Dog Ear
A copyright of passage (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 07 August 2012 17:44

I told this story a while ago, but for those who came in late, here's the short version.

Was at a book club speaking about Early ReTyrement. The questions were fun; how come I was so clever? How come I was so smart? And then came the question: Isn't Dion's The Wanderer a copyrighted musical work?

How my heart chilled at that. Was it? I didn't know.

You can see how I used it HERE - it's rather a critical component of my first chapter, the moment that tells us that this is a time travel book and a humorous one at that, the scene that, if this was made into a movie, it would really get the audience smiling.

But are the lyrics copyrighted?

I checked online for advice from other writers on this. I can put it plainly in one writer's comments - DON'T DON'T DON'T! The more I looked into this, the more I realized I could get sued, really sued.

And let's discount those little fantasies where we appear before a judge and say, "Look, its only a self-published piece of fiction. Be reasonable." The law isn't reasonable. The law is the law.

Yes, it's reasonable that what I did could count as product placement, and that perhaps one or two readers actually went out and bought it after fondly remembering that song. But no, if there was a copyright, I'd just violated it. This caused many sleepless nights. If you've ever woke up in an icy sweat over a business deal teetering over you, you'll know the feeling.

Called around to a couple of clearance agents. One told me that the song was fine, that it appeared on a site that listed public domain songs. Whew. Then I looked a little further into this and downloaded the lyrics. Guess what. There was another song written ages ago, another Wanderer, not my Wanderer, so that wasn't right. My reprieve was temporary. I was back in the danger zone.

I finally contacted a west coast clearance agent and told them exactly what I wanted - research and, if needed, clearance. They looked into it and found that, domestically, Dion's The Wanderer was cleared as public domain. But internationally, it wasn't. Now I'm sure I've got some Dutch guy sitting amongst the tulips somewhere, reading my book. That would be all it took. So I gave them the go ahead, and several hundred dollars later I got the rights Warner Music Group. Whew.

Yes, Steven King uses lyrics all the time. So do a number of other authors. But they are getting these rights paid out of their big royalty checks (heck, the music houses probably step back and say, "Sure, go right ahead"). But if you are a small author, I strongly suggest (because I cannot slap goddamn sense into you) never to do this unless it's so critical that you do that you are willing to pay over $500 for this right (and for a limited number of copies at that). Otherwise, don't do it. Work around it. Make your own haunting lyrics. Imply it. Hint at it. But don't quote it.

If you need further convincing, check out this wonderful movie, Sita Sings the Blues. Here, the animator thought that jazz songs out of the '20s were public domain. Turns out she was wrong. Now she relies on donations, and probably only makes a fraction of what she put into this film. When you read her postings when this was going on, you could sense the creative pain she felt when she came to the decision that she'd created a wondrous artistic disaster, one that would cost her in the long run. Remember this lesson.

Don't wait until someone asks you at a book signing about it.

Or worse, when you get a phone call from the lawyers of some gigantic media conglomerate.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 18:11
You say Yamato (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 02 August 2012 00:00

Retelling a story, especially a classic, is always dangerous business. Movies are generally updated ("reimagined" as Hollywood suits refer to it) to suit newer (i.e. duller) audiences. As for books, its generally not done. The major exception to this are those "zombies" and "robot" editions of classics, but that is, of course, simply a parody (and a rather stupid one at that).

Normally I focus on written storytelling, but this weekend I had a curious episode of visual storytelling (i.e. a movie) that had been updated for a modern audience. It was none other than Space Battleship Yamato, based on Star Blazers, a Japanese animation from the late seventies that my college roomies and I were hooked on.

This arrived in the shadow of Star Wars. It was a character-driven story with progressive arcs, so you had to watch it in order. In a nutshell, Earth is being bombarded with radioactive planet bombs, until it is nothing but an orange dusty ball with humans living beneath the surface. The radiation is going to kill us in a year, we've just lost our last fleet, all is grim. Then Queen Starsha of very distant Iscandar sends us technical plans for a wave motion engine and the location of her planet. If humans can make the journey of 148,000 light years (and back), they can save their race.

Of course, the only hull we can use in that short of time is that of the World War II super battleship "Yamato". The ship is outfitted for space, and off we go, blasting the Gamalons (and getting slagged in return). You never saw Kirk's Enterprise show damage. The Yamato was literally ripped open at times, and we groaned when it was.

The old Yamato

We'd seen where those blue Nazis, the Gamalons, came from - it was a green planet with yellow spots. But Iscandar, that was a blue planet with an island that more than just a little looked like Japan. What wasn't clear (and when you rewatched it, there are hints all over) was that when you saw images of Iscandar, there was a greenish, yellow-blotted planet floating close it it. Yes, Gamalon and Iscandar were sister planets in the same orbit, meaning as the Argo (as the Yamato was known) drew closer to its goal, it also grew closer to danger.

Of course, the Gamalons drug the Argo into their hallow planet, with the same outcome as if you dragged a tiger into your house and locked the door behind you. So much for them. After a couple of final close calls, earth was saved. Hurrah!

And let me say right here that Spoilers Follow!!!

Now, in the 2010 live action remake, it turns out that Gamalon and Iscandar are a single planet. and that the Gamalon/Iscandar race are one and the same, crystalline creatures operating under a hive mind, their planet doomed. Gamalon is the more powerful faction, the side that wants to Terraform (or rather "Gamalonform") the Earth. The "Iscandar" faction has been isolated beneath the planet but has still contacted Earth, desperate to save them, even at the cost of their own race. But, as with the original, we show up, the Gamalons jump us, and we beat the living shit out of them.

