Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Gift For Writers

I'm not ready to come back yet. I'm better, but not quite there.

The insurance company totaled my Explorer. I purchased a new car yesterday--a Toyota. My hand and forearm are encased in a Kelly green cast. (If I have to wear the thing, by God, I'm going to flaunt it).

My biggest remaining obstacle is the nightmares. Every time I fall asleep, I see that 18-wheeler coming at me. The medications just make it worse.

So, I found my own solution. I'm re-reading my favorite horror stories just before bedtime, hoping to crowd the semi-trucks out with vampires, ghosts and goblins.

I started with Stephen King's Salem's Lot. It took three nights for the ghoulies to do their work. I welcomed them in my dreams because I recognized them as MINE.

By the third night, I could sleep for almost three hours before waking up screaming. Last night, I did three hours twice--separated by a two-hour reading break.

That's when I began Night Shift, the 1977 short story collection by King. The book contains a couple of my favorite King short stories ("The Mangler" and "One for the Road.")

I'd long since forgotten that the introduction to the book was written by John D. MacDonald, who was a grand master of the MWA. MacDonald's Travis McGee was one of my teenage heroes.

Here's a portion of his comments in the intro:

If you want to write, you write.

The only way to learn to write is by writing...

Stephen King always wanted to write and he writes...

Because that is the way it is done.

Because there is no other way to do it. Not one other way.

Compulsive diligence is almost enough. But not quite. You have to have a taste for words. Gluttony. You have to want to roll in them. You have to read millions of them written by other people.

You read everything with grinding envy or weary contempt. You save the most contempt for the people who conceal ineptitude with long words, Germanic sentence structure, obtrusive symbols, and no sense of story, pace or character.

Then you have to start knowing yourself so well that you begin to know other people. A piece of us is in every person we can ever meet.

Okay, then. Stupendous diligence, plus word-love, plus empathy, and out of that can come, painfully, some objectivity...

Having been around twice as long as Stephen King, I have a little more objectivity about my work than he has about his.

It comes so painfully and so slowly.

You send books out into the world and it is very hard to shuck them out of the spirit. They are tangled children, trying to make their way in spite of the handicaps you have imposed on them...

Diligence, word-lust, empathy equal growing objectivity and then what?

Story. Story. Dammit, story!

Story is something happening to someone you have been led to care about.

Without author intrusion.

Author intrusion is: 'My God, Mama, look how nice I'm writing!'

Another kind of intrusion is a grotesquerie. Here is one of my favorites...'His eyes slid down the front of her dress.'

Author intrusion is a phrase so inept the reader suddenly realizes he is reading, and he backs out of the story. He is shocked out of the story.

Another author intrusion is the mini-lecture embedded in the story. This is one of my most grievous failings.

...the main thing is the story.

One is led to care.

MacDonald will be dead twenty-one years next month. I mourned his passing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Finally . . . The Kindle

I know I said I was going on sabbatical, but that was before Jeff Bezos got off his buttocks.

On Thursday, rumors began to surface that Amazon is finally about to unveil its Kindle e-reader.

CNET News announced Bezos, Amazon's CEO, will make the announcement at the W Hotel in New York's Union Square.

The New York Times reports the following:

"The Kindle is equipped with a Wi-Fi connection that taps into an Amazon e-book store, which users can access to purchase new electronic books--and Amazon has reportedly signed onto a deal with Sprint for EVDO access. Additionally, the device comes with a headphone jack for audiobooks, as well as an e-mail address.

But the source said the Kindle apparently won't bear many other BlackBerry-like features such as a calendar or address book. The Kindle may also lack a backlight...

The final price of the Kindle is expected to be $399, which is consistent with rumors and earlier reports. The industry source also added that Amazon had been looking to ink a deal for the launch so a hot book title could be bundled with the e-book reader.

This marks a major launch for Amazon. According to the source, Bezos has held this project very close, delaying it for more than a year to perfect the details."

Knowing Bezos' willingness to cut prices in order to attract volume (remember Harry Potter?), I'm betting he will offer early purchasers free downloads to several bestsellers.

I went to and did a search for Kindle. I pulled up 118,134 matches. I only looked at the first ten pages (120 matches). Eighty-three of the 120 were empty placeholders. By page 8, there were nothing but empty slots...placeholders for what?

If that means Amazon will offer 118,000 Kindle compatible books and magazines, it will be one hell of a launch. It needs to be. I've been posting about this reader for more than a year,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taking A Break

This blog is taking a sabbatical. This morning, I had a confrontation with an eighteen-wheeler. It left both me and my Explorer worse for wear.

My left hand is broken, and I'll be shopping for a new car.

I will be offline for at least a week.

Look for me to return around December 1.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Judith Regan Drops The Other Shoe

On Wednesday, the media was filled with the news that Judith Regan has filed a $100 million lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against her former employers at HarperCollins.

The introduction to the lawsuit says, "This action arises from a deliberate smear campaign orchestrated by one of the world's largest media conglomerates for the sole purpose of destroying one woman's credibility and reputation. This campaign was necessary to support News Corp.'s political agenda, which has long centered on protecting Rudy Giuliani's presidential ambitions."

Talk about starting off with a hook guaranteed to interest your readers.

In case you've forgotten who Judith Regan is, she's the publisher who put together the deal for If I Did It, O.J. Simpson's book, along with proposing a Fox television show to promote the book. The public outcry over the book and the TV special was so great that News Corporation's HarperCollins cancelled both and subsequently fired Regan.

You can read my post about Regan's firing here along with a later post here about HarperCollins' dismantling of ReganBooks, Judith's imprint.

This shoe took a really long time to fall. The Wall Street Journal ran a story last December 18th, reporting that Regan had hired Hollywood attorney Bert Fields to sue her former employers for unlawfully firing her.

Fields is no stranger to the spotlight. According to Wikipedia, he represented "Jeffrey Katzenberg in landmark action against Disney and obtained multi-million dollar judgement for George Harrison against his former business manager...Fields also represented Michael Jackson during contract talks with Sony Music in the early 1990s, as well as during the 1993 child molestation allegations..."

According to, The reason given for Regan's firing was anti-Jewish comments she made during a telephone conversation with HarperCollins' lawyer Mark Jackson, "who took notes."

Regan's newly filed lawsuit takes a different view. She accuses three defendants, including Murdoch's News Corporation and HarperCollins Publishers, of smearing her to advance the Murdoch political agenda and protect Rudy Giuliani.

I doubt it's an accident that Regan chose this moment to file her lawsuit. It's now almost exactly a year before the next presidential election. A week ago today Regan's ex-lover, Bernard Kerik, former police commissioner under Rudolph Giuliani, was indicted on sixteen federal charges ranging from official corruption to theft of services to tax evasion.

