Blocking Out the Past

Strange Lawrence Block has written a terrific piece for – Earl Kemp: eI53 – e*I* Vol. 9 No. 6  about the thought-process behind his decision to release many of his obscure, long out-of-print paperbacks, many written under pen-names, in new, digital editions. He says, in part:

What other titles I decide to reissue will depend at least in part on what kind of money comes in from the ones I’ve already slated for e–publication.  If nobody’s interested in them, why inflict more upon the reading public?  But, if there turns out to be a genuine demand, well, hell, there’s more where those came from.

While I was writing the end notes for a Jill Emerson novel, A Madwoman’s Diary(originally Sensuous), I remembered that I’d based the plot on a case history from one of John Warren Wells’s books.  So I wound up writing at some length about my career as John Warren Wells and his psychosexual reportage.  And it occurred to me for the very first time that I might actually reissue those books as well.  Not all of them, I shouldn’t think, but one or two.  And if people like those—

“Greed is good,” Gordon Gekko famously informed us.  But why go all judgmental?  Greed, I’d say, is beyond good and evil.  It is what it is. 

Which might be said as well for the books I’m bringing back.  And, come to think of it, for their author.

(Hat-tip to Bill Crider for alerting me to this great post)

BADGE Gets Permission to Kill


David Foster's Permission to Kill blog,  one of my favorites for his reviews of Eurospy books and movies, has given the ebook edition of  THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE a rave. He says, in part:

Apart from being highly entertaining, The Man With the Iron-On Badge is author, Lee Goldberg’s love letter to detective fiction and television shows of the past. And as such, a knowledge of these shows is a boon when reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, the reference aren’t obscure and you don’t have to be a detective story boffin to appreciate the story, but the subtle in-jokes, and allusions to Shaft, Spenser, Shell Scott, Travis McGee, Mannix, Rockford and many others, simply mean that if you are familiar with those characters, then this book offers that extra bit of ‘knowing’ enjoyment.

Ultimately, The Man With the Iron-On Badge delivers exactly what the title and the opening paragraphs promise — a fast paced, first person thriller about an under achiever who has to strive to be more than he ever thought he could be. More than just a ‘man with an iron-on badge’.

Thank you so much, David!

For now, The Man with the Iron-On Badge is only available as an ebook (though you can still find used copies of the hardcover out there)…but in early 2011 there will be a trade paperback edition, too. Here are links to the digital editions: 

Kindle Edition

Nook Edition

Smashwords Edition

Author Solutions is No Solution, again

The shameless hucksters at Author Solutions (iUniverse, Trafford, xlibris, etc.) have issued another ludicrous "white paper" touting the virtues of vanity press publishing and, once again, Victoria Strauss and the fine folks at Writer Beware are there to point out all the falsehoods, exaggerations and omissions, concluding that:

even if you ignore the misrepresented facts and misleading comparisons in this latest whitepaper, AS does writers an extreme disservice with its glib presentation of self-publishing–all upside, no downside, suitable for anyone no matter what their needs or ambitions. Rah, rah! Vive la revolucion! Cue clenched fist! But the truth is that the choice to self-publish is a complicated one that should be made only by writers who have studied the alternatives and clearly formulated their goals. Too many writers fall into self-publishing out of ignorance, unrealistic assumptions about its potential benefits, or misconceptions about traditional publishing.

Her detailed post should be read by anyone who is thinking about paying hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of dollars to a vanity press (and why would you when you can do it for no cash out-of-pocket through Createspace or Lulu… or better yet, bypassing print altogether and publishing digitally through Smashwords, Barnes & Nobles, or Amazon?)

Getting Screwed Isn’t a Stepping Stone to Success

I can't tell you how many times I have told aspiring writers not to pay a vanity press to "publish" their books, or not to pay an agent a "reading fee," or not to pay to enter a writing contest nobody has ever heard of, only to be told "Yeah, Lee, I know, but this is the only opportunity I have and you have to start somewhere."  My friend writer Mark Evanier has heard it, too, and thinks it's "brain dead stupid."

Imagine if your goal was to play for the Seattle Mariners…or maybe even to get on a professional baseball team. Imagine that some odorous homeless guy came up to you on the street and said, "Gimme a thousand dollars and I'll introduce you to their talent scout" and you forked over the cash and said, "Well, gee…it was the only offer I had."

Well, paying someone to submit your writing or to publish it or — the big new scam — entering a "contest" is even stupider than that.

