Buying the Last Word

Actor Rob Schneider didn’t like  LA Times columnist Patrick Goldstein using his movies as an example of what’s wrong with Hollywood today…

It’s a funny thing, but today’s movie studios are no longer in the Oscar
business. If there’s one common thread among this year’s five best picture
nominees, it’s that they were largely financed by outside investors. The most
money any studio put into one of the nominees was the $21 million that Miramax
anted up for "Finding Neverland." The other nominated films were orphans —
ignored, unloved and turned down flat by most of the same studios that eagerly
remake dozens of old TV series (aren’t you looking forward to a bigger, dumber
version of "The Dukes of Hazzard"?) or bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a
follow-up to "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," a film that was sadly overlooked at
Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for
Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.

Instead of just ignoring the cheap shot, Schneider bought a full-page in Variety today to fire back.

I went online and found you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing….no journalistic awards of any kind….there was, however, a nomination for an Amy Goldstein. I contacted Ms. Goldstein in Rhode Island, and she assured me she was not an alias of yours and in fact like most of the world had no idea of your existence.

Frankly, I
am surprised the LA Times would hire somone like you with so few or, actually,
no accolades to work on the front page. Surely there must be a larger talent
pool for the LA Times to draw from. Perhaps, someone who has at least won a
"Cable Ace Award."

Maybe, Mr. Goldstein, you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t
invented a category for "Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter, Who’s Never
Been Acknowledged By His Peers."

Patrick, I can honestly say that if I sat with your colleagues at a luncheon, afterwards they’d say "you know, that Rob Schneider is a pretty intelligent guy, I hope we can do that again." Whereas, if you sat with my colleagues, after lunch you would just be beaten beyond recognition.

I don’t think Schneider did himself any favors with that ad. It would have been more impressive if he’d actually offered an intelligent argument that countered Goldstein’s views instead of being as infantile as, well, one of his own movies.  Beyond that, all Schneider really said was:  "Fuck Goldstein. Look at me, I’m so rich that instead of licking a stamp and sending a Letter To The Editor, I can afford to buy a full page in Variety instead. Can that cheap hack  do that? I don’t think so!"

The Mail They Get

If you’ve enjoyed reading some of the idiotic mail I get, you ought to visit Query Letters I Love, a new blog filled with the letters a Hollywood exec has received from people trying to sell their inept screenplays.

Here’s my favorite:

“Ducks, the Killer Breed” tells the story of some harmless ducks that
are transformed into blood-thirsty fowl by radiation from a meteorite
that lands on their barn.

Imagine you are a 10 year old boy who
lives on a farm and owns some ducks. Now imagine that one night a
meteorite crashes into the barn, bathing the ducks in radiation from
outer space. What would you do when you awoke to find that your pet
ducks had become bloodthirsty fiends?

Note to the reader: lest you find the idea of scary ducks laughable, I
should specify that as a result of being irradiated, these ducks have
grown fangs in their bills. Also, their droppings are acid, and will
melt anything they land on."

(Thanks to Sarah Weinman for tipping me off about the blog).

Jasper Fforde on Fanfic

Novelist Jasper Fforde ("The Eyre Affair," "Well of Lost Plots," etc.) shares his views on fanfic.

My thoughts on Fan Fiction are pretty much this: That it seems strange to want
to copy or ‘augment’ someone else’s work when you could expend just as much
energy and have a lot more fun making up your own. I feel, and I think with good
reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades; clearly I can’t
stop you writing and playing what you want in private, and am very flattered
that you wish to do so. But anything published in any form whatsoever – and that
specifically includes the internet – I cannot encourage, nor approve of.

The Trek is Over for Enterprise

Variety and Aintitcoolnews are reporting that UPN is firing photon torpedoes at ENTERPRISE, the least successful "Trek" series since the original in the 1960s (even the snoozefest VOYAGER inexplicably managed to make it for seven seasons). The show will end May 13.

"Star Trek has been an important part of UPN’s history, and Enterprise has carried on the tradition of its
predecessors with great distinction,"  said Dawn Ostroff, President, Entertainment, UPN. "We’d like to thank Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and an incredibly talented cast for creating an engaging, new dimension to the Star Trek universe on UPN, and we look forward to working with them, and our partners at Paramount Network Television, on a send-off that salutes its contributions to The Network and satisfies its loyal viewers."

All 14 of them.  Variety notes that not only have the ratings of ENTERPRISE plummeted since its premiere, this season it has been regularly thrashed in its Friday timeslot by episodes of  STARGATE SG-1, now in its 9th season (or is 10th?) on Scifi Channel.  STARGATE now holds the distinction of being the longest-running science fiction show in TV history…and ENTERPRISE holds the distinction of being "That  Star Trek show with the bad song and the hot Vulcan chick."

Dummies in Bulgaria

My friend Dr. D. P. Lyle, who also happens to be my invaluable medical consultant on the Diagnosis Murder books, reports that his terrific reference book "Forensics for Dummies" has been reprinted in Bulgaria. Ffdbulgariancover You’ll notice on the cover of the Bulgarian edition (click on the image for a larger view) that the word dummies  is the only one that doesn’t need translation. I guess there are dummies everywhere.

