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Monday, October 18, 2010

Moving Shop

I've recently created a new website over at WordPress.com. I won't be using my Blogspot account anymore, but I will leave it up as an archive. Update your links, here's where you can find me from now on:

http://percivalconstantine.wordpress.com/

And of course, I'm still on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A public apology

Ron Fortier has been kind enough to review Love & Bullets and it's a review that can be read at his own site. Ron sent me an e-mail this morning when he posted the review and he warned me that it wasn't very positive. I read it and sure enough, it wasn't. However, Ron said it was a fair review and I agree with him, as he also had some very positive things to say about my writing style. I thanked him for the review and posted a link to it on Facebook (and by extension, Twitter).

Then, I went about my day. Currently, I'm in Fukuoka for two weeks to study Japanese. So I've been locked inside a classroom all day. After class, I went to a little Indian restaurant near the apartment where I'm staying and checked my e-mail. And I received a message from one of my editors at Pulpwork Press informing me he heard from Ron that someone was spamming the Love & Bullets review. And he asked if it was me. I explained to him it wasn't and then I immediately sent Ron an e-mail apologizing for this person's actions.

I don't know who has been spamming Ron's site and frankly, I don't care. But if it's one of my fans or even worse one of my friends, I am extremely pissed off at this kind of immaturity. Ron wasn't looking to do a smear job on me. He wasn't attacking me. The only interaction Ron and I have ever had has been this review. I sent him a copy of it because he's a pretty big name in the small world of pulp fiction and he frequently writes reviews of independent books. And I sent it to him without any expectations. I told him I would appreciate a review but if he doesn't want to, then that's fine as well.

Ron took time out of his schedule to review a book from an author he's never heard of. And in return, he gets someone spamming his journal. This is unacceptable. If this is someone doing it on my behalf, then I implore you all -- don't do me any favors. Help of this nature is neither needed nor wanted. This kind of help is damaging to me, both personally and professionally. I doubt Ron would ever review another of my books in the future and I wouldn't blame him. Why review something if aggravation is your only reward? And what if this is the kind of reputation I'd have following me around? I'd have a much harder time getting people to review my work. Hell, what if my editor didn't believe me when I assured him I had nothing to do with this? I'd lose my position at Pulpwork Press.

If I only wanted my ego stroked, I would have just shown this book to my mother and no one else. That's not what I want. I like being part of Pulpwork Press. I like that I've been able to make contact with people like Ron and get their feedback on my work, whether positive or negative.

You want to help me? Recommend the book to your friends or family. Write reviews and post them on Amazon or FictionWise. When you're finished, donate your copy to your local library. These are things that are helpful to me. But behaving like an Internet troll is the opposite of helpful.

Ron, I'm sorry you had to deal with this and I hope you accept my apologies.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Writing 101: In The Beginning







I've been asked to use this blog to give advice on writing and it seemed like a pretty good idea. As anyone who's spoken to me for any length of time can attest to, I can get pretty long-winded. Especially on the subject of writing. So if you have any topics on writing you'd like me to talk about, please feel free to drop me a line and I'll be happy to do it.


Now that we've gone over my basic rules for writing, it's time to get to what I was asked to write about—and that's how to start a story. There are a number of schools of thought on this and as the first rule states, it's up to you to find your own path. In Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing (first published in the New York Times and available on any number of sites on the Internet—just Google it), his first two rules deal with what NOT to do:



  1. Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.



  2. Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's “Sweet Thursday,” but it's okay because a cahracter in the book makes the point of what my rules are about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks....figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that...Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle...Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

Leonard is one of my favorite writers, so it's no surprise that I'll side with him on almost any piece of writing advice he can offer. In my world, if you're lucky enough to be half as successful or as talented as Leonard, then you're lucky enough.

But this is ultimately about how Percival Constantine writes, not Elmore Leonard, so I'll get started with how I write my books. And first thing's first, you've gotta start with some sort of plot. In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he doesn't do a lot of advance plotting and I'm of a similar school of thought (On Writing is a book I strongly recommend, particularly the audio version as King reads it himself and it feels like you're having a conversation with the man).

There are a number of ways to plot. Some people jot down random notes and just write as they go along. Other people write out long, detailed descriptions of their characters. Others can spend weeks, months, even years just on laying out the details of the world and the story. J.R.R. Tolkien reportedly had more backstory written about the world of Middle Earth than ever made it into The Lord of the Rings.