Giuliani appointed Kerik police commissioner on August 21, 2000, and Kerik left office at the end of Giuliani's term on December 31, 2001. In 2001, the married Kerik began a year-long affair with Regan while the two were working on his memoir, The Lost Son, which was published in that same year. The affair was still ongoing during the 9/11 attack on New York. One of the more salacious details that came out later was that the couple had used an apartment overlooking Ground Zero, which had been donated for use of the relief workers, as their love nest.

The affair was long over by December 4, 2004 when Kerik was nominated by President Bush to be U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. Kerik withdrew his name from consideration a week later, after it was discovered he had hired an undocumented worker as a nanny.

Regan's lawsuit claims that her employers at HarperCollins and News Corporation knew about her affair with Kerik and wanted to protect Giuliani's chances to become president. “In fact, a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.”

In a New York Times story published the day the lawsuit was filed, it's reported that "One of Ms. Regan’s lawyers, Brian C. Kerr of the firm of Dreier L.L.P., said she had evidence to support her claim that she had been advised to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Mr. Kerik and who might have sought to question her about their romantic involvement."

In actuality, the Giuliani/Kerik claims are a very small part of the lawsuit. Think of them as the attention-getters. Ms. Regan has spent twenty years in the publishing industry and knows the value of publicity. The timing of the lawsuit immediately following Kerik's indictment guarantees maximum public attention.

A year ago, The New York Times reported, "Legal scholars and prominent litigators said that proving libel is extremely difficult, but it opens the door to a public airing of the litigants’ private affairs."

You can browse Regan's 75-page filing here courtesy of The New York Times.

She names three defendents: HarperCollins Publishers, their parent News Corporation and Jane Friedman, to whom Regan reported.

Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If You're Thinking About Self-Publishing

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg had another column on the publishing industry in yesterday's Wall Street Journal . This time he took on self-publishing.

Trachtenberg examines the case of C. Ben Bosah, an environmental engineer living in central Ohio. Mr. Bosah, who was born and educated in Nigeria, is married to Ngozi Osuagwu, a gynecologist. Ms. Osuagwu wrote a non-fiction book called Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice From a Gynecologist. Instead of seeking an agent or publisher, Mr. Bosah decided to self-publish his wife's book.

"Mr. Bosah's lack of familiarity with the publishing world didn't worry him -- but it should have. Despite his determination and hard work, he made a succession of mistakes, from failing to line up a distributor before publication to selecting a title for the book that limited the potential readership."

Trachtenberg talks about the self-publishing business today. "To launch their careers, most fledgling authors these days turn to Internet businesses that offer print-on-demand services. The appeal is that authors only have to print the number of copies they actually need -- they can even order just a single copy -- rather than having to store cartons of unsold books."

Mr. Bosah hired an artist named Lesley Ehlers to design the book cover, but ignored her advice about the industry. Ms Ehlers recommended the Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Co. as one she had worked with before, but also suggested an initial print run of only 5,000 books. "'You could always reprint,' she says."

"A sales representative at Maple-Vail urged a similar strategy, but Mr. Bosah placed an order for 15,398 books. He now says he knew this was a lot of books, but printing that many allowed him to set a retail hardcover price of only $16.95, just slightly more than the $15 or so that Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc. and other top publishers charge for quality paperbacks."

The book was published in April, 2006, but because Mr. Bosah had not arranged for a book distributor before its release, most bookstores refused to stock it. Mr. Bosah and his wife were forced to handsell the book wherever they could. When Mr. Bosah managed to get an article in the Columbus Dispatch, readers were unable to locate copies of the book in local bookstores.

Like many newbies, Mr. Bosah put the book for sale on with the expectation that this would promote sales. However, without buzz to drive readers to look for the book, there weren't many sales.

Mr. Bosah failed to send galleys to places like Publishers Weekly or The Library Journal for early reviews. And he didn't get blurbs from well-known medical people, which might have lent the book credence.

"Even the title Mr. Bosah picked for the book ultimately limited its appeal, he now believes. The word "sisters" was meant to convey the universality of the book's subject material. However, many potential readers associated it solely with black women. A more basic title, "Letters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice From a Gynecologist" might have attracted a larger audience..."

Despite all this, things are looking up for the book. He finally found a distributor, and the book is now in 190 stores owned by Borders. The book also was a finalist in an award offered by the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Mr. Bosah claims to have recouped the $40,000 or so he spent on producing the book.

I think the most telling thing about the WSJ article is its title: "Writing the Book on Self-Help: A Publisher's Cautionary Tale."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Maybe The Pope Was Just Having a Bad Day

I make no secret of my blue collar background. I'm Italian (second generation American) and Irish (sixth generation). With a background like that, Catholicism comes along for the ride. I spent my elementary years in parochial school--until my family moved from New Jersey to Florida.

By age eleven, I didn't have much going for me, but I'd learned that doing well in school was a way to get the attention I craved. Books were also a safe escape from our chaotic household so I did a lot of reading outside of school.

When my sixth grade history class skated past the Spanish Inquisition without a mention, I raised the issue, confident I'd be praised for my juvenile erudition. Instead Sister Mary Catherine slapped me down.

Convinced she'd misunderstood (or had perhaps missed that chapter of history) I pursued the matter...and got myself sent to the principal's office for my trouble. When I didn't do any better with Father Meara, I began to smell a conspiracy.

Our family's "instability" had made me a miniature control freak, and the idea that I might be missing other important parts of history alarmed me. What else weren't they telling me? For this reason, when we moved to Florida, I decided it was time to make a clean break from parochial school.

Give my father's uncertain temper, this was a huge (and risky) decision, but I was willing to suffer for the promise of intellectual freedom. I sounded Mom out first, and ran into a brick wall. To this day, my mother believes the Church can do no wrong.

I grimly accepted that I'd have to take my cause directly to my father, the scariest man I knew.

On the morning my parents took me and my younger brother to St. Jude's to enroll us in sixth and fourth grade respectively, I simply refused to cooperate.

Looking back, I now suspect I had an ace in the hole I didn't realize I held. Parochial school for two kids is expensive, and my parents had just bought a new house and spent a bunch of money moving the five of us from New Jersey.

To my shock and my mother's horror, instead of knocking me into next month, my father agreed to enroll us (my poor brother went along for the ride) in public school.

Mom was furious, but it didn't matter. Daddy made the decisions.

That single event began a long, slow alienation from the Church. Within the year, when my brother became an altar boy (Mom was determined to keep him close to God) the paternalistic putdown of females began to grate on me. Why weren't there altar girls?

