me most was that they just planned to do a shitty book.
I explored some options after that, but it was a different publishing world back then. There was no future. So I bundled up all my tapes, my notes, my clippings and articles, my videotapes, everything, stuck it in a box.
It was time to move on. I changed careers, relocated, moved again when I bought a house. Restarted my life. The writing career kind of died. That’s how it goes, life happens to you.
Fast forward a few years, maybe 2006 or 2007. I was invited to Dragoncon in Atlanta. I think I did a reading there and a few panels. Anyway, Brian Downey, the star of LEXX and some friends and fans were going.
I decided to finish the project,
I decided to write the book I’d always wanted to write, exactly the way I wanted to write. There was no publisher, so there were no constraints.
I spent several months writing in a white heat, going over all these old materials. I barely finished in time, a first draft littered with misspelled names, punctuation glitches, all sorts of flaw. There wasn’t time for an editor.
I just printed off the whole thing, travelled 600 kilometers to have it professionally bound, travelled 2000 kilometers to give it to Brian Downey. I didn’t even make a copy for myself. Just all that work to create one (very messy and in need of proofreading) pair of bound volumes.
In a perfect world, I’d have had more time to proofread, had time or money for a copy editor, had the time and money to produce bound volumes for each of the principles. But hell, I couldn’t afford copies for everyone, technically, I couldn’t even afford to go to Atlanta.
I got there, hung out, did more research, more interviews, picked up more material for the book. Back then, it was just automatic for me to do that.
I remember being proud of doing the book. Friends mocked me for putting so much work into a dead project, an unpublished and unpublishable a book. I suspect Brian Downey found the gesture affecting the manuscript so shot through with typos and errors as to be unreadable. That was okay, I’d written the book I needed to write, and if I hadn’t been able to make it pretty, if it was flawed, well I could live with that.
A couple of years later (2009?), some fans offered to do a POD paperback edition. I agreed, and rewrote and fixed it up a bit, hoping for some editing or copy-editing. Didn’t happen, a lot of embarrassing obvious typos and glitches remained, I think all they did was format it. But a few copies got printed. One of them went for a hundred dollars on ebay.
I left LEXX behind.
Then one day, about 2016-2017, I found it again.
There’d been a lot of water under the bridge – literally. My basement and basement offices had flooded and I’d lost a lot of stuff. There had been marital breakdown. My hard drive crashed. I quit my job. Relocated. My next computer’s hard drive crashed. Relocated again. My laptop’s hard drive crashed. My entire life was in boxes in a storage locker. LEXX was just completely gone, flooded, water damaged, fried on hard drives, lost in the detritus of life changes, what there was, if anything, was probably tucked away in some box I couldn’t locate even if I went looking.
Until one day, I’d picked up an external floppy disk drive (because computers didn’t have them built in any more) for my father, so he could download some of his old computer files. I was using it to look through some unmarked floppies on this box of junk I was about to throw out.
There it was!
Copies of most of my lexx files, including the long lost manuscript!
By this time, I’d published a novel through Five River’s Press. I had a contract for another novel. Ebooks were coming in big time. Self publishing was an option. I had a Doctor Who self publishing project. I was having a career as a writer, finally.
So I thought: Why not?
After all that work, all those years, it would be nice
So I set to work, doing a serious rewrite and update, and then proofread, and proofread again, cross reference all the names and places, proofread some more, rewrite and polish. I released LEXX Unauthorized, Backstage at the Dark Zone, I think 2017. I think it was my second self pub.
Over the next few years, into 2021, I did the same thing with each volume, revising, rewriting, fixing, self editing, through Light at the End of the Universe, It’s Light and It’s Cold, and finally Little Blue Marble.
This year, given the twentieth anniversary of the airing of the final episodes, I ventured into print on demand, trade paperbacks in June. Giving one more pass, to try and make them as good as I could get them.
Then an Audio Book version in July.
That’s about it. They’re not perfect – there’s a certain amount of repetition throughout. My thinking was, through a four volume set, a lot of people weren’t going to read it in order. The likely reading would be for people to go back and forth, reading what appealed to them. So based on that notion of a back and forth, hunt and peck reading experience, as opposed to straight through narrative, I went with redundancy. This is the only apology I’ll make.
I’m sure that some of what I wrote will not accord with individual memories or views. I’m sure that I got some stuff flat out wrong.
I’m still proud of it.
Once I had print copies, I bundled up a set and sent them to Brian Downey, the star of the show, and the most gracious man I know.
And that’s about it. It’s done.
There’s still some left over things. If there’s actually a demand for the audiobooks, if the first one sells, I’ll do the rest as audiobooks. But that’s vanishingly unlikely.
