Nobody Wants to Read Your Adaptation of CHILDHOOD’S END

I got this email the other day:

Suppose you adapt something that you love (a novel or a comic or short story) and it turns out very good. Would it be ethical to use this as a writing sample? Would it be a good idea? Would it demonstrate to a producer or agent your ability to adapt other materials?

On the one hand this seems to me very much like fanfic in that you’re using characters and a world created by some one to which you have no rights. On the other hand when you spec a TV show, which you do use as a writing sample, you’re doing the exact same thing.

I have to admit that these are questions nobody has ever asked me before.  The answer is no, you should not adapt someone else’s novel for your spec script.  And here’s why:

1) The point of a spec feature is to show off your unique voice and your ability to tell a compelling, original story. No producer is going to be impressed if you adapt THE DAVINCI CODE as your spec.

2) The point of an episodic spec is to show your ability to capture the structure, voice, characters, and tone of an existing TV series.  Basing your spec on a book, comic, or pre-existing movie tells a producer absolutely nothing about your grasp of the four-act structure or your ability to mimick the voice of a TV character.

3) You don’t own the book, comic book, or short story. It’s not yours to adapt. It’s stealing.

4) It’s not even remotely the same thing as writing a spec episode of an existing TV series. It’s accepted practice within the TV industry that it’s okay to write an episode of an existing series for the sole purpose of using it as a writing sample. You’re given a free pass, essentially, to play with characters you don’t own because there’s an understanding you’re not going to publish it, produce it, or sell it. A spec episodic script is a sample of your work, a way for producers to gauge if you can mimic the plotting, voice, structure, and tone of a TV series.

5) It’s an enormous cheat. Let’s be honest, you’re turning to a book, comic book, or other pre-existing property
because you’re too lazy to do the work involved in coming up with an
original story. Or you don’t have the skills to mimic an episode of a TV show. Or you’re so blinded by fanboy love of the material that
you can’t see what a stupid idea it is to send out your own adaptation.
Here are some of the least offensive things agents and producers will
think of you if you send out your unsolicited adaptation of  CATCHER IN
THE RYE or CAPTAIN MARVEL or your reimagining of SEAQUEST DSV:  "Loser,"
"geek," "never been laid," "speaks fluent Klingon," "talentless
amateur," "moron," "loves Real Person Slash Fic," "Collects unicorn
statuettes,"  "Lives with his Mother," "Dimwit," and "Longs for the return
of the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA."

All that said, I vaguely recall reading somewhere that John Irving gave a young director the rights to one of his books (perhaps A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR or OWEN MEANY) based on an  screenplay adaptation of the novel that the film-maker wrote on spec to impress the novelist.  But that’s a unique situation and very different from what you’re proposing.

Stunt Casting

I was looking for a racy and suggestive DIAGNOSIS MURDER shot toPolice
illustrate the previous post and, shockingly, couldn’t find one. But I did Spy_1
stumble on these gallery shots from some of our big stunt casting episodes (MANNIX, MATLOCK, TV Spies, TV Doctors, TV Cops, TV Sf, M*A*S*H).  They brought back some fond memories for me and reveal why TV geeks should never be put in charge of a series. (Click on the pictures for larger images).Mash_1

There’s Also a Sex Cult at Leisure World based on DIAGNOSIS MURDER Novels

Police in the UK busted a sex slavery cult who based their S&M lifestyle on a series of 1960s sf novels.

The Kaotians are a splinter group of the Goreans, which according to estimates number 25,000 followers nationwide. Both
groups base their slavery and dominance beliefs on a series of novels
written by John Norman, an American philosophy academic. THE CHRONICLES OF GOR depict a society, called the land of Gor, which is divided into
castes, and where women are kept as slaves.

(thanks to Bookslut for the heads-up)

Harry Potter, PI

Variety reports that the SciFi Channel has ordered 11 episodes of THE DRESDEN FILES, a weekly series starring Paul Blackthorne as a PI with magical powers. The series is based on the books by Jim Butcher and will be produced by Morgan Gendel, Hans Beimler, Robert Wolfe, and Nicholas Cage.

