Talked to Death

Denis McGrath was talking about fanfic on his blog the other day, and happened to mention my many discussions here on the same topic, prompting someone to comment:

I find your posts re: fanfic far more fun because you actually address the issue whereas poor Lee, who is usually so eloquent, seems to be rendered a name-calling child in the face of the issue, unable to put an actual argument together. Just because he is on the side that is obviously right doesn't mean that slanging nasty words around is sufficient advocacy or even entertaining commentary.

Denis replied, saying what I might have said if I wasn't guilty of exactly what the commenter said.

To be perfectly honest? I think he's just been at it longer than I have. My recent experiences on the Copyright brief have kind of siphoned off my good humor and goodwill, too. There comes a point where you've made the arguments, and when you face utter illogic, misinformation and misunderstanding, that you lose that humor.

I couldn't have put it better myself. I've made the rational, coherent, good-humored arguments 10,000 times…and that's  just if you count my posts on the topic when I was producing SEAQUEST. I ended up writing a book about that experience (BEYOND THE BEYOND) and, to be honest, I think I do a better job dealing with the fanfic issues now in a fictional context (eg my novel MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE and my Diagnosis Murder episode MUST KILL TV) than I have done here lately.

I fear I am reaching the same point of humorlessness, repetition, and lack of clarity when I discuss the vanity presses that prey on the desperation and gullibility of aspiring writers.  At a certain point, you say everything you have to say, in every way you can possibly say it, and it might just be better to drop the whole thing (which I have largely done on the fanfic stuff, except when highlighting a special case, like the delusional woman who is writing & publishing her own TWILIGHT sequel).

But the vanity press thing is something else altogether. I'm not going to stop talking about those scams because it is so important to alert writers about them. But I'm dialing it down in that department, too, as you may have noticed.

How Did I Miss This?

Glorianna Arias, aka Lady Sybilla, the delusional fanficcer who plans to self-publish her own TWILIGHT novel entitled RUSSET NOON, has launched a blog where she's sharing chapters from her upcoming, craptastic opus…

"The reason we continue to move forward with the publication of Russet Noon as a paperback novel is because we are confident that there are no grounds for a lawsuit. We do not intend to make a profit from this venture, and any books we publish will be given out for free. The only difference between Russet Noon and other Twilight fanfics is that Russet Noon will be a free paperback novel."

What she meant is that she no longer intends to make a profit from the book…but she once did. Arias was taking orders for the book on her website and on ebay until word got out about it. 

But this story keeps getting better…and weirder. Arias has announced that she's going to self-publish a "tell-all" book entitled LADY SYBILLA'S MANIFESTO: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE 'RUSSET NOON' CONTROVERSY. 

You will be able to find the book online and in the gift shops of  mental hospitals nationwide in January. 

I can't wait.


BeyondblogThis article originally appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine back in 1997. I thought I'd repost it here to mark the publication of the Kindle edition. 

An awful lot of people in the television industry see shrinks. Those who don't, write novels.

Well, that's my theory, any way.

I figured it was either write a book, or go into psychoanalysis. Writing a book seemed like a better alternative, since you can actually make a few bucks while you sit and whine about how crazy the business is and what the craziness does to you.

I wrote my first novel, My Gun Has Bullets, while writing/producing a really terrible, syndicated action show. In that book, a good, decent cop named Charlie Willis is gunned down by a lunatic TV star on her way to a sale at Neiman-Marcus. To cover up the crime, the studio buys him off by making him the star of his own action series. But things go bad when someone loads his prop gun with real bullets and he kills his guest-star. I trashed everything and everyone that drove met nuts about the TV business…and there was a lot, having written and/or produced such series as Hunter, Baywatch, Spenser: For Hire, Cosby Mysteries and Diagnosis Murder, to name a few.

I felt a lot better after I wrote the book.