When I went away to college, I visited the health clinic and started on birth control pills. Not because I had plans to bonk every boy in sight, but because my cycles were wildly out of control and needed regulating. When I mentioned the pills to my priest during confession, he told me I was damning my soul. He didn't want to listen to my female health complaints. His universe was black-and-white. Take those pills and go to hell.

There's a passage in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that reads:

"I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell'."

It's been years since that priest refused me absolution for a sin I hadn't even committed. In the intervening time, other, more moderate priests suggested my conscience should be the ultimate arbiter of my behavior. I had long since reached the same conclusion.

Even so, I still find myself grieving for the Church I wish I had.

In the same way I am appalled by George Bush's cavalier approach to the Constitution, I am dismayed by the Catholic Church's inability to reconcile itself to the realities of life.

I'm not arguing with the word of God. I'm arguing with the word of man. Maybe Pope Gregory was just having a bad day when he decreed pleasure suspect (it "befouls" intercourse). And God wasn't the one who decided priests and nuns needed to be celibate. Man did. Mainly because if priests had children, they might try to bequeath Church property to their offspring.

I bring all this up here because of an ABC News item yesterday:

A 79-year-old nun has pleaded no contest to two counts of indecent behavior with a child for incidents involving male students at a Milwaukee elementary school where she was principal in the 1960s.

It just hurts my heart.

Monday, November 12, 2007

No Country For Old Men

I've always been drawn to dark humor and have never shied away from violence in books or films. The Coen Brothers understand people like me. They made No Country For Old Men for us.

On Saturday, I talked about the impression the Coen Brothers' first film, Blood Simple, made on me twenty-two years ago.

This new film brings the brothers back to Texas. Like the international border the state straddles, the people in No Country negotiate the line between naive dreams and gritty reality, between honesty and dishonesty and--ultimately--between living a good life or dying a bad death.

Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss, a good ole boy living in a trailer with his wife Carla Jean. While he is out hunting one day, Llewelyn comes across the remains of a drug deal that went really, really bad. He finds dead men, drugs, guns...and $2 million in cash he decides to take.

This scene sets up the shaky ethical line Llewelyn walks. One of the drug dealers is still breathing. The welder is morally ambiguous enough to steal the money, but not bad enough to finish off the wounded Mexican. Had he done so, the rest of the story might never have occurred.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff in whose county the drug deal went down. No one does world weary as well as Jones. Sheriff Bell comes from a line of lawmen who have seen the evil that men can do. Even so, his growing dismay and alarm floods every frame in which he appears. His goal is to save Llewlyn from himself.

Finally, there is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the man sent to find the $2 million. At first glance, his Prince Valiant haircut and stony demeanor make him a figure of amusement. Viewers are quickly disabused.

Every time Chigurh appears, you can almost feel the breeze from the slaughterhouse. The only film villain I can think of who scared me as badly was Hannibal Lector. And Lector had a sense of humor that lightened his character. Chigurh has none. The closest I can come to describing him is The Terminator. Chigurh has that same relentless, humorless, nothing-can-stop-me air.

It was a while before it dawned on me that there was no music track for the movie. The only soundtrack was that of the action itself.

The film occasionally reminded me of Blood Simple: long shots of lonely highways at night, gunshots through walls and doors.

One of the especially creepy things about Chigurh is that he doesn't carry a normal gun. He walks around with an air gun that delivers a bolt used to kill cattle. Of course, it doesn't leave brass or GSR to incriminate him. But mostly it's a part of Chigurh's "otherness," those occasional glimpses inside him that let you know he's crazier than an attic filled with rabid raccoons.

Chigurh's body count rises so quickly that even the men who hired him have second thoughts. They bring in Woody Harrelson, who plays Carson Wells, as backup. There's a scene in which his employer asks Wells, "Just how dangerous is Chigurh?" Wells responds, "Compared to what? Bubonic plague?"

Here's the trailer for the film:

I think Bardem and Jones will be fighting each other for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Brolin makes his role look so effortless I'm not sure the Academy will nominate him. The film is presently in limited release. The theater in which I saw it had about seventy-five patrons. Only seven of them were female. That worries me a little for the movie's Academy Award chances.

The stark desolation of the land around Marfa, Texas where it was shot infuses the film with a hopeless, Apocalyptic quality. I've been to Marfa and Big Bend National Park. Its vastness utterly dwarfs you.

There's a sense of inevitability about No Country For Old Men. You know Chigurh will find Llewelyn, and you wait, scarcely daring to take a breath.

My only quibble with the film was the fact that they used CGI effects for the animals that were wounded or killed. The special effects were so obvious that, in a film that was very nearly perfect, this was a jarring note.

My favorite film in 2005 was History of Violence. If you liked that movie, I suspect you'll like this one (although it has none of the erotic quality found in History of Violence). I plan to go back again when it arrives in wide release. I need some time to think about it more first.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Re-Reading Favorite Books

The British newpaper, The Guardian, had an interesting article on Friday.

The story quoted a survey that indicated 77% of readers in the UK revisit books they've read before. And the research suggests that respondents re-read their favorite books over and over. Seventeen percentage of the people responding said that they've read their favorite book more than five times.

"The survey also gives a positive spin on readers' reasons for re-reading, with 59% returning because they never tire of their favourite and 34% finding something new with each re-reading. Only eight per cent suggest that they return because they haven't read anything as good."

Here's a copy of the list of the UK's top 20 revisited reads

1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

3. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

6. 1984 by George Orwell

7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

8. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

11. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

12. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

13. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews

14. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

15. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

16. The Bible

17. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

18. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

19. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

20. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I would certainly be counted among those who re-read favorite books, and I have a long list of books I've read more than five times. Among those books are two from the above list: Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I'm not including the Bible because I don't think I've ever read it from cover to cover the way I would a novel. There are certainly sections I return to again and again--especially Psalms, the Song of Solomon and the New Testament--but there are other sections I've only read once--Numbers leaps to mind.

Among my other favorites are The Fountainhead, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the Dorothy Sayers mysteries, and single titles by Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides), Jodi Picoult (Keeping Faith), Robert B. Parker (Double Deuce) and Laurell K. Hamilton (Obsidian Butterfly). I like to read aloud Pablo Neruda's poetry, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet.

How about you? Do you have favorites you re-read again and again?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Doing The Happy Dance!!!

It's Saturday, and there's a new Coen Brothers film in theaters. What more could a girl ask?

I have been a huge fan of Joel and Ethan Coen since April, 1985, when we went to the movies for my birthday and saw Blood Simple, the Coen Brothers' first feature film. I was blown away by the dark humor, the intensity of the suspense and the fabulous editing. It was a while before I realized that Roderick Jaynes, the editor, was actually a pseudonym for Joel and Ethan.

