That’s a Mighty Nice Hat, Partner…

I’ve been on a western kick lately, devouring books by Elmer Kelton, Frederick Manfred and Larry McMurtry among others… and gobbling up western movies and TV shows, too. Tonight, I went to a book signing/reading of western authors at Dutton’s in Brentwood. Virtually all the authors who showed up (45 minutes late, by the way) were wearing cowboy hats and western garb. I thought it was a little silly… and they looked terribly out of place.

I’m a crime writer… I don’t show up at signings in a cop’s uniform… or dressed as a crime scene tech… or wearing in a trenchcoat and Fedora. Why do western writers feel they have to dress the part? If they don’t, will readers think their work isn’t authentic?

The Waking Nightmare

I finished the fourth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, tentatively titled “The Waking Nightmare,” today and sent it off to my publisher… two weeks ahead of my deadline. I wrote the book in four months, despite breaking both my arms and working by day as a writer/producer on MISSING.

It was real important to me to make my deadline, even though my editor offered to extend it. I think the book helped me recuperate faster than I might have otherwise. But now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get a deadline extension from my editor in the future. He can always say “how bad can it be? You made your deadline before with two broken arms!”

The rush to finish the book is also why you’ve seen fewer postings here lately. I’ll try to contribute more frequently…

Paul Quarrington is Back

My friend Paul Quarrington has written two of the best, and funniest non-fiction books about fishing ever (Fishing With My Old Guy, From the Far Side of the River: Chest-Deep in Little Fish and Big Ideas )… along with a bunch of novels that have earned him well-deserved comparisons to John Irving and Robertson Davies. He’s got a new novel coming out, prompting Canada’s Globe And Mail to devote some serious column inches to his wit and wisdom. Here are some of his choice quotes…

His preferred pastime is, famously, fly fishing. He has travelled the world to indulge it, and keeps on a nearby bookshelf Ernest Schwiebert’s two-volume work entitled Trout. The heavy tomes are, exclusively, about every variety and possible permutation of trout fishing. “I have always thought,” Quarrington says with studied neutrality, gazing on them, “that there is room for a novel about the struggle between dry and wet fly fishing. That would be a thoughtful novel.”

“For a long time I thought of myself more as a musician than a writer,” he says. With the Queen Street Toronto band called the Continental Drift, he toured across Canada. “It’s a great life for a writer. You’re on tour in cities where you stay in 25-cent hotel rooms where the main item of furniture is an ashtray. And you’ve got nothing to do. So what you do is write.”

You can hear Paul read from his new book GALVESTON here.

Another Reason to Go in the Furniture Business

A fellow writer-producer, with years of experience in series television, shared this incredible conversation with me…


Absolutely, positively 100% true dialogue from yesterday’s meeting with
a Hollywood agent:

Agent: “I can’t sell this courtroom stuff. You got anything supernatural?”

Me: “I’ve done a treatment for a time travel Civil War story.”

Agent: “Time travel’s good, but don’t make it a period piece.”

Me: “So how do we travel in time?”

Agent: “Don’t go back so far.”

Me: “Ahhhh.”

Agent: “You want to do courtroom stuff, how about a murder trial in
outer space? ‘Alien’ meets ‘Presumed Innocent.'”

Me: “Ahhhh.”

Agent: “Okay, okay…how about this? A lawyer discovers the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court is really Satan.”

Me: “I don’t do non-fiction.”

No TV Tie-In for Airport

Looks like “John Wayne Airport” won’t become “The O.C. Airport” after all…

An Orange County supervisor’s idea to rename John Wayne Airport after a prime-time soap opera called “The O.C.” lasted about as long as one of the show’s short-lived romances.

Two days after suggesting a name change to capitalize on the show’s popularity and help give the county a hip, marketable image, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby said maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

“Let’s just say it was a trial balloon. It crashed and burned,” Norby said. “With all the priorities we have, it is not going to be one of ours.”

Norby’s staff was besieged with e-mail and telephone complaints in the two days since he floated the idea at a board meeting and in interviews with reporters. He never proposed the idea formally and said he certainly wouldn’t now after seeing the reception it received.

