Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Soft Kitty & Copyright

Today a news story broke about the heirs of poet Edith Newlin suing CBS for using a slightly altered version of Mrs. Newlin's poem "Soft Kitty" on their hit television show, The Big Bang Theory. The use of the poem on the show was so well received it generated a host of paraphernalia (t-shirts, posters and stuffed cats) that not only helped viewers connect with the hit show, but also furthered the network's marketing reach.

So far today I have read three articles regarding the news including BBC, The New York Times and now CBC here in Canada. As with most stories I find myself inexplicably drawn to read the comments on the news outlet's social media pages. I guess it's my people-watching nature that begs me to find out what various people think about when it comes to what's happening in our world. I must say the comments left me rather astonished at the disregard for an artist's work and their rights to its use. Perhaps we as a society are influenced by our internet-easy ways that we perceive artwork as public domain. We think nothing of copying and pasting a beautiful computer altered fairy scene or landscape picture all over the internet with little regard to the original photographer. Heck, an entire social media venue, Pinterest, exists to satisfy our need to share images we find awe-inspiring.

Perhaps it's The Big Bang Theroy's popularity that leads many fans to chose sides so early on. The show is in it's 9th season, a testament to it's appeal. Humans are not free of bias and our celebrity worshipping culture tends to render us apologists whenever we hear of our favourite celebrity friends getting into any sort of trouble. Take Jian Ghomeshi for instance, a b-list celebrity here in Canada, who fell from grace in October 2014 when allegations of sexual assault surfaced in the media. Ghomeshi tried to spin public opinion by decrying the allegations as "an ex-girlfriend with an axe to grind". Many of his fans were quick to jump to his defence, even after only hearing his side. As more and more details surfaced regarding his improper advances and completely abhorrent behaviour the support for Ghomeshi dwindled and then completely dried up as five charges were laid against him and numerous women came forward with allegations. We, as a society, tend to side with the familiar faces and look less kindly on the unknown person. We may even tell ourselves "I know Sheldon and Leonard. There must be something else going on."

Even if we put aside our celebrity bias we are left with an inherent distrust of any litigation. It's been my experience that the general population is grossly uneducated on the issues around lawsuits and the court system. We tend to rely heavily on the court of public opinion and not on the real facts of law.

Many of the social media comments I saw included the question; "why now? Why would a lawsuit be launched now after CBS has been using the poem for years?"

To me, the question is irrelevant. Whether the poem just aired on screen last night or last decade, it doesn't matter. Mrs. Newlin's rights extended 50 years following her 2004 death and until 2054 the rights to the poem remain with her heirs. That's the law. From what I have gathered from the articles, the lawsuit was initiated recently after one of Mrs. Newlin's daughters completed an online search, looking for material to use in a biography of her mother's life, and discovered the show had been using her mother's poem for a number of seasons.

"Somebody is clearly low on cash" was another sound bite I saw relentlessly repeated.

Of course because lawsuits like these are inexpensive for the initiator and fairly easily undertaken [insert sarcasm]. In reality lawsuits are freaking STRESSFUL. They wreck havoc on personal lives and often result in loss of respect amongst people who perceive the pursuant as an opportunist. Lawsuits are costly in regards to time, money and community respect. Even if the case is found in favour of the filer the very fact that they filed in the first place is a strike against their respectability. No one enters into a lawsuit lightly. It's our ignorance regarding civil law that feeds our mistrust. Somehow in North America we have equated a lawsuit with easy money and that makes us hard working, middle class souls angry. As far as I see it, we need to stop looking down our noses at lawsuits and we need to reserve judgement. Some lawsuits are complete shyte filed by rich elite with nothing better to do, while most are legitimate lawsuits that bring to light issues that need to be addressed. Often times a lawsuit filed for millions of dollars is settled for much, much less.

"Please, the writer should just be happy for the exposure."

Of all the comments I read this one got my goat. Rising musicians are often asked to play at clubs and venues for free, their payment? Exposure. We don't ask Rhianna to perform for free or Justin Beiber. We understand that they have expenses and compensate them for their time and talents. A struggling artist should be treated just as fairly, if not more so. A writer has a similar plight. The poem Mrs. Newlin wrote is most likely part of a large body of work produced over what appears to me to be a long, long lifetime. At the very least she should be given proper credit and even though she has passed away she deserves the compensation. It doesn't matter that her work received notoriety after her death. Had her poem been so successful in life it would have meant a nice nest egg to pass on to her family.