But I didn't get around to writing the sequel, Beyond the Beyond, until a couple years later, when I became a writer/producer on SeaQuest. Within weeks, I was getting email death threats from deranged fans, including one lady who was enraged weren't consulting her for advice or staying true to the "fanfic" (fan-written, self-published fiction). Another lady, calling herself an "Admiral in the United Earth Oceans," was convinced one of the characters in the show was in love with her.Beyondcover900

Of course, it reminded me of what the actors and writers on Star Trek must go through (which I knew well, since many of my friends have worked on the show). And that reminded me that a spin-off of Star Trek was the cornerstone of a new television network. And that made me think about the whole Star Trek phenomenon…and the emergence of new TV networks…and the consolidation of media empires.

Before I was a TV producer, I worked as a reporter covering the entertainment industry beat for Newsweek, Starlog, American Film, Electronic Media, and Los Angeles Times Syndicate, among many others. During that time, I wrote extensively about the birth of the Fox Network and was the first person to break the story that Paramount was reviving Star Trek as an all-new, syndicated series. So I already had a lot of background in both the business of TV and the business of Star Trek and had given this stuff some thought before.

Suddenly, I felt a book taking shape…

What if someone bought a studio decided to use it to launch a new network? And what if the cornerstone of that new network was a revival of cult, 60s science fiction series – with an all-new cast? How would the lunatic fans and original cast react?

There was a story there…and I also had a lot more personal demons to exorcise now, too. And I was fresh from my experience on SeaQuest.

In Beyond the Beyond , Charlie Willis is now a special security officer for Pinnacle Pictures. When the studio revives the cult series Beyond the Beyond as the launching pad for a new network, two forces fight for control of the show, a vicious talent agency that uses blackmail, torture and murder to keep its clients on the A-list, and a homicidal legion of rabid fans led by an insane actor who thinks he's in outer space.

The publisher calls it a dark/comic thriller about TV. But I'll tell you a little secret: most of it is true, drawn either from my own experience or those of my friends in the TV business.

And like the first book, I felt great after I finished it… though somewhere out there a shrink is going hungry because of it.

Sickficcer Cleared

You may remember Darryn Walker. He was the 35-year-old UK civil servant who posted a graphic Sickfic story on the Internet in which the singers in the group Girls Aloud were kidnapped, tortured, raped, and mutilated. He was arrested and charged with violating the Obscene Publications Act.  Yesterday he was acquitted on all charges.

Walker's lawyer Tim Owen told reporters that "the effect of this prosecution on Mr Walker has been devastating. He has lost his job and has not managed to get further employment. Hopefully he can now recommence his life. […] It was never his intention to frighten or intimidate the members of Girls Aloud."

Owen said Walker wrote the story as "an adult celebrity parody" and that it was only meant "for an audience of like-minded people."

Can you imagine what those "like-minded people" must be like?

(Thanks to PM Rommel for alerting me to the news)

Fanficcers say “Uncle”

!BQZC7Z!BWk~$(KGrHgoH-CsEjlLlzPB1BJ4prspev!~~_12 That delusional TWILIGHT fan isn't the only one trying to sell fanfiction on eBay…fanficcers L. Lazarus & A. Morrisetti have copied the look of the original MAN FROM UNCLE tie-in paperbacks from the 1960s to sell their unauthorized UNCLE novels on the auction site for $21.95 each:

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Continued…


148 pages of sheer thrills and adventure just as you remember it from the original series. This book and the rest to come in this series are near exact replicas of the original paperbacks…but with new stories. Written by an actual screenwriter, you will feel you are seeing what you are reading.

A MUST HAVE for any U.N.C.L.E. fan.

Make room on your bookshelf right next to the ACE books you have loved and cherished for all these years.

They offer this laughable "disclaimer" :


And yet, they have copied the Ace books and they are selling them on eBay, trying to make money off a property they don't own. 

One of the two idiots, who purports to be a "professional television writer with credits to include 'Hart to Hart''" is also selling an UNCLE novella for $18.00.

This is, of course, a blatant copyright violation, but my guess is that the guys think they can slide by because the underlying property is so old. My guess is that they are wrong.

UPDATE 4-19-2009:  They have revised their "disclaimer": 

These books are fan fiction and are not meant to infringe on any rights held by ACE Publishing, Warner Brothers, or any other entity who holds any rights to the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the television series or the previously published series of books. These books are NOT intended for mass distribution and are for fan use only!