A method I've found particularly useful is Lester Dent's Pulp Paper Fiction Master Plot. You can find it on the Internet on a number of sites. Lester Dent was one of the most renowned of the Doc Savage writers and he remarked that no story he ever wrote conforming to the Master Plot ever failed to sell. The plot lays out a simple formula for a pulp story and how to fit it all together by dividing each story into four sections (this was for a 6,000 word story, but I've applied it to 30,000 word novels and it's worked just as well). It's very useful, especially if you're doing pulp stories.

I have a collection of random notes cobbled together and descriptions of the characters and I go from there. Like King, I let the story evolve as I write it. I've found if I do too much plotting, my tastes eventually change through the course of the story and I end up getting frustrated and abandoning it. I know what the major conflict or reason for the story is and I have a rough idea of how to get from Point A to B, but I don't follow a roadmap.

When it comes to beginnings, well, beginnings are truthfully the easiest thing in the world for me to write. Lately in my writing (and you can see one example of this in the recently-published Love & Bullets), I've taken a cue from the James Bond films and I start with a literary equivalent of a cold open. A cold open is a technique in film and television of jumping directly into the story at the beginning or opening. No real set-up, just jump right in.

This is particularly effective in action stories. Instead of introducing the hero slowly and the story, I jump right in and show the hero on a mission. In Love & Bullets, the book opens with the main character, Angela Lockhart, assassinating a target named Jack Travis and then getting ambushed by his bodyguards. All we need to know about Angela is given to us in this first scene—she's an assassin, she's been sent to kill this guy by someone named Dante, and she's damn good at her job. It's not until the later chapters that we find out Angela is a former operative of an intelligence organization or that her husband was killed through unknown means and she went rogue to locate his killer. If we throw all that exposition into the first few pages, the reader may not find it as exciting. But with a cold open, you grab their attention in the first few pages and you get them intrigued—who is this woman? Why is she doing this job? How did she get so good at it? Why was this man a target?

I'm very critical of Dan Brown's writing, but I have to give the man credit—he knows how to keep people reading. And he does it by putting in just enough mystery so the reader is compelled to keep going, but not too much so the reader is confused and gives up. That's a very fine line to walk and you have to be careful with it. You should give the reader just enough information so they can understand what's going on, but enough mystery so they want to keep reading.

So basically, what my first chapter generally is? A teaser or a short story featuring the main character. I introduce them, show them in action, and then end on a cliffhanger that causes the reader to go on to Chapter Two. In Love & Bullets, the first chapter really has very little bearing on the rest of the book, but it serves to introduce the characters. However in my upcoming book, The Myth Hunter, the first chapter leads directly into the main story and sets off a chain of events.

How this works is, again, up to you.

The important thing to remember in the beginning of any story is to just get something down. Don't dwell on the details or the set-up, just hit the ground running and learn the details of the story as you go. You're not going to have everything perfect on your first run-through and trying to make it perfect will just cause you undue stress and fatigue.

So screw it. Just start writing the damn thing. When you're finished, revision is the time to go back and tighten it up, add the little details or cross out the stuff that just makes no sense. But when you're starting out, you can't be concerned with sweating over that small stuff.

When I worked on my college newspaper, we were taught to write in the style of an inverted pyramid. And what that means is you start off with very broad strokes, summarizing the entire story. Then as the article goes on, you narrow your focus and get more detailed. The actual process of writing a novel or a story is the same—you start off writing very broadly, without letting yourself become too concerned with the details. Then with your next revision, you narrow it down, tighten things up and worry more about how it all fits together. Then another revision and so on and so forth.

But just write something. And remember that you don't have to necessarily write in chronological order. If the entire reason you're writing this book is because you have a great idea for a climatic fight scene at the end, then start off by writing that fight scene and work your way through the story from there. Or write the scenes completely out of order. Write the last scene then the first. Then another one that goes in the middle. Then a flashback and at the end figure out how you fit them all together.

There is no right way to write! You write in the style that you're most comfortable in. And anyone who tells you “I have all the secrets to writing a best-selling novel in thirty days, all you have to do is buy my product” is a scam artist. There is no shortcut, no magic formula that makes everything easy for you, so don't waste your time looking for one. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writing 101: Five Rules of Writing

I've been asked to use this blog to give advice on writing and it seemed like a pretty good idea. As anyone who's spoken to me for any length of time can attest to, I can get pretty long-winded. Especially on the subject of writing. So if you have any topics on writing you'd like me to talk about, please feel free to drop me a line and I'll be happy to do it.