“I think people are happy with John Wayne Airport,” Norby said. “I’m happy with it too.”

I guess this rules out Kennedy Airport capitalizing on the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks movie by dubbing a terminal “The Terminal Terminal.”

As Primitive As Can Be

Bob Sassone alerted me that Telepictures is now casting for real people to become the fictional characters on Gilligan’s Island… a milionaire and his wife, a movie star, etc… for a new reality series.

Here’s the casting call…


Get ready to take a three-hour tour and end up on an uncharted desert island.

That’s right — Gilligan’s Island is coming back on TBS — and this time, you can be a part of it!

The producers of “Gilligan’s Island” are teaming with the producers of the “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” to bring you The Real Gilligan’s Island.

This all-new version of the classic sitcom will feature real life versions of the original show’s characters: a real-life skipper, first mate, millionaire couple, movie star, professor and Kansas farm girl. And one of them could be you!

Just like the original show, the castaways will work together to get off the island, and episodes will include situations drawn from the original series.

So if you’re the perfect Gilligan, Skipper, Thurston or Lovey Howell, Ginger Grant, Mary Ann, or The Professor (just what was his name, anyway?), fill out the application and mail it in, along with a video of yourself telling us why you’d make a great castaway.

Who knows, it could be you who takes the fateful trip to that tropic island nest.

Got questions? Call our Casting Hotline: 888-634-4550

Please submit tapes by 6/30/04


Saturday, June 12th
Towne East Square
7700 East Kellogg
Wichita, Kansas

Saturday, June 19th
Boston, MA
location and times TBA

Thursday, June 24th
Tampa, FL
location and times TBA

We’ll be adding location details — check back often.

DON’T FORGET TO COME DRESSED AS YOUR FAVORITE CASTAWAY! (Here are some examples of what we’d like to see: Gilligan-red shirt
and sailor hat, Ginger-evening gown, Mary Ann-daisy dukes and pig tails, Skipper-captain hat and blue shirt, Professor-something scholarly, The Millionaire and his wife-come dressed up to the nines. Be creative!)

I can’t wait until they do the reality version of “Hogan’s Heroes.”

Random House Slashes E-Book Royalties

Here’s some important news on e-book royalties from the Authors Guild…and some essential advice to authors on how to deal with this issue in their book contracts.

* * * * * *

Random House recently advised literary agents that it will reduce the e-book royalties it will pay, starting with contracts signed this month. Since November 2000, Random House had essentially based its royalty rates on the notion — correct, in our view — that selling e-books has financially more in common with the act of licensing than with selling a traditional book. Once an e-book is created, the cost of producing an additional copy is practically nothing, just as a publisher incurs no production costs when it licenses the paperback reprint rights to a book, only the costs of negotiating and administering the license. Until now, Random House has split the net revenue from the sale of e-books with authors 50-50, just as it typically splits reprint-licensing revenues with authors. Random House’s e-book royalty rate had been the best among major trade publishers.

Unfortunately, Random House is abandoning this sensible approach. Random says it will honor its promise to pay 50 percent of net receipts on e-book sales for works under contract by May 31. For contracts signed on or after June 1, the publisher intends to pay 25 percent of list price until the author’s advance has earned out. (In its letter to agents, Random says that 25 percent of list is equivalent to 50 percent of net receipts, implying that its standard e-book discount is 50 percent.) Once the advance on a work is earned, royalties are sharply cut, to 15 percent of list price. For high-discount sales — those sold at discounts of 65 percent or greater — Random intends to cut its royalty rate further by applying its new royalty rates to net receipts rather than list price. That is, for high-discount sales, it will pay 25 percent of net receipts on titles with an unearned advance and 15 percent of net on titles with an earned advance.

What it means:

E-books aren’t dead; these royalty rates will matter. Random House clearly anticipates that e-books will be an important source of income and has decided that the author-relations value of its e-book royalty rates declared in 2000 is outweighed by the costs it now anticipates those royalty rates would incur. (Recent figures confirm that e-book sales are growing rapidly, though from a quite small base.) Those with negotiating clout should do what they can to secure more favorable terms, whether they are negotiating with Random House or any other publisher.

