Bathroom humor

Later in the day at the Men of Mystery event, Tim Dorsey told a story about being approached by a fan in the Men's room. I wonder if the guy who approached felt stupid after that. Men of Mystery was a lot of fun again this year. Paul Levine, Barry Eisler and Michael Connelly all made good-natured jokes at my expense in their presentations but I didnt hear any of them because I was busy emailing myself notes for my new Monk book. I don't know why, but in middle of the event I suddenly figured out a new story for the book and decided to trash the one I was working on — so I took notes before I forgot my idea. When it came time for my presentation, I withstood the urge to make a joke at Sam McCarver's expense but Tod didn't. At the book signing, Tod once again saw the 60 year old woman who regales him every year with stories of her long distance romance with a 22 year old guy in Zimbabwe who only occasionally asks to be wired money. Ah, true love. Bob Levinson joked that he's been coming to Men of Mystery for 10 yrs and still hasn't sold a book. He must come for the mushroom soup.
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Mr Monk Is Disgusted

I am at the Men of Mystery event in Irvine. I just went to the men's room and was standing at a urinal when the guy next to me said "I am a huge fan of your Monk novels." And offered me his hand. I said "You have got to be kidding" and didn't even look at him. I bet it was Barry Eisler.
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Trouble on the Harlequin Horizon

Author Jackie Kessler has done an excellent analysis of Harlequin's self-publishing venture…and all the reasons it's deceptive and bad for writers. It's a must-read. She quotes extensively from the Harlequin Horizon's FAQ. This particular excerpt infuriated me:

"1. What is Harlequin Horizons? 

Self-publishing is one of a suite of publishing options an aspiring author can choose from these days; with the launch of Carina Press we can provide the flexibility of a digital-only press, and Horizons offers a self-publishing option.
It is a partnership with Author Solutions – they provide the self-publishing services, we provide our brand name and we make authors we have rejected aware of this service."

8. What’s going to happen with the slush Harlequin currently receives?

We will continue to welcome unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring authors.
All standard/form/template rejection letters will include a short note about Harlequin Horizons as a self-publishing option for the aspiring author.

So their editors are referring aspiring authors to their own self-publishing house. This is reprehensible and unethical conduct …exactly the kind of predatory publishing practice that the MWA's rules are designed to discourage.
It doesn't matter what Harlequin ultimately ends up calling their self-publishing program…what matters is how they conduct business. There needs to be a total separation in every way between the editorial side of Harlequin and their for-pay ventures.
They are mistaken if Harlequin thinks that simply changing the name of their self-publishing venture solves the problem.

MWA Takes Stand Against Harlequin

Today, the Mystery Writers of America notified their members of the actions they are taking in response to Harlequin's manuscript critique business and their self-publishing venture:

Recently, Harlequin Enterprises launched two new business ventures aimed at aspiring writers, the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka "Learn to Write"), both of which are widely promoted on its website and embedded in the manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers on the Harlequin website.

It is common for disreputable publishers to try to profit from aspiring writers by steering them to their own for-pay editorial, marketing, and publishing services. The implication is that by paying for those services, the writer is more likely to sell his manuscript to the publisher. Harlequin recommends the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service" in the text of its manuscript submission guidelines for all of its imprints and include a link to "Harlequin Horizons," its new self-publishing arm, without any indication that these are advertisements.

That, coupled with the fact that these businesses share the Harlequin name, may mislead writers into believing they can enhance their chances of being published by Harlequin by paying for these services. Offering these services violates long-standing MWA rules for inclusion on our Approved Publishers List.

On November 9, Mystery Writers of America sent a letter to Harlequin about the "eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service," notifying Harlequin that it is in violation of our rules and suggesting steps that Harlequin could take to remain on our Approved Publishers list. The steps outlined at that time included removing mention of this for-pay service entirely from its manuscript submission guidelines, clearly identifying any mention of this program as paid advertisement, and, adding prominent disclaimers that this venture was totally unaffiliated with the editorial side of Harlequin, and that paying for this service is not a factor in the consideration of manuscripts. Since that letter went out, Harlequin has launched "Harlequin Horizons," a self-publishing program.

MWA's November 9 letter asks that Harlequin respond to our concerns and recommendations by December 15. We look forward to receiving their response and working with them to protect the interests of aspiring writers. If MWA and Harlequin are unable to reach an agreement, MWA will take appropriate action which may include removing Harlequin from the list of MWA approved publishers, declining future membership applications from authors published by Harlequin and declaring that books published by Harlequin will not be eligible for the Edgar Awards.