Tod vs The Fanficcers

Once again, my brother Tod takes on the fanfic universe.  First he did it with his column, now he’s doing it with Letters to The Editor.  He wrote to Writers Digest this month, criticizing them for an idiotic article (then again, aren’t most of the articles in that magazine pretty lame?)  that suggested that writing fanfic might be a good way to learn how to write.  As a successful novelist and acclaimed teacher of creative writing, Tod thinks otherswise. In part, he said:

Being handed a character…isn’t equal to the organic process you must
go through to create real, living characters. Writing fiction isn’t
about getting a shorthand lesson in creativity via someone else’s
established characters; rather, it’s the process of learning how to
create vivid characters and story lines from your own minds. Writing
fanfiction to learn how to write a novel is like filling in a crossword
puzzle with the belief that someone will hand you a doctorate

Naturally, this has pissed off a lot of fanficcers, including some folks who are writing their own Harry Potter novels. Like this woman, for instance…

Well, Tod Goldberg, I majorly disagree. To begin with, I think
fanfiction gives people the courage to write. One, because you can put
up your work in a welcoming atmosphere and not have to go through the
self-esteem destruction of trying to get published. Two, you can get
your work read by someone other than your mother. Even if you
write something and set up a web site for people to read, you’re not
likely to get the draw that you would putting up a story at a fanfic
site. Three, you don’t have to go through the very hard work of making
up a background, allowing a writer to jump write in and write!

She has, of course, just proven Tod’s point…but I doubt she noticed.  But far be it from me to dive back into that  debate again.  I’ll leave that to Tod over on his blog.

Hardboiled vs Cozies vs Everybody

Novelist James Reasoner is wondering when did the mystery field become so balkanized?

I read just about everything there was in the mystery field . . . and it seemed perfectly normal to me. Now you got your hardboiled readers laughing at cozies and your cozy readers sneering at the hardboiled stuff, and for all I know people who read cat mysteries can’t understand why anybody would want to read a dog mystery, and vice versa. I don’t understand it. Give me a good story and some reasonably interesting characters, and I’m fine
with it, no matter what the trappings might be.

You notice this a lot on many of the mystery lists (like DorothyL, etc.) and among the writing blogs.  What’s interesting to me is that the balkanization doesn’t just exist among mystery fans, but among mystery writers as well with, for example, the hardboiled writers all but sneering at authors who write cozies, as if they aren’t real writers because their heroes don’t fuck, or take a beating,  or go to a murder scenes and see the brain matter on the wall and the dead man who has shit himself in his last spasm of life.

Hardboiled detective books and police procedurals have no more literary
merit than any other books in the field because they are grittier.  I don’t much like cozies myself, but I certainly respect the writers who write them. It’s just as hard to write a cozy as it is to write a tough noir tale. Who knows, maybe it’s even harder.

A close cousin to balkanization are the insular attitudes of certain cliques of writers… scribes who love everything their group does, good or bad, and sneers at the work of outsiders. You aren’t "in" if you aren’t in their tight little group.  These smug back-slappers exist in all the different genres of mystery fiction and, if you go to conventions or hang out in discussions on -line,  you know exactly who they are and what writers are on their approved reading lists. 

I like to think I’m not in one of those insular groups and that I treat cozy, historical, hard-boiled, whodunit, and all other mystery writers with friendliess and respect, whether I am a fan of their particular genre or not.   

To Outline or Not To Outline

Prolific novelist Sandra Scoppettone has hit a wall in her new book.

I think I’m in big trouble.  This novel is a mess. I’m on page 142
and not only don’t I know what’s going on, I can’t imagine writing at
least another 250 pages of this.

Nothing makes sense.  I’ve written myself into so many corners I can’t see how to ever write out of them.

it wasn’t so depressing, and if I didn’t have a deadline, I think I’d
junk this novel and start again.  I honestly don’t know what I’m going
to do.  I should be working right now but instead I’m doing this.

feel I’ve been fooling myself, thinking it would work itself out.  I
don’t see how it can.  I’ve never been in quite this position so early
in a book.

I don’t know whether she writes with an outline or not, but I’m guessing she doesn’t. Novelist Ed Gorman wishes he could outline…but can’t.

The few times I’ve managed to fix an outline on both the page and in my
mind, I was more relaxed with the writing itself. I didn’t wake up in
the middle of the night depressed because I couldn’t figure out what
next day at the machine would bring.

Novelist James Reasoner always has a vague sketch of where he is going.

Although taking off and winging it with no outline can be fun . . . if
everything works out right. These days I like a nice six to eight page
outline so that the basic structure of the book has already been
figured out before I start. I usually write these even for books where
the publisher doesn’t require an outline, just for my own benefit.

that said, I don’t think I’ve ever written a book that turned out
exactly like the outline. Some unexpected plot twist or character
always pops up during the writing of the book itself.

That’s the way it goes for me, too. I find the security blanket of an outline, even if I deviate from it along the way (and I do), always helps me. At least I can look at it and say, "Okay, I had an idea of where I should be going, why am I not heading in that direction? What changed? And did it change for the better?" My outlines tend to evolve as my novels do…I call them "living outlines," because I am constantly rewriting them as I write the book and usually don’t finish my outline until a week or so before I finish my book.

Sometimes it’s fun for me to go back and look at the original outline and then the one I ended up with and see at what points I went in new directions… and why. I always learn from it.

UPDATE: Sandra Scoppettone reports on her blog that she doesn’t use an outline…and here’s why:

couldn’t stand to have an outline.  The idea of knowing where I’m going
is hideous to me.  Anyway, I couldn’t write an outline when I never
know who did it until I’m at about page 100.  I don’t want to know who
did it when I start.  It would spoil everything for me just as if I was
reading a book and knew who did it from the beginning.  Before I start
I know who my protagonist is (in this case I know a lot about her
because it’s the second in a series) and who has been killed.  That has
always worked for me before.  And now it’s failed me.  I still won’t do
an outline.

Frankly, I can’t imagine writing a mystery, and planting clues, without knowing whodunit ahead of time.

I’m curious, fellow writers… how do you feel about outlines?