Dog Ear
Fans from Hell (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 21 August 2012 16:42

I’ve heard tell that one of the drives for Steven King’s novel Misery came from his reaction to fans stealing bat statues off the tops of his gateposts. I don’t know if it’s true, but it should be. We all dream of adoring fans popping up at opportune moments to gush about how great we are. I’ve had that happen exactly once (when a person at a train event, realizing who I was, went delightfully ga-ga about Fire and Bronze). Very, very nice.

But what we don’t think about are the over-cooked fans, the ones who haunt us, pester us, bother us, even endanger us. It’s hard to imagine why a person would worship you so much that they could cause you pain, suffering, and even death. But for every thousand people who really like your work, how many fans might have their bolts cross-threaded? One? Two? Five?

I’ll mention two times this has occurred to me. In the first, it wasn’t even a fan. I was manning a book for Early ReTyrement at OASIS 25, a sci-fi convention. When you do the booth, you need to be warm and inviting (like a Venus flytrap). It’s a specific pose of casual interest/disinterest, standing at the ready to toss your pitch, spark their interest, and don’t cross your arms!

So one guy comes up and I tell him about the book. Turns out he knows about the Persians and siege of Tyre. We talk. And talk. And suddenly I realize he’s like a steam engine with a jammed regulator – he’s not going to stop. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty. I see customers eyeing my flashy book art, considering, but then deciding it’s worth the hassle of getting around blabbermouth. I made all the social conventional break-offs; “Well, gosh, it’s been nice chatting” and “Oh, look at the time”. He was stuck to me like shit to my shoe. Finally I had to look to Tim Robinson, next booth over, and ask him to watch things – I had to go to the bathroom. Excusing myself, I bolted out, looked at my reflection for about ten minutesin the toilets, then sheepishly snuck back. Tim looked up and smiled at my desperate gambit.

Sales for the hour: $0

But that’s just enthusiastic nerdishness. The more disconcerting version if this recently took place on my other site, my pen-name site.

When I wrote Fire and Bronze, I wanted to bring some erotica into the mix, to spice it up. In this, I researched such writings on the web and found that pretty much all of them, regardless of flavor, fix or fantasy, were badly written. After finishing the book, just for fun, I wrote a couple of short erotic stories which earned great receptions. Shortly afterwards, I submitted to an online publisher and had two collections (five stories in each) published. The pay is rock bottom but the art spec is the bomb. Going forward, I established a site elsewhere to post whatever comes to mind, finding myself with something like a hundred downloading fans and a lot of nice feedback. And for freaks, the folks on my site are very, very friendly.

Except one guy. He originally entered and talked about how I was the best erotic writer out there (I should learn to identify over-praise. I really should). And that was fine; people join all the time. I was focused on a multi-chapter fantasy anyway, trying to get it to play out. It started with one or two comments from him, that my hero is not heroic enough (I explained that he was just a POV, nothing more), and that the situations weren’t just titillating, they were evil. No, not that, that they were going to be evil. That the storyline was winding towards the hero’s inevitable madness, the heroine’s fall into despair, the implosion of the sun, everything. At first I thought he was joking. I just chided him, pointing out that I produce nothing but slap-n-tickle. But no, oh no, it was a trick, a misdirection, one he could see coming.

On the day my car got rear-ended (I wasn’t in a good mood), I came home to find that he’d responded to seven different chapters, each posting more raucous than the last. These I manually deleted, then posted him offline that he was really close to getting bounced. I didn’t have to do this. I was giving him a chance. His response was a plea to stay my hand until the last chapter came out, when he could see, with his own two eyes, the evilness I was plotting. Fine, okay, he could stay, if only so he could see that I was following through with a plot device whereas the hero’s missing girlfriend was right under his nose all the time. So we had an understanding.

A day or two later, I came home and found him scuffling with two of my regular long-term readers, arguing a two-front war against all reason and logic that everything was going to end bitterly and badly.

And that was it. I bounced him. Never had to do that before.

It bothers me, of course, that there are people out there who fixate on something, be it Jodie Foster or your upcoming surprise conclusion or whatever, and turn an easy-going writer/reader relationship into a field of contention. It annoys me further that I have to take action against these people, to fling them through the lintels and onto the cobblestones because they can’t behave civilly.

I love writing. I love positive feedback (and even some negative feedback).

I don’t like being a bouncer.

Keep this in mind. Not all of writing is fun. I’ve posted about agents and copyright and poorly-attended speeches and all the other pitfalls. And now you know about ‘Fans from Hell’.

Just keep your head down and keep writing. What else can you do?


Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 16:56
Watership What? (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012 19:37

Just had an eye-opening (and speech-busting) moment in my Dale Carnegie course this week. The speech was to be done with enthusiasm, addressing an earlier goal. Well, MY goal for this task was redoing my agency-pitch cover letter. See, I had the idea that I needed a cover letter for every occasion, an actual stable of them on hand, maintained and ready (see Augean stables). And it worked well. So now I had to report. Enthusiastically. About cover letters.


So I figured that, rather than describe the monotone tasks actually associated with this effort, I’d give them a slam-bang tour of my first few sentences and what had gone into them. The idea was to show how I could take two other cultural references and built the hook: “Indigo, where Watership Down meets Top Gun”.

And out I came, yodeling and hollering. I pointed to the audience – “How many of you have seen Top Gun?” Bunches of hands. “And how many have read Watership Down?”


Twenty people. Nobody in twenty people had read (or even heard of) the blockbuster book of the 70s. I stood up there and said, “You’re kidding”. Finally one hand came up, one of the Carnegie support staff (maybe she was doing it as a lifeline?). Anyway, I finished my speech in good order but that hit blew the momentum. All done.

I was left pondering this. Of course, there is the screaming-angry frustration that solid meaningful classics are totally forgotten while theme parks are built around dross like Harry Potter. People talk about the little wizards supporting each other, all that value of friendship crap. But nothing can compare to Bigwig holding the warren run, facing down General Woundwort. That is drama and sacrifice.

Aside from that, it made me think (and rethink). I’d believed my hook to be sacred. It’s what I was thinking when I’d first scripted Indigo out and started writing, a combination of animal drama and aerial dogfighting. I thought the hook stood on its own, a clear indication of the book’s soul. But looking out at that raised-handless crowd, I realized that a combination of time passage and cultural numbing had killed that. Readers know the book. Audiences do not.

And agents? Can I depend on agents being readers? Can I assume that a newly-minted account manager is also a book lover?

On my bike ride in today, I thought hard about this and decided that, even though it kills me, I’m going to reference Animal Farm instead of Watership Down. It’s a good reference since the animals, like my crows, don’t necessarily work together.

More importantly, it will let illiterates know that this is a book about animals.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 19:50
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

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