Shameless self-promotion here. I started with a goal of 2000 twitter followers by Christmas. I’m at 1900-can we do it? Or at least by New Years? If you haven’t followed @bookshelfbattle then please do!
We all know that copyright and/or trademark infringement is a big no-no. If you take a copy of The Hunger Games, rip off the cover, replace with a new cover with your name on it, and print a bunch of copies and sell them, Suzanne Collins will own you. But we’re not talking about the obvious here.
We’re talking about the fact that, outside of sci-fi or fantasy worlds, your characters will most likely live on Planet Earth. As such, they’re humans just like the rest of us, and they will encounter all sorts of copyrighted and trademarked materials throughout the course of their travels. I have questions about this. I can’t say I have any specific answers. I hope that one of you will, or at the very least, this will generate a fun discussion.
So, I’ve whipped up a little murder mystery to illustrate my questions. Behold – The Case of the Bay Area Strangler
QUESTION 1 – Can you use a movie quote?
Ann was the toughest detective in the precinct. She’d seen it all and had developed deep underlying psychological problems because of it. But soon she could put that behind her. To her great surprise, she bought a winning lottery ticket the day before and now had ten million dollars coming her way. Because, you know, something like that could totally happen. Shut up.
She was rich and she no longer had to put up with this crap. She walked into the precinct and began cleaning out her desk.
“Ann,” the Captain said, dropping a folder full of photos of a recently strangled victim. “The Bay Area Strangler is back at it! You and John are on this one!”
Ann opened up the file and screamed, “OH MY GOD! THAT’S MY SISTER!”
“Oh yeah,” the Captain said. “I forgot to tell you. Your sister was strangled. I probably should have told you that before I just handed you a folder full of photos of her horribly strangled corpse. My bad.”
Ann’s mind was racing. “Should I just tell the Captain I won the lottery and I’m quitting? Or should I stay on to avenge my sister and capture her murderer?” She felt like the Godfather. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” she said.
NOTES: So, is that cool? I made an attribution. I didn’t pass the line off as my own. If anything, it is free advertising for The Godfather, not that it needs any, but still.
QUESTION 2 – Can you mention and/or discuss trademarked products?
The Captain assigned John to work with Ann. Ann and John hated each other. They were married years ago, but John cheated on Ann with her now strangled sister. You should now totally wonder in the back of your mind if John is a suspect, because, you know, John and Ann’s sister used to totally knock boots.
It wasn’t easy, but Ann and John agreed to set aside their differences in the name of bringing justice to Ann’s sister’s murderer. Ann’s sister was never loved enough by her parents to receive an actual name. In fact, “Ann’s Sister” is what the county put on her birth certificate.
Ann and John spent twelve hours looking over case files – photos of twelve strangled victims were strewn all over Ann’s apartment. They were exhausted and hungry.
“We need a break,” John said. “I’m exhausted and hungry. Let’s go to Burger King. I’m Jonesing for one of their flame broiled Whoppers. I love Burger King, because you can have it your way.”
“Yeah, just like you had your way with my sister,” Ann said. “Burgers are too fattening. I need to keep my figure so I can get back at you by sleeping with every dude in the precinct, and twice with the ones you hate. Let’s go to Subway, home of the five dollar footlong. Their mascot Jared lost a million pounds by eating their sandwiches, you know.”
“Damn it, Ann!” John said, slamming his fist down on the table. “When will you ever forgive me for my transgression? If we can’t agree on where to eat, how will we ever agree on a theory as to who strangled your overly promiscuous sister, who by the way, seduced me with her feminine wiles, so technically, it wasn’t even my fault?!”
The duo went their separate ways, and returned twenty minutes later. They ate their separate meals, but John smiled when he realized they were sharing a 2-Liter Bottle of Diet Coke.
“At least we agree on one thing,” John said.
“Not really,” Ann said. “I wanted Dr. Pepper, but they were all out. Your judgement vis a vis soda products is akin to the level of judgment you displayed with decisions regarding our marriage.”
After dinner, John popped a mint into his mouth, and offered one to Ann. “Care for a Mentos? They are, after all, the freshmaker.”