I have news for these dimwits. Saying that you're not infringing on rights while you are doing just that doesn't make it okay. That's like saying "I'm not stealing your car even though I've just hotwired it, sped away in it, and am trying to sell it on Craig's List for money I will spend on hookers and blow. The car is intended for fan use only."

Mrs. Potato Head Speaks

Lady Sybilla, the much-maligned, crack-pot author of  "Russet Noon," a self-published, fanfic sequel to TWILIGHT, has given an interview to a Brazillian website. She says, in part: 

F: So besides all the problems you are excited and proud of it? 

A: Absolutely, I know there’s been a strong reaction, and I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. 

F: So what do you see as good? Cause I know that a lot of the fans don’t want it, but a lot of them do. 

A: Yes, I have to thank the haters for the publicity. 

F: And how the release is gonna be, still September on the internet? 

A: Well, I had already bought an ISBN number for it and everything but I withdrew it, because I realized I’d never get away with selling it, so I gave refunds to all the Ebay buyers, and now I’m waiting a while to see how things turn out. But probably the release will still be September, in chapters online. 

F: Do you feel like your work its more like a regular book or a fanfic in a bigger scale? Cause some people say it is. 

A: I believe I have more training and education than the average fanfic writer, so that’s the only reason I wanted to release it as a book, but I guess it’s been turned into a huge moral issue. 

F: So about the whole publication problem and rights,did you receive any contact from Stephenie’s people? 

A: Yes, that’s definitely a legal mess, no attorney will defend me if I decide to publish. Stephenie’s rep or even herself didn’t contact me, I believe she probably has her mind made up about me already. I think she laughs at the whole situation, to be honest, it’s just hilarious, the rage, the hate, the strong emotions.

Mrs. Potato Head, although she considers herself more educated than your average fanficcer, seems to have realized too late that she has no understanding whatsoever of copyright law. I suspect this revelation came sometime after eBay shut down her account for terms of use violations and shortly before the cease-and-desist letters came from Meyer's attorney, publishers, etc. Yes, I think she's lying about not being slapped down by Meyer & Co. Her  "Russet Noon" website has been shuttered for "renovations" and the press releases touting her fanfic novel have been yanked from

I love that Mrs. Potato Head has the audacity to presume that Meyer sides with her. What an idiot. 

UPDATE 4-19-2009: It's official, Mrs.Potato Head is insane. She has issued yet another rambling, nearly incoherent press release. Her new argument for copyright infringement is that we are all part of some vast, shared mind and therefore anything that anyone claims to create really belongs to everyone. At least, I think that's what she's saying. You decide:

Writers and readers all over the net have opened their eyes to the truth: authors sell their fanfiction and get away with it. Sure, published authors play a safe game around copyright laws and change the names and circumstances of their characters around just enough to claim they've created a new character.[…]No author truly creates characters. The characters already exist in the archetypal world that Jung, Freud and Joseph Campbell have described in their books. The author is a medium who channels these characters. The origin of all characters is the Shared Mind, the only mind that truly exists. Our minds are all one single ocean of shared memories, fantasies, dreams, nightmares and visions […]Laws that attempt to privatize the ownership of characters operate based on a delusion of separateness that we all share in this matrix we call reality.

Uh-huh. I think Mrs. Potato Head lost touch with this "matrix we call reality" a long, long time ago.

What It’s Like to Be Delusional

Lori Jareo has finally been unseated as the dumbest fanficcer ever. Some idiot has sent out a press release touting the fall release of her self-published, fanfiction sequel to Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT:

This September 2009, a new controversial book hits stores. It is called Russet Noon and it is a tribute sequel to the Twilight Saga. Written by Gothic webmistress and author LadySybilla, Russet Noon is an unofficial continuation to the last book in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. Russet Noon is told from Jacob Black's perspective and it explores the questions left unanswered at the end of the last installment in the Twilight Saga.

This delusional fanficcer doesn't care that she is violating Stephenie Meyer's copyright because she doesn't think Meyer has one. Honest.

