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.

The Hollow March 2.0

Hollow March eBook Cover 2I said it was coming. I hope you were listening when I did.

As January draws to a close, I’m pleased to announce the latest print run (shiny new editions, filled with edits, new information, and…things *spirit fingers*) of The Hollow March is now live through retailers. I even put the name of the third (*gasp* Yes, there’s a third) book in The Haunted Shadows series within its tender pages.

So while this announcement may not make for a strictly new work, the fantasy bandwagon isn’t always filled with mountaintop shouts of new dragons on the horizon. But the dragon’s circled around again in inky new clarity, and I hope you enjoy this latest edition of my debut work. If you like, don’t forget that the sequel is out there too, and ready to be digested. (And don’t forget, Dragons prefer to digest their meals with ketchup.)

Thank you once again for all your support. The journey continues, but it never could have begun without the wonderful support I have received from you all!

I wish upon an Indie

Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter an...

Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author: a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc; the composer of a literary work.

That wasn’t hard to define now was it? Ah, but these days the word is so much more complex, no? What sort of author are you, they ask. Genre? What does that tell us? No, sir, what I meant to ask is: are you indie? Are you self-published? Or are you an author?

It’s harsh, and think in no way would I ever honestly address it as such, but the fact is: many do. Publishing companies, certainly, would like to draw the lines there—and then work their best to weed out the ones that don’t meet the latter’s definition.

So what’s the difference?

An “author” in such terms are writers vetted and published by established companies—usually referred to as the “Big Six.” Visibility is at its highest point for this select breed, as the publishers work to get the books mass-produced and mass-distributed. Yet it is also the route that sees the least return for any “author.” An agent if often advised as a go-between, while low percents to the writers, high percents to the publishers means minimum wage rewards, generally. You need to sell a lot (and I mean a lot) for this to equal any sort of earnings.

Not that most of us are in this for the money, of course, but it’s still something to consider.

In the past decade, however, we have also seen the rise of indie authors. Now, for all intents and purposes, both indie authors and self-pub authors are technically “indie”, but generally the term refers to those published by smaller, (you guessed it) independent companies. Distribution is less here–more focused–but the percents are typically greater, and the company still tends to provide an editor.

Amazon Kindle wordmark.

Amazon Kindle wordmark. Public Domain.

Then there are the self-pubs. It means exactly what it says—the author has taken it upon him/herself to publish their book without any company’s hand in the matter. Amazon has truly pushed the advent of this in recent years, as has the e-book revolution sweeping the literary world, but in many cases these people still face great scorn—not just from established literary circles, but from all corners of society. Which is a real pity, when you think about it. Many of them, after all, are writers fed up or terrified of the old guard—men who determine, year after year, the certain type of literature that can fit the mould, and the certain number of those books that can enter the market (I refer you back to the Big Six). Even some very well-established authors, such as J.K. Rowling, have begun to go this route.

And why not? If you can make it work, the rewards are at their greatest for the actual author. The burden of distribution and marketing and editing are all on them too, however, and therein lies the issue.

Many think self-pubs are just giving up. That they haven’t struggled—if they couldn’t convince a publisher, why should they waste our time? It’s nonsense, really. There are many talented authors out there that could never get their works published that way—not with the surging slush piles and increasingly stringent restrictions at the publishing companies. Should they simply sit by and let their works gather dust, than?

Well, the issue is that these people must combat, in such a system, with the (many) people that honestly shouldn’t be published. Those who cannot be bothered to edit, put no effort to organization and, so sorry, simply cannot write. They swarm the self-published scene and drown the image of the rest—while simultaneously swallowing most attempts to find them.

See the conundrum?

Personally, I believe “indie authors” are key to the system—they are a necessary and legitimate response to the failures in a rather chicken-with-its-head-cut-off styled industry. But even so, they do need some sort of guidance, some oversight. The authors that truly try—they do not demean the industry as some claim. However, the mobs of unedited, uncaring scribblers do.

Time adjusts all things, but this is a situations that requires care. Truly, it comes down to the question that’s been at the heart of democracy itself from the oldest of days…

How do we guarantee the freedom, while still providing the security?

What do you think? Because personally, I’m growing tired of standing on this precipice.

Literary Quotes

BOOKS! Image care of Wikimedia Commons, from the New York Public Library.

Today, at least in the U.S., the literary world finds itself in a curious crossroads. With the advent of the “e-book”, you hear a lot of people (mostly writers) bemoaning that it shall surely mean the death of our precious hard copies of books one day. While, frankly, I think that’s more than a slight over-exaggeration, regardless of the end result, one thing remains true: books, literature, will live on. Whatever form they take, man will always have a thirst for reading.