“No, I’m just going to brush my teeth,” Ann said. “I use Crest toothpaste, which 99 out of 100 dentists recommend, and if you can’t trust a paid-off dentist, who can you trust?”
NOTES: Okay, so maybe that exchange was outlandish, but I meant it that way for emphasis. Your characters won’t be that obvious, but in passing, it might seem totally normal to say something like:
Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct. “I’m going to need a Red Bull if I’m going to make it through this day,” Ann said.
NOTES: I mean, your characters live in the real world, and will have real world problems that get solved by real world products, right? Do I have to create a make-believe energy drink company, just to make the people at Red Bull happy?
Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct. “I’m going to need a Zappy Brand Energy Drink if I’m going to make it through this day,” Ann said.
NOTES: Should I just take the brand out altogether?
Ann was sleepy after studying the case all night, but the Captain demanded her presence at the precinct. “I’m going to need an energy drink if I’m going to make it through this day,” Ann said.
NOTES: Me, personally, I just feel in a story like this, Ann lives in the same world as we do, and if she’s exhausted but needs to keep going, she’s going to have a Red Bull or a Monster. I mean, you shouldn’t have any of those drinks, because they’re basically carbonated poison, but in this case, Ann needed one. It’s not my job to criticize Ann. It’s my job to develop Ann as a character, and in my mind, she’s a woman who puts her health second to finding her sister’s killer, and to do so requires her to stay up all nights and drink RED BULL in the morning.
QUESTION 3 – What if a product is referred to negatively?
“You shouldn’t drink that,” John said as he spied the Red Bull in Ann’s hand. “It’s basically carbonated poison.”
“What do you care?” Ann asked, as she guzzled her beverage. “You turned our marriage into a pile of garbage that smelled worse than an Arby’s roast beef sandwich.”
“I don’t have to listen to this!” John said as he popped on a pair of flashy looking earphones.
“Are those Beats by Dre headphones?” Ann asked. “What, you have so little confidence in yourself that you wasted a bunch of money on a status symbol that probably isn’t even better than a pair of regular headphones?”
“What?” asked John. “I can’t hear you! I’m wearing my Beats by Dre headphones! They’re way overpriced and don’t sound any better than regular headphones, but the chicks dig them! Your sister totally jumped my bones when she saw me wearing these things!”
The Captain walked in. “Ann, John. The Bay Area Strangler struck again last night. I sent the latest photos of the victims to your e-mail, Ann. The Strangler was out there running around town, strangling up a storm while you two were busy screwing up this case worse than Apple did with the latest iOs update!”
Ann checked her e-mail to review the latest victim photos. “Oh my God!” Ann exclaimed. “This Microsoft Surface Pro 3 sucks great big…”
“I can’t hear, you Ann,” John said. “Still on my ridiculously overpriced headphones.”
NOTES: I feel like, in cases such as these, you’re probably inviting trouble. You’re basically libeling a product. (I’m not doing that here, Red Bull, Beats, Apple, and Microsoft, your products are the bee’s knees and everyone should buy them! I’m just teaching other people how to not falsely malign your wonderful products that make our lives better!) In cases like these, I’d probably leave the brand names off or make up a fake brand:
“This tablet/computer hybrid sucks great big…”
“I can’t hear you Ann,” John said. “I’m on my non-descript, overpriced headphones, the brand name of which escapes me at the moment, because I’ve been having memory loss problems due to the fact that I’m depressed over not being able to sleep with your sister anymore! Oh, and you too! I miss you too!”
QUESTION 4 – What about song lyrics?
Ann and John agreed on something else. The photos weren’t enough. They needed to see the scene of the crime, and they were horrible cops, because they hadn’t done that yet. Ann’s apartment complex was an hour away, so they carpooled together. Ann dozed off while John navigated his way down the freeway.
He was bored, so he turned on the radio, flipped the dial around until he found a song he liked. It was “Area Codes” by Ludacris. John turned up the volume and sang along. “You thought I was just 7-7-0 and 4-0-4, I’m worldwide bitch, act like y’all don’t know, It’s the abominable O-man, Globe-trottin international post-man…”
John’s horrible singing skills crept through Ann’s ears like fingernails on a chalk board, waking her up instantly. She was about to yell at John, when she realized what song he was singing and joined in. “Is it cuz the like my gangsta walk? Is it cuz they like my gangsta talk?”