The plot was almost deceptively simple. A bar owner in West Texas (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him. He hires a sleazy private detective to get him proof. When the PI (M. Emmet Walsh) confirms that one of the husband's bartenders is, in fact, shagging his wife, the bar owner hires the detective to kill the deceitful pair. The PI decides to do a little free lancing on his own. The resulting doublecrosses, misunderstandings and accidents would make Shakespeare proud.

Here's the trailer for Blood Simple:

Although it got some great reviews, practically no moviegoers noticed the film when it first came out. It cost $1.5 million to make, and barely grossed $2 million.

Then--almost exactly two years after I'd seen it, the Coens released their second film: Raising Arizona. This time, they had a $6 million dollar budget. To date, Raising Arizona has grossed almost $23 million.

With the release of Joel's seventh film, Fargo in 1996, the Coens' fortunes were made. The film won two Oscars and put the brothers on the map.

It's 2007, the brothers are undertaking their first book adaptation, and they're starting out ambitiously. The novel they've selected is No Country For Old Men by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Cormac McCarthy.

I'm really psyched about going. I'll let you know how I liked it later.

Norman Mailer Is Gone

My world tilted a bit this morning when I woke to learn Norman Mailer was dead.

I have never known a world in which Mailer was not alive and writing. It feels strange to be existing in a reality in which he is not out there.

No matter what you thought of Mailer as a writer or as a person, no one can argue that he was a literary force of nature.

Mailer won the Pulitzer twice and the National Book Award once.

I wish there was a literary equivalent of dimming the lights on Broadway when a theater luminary dies. Mailer certainly deserves that compliment.

What Fresh Hell Is This? Part II

Back on July 19 here, in a post labeled "What Fresh Hell Is This?" I blogged about the Dorothy Parker case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

At its heart, this is a copyright case. Attorney Stuart Silverstein put together a compilation of Dorothy Parker's previously uncollected poems into an anthology published as Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker. He approached Penguin with his compilation. When they offered him only $2,000, he took his anthology to Scribner, and the book was published in 1996.

In 1999, Penguin published another anthology and titled it Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems. Their editor admitted in depositions that she purchased Silverstein's book, cut the pages out, photocopied the poems and put them into the Penguin manuscript in chronological order. Penguin did not credit Silverstein as their source or pay him any royalties.

In 2001, Silverstein sued Penguin, claiming copyright infringement. If an editor contributes creativity beyond the original work, he can claim copyright over his arrangement of the material.

In April, 2003, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan found Penguin guilty of copyright infringement and ruled in favor of Silverstein. According to The New York Times (NYT), Keenan said Penguin's "failure to credit him 'was deliberate and not inadvertent'."

Penguin appealed and the appeals court sent the case back to Judge Keenan, asking him to rule on whether Silverstein exercised creativity in selecting the works for his compilation.

On Thursday, Judge Keenan finally ruled. According to Publishers Weekly, "[i]n his ruling, Judge Keenan found that Not Much Fun did not involve enough creativity on Silverstein’s part to merit copyright protection. 'The Court finds that Silverstein simply selected for inclusion in Not Much Fun all of the uncollected Parker poems he could find and that this collection process involved no creativity,' Keenan wrote in his decision.

Penguin has posted the 79-page ruling in a PDF file here. The publisher said the decision "is a complete vindication for Penguin, and a great victory for all publishers."

Silverstein and his attorney are still trying to decide whether they will appeal the decision.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hola, Amigos

In 2006, the United States became the third nation in history to reach a population figure of 300 million (China and India got there first). The spectacular growth of the Hispanic population was certainly a factor in achieving this milestone.

With a 3.4 percent increase between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006, Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in America.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau News, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S., with 44.3 million on July 1, 2006 — 14.8 percent of the total population. By comparison, the second-largest minority group is Black Americans, totaling 40.2 million in 2006.

Considering those statistics, there were a couple of interesting items in the news this week.

First, Morningstar reported that, during the third quarter of this year, the Spanish-speaking Univision Network out-delivered CBS, ABC and the CW to rank as the #3 network in the country in primetime among all adults 18-34 according to Nielsen’s Media Research.

Here's how the stations ranked for that all-important 18-to-34 demographic:

6 CW

In addition, Monday's Miami Herald had an interesting article titled "Publishers, Bookstores Offer More in Translation."

The story reported, "...the 2000 census and its revelations about the fast-growing Hispanic population sparked renewed interest among U.S. publishing houses in meeting the reading needs of Spanish-speakers. Many who had tried -- unsuccessfully -- to market books in Spanish in the 1990s supercharged their plans."

The release of the Spanish language edition of the thriller The Da Vinci Code accelerated publishers' interest in providing Spanish books.

"While successful Spanish-language titles in the United States typically sell between 15,000 and 20,000 books, more than 300,000 copies of El Codigo Da Vinci were scooped off bookstore shelves across the land, ushering in what some described as a new era for Spanish-language books in America."

According to the Miami Herald, most of the big publishing houses with home offices in Spain also have U.S. offices in Miami.

"The recent explosive success of El Secreto, the Spanish translation of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, opened eyes. After its June release, the self-help book almost immediately hit the top spot on the charts of Criticas magazine -- the equivalent of Publishers Weekly for Spanish books. Simon & Schuster's Atria Books has printed more than 245,000 copies in anticipation of a mega-hit by Spanish-language standards."

I have a good friend who teaches Spanish and who has lived and worked in South America. She recently invited me to attend a film which won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film, Bella, was mostly notable for me in the way it blended English and Spanish almost seamlessly. Even with my limited Spanish, I was able to follow the dialogue without any difficulty. There were subtitles to help any Spanish-impaired viewers.

America has always called itself a melting pot. I enjoy watching that pot bubbling.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Closer Look At Proposed Copyright Reforms

Yesterday's post addressed the speech Gigi Sohn made at a conference in Boston on the subject of reforming U.S. copyright laws.

The lawyer/lobbyist recommended six changes to existing laws, which I'd like to discuss in detail today:

1) Fair Use Reform: Fair use permits limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders. It was intended to protect our First Amendment free speech rights. To do so, fair use allows for copyrighted material to be quoted without penalty in criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Current U.S. law provides for a four-part test by which use of material can be judged. The four-part balancing test weighs the rights of a free society against the rights of the copyright holder. It examines:

  • the purpose and character of the use (is it for commercial purposes?)
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market or value of the work

Sohn says, "I urge Congress to add incidental, transformative and non-commercial personal uses to the list of fair uses enumerated in copyright law. Congress should also expressly provide that making a digital copy for the purpose of indexing searches is not an infringement."

That last line is a reference to the type of copying for which Google is being sued by publishers and the Authors Guild. The Google BookSearch program should be viewed as the equivalent of a digital library card catalog. It provides only a few lines of the work shown along with the card catalog info and the retailers where a reader can purchase the book.

