The surprising news of a new, six-episode season of THE X-FILES featuring the original cast caused me to reflect on just how much Barb, Nate and I enjoyed the series, back in (as they say) the day. How we never missed an episode, even when we were so frustrated we wanted to throw a brick through the screen (“All will be revealed!”), and binge watching our laser discs that allowed some of the fan favorite episodes to be viewed again and again at home (amazing).
The series ran nine seasons and a major, big-budget motion picture was part of the mix, as well. Toward the end of the run, I was well-established as a writer of tie-in novels, and was approached by Harper Collins (the publisher, not some obscure cousin of mine) to develop a proposal for an original X-FILES novel.
In the business of writing tie-ins, Fox TV was notorious for being hard to work with, especially on the X-FILES franchise. But I was such a fan, I wanted to do it anyway. So for a period of about a year, off and on, I worked under the guiding hand of a Harper Collins editor to produce a fifty-page story treatment for a novel. This was entirely on spec, something I rarely do – but remember, I was a fan.
I came up with something I thought was very, very good, and so did the editor – a kind of X-FILES MEETS AMITYVILLE. We sent it in. We never heard a word. No rejection, much less an acceptance. That’s the writing biz – you drop something down a well and don’t even hear a splash.
By this time the series was in its final season, and not only did my tie-in never happen, no other X-FILES novels by anybody happened, either.
Then in 2008, a second film was produced: THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Out of the blue, I was approached to write the novelization. I was thrilled, although I was apprehensive, because the movie was being produced in great secrecy, and the reputation of the X-FILES people being impossible to work with was a less than distant memory.
As it happened, I WANT TO BELIEVE was the single best experience I ever had, writing movie novelizations. I was one of a small handful of people (something like five) who had a copy of the script. The actors, I understand, had only their own script pages. The cinematographer had to read the script in a bank vault. But it was on my desk in Muscatine, Iowa.
Both Chris Carter and especially co-writer/producer Frank Spotnitz were terrific; I was frequently on the phone with the latter. If I had questions about wardrobe, I was sent daily costume sheets. I had photos from the set when the Internet had next to nothing. In one case, the editor of the film (Richard A. Harris, Academy Award winning editor of TITANIC and TERMINATOR 2) sat at his computer in Canada and described an action scene to me, frame by frame, that was not in my script. We were on the phone for two wonderful hours. Incredible.
I think I WANT TO BELIEVE is one of my best movie novels, but the film itself disappointed a lot of people. I liked it. It was an intelligent monster-of-the-week episode with some daring themes. The mood was right and the two leads were typically stellar. I remain thrilled that, sort of at the last minute, I became a part of THE X-FILES.
Now with the six-episode special-event series coming, a real push on X-FILES material is under way, particularly from IDW, with whom I have a long history. I was approached by the fine writer (also fine guy) Jonathan Maberry to contribute a story to an X-FILES anthology, TRUST NO ONE. I asked if I could do a novella and was given permission.
Now all will be revealed: I used my long-ago story treatment for the novel that never happened to write “The House on Hickory Hill.” Finally I got some money for writing it! Finally that story gets to be seen. And I think it’s a good one.
Also, a series of X-FILES audio books has been produced including the various vintage original tie-in novels and the two movie novelizations (also TRUST NO ONE). That means that suddenly a 2008 movie novel of mine has an audio book. I haven’t heard it yet, but admit I am pleased it exists and will delight at revisiting that underrated tale again, on some road trip to come.
It’s hard to know if THE X-FILES will be a “thing” again or just be a nostalgic blip on the pop-culture radar. The early ‘90s is suddenly a very long time ago. But THE X-FILES is a series that had an incredible impact on everything that came after. CSI, for example, played off a similar flashlights-in-the-dark vibe. As frustrating as the serialized nature of X-FILES could be, it set the stage for so many novelistic series to follow. Of current series, ORPHAN BLACK is steeped in the X-FILES approach.
I, for one, can’t wait to once again be thrilled and frustrated by this seminal series.
Here’s an interesting article on the QUARRY TV series moving to Memphis for its last weeks of production on season one. Lots of mentions of the novels.
Finally, here’s a write-up on the Eclipse comic book company that includes a brief but very nice mention of MS. TREE.