We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published. We respect Harlequin and its authors and hope the company will take the appropriate corrective measures.

The problem is not that Harlequin owns, or is affiliated with, a manuscript critique service or a self-publishing operation. The problem is how those services are integrated and promoted within their "legitimate" publishing operation…and how that integration potentially misleads, and takes advantage of, aspiring and established authors. The problem is further exacerbated by Harlequin allowing the manuscript critique service and the self-publishing operation to use the Harlequin name.

By integrating the pitch for the critique service into the actual text of their manuscript submission guidelines for all of their imprints — without indicating in any way that it's an advertisement and not a requirement or recommendation — and by giving the service the Harlequin name, they could mislead authors into thinking that:

a) paying for their critique service is a requirement for submitting manuscripts to Harlequin

b) that the editors you hire at eHarlequin Manuscript Critique Service are the same "romance professionals" who will be working with you on your manuscript at Harlequin.

c) paying for their critique service will give you an inside track at having your manuscript being accepted by Harlequin

With the Harlequin self-publishing service, Harlequin Horizons, they could mislead aspiring writers into believing that they are:

a) being published by Harlequin, only paying for it.

b) that they will be working with Harlequin editors

c) that they are actually being published by Harlequin when, in fact, it's an iUniverse book.

And by mentioning the Harlequin self-publishing service on the manuscript submission page for their "real" Harlequin, they are creating the potentially mis-leading impression that paying to have your book published by Harlequin is a pre-requisite or a short-cut to being published by the "real" Harlequin.

In my view, these actions go against all the professional and ethical standards that the MWA stands for.

The Romance Writers of America, in an act of real courage on behalf of their members, has also spoken out strongly this week against these practices, taking on the largest publisher in their genre. It will be interesting to see what Harlequin does next.

UPDATE (11/19/2009) : Harlequin has just announced that they are changing the name of their vanity press. That does not allay all of the MWA's grave concerns about this venture, but it is one step in the right direction.

UPDATE (11/19/2009): The Science Fiction Writers of America have just removed Harlequin from their Approved Publishers list and have released a statement expressing their outrage.

UPDATE (11/22/2009) Novelists Inc. put out with a statement today warning writers to avoid vanity presses and calling on "legitimate" publishers not to engage in predatory publishing practices.

UPDATE (11/23/2009) The Horror Writers Association has also issued a statement condemning Harlequin's vanity press. You can find the complete text in the comments below.

UPDATE: Sisters-in-Crime released a statement, acknowledging that Harlequin Horizons (now DellArte) is a vanity press and may not present the best option for those interested in self-publishing. The complete text of the statement is in the comments below. The International Thriller Writers have declined to issue any sort of statement regarding the Harlequin matter.

She-Wolf of London Coming to DVD!

SheWolfOfLondon_Complete  I never thought I'd say this…but the 1990 first-run syndicated series SHE-WOLF OF LONDON aka LOVE & CURSES is finally coming out on DVD. TVShowsOnDVD reports that the complete series, the London and L.A. episodes, will be out February 2. William Rabkin and I were the showrunners and wrote almost all of the episodes. 

The show was hardly seen…it aired as part of Universal Studios' fledgling "Hollywood Premiere Network," which basically consisted of KCOP in Los Angeles and a station in New York. Other shows on the "network" were THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and SHADES OF L.A. 

You can find some of the SHE-WOLF scripts, and even the Writers Guidelines for the show, here.

The Mail I Get

I got an email the other day from Sherry Ellis with the attention-grabbing, in-y0ur-face subject heading: "Please Post Information On Your Blog." 

Wow. Who wouldn't be  hooked by a heading like that? Who wouldn't be gripped by an uncontrollable need to open that email? I certainly couldn't resist. I was overwhelmed with interest and curiosity. I just had to read more. She goes on to say: 

I am the author of Illuminating Fiction, a book of author interviews, and I hope that you will be willing to post information about this book on your blog.

Illuminating Fiction contains nineteen interviews with fiction-writing luminaries including Edward P. Jones, Julia Glass, Amy Bloom, Jill McCorkle, Margot Livesy, Ron Carlson and Steve Almond.