Of course, Google did not create BookSearch out of the goodness of its heart. The company is trying to increase the value of its search engine. However, it is not directly making profit from the work shown and, in fact, it is increasing the potential market value of the work shown by making it more available.

Sohn also says, "Critical to any effort to reform fair use is an amendment to the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA that would permit breaking a technological lock for lawful reasons."

2) Limits on Secondary Liability: Sohn mentions the historic Betamax case (Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 1984). In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that manufacturers of home video recording devices like VCRs could not be held liable for infringement and that consumers who made copies to timeshift when they watched a program were not infringing on copyright either. She believes that Congress should codify this decision into an actual law and says, "[s]hould a technology not meet the Sony standard, the copyright holder is still entitled to actual damages if they can prove that there has been financial harm."

3) Protections Against Copyright Abuse: Sohn believes "Congress should legislate an affirmative cause of action for allegations of copyright abuse, and the Federal Trade Commission should declare that notices, like those used by sports leagues that overstate a copyright holder’s rights are unfair and deceptive trade practices under the Federal Trade Act."

What she's saying is that those copyright holders who either "knowingly or recklessly" make a false claim of copyright infringement should be held accountable.

4) Fair and Accessible Licensing: This point relates to my earlier post of April 25 here. Sohn is specifically talking about the music industry. She believes Congress must try again to simplify the process currently in place for the industry.

However, she singles out for mention the "problem created by the Copyright Royalty Board’s recent decision to raise by 300-1200% the royalties that Internet radio services pay to record companies. The rate has now been set so high that it threatens the viability of all but the largest webcasters."

Sohn demands that Congress not treat traditional radio broadcasters differently from the digital Internet or satellite radio broadcasters. Presently traditional broadcaster enjoy lower royalty rates. She believes Congress should "set the rate across platforms of approximately 3% of gross revenues."

5) Orphan Works Reform: Our current copyright laws afford the creator of a work immediate protection once the work is fixed in a tangible medium (i.e. written on the page, or recorded on a CD). The lack of a requirement for registration makes it hard for anyone wanting to license the work to find the copyright holder. Sohn says, "[w]hen a potential user cannot find a copyright holder after a good faith effort, we consider the work to be an 'orphan' work."

While Google can help locate text, there is no good way to locate visual works since there is no registration requirement. Sohn believes Congress should support a 2005 proposal by the Copyright Office "that anyone who does a reasonable search for the owner of a copyright but nonetheless cannot find them should only be liable for 'reasonable compensation' should the copyright owner resurface."

Of all Sohn's proposals, this one troubles me the most. I can see a lot of opportunity for scamming. She does say that Congress should "open the door to the creation of a new registry that should greatly benefit visual artists."

I think a lot of work would need to be done to define what constitutes a "reasonable search" before I would be in favor of this proposal.

6) Notice of Technological and Contractual Restrictions on Digital Media : Finally, Sohn wants to eliminate all those pages of fine print that no one can be bothered to read.

She says, "copyright holders should be required to provide clear and simple notice of any technological or contractual limitations on users’ ability to make fair or otherwise lawful uses of their products. This gives the purchaser the information she needs to decide whether or not to purchase the product." Sohn con-tinues, "failure to notify a purchaser of a copy protected CD, for example, should be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice under the Federal Trade Act."

I think--for the most part--Sohn's proposals are thoughtful and reasonable. Congress should pay attention.

It's Time To Reform The Copyright Laws

On October 26, 2007, the Boston University School of Law sponsored a day-long conference titled “New Media and the Marketplace of Ideas.” Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the non-profit Public Knowledge was one of the featured speakers. According to their website here, Public Knowledge is a public interest group focused on issues related to the "emerging digital culture." I'm pretty sure that's lawyer-speak for lobbyist.

Sohn presented a very interesting viewpoint on the state of copyright in America today. The central argument of her talk was that "copyright law has become out of touch with our technological reality to the detriment of creators and the public...For the past 35 years, the trend has been nearly unmitigated expansion of the scope and duration of copyright, resulting in a clear mismatch between the technology and the law."

She complains that copyright laws have tightened in recent decades in a manner diametrically opposed to advances in technology. She cites four specific trends:

  • Copyright protections has become longer and easier to get
  • The subject matter of copyright has greatly expanded
  • Secondary copyright liability has expanded and damages have increased
  • "Paracopyright” laws like the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, have limited access to and use of digital content by preventing the breaking of digital locks regardless of the reason for doing so

As an example of the problems inherent in existing copyright law, Sohn points to the lawsuits brought against Google by book publishers and the Authors Guild over the Google Book Search program:

Book Search allows anybody to search for passages contained in books that are part of Google’s system. When the search is completed, and if the book is under copyright, a user sees only the relevant passage plus two or three lines before and after it for context. The user is also given links to an online bookstore in the event the user wishes to purchase the book. In order to do such a search, Google must scan the books and index digital copies, much in the same way that it copies and indexes websites. The book publishers argue that by making a digital copy of an entire book without their permission, Google is violating their copyrights, even if the whole book is never visible to the user. If the court sides with the authors, then all of search may be in peril — as all search engines must make digital copies of websites in order to index information. Imagine if Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN had to get prior permission from every single webpage owner whose works they link to!

I have written numerous posts over the past two years saying what a mistake I thought these lawsuits against Google were, most recently on April 27th here.

Sohn gets down to business in the second half of her speech. She offers six recommendations, which she describes as "modest changes to the copyright law that will help return some badly needed balance and relax some of the more onerous restrictions that have limited innovation, scholarship, creativity and free speech. "

The six changes are:

1) Fair use reform

2) Limits on secondary liability

3) Protections against copyright abuse

4) Fair and accessible licensing

5) Orphan works reform

6) Notice of technological and contractual restrictions on digital media

You can go here to read her actual speech or return to this blog tomorrow where I'll discuss the six reforms she is proposing.

At the least, Sohn's recommendations are provoking much needed discussion on the problems inherent in the current copyright law. Those laws were written at a time when print was the dominant media being protected. It's time that Congress recognize that updates are badly needed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On Query Letters And Themes

I belong to several writers' loops and, every week, I receive at least a couple of requests from newbie writers asking me to read their queries.

Recently, it's felt as though someone is churning these query letters out on an assembly line. This is what I mean:

_________________ (novel name) is a journey of ________________ (discovery, redemption, forgiveness) in which _________________ (main character's name) learns to ________________ (accept, overcome, look beyond, triumph over) _________________ (adversity, a tortured past, fears, disability, ugly rumors).

I ask you, beyond the title of the book and the main character's name, what does the above tell you about the manuscript?

Absolutely nothing.