John smiled. They were now performing a duet together, and for a brief moment, all the bitter resentments and petty, angry feelings they’d held against one another for so long flew out the window.
“Whatever it is, they love me and they just won’t let be me. I handle my biz, don’t rush me, just relax and let me be free…”
They finished the song together and John turned the volume down. Ann smiled for the first time in years.
“I can’t believe you remembered, John,” Ann said.
“Of course I remembered,” John said. “You think I’d forget our wedding song?”
NOTES: Alright. So, in that instance, I probably would not use that song. But, take out “Area Codes” and swap in something romantic, like, oh, I don’t know, “You’re Once, Twice, Three Times the Lady.” or “You are So Beautiful.” In that case, a divorced couple sharing a happy moment by singing a romantic song could indicate to the reader that there’s still some love between those too, right? It would make for a nice scene. But the question is, can the singers of those songs come after me?
QUESTION 5 – What if something is on the TV in the background?
It wasn’t easy for Ann. She worked full time. She still had feelings for her lousy, two-timing ex-husband, and hated herself for having those feelings. Plus, she was a single parent and bore all the responsibility of raising Andy, the son she had with John during their brief marriage.
Ann was trying to focus her attention on the case file, but that was hard. All should could hear was the obnoxious rantings of Spongebob Squarepants coming from the television.
“Andy, can you turn that off and do your homework?” Ann asked. “Mommy is trying to get some work done.”
“I hate you!” Andy said. “I’m sick of all your infernal rules, woman! I want to live with Dad! He lets me wear Beats by Dre headphones and drink Red Bull with reckless abandon!”
FINAL THOUGHTS: I made this post because after doing a lot of research, I wasn’t really able to find a definitive answer. I don’t want to advise any others what to do or not to do, in fact, it’s not my intent to advise anyone but rather, ask if any of you have any advice for me. Have any thoughts? Can you think of some situations that might arise that aren’t mentioned here? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Oh, and the ending – it looked like John did it, but in fact, Ann’s sister framed him. John was being carted off in cuffs when Ann realized that all the victims had something in common – they’d all gotten busy with Ann’s sister, then dumped her like yesterday’s donuts. Ann didn’t really think that common thread was a big deal at first, because so didn’t three-quarters of the Bay Area population. Through her investigations, she determined that Ann’s sister sought revenge because all of these men – so she strangled a bunch of them, strangled herself, but also arranged for an accomplice to strangle more of her lovers after she died, so that explains why the Captain had sent additional photos to Ann’s Surface Pro 3, the King of the Computer/Tablet hybrids, and a fine Microsoft Product. Ann and John remarried and were happy for many years, until the sequel, in which Ann cheats on John with John’s brother, who dies, and then Ann is totally a suspect.
I did something I told myself I would not do: I shelved a half-written novel, and started a new one.
Let’s back up. This summer, inspiration hit me and I blasted out 200 pages of a novel, then hit a point where I realized that while the premise was decent, I needed to go back, start at the beginning, and perform a major overhaul.
Why? I didn’t know my characters as well when I first started writing. I needed to go back and make adjustments – add things they would have done, subtract things they would never have done, make all kinds of revisions now that my characters and I were simpatico. It was a difficult idea – involving different dimensions, different timelines.
November rolled around and I worked on a new novel – an idea that’s been rattling around my head for years. This too circled around a unique idea, but it was complex, and included a Games of Thronian amount of characters. What does that mean? IT HAD A LOT OF CHARACTERS. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Most epic fantasies have tons of characters and their various maneveurs, schemes, and backstabbings all eventually work their way into a central plot.
I promised myself I’d see this one through. I lied. This weekend, I started a third novel. The idea is still fun and unique. But unlike my other two attempts, the idea exists on a single timeline. The characters begin at point A, they’ll end at point B. Also, there’s only one central main character, a handful of supporting characters, and the occasional walk-on.
