One Studio’s Blockbuster; One Author’s Horror Story

I have a horror story for you.

For our protagonist, we have a scrappy physicist turned novelist, who developed what can only be described as one of the most massive blockbusters of recent years. I know, so far out there, right—how could someone possibly relate? Well for starters, let me drop another name on you:

GRAVITY

The Gravity Poster.

Do you remember Gravity? Flailing cameras? Spinning stars? Shrapnel? Sandra Bullock dancing through Earth’s atmosphere? Yes, that Gravity. Well, did you happen to know that Tess Gerritsen is also the person that birthed that particular entity, originally in novel form? I thought not. Yet it plays quite heavily into the why of this horror tale.

Now suppose you take this character and kindly tell them that they don’t need to be paid for their job…and certainly not for the work that came of it. No doubt that’s quirked a few eyebrows. Well, that’s precisely what has happened to Tess Gerritsen. You see, Gerritsen is presently involved in a very nasty little lawsuit over the theft of her property—the aforementioned Gravity—by a little company named Warner.

From “The Gravity of Hollywood: When It’s Okay for a Studio to Steal Your Story” by Matt Wallace:

It seems author Tess Gerritsen sold the rights to her novel GRAVITY to New Line in 1999. In exchange she would receive credit, a production bonus, and net profit points if the movie were made (not only is that never a given, it’s rare).

In 2008 New Line was “acquired” by Warner, who then went on to make the movie GRAVITY from Cuarón’s supposedly original screenplay concerning a medical doctor/astronaut left adrift in space after satellite debris kills the rest of her crew.

The novel GRAVITY is about a female medical doctor/astronaut trapped on the International Space Station after the crew is killed in a series of accidents. Later, as they developed the film, Ms. Gerritsen wrote scenes in which satellite debris broke apart the station and her protagonist was left adrift in her EVA suit.

Sound familiar?

The facts had at this point intrigued me on the level of juicy gossip.

Again, I admit this shamefully. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles for almost five years. It jades.

That’s when my lady (who, incidentally, is a brilliant attorney) dropped the ATOM BOMB OF HORROR RADIATING AT THE HEART OF THIS STORY.

Nikki went on to explain to me that author Tess Gerritsen was NOT suing Warner Bros. over copyright infringement or intellectual property theft.

Ms. Gerritsen admits openly and freely that Warner had every right to make the movie GRAVITY, utilizing her story as they saw fit.

She sued them because they brazenly screwed her out of the credit, payment, and profit she was guaranteed from the movie clearly (at least to me) drawn from her work.

The court doesn’t seem to dispute any of that.

This is the horror bomb part.

What both the court and Warner Bros. argue is Warner is under no obligation to honor the contract New Line made with her.

See, the problem was, Warner hadn’t bought the rights to the book. Rather, they bought out the company that had—New Line. Fairly standard fare in the business world, actually; same thing goes for patents. It’s one of the reasons companies do so like to gobble others up, in fact—so they can get access to their hoards. Unfortunately, Warner has argued that while buying up said company has entitled them to its prizes, it has not bound them by the same contracts that enabled those prizes in the first place.

A Publicity shot of Tess Gerritsen.

Thus, they have refused to credit Ms. Gerritsen (who has not in any way debated Warner’s right to publish the movie—merely their refusal to pay her for it), or even pay her. Anything. Which really just seems like the latest par for the course round of writers getting shafted for their hard work. What’s more, as writers and readers continue to rumble and rage about the present state of the publishing industry, about the state of writing, and what creators do or don’t deserve for the trouble, this incident leads to a particularly troubling entry into the debate: that of the legal.

Unfortunately, with studio versus author, we find ourselves at a legal crossroads. Whatever happens here (and the court has currently ruled to dismiss Tess’s case, in Warner’s favor), we’re going to find ourselves with immediate precedent for future cases—and thusly, for the industry at large. Don’t see the big deal? Say the court rules in favor of Warner. To Warner, it’s a solid chunk of change in the immediate, and for Tess Gerritsen, merely no gains on something she’s already not being paid for. That’s the immediate case, though.

In the future, other courts and judges can point to that ruling when they inform authors that studios need not pay on an optioned story—merely because that studio purchases another that had ACTUALLY negotiated the contract under which it was optioned. Essentially, there would be a massive loophole in the rights of authors when it comes to their own creative property—and studios would be able to operate with a lot looser restrictions on how they run their businesses. At least, when it comes to capitalizing off other people’s work.

Right now it’s comics that studios seem to be making huge profits off of, but they have always made a good chunk of their change from the literary scene as a whole. I doubt many moviegoers even realize how many films have that lovely little, “Based on…” disclaimer contained somewhere therein. Adapting books is a huge business, and I think fellow writer Emmie Mears said it best: “The least they can do is ensure those who thought up the stories are compensated accordingly.”

