Copyright and Castle

My hardcover copy of "Naked Heat" reclines beside my cat Murray

[This was supposed to be a review, but what’s between the covers isn’t as interesting as the story around the books.]

Word of mouth brought my attention to the lively Castle tv series. The show’s premise pairs fictional Pulitzer Prize winning mystery writer Richard “Rick” Castle with the tough fictional NYC detective Kate Beckett. Like Remington Steele and Moonlighting before it, the series establishes an underlying romantic attraction that the characters can’t act upon.

In the show, fictional writer Richard Castle writes a series of detective novels based on the detective character Kate Beckett. (Confused yet?)

Having been a Stephen J. Cannell fan since the Rockford Files, a bonus for me was the real writer/producer’s cameo as one of the famous writers who play poker with he Castle character on the show.

Castle is supposed to be a successful writer, so naturally the ABC art department had to create cover art and mock-ups of the fictional Richard Castle’s fictional novels as props and set dressing for the series. So it wasn’t much of a leap to take it a little further… just by inserting some words between the covers ~ voila! you’ve got a novel. What could be more clever than packaging and selling it as a series tie-in?

Publishing a Richard Castle novel was a cute idea. There’s even precedent — it isn’t the first time a fictional character has been attributed as the author of a real novel.

Samuel Holt ostensibly authored his own autobiographical detective series. As it turns out, Holt was entirely the creation of prolific novelist Donald E. Westlake.

Easily the most famous fictional novelist predecessor was the 30’s detective hero Ellery Queen, not only the star of his own series of detective novels, but the named author. Ellery Queen played on radio and various small screen attempts. Later Ellery Queen’s name graced the masthead of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which went on to be “the most influential English Language crime fiction magazines of the last sixty-five years.” [1]

But, of course, a fictional person can’t actually write an actual novel. The reality is that Ellery Queen was the creation and pseudonym of writing duo, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee.

It’s was a great marketing strategy to go ahead and publish a Richard Castle novel. Naturally, it sold a lot of copies. So of course it became a series of novels…

“Naked Heat”

When I heard about the Castle novels, I was curious. My favourite Indie Bookstore, Waterloo’s Wordsworth Books, only had Naked Heat, the second book in the series in stock., so that was the one I bought.

Naked Heat features the tough fictional NYPD Detective Nikki Heat. Above Richard Castle’s name on the cover is the legend “The New York Times Best Selling Author of Heat Wave.”

The bottom of the dust jacket features a blurb from quote from a New York Times Bestselling Author:

“Richard Castle is a pro. He gets better and better each time out.
“Naked Heat” proves it.”

— New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Connelly

There’s even a blurb on the back attributed to New York Times Bestselling Author, Stephen J. Cannell.

And of course, don’t forget the handsome author photo on the back.   It isn’t too surprising to discover Castle is easy on the eyes; pictured is the leading man who plays the fictional Richard Castle in the ABC TV series “Castle.”

Richard Castle may be a real “New York Times best Selling Author” but he is still a fictional character.

Going from TV to Books

publicity still found at the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB)I loved it when Buster Keaton stepped into the movie screen in Sherlock Jr, and just as much when Jeff Daniels’ character stepped out of his own screen into the world of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. I’ve always enjoyed it when the line between fiction and reality are blurred.

The fact remains that the only way a fictional character can write a book is for a real person to do the work.

The first question would have to be:

  • did Nathan Fillion write this book?

Although the actor’s face is smiling out of the author photo on the dust jacket, it is highly unlikely Nathan Fillion wrote this or any of the Castle books.  It isn’t that actors can’t write; several highly talented writer-actors — John Cleese, Orson Welles, Kenneth Branagh — spring to mind.

But it is extraordinarily unlikely in this case; if the Canadian actor had written any of the books, the attendant publicity would have been far too good for ABC to pass up.

Who cares who *did* write it?

