Bathroom Reading Roundup

Riverboat I can't resist buying books about the making of TV shows, even series I never watched or don't care for much, because I always learn something from them. Bear Manor is a small, niche publisher that churns out a lot of these books. The quality of the writing and research on the books is very hit-and-miss, but Bear Manor deserves a lot of credit for even bothering to print them. They're just about the only publisher out there turning out books on obscure and vintage TV series at an affordable price (one piece of advice, though, never buy a book about a TV series by James Rosin, you can always count on them to be awful).  

I particularly enjoyed Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series 1959-1961 by S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler, which chronicles the development and very short life span of the western, which starred Darren McGavin (at the same time he was starring in Mike Hammer) and Burt Reynolds. McGavin played the captain of the Enterprise…no, not the starship, but the riverboat…and Reynolds was his pilot. The two characters didn't get along and, as it turned out, neither did the actors. Reynolds was forced out after the first season.

Most books of this sort are written by diehard fans and read like the slobbering labors of love that they are. But this one is different. The authors are diehard McGavin fans, and did all this research as part of their website devoted to the actor, and while they admire the him, they aren't so wild about the show.  They take a very, very critical eye.  The show never found its footing conceptually, and an unusually high turn-over of writer-producers seemed to doom it from the start…

The writing, too, was a mixed bag of (over)experienced and novice writers. Most of the episodes were little more than standard Wagon Train plots transported to a riverboat setting.  Few particularly stood out as rising above the rest, and as a whole, they failed miserably to create any significant characterization for [McGavin's character] or the crew. […]nothing rose head-and-shoulders over routine TV fare. Considering the premise, and Darren McGavin, this was disappointing to say the least. 

And that's the nicest thing they have to say about the series. So you might be asking yourself — if the show was so mediocre, why write a book about it? And why should I read it? Well, if you are a student of TV as I am (even after writing and producing many TV series myself), it's always fascinating to read about the development, production, and fate of a show. And the authors don't skimp on details. The episodes are analyzed in depth and the authors add interesting asides about production. The book is also chock full of rare, never-before-published production stills.  If you are a Riverboat or McGavin fan, you're going to love it.

Henry-Fonda-and-the-Deputy-The-Film-and-Stage-Star-and-His-TV-Western-Mosley-Glenn-A-9781593936136 On the other end of the spectrum is Henry Fonda and The Deputy by Glenn Mosley. The 1959 series starred Fonda, then a major movie star, as U.S. Marshal and was created by Norman Lear and Roland Kibbee, who would go on to great success themselves. But despite the hoopla surrounding Fonda's decision to do a TV series, it was something of a bait-and-switch.  He only appeared as the lead in six of the first season's 39 episodes and did cameos in the others. Most of the screen time was filled by Allen Case as his deputy. But viewers weren't tuning in to see Case and felt cheated…and rightly so.  Fonda upped his participation to twelve episodes in the second season, but it was too late (though the network was supposedly willing to go for one more season).

The book has some good information, but it's barely more than a magazine article padded out into book-length with actor biographies (which repeats lots of information already conveyed) and a very thin episode guide.   If you're a big fan of The Deputy,  you'll be disappointed by the lack of substance to this book. And if you've never heard of the show, there isn't anything here to really make it worthwhile to learn more. 

Finally, there's Rawhide: History of Television's Longest Cattle Drive by David R. Greenland. The book is loaded with details on the development and eight-season run of the classic western series, which was created by Charles Marquis Warren (who also brought Gunsmoke to TV from radio and produced the early seasons) and made a star out of Clint Eastwood, who was second-lead behind Eric Fleming.  

Rawhide-a-History-of-Televisions-Longest-Cattle-Drive The author delves deeply into the professional and personal backgrounds of producer Warren and actor Fleming, so that you're able to put their creative clashes into a broader perspective. Naturally, that squabbling had an impact on the show in many ways, and Greenland explores them all.

After Warren left, the show changed hands several times. Greenland closely examines how the show changed creatively, and why, under the subsequent show runners.

 I found it fascinating reading, but once the author got into the obligatory actor bios and episode guide, I found myself skimming the rest. 

You don't have to be a fan of Rawhide to enjoy this book (I've only seen four or five episodes of the show in my life). It's worth reading to learn how this series was developed and produced and how it evolved…and it's fascinating to see just how little TV series production, at least behind-the-scenes, has changed in fifty years.

Call To Danger

The HMSS Blog has a terrific piece on the saga of  Call to Danger, a series concept that CBS kept trying to make work during the 60s and 70s.  The idea was that a spy would recruit an ordinary citizen to help him solve a crime.  I also wrote in detail about these pilots in my book, Unsold Television Pilots.

The network commissioned three pilots — in 1961, 1967 and 1973 — but none of them clicked.

Lloyd Nolan starred as treasury agent Robert Hale in the 1961 pilot, which was produced by Perry Lafferty, who later became a top CBS exec.