I am also the author of Now Write! and Now Write! Non-Fiction, which are collections of writing exercises. Now Write! was selected as one of the best writing books of the year by The Writer. Finally, I am a writing coach who previously taught writing in Concord, Mass.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

She's a writing coach? And that's the best she could do for a press release? Good God.

She reminds me of the contestant on Hell's Kitchen last season who charged $300-an-hour to teach cooking but couldn't grill a piece of fish. She's a writing coach who needs coaching on how to write a compelling press release. 

Does she really think her unbelievably dull email will hook bloggers and make them want to write about her and her book? 

On the plus side,  she's written something other writing coaches, or perhaps the future author of Now Write! Press Releases and Query Letters, can use as a perfect example of how not to write a press release, query letter, or any other solicitation.

Then again, it worked. I've posted about her book on my blog. But perhaps not in the way she would have liked…

Good News for Fanboys

Looks like BORAT director Larry Charles and CHARLIE'S ANGELS director McG have been watching STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES, PHASE II,  the fan-produced sequel to STAR TREK. Variety reports they've sold a pilot to NBC about a group of fans in a small town who produce their own version of a canceled TV show.

Speaking of CHARLIE'S ANGELS, Variety reports that Josh Friedman is scripting a remake for ABC. Friedman previously wrote & produced the Fox series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES with writer/producer John Wirth who, incidentally, wrote a CHARLIE'S ANGELS reboot with LOST's Carleton Cuse that ABC passed on a few years ago.


Sorry I've been absent here on the blog. There's just been too much to do. Next week is looking crazy, too. I have two important studio pitch meetings next week to prepare for…and  I need to start working on the outline for the next MONK novel…and I have to keep up with my reading of ROMEO & JULIET (I'm helping my daughter, who is having a rough time with her Honors English class). On top of that, I need to do research for a pitch/approach on an open feature assignment that I'm up for. I sure wish I got paid for pitches, I'd be financially set for life. 

The Rigors of Writing Tie-ins

Over at Jeff Vandermeer's blog, authors Dan Abnett and Mark Charan Newton discuss the challenges of writing tie-ins vs non-franchise fiction. Here's an excerpt:

Mark Charan Newton: You see it frequently these days – a literary fiction star such as Jonathan Lethem wanting to write a comic strip for Omega the Unknown, or Jodi Piccoult writing a Wonder Woman series. There’s a sense of reverence and pedigree involved. It has cool factor. But those authors are writing for a franchise that is not creator-owned. It’s not their world; the characters are often not their own. But let’s go the other way. For an author to write tie-in fiction – that is, fiction connected to a franchise or character, that isn’t technically owned by the author – it is still treated as a gaucherie by the majority of genre fans. The books suffer by not getting proper review coverage, and sometimes they are not even considered as ‘real’ works. Why do you think tie-in fiction is treated as the second-class citizen of the genre world?

 […]Dan Abnett: There are any number of contributing factors, and many of them are inevitably contradictory. Let’s start with a basic assumption: if you write as a hired gun, you must be in it for the dosh. You don’t really care what you’re writing. Therefore (obviously), you’re just crapping it out, words per square inch. In other words, tie-in fiction MUST by the very nature of its manufacture, be poor, disposable and second-rate.
It’s possible that an awful lot of people think this. They may not even mean to think it. There’s also a possibility (actually, a very high probability) that an awful lot of people in what I’m happy to refer to as “my line of work” believe that’s what other people think.
I think it’s worth getting this out of the way right at the start: writers of tie-in fiction may, sometimes, involuntarily, feel slightly guilty. They may be, involuntarily defensive. They know what the perception can be, and it contaminates them slightly. Tie-in writers can be their own worst enemies.

[…]Mark: It’s interesting you mention the money as a perceived incentive, and you’re quite right. But I suppose without naming names, there have been writers who have been strapped for cash and wanted to do tie-in fiction because they thought it was easy money. Hang around at a convention bar and you’ll hear those stories. So, as an aside – you’ve written both original fiction and tie-in fiction, so which do you find is easier?

 Dan: I actually think it’s harder to write for franchises in many ways, as you’re constantly checking (or you damn well should be!) that you’re remaining true to the source, in terms of detail, fluff, character and style. It’s quite demanding to be so engaged, so ‘on’, permanently policing your actions within the boundaries of someone else’s property. In your own work, you only have to check with yourself about where the edges are. This labour is OF COURSE counter-balanced by the creative efforts involved in original invention – let me just say that before anyone has an indignant spasm.