There is a reason copyright extends beyond a writer's death. Imagine how society would take advantage of an artist if we knew their work was public domain upon their death. We'd never buy another CD, novel or Thomas Kincade puzzle while the artist lived. We'd quickly catch on to the fact that if we just wait until they die we can all have a free for all. We'd be producing Christmas cards and music videos left and right, using the artwork of the greats who kicked the bucket just yesterday. Oh the profits we could make off the hard work of the artists. Imagine what would have happened after Terry Pratchet's death this past year. All the money from Mr. Pratchet's books divided up amongst overnight presses cashing in on an author's death notice. It turns my stomach. Mr. Pratchet would have been hard pressed to create a living from his art and may not have been able to produce such a prolific portfolio of work.

Creating art, whether it's music, novels or paintings, is hard, hard work. I personally know what it's like to be a mid-list author. I have four books to my credit, and all are selling nicely. From what I understand I make a good wage for an author. I make a great wage for a self published author. Do I make enough to say I make a living? No. Not even close. I spend a year on each book. Which amounts to a minimum of 10 hours a week, but more often is 20 hours or more depending which stage of the process I am on. Am I fairly compensated for my 10-20 hours a week? No. It's even worse when I find my books illegally sold on a pirating site. It's my words, my hard work benefiting the bottom line of someone who only copied and pasted. It's theft, plain and simple.

I will readily admit that I hold a bias when it comes to copyright cases. I am not ashamed to admit that when faced with a news story like Soft Kitty that my knee-jerk reaction is to side with the artist, the artist who shouldn't be expected to work for free, for exposure, for multi-billion dollar conglomerate cashing in on the work of nursery school teacher from New Hampshire.

*I've included a picture of my cat, Theadora, who is a very soft kitty.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Maud!

As a little girl my mother introduced me to a twelve-year-old, red headed girl named Anne. It wasn't long before I found myself immersed in the world of Avonlea, the quaint yet imaginary town on the north shore of Canada's smallest province. I would steal borrow the Anne books from my mother's precious collection and would only begrudgingly return them after countless reminders. 

Green Gables, National Historic Site, 
Cavendish, PEI (2014)

I soon started a collection of my own, which has grown to include each novel, short story collections, all L.M. Montgomery's published journals, numerous biographies and countless collectables volumes that includes recipe books, crafting books and others. (I even have a first edition Anne of Ingleside that is more precious to me than my first copy of Chorus of the Dead.)

Anne's bedroom at Green Gables complete with dress with puffed sleeves.

 Over the years I've read every book written by Anne's creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery. I've visited Prince Edward Island twice and hunted down all museums and locales related to Ms. Montgomery in my home province of Ontario. Southern Ontario especially is riddled with filming sites used by Kevin Sullivan for his mini-series and later Road to Avonlea television series. 

In short I am obsessed. 

Lover's Lane, walking trail at Green Gables

I consider it bad parenting on my part that my teenage daughter is not as enthralled with the books and stories as I am. She enjoys it, and so does my son, but they are nowhere near my obsession levels, so sometimes my giddiness is viewed as amusing instead of mutual. 

Lucy Maud Montgomery's Birthplace in Clifton (now New London), PEI. This museum houses her original wedding dress and many scrapbooks produced by the author over her lifetime. 

Today is Lucy Maud Montgomery's 141st birthday. If Maud hadn't been born on this day (November 30) in 1874 the world would not have discovered little red headed Anne, or the precocious Sara Stanley. Emily of New Moon would not have been penned and Valancy Stirling (The Blue Castle) would not have met the love of her life. Happy Birthday Maud. I hope you know how your  imaginary world has touched girls like me, and created women not afraid to daydream or see beauty in the everyday.

  Red cliffs at Cabot Beach Provincial Park on the north shore of PEI. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Winter Made an Appearance

Winter made a debut this weekend in my neck of the woods. Old Man Winter dumped 10 cm on us Saturday night which coated everything in a lovely layer of the white stuff. It's perfect snowman making snow too. This is our first winter at our new farm property and we've been working away in the last few weeks to get everything ready for the long, cold months. With Christmas rapidly approaching, I can feel my self-imposed deadline needling me. The first draft of SICKNESS OF THE HEART, book 5 in the Peter Ainsley Mystery series, is nearly complete, Dear Readers. This blanket of slippery percipitation might just be the very thing I need to get to "the end".
That's Katie, my labX, who loves a good romp in the snow as long as she has her sweater on. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Guest Blogging for James M. Jackson

I had the privilege of answering some writing related questions at fellow mystery writer James M. Jackson's blog, My Two Cents Worth.