In the 1968 pilot, Peter Graves played Jim Kingsley, an agent for the Office of National Resources, who used a super computer to recruit citizens to help out…to a rousing Morton Stevens' theme.  James Gregory played his boss. The network liked Graves so much, they made him the star of Mission Impossible. And they liked Stevens'  Call to Danger  theme so much that they re-used it in the score to the Hawaii Five-O pilot and as the "CBS Specials" theme.  

In the 1973 pilot, written by MI producer Laurence Heath, Graves reluctantly signed on again. this time playing Treasury Agent Douglas Warfield, who also uses computers to recruit civilians to help him solve crimes…but with a different theme tune.

Here's the opening to the 1973 pilot

The Man From Atlantis Returns

3028684 No, it's not another rebooting of an old TV franchise by a desperate network… it's the release of the original series on DVD.  Television Obscurities reports that Warner Brothers is releasing the four Man From Atlantis TV movie/pilots as well as the TV series. The movies and the series have not aged well…and are unbelievably awful. The only thing of redeeming value about The Man From Atlantis is Fred Karlin's fantastic score…which I wish an enterprising company like Screen Archives would release on CD. 

Books Without Borders

The demise of Borders, though widely expected, is sending shockwaves through the publishing industry that authors will undoubtedly be feeling in their wallets, as the Wall Street Journal reports.

When you lose literally miles of bookshelves, it's going to have an impact," said David Young, chief executive ofLagardère SCA's Hachette Book Group, which Borders owed $36.9 million at the time of its bankruptcy filing. "I hope other retailers will now step up and make offers for what they consider to be the prime sites," Mr. Young said. "It's a tragedy Borders didn't make it through."

The loss of Borders may also make it more difficult for new writers to be discovered. "The liquidation of Borders is an irreplaceable loss of a big part of the book-discovery ecosystem," said Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information, a unit of "Thousands of people whose job consisted of talking up and selling books will eventually being doing something else, and that's bad for authors, agents, and everyone associated with the value chain in books."

Hardcover and paperback book sales are bound to take a huge hit…and publishers are going to pass on the pain by offering lower advances. This is bound to drive more authors, particularly those in the ever-widening mid-list, to self-publishing. It will also have, oddly enough, a negative impact on at least one e-reading platform — the Kobo, which was Borders' answer to the Kindle and Nook (though the Kobo remains the device of choice for Canada's Chapters chain of book superstores).

The liquidation of the 400 remaining Borders stores could start as early as Friday.

Naomi’s Flawed Masterpiece

417 Top Suspense Sizzling Summer Reads My friend Naomi Hirahara talks today about her affection for Summer of the Big Bachi, her widely acclaimed first novel and today's Top Suspense Sizzling Summer read. It took her fifteen years to write the novel, which she considers "a flawed book yet a very ambitious one" and yet her favorite among all the ones that she's written:  

Why do I describe my first novel as flawed? This is not a finely tuned mystery novel, as sits probably in the middle of being a traditional mystery and literary fiction. Mas is very broken in this novel and not that likable at times. And I use a lot of dialect.BACHI, for instance, means “what goes around, comes around.” 

I feel that SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI captures a community of people that you probably never knew existed. They have survived and thrived through experiences you couldn’t imagine. This summer, spend a few days in Mas Arai’s world. It will be a fresh, and unique experience and probably one you won’t forget.

She's right. Discover for yourself why so many booksellers fell in love with this book and hand-sold it to big and lasting success.

Harlequin Screws Authors

Amazon gives authors a 70% royalty when they self-publish an ebook. On the other end of the spectrum, the standard ebook royalty set by most major publishers is 25%, one that the Authors Guild says massively screws authors.  

But Harlequin is setting a new low.

Harlequin is now in the process of digitizing their entire backlist and is giving those authors a pathetic 15%  royalty on those sales as if it's some kind of favor.   Here's the letter that they recently sent out to their authors:

Dear Author,

The landscape of digital publishing continues to evolve at a fast pace and Harlequin is at the forefront of this evolution. In 2007 Harlequin was the first publisher to simultaneously publish print and digital editions of our entire frontlist. Since then we have also digitized and brought to market our backlist and now have a current catalogue of over 11,000 ebooks!

The Harlequin brand has always offered an advantage other publishers don't have and this is especially true for ebooks. Our digital marketing efforts focus on building the Harlequin brand to drive the sales of your books through newsletter programs, advertising, search engine marketing, social media properties, the Harlequin website and leading ebook retailers. All this means better search and discoverability by online shoppers and an endorsement of the quality of the read, which is critical in the midst of the online clutter.

Harlequin has been closely monitoring developments in digital publishing, including author compensation. As you know, until now Harlequin's position has been that digital royalty rates as a percentage of cover price is a more transparent way to pay authors than as a percentage of net receipts: authors know exactly how many copies they sold at what price and their compensation is not affected by unspecified costs. Over the past several months we have worked to ensure a smooth transition from the current percentage of cover price calculation to a net receipts calculation while maintaining the same transparency. As such, Harlequin will be amending digital royalty rates.