And if you haven’t read the article by Matt Wallace yet, which goes much more in-depth into the issue, and hits things far more eloquently than I, do so. Especially if you’re an author. In the same vein, you can get the story straight from the author’s own mouth, here: “Gravity Lawsuit Affects Every Writer.”

The Big Literary Questions

I think, for fiction authors, we all have this moment.

Call it the breakdown.

Call it the enough is enough.

Call it bringing straight talk to the people.

Call it what you will, but in all honesty, it’s us taking a very deep breath, breaking the fourth wall, and saying: “The secret to literary success is…”

Specifically, it’s a lot easier when we directly address the questions we are, in turn, pelted with by legion.

  1. How do you find the time?
  2. How do you know if you’re good enough?
  3. What is the hardest part?

Sure, they seem like simple enough questions, but no matter how often they’re answered, still they rise again and again. You’ve long since learned that we writers possess the secrets of alchemists’ ancient knowledge, that we have horded the wisdom of the sages and have access to all those brains the scientists claim to have (and use it to dissect things with—we just do that in writing!).

This is pretty secret stuff, though, so if the words happen to cause an Ark of the Covenant ala Nazi effect on you, just know that I warned you.

  1. Time? What is time? Yorick, do you know what time is? Fine, don’t talk, Yorick. Excuse me while I giggle. Oh, time. If we’re not procrastinating, we’re furiously scribbling off a thousand other details for a thousand other projects, right?
    Don’t get me wrong, the day to day shenanigans of the world are rough. They exhaust us and beat us down with details; god help you if you have a family to manage in addition to your own life.
    Truth? More often than not, you make the “time” you want. It’s not a matter of finding time, it’s a matter of making time. Has every self-help book from here to Timbuktu said the same? Yes. It doesn’t make it any less true. Success or failure, you will never have more or less time than you do right now—life doesn’t stop, and neither should you.
    There was a time we had things known as pens. If you can still find one, get it, and use it where you have spare moments. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I know you have them—minutes that is. Minutes at the dentist’s office. Minutes waiting for a phone call. Minutes spent dreaming of what you’re going to be having for dinner. Write, damn it. And if you ask me this question again while simultaneously playing Farmville or Bejeweled, I will smack you upside your face. With a pen.
  2. We all ask ourselves that question! Of course, what we should be reminding ourselves is that if we can find some way to express a story, we’re already succeeding. But, naturally, you mean good enough for them. The ill-defined them. The mystery people. The grand cabal lurking beyond the boundaries of time and space, waiting to judge your every word.
    Here’s a fact: if you can talk, you can write. Hone your voice, hone your writing. Make it distinct. You hear of so many people defining themselves by others—it’s nonsense, really. Stephen King does not write like Neil Gaiman. Robin Hobb does not write like George R.R. Martin. Mary Roach does not write like Carl Sagan.
    …and, alright, did I just lose track of my thoughts because now I have a host of glorious authors swirling about my head? Maybe. But you? Focus, blast you. The point: each of these people is readable, engaging, and downright enjoyable on their own merits. The more you question yourself, the more you craft a self-fulfilling prophecy. Worry after you’ve created. Worry about grammar and spelling and all the million little things a spellcheck harps at you about all throughout the process (or your mother, if you’re going old school editing on this)—and as you go back, picking away at those, then look at your dialogue and your metaphors, your imagery and rhyme. Do they make sense? Would something work better there? Then make it happen.
    After that? Sit on it a little. Go back. Reread one more time. Does it still work? Then submit it. Don’t keep picking at yourself. The only way you’ll know is if you try.
  3. Beginning. Or maybe I should just say the writing portion of writing. Yes, that’s definitely the trickiest part. There are any number of little ways to make it seem more foreboding than it needs to be—we’re all very good at it, too. (Stupid brains.) The way to work through it is for that first step, don’t think big. Don’t try lassoing the Cosmos—bring it down to what’s around you. In other words: write a scene. Focus on one little dot; the rest will wait, the rest will come. Believe it or not, you have time. If you’re writing a book, chances are you already know how it’s going to go—so write what interests you at the time. You’re not the reader—you don’t have to read the ninth chapter to engage the tenth. Write at your own pace. In doing so, you may even find that where you thought you would begin or end are nothing like where you now actually begin and end; your book could have entirely different shape by the end, when you’re framing and patching it all together, and you know what? That’s okay too. As long as you write.

Most importantly? This soap box I’m standing on it a lie. If you’re listening to me you’re not writing; you’re taking tips instead of developing yourself, and so I’m going to go get a rolled up newspaper now. You have until I get back to start writing.

Write. Don’t make me hit you on the nose.

Live, Love – A Letter

In the words of sillier people than I: “Not my usual, but nice.”

