Still Crazy After All These Years

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My friend Javi has been a working TV writer/producer for a dozen years, has an Emmy award on his shelf, and even did a stint as a network executive. Nobody would blame him if he’d become just a little cynical and jaded about the business. But I’m pleased to report that he’s got the same enthusiasm for TV that he had when he was just starting out…and I love it about him. Don’t take my word for it, read this and decide for yourself.

A Tragedy

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, then you’ve heard me mention the amazingly prolific James Reasoner many times. Jim suffered a terrible tragedy today. He lost his house — and everything but the clothes on his back — to a fast-moving fire that was sparked by arcing wires above a dry field
nearby (a least according to one blog report). The good news is that he and his family survived unhurt, as Jim reports on his blog:

Livia and the girls and I all okay. I’m writing this on the local
library’s computer. Books, pulps, comics, all my work, gone. This is
totally overwhelming.

But we will come back, better than ever.  Sure would appreciate some thoughts and prayers along the way, though.

Please send positive wishes his way…and if you happen to have any copies of his books, I hope you will consider sending them to him when he’s got a place to stay so he can replenish his collection of his own work.

Mr. Monk on Planet Peschel

Book critic Bill Peschel gives MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE a great review. He says, in part:

While this is a light-hearted puzzle mystery, shadows are allowed to
creep in. Goldberg knows what deserves prodding with a sharp stick,
such as fans who take TV shows way too seriously, and what should be
played straight, such as Monk’s inability to empathize with people
around him, even those he loves.

Thanks, Bill!

Who Needs Tums? Read My Books Instead

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Today I was on a panel with Steve Cannell, Harley Jane Kozak, Dr. D.P. Lyle and my brother Tod at the spectacular Cerritos Library for their annual "Mystery on the Menu" program. It was my first time there and I was stunned by the library — it looks like Rick Caruso (developer of The Grove) and the Disney Imagineers teamed up to design the place. I have never seen anything like it, so rather than describe it, you can look at it for yourself here in 360 degree views. The visit to the library alone was well worth the trip. I had a great time, and caught up with Kirk Russell, Richard Greer, Patricia Smiley, Jerrilyn Farmer and Earlene Fowler, among other authors. 

The "Murder on the Menu" program is a lot like the "Men of Mystery" event…each author is at a table with ten guests and does a "table talk" at lunch, giving the attendees a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the authors. I had some really interesting discussions with a lot of bright and creative people. But I also had more than my share of strange encounters.

"I love your books," one woman said.

"Thank you," I replied.

"They are so relaxing," she said. "And they really help my digestion."

I think I am going to put that on the cover of my next book. It’s the best comment I’ve had since the San Francisco Chronicle called my book UNSOLD TV PILOTS "The best bathroom reading ever."

Another woman picked up one of my books and asked:

"Is this one good?"

"No," I said. "It’s awful. I wrote it while I was trying to kick my heroin addiction."Exterior1

"Really?"

"No."

"Then why did you say that?"

"What did you expect me to say?" I replied. "Of course I think it’s good. I wrote it."

"Well," she said. "I was hoping for your honest opinion."

Not one minute later, another woman (the audience was 99 % women) picked up one of my books and asked me:

"How much did it cost you to publish this?"

"Nothing," I said.

"Really?" she asked. "What about the other authors? What did they pay?"

"Nothing," I said. "We all got paid to write our books."

"Is that something new?"

"No," I said.

"I thought everybody had to pay," she said.

"No," I said. "That’s not the way it works."

"That’s not what I’ve heard," she said.

I quickly educated her in how  the business works. And after my long speech, she nodded and asked.

"How much did it cost you to get an agent?"

A woman at my able bought Doug Lyle’s excellent FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES book and asked me:

"You’re friends with Dr. Lyle, aren’t you?"

"Yes, I am," I said. "He’s also my doctor."

"How did he get away with calling his book FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES without getting sued by the DUMMIES people?"

"They were the ones who hired him to write the book," I said.

"Really?" she said. "So that’s how you do it."

But I think the best question I got asked came from a woman at my table who said she’d been writing novels for years but hadn’t had any luck getting them published and wanted my advice.

"I write them by hand in spiral-bound notebooks," she said. "I have written a dozen novels."

"And then what do you do with them?"

"I put them in a box in my attic," she said.

I looked at her. "You haven’t sent them to any publishers?"

She shook her head.

"You haven’t written any query letters to agents or publishers?"

She shook her head again.

"So how do you expect them to get published?"

She shrugged.

"Did you think someone was just going to knock on your door one day and ask if you have any novels written on spiral notebooks that he can read?"

She shrugged again. "That’s the part I was hoping you could clear up for me."

I haven’t compared notes yet with Tod to see what strange conversations he had, but I’m sure he’ll blog about it if he had any…

Can Barnaby Jones Save The Human Race?