Today’s quotes address books specifically, and their place in this curious little society of our, ever-changing as it may be…

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.  It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.” 
~Edward P. Morgan

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” 
~Charles W. Eliot

“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations – such is a pleasure beyond compare.”
~Kenko Yoshida

E-Readers

The Kindle

The Kindle. The I-pad.  The more time comes and goes, the more of these electronic goodies come prancing onto the market place. Book sales are at a terrible low, profits made only worse by the war raging between the motley crew of national bookstores left and the online sellers like Amazon.com.

So the question I ponder today is: what is the future of literature? The Kindle costs over $200, but if you are a voracious reader, you’re easily paying more than that for your hard copies every year. Books themselves can be cheap, but no book (outside of a penny and dollar shop) are going to top the stories on Kindle. Kindle’s prices are on the rise, but as a whole, its prices remain incredibly cheap compared to its hard-copy competitors. Plus, as long as you don’t drop your Kindle in water, your collection is going to last forever. Wear and tear’s not an issue there.

Another advantage of E-readers? Many books in one. You have a portable little friend that has your whole collection right at your disposal. It’s far easier to keep track of than a stack of bulky books. If you are like me, though, you have a thing for aesthetics. I love the smell of old books. I love the feeling of the paper between my fingers, nor can I focus so clearly on a screen as I can upon a book. Plus, there is nothing quite like the weight of a hard cover well-in-hand.

Still, for those well-suited to the screens, these electronic readers have adjustable fonts, to accommodate aging eyes. They can easily combat the glare of the sun, as well. There are no pages to turn, nor tear, and you can proceed at just the touch of a hand.

Speaking as a college student myself, though, the benefits to us students should be obvious. Supposing the book stores all turned to Kindles with their stocks? Hundreds of dollars are wasted on textbooks every semester. With the Kindle’s prices, imagine how much money we younglings could save?

Yet what do these electronics mean for libraries? Could the future be shelves lined with blank readers, waiting to be checked out? Maybe you would have to bring your own and set to browsing their selection. Perhaps a display—pick your program, what’s your pleasure? Just click a button and download your choice! When the due date’s come and gone, the program/book of your choice will simply disappear again, and you will be ready for another check-out. It’s less personal, but the ease is undeniable. I would be interested to see how they charge you fines, though. Perhaps it would simply do away with them all-together, if the program simply disappears after a time anyhow.

But as an author, I implore you one and all to think on what the e-reader will mean for the writer. We labor over every script, but it is we that are always the first screwed over by the companies, the publishers, etc. When the market suffers, rarely is it the companies that feel the hurt—always the writer. Money is rough to come by in the profession, unless you are one of the lucky ones like George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling. So when we turn to the even cheaper markets of e-books, how much additional hurt will it put on writers? Are the royalties on a $1 book sale going to keep a writer going? The companies still have to pay everyone that works for them, and at a buck a pop, do you really think they are going to be kind to the authors? That nice little copyright only means so much.

As a practical son of the times, I see the advantage of the e-readers. I see the advancement they embody for society. As a writer, however, I have to side against them. Convenient, yes, but the negatives for authors far outweigh the good. Plus, for me, it all comes back to those aesthetics. I am picky where many others aren’t, I know, but it is simply how I feel.

Think about it. Draw your own conclusions. One thing is for certain, though: the literary world is at a crossroads. One can only guess what might yet come after.

Welcome!

“Give expression to the noble desires that lie in your heart.”

~Gordon B. Hinckley

Welcome, friends, to the Waking Den–a blog devoted to the hosting, review, and discussion of my myriad works. Who am I? My name is Chris, and I am a Senior Journalism Major, Philosophy minor (former English major) at Michigan State University. I have written hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories, and a novel, and am presently working on the first book in a planned trilogy. I am a writer, a reader, and an avid photographer as well. If I could draw, or paint, or do any of the many wonderful skills arrayed along that strata of creativity as well, I would, but this is what I do, and I hope that you enjoy what I have to offer.

As opposed to my other site, “The Shut-in,” which is dedicated to the reviewing of others’ creativity, I have made this site as an expression of my own. I think we all need an outlet, to grow and to flourish in the world, and I hope to make this one of mine.

What you will find here is the full range of the literary world. It is a house of my own fancy. One day I may post a poem, another a short story (or parts thereof), some may simply see extended thoughts of mine, even an essay or two, if the mood so strikes. Other days may herald a glimpse of others’ novels or stories, and an expression of my thoughts on them.

All content on this site is mine, tried and true, and I ask that you not re-use anything without permission from me, and appropriate credit given. That said, I hope to make this site as open as possible to any interested–and I encourage your discussion, your insight, and your commentary.

Vincit qui se vincit.