We'd like to thank all the buyers who pre-ordered Russet Noon. The promotional offer to purchase the novel early is now over and will resume in August 2009. Please contact our sales department to find out more about the release of Russet Noon this September 2009. Beware of half-truth accusations and find out about the actual facts on copyright laws.

She elaborated on her view on copyright law in a second press release.

When fictional characters become such an intricate part of the popular psyche, as is the case with the Twilight Saga, legal boundaries become blurred, and copyright laws become increasingly difficult to define. This is especially the case when actual cities like Forks and Volterra are used as the novel's settings. Such settings are not copyrightable, as they are considered public domain. Similarly, the Quileute Nation is also not copyrightable, and neither are vampire or werewolf legends. Copyright laws protect writers from unauthorized reproductions of their work, but such reproductions only include verbatim copying. Characters are only copyrightable if their creator draws them or hires an artist to draw them. Stephenie Meyer herself borrowed a great deal from previous works dealing with these mythologies.
Russet Noon is an original story inspired not only by the Twilight Saga, but also by many classic Gothic novels from the Romantic and Victorian Periods of Literature. If anything, the publication of Russet Noon will only strengthen the popularity of the Twilight franchise, since it will serve to further establish its already legendary status.

This dimwit's rationale for violating Stephenie Meyer's copyright is so inane that I bet even  the Organization for Transformational Works won't defend her… 

UPDATE 3-26-09:  Ebay has pulled Russet Noon off their site, prompting the author to issue another press release:

Author Lady Sybilla met with her publishing partners at AV Paranormal today to discuss the fate of her upcoming novel Russet Noon. One of the main issues discussed at the meeting was the hate campaign that some message boards and forums have instigated […]As for the September release of Russet Noon, the AV Paranormal team is considering one of two options. Either the novel will be published in weekly installments on the website for free, or the plug will be pulled on the project altogether. The final decision will be announced in early or mid April. Only one thing is for sure at this point: No more Russet Noon on eBay. Let the detractors have their victory on this one.
But, regardless of what the final outcome may be, everyone who preordered a copy of Russet Noon will receive a full refund.

It should be noted that the "AV Paranormal team" behind Russet Noon is the author, Ms. Potato Head herself.

Look up “Pathetic” in the Dictionary and this is what you will find

Trekkies who watch Star Trek reruns while sitting in their replica Enterprise Captain chairs and wearing costumes are the walking — or should I say sitting — definition of pathetic:

So what, beyond pushing buttons, do these men — as all Kirk chair owners appear to be — do with the most conspicuous piece of furniture in the room?

Some watch TV in theirs, or simply loll, and some seem to find the chair an empowering place from which to deal with others. “When we have a little family powwow — I have four children — I sit in it to lay down the law,” said Mr. Boyd, the auto parts manager.

And most, of course, indulge their fantasies, imagining doing battle with Klingons and otherwise cruising the cosmos. “Sitting in it,” said Mr. Bradshaw, the graphic designer, “I find myself striking an action pose quite unconsciously.”

To his regret, he must strike those poses in his home office. “My wife is not big on it,” he said. “I’ve actually been threatened with divorce if it comes into the living room.”

Mr. Monk and the Blogs

I've been catching up on everything I missed while I was out-of-town and discovered some bloggers had some very nice things to say about my MONK books last week. The William-To-Jose blog liked MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY:

What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. This is a funny, funny book! Goldberg has a fantastic grasp of the characters and reading this was almost like watching the show. […]The book also has it's serious moments, however, especially when Monk has to confront certain truths he'd rather not. This grounds the book so it doesn't come off as pure fluff.

I agree with him about the importance of grounding Monk…of finding something with emotional stakes for him in every story…otherwise he'd just be a cartoon character.

Author Bill Crider enjoyed Monk's adventures in Germany, too.