Effective January 1, 2012, series authors who are actively writing for Harlequin will receive a digital royalty rate of 15% of net digital receipts for each digital unit sold in the English language, United States and Canada, frontlist and backlist. This will include books in Harlequin's digital backlist program, Harlequin Treasury.

Given that these are more favorable terms than those in your existing contract(s), this notification will be considered the amendment to those contract(s). If you wish to maintain the existing terms of the contract(s), please let us know by Friday, July 15th, 2011.

Naturally, authors are outraged about this and fighting it as hard as they can. This royalty rape is especially hard for Harlequin authors to accept since the publisher is already notorious in romance circles for blithely releasing ebook versions of titles that have fallen out-of-print (and that they no longer have the rights to) and dragging their feet to correct the problem.
Harlequin's obvious contempt for authors, published and unpublished, while making as much money as possible off their backs (as shown by this outrageous royalty grab and their aborted, and loathsome, Harlequin Horizons vanity press scheme) is truly revolting.

The Mail I Get

I could write a book on how to communicate ineffectively just by sharing the emails that I get. Here's one that I got today, with the subject "Books":

I run a book review blog. I was wondering if you would be willing to send me a copy of your latest Monk book in return for a review on my blog. Please contact me with your response. Thank you.

Sent from my iPhone

Hell of a pitch. Would have been even better if the dimwit thought to include the name, or perhaps even a link, to his blog.  I also got this email from someone named "E. Belmont" with the subject heading "New TV Show Idea."

I would like to speak to you asap feel free to email me back or call me at 917-XXX-XXXX or 913-XXX-XXXX ok…?

Sent from Yahoo! Mail on my Android

Wow, who wouldn't drop everything he was doing, pick up the phone right away and make a long-distance call to a complete stranger after such a compelling pitch like that? What are you smoking, E. Belmont?

Tied In to Writing

For the last few weeks, author Jonathan Maberry has been running a terrific series of lengthy, detailed interviews with Scribe nominated tie-in writers on his Big Scary Blog about the nuts-and-bolts of their craft. This week he focuses on the authors nominated for "Best Speculative Original." Here's an excerpt:

BIG SCARY BLOG: Talk about your process for creating a media tie-in book.

MATT FORBECK: If I’m not already familiar with the basis of the book, I immerse myself in it as best I can and become a fan of it too. As I do that, I look for story hooks, little “what about that?” or “wouldn’t that be cool?” bits. Those become the seeds of the novel. Once I have that, I write up an outline, get it approved, and dig in for real.

JEFF GRUBB: I think all media projects have a core ethos, an underlying truth about them. The original creators of the project may not know what it is, and in fact it may evolve over time. One of the goals I have when working on a media tie-in book is to dig down and find that piece, find that core ethos, and remain true to it in the story. Guild Wars 2 is very much about people coming together to fight a greater threat – that is one of Dougal Keane’s major conflicts in the book.

DAVID MACK: It’s a lot like most other writers’ processes, I imagine. Either I solicit an editor for a shot at writing for a particular license, or they approach me. Either way, if it’s a property I know well, I might already have ideas ready to pitch and develop.  If it’s one that I’m curious about but don’t know intimately, I’ll dig in and immerse myself in it until I start to get a feel for its big picture, its characters and its broader storytelling arcs.

Next, I’ll try to find a story that interests me and seems to offer some new angle that neither the show nor its existing tie-in titles have explored.  In some cases, such as a tie-in line that’s been running for a while, an editor might ask me to craft a story specifically to advance a part of an ongoing narrative.

Then I write a proposal, just a few pages, to see if my general idea is what the editor is looking for. Once we settle on an idea, I prepare a much longer and more detailed full outline that can be presented to the license-holder for approval. Once we get the green-light, I go to work on the manuscript.

To stay in the right mindset while working on a given franchise, I’ll try to listen to music soundtracks from it (if they’re available), and have DVDs ready for reference and quick refreshers on characters’ speech patterns, etc. Online references are also often invaluable tools, especially for a series that is still in production while one is working on it. Thank Heaven for the invention of wiki reference sites!

SEAN WILLIAMS: Well, firstly, I have to make sure I know the property sufficiently well to do it justice. With Star Wars or Doctor Who, say, that would be easy: I’ve been a fan of them for decades. Depending on the kind of project, the next step would be to get right down into the details of the story and character, since they’re the aspect of the tie-in most important to get right, at least in the early stages. This is always accomplished in collaboration with editors and other stakeholders in the project–the people who own the property, basically. I’m not just telling a story for me: in a real way I’m just channelling something for someone else. But that is a fun process, and a challenge, one I take very seriously. There are snafus sometimes, without a doubt, but whether I have one month or one year to write a tie-in, I give it the same energy and consideration I would give one of my own books. To do anything less would be to cheat everyone involved.

The entire series of interviews is well worth your time, regardless of whether you are into tie-ins. There's a lot of great insights into the craft and business of writing books shared by the authors, all of whom are experienced, hard-working pros.