As a reader, knowing who wrote the books I enjoy reading has proved to be the most consistent way to find more.  I have been remembering author’s names since discovering my first favourite, Beatrix Potter.  The flipside is that it helps avoid the real stinkers as well.  That makes it important information.

As an author, my name on the book is my own personal brand.  Any creator’s reputation is built upon the body of work associated with their name, which is why attribution is so important. Some creators think copyright guarantees attribution, but clearly it doesn’t.

A logical assumption might be that the novels could be written by writers in the Castle story department (the writers and story editors who write the episodes of the tv series).

The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) lists the Castle series writers:

Andrew W. Marlowe (88 episodes, 2009-2012)
Shalisha Francis (20 episodes, 2010-2012)
Elizabeth Beall (9 episodes, 2009-2013)
Terence Paul Winter (9 episodes, 2009-2013)
David Grae (9 episodes, 2009-2012)
Alexi Hawley (9 episodes, 2009-2012)
Moira Kirland (7 episodes, 2009-2012)
Terri Miller (7 episodes, 2009-2012)
Will Beall (5 episodes, 2009-2011)
David Amann (5 episodes, 2010-2012)
Kate Sargeant (3 episodes, 2010-2012)
Rob Hanning (3 episodes, 2011-2012)
René Echevarria (2 episodes, 2009-2010)
Jose Molina (2 episodes, 2009-2010)
Barry Schindel (2 episodes, 2009)
Matt Pyken (2 episodes, 2010-2011)
Scott Williams (2 episodes, 2010-2011)
Christine Boylan (2 episodes, 2012)

That sure looks like an awful lot of writers to me, even for a show that has been on air now for years.  One or some of them may have actually written the Castle books. But which one(s)?

I’m pretty sure this book was not written by the series creator, Andrew Marlowe, if only because the quality of the writing isn’t on par with the series writing. But that isn’t surprising, as this book isn’t so much a novel as a marketing gimmick.

In some ways it seemed like an ambitious bit of fanfic, since books have allowed the fictional writer and fictional detective to consumate their attraction on paper. The Castle books may not have been written by anyone associated with the tv series. ABC could just as easily hired a ghost writer to do the job.

There is a chance Heat Wave (the first in the Castle-Nikki Heat book series) was a better book than Naked Heat, but I wouldn’t know. It’s too bad Naked Heat isn’t a very good book.

If we skip inside to the copyright page we discover:


Castle © ABC Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Hmm. The Ellery Queen books were copyright by Ellery Queen (whose name was also the name of the business partnership owned by the actual writers, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee.) The Samuel Holt books were copyright by Samuel Holt, again a legal pseudonym for the actual author, Donald E. Westlake.

Whoever ghost wrote this “Castle” book is not credited at all, and the copyright belongs to ABC Studios (the television production division of Disney-ABC Television Group).  Even though large corporations own a great many copyrights, a corporation can no more write a novel than a fictional character can.

For centuries we’ve been told copyright is good if for authors.  But if fictional authors dominiate the New York Times Bestseller list, what will happen to real authors?

Reference [1] Quotation from Old Time Radio


2 thoughts on “Copyright and Castle

  1. How about Kilgore Trout? Phil Farmer, SF&F writer extraordinaire wrote “Venus on the Half Shell” as Kilgore Trout, a writer who appears in a Kurt Vonnegut book. I enjoyed it when I read it 40 years ago, but my tastes were a lot looser back then.

    Phil Farmer also wrote “The Adventure of the Peerless Peer” as Doctor John Watson.

    Currently in the British mystery Sherlock, Doctor John Watson has a blog (Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century). Damned good show, I highly recommend it. The lead actors became big names because of that show, with one starring in War Horse and the other starring in The Hobbit, which is why Series 3 has been delayed. The official Twitter account says filming starts in March.

    As to who holds the copyright, in my personal opinion only a living being should be able to. Corporations are incapable of being creative.


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