It’s Offensive

I got this email today:

It’s = "It is."
Its = possessive

From your website:

"I’ve written here before about the unethically close relationship between
Writer’s Digest and it’s vanity press advertisers."

"The CW has leaked it’s fall schedule… and it doesn’t include EVERWOOD or

Please stop offending your readers with such sloppiness and/or ignorance.

Very Truly Yours,

It’s sloppiness. I know the rule, but I make the mistake anyway. It’s one of my many flaws. I also have a hard time spelling "marriage," "villain," "similar," "envelope," and "weird" correctly. But I don’t spend a lot of time proofing my blog posts (okay, none at all), so if you offend that easily, I suggest you visit my brother’s blog instead and make sure he’s using the term "fucktard" correctly.

The Elusive Fucktardicine Americanas

Every week, my brother Tod hilariously skewers Parade Magazine and the fucktards (and Parade staffers) who pose questions to Walter Scott.  This week, though, Tod is at his best. Here’s my favorite part, which had me choking on my morning bagel:

As a child in the 1960s, I loved the novelty songs of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Are they still around?

hard to answer the question Jon Brown poses because it works on so many
different levels of consciousness. Are the songs still around? No, Jon,
the songs were stuffed into a time capsule and shot into space, which
is why you never hear them around Christmas anymore. And everyone knows
that once a song stops playing, well, it ceases to exist. Why, it’s
amazing the Star Spangled Banner has lasted so long, but I put that in
the hands of the Lord. You know what also no longer exists? Final
Countdown by Europe. Poof! It failed to exist. It’s no longer "around".
Same with Mickey by Toni Basil. The entire Blow Monkeys catalog.
Remember 99 Luftballons by Nena? Gone. No longer "around".

And then the larger question: Does Jon actually mean Alvin
and the Chipmunks? Does Jon Brown of Natick, Mass, really think Alvin
and the Chipmunks are no longer "around"? Well, that would indicate
that Alvin and the Chipmunks ever, you know, existed. You see, Jon,
they were a cartoon. Louis Leakey discovered in 1975 that cartoons
weren’t, in fact, part of the hominid line and all the history books
had to be rewritten. C. Owen Lovejoy, in his landmark paper on the
subject, noted that cartoons were actually "[D]rawn by people working
in Burbank, California and have no relation to any known lines of human
evolution. In addition, it appears the Brown family of Natick, Mass. is
part of a forgotten link in the parade of humanity known as fucktardicine americanas."

Bum Bum Bum-dee Bum Bum…

I didn’t like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3…but I absolutely love the soundtrack. I can’t stop listening to it. The score is exhilirating in a way the movie wasn’t. Composer Michael Giacchino did a fantastic reinterpreting Lalo Schifrin’s classic cues and added some great ones of his own. I’m also a huge fan of Giacchino’s THE INCREDIBLES soundtrack, a rousing and fun-loving homage to the John Barry 007 scores of the 60s and 70s (particularly ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE).  I’m hoping the Bond folks pick Giacchino to score CASINO ROYALE…

Why Do Writers Delude Themselves?

I understand what it’s like to dream of being a writer. I understand how hard it is to achieve that dream. I understand how difficult it is to remain in print. I understand it because I’ve lived it.

What I don’t understand is why some writers delight in deluding themselves — even when they  know that what they are doing is foolish, costly, pointless and pathetic.  I got an email the other day that’s a perfect example of this bizarre phenomenon.  Here’s how it began: 

I’ve been reading you for a while.  I don’t get people who post
their unpublished writing on their blogs or websites.  On the other
hand, I feel somewhat guilty because I have a self-published book out
(pretty pathetic, I know, but 27 years ago my first book was published
commercially and I’ve had books reviewed in the LA & NY Times) and
feel really weird about trying to promote it.  I don’t quite know what
to do.

Okay, he had a book published 27 years ago and has had his work reviewed by the NY Times and LA Times. That’s great. But what does that have to do with self-publishing his book today? Nothing.

