Kay: Stealing Material: Is It Theft or Misappropriation?

Poster for Disney’s “The Lion King”

Today concludes the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America, in which the writers and publishers of romance fiction come together to discuss the latest trends in the romance publishing industry. It’s a time of celebration: goals achieved, books noted, writers and publishers rewarded. It’s a time to celebrate creativity.

Which was why I was particularly disheartened to read a couple of stories this weekend about plagiarism and the theft of creative ideas.

The big one is that there’s been a discussion that the plot and characters of Disney’s The Lion King were ripped off from Kimba the White Lion, a Japanese anime series created by Osamu Tezuka that NBC syndicated in the United States in the 1960s. The charges of appropriation, dating back to the film’s first release in 1994, clouded the American film’s release back then and have returned with the latest remake. According to the story in the Washington Post, the Japanese anime tradition is one of borrowing, but it’s the lack of credit or acknowledgement that is disturbing.

The second article is an op-ed in the LA Times by Douglas Preston. He and Lincoln Child write a thriller series under the name “Preston & Child.” He describes how plagiarists using the name “Preston Child” have ripped off their books, and how other scams are stealing copyright and income from hardworking authors. (According to Preston, author incomes have dropped 42% in the last 10 years.) In fact, I’ve noticed this Preston/Child discrepancy myself on Amazon. Continue reading

Elizabeth: There’s No Comparison

ComparisonQuote_Blog2

I came across this old post the other day and thought it was both a timely reminder and a message worth re-sharing.

It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. I’ll be heading off to RWA nationals soon and, although I’ll undoubtedly come back with a lot of useful information and a renewed commitment to my writing, it’s very likely that I’ll also come back with thoughts of “I’ll never write as many books as Author X” and “I’m not nearly as far along in my writing career as Author Y.”   It doesn’t help when I see notes from ghost-writer friends about their 10,000 word days or how they drafted out a book in a week.  Though I intellectually know better, and it tends to take the shine off my own progress, it is regrettably easy to do.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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Nancy: Creativity Is Hard Work

Me, every writing day. Often, I am pushing the same damn boulder I’ve been pushing for weeks or months.

Last week, I had a conversation with a very creative person in a field other than writing. (Yes, it turns out there are creatives in the world who are not writers! I, too, was surprised.) We were discussing “living the dream.” Which is, apparently, what I, as a full-time writer, am doing. My creative friend, still working the day job, is not. And he had thoughts about that.

Actually, he has dreams of his own, which are wonderful things! He also has some misconceptions about what my day-to-day life of dream-living entails.

For those of you who have not met me IRL, I should explain that I have no poker face. Ergo, I could not hide my shock, dismay, and perhaps even amusement at his idea of my life. And while I have my own dreams of spending my writing days frolicking with unicorns and sliding down rainbows while the Best Story Ever Written magically appears on my computer screen, I’ve only had two, maybe three days tops, when unicorns have appeared. And those might or might not have involved whisky. That is to say, this dream gig is hard. Continue reading

Kay: Altered Books, Altered State of Mind

Most of us who come to this site are readers. We get a lot from books, starting with pleasure and comfort and ranging to education and creative stimulation.

I recently went with an artist friend to a juried exhibit of altered books. The artists had taken books as a starting point and cut them apart! Glued them down! Stitched them up! They created a whole different set of artistic variables with the texts and covers to view the book elements in new ways, and I think, to investigate reading and the value of books.

I loved some of the pieces. One of my favorites was a wholly new creation—a wooden, hinged “book cover” encasing pages showing a series of graphics all done in the same color scheme, of a figure leaping a mountain in joy. There was a tree made with the fanned, sculpted pages of a book. Also a giant bug made of sculpted book pages with human legs. There was a rather unimaginative (in my view) framed sequence of Harlequin covers, one from each decade. There was a way-too-large stack of annotated titles, an homage to banned books, and another about piece about resistance that had thorned rods running through the pages. There were one or two pieces that I thought were a waste of a perfectly good book.

(I apologize for the quality of these images: they’re enlarged screen grabs from YouTube, because I forgot my camera.)