The first thing I was asked to talk about is how to start a story. But I think before you can even begin to write, you need to know the rules. These are my Five Rules of Writing, and they're rules that I believe every writer should follow. Every writer has their own process to follow and their own style to write in and that's great. But these are rules that apply universally to all forms of writing.

That brings me to my first rule of writing, which is find your own path. Writing a story isn't like putting together a piece of furniture—there is no instruction manual, there is no correct way to do it and anyone who tells you otherwise is, pardon my French, full of shit. I strongly encourage you to not only listen and experiment with the method I lay out, but to also look into other methods and then find what works best for you.

Of course, every story needs to start with an idea. Don't ask me where ideas come from, because the answer is they come from anything. There isn't a state of mind or an alternate plane of existence where ideas grow on trees and writers just pop in there to pull them out. I've gotten ideas from dreams, meditation, from watching movies and reading books, or even from a conversation with someone or something I see while driving.

So my second rule of writing is this—good writing comes from experience. By this, I don't mean you can only write about your own personal experiences. The literary world would be a pretty dull place if people only wrote about their own experiences. When I say good writing comes from experience, I mean that you need to expose yourself to other things and get out of your comfort zone. Don't just read a lot of books or watch a lot of movies (but I will get to that in a minute). But go out into the world. Everyone has a story, so go out and talk to people. Find out what their stories are. When you want to go on a vacation, don't go to DisneyWorld for the umpteenth time—visit new locations which are different from the ones you've been exposed to your entire life. Talk to the people there. Not only will this help you find new ideas, but it'll also give you a much more culturally-rewarding life.

I mentioned reading books and watching movies, and that's my third rule of writing—read more than you write. Derrick Ferguson has told me on more than one occasion that he's always surprised at how many aspiring writers he meets who tell him they don't read at all. The reason they give is that they don't want to be influenced by anyone else. Look—if you want to be a writer, you're going to have to be influenced by something. Virtually all creative endeavors are influenced from previous endeavors. We wouldn't have Goodfellas without The Godfather, there would be no Spider-Man if not for Superman, Star Wars and A Fistful of Dollars would be nonexistent without the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, which also wouldn't exist without the American Westerns which preceded them, and I think you get the picture.

Read books. Watch movies. Read comics. And not just within your own discipline. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made, and it's a film that doesn't really fit within one, identifiable genre. Sci-fi, action, romance, comedy, crime, horror—expose yourself to all these genres and others.

Don't just stick with fiction. In the film Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) remarks to Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) that nothing happens in the real world. In response, McKee flips out and goes on a rant, which I think it's very useful to quote here:

Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There's genocide, war, corruption. Every fucking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every fucking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ's sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can't find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don't know crap about life! And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don't have any use for it! I don't have any bloody use for it!”

Remember the old adage of “truth is stranger than fiction.” And for this reason, you should expose yourself to nonfiction. Read through the encyclopedia. Watch documentaries. Read newspaper articles. Look through books on history, politics, psychology, medicine, science, archaeology, sociology, religion (which depending on your views, may be fiction but I won't get into that), philosophy, etc.

There's another reason why you should read voraciously, and it's more important than just falling into the experience category—if you want to master your craft, you need to learn from the masters. Every discipline in the world requires training and writing is no different. I once heard a story about the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw. Now I'm not sure of the authenticity of this, but even if it's false, it's a pretty good story. The legend goes that Shaw was at a dinner party and talking with a neurosurgeon. The doctor remarked that when he retires from medicine, he wants to become a writer. Shaw supposedly responded with, “when I retire, I plan to operate on people.” Just having an idea isn't enough to make you a writer. Any idiot can come up with an idea, but only a writer can turn it into a story.

That's my fourth rule: never stop learning. You're a writing apprentice now, and your masters are every writer, past and present. And no matter how successful you become, no matter how many of your stories are optioned for movies, no matter how much your sales increase, your apprenticeship never ends.