Negotiate the premium or high-discount sales clause carefully. When a sale falls into a contractually defined high-discount category, the result is always a drastically reduced royalty (in the case of Random House, this lops 65 to 70 percent off of royalty earnings). Protect yourself by inserting language specifying that sales will be deemed to be high discount only if they are made outside of normal trade channels. Since most e-book sales are made online, where dominates, it’s conceivable that Amazon may successfully demand high discounts as the cost of reaching its customers. If these sales are deemed “high discount,” then the author would shoulder nearly all of the burden of the reduced revenues to the publisher.

Random House has confirmed to us that they will make this change — specifying that only sales outside of normal trade channels may be deemed special sales — to their contract, but you have to ask for it.

Negotiate a higher royalty rate for direct sales by the publisher. Random House may be anticipating that its own e-bookstores will generate significant revenue. It’s certainly possible. By giving the e-book buyer an incentive to register with Random House (“Any e-book we sell for $1!”), Random could capture the e-mail addresses and other information it needs to market specific e-books directly to those who are likely to buy them. Under the old royalty scheme, Random would have to pay royalties of 50 percent of net receipts for these sales, which might be made at very low discounts. If Random sold the e-book directly at a 20 percent discount, for example, the author would earn 40 percent of list price. (This is fair, since Random would also be doing quite well by the sale.) Under the new scheme, Random would pay the author as little as 15 percent of the list price.

Authors with negotiating leverage should consider seeking a net-revenue based royalty for any direct e-book sales by a publisher or any of its affiliates, including its book clubs.

Important: While this advisory addresses the Random House e-book royalty situation specifically, we think the lessons apply to e-books generally. Authors should be paying close attention to e-book royalty rates when negotiating contracts.

TV Guide International Airport

Orange County Supervisors are thinking about renaming John Wayne Airport. They want to call it “The O.C. Airport” as a tie-in to the one-year-old, hit Fox show.

It’s got cache,” Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby said. “It’s concise.”

From a practical standpoint, Norby and other county boosters say “The O.C.” has name recognition and is more identifiable than Orange County Airport, John Wayne Airport or SNA, the federal designation for what was once Santa Ana Airport.

Roger Faubel, a board member of Arts Orange County, a group that promotes arts in the county, says he supports Norby’s plan and is already working on a logo with the new airport name.

“We’re going to explore that branding and see if it resonates,” Faubel said. “It’s an idea. If it gets legs, great.”

I am not making this up…it was reported in this morning’s Los Angeles Times.

So what’s next, renaming Newark Airport “Sopranos International Airport?” McCarren Airport in Las Vegas “C.S.I.X?” I got an idea — half the bodies in the three “Law and Order” shows are found in Central Park, why not rename it “Law & Order Park?” Maybe Dick Wolf will make his fifth series about Park Police, and the branding will come full circle!

Television audiences are notoriously fickle… and tastes change fast. “The O.C.” may not be on the air two years from now. What will Orange County do then… name the airport after whatever series happens to be a hit that season?

Sweet Badass Jews

I just got back from seeing “Baaadasss,” Mario Van Peeble’s film about his father Melvin’s struggle to make the breakthrough indie flick “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song.” It’s a good movie, and a lot of time is spent telling us that Melvin’s movie was a reaction to the terrible, stereotypical roles for blacks in Hollywood… roles that didn’t reflect the black race, the black culture, or the way blacks were being treated in mainstream society.

No argument there. But apparently, as long as you’re breaking down one stereotype, it’ s okay to perpetuate another. The portrayal of the Jewish characters was about as one-dimensional, unflattering, and stereotypical as you can get: hawk-nosed, crass, money-grubbing… well, you get the picture. The depiction of Jews was about as dated, and racist, as the shuck-and-jive Negro.

I admire both Mario and Melvin, and I enjoyed the movie… but I don’t understand how people so sensitive to stereotyping could be so blind when it applies to others.