I’ve been writing a lot, lately – and while that may be nothing extraordinary in and of itself, the nature of that writing has been beyond its usual course. For those waiting on the third (and final) book in my fantasy series, The Haunted Shadows, this will undoubtedly come as something of an annoyance (sorry, friends!), but sometimes the mind wanders, and something of the unexpected demands to be let out.

So what IS this? A letter. To friends. To family. To people I’ve never met. A letter to the world, as it were, for any that would listen. Spread it around if you like the message contained within – and don’t be afraid to hit that little like button therein. A transcription follows below that would prefer the read…

“If I have never told you these things when you looked me in the eye, know that it is not because I have not loved you. Whether I have met you or know you or ever for a fleeting instant passed you on the street, for all that I put forth to the world, I have loved you. There is no shame in saying it. There should be no fear. Life is too brief a thing upon this earth to be dragged down by the bitterness of blindness. I should know; I have admittedly at times been its greatest connoisseur.

But it is from experience that I tell you: sweet star child, do not let age descend upon you. It is a foolish path. There is much in this world that will grey you if you let it, leeching all of its lessons from the marrow of your bones. You have the power to resist. Too many say we are marching toward death; what they fail to realize is all too often we are marching away from life. Death is inevitable. Do not fear it. Life is, in every moment, a chance to smile, to positively impact another life, to together laugh in the face of the Devil and love, love, love with the light of the sun.

Keep that light, child. Let it flush beneath your skin, let it swell the tenor of your voice, and let it be a beacon for you even in darkest night, that you might always remember: you and you alone are your own true north. You know what needs to be done; the world is just the trail on which you wander to achieve it. What made possible the fires of this universe so also made you, and if they created starlight and planets and life as rich and vibrant as our own, think what just a fraction of their heat could achieve.

I am not blind. I could never tell you your journeys won’t hurt. Life is painful. It will break you, it will tear you open and beat you down. Do you remember the first time you fell? The first time you skinned your knee? Childhood made everything more acute; the tears, they fell like rain. You walked away with a scar, but the pain, for all that you dreaded it, faded with time. Everything heals. There will always be scars to remind us, but people will come to you and take your hand and offer to patch you up again with the fervor of their love and their devotion; never shut them out. You may wish to hide. You may wish to tough it out. But people are the salve as often as they are the poison; never let the one blind you to the other. Your flame will burn brighter with their fuel.

Oh, child, if only you could know what it is you are. Zeus, they said, had his thunderbolts, and Poseidon had his waves. Stories. We are the gods of this world, and I tell it true, when you were born there were waves that would drown us all in the moments of your tears, and the crackle of summer’s storms in every quiver and quake of your laughter.

You are a gift of creation. You are creation and destruction, and the marvelous structure of the universe: we may be motes, but we are motes of the infinite, and no one should ever make you feel small.

Hate will ever be in your sight; the road will grow muddy. If ever you doubt, just look to the sky and the myriad other stars still twinkling in that long night, and remember what it is to love. That the first people to ever hold you are in that sky, still watching, and waiting, and growing with the journey of the one they made. That friends, lovers, enemies, all revolve across the same sky, following their trails to the lightening of all others—wobbling, stumbling, falling the same as you.

Never forget them. Not once. For your heart will not. Your first love will be there beside you to your dying day. Your feet will still remember the contours of their first dance. These things do not die. For this form of living, and love, is unconditional—we are what we are, and may you never be ashamed of it.

Laugh. Love. Cry. Hate. Fall. Rise. Run. Learn.

Smile. All of existence is in your sight.”

10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part 2: Or, the Literature Strikes Back)

Have you read part one, as yet? If not, then I think you’re taking this a little out of turn, don’t you? Honestly, if there’s only two parts and you can’t snatch them up in the right order…

 

Well, really.

 

That said, if a little refresher’s in order, we already covered from conflict to purpose and that quaint little road we call “the beginning.” The frame of the thing has taken shape, but some of the juicier bits still require that special bit of tweaking only an author can muster. Be it of love or a very compulsive and twitchy tick we call “the scribbles,” the meat of what is to come still remains, and the mind finds itself faced with the following:

 

  1. What are your characters’ goals?
    Good, bad, or Swiss—figure out what makes your people tick. What do they hope to achieve?
  2. How do they intend to achieve those goals?
    Fantastic, your people now have goals! Now how do they hope to actually bring them about? Bearing in mind, of course, that your characters are mostly (unless they’re not) human, and their goals and methods can be as flawed as reality.

    Light Yagami

    Light Yagami. So flawed, “flawed” must be put in air quotes for him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Educational, point-making, and not being used for profit, nor do I claim to own the character or his likeness…etc. etc.)