Now for my fifth rule, and this is probably the most important one of all—have passion. If you want a hobby, take a class at the city center. Writing is not a hobby—it's an obsession and a compulsion. Real writers don't want to write, they have to write. It's a stressful, nerve-wracking existence and you will fail far more often than you succeed. Real writers know this, but they can't help themselves. Writing is a way of life and it invades every aspect of your life.

Anyone who wants to be a writer because they think it's an easy job or because they want to make a lot of money is fucking delusional and if you're one of these people, stop right now. Because your work will be half-assed, devoid of passion, and of use to absolutely no one. The story you write should be the story you want to write—not the story you think people want to read. So if you have an idea about secret societies and unrevealed history, that's great, but you should write it because it's a story you want to write. If your only motivation is, “well The Da Vinci Code is popular, so this will be, too,” then you're not passionate—you're opportunistic.

Time to recap—the Five Rules of Writing are:
  1. Find your own path
  2. Good writing comes from experience
  3. Read more than you write
  4. Never stop learning
  5. Be passionate, not opportunistic

These are general rules I've come to learn about and believe over the years, and I think they're essential for every writer, regardless of discipline. Next time, I'll get into my actual writing process.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rabbit Heart by Barry Reese


I've been familiar with Barry Reese's work for quite some time now. And when you've been reading an author who specializes in a certain area for a number of years, there are usually relatively few surprises. Oh, the stories are entertaining, but by that point, you're usually so familiar with the writer's style that you're not going to be left with your mouth hanging open.

So imagine my surprise when Barry's latest book, Rabbit Heart, was able to cause just that reaction in me.

Barry is well-known and well-regarded (and rightfully so) for his work on The Rook series, which focus on a supernaturally-tinged vigilante operating in Atlanta in the 1930s. It's great stuff, a lot of fun to read. And most of the work I've read from Barry over the years has been in a similar vein.

Rabbit Heart is definitely not what one would come to expect from Barry Reese. Make no mistake, this is not a tale for young readers—and even some adults may find themselves put off by the very mature themes and situations present.

The book centers on Fiona Chapman, a young woman who was nearly killed as a child by a vicious serial killer. Only what no one knows it that Fiona actually did die, in a fashion. By the time she reaches her early twenties, Fiona embarks on a quest to confront her killer and this awakens her true nature, as an Archetype of the Furious Host. But this is only the beginning of her adventure. Her brethren kill humans with almost wild abandon but Fiona chooses to turn on her fellow hunters instead. And with the help of Ascott Keane, a legendary occult investigator, she pursues one such hunter in the town of Milledgeville in Georgia.

Rabbit Heart is extremely graphic. It's brutal, gruesome, and strangely erotic—sometimes all at once. Sex and violence mix together in a way that may be disturbing to some, but is nonetheless gripping. I found it impossible to tear myself away from the book—I was disgusted and shaken to my core and I say these things as compliments. It takes a certain kind of writer to be able to bring about these emotions in a reader, and Barry has proven that while he's very talented in his usual area of expertise, he's also versatile and open to experimentation.

Although the central story will no doubt keep your eyes glued to these pages, what I found most fascinating was the taste of metafiction Barry uses. He does it in such a way that sets Rabbit Heart apart from similar tales, but which is subtle enough to avoid falling into the trap of smug arrogance or tongue-in-cheek camp that metafiction writers sometimes find themselves in.

If you came to this book because you're familiar with Barry's other work, rest assured that he definitely brings his A-game to the table. But don't expect something with a similar tone to The Rook ChroniclesRabbit Heart operates on an entirely different level. This is Barry Reese does grindhouse, and I for one hope we'll see more tales of Fiona Chapman and Ascott Keane in the future.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The questions you should and should not ask a writer

Josh Reynolds pointed me to these entries by Richard Dansky. The first is Seven Questions You Should Never Ask A Writer and the second is Seven Things You Should Always Ask A Writer. It's pretty entertaining, and because I'm all about entertainment, here are my answers.

First, the questions that should never be asked (and if I've been asked them before).


1) Where do you get your ideas?


I've been asked this one frequently, but I don't get bent out of shape by it. I think every writer has been asked this question before. And the truth is my ideas can come from anywhere. Often times, I can't tell you where they came from, they just happen.


2) I have a great idea for a novel. If I tell it to you, can you write it so we can share the profits?