Stop by and find out what motivates me, where I find inspiration and how I write the Peter Ainsley Mystery series.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SWEET ASYLUM (Book 4) and some reflection

Another book of mine, SWEET ASYLUM, my fourth, has hit the virtual shelves.

About a month ago I was fortunate enough to be part of another launch for an anthology, Fish or Cut Bait, put together by Sisters In Crime International.

In that anthology I have a short story titled "Easy Prey" which is only my second short story set in modern times. With both of these launches and the necessary work leading up to them I've hardly had much time to come up for air. Now that I am on the other side of things I have a bit of time to reflect and think about my writing career so far.

When I set out to self-publish I wrote up a business plan, which included a rough budget and necessary steps I would need to tackle. I made a commitment to self-publishing 4 full-length novels knowing that success would be achieved over a number of works, not just one. By setting a four book goal I began with a focus on a career not just a single book.

CHORUS OF THE DEAD was published in July 2012. DEAD SILENT was available May 2013. The DEAD AMONG US was ready May 2014 and now SWEET ASYLUM has gone out into the world (June 2015). For those keeping track, it took me three years since hitting 'publish' in 2012 to hitting publish on my fourth book.

In those three years I also had three short stories published in various anthologies, each one reaching a new, unique audience and hopefully beckoning new readers to my series.

So, four books in. I did what I said I was going to do, so... now what?

I keep writing. The success of Peter Ainsley has been so encouraging. I am continually amazed by the number of people who contact me saying they love my books. I am surprised that a fan base could be grown for such a small self-publisher like myself. The first year was not encouraging at all and my second book made only a small impact. It's only been in the last year that my series had gained some traction. My income is not supplementary any more. It's a bona fide income and it grows with each new addition to the series. All in all, it's been encouraging and I'm happy I took the leap into self publishing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Self Discipline

I've been thinking a lot about self discipline lately, especially when it comes to my writing. There's no denying that it takes a certain amount of discipline and focus to set about to write a book, finish said book and bid adieu as it is launched into the marketplace. I'm told most aspiring writers never actually finish a book. And that an even fewer number of those writers go on to revise and shop around their book.

In fact, just yesterday I read a blog by Kristen Lamb, who highlights the fact that 5% of aspiring writers actually finish their books, and only 5% of those go on to the following step and so on and so forth. She used the term career writer, the writer with sustainability, the one who perseveres even after a failed book launch or lacklustre sales numbers.

It would be easy for me, with three books published and another nearly ready for launch, to say clearly discipline is not a problem for me. One does not publish three books in three years and call themselves lazy.

But I am. Or at least I am easily distracted.

Distraction from my writing came to a head this year when, in September, I volunteered for a high level position within my kids' sports team. This position required ten hours a week of devoted time, not to mention the 'soft' time needed to prepare, answer emails and travel. It stole entire weekends and evenings. It made me so tired by the end of my evening I couldn't even think about writing without my body threatening to put me in the foetal position.

After a few months of this I felt like a parasite had latched onto my life, monopolizing my time, taking up far too much grey matter and leaving NOTHING for my first love. It was during this time that I powered to the end of my fourth Peter Ainsley mystery, Sweet Asylum. I told lied to myself that I could do everything, that I could write and commit to the team.... if I could just organize my time better. It was only when I started revisions that I realized how disjointed my book was. Never my favourite part of the writing process, revisions had become absolute drudgery which left me cursing my office, my work in progress and any mention of how it would be late for publication. More than once I contemplated dragging the entire file to recycle bin icon.

Somehow, amidst all of that, I woke up and saw the real culprit for my predicament. I needed to focus. I needed to give myself wholly and completely to the process of my craft. I resigned from the volunteer position a few weeks ago and have refocused my efforts towards this book. I also sat down and worked out a semi-aggressive schedule for myself that will see me working on a few projects concurrently over the next 52 weeks. The schedule includes varying minimum word counts as well as set periods of time for revisions. It's not so aggressive that it's unachievable but it will require a concerted effort from me to reach the markers I have laid out for myself. Writing down my goals and breaking that down further into steps gives me a clear path to follow.

Perhaps, like writing, discipline is a muscle that can be bulked up, redefined and made stronger the more you put it to work.