They Never Learn

The Martinsville Reporter-Times reports that the FBI and the U.S. Postmaster have launched a joint investigation into the business practices of Airleaf Publishing/Bookman Publishing, a notorious vanity press scam that went bankrupt last year. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a national crackdown on the deceptive practices of the vanity press industry.

But its hard to feel any sympathy for the Airleaf victims. Any reasonably intelligent person could have seen that Airleaf (and its previous incarnation Bookman Publishing) was a sham.  Even if the aspiring authors were too blind with desperation and naivete to see the scam for themselves, a simple Google search would have turned up plenty of resources (including my blog and others) that talked about the company’s many deceptive practices and false promises.

They made a dumb, costly, and humiliating mistake.

So you’d think that now the Airleaf victims would know better than to ever get involved with a POD vanity press again.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Incredibly, many of them are once again writing checks to vanity presses, including Bonnie Kaye, who founded the Airleaf victims blog and whose relentless efforts are largely responsible for Airleaf’s fall and the subsequent federal investigation.

She’s now a customer of CCB Publishing, a print-on-demand vanity press that she calls her "new publisher."  CCB’s former Airleaf clients include John Krismer, who has written a book that reveals this:

Few realize a New World Order plans to replace our constitution with a
Single World Government, nor that our Federal Reserve Bank is privately
owned and is not subject to oversight by Congress or the President.

[…]George H. W. Bush, the undisputed “Overlord” of the Shrub Dynasty, in
his State of the Union Message in 1991 said: “What is at stake is more
than one small country, it is a big idea – a new world order.” Did We
the People ever agree to this treasonous act of turning over our
nation’s sovereignty to a Single World Government?

Uh-huh. This is the kind of unpublishable swill that the vanity press industry thrives on. Is it any wonder he has written a check to another POD printer?

I applaud Kaye for going after Airleaf and bringing the company down…but she’s still foolishly writing checks to a POD vanity press and deluding herself into thinking that she’s "published." By doing so, and praising the company to other Airleaf customers, she’s perpetuating the myths that the vanity press industry thrives on. How sad.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Some other former Airleaf clients have become customers of Jones Harvest, a vanity press that is run by former Airleaf employees!  Those  particular Airleaf customers aren’t victims at all. They are brain-dead morons.

Reviving the Blacklist

Today WGA members received an email from Patric Verrone, our Guild president, regarding the small number of writers who decided to go "financial core" during the strike. I have a great deal of respect for Patric, and I wholeheartedly supported the strike, but I found the wording, intent, and underlying message of the email offensive, particularly this:

[…]there were a puny few who chose to do otherwise, who consciously and selfishly decided to place their own narrow interests
over the greater good. Extreme exceptions to the rule, perhaps, but this handful of members who went financial core, resigning from the union yet continuing to receive the benefits of a union contract, must be
held at arm’s length by the rest of us and judged accountable for what they are – strikebreakers whose actions placed everything for which we fought so hard at risk.

He went on to include a link to a list of those writers, who number less than two dozen.

Patric’s letter, and his rallying cry to scorn those writers, harkens back to one of the darkest chapters in entertainment history for writers — the blacklist.  In my view, Patric is asking us to engage in that same, despicable behavior… to exclude these writers from work opportunities because of their political views. While I strongly disagree with what those writers did, I resent the Guild asking me to blacklist them because of it.

The writers who went financial core objected to the strike but at least they followed the rules to express their dissatisfaction. I can respect their courage and integrity if not their views. They didn’t hide in the shadows, saying one thing ("I support the strike!") and doing another (writing scab scripts for a daily soap). They stood up and were willing to be held accountable for their actions.

I would, at least to some degree, understand Patric’s suggestion if he was talking about the people who actually scabbed…who toiled in secret, writing scripts for shows while the rest of us were walking the picket lines and losing our incomes.  Go after the scabs, expose them, fine them, throw them out of the Guild. I am all for that.

But tarring-and-feathering the writers who went financial core, and suggesting that we not hire them, is wrong.  The boards of the WGA West and East should be ashamed of endorsing this wrong-headed action and supporting this offensive letter.

UPDATE: The complete text of Patric Verrone’s letter, and a spirited debate about it, can be found at Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily.

UPDATE: WGA members Craig Mazin and John August share their opinions about the letter.

UPDATE 4/22/08: Nikki Finke reports that the AMPTP has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB over the WGA’s letter. The AMPTP statement reads, in part:

By publicly naming names and encouraging people who have the power to
hire writers to keep them "at arm’s length," and saying they must be
"judged accountable" it is clear the WGA leadership is seeking to deny
employment to these writers in the future. That is a direct violation
of federal labor law, and as the employers of those writers we have a
responsibility to defend them and the rule of law in this case.

I don’t condone the AMPTP’s motives for filing the charges, but their statement is absolutely right and I hope the NLRB slaps the WGA with stiff sanctions for this. For the first time since I joined the WGA, I am ashamed of my Guild and its leadership. The WGA Board needs to apologize for what they have done.

UPDATE 4/26/08:  I have now heard from three board members, two of whom said that they were blindsided by the letter. They told me that the Board had voted to release the names of the fi-core writers, but they had no idea that the membership would be told not to associate with them. I am hoping that there will be a clarification and/or apology to the membership following the next board meeting.

You Can’t Tell a Book By It’s Cover

SLEEPING DOGS by Ed Gorman proves the old adage that you can’t tell a book by it’s cover. He has been stuck with the ugliest St. Martin’s cover since my book, BEYOND THE BEYOND. It’s a damn shame, because his book deserves more thoughtful packaging– a LOT more. It’s a biting, fast-moving, darkly funny mystery set inside a Senatorial campaign. The hero is Dev Conrad, a political consultant who knows how to play the game and is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the lies, hypocrisy, and self-delusion inherent in his job.

