The Dangers of using Boilerplate Text In Your Writing

My friend author Twist Phelan pointed me to a NY Times article about comic Chris Elliott who, in researching his new comic novel  SHROUD OF THE THWACKER  on the web, inadvertently mistook an online spoof for genuine history and now has to share his royalties with the man he inadvertently stole from.

To his satirical 19th-century mix of gas-powered wooden cellphones and imagined New York landmarks like the original Ray’s Pizzeria, Mr. Elliott adds a minor but
intriguing character named Boilerplate, a robot said to be developed by the inventor Archibald Campion in the late 1800’s. According to a deliciously detailed Internet site that tracks the robot’s history (, Boilerplate was designed to replace humans in combat; it took part in Roosevelt’s campaign at San Juan Hill, joined the hunt for Pancho Villa, and fought in and, ultimately, disappeared during World War I.

But in fact, Boilerplate never was. It is the creation of Paul Guinan, an illustratorBp and graphic novelist in Portland, Ore., who with his wife, Anina Bennett, is the author of "Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate," published in July by IDW Publishing.

In the acknowledgments section of his book, Mr. Elliott says that Boilerplate came to
his attention thanks to research performed by his brother, Bob Elliott Jr. "You
can’t make up something like ‘Boilerplate,’ " Mr. Elliott writes. "Well you can,
but it’s a lot easier when your brother just shows you a picture of

Soon, Mr. Elliott heard from friends of Mr. Guinan, who said that he was considering legal
action for the "fairly blatant and quite unauthorized" lifting of a copyrighted

Elliott and Guinan reached an amicable financial settlement without having to bring in lawyers. This should be a cautionary tale for anybody who does their research on the Internet. Not everything that shows up in a Google search is fact.

Okay, We Get The Point, You’re Brilliant

I got this email over the weekend:

I have a GREAT idea for a movie. Yup that’s just about it. Brilliant idea, concept for a movie, the characters and interaction the hook, great suspenseful WOW outcome.Now what? How can I proceed to make some money with this idea. I’m not in the business, not a writer (should be able to tell that by
now). My brain works in a very strange way with brilliant ideas and concepts. Very detailed plots and sub plots that I know as a patron I would like to see on the screen, but I don’t know how to write….can you help?Or should I buy some Prozac and sleep my idea off?

I told him to take the pills or write the script. What would you tell this modest man who is  brimming over with "brilliant ideas and concepts"?

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Remainder Mark

Although Scholastic sold nearly 11 million copies of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE in the U.S., The Independant reports that the publisher printed too many copies…and is facing returns of  about 2.5 million unsold books.

The company ordered 10.8 million copies of Half-Blood Prince, the largest
print run in the history of publishing. "We wanted enough books out there so
every single fan could get a book when they wanted it," explained Scholastic’s
Kyle Good. "This was the number we came up with in collaboration with the

Buoyed by the news that Half-Blood Prince had sold 6.9 million copies in the
first 24 hours, 1.9 million more than on the first day of the previous Potter
tome, Scholastic promptly ordered a further 2.7 million copies, bringing the
total to 13.5 million.

"This is a cause for celebration, not just for Scholastic but for book lovers
everywhere," chirped Lisa Holton, the president of Scholastic Children’s Books,
at the time.

Now, Scholastic’s chairman, Richard Robinson, whose father Robbie founded the
firm in 1920, admits bookshops have been left with 2.5 million unsold

Mr Robinson told book-trade analysts he had no plans for accepting large numbers
of returned books. He expects that the release in the US of the film Harry
Potter and the Goblet of Fire on 18 November will generate renewed interest in
the series and mop up the overrun.

Along Came a Ghostwriter

Galleycat pointed me to this New York Times article about James Patterson’s money. In middle of the article is an interesting tid-bit about Patterson’s frequent use of ghostwriters and collaborators.

