Happy Hallowe’en

pumpkins on the porch in a decorative arrangement
This pretty photo was taken on a nice sunny day; it is too wet to risk my digital camera today.  Still, my cats want to go outside because clearly Hallowe’en is exciting.  But I’ve heard cats are much safer indoors for this holiday.  Tonight I am busy with politics and Hallowe’en and outlining my new novel, which I will begin writing when NaNoWriMo begins at midnight.

I anticipate that this blog will be very quiet during Novemeber as I write the first draft of my historical novel “Unregrettable.”  But I’ll be back 😉


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

access to books is important

“In Brazil the Redemption through Reading program has been created with the intention that prisoners will not only improve their literacy skills but so that “a person can leave prison more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world”.

— Alex Hundert

blurry overexposed book shelf

It’s bad enough that there is no longer any funding for librarians in Ontario’s public school system.

It seems to me that people in jail should have as much access to books as possible. While in jail, inmates occupied in reading may well be improving their minds, possibly improving their literacy, maybe even learning empathy. At minimum, they are occupied. I’m guessing inmates who read in jail are less likely to re-offend on release. Are Canadian jails and prisons intended to punish or rehabilitate?

Having read the following four articles by writer Alex Hundert, a political activist currently serving time, writing from jail:

No Books for Prisoners: An Open Letter to the MWDC

No Books for Prisoners Part 2

Abusive Authority Means Little Hope: No Books for Prisoners Part 3

No Books for Prisoners Part 4

as a lifetime reader and writer, I am appalled.

It seems nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment to deny prisoners access to reading material.

School children at least have other options.  Prisoners do not.


the cart = a library trolley carrying as many as 150 books which makes the rounds through the jail to deliver books to inmates

MDWC = Metro West Detention Centre aka “the West”

NaNoWriMo Stand-Ups

‘Tis nearly NaNoWriMo time-o again, folks. I’ve an idea and I’m putting together an outline, so I’m getting pretty excited.

I’ve blogged about my NaNo participation previously, here, here so you can read that if you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is…

But this post is for people who participate in NaNoWriMo Write-Ins.

One of the fun things about NaNoWriMo is community. NaNo writers can write in public, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. The regional Municipal Liaisons arrange scheduled Write-Ins, and there is a special kind of ambiance when everyone is writing and the energy is paplable.

Anywhere any NaNo novelist works on a novel during the month of November can be considered a Write-In.    In the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge region it has become traditional for NaNo writers to announce on the forums when they know they will be writing at this library or that coffee shop. The more advance notice, the more chance other NaNovelists will be able to join them in impromptu write-ins.

To make it easier for writers to recognize a Write-In, a few years ago I cobbled together a couple of NaNoWriMo graphics to make 4″ x 6″ stand-ups, which can be folded and placed on a table during a Write-In.

If you can print a 4″ x 6″photo, you can make your own vanilla NaNoWriMo standup or Write-In standup from the graphics I’ve posted in Visual Laurel

Happy NaNoWriMo!

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was young, I was largely turned off by all the books I read by writers who thought fantasy meant you didn’t have to stick to any rules, so I’m not a big fantasy fan. I would always choose hard science fiction before fantasy, but have drifted away from both genres in favour of mystery/thrillers for the most part over the years.

My favourite fantasy book of all time was Lord of The Rings, which I’ve read several times. I mean really, after that, where do you go? A few years back I read “Lord of the Rings” aloud to my son.

You heard me, aloud.

That may be part of why he is a huge fantasy fan today, or why he’s taking Medieval Studies in University. He’d been reading borrowed copies of the “Game of Thrones” series in his last semester of high school, and he was really getting into it, so we bought him the whole set for graduation. He kind of insisted that I read them, so I started the first one (admittedly a bit grudgingly…) It’s written by George R. R. Martin, yet another good science fiction writer who’s defected to the dark side… er, fantasy. I remember liking Martin’s work back in the day. “Sandkings”, “Dying of the Light”, “Nightflyers”.

And I have to tell you, I am in awe.

I never knew where you could go after Lord of the Rings, but clearly, that would be Winterfell.

Well, I am *loving* this.  I won’t drop any spoilers, but this first novel in the series has some really great characters. Although I really don’t have the time to read, I’m a bit more than half way.

So far I’ve had to hold my breath more than once, laugh out loud several times, and it’s even made me cry. I can feel George masterfully drawing the threads of the plot and character together, and I’m getting pretty worried about what’s going to happen to these people (and dire wolves) who’ve come alive on these pages for me. The worst of it is, there are only five books written, and the series is supposed to run to seven. So I’m anxious… what happens when I’m ready for book seven if it’s not done yet? *gulp*

Even though I’m not done, this one gets a thumbs up.

Winter is coming.

[post script: I wrote that a few months ago for Goodreads, but only now figured out how to “publish to blog.” I’m now nearly finished the fourth volume in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, and they don’t disappoint. The boy can write.]

Say “hi” on Goodreads

“Inconstant Moon” update ~ CC by-nc-sa

Inconstant Moon BANNER

Glyn Moody directed me to an article taking aim at non-commercial Creative Commons licenses, miscellaneous factZ: Creative Commons and the Commons.

Rufus Pollock makes some interesting arguments, and points out a possible problem in the Creative Commons organization: that it is an independent hierarchical organization, and unaccountable to anyone, really. Still, what was most ironic to me was his interest in removing data(base) material from the public domain (which impacts on his work) while advocating elimination of the noncommercial option from CC licenses (which impacts on mine).

my choice

As a writer about to self publish my first novel, I have considered carefully, and chosen to license it with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada, or CC by-nc-sa.