I usually send the writer an email in which I say (as kindly as I can), "I'm sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what your book is about. And if I can't tell, an agent won't be able to either. You're going to have to get a lot more specific in your description."

Invariably, I get an email back, explaining that the writer was describing "the manuscript's theme."

I appreciate books with themes as much as the next gal. However, I need to know that the theme is accompanied by a PLOT. Theme alone ain't gonna hack it.

If you need further convincing, check out Jessica Faust's post on BookEnds here. In giving feedback to a writer, Jessica said, "Few readers care what the theme of a book is. We don’t buy a book based on themes. We buy because we’re looking for a riveting plot and engaging characters."

Listen to her. Put some active verbs into those query letters. Get specific. Tell us that Grandpa began smuggling prescription drugs into the U.S. to help his neighbors in the nursing home--without telling his son, the customs agent. Or that while trying to impress a cheerleader, Tim Macklin gave her kid brother a stray puppy--that just happened to be a vampire. Make us want to know what happened.

Yesterday, Nathan Bransford said he received 81 query letters and requested four partials. That's only 5%.

If you think that's bad, take a look at Jonathan Lyon's blog. Jonathan says he read over 200 queries and requested two partials. That's only 1%.

Re-read your query. Is it vague? If so, start over. And this time be specific.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Presidential Medal of Honor

Today, at the White House, winners of the Presidential Medal of Honor will be presented their awards. Among the eight winners are:

  • Gary Becker, economist, Nobel laureate, and author of The Economics of Discrimination: A Treatise on the Family and The Economics of Life
  • Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God
  • Brian Lamb, co-founder of C-Span and host of Booknotes on Book TV from 1989-2004
  • Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

Writers Guild of America Goes On Strike

From Reuters:

The members of the union's East Coast arm went on strike at the designated deadline of 12:01 a.m. EST. Their West Coast counterparts followed them three hours later.

The East Coast walkout led to the collapse of 10-hour-long talks in Los Angeles between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios...

The WGA, which represents roughly 12,000 screenwriters, said it withdrew its demand for a higher royalty payment on DVDs, a demand that the AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers] had last week described as a "complete roadblock to any further progress." But it said the studios refused to budge on such issues as payment for Internet downloads and streaming video.

As I reported here, the first to feel the pinch will be the late night television shows where the monologues are written daily. Jay Leno has already announced his show would immediately begin running reruns.

Although sitcoms have stockpiled shows, they are likely to be the next to feel the impact of the strike.

Expect to see more reality programming pop up [Ugh!] as those shows do not require writers.

Stay tuned...

Missing in Action

I don't often succumb to the blues, but today was one of those days. I'm having difficulty writing without Tribble in her usual place beside my computer on the desk.

I have an ARC for which I need to write a review; it's the new
Peter Robinson Inspector Bates mystery. This one is called
Friend of the Devil and is due to be released in January. I'm
about 20% through it.

After finding myself unable to write or to read this afternoon, I whiled away some time watching video clips on YouTube. I came across one that caught my attention. It was a very old one (maybe thirty years old) of torch singer Jane Olivor.

I'm a fan of Olivor's. I was introduced to her music by an older friend, and I have a number of her CDs.

Olivor got her start singing in small clubs in and around New York City in the seventies. Although she was an admirer of Edith Piaf and wanted to model her style on Piaf, she was probably more often compared to Barbra Streisand. Like Streisand, who was five years older, Olivor was Jewish, from Brooklyn and found her earliest success among gay audiences.

Columbia Records took notice of her, and Olivor released two albums in the mid-seventies: First Night and Chasing Rainbows.
I just checked Best Buy and found that both are still available on CD. She released another three albums before disappearing from sight in the early eighties.

Two things derailed Olivor's career. First, like Carly Simon, she suffered from an almost paralyzing stage fright. And, second, her husband contracted cancer. His death in 1986 led to a depression that--combined with the stage fright--kept her from performing.

Interestingly enough, her fanbase remained loyal enough that she was able to stage a comeback. In the fall of 2000, she released her first studio album in more than twenty years. Four years later, Columbia released The Best of Jane Olivor.

Although I rarely get blue, I almost always play Olivor's CDs when I am blue. A coincidence prompted this post. While I was moping around on YouTube this afternoon, I had First Night playing on the stereo. Olivor did a cover of Don McLean's Vincent on that CD. Since I had just posted a video of the song with my post on van Gogh, I did a YouTube search for Olivor. To my surprise, I found fourteen video clips.

The clips weren't great quality, but I found one of my favorite songs--Carousel of Love--so I'm posting the link here tonight.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A One-Two Punch By Google

On Thursday morning here, I reported that Microsoft had purchased a stake in Facebook and that Google had responded
by announcing a new technology they are calling OpenSocial.
Google's new common standard will make it easier for devel-
opers to write applications that can work across different social networks. Google initially announced twelve social networking
or developer partners.

Since my post, the Los Angeles Times (LAT) reported on Friday that giant MySpace--the #1 social network--will become one of OpenSocial's partners using the new technology:

The standard is a boon for small outfits, which no longer need to customize their programs for each site. A developer could, for example, create a software widget that would let MySpace users book travel plans, and put that widget on other participating sites as well.

The alliance is a counterpunch to the momentum of fast-growing Facebook, which has been fueled by thousands of new programs added by developers since the Palo Alto-based social network opened up its site in May.

I went back to my favorite website for statistics, Compete, to find the attached chart, which lists the top social networking websites as of April, 2007:

Of the top ten social networking websites listed above, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster have already signed on as Google partners.

The LA Times points out that Microsoft's deal with Facebook and Google's aligning with MySpace "now pits two of the largest five U.S. companies by market value squarely against each other on yet another front. 'Everybody is lining up, picking sides and buying weapons,' analyst Rob Enderle said. 'This is going to be bloody for a while. The battle for the social networking space is going to be hard fought'."

One interesting item. The Times article indicated that "Google said all social networks had been invited to take part in the OpenSocial network. 'Nobody is excluded,' Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said. But a Facebook spokeswoman said the company had not been briefed."

I suspect this is a case of parsing the word "briefed." I can't imagine a scenario in which Google executives, who were hotly vying with Microsoft to buy a stake in Facebook, would not have tried to sweeten the pot for Facebook by saying, "Hey, we've got this neat technology we're getting ready to unveil, and you'd have first crack at it." Methinks Facebook is being less than honest.

MySpace currently boasts 110 million users. Although Facebook only has 50 million users currently, its momentum is stronger. It has been growing at a rate of a million users a week according to the LA Times. One of the reasons it has been growing so fast is that it offers a host of free software programs to its users.