Ed not only gives us an inside look at the dark side of campaigning, he also offers a good puzzle, too, where the "bad guys" are fully fleshed-out characters who aren’t that much different than the "good guys." And after countless books about tortured cops, PIs and forensic scientists…not to mention an endless number of amateur sleuths…Dev Conrad is a fresh, unconventional protagonist. The timing for this book couldn’t be better…but, based on the cover treatment, I fear the publisher isn’t in a position to take advantage of the opportunity.

As an aside, I am awed by Ed’s versatility…he writes westerns, whodunits, thrillers, procedurals and now political novels…all with equal skill. I wish I was that flexible.

An End Run Around Public Domain

Richard Wheeler reports that some literary heirs have found a way to undermine public domain — they trademark the name of the author, as Zane Grey’s estate has done with his name.

What the trademark accomplishes is to make it impossible for anyone to
publish a Grey novel that has fallen into the public domain unless the
publisher licenses the name of the author from the heirs. Oh, you can
print the public domain material, all right; just don’t put the
author’s name on it.

I wonder if this has ever been tested in court? If not, it probably will be soon.

Me Everywhere

I’ve got a busy signing and speaking schedule coming up…

You can find me at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, CA on Friday, April 25th,  for their pre-Los Angeles Times Festival of Books party. And then I’ll be signing on Sunday, April 27th, at 11 a.m., at the Mystery Bookstore’s booth at the Festival.

On Monday, April 28,  I am interviewing producer Donald Belisario on camera for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Archive of American Television, and then I am hopping on a plane to New York, to participate in the Mystery Writers of America’s Crime Fiction Seminars  and to take part in the Edgar Awards.

In late May/early June, I’ll be signing at Book Expo in Los Angeles, alongside Max Allan Collins, but I’ll have more details about that as we get closer to the event.

And finally, I’m going to be traveling to the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky on June 17-22 to see my screenplay "Mapes For Hire" (based on my book THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE) performed on stage "live radio"-style with a full cast, sound effects and music.  Here are the performance dates at the Berry Theatre in Owensboro:

  • Friday, June 13 – 2pm
  • Sunday, June 15 – 2pm
  • Wednesday, June 18 – 7:30pm
  • Sunday, June 22 – 4pm

For ticket information, click here.

Towards the Finish Line

I’m in the final stretch of writing MR. MONK IS MISERABLE, which is due on April 30th…which is why I haven’t been contributing much here lately. No sooner  do I turn in that book than I have to start thinking about MONK #8. All I know about that one, after two books mostly set in Europe, is that it will take place in and around San Francisco.  Beyond that, I’ve got nothing. I’m sure something will occur to me, probably while I am on my way to New York next week for the Edgar Awards, where I will be seeing my publisher, editor and agent.

But before I go, I’ve got a couple of meet-and-greets this week with two A-list production companies,  thanks  to a spec script I wrote that these execs really liked but, for whatever reason, wouldn’t buy. They liked the writing and the sensibility enough to want to meet me, which is good, but the meetings are always a little awkward. There’s no way to really prepare for them. They aren’t structured, like a pitch, though I’ll gladly share a few ideas if I’m asked what I’m working on. It’s more casual and free-form, with no clear agenda. But make no mistake about it, you are pitching. You’re pitching yourself as a person.

A meet-and-greet is an opportunity for the executives to put a face to your name, get a sense of how you think, and decide whether or not they’d like to work with you some day. Nothing may ever come of the meet-and-greet…or weeks, months or years from now it might occur to the exec to bring me in on particular project or rewrite that matches my "sensibility." I’ve had a few jobs come to me this way over the years…like writing the Dame Edna movie (which, sadly, was not produced), so I am always open to meet-and-greets.

If anything comes from one of them, I’ll let you know. Okay, enough procrasatinating, back to MONK!

The Verdict is In

51bs1pwmgol_ss500_ There’s no question about it.  Paul Brownstein is the best producer of DVD boxed sets in the industry and he’s proved it once again with PERRY MASON: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, which includes twelve episodes (featuring future stars like Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, James Coburn, and Burt Reynolds) and is loaded with special features that, on their own, are well worth the purchase price. The extras include the original audition/screen tests for Hamilton Burger and Perry Mason, two Charlie Rose interviews with Raymond Burr, and a late 1950s episode of "Person to Person" in which Burr gives viewers a tour of his L.A. home. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also got interviews, featurettes, and the "Perry Mason Returns" TV movie. I wish they’d included an episode of  THE NEW PERRY MASON, starring Monte Markham, for the hell of it.  If you you’re a TV geek like me, you’re going to love this boxed set.  I also strongly recommend Brownstein’s amazing GUNSMOKE, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and WILD WILD WEST sets.

STINGRAY: THE COMPLETE SERIES, the Steve Cannell series that starred Nick Mancuso, arrived in51enjrxehnl_ss500_
my mailbox today from Amazon in Canada, which sells it for half as much as Amazon stateside ($22 vs $44!). It’s a quirky series that I loved when it aired and that is probably not as good as I remember it, but I’ll let you know.

Sad News

Stanley Kamel, who portrayed Dr. Kroger on MONK, died yesterday of a heart attack. Besides being a very talented and versatile actor, he was also a very nice man. I worked with him long before MONK on an episode of the early 90s FOX series LIKELY SUSPECTS. He played a restaurant owner with an indecipherable accent. Much to my delight, when I met him again over a decade later at a MONK rap party, he not only remembered the LIKELY SUSPECTS role…he even remembered his lines! He will be missed.

(That’s Stanley with my daughter Maddie at last year’s wrap party).