The book reads smoothly and quickly, with plenty of laughs and a smile on every page. Which is quite an achievement, considering that Monk is in reality a sad case, a slave to his phobias and compulsions. Even Natalie loses control in this one, but to good effect. And at the end, well, she pulls quite a stunt. […] Sitting in hospital waiting rooms is no fun at all, but Mr. Monk Goes to Germany brightened my time in them this week, and it might brighten your day, too.

I don't think there's any greater compliment that a writer could get than hearing that his stories have made someone's day brighter…and helped them forget whatever woes they have, if only for a while. Thank you so much, Bill…and I hope your wife is feeling better.

Karen Rainey draws a distinction between between "derivative" books, which she doesn't like much, and tie-ins which, in the case of Monk, she likes a lot.

A derivative book is NOT a tie-in book such as Lee Goldberg’s Monk books. He’s contracted to write those books based on the television series. (By the way, he goes way beyond the television character arc in his books and they’re really good.)

She defines "derivative books" as ones in which an author continues the work of another, using the same characters, the same world, etc, like sequels to Jane Austen's books or "Gone with the Wind." She says:

A book ends when it ends. A book ends when the author thinks it’s right to end it. Would I like a different ending to Gone with the Wind? It’s not my call. It’s Margaret Mitchell’s work, not Karen Ranney’s. It’s my opinion that no one else has the right to come along and “borrow” those characters.

I'm sure there are plenty of fanfiction writers out there don't agree with her and they've probably let her know in the strongest possible terms. In their minds, tie-in writing is simply "paid fanfic." I'm not sure whether they truly don't understand the significant differences between tie-ins (which are the equivalent of being a freelance writer of an episode of a TV series) and fanfic (which is the equivalent of stealing someone else's work and putting your own name on it) or if they simply don't want to acknowledge it. But I've talked enough about that already.

Is Free, “Ravenously Referential” Fiction the Future of Publishing?

A lot of folks have sent me a link to Lev Grossman's essay in Time Magazine that proclaims that:

Saying you were a self-published author used to be like saying you were a self-taught brain surgeon. But over the past couple of years, vanity publishing has becoming practically respectable.

He's the only person, besides a vanity press huckster, I have ever heard voice that opinion. He tries to back it up by citing a couple of the extraordinarily rare examples of self-publishing success. He neglects to mention, just like the vanity-press hucksters do, that these are extremely rare cases that represent a miniscule percentage of the self-published books printed every year.

But I'm not surprised he neglects that fact…and so many others in his essay. He's the same guy who thought Lori Jareo, the dimwit who self-published her STARS WARS fanfic and sold it as a novel on Amazon, was some kind of "unsung hero." He's also notorious for trying to jack up the rankings of his novel on Amazon by posting scores of fake, five-star reviews.

He believes that publishing books on paper, paying authors advances and giving booksellers the opportunity to return unsold books are old-fashioned practices that are so "20th century" and will soon become extinct in favor of  – drumroll please — fanfic.

Put these pieces together, and the picture begins to resolve itself: more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City's entrenched publishing culture.

[…]Not that Old Publishing will disappear–for now, at least, it's certainly the best way for authors to get the money and status they need to survive–but it will live on in a radically altered, symbiotic form as the small, pointy peak of a mighty pyramid.
[…]The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.

And what will that fiction look like? Like fan fiction, it will be ravenously referential and intertextual in ways that will strain copyright law to the breaking point.

Only someone who thinks Lori Jareo is a pioneer, and who wrote a novel about a "Boston slacker who has trouble distinquishing between reality and Star Trek," could make that prediction with a straight face. 

He's looking at publishing from within the insular world of science fiction and fantasy fandom, which bears little resemblance to reality. I don't think the majority of book-readers today– the millions who can't speak Klingon and never heard of Joss Whedon — would embrace the "ravenously referential" and poorly-written world of free literature that he desperately hopes the future of publishing will become.   

I agree with him that publishing is changing, and I suspect that ebooks and print-on-demand will be a big part of the future of the industry, but I doubt that wide popular and critical acceptance of self-publishing and fanfiction will be the ultimate result. To put it in terms Grossman would understand, I think commercial publishing, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and authors being paid for their work are practices that will "live long and prosper" in the face of new technology and new means of communication.