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I’ve stumbled on something extraordinary … a BARNABY JONES novel written by Buddy Ebsen with Darlene Quinn and "published" by Authorhouse, the print-on-demand vanity press. I couldn’t resist buying the  $4.95 ebook version. What’s interesting about SIZZLING COLD CASE is that it was published in 2006, three years after Ebsen’s death, and is copyrighted by Ebsen & Quinn, even though they don’t own the copyright to the TV series its based on.

In other words, it’s fanfiction…and it’s being sold on Amazon and on Authorhouse’s site.  That’s a big no-no, as Lori Jareo could tell you. She wrote her own unlicensed STAR WARS novel and sold it on Amazon…and was promptly slapped down by Lucasfilm.

But this blatant violation of copyright isn’t likely to turn Quinn into another Jareo, mainly because BARNABY JONES isn’t a huge media property like STAR WARS, isn’t protected by lawyers as vigilant as those at LucasFilm, and is based on notes from Ebsen, who played Barnaby Jones, the elderly private eye. That doesn’t mean Ebsen actually owns the character…but hiding behind Ebsen’s ghost and his heirs will probably protect Quinn from a cease-and-desist letter.  Besides, it’s not like anybody gives a damn about BARNABY JONES…and that probably includes the studio that owns the property. Can you imagine any studio suing Buddy Ebsen’s family for publishing and selling "Barnaby Jones" fanfic? I can’t.  Even so, publishing the book and copyrighting the character of Barnaby Jones as if it was their own was a pretty ballsy thing for Quinn and the Ebsen estate to do. 

I must confess that I haven’t bothered reading the book. I couldn’t get past Quinn’s fan lyrics to the "Barnaby Jones" theme in the opening pages. I was laughing too hard:

Though many dangers now surround you
And evil lurks beneath the night
One man will fight the wrong around you
And strike a blow to make it right
When naked terror rides the highways
And sudden death waits in the street,
one man alone will roam the byways
confronting crime he must defeat
Barnaby, Barnaby — what driving force has set your pace?
Barnaby, Barnaby — can one man save the human race?

You can sing along with this:

Rowling Protects Her Copyright

When the Harry Potter Lexicon website announced plans last fall to publish a book based on their fan-written content, JK Rowling and Warner Brothers sued for copyright infringement.  A Federal judge halted the planned November publication of the book while the lawsuit plays out. Now Tim Wu at Slate argues that Rowling has gone too far.

Are fan guides actually illegal? As sympathetic as I am to Rowling and her rights as an author, the answer is no. There is a necessary and healthy line between what the initial author
owns and what follow-on, or "secondary," authors get to do, and Rowling
is running over that line like the Hogwarts Express. The creators of
H.P. Lexicon may not be as creative as Rowling, but they are authors,
too, and deserve a little respect from the law.

[…] Rowling takes the position that she, as the original author, has the
right to block the publication of any such guide. In her words:
"However much an individual claims to love somebody else’s work, it
does not become theirs to sell." But Rowling is overstepping her bounds.

It appears he is wrong, at least from a legal standpoint. A reader on Rebecca Blood’s site refers to previous court precedents that support Rowling’s claim:

Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publ. Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2d
Cir. 1998), aka, the Seinfeld Trivia case. Someone created and
published an unlicensed book of Seinfeld trivia, with details about
characters and lines in the show, arguing that doing so was fair use
and merely a compilation of facts. The court held that the facts about
the show weren’t really facts, but rather expressions of the creators’
imaginations, and the most important fair use factor of effect on the
market was in Seinfeld’s favor since they had plans for their own
derivative books based on the show. See also Twin Peaks v. Publications
Int’l, Ltd. 996 F.2d 1366 (2d Cir. 1993), which was plot summaries and
quotations from the TV show Twin Peaks – again, the court held that the
amount of material taken from the original was substantial and
adversely affected the market for authorized books about the show, and
so denied a fair use defense to copyright infringement."

Variety reports that Rowling is taking action because interferes with her plans to do her own compendium.

"I cannot, therefore, approve of ‘companion books’ or ‘encyclopedias’
that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book for their
authors’ own personal gain," Rowling said in a statement, released by
Warner Brothers.

[…]The lawsuit doesn’t seek action against the Web version of the Lexicon,
but criticizes it for numerous sections it said "regurgitate Ms.
Rowling’s original creative expression with minimal additional
commentary."

The CBC reports that Rowling isn’t happy about having to take the fans to court.

Rowling had been a supporter of the website and in a statement
released on her website, Rowling admitted she took "no pleasure" in
launching the lawsuit.

"I feel massively disappointed that this matter had to come to court
at all," the statement said. "Given my past good relations with the
Lexicon fan site, I can only feel sad and disillusioned that this is
where we have ended up."

The outcome of this case, if it goes to trial, could have far-reaching impact on how far fans can take their so-called derivative work and claim it as their own.

(Thanks to "Calistoy" for the heads-up).