  3. How do you intend to pace this beast out?
    Are we going to learn as the characters learn? Or shall we be privy to more than their mere eyes can catch, to heighten the tension by knowing they are about to face a cruel trial? Pacing is, at its heart, deciding exactly how you want to take your story and relate it to us, the collective reader. It’s a balancing act. Throw everything at us at once, our heads spin, our gaze dulls, and we realize there’s no more substance to be had. Dance around too long before throwing us a line, and our eyes wander, we lose focus, and lose interest there as well. Find your voice. Know your story. Then feed it to us piece by piece.
  4. Where is the action?
    Are there to be battles of arrow and steel? A dramatic crescendo of cannons? Passionate clash of the heart? Or a social duel, politicians warring at the pulpit with words, and a society hanging in the balance? Depending on what your book is, the style of action may differ greatly, but you should know how you’re going to captivate us, and give us our climax of literary greatness, and when and in what increments you intend to pursue it.
  5. Remember that awkward moment when you blew up the world? Good times.

    How does it end?
    The ending must tie up the loose ends (but know that there will always be at least on reader there to point out all the loose ends you didn’t address to their satisfaction!), resolve the overarching conflict (unless you’re tying this into another series, you rascally devil you), and give your readers something to show for sticking with you for so long.

 

And that, as they say, is that. Ten Things. Beginning to end and through enough meat to put some serious flesh over the heart of your masterpiece. Now you just have to write the bloody thing. But don’t worry, buck up kiddo, after that comes the real fun–editing.

 

Wait: we did cover sarcasm’s importance in literature, right?

 

But seriously, while I may not have covered everything, these questions are all key to helping relate your story to us. If it doesn’t mean something to you, after all, what are we supposed to take away? A wise man once said that every scribble is piece of your soul poured out on the page–you’ll never get it back, but if you’re lucky, you can share it with the world. Help to make our eyes dance with envy of that soul, friends.

 

Give to us the world.

 

10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part One)

The book!–what makes it tick? What makes it move? What makes it stir the heart and mind?

That’s right, boys and girls, today we’re talking literature, and not just any old book either–your book! Please proceed to feel warm and fuzzy inside.

In every book, there are certain things that should be obvious to the writer, things that should be formulated and plotted and planned and beaten with that little stick we call the honing. (Mind you, this is different from the Shining: ideally it doesn’t end in an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. Though I suppose that does lose it some points…)

The man forever-known as Johnny.

In point of fact, there are a great many things we should know, but I’ve done my best to narrow it to a list of ten. Then I went through the additional trouble of lopping them into two separate meals for you–so try not to gorge, and hopefully, you may find a little purpose in our first five:

Some quests are nobler than others, I suppose.

  1. What is your story’s purpose?
    What does it exist? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the plot, the story, and the characters struggling toward? Or, if it is perhaps an educational or otherwise non-fiction novel, what do you hope your readers to take away from it in the end?
  2. What sets your book apart?
    You can also turn this into: Why should we care? (But the former does sound much nicer.)
  3. What is the conflict?
    Honestly, this can be anything from zombies to family to an evil stork with the baby (welcome to the bizarre nature of my mind), but there must be conflict, something to drive the story and its characters on. Note, of course, that there can also be many conflicts within this category—internal and external, and a variety hodgepodge of delicious mortifying interaction (if you’re as cruel to your characters as I can be). You need to think what challenges your character, and how it’s going to be fought…or more simply, how they’re going to deal with it.
  4. From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...

    From inside one of the hobbit holes, on location at the Hobbiton set, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    How does it begin?
    Aha! So you’re one of those clever rogues that already has the ending all figured out. Well done. Now you just need to get there which means…oh crap, that’s right, you actually have to find a point to begin. Shall it be at the beginning? Or shall you do the ever-popular in the middle and reflect scenario? There’s always starting from the end, of course—but if you then turn the story into having been an elaborate dream, please note neither I, nor you, nor the internet can save you from the torch-wielding mob that shall likely come for you. You have been warned. In many ways, the opening is the most important. It has to seal the deal for the reader. Introduce the conflict (or hints of the conflict). Don’t lose us to the abstract, but don’t beat us down with a straight-up info dump either.

  5. What is the opposition?
    Obviously, this ties into the conflict, but it’s important enough to stand on its own. Who is the catalyst? The man, creature, or group driving the woes of this story’s forward momentum? Who has it out for your characters, and why? Give them as much life and attention as you do your heroes, and you’ll be glad for it. Single-minded antagonists can be fun and all…but it makes them all the more insidious to make them real.
    Furthermore, this goes beyond mere avatars of the opposition, to the very notion. It could be a stock market crash. Incompetent bosses. An earthquake that has severed all the power lines. The opposition can be legion, in the right hands, and it is all the more way to present us with a living, breathing world.
English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: U...

Say it with me now: Con-flict. Also fangs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)