It's getting harder and harder for me to have any sympathy for these suckers, especially when all it takes to discover the truth about most of these scams is a simple Google search and a molecule of common sense. Nobody I know, in publishing or television, became successful by emptying their bank accounts with fee-based "literary agents," vanity presses, and fly-by-night screenwriting and publishing contests. As Mark says:

First rule of professional writing: They pay you, you don't pay them.

I know times are tough. Believe me, I know times are tough. But there's never a good moment to let yourself be exploited by people who think you're so hungry, you'll work for promises…not until MasterCard accepts promises from scumbags as payment. 

Amen to that.

Who Needs a Writing Staff?

THE WALKING DEAD showrunner Frank Darabont stirred up a lot of talk among TV writers today by firing his writing staff and announcing that he would rely on himself and just a couple of freelancers to write the second season's 13 episodes.

This is not a new idea. In fact, many drama series from the 1950s and into the early 70s relied on a headwriter/freelancer model…at most, there was a head-writer and a story editor. Everything else was freelance. Shows like GUNSMOKE, STAR TREK, CANNON, VEGA$, etc. ran on this model. In those days, journeyman writers like Stephen Kandel, Robert Dennis, Mark Rodgers, Frank Telford and Shimon Wincelberg, to name a few, could make a good living writing two or three episodes for five or six different series each season.

Then again, in those days, the "head writer" concentrated mostly on writing while someone else handled most of the actual producing functions that the "showrunner" does today.

And while most series today rely on writing staffs (though the size of those staffs is shrinking), there have been a few shows that have primarily been written by one writer… Linda Bloodworth's DESIGNING WOMEN, Aaron Sorkin's era of THE WEST WING and Joe Straczynski's BABYLON 5, are a few prominent examples.

 TV writer Kay Reindl does a great job putting the Darabont decision into perspective, and discussing what writing staffs bring to a series,  over on her blog today. She says, in part:

It still astonishes me that people do not understand that the writing of the script comes at the END of the writing process. Just because you are not typing "Fade In," that doesn't mean you are not writing. Writing is preparation. Writing is construction. Destruction. Composition. It's editing. Storytelling visually, emotionally, humorously, logically. Critical thinking. Letting go of great ideas in service of the story. Character arcs, planned over an episode and a season and the life of the show. It's inspiration, the testing of that inspiration, the honing and fine-tuning of that inspiration. It's collaboration, for the love of God. It's a group of experienced brains tackling a blank white board and breaking a fucking story in two days.

[…]you will need to collaborate with your fellow writers. You will be facing that empty white board at least 13 times, and as you face each new episode, you will have previous episodes with story and character development to consider. You will have upcoming episodes as well, especially if your show is serialized. You will have budgets to consider in your story breaks. Actors. Production. Crew. Studio and network executives. You will have to become a serial killer of your story children and let your great ideas go. And all of THAT is before you even get to the script.

[…]A good showrunner depends on his (or rarely her) writing staff. These people have the showrunner's back, and he has theirs. [..]I don't know why Darabont decided this (if he has), or why his experience with his staff was apparently so wretched that he doesn't want anyone around anymore. Sometimes, showrunners are just lousy communicators and aren't able to impart what they want to the writing staff. And sometimes it's just not a good fit. But again, it's up to the showrunner to use his experience and if someone doesn't actually HAVE experience, then THIS happens.

By "this," she means firing your writing staff and deciding to go it alone… with an occasional assist from freelancers. My instinct is that she's probably right. It could also be that he hired the wrong writers, that he didn't know how to staff a room. There could be any number of explanations.

He may not understand that it's part of a showrunner's job to take a final pass at each script — and he may be deluding himself into believing its the equivalent of writing every script himself, so why not cut out the extra step. If that's the case, he's in for a rude awakening.

I tend to think that shows with writing staffs are better written than those where the showrunner tries to go it alone (I'm talking about series with more than five or six episodes). The stories are more consistent, there's less repetition and cliche, and there's more energy to the story-telling.

It's all about limited resources. A man can only do so much… and do it well…and deliver a new episode every seven or eight days. There's simply too much for a showrunner to do beyond writing the script. It's a taxing job, and something has to give.

If you're trying to run a show, and write every single word, the scripts are bound to suffer. Come to think of it, everything is bound to suffer.

It will be interesting to see how long Darabont sticks to his plan once production begins and he finds himself falling behind…