I’d be happy to provide copies of sets of the books to Paul Donovan, Jeff Hirschfield, Michael McManus, Xenia Seeberg, Eva Haberman, Ellen Dubin, Robert Sigl. But my efforts to find them, or to reach out to them have mostly gone nowhere. I half suspect that most of them have moved on, to the point where they can’t be bothered with it at all. I can appreciate that.
It would be ironic, I suppose.
They all moved on, and here I am.
I feel like I’m finally at the end. This long off and on project, this quarter century thing, is finally over. I’m finally done with it. LEXX is finished for me, and I can let it go.
How do I feel?
Tired, I guess. I little sad, but more tired, slightly futile.
Here we are, twenty years after the last episode, and the books are out, the ebooks are out, the audio book is out, it’s all finished.
Was there a need for any of it? Maybe twenty years ago, when the show was fresh. Maybe fifteen years ago. Maybe ten years ago. Back when there were no publishers and no commercial interest (as distinguished from cheap hucksters).
Another one of those little ironies. The technologies and infrastructure reached a point where I could do these books. But the world has moved on by then, LEXX is a forgotten series, buried under layers of corporate obscurity, even the most diehard fans are shutting down their websites and moving on.
The internet’s information capacity has evolved to the point where books like this are obsolete.
In response to a face book posting, someone put up the LEXX wikipedia entry – on the one hand, it’s terrible, full of obvious errors and inaccuracies. On the other hand, it’s all out there, on Wikipedia or its clones, as much as anyone wants or needs. The books are … unnecessary. There’s no real market, no real audience. The world has passed on by.
As I said: Obsolete.
So why did I even bother?
I guess because it was a passion project, a labour of love. Because I’d put so much time and work into it. Because it hung over me for decades. Because my connection to Salter Street, tenuous as it was, went back over forty years, and ties into so much that is so personal for me.
I guess it was because I really wanted to write it. And because I believe in it, in the subject matter, and the books themselves. I really believed, and I still believe, that these are good books, even great books. That they deserved to be written.
I guess because after all this, I just want them out in the world. Not as files sitting on some hard drive waiting to fry, not as fading electrons on a slowly demagnetising floppy, not even as pages sitting in some box. They deserve to be out in the world. Even if no one reads them, even if they’re obsolete, even if their window is fifteen or twenty years gone. At least they’re out. I can at least do that much.
Was it worth it?
I honestly don’t know.
In hindsight the LEXX project did absolutely nothing for my writing career. Arguably it derailed it, sending me down a pointless blind alley which sucked up all my time and creativity. It didn’t really win me any points anywhere, as Robert Sawyer pointed out a long time ago. I remember one time at a Convention, chatting with an agent and mentioning this project, and she went “Oh, I hate that show.” Oh well, scratch that possibility.
Jeff Hirschfield, one of LEXX’s creators, once said to me, “the impulse to heroism is the same impulse that send you bumbling off the cliff.”
I think that applies to passion projects and labours of love. There’s no guarantee that it’ll work out, or that it’ll get you anywhere or do anything for you. There’s no guarantee you’ll achieve anything worthwhile, or achieve anything at all, or that anyone will notice or care. There’s no assurance that it will matter. Life is mainly about failure, I suppose. Why should this be different?
If I had it to do all over again with the benefit of hindsight, I honestly don’t know if I’d do it again. But that’s not an option.
So here we are, at the end of the road.
I learned a lot, maybe made some friends, and I spent an ungodly amount of time and money and work on something that really may only have mattered to me and a vanishingly small group of people.
All I can really say is that I finished, that I followed through right to the end, that through the ups and downs, the mistakes and fumbles and the slaps in the face, I stuck to it. In the end, I never compromised. I wrote the books I wanted to write, and I wrote them the way I wanted to write them, and I got them out into the world.
Maybe that’s something not everyone gets.
So I guess that’s good enough. Or it will have to be.
And I’m finished, my relationship with LEXX has come to an end. I suppose that’s why this is such an elaborate, self absorbed ramble. My relationship with LEXX, with this book project, it was always very personal. I think that’s the truth though, for any good artist or writer (not that I’m claiming to be a good writer), that it has to be personal, that they have to invest themselves, invest their life or their soul, invest who they are into the project. The project becomes like a friendship or a kind of relationship or something. When you finally come to the end, there’s a feeling that comes with it, loss or satisfaction, but a feeling of letting go.
I think that’s the way it has to be. Because if you’re a writer or an artist, and you don’t invest, there isn’t any of you in the project, there isn’t a relationship to it… then… then you’re being a hack. Why bother in the first place?
I don’t know.
But I’ve come to the end of my long and winding road.
The books are out in the world.
Time to move on, and get my life back.