I’ve found this to be one of the more difficult aspects of writing – seeing the project through, and ignoring that voice that tells you, “This was a good idea, but the logistics are too hard! Pick another story, a simpler story, it will be easier! Get it published, then you can go for your sweeping, complicated epic!”
The problem is I think my mind is just a complicated place, and most novels are only riveting if they contain complications – i.e. plot twists that make the reader go, “Wow! Didn’t see that coming! I need to keep reading!”
Plus, even after banging out 20 pages of my new novel idea, I can see complications starting to form. My past two attempts at a novel I actually had to develop flow charts – i.e. “OK this character did X at this time, therefore, he can’t be doing Y at that time. Character A did not do X in that time period, so in theory he could be doing Y, but then you need to go back and rewrite Chapter 3 to account for why Character A was not able to help Character B” and then at that point my eyes glaze over and I need a nap.
I’m thinking maybe for my first novel, perhaps the traditional “straight line approach” is the way to go. There will still be complications, twists, turns, the need for revisions, rewrites, and character building. I’ll probably get half-way through it and think my attempts at complicated epic fantasy might have been easier. Who knows.
Sometimes I wonder if that writing bug that bit me left me with a curse. Most people on their few precious days off go to the mall, watch a movie, or take a nap. I’m sitting here with a flow chart and a slide rule trying to figure out when friggin’ Hugo the Magical Elf has time to bring the enchanted chalice to the palace if he was also busy fending off the Orcs and…oh, screw it. Screw it. I can’t take it anymore. Yeah, I know J.R.R. Tolkien did it. Tolkien didn’t have a bunch of people interrupting him every five minutes when he was writing either.
At least I think he didn’t. I don’t know. I have no idea what happened in the Tolkien household. I just assume. But you know what happens when you assume…
How shall I ever understand this world? There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and yet, there is nothing it condemns with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.
You have to admit, he’s got a point. Life is undeniably difficult, if not impossible, as a person in abject poverty. Ironically, people who keep that fact in mind and work hard and find ways to put as much financial distance as they can between themselves and poverty get villainized.
Dickens may have considered that with the character of Fezziwig, Scrooge’s original boss who got him into the money counting game. Even though Fezziwig was wealthy, he always threw a big party on Christmas, and one can assume he always helped the less fortunate he encountered.
It is all a balancing act. You’d hate to be poor. People will hate you if you’re rich. Either way, someone is going to hate something.
Scrooge’s discussion with two charitable collectors:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
Right above, in that last part, Scrooge basically says that his life keeps him so busy that he can’t be bothered to worry about other people. What do you think? Do people get so busy and preoccupied with their own lives that they can’t spare a moment to help others? Or, is this an excuse? Do people just not want to be bothered to part with their time and/or money to help the less fortunate?
I find myself intrigued lately about the idea of self publishing. It amazes me that the technology is there to write a book, edit it, package it up and distribute it online through Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, wherever. My NanoWriMo book, originally started a few weeks ago as a fun hobby, has become a preoccupation – something I’ve been laboring away at and I really don’t want to give it up.
First of all, it is a long way away from being in readable form. And obviously, I’d like to try the get an agent and find a traditional publisher route first.
But I have to admit, the self publishing possibility is like a security blanket for me. The idea that if the inevitable rejections come in, I could, at the very least put the book out there and who knows what happens after that but at least I’d be able to cross a big life’s goal off the ole bucket list. If only 5 people read it, so be it. At least it didn’t collect dust.
Does anyone have any self publishing success stories? Any self publishing nightmares? Any thoughts, tips, comments, etc.? It is a topic I’d love to learn more about so please feel free to share.
Some questions of the top of my head:
1) Where to find a good editor? Someone who can read through the book, correct errors, give me ideas on how to make it better.
2) Where to find a cover artist? I feel like covers have so little to do with the book and yet they can make or break the book. They can make the book awesome, make readers go, “Wow, I need to read that!” or they can make a good book look cheap, like it was produced by some fly by night operation if they aren’t produced well.
3) Suppose I wanted to build a fan site for the book. Where could I find some artists to draw some quality pictures of different characters to post on the site?
4) Promotions – any ideas?
Thanks in advance,