I've gotten variations on this, mainly in my work-for-hire comic work. This isn't so bad, depending on who's asking it. For example, if any of my fellow Pulpwork Press authors asked me this question, I'd be hard pressed to say no. If it's going to be a collaboration, that's one thing. Some of my best experiences in writing have been through collaboration.

But if it's someone who's just going to dictate something rigidly to me and not allow for any input, then I'm going to pass on it. I actually recently had a situation like this where someone asked me to help them write a graphic novel. The client's ideas were rigidly set in stone, but they were never made clear to me. Anything I did was met with extremely vague orders for revision, so I had no idea what I was supposed to be writing.

And if it's someone who just throws a one-sentence story idea at me, then:

a) My contract should specify a lot more than half considering the level of work I'm doing
b) I should have a lot of freedom
c) It better be a damn good idea

Believe it or not, there are people out there who try to scam writers into coming up with scripts and then they'll never speak to said writer again and try to pass off the writer's script as their own work. I've never experienced this myself, but I've heard the horror stories.


3) Can you write me into your next novel?


I've been asked this and in one case, I said yes, because the person who asked the question came up with a great way to write her into the book that I just loved and fit in perfectly with the story I wanted to tell. But for the most part, I'll say no. My characters are pastiches of characters from other stories as well as people in my life but never has any of my characters been a direct transplantation of someone I know into a book.


4) Do you know what you should have done with your last book?


I think this question is basically the beginning of someone trying to say how they would have written your book better. And that's pretty damn irritating, not to mention arrogant as shit. I really couldn't care less how you would have written my book because it's my book. Write your own book and then see how you like it when someone else tells you what you should've done.


5) Can you get me a copy of [insert name of highly anticipated best-selling book] in advance, because you're a writer? I know all of you writers hang out together.


Living in Japan, I do get asked a question similar to this, but not because I'm a writer -- it's because I'm an American. My students (especially my elementary students) have often asked me if I'm friends with Barack Obama.


6) Seriously, why don't you want to write this awesome book I had the idea for?


If I said no, pestering me isn't going to change my mind.


7) I want to be a writer. What should I do?


First, find the heaviest object possible. Second, bash your head against it. Repeat as necessary until you get this idea out of your head. Being a writer doesn't make you famous, it doesn't make you rich, it's not a replacement for a "real" job, it's not glamorous and it's frequently extremely frustrating. Every writer I know has a day job. Making a go of it with writing with no other source of income can be very difficult when you're starting out (at least if you're writing fiction).

Also, it's this idea that writing is easy -- wake up around noon, sit in front of your computer for an hour, spend the rest of the day playing video games/smoking pot/drinking/fucking/whatever. Writing is tough. Frequently, the ideas won't be there when you want them to be. When you find yourself with a lot of free time to devote to writing, Murphy's Law dictates that's when your motivation will decide that this free time means it's time for a vacation.

And no matter how much success you have as a writer, no matter how many books or stories you write, no matter how many you sell, you will NEVER surpass your mountain of failed story ideas, rejection letters, and abandoned works.


8) Why do you write?


Because I have to. It's a compulsion. Whenever I've gotten so frustrated with writing that I decided to give it up, I always find myself getting sucked back in.



Now, the questions you should always ask a writer.


1) Tell me about your book.


The book I just released is Love & Bullets, an action novel that's sort of a mix between John Woo and Ian Fleming. It centers on Angela Lockhart, a skilled assassin and covert operative for the mysterious Agency. After the death of her husband, Angela gets fed up with the Agency's lack of effort to find his killer. She leaves and finds herself working for the mysterious Dante, a power broker whose organization Infernum is almost the polar opposite of the Agency. Becoming an assassin for Infernum, Angela eventually comes into contact with another Agency operative, Christian Pierce. Pierce poses as an innocent bystander in a scheme to bring Angela back into the fold, but in the process, the two develop a dangerous relationship.


2) Who are you reading?


Currently, I'm reading Moonraker by Ian Fleming and Rabbit Heart by fellow independent author, Barry Reese. I had just finished Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard and Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. And I'll say this about some of them.

First off, Vonnegut is one of the greatest writers in the history of American literature. The man was a master satirist and his quirky style remains often imitated but never replicated. It can take some getting used to, but it's absolutely brilliant.

Second, Elmore Leonard. If you like crime fiction, Leonard is your man. He's got a short, punchy style and his dialogue is really snappy. Very few writers have the sense of pacing and dialogue that Leonard has.