He says he feels "weird" trying to promote the book and doesn’t quite know how to do it. Excuse me?  He’s asking himself now how he’s going to promote his self-published novel? Shouldn’t he have thought of that before writing a check to some vanity press? What was he thinking when he went to a vanity press? Clearly, he wasn’t thinking at all. He was deluding himself. But it gets worse…or sadder, depending on your perspective:

doubt you’d be interested in my book, but here’s a link to the Kirkus
Discoveries review (yeah, I paid $350 to them so I’d get at least one
review): xyz  and to my stupid website, xyz.

Let’s try to follow the logic of that paragraph, one sentence at a time…

"I doubt you’d be interested in my book, but here’s a link to the Kirkus Discoveries review."

He doesn’t think I’ll care about his book, but he’s going to point me to a review that he paid for anyway, because that might convince me it’s good.  Huh??

"Yeah, I paid $350 to them so I’d get at least one review."

This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: a writer deluding himself, knowing that he is, and going along with the delusion anyway.  If you paid for a positive review, it’s not really a review, is it? In fact, it’s worthless.  What good is a review that everyone knows you’ve bought and paid for? Does it make you feel better about your work that someone you paid to like it says he likes it? You could have saved $350 by simply writing a rave review of your book yourself.

It’s clear from his email that he knows he made a mistake, he feels foolish about it, and yet he can’t stop himself from compounding his error. He paid to be published without thinking about how he’d promote his book once it was out. He paid for a review just for the pleasure of seeing someone talk about his work.  Then he sends an email to me, of all people, that basically says "look at me, aren’t I pathetic?"

And he thinks this is a winning strategy?

I’m not telling you about this email to humiliate the guy. I feel sad for him…and yet, at the same time, stories like his infuriate me. He’s not some idiot being taken advantage of by the false claims of a vanity press… he knows better. So why does he do it anyway?

I just don’t get it. Someone, please, explain it to me.

iUniverse CEO Gives Aspiring Authors Advice

Susan Driscoll, the CEO of iUniverse, has a blog.  In her initial post, she says:

I’ve been CEO of iUniverse for almost three years and spent over twenty
years in traditional publishing before that. As such, I have a pretty
broad understanding of the publishing business and of the unique
concerns of self-published authors. Through this blog, I’ll share
relevant facts about the industry and provide perspective and advice to
aspiring authors. And, since there are many smart publishing people
that I’m lucky to call my friends, I’ll regularly call on those experts
to answer questions of general interest.

The last person any aspiring author should turn to for advice is the CEO of a vanity press. If she was really interested in helping aspiring authors, her first piece of advice to them would be not to pay a P.O.D. company $1100 to "publish" your novel.  It’s throwing your money away.  Just look at the stats: In 2004, out of 18,108 titles iUniverse published, only 83 titles sold more than 500 copies and only 14 titles were actually stocked in brick-and-mortar stores.

While I think going to a vanity press with your novel is a huge mistake, I don’t think the same is necessarily true for non-fiction work — especially if you are giving lots of seminars and  speeches and can sell your books at the events or are teaching a class where your book can be assigned as required reading.

I have several books "published" by iUniverse… my UNSOLD TV PILOTS books and my novel MY GUN HAS BULLETS. But I didn’t pay a nickel for it. All of books were previously published, out-of-print titles which were republished through special Authors Guild and Mystery Writers of America "back in print" programs.  I would never have reprinted MY GUN HAS BULLETS through iUniverse if there was a cost involved…nor would I ever recommend that anybody pay to have an original novel "published" by iUniverse. 

You can see for yourself how much … or rather, how little … I’ve made from these books by looking at some of my royalty statements.

Who Am I? The Sequel

I got another email from Doug Mannington at Point of Impact today:

Greetings – I am looking to purchase 5 text link ads on

Each ad is two to three words in length and can be placed anywhere on your page as long as the ads are visible on the majority of pages on your website. I would be willing to pay for 3 months of advertising up front.

Would you be interested?

Looking forward to your response,


I replied to Doug that I’ve double checked my birth certificate, driver’s license and passport and I’m still pretty sure that I am not Neil Gaiman.  But I could be Pierce Brosnan.