Although Mr. Patterson has been as good as any other top author at
marketing his own identity, he said his strength was in storytelling.
"I spin yarns," he said. "I love it. I have a folder with several
hundred ideas for stories. They just come and I’ll say: ‘There is a
story here.’ "

During a visit to Chapel Hill, N.C., for
example, he saw posters asking for help in finding missing women. That
led to the plot for "Kiss the Girls," a 1995 thriller about two
murderers who compete to kill girls. The book is in the Alex Cross
series, which is centered on the exploits of a black detective.

Patterson said he often worked with co-authors because he believed that
he was more proficient at creating the story line than at executing it.

"I found that it is rare that you get a craftsman and an idea
person in the same body," Mr. Patterson said. "With me, I struggle like
crazy. I can do the craft at an acceptable level, but the ideas are
what I like." He said the co-authors received a flat fee and, most
often, credit on the book cover.

In novel writing, as in advertising, Mr. Patterson wants the final
say. Once there is a first draft of a book that has a co-author, "I may
ask the collaborator for a polish," he said.

"Then I do the remaining rewrites," he added – sometimes as many as seven.


M Is For Mystery

Yesterday, I signed at M IS FOR MYSTERY is San Mateo where I met some people I’ve only "known" online, like Rachel (one of my students at Writers University), Keith (the one who isn’t Keith Snyder who comments here), and Teresa (webmistress of a great MONK site). It’s a friendly little store in a charming neighborhood that feels like a small town, circa 1964. Even though I grew up in the Bay Area, I somehow never managed to get to San Mateo before. It was a nice trip. After the signing, I made the long drive back to L.A., listening to Ron McLarty do his usual magnificent job performing an unabridged reading of an Ed McBain 87th Precinct novel. This time, it was the return of The Deaf Man in HARK. Another 100 miles, and I would have finished it…but so far, I’m enjoying the book.

Lost Author Found

I always wondered what became of thriller writer Bob Reiss…he just seemed to have disappeared. The mystery was solved in a tiny item in this week’s issue of Publishers Weekly, which revealed that Reiss has been writing as Ethan Black and sold his newest novel to Paramount for big bucks.  The item got me wondering about some other disappearances… like James Colbert, Brad Soloman, Zachary Klein, Jerome Doolittle, A.W. Mykel, Robert Sims Reid, Tom Eidson, Doug Swanson, Robert Ward, Gaylord Dold, Jim Cirni, Edwin Shrake, and Michael Stone. 

I know some tidbits. Colbert went into comics for awhile. There are rumors that Jerome Doolittle is K.C. Constantine. One of Eidson’s novels became the western THE MISSING, but how long has it been since his last novel? And I see Robert Ward showing up at signings and events (like Terrell Lee Lankford’s publication party), but his last novel was quite a few years ago.

Anybody know the stories on the others?

Right Back Where I Started From

I spent most of Friday roaming around SF, taking pictures and basically just soaking up the locale for my third MONK novel, tentatively entitled MR. MONK AND THE BLUE FLU. This is my second research trip to SF. Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I don’t know the city as well as I would like…at least not if I’m going to be writing about it.

In the evening, I made my way over the traffic-clogged Bay Bridge to Berkeley where I was the guest at Mystery Reader International’s "At Home" author chat…held, appropriately, at MRI leader Janet Rudolph’s hillside home. Among the attendees were author David Corbett and Left Coast Crime/Bouchercon Monterey organizers extraordinare Bill & Toby Gottfried. I told my usual lies and exaggerations and a good time was had by all (especially me).

Now I’m sitting in San Mateo, where I will be interviewed today by the founder of a MONK fanclub/website and signing THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE at 2pm at M IS FOR MYSTERY. Then it’s a long, six-hour drive back to L.A…listening to music on my iPod and a book-on-tape (I finished listening to the lastest Spenser, SCHOOL DAYS, and wasn’t wowed. It’s one of the weakest entries in the series…but at least Susan wasn’t in it, which was a plus).