Next is Fleming. He can be a bit of a mixed bag -- you really have to approach Fleming's Bond books in the era they were written. So they can be very racist and misogynist at times. But getting past that, Fleming's version of Bond is one of my favorite fictional characters. If you like it when Bond's depicted as more ruthless in the films, then the Fleming books are well worth checking out. And frequently they are extremely different from the films they share a title with. For example, the novel of Moonraker has absolutely nothing to do with James Bond in space.

And finally is Reese. I saved him for last because I wanted to make sure he got a special mention. There have been a lot of pulp-style authors popping up in the independent market as of late and Reese releases a lot of his stuff through Wildcat Books. His Rook series features a vigilante in the 30s and is great if you're a fan of the Shadow, the Phantom or later evolutions of that concept such as Batman or Moon Knight. The book I'm reading right now, Rabbit Heart, I won't talk too much about, since I plan on writing a full review of it. But suffice to say, it is definitely a horror book and there's some pretty unsettling stuff in there (and that's coming from a guy who wrote a very graphic horror book called Chasing The Dragon).


3) What are you working on now?


I've got a few irons in the fire at the moment.

First, I should mention a novel I finished the manuscript for a few months ago -- The Myth Hunter. Love & Bullets was my salute to Ian Fleming and John Woo and The Myth Hunter is a nod to Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Elisa Hill is a myth hunter, someone who pursues the various legends of the world either for profit or for knowledge (she has done both). This novel (the first of what I hope to be many) deals with her trying to locate the lost continent of Lemuria while avoiding a shadowy organization called the Order, who has employed her old partner, Lucas Davalos. Also, there's another more ruthless player on her trail.

Next one is Outlaw Blues. This book is on a hiatus for now as a lot of it is locked on a hard drive I don't currently have access to. But this book is the second book in the Infernum series (Love & Bullets was the first). Whereas Love & Bullets was more of an action novel, Outlaw Blues is almost like an urban western. It centers on Carl Flint, a man who has a very small but very pivotal role in Love & Bullets. Flint was once one of Infernum's top assassins, but retired after a botched assignment. He's spent the intervening years running a small bar where he plays the saxophone nightly and drowns his sorrows in whiskey and blues music. He gets asked to perform one last job but it leads him into a whole web of trouble.

Next up is SoulQuest. I mentioned some of the history about this in an earlier entry so best to refer to that. This will be released via online serial format through the Revenance original fiction website. Once it's complete, it'll be collected and sold as a novel.

And finally is The Devil's Gate. This features a new character I created called Luther Cross. Cross is an occult investigator who's also half-demon. Despite his heritage, he frequently goes after demons. But he's no ally of Heaven, either -- the angels aren't too pleased with him because he doesn't toe the line. He's somewhere between the two, has a vampire for a girlfriend, and isn't opposed to overcharging the people he helps.


4) Which book do you wish you'd written?


This is a pretty good question. After reading The Losers comic series, I think I'd have to go with that. Andy Diggle did so many things in that series that I wish I had done first. It was just brilliantly executed and Jock's artwork was stunning.


5) What were you going for with _________ in your book?


Since this needs to be more specific I can't really answer. But this is a great question to be asked. My frequent response is, "I have no idea." I'm often reminded of the film Barton Fink, where John Turturro's eponymous character tells John Mahoney's W.P. Mayhew (his writing idol) that what he loves most about writing is exploring all these deep themes. And Mayhew responds with, "me, I just enjoy making things up." That's pretty much how I feel -- I like making shit up.


6) Can I buy you a drink?


Abso-fucking-lutely. Scotch, nothing younger than twelve years.


7) What's your process for writing?


It really depends on the book. Sometimes I'll have collections of scattered notes. Sometimes it'll all be in my head. I try to always have a notebook on me whenever inspiration may strike so I can jot it down. Depending on the book, I'll do a lot or very little research, usually as I'm writing. For The Myth Hunter, I did a lot of research on ancient weapons for Elisa's arsenal as well as research on legends surrounding Lemuria, including similar lost continent legends like Mu and Atlantis (as well as connecting legends).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of Copyrights and Inheritance

I'm not sure how many of you are aware of the current legal battles between the Jack Kirby estate and Marvel Comics/Walt Disney.