Creative Commons by-nc-sa button

This license allows any type of remix desired save commercial. I think all cultural material should be absolutely free for personal use.  Personal use must be sacrosanct for culture to grow.

Since I’ve been mulling over and learning about copyright over the past few years, I’ve become an advocate of free culture. I’ve learned a lot, beginning with the copyright consultation submissions made by thousands of Canadians (who were led to believe that the government was interested in what citizens felt to be important in any new copyright law*), and from reading, and having online discussions with many people.

challenging perceptions

Drew Roberts is a multi-disciplinary creator who passionately champions free culture, going so far as to publish his NaNoWriMo novels as he writes. His credo is “Free the Art and Free the Artists.” Although I admire his bravery, for myself, no one reads a word I write until I am satisfied with it. In his inimitable way, the eminently reasonable Drew has gently encouraged me to release Inconstant Moon without the non-commercial restriction.

I’ve also had discussions with copyright abolitionist Crosbie Fitch, who naturally looks askance at the very idea of self publishing, as he feels that all published art and creativity rightfully belongs to everyone, and should be firmly in the public domain. Not that he thinks artists should be denied the opportunity to make a living, just he thinks that they should be paid properly first, but once art is released into our culture, it should be free to copy.

Both Drew and Crosbie are highly intelligent, informed, committed and passionate about the issue, and I’ve learned a great deal from them both. But still, these are radical ideas. Change is difficult. It takes time for new ideas to be understood, and take root. So like many other independent creators today, I am feeling my way in an attempt to decide what combination works for me.

Yet I believe very strongly in the importance of the public domain and the commons.

I may at some point decide to venture the release of a novel without the noncommercial restriction, but not this time. The law of my land (Canada) places all IP under full copyright by default, and contrary to what our American neighbors contend with their absurd USTR propaganda, existing Canadian copyright law is both “stronger” and more restrictive than is good for our culture. Canadian culture is fighting its way to freedom from all the restrictions imposed by both corporate special interests and copyright collectives wanting to lock down our culture even further through the imposition of bad laws and DRM.

If creative commons licensing did not exist, the only choice available to me as a creator would be to publish my novel under full copyright restrictions. I don’t want that. But again, I am trying it on, seeing what’s what, whistling in the dark.

Creative commons double c enclosed in a circle, with black text at right reading Creative Commons and in red dot CA

Lately there has been talk floating around that Creative Commons licensing is too confusing. It is certainly more confusing than outright copyright abolition would be. Some people feel more strongly about various elements of Creative Commons licenses. Like Rufus Pollock, many people think that the Noncommercial restriction should be dropped altogether. Others, like @openuniverse, believe there is no place in the Creative Commons for a “no derivatives” restriction. Others feel share-alike is too restrictive.

Rufus suggests that since most Creative Commons licenses are designated noncommercial, we should be dropping it altogether. He thinks people are dazzled by the Creative Commons “brand” and thinks that it should all be perfectly interoperable. But what Rufus doesn’t look at is the only way for all IP to be perfectly interoperable is Crosbie’s way: through the abolition of all forms of copyright. Crosbie is perfectly correct: the only perfect cultural interoperability is to be found in the Public Domain. Because for some, even a compulsion to provide attribution is too onerous.

[I confess I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into Crosbie’s “The 18th Century Overture · A Crescendo of Copyright, Natural Finale and Reprise” as soon as this novel distraction is in hand.]

Inconstant Moon Cover Art

The point is, it shouldn’t be up to Rufus or anyone else to tell me how I can or cannot release my own creative work.

Existing copyright has long since ceased to be beneficial to creators (if it ever really was). And it is because existing copyright law is both dictatorial and stifling that creators have begun to reject it. Creative Commons licensing offers a work-around that allows creators to get free of the yoke of copyright.

The reason Creative Commons is so successful is precisely because it offers all these choices. It is the variations in licensing that gives creators the confidence to release our work in this fashion, in the way in which we feel most comfortable, rather than allow the status quo of full copyright.

Something to remember is that once work is licensed, the license can only be altered to make the work more free. So in many ways, it seems more natural to begin with a more restrictive license. After all, it can always be lightened later.

As beneficial as I believe Creative Commons licensing to be, my concern is that restrictive license provisions will remain in place as long as the current copyright terms. Which can only be a disaster for the Public Domain.

And one of the most harmful aspects of existing copyright law is the ridiculous terms. It shouldn’t outlive the creator, nor should it be transferable, particularly to inhuman corporations. That’s a large part of why copyright has become such a problem today; corporate interests do not coincide with creator interests.

So I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. I really don’t know what will happen.

Although I believe it to be good, “Inconstant Moon” may or may not generate income.

Either way, it is my test case. Regardless of how well it does,

“Inconstant Moon” goes into the public domain 5 years after publication.

Creative Commons Zero or Public Domain logo

I want to do this for two reasons.

First: because I truly believe that a strong and healthy public domain is essential for all of our shared culture as human beings.

But my second reason for emancipating my work is far less altruistic: I want to give my creative works a fighting chance of surviving me.

* The later unveiling of Bill C-32 indicated a total disregard for the feedback provided by Canadians in the Copyright Consultation.

Image Credits
All Creative Commons logos licensed by Creative Commons with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

Inconstant Moon banner and cover art Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) lothlaurien.ca