"But Facebook's approach is in stark contrast to the one taken by Google and its partners. Facebook requires developers to use its proprietary software language to write programs. With Google's OpenSocial, developers now have the option of using a common language for many social networks. The biggest Facebook devel-
opers, including Slide, RockYou, iLike and Flixter, have all said they plan to do so." (LAT)

One thing I'm certain of. These are only the opening salvos in the Social Networking Wars.

Stay tuned for more...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another Look at van Gogh

The wonderful thing about art is that each person is free to find that which s/he admires. I've already outed myself as a huge fan of van Gogh.

While I enjoy the pretty landscapes and garden florals, the two paintings below are the ones that speak to me.

Van Gogh painted Starry Night over the Rhone in September 1888 while he was still living in Arles and before his downward spiral into madness and depression.

I've read religious interpretations of this painting. Most focus
on the presence of the eleven stars and point to Genesis 37:9:

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren,
and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to

Interestingly enough, I find van Gogh expressing a larger focus
on man than on God here. Notice how bright the lights of the city
are when compared to the stars in the painting and how the reflection of those lights dominates the water.

Another difference between this painting and the more famous The Starry Night is the presence of humans. Note the couple walking together at the forefront of the canvas.

To me, this painting speaks of connectedness both to man and to the greater universe.

By contrast, the painting Corridor in the Asylum was probably painted eight months later, in late May of 1889, during van Gogh's hospitalization in Saint Rémy de Provence.

The difference between the first painting and this one is astounding to me. Here, despite the bright colors, I feel the isolation and loneliness of Saint Rémy. Depression already had a firm grip on van Gogh; he would be dead in another fourteen months.

For one man to be able to express both ends of the continuum of emotion so capably evokes my admiration.

And it evoked admiration in his contempories. While van Gogh never knew popular success in his lifetime, he certainly was a respected member of the artistic community. The National Gallery of Art has this this say in its brochure:

More than a century after his death, Vincent van Gogh has become a legend. So many myths surround his name today that his major place in the development of modern art is often overshadowed. Despite his turbulent life, Van Gogh pursued throughout his career a clear artistic goal: to create images of great emotional intensity based on a careful study of the effects of color and composition.

Notwithstanding the clichés that endure in the popular imagination, Van Gogh was neither a mad genius, nor a starving, misunderstood artist. His art belonged to the avant-garde of his time, and as such was not accepted by the public at large; but Van Gogh had the support of an entire circle of friends, artists, and the end of his short career his paintings were exhibited in several major group shows in Paris and Brussels.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened had van Gogh lived another twenty or thirty years. His adaptability and interest in the work of other artists makes me believe he would have reinvented his style yet again.

Thanks to his many, many letters to family and friends, we know a lot about Vincent van Gogh. Even so, his paintings speak for themselves.

Paint Your Palette Blue and Gray

Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to live a hundred years ago? Or what it might have been like to know someone famous before he or she became known?

I do. I sometimes wonder about the lives of writers and other artists whose names are immediately recognizable today, but
who were anonymous during their lifetimes. I wonder what they experienced, struggling to pursue their art in the face of indif-
ference and rejection. It takes single-mindedness and mental toughness to believe in yourself when no one else does.

Tonight I find myself thinking about Vincent van Gogh. He did
not earn the recognition he deserved while he lived. In fact, legend has it that he only sold one painting during his lifetime--The Red Vineyard, which he painted 119 years ago this week. Here it is:

Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands. His father was a Protestant pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church. Vincent himself was a preacher for a time as well as an art dealer. Religion and art were themes played over and over in his life.

Young Vincent had difficulty finding himself. He lost his job as an art dealer because of his complaints to the customers about the commercialization of art. He was fired from his job as a minister because the church authorities were upset by his insistence on living like his poverty-stricken flock. By the time he was 27, his father was already considering committing him to a lunatic asylum.

Vincent's younger brother Theo, an art dealer, encouraged him to become a painter (and financially supported that effort throughout both men's lifetimes). Van Gogh attended classes at the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. His earliest paintings were dark and somber portraits of the peasants and miners he'd lived among.

At age 33, van Gogh moved to Paris where he became interested in the work of the Impressionists. During two years in Paris, he painted over 200 oils. In 1888, at age 35, he moved to the south of France where he painted many of the colorful canvases we now immediately recognize.

Vincent convinced the artist Gauguin to join him in the country, but after a violent argument with his friend, van Gogh cut off part of his own left ear in remorse. He was first hospitalized and then institutionalized in an asylum. From that point on, his mental stability was unreliable although he painted furiously during his moments of lucidity. His famous work The Starry Night was completed during this time as well as his paintings of cypress and olive trees. In the 70-day period before his death in 1890, he painted 70 oils.

On July 27, 1890, at the age of 37, Vincent van Gogh walked into a field and shot himself. He died two days later.

Van Gogh produced 750 paintings and 1600 drawings during his brief career. Legend has it that his last painting was Wheatfield With Crows. While the ominous oil was certainly among his last works, it's unlikely this was the last one.

There are many theories as to the nature of van Gogh's illness. He suffered from malnutrition--when his brother sent him money, he'd spend it on art supplies rather than food. He was a heavy smoker and drank a lot of absinthe. Speculation also includes the possibility that he suffered from syphilis (which killed Theo six months after Vincent's death), lead poisoning (lead was an ingredient in paint), or epilepsy.

In one of his letters to Theo, Vincent wrote, "Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily in order to express myself exaggerate the essential and to leave the obvious vague."

Take a few minutes to view this video of van Gogh's work, accompanied by Don McLean's 1971 tribute to the artist, titled Vincent. Keep in mind all of these paintings were completed in the five-year period from 1885 to 1890.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Writers' Strike Update (6:00 AM CST)

This from the Associated Press on Friday morning:

Writers Guild of America President Patric Verrone drew loud cheers when he announced in closed-door session Thursday night that the union could strike as early as Sunday, several writers told The Associated Press.

However, guild officials said privately the strike would most likely start on Monday.

The WGA board was to meet Friday morning to approve the strike and set a time for the first picket lines. A strike captains' meeting was set for Saturday morning.

Union leaders said they would delay the action if producers showed movement in contract negotiations — especially on the key issue of paying writers when TV episodes are sold or streamed over the Internet.

Writers' Strike Looms in Hollywood

Back on May 15th here, I warned the witching hour was approaching.

I reported that the three-year contract between the Hollywood studios and writers was scheduled to expire on October 31. Then, next year, the contract between the studios and actors and directors also runs out.

According to the Associated Press, "Both the WGA (Writers Guild of America) and Screen Actors Guild elected new leaders after the current contracts were signed who have promised to get tougher with studios."