Here is the basic gist of the story. Jack Kirby was one of the most influential creators the comic book industry has ever seen. In the 1930s, he co-created Captain America with Joe Simon. In the 1960s, it was the partnership between Kirby and Stan Lee that brought superheroes back from the verge of extinction. Lee and Kirby completely revolutionized the way people thought about superheroes, a revolution that has continued to dominate the industry for about half a century.

Kirby had a major role in the creation of a number of Marvel's most popular characters, including the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man, among others.

Back in Kirby's day, publishers were not kind to their creators. Compared to what these characters and comics were making for the publisher, the creators were paid a pittance. Creators were frequently screwed out of ownership rights.

These days, publishers now have work-for-hire agreements. These agreements state that any work created for the publisher remains the property of the publisher and the creators have no claim to the copyrights. That's all well and good, because creators are told what they can and cannot expect from the company and they agree that this is the way it is.

This wasn't the case several decades ago. The majority of Kirby's creations were done with no work-for-hire agreement, nor was he an employee of Marvel -- he was a freelance artist. Which meant everything he co-created, he owned half the rights to. In the 70s, Kirby agreed to sell his creations to Marvel. Under the law at that time, the copyrights were set to expire in 2014. A few years after this deal was made, Congress extended the time. But they added a provision that anyone who signed an agreement prior to the extension could file a termination of copyright for 2014.

Kirby is sadly, no longer with us. He died before he could see his creations returned to him (and Marvel has still not returned the majority of artwork he did for them, which is his property). Kirby's heirs are now attempting to reclaim the characters on his behalf.

Now here is the part where I get angry. Not at Marvel or Disney -- they're doing exactly what was expected of them. They're trying to fight the Kirby estate, and I imagine it'll eventually end in a settlement where Kirby's heirs receive royalties for his creations.

No, what makes me angry is the attitude of the so-called "fans." Look at the comment section of almost any web article which discusses this legal battle. It's absolutely disgusting the way people are standing up and defending Marvel and Disney's right to screw over creators. Some of the common complaints I've heard is that the Kirby heirs are greedy bastards, that they don't deserve a single cent because they didn't create the characters, and that they're only trying to get the copyrights now because of the success of the Marvel movies.

First off, on the latter -- that's absolutely ridiculous. The Kirbys waited until now because they had no choice! This was the earliest they could take action, according to the law. They are not exploiting any loophole in the law, they are exercising a right specifically provided by Congress for a situation like this.

Second, the idea that the Kirbys are greedy and that they don't deserve anything. I wonder, how many of these people who are spouting this nonsense have received some kind of an inheritance from lost relatives? How many of them will receive an inheritance after the death of family in the future? Those two combined, I imagine somewhere in the range of about 100%.

Now, how many of them have gone to their loved ones and said, "I know you're planning to put me in your will. But I don't want to be there. I didn't do anything to earn what you want to give me, I didn't do anything to deserve it. No, instead you know who really deserves it? It's not me, nor is it anyone in our family. The only ones who really deserve it are your employers."

Doesn't this sound like an absolutely ridiculous statement? Well, that's what these people expect the Kirbys to act like. And I bet if you asked any of these morons if they've either done this or plan to do this, they'd laugh at you and call you insane.

As a creator, I hope that my creations outlive me. And if that happens, I want my heirs to inherit the rights and to continue to profit from my creations after I die. And if someone should try to stand in the way of that, like Marvel and Disney are currently doing with the Kirby estate, I fully expect my heirs to act in the exact same fashion as Kirby's family and to fight those greedy bastards tooth and nail until they get what they rightfully deserve.

The Kirbys are asking for what Jack was promised -- a percentage of ownership and royalties. That's it. But that's not good enough for Marvel or Disney, they want it all. All those millions of dollars generated by these characters? Marvel and Disney don't want to share a single cent.

More than that, these so-called "fans" and their disrespect for one of the greatest legends in comic book history is nothing short of disgusting. The simple fact is this -- these "fans" are the ones who are really greedy. They are so scared that if the Kirbys get even a shred of what they're owed, that means the comics and the movies will stop. And that's all these people really care about -- how this will affect them.  They don't care that this is what Kirby would have wanted, that he spent his later years fighting Marvel to retain what was rightfully his. All they care about is how this will affect them.

So, who's the real greedy party here with delusions of entitlement? I'll give you a hint -- it ain't the Kirbys.