It was fun to see the exhibit with an artist and to get her take on the objects. And it was fun for me to see how an artist had interpreted, and altered, books like Mother Goose and Naked Lunch. (Here’s a link to a one-minute video showcasing the exhibit.)

Did it stimulate my thinking? Absolutely. Did it stimulate my creativity? Well, better ask me later, when I get that WIP finished.

What about you? Have you guys seen any exhibits lately that made you think about your writing life?

Michaeline: Random Writing Advice

Do you ever take a book, and just let it fall open, put your finger on a paragraph, and read it . . . hoping to find advice and guidance? This is a very, very old fortune-telling technique, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do believe that the sudden juxtaposition of random nonsensical elements can make a lot of sense.

Brian Eno did juxtaposition with his cards of Oblique Strategies (today’s advice on Twitter: “What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving”).

David Bowie did juxtaposition with his music and his cut-up technique, which he borrowed from William Burroughs who used it in the 50s and 60s. (Burroughs was well known for his writing about the Bohemian subculture he was involved with; Jack Kerouac was one of his Beat buddies.)

I like just opening up a book of writing advice, and seeing what “the universe” wants to tell me. Of course, it isn’t “the universe”. It’s my own subconscious. If “the universe” tells me nonsense, I ignore it and go on. But if I like the paragraph, or if the paragraph really bothers me and refuses to let go of my imagination, I pay attention to it.

Today, I was looking at Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. The book has been in my backpack for the past three weeks, and last Monday I placed it in the bathroom, hoping I’d finally take a minute to start reading it again. I’m still not ready for a re-read, but opening the book and picking a paragraph at random gave me this:

“Notice that it isn’t enough to be interested or informed; it takes both. If you are interested in your subject but know little about it, you can’t satisfy the curiosity you arouse. If you know a great deal about the subject but are not passionately interested in it (like some scientists and teachers), you will put people to sleep.”

Since we were talking about research this week with Jeanne on Tuesday, I thought it was timely advice. I’ve got the third edition of Knight’s book, which was revised in 1985. It’s got a lot of practical advice for any writer, and can be read from start to finish, as well as being used for diving for pearls of wisdom.

So, I’m off to do some guilt-free research! If it interests me that much, surely I can make it interesting for at least some niche audience!

Kay: New Dogs, Old Tricks

Can you read the caption? “Andrina Wood at the console of a BTM computer. Tabacus: The Magazine of the British Tabulating Company, August 1958.” The photo was republished on the Twitter account of Mar Hicks, a professor and historian of technology. Many of the vintage photos I’ve seen show women at computer consoles working with a legal pad or paper notebook.

I’ve started a new book. For lack of any better ideas, I went back to a project I last worked on in about 2006—the adventures of my genius computer hacker and the FBI agent who arrested her.

I wrote two books of these characters before I switched to lighter storylines—there’s just something about your hero sending your heroine to prison that tends to get dark pretty fast. And it’s hard to write genius, too, if you’re not genius yourself. Using Sheldon Cooper as a role model, especially for a female character, has its limitations.

The reception I got for these books after I’d finished them was lukewarm. The first book is about stealing an election, a topic that every agent and editor I talked to said would be stale in months. And we all know how that turned out.

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Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Welcome to the our first Writing Sprints of the year.  Hope you are all well rested, refreshed, and ready to put your creativity to good use.

I’ve been reading lots of mysteries lately.  For the investigators in the stories, it’s a case of asking, “and then what happened,” over and over again to reach the truth.  From the writing perspective, the start of a new story is more often a case of, “what would happen if?”

  • What would happen if someone down on their luck suddenly won the lottery?  (I happened to someone in real-life just recently).
  • What would happen if a close-knit community suffered a devastating fire? (This is a real-life what-if, culled from the headlines.)
  • What would happen if “the detective investigating a crime fell in love with the suspect?” (This happens in my current contemporary mystery).

This year, our story prompts are going to focus on “what-if” scenarios, and we’re going to see what happens from there.  I’ve got lots of story ideas floating around in my head – either left there by Santa or fueled by all of the holiday treats I may or may not have consumed.  Regardless of where they came from, I’m going to try to put them to good use by giving today’s story prompt a try as soon as I get home from work.

Care to join me? Continue reading