The fans weren't happy about this. They tended to see this take as a corruption of their mythology. They wanted blue Nazi Gamalons and willowy Starsha. I did, too. Until I saw the movie.

The new Yamato

Here's the deal. The twenty year old Robert Raymond was happy with a race of evil jackbooted thugs who could be diced with Tachyons without mercy. Leader Deslok was cruel, creepy, and (frankly) slightly gay (though he would turn out to be a noble foe in the end). To me, it was very thrilling space opera.

But as a fifty-four year old author, one who struggles with the mysteries of the cosmos and why things are as they are, the idea that we could encounter a race in the depths of space who were humanoid (if only blue, and perhaps gay), who made uniforms with medals, who drank wine out of cups, who thrashed their underlings with horse whips and had buttons on their shirts, well, that seemed coincidental to the extreme. That two dissimilar races could even share a technology subset that would result in a prolonged galactic war (and not the simple flashing destruction of the inferior race) is very unlikely. It raises concerns of shared ancestry, of common heritage, of deliberate seeding.

I've grown up. In ways, audiences have grown up, too. As writers, we need to remember this.

We don't have "budgets". We don't need to costume aliens from humans with painted skin and rubber ears. Likewise, in our fantasy novels, we don't need to always have dwarves and elves living in kingdoms the size of Connecticut. We know better. Our worlds and universes need to hold together. Anything fantastic or alien needs to be just that. In this case, the Yamato writers realized that sneering Gamalons and a gossamer space queen would look silly in the reality of the big screen. And they were right. I can believe that a WW2 battleship can fly through the air but I can't believe in blue space Nazis. Not anymore.

Always try to break out of the pack, to give your readers something new and different. Don't go overboard. Just try for new, fresh ideas. Sure, there aren't a lot of new ideas out there. But trust me, there are PLENTY of old ones.

You've got to go where no man (or woman) has gone before. And to take us with you.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:25
A kindle up your nook (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00

At dinner the other night, a friend was flashing his reader at me, showing me his "stack". Well, first, don't wave your toy at me at the table. Adults talk books, they don't thrust ePuds under their companion's noses.

Second, I have stacks. I have 30 feet of books (four shelves deep) in my Florida room. I've got hardbacks over my sofa, a huge shelf groaning with historical references in the living room, and piles along the side of the bed, my "next reads". I've got stacks.

You, you have folders. Big difference.

I was thinking about this piece, my usual snooty anti-E bit, and something else hit me. Two weeks ago I got nailed with a cluster of viruses that I had a devil of a time removing (all the drama HERE). Then, three nights ago, I pulled down a special reader and got the Babylon malware (not only did it pop 40 bots all over my system, it altered my browser to point through a click-though marketing group). And that took a few hours to set right.

While there is a special, crackly-warm place in hell for virus malingers, there is a consideration to be gained from all this.

Right now, all over the world, people are hunched over kindles and nooks, looking for vulnerabilities. Think about the volume of submissions for these tools. Think about all those unchecked, unscanned files. Someone's going to figure out a way to sneak in code in a book - they could even submit it under a trusted literary title like Fahrenheit 451. You download it and suddenly they have you. Perhaps they spiteful nihilists who rub out your entire stack. Perhaps they are playful bastards who knock out some of your command keys. Perhaps they are neo-capitalists, and will flash pop-up adds in front of your Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Or maybe its just the Russian mob, who will steal your VISA information.

And if you don't think that's happening in a sense, now, think again. Do you think Amazon and B&N don't track your purchases? That you won't get some message next time you buy something, a blurb about "People who purchased Fifty shades of gray also have ordered..."

With my old paper friends, it's just me and my book. With your Epud, it's you, an unvetted writer/encoder, corporate marketing boards, and hackers the world over.

Something to think about.


Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 18:11
Augean stables (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 19 July 2012 00:00

Was in the Dale Carnegie course the other week and there was an exercise concerning putting enthusiasm to work.

Now what, thinks I, could I possibly be more enthusiastic about?

Cover letters.


I have a pretty nice cover letter for Indigo. It’s clever, interesting and to the point. It’s got a great hook (“Indigo, where Watership Down meets Top Gun”). But if you’ve ever looked at some of these agency requirements, you’ll realize that they are often specific in their demands. And sure, a book about semi-sentient crows is not really science fiction, not fantasy, not quite. And this book could easily be overhauled for young adults (I think there are two crow-on-crow sex scenes, an easy thing to drop). I know this but am expecting my potential agents to read between the lines and see this.

Outlining their needs shouldn’t be a tack-on – they’d see through that in a minute. It’s got to be in the body of the thing. What was needed, I decided, was a “flavor” of cover letter, one angled towards an agency’s interests. Further, as I find new requirements (”…this agency focuses on lesbian astrology issues, no science fiction please…”) then I should have a process to convert an existing cover letter to their needs and methodically save it off for next time. In other words, I need a stable of cover letters, one I can keep organized for use in any and all circumstances. Of course, I’m not going to post to agents who’s target base wildly deviates from my story type (like, seriously, lesbian astrology issues). I need something in place, ready to go, not fly-by-night.

So now, under my Indigo folder, there is actually an Agents folder. And in there, I have “Agent” (my standard pitch) and “Agent-YA” (young adult) and “Agent-noSFF” (no science fiction and fantasy). More will be added as I find further genre-types.

It’s nothing more that applying my creativity now, when I’ve got a tap on the thing, then later when I’m trying to get bond paper and stamps and pick three new agencies out.

Once again, organization is the key. That and a whole lot of luck.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 20:00

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