The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that a federal mediator, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, joined the negotiations on Tuesday. The hope was that the mediator would be able to keep the writers working past the ending of the contract at midnight on Wednesday instead of striking.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "[N]umerous issues are keeping the two sides far apart. At the top of the list is the question of how to pay writers for use of their work when it is distributed on the Internet and via other digital media. The guild is also seeking to renegotiate DVD residual payments its members receive."

If the writers were to strike, there would be a domino effect with television being hit the hardest. Those shows that are written daily, like the late night shows, would be the first to feel the impact. It was no accident that Jay Leno made numerous references to a potential strike during his opening monologue last night. If the writers strike, he and his late night counterparts (Letterman, Kimmel, O'Brien) would all have to start showing reruns immediately.

"Next to suffer would be situation comedies and soap operas, which producers estimate could provide new episodes for around a month with the scripts that have already been written. Producers of scripted dramas, which take the longest to film and are written the furthest in advance, predict they will be able to provide the networks with new episodes through the critical February sweeps period, when advertising rates are set." (WSJ)

The last domino to fall would be the film industry, which operates with the longest schedule. Thursday's edition of "All Things Considered" on NPR reported that movies wouldn't feel the impact of a writers' strike until 2009.

NPR did mention two wild cards, however. The first is the Teamsters who are "very key players here." They are encouraging their members not to cross picket lines. This would be a huge help to the writers' cause because if the Teamsters refused to work in Hollywood the effect "would be felt instantly." The LA Times agreed with this assessment, pointing out that "Teamsters Local 399...represents 4,500 truck drivers, casting directors and location managers."

The second wild card is the other artists' unions. Word had been that the writers would wait until next June to strike because that's when the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America contracts end. Now rumors are swirling that the Directors Guild might be "cutting its own deal early — something that has happened studios the opportunity to stock up on material in anticipation of a strike." That news might lead to the writers taking action now rather than later.

There's a lot at stake. The LA Times reports: "A long walkout would inflict pain beyond Hollywood's studio gates because scores of businesses -- including hotels, restaurants, florists and dog groomers -- rely on the entertainment industry, which contributes 7% -- an estimated $30 billion annually -- to Los Angeles County's $442-billion economy." The last big strike occurred in 1988 when the writers struck for 22 weeks and cost an estimated $500 million.

Yesterday's LA Times said that a strike could be called as early as today. The chief negotiator for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is Nick Counter. He was quoted as telling the WGA negotiators: "We want to make a deal...But, as I said, no further movement is possible to close the gap between us so long as your DVD proposal remains on the table."

In response, the writers refused to meet yesterday. Ninety percent of their membership has agreed to authorize their leaders to call a strike at any time after midnight on Wednesday. There was a meeting scheduled last night for the WGA at the Los Angeles Convention center. The contract under consideration would impact approximately 12,000 writers, and a large turnout was expected at that meeting.

Industry observers were also quoted in yesterday's LA Times article. "Striking so soon carries big risks for the writers union. 'The guild would look completely unreasonable if it struck immediately, particularly since they've introduced a federal mediator,' said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment industry attorney with TroyGould in Los Angeles and a former associate counsel for the Writers Guild."

Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Clash of the (Internet) Titans

There's a lot going on with Internet giants Microsoft and Google, and the potential consequences are huge.

First, last Wednesday, Microsoft beat out Google in a competition to win a stake in Facebook. Microsoft announced it's going to buy a 1.6% stake in the social networking site. Microsoft will pay $240 million in a deal that values Facebook, which is not publicly traded, at a staggering $15 billion.

If you're not familiar with Facebook, go here to read my post of June 29th.

The Wall Street Journal said this:

The deal is rooted in an online-advertising boom that has turned Facebook into the newest Internet darling. In recent years, advertisers...that once focused their spending on TV, newspapers and other traditional media have started shifting their spending to a host of Web sites. Google has built its fortunes on that shift, and others including Microsoft are rushing in. Behind the deal also are concerns at Microsoft that social-networking sites such as Facebook might one day become the central window consumers use to access the Web.

Google didn't wait long to respond to Microsoft's victory. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported that Google is going to release "a set of technical specifications software developers can use to write Web-based applications that run within a number of different social-network services and also tap into user information."

Google announced twelve partners for its OpenSocial specifications. Are you surprised that Facebook, who had spurned Google, and MySpace (owned by media giant News Corp.) were not among them?

Here are are a few of the lucky twelve: Hi5 Networks Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Ning Inc., and Friendster Inc. Inc. and Oracle Corp, which sell software and Web-based services were also named as partners even though they are not social networking sites per se.

Google says it is releasing Open Social to make it easier for developers to write applications that work across different social networks and avoid fragmentation of an important, growing part of the Web. (WSJ)

The Associated Press (AP) said yesterday that "Google hopes to build a one-stop shop for software developers who create tools [called widgets] that make it easier to share music, pictures, video and other personal interest on social networking sites...Facebook now hosts more than 8,000 widgets..."

The AP is blunt: "While Google muscles into the social networking scene, Facebook appears to be gearing up to grab some of the advertising revenue that has been pouring into Google. Facebook is expected to discuss its plans for its own advertising network during a Nov. 6 event scheduled in New York."

But, wait, like the old Popeil commercials, there's more...

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported that Google is in talks with Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. about "carrying a cellphone powered by the Web company's software...Deals with Verizon Wireless and Sprint, the country's second- and third-largest carriers, would give Google a wide platform for its software."

There have been reports and rumors about an upcoming Google phone for a long time. The company had admitted it planned to bid in upcoming FCC auctions for a piece of the wireless spectrum. The LA Times story points out that Google could cut years out of the process and jump into the business immediately by simply making deals with the major wireless carriers.

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal also carried a story on a Google phone:

In recent months Google has approached several U.S. and foreign handset manufacturers about the idea of building phones tailored to Google software, with Taiwan's HTC Corp. and South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. mentioned in the industry as potential contenders...The Google-powered phones are expected to wrap together several Google applications--among them, its search engine, Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail email...The most radical element of the plan, though, is Google's push to make the phones' software "open" right down to the operating system...That means independent software developers would get access to the tools they need to build additional phone features.

The world, it is a-changin'

What To Do With More Than One Offer

The stars must be in alignment. Three of my favorite agents have recent posts on writers who've received multiple offers of representation. Strung together, the posts are a How-To manual on gracefully handling this bounty of riches.

Let's start with Jonathan Lyons who set the subject up for us with his post on October 24 here called "Term of the Week: Beauty Contest." (You'll need to scroll down since Jonathan's posts are stored by month instead of by day). He defines the term "beauty contest."

Then go to Nathan Bransford's post here in which guest blogger Ginger Clark talks about how a writer SHOULD respond when s/he receives multiple offers for representation.

Finally visit my own agents' blog at BookEnds here and read what Jessica Faust has to say about the subject from the agent's side of the beauty contest.