Yesterday I finished the clean-up draft of my story for Space Eldritch 2, “Full Dark.” As I’m the editor for the project, I’m letting volunteers among the other participants whip it into shape.
Just a quick cell-phone shot of the diminutive creatures I made while working at my dealer’s table at CONduit; I watched Carter Reid attracting crowds as he did his live sketches at his table and thought, “I should do something like that!” Finally baked them last night:
The two little black balls are for another specimen in process.
There’s always a bit of a debate about CONduit taking place every year over the Memorial Day weekend. Me, I love it; I can do the con Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then take Monday to recuperate and drain my kidneys before dragging myself back to the day job on Tuesday.
This year my schedule was light:
Tom Carr, Dave Butler, Steve Diamond and I did the obligatory Lovecraft panel (no, really, that’s even what it said in the program book). With the former regular panelists Paul Anderson and Eric Swedin in the audience, it was just like a reunion! We did the mix of intro material for the newbies and deeper questions like How is Lovecraft particularly twentieth-centuryish? and Can racism still be admirably scary?
Then Tom Carr (again), Steve Diamond (again), Blake Casselman and I were on a panel entitled, “It’s called ‘horror,’ not ‘gore-or,'” in which we discussed the place of gore and graphic violence in horror media (Tom and Blake spoke mostly from a film viewpoint, and Steve and I represented the literary side).
And finally, Saturday afternoon, Larry Correia and I did a live MST3K commentary on the immortal Charles Band turkey classic, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn. And just to toot my own horn, my favorite line (which I uttered) was given after Jared-Syn escapes (whoops, spoilers) in what must be the most optimistic sequel set-up in the history of ever: “Jared-Syn escapes? The movie’s called ‘The Destruction of Jared Syn!’ You had one job!!!”
The rest of the time, I spent in the dealers room hawking Cold Fusion Media books and the various creatures I’ve been showing y’all as I finish them. Sales were… cool. I’m not alone in that; overall con attendance seemed down (official figures haven’t been released), and no one saw the sales they were expecting. Plus, as more than one vendor friend (“friendor?”) commented, my creatures might be too big-ticket for CONduit — I might have more luck at an artist’s alley table at the upcoming Salt City Steamfest at the end of July, where attendees go in part to support a lifestyle. As I had been contemplating a few creatures that were more biomechanical in presentation, this looks like the perfect venue to get those ideas out of my head and into meatspace.
CONduit starts tomorrow, and I’ll have almost all of the creatures I’ve made over the past few months for sale (except for those ones that don’t meet my exacting standards). Here are the last couple, with the finishing touches just put on them.
This is the final version of the in-progress photo here:
And this is the final* version of what I showed you here:
*Okay, not entirely final — I still need to put a “Special Collections” label on the top of the description attached to the board. But close enough.
Sometimes I think that in its quest to be a business innovator, Amazon borrows the wrong traits from the uber-innovator Google, which is notorious for introducing side projects with a definite “Whoa, totally cool!” vibe before they’d exactly figured out how useful or sustainable it was.
The latest from Amazon, as I’m sure you heard roughly everywhere on the internet yesterday, is the announcement of Kindle Worlds, which is meant to tap the hordes of fan fiction writers out there. In a nutshell:
- Amazon licenses the right to publish works based on a franchise (they have three starting out the gate — Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries)
- Fanfic authors can publish stories in those universes on Kindle, and be paid royalties for it
Most of the comments I’ve heard have been supportive of this. After all, Amazon loves selling content instead of media because there’s no up-front wholesale cost for them, and this allows them to vend a whole universe (several universes, actually) of content that would otherwise have been ignored.
Contrarian that I am, I am going to say that not only is this going to be a trainwreck of semi-apocalyptic proportions, but it’s a wholly foreseeable trainwreck, as soon as one looks at this from the perspective of the licensor.
Now, you’ll notice that none of the real heavy-hitters of the fanfic franchises are in the initial announcement, but let’s take the case of the lion of the jungle, the ultimate franchise for which fan fiction was invented:
Now, Paramount has always been forward-thinking about their approach to expanding the Star Trek franchise. Their proliferation of tie-in and spinoff novels are the example of every other media franchise looking to expand into print. And Paramount has on the whole been very lenient with fanficcers, letting authors (and filmmakers, too) play in their intellectual sandbox as a way of cementing the fans’ devotion to the brand. As long as you’re doing it for-the-luv and not trying to make money off their IP, they’ve let fanficcers go to town.
But there has always been a high, thick concrete wall between the officially licensed books and the fan fiction. And that wall is there in the name of quality control.
Ask Peter David or Lee Goldberg or Mike Stackpole or any writer who’s done licensed tie-in novels, and they’ll tell you that the licensor takes a very hands-on approach to the tie-in work, the degree of licensor involvement being roughly commensurate to the breadth of the spin-off products’ reach (e.g., there’s going to be a lot more licensor micromanagement for Star Wars or Star Trek novels than for Monk or Diagnosis: Murder novels). And that’s perfectly understandable. The licensors are in charge of protecting the franchise property as a whole, and they know that a poor tie-in novel can affect readers’ attitude toward all the other tie-in novels, and anything else in that franchise, including the original movies or TV show (especially if they’re ongoing).
Which means that the licensor is going to shoot down any tie-in work which drastically changes the character, tone, or maturity level of the original work. That’s why, in all their decades of licensing literally hundreds of Star Trek novels, Paramount has never given the thumbs-up to a novel featuring a Kirk/Spock gay romance, despite the inexplicable fact that such stories have been so common in Star Trek fan fiction right from the beginning.
So, let’s say that you’re the corporate entity known as Paramount, and Amazon comes to you with this Kindle Worlds proposal. You license the franchise to Amazon, and anyone who wants to can write a Star Trek novel (or story, even — the stated guidelines are that it only needs to be 5,000 words long) and upload it to sell as a Kindle ebook, and Paramount will get a cut without lifting a finger.
Anyone can write a Star Trek novel.
Now, Kindle Desktop Publishing currently has some minimal content guidelines: no pornography (“That’s Smashwords’s job!”), “offensive content,” or copyright infringement. And maybe there will be additional guidelines for Kindle Worlds, specific to the franchise or property (“No Kirk/Spock, Geordi/Data, Bashir/Garak…”), and even restrictions against crossover fanfic (“Even though Amazon holds the licenses to both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, you may not have Leonard Nimoy’s characters team up with each other”). But these are still de minimus controls, far from the overseer role that Paramount has traditionally taken over content, style, and quality. There is no way on the surface for you to ixnay blatant Mary Sues, or obviously politically-oriented stories that have the Enterprise deposing a Federation President who imprisons malcontents on the planet Guantanamo II, or a five-novel series in which Kirk comes down with the space clappe and Spock runs the ship like it should be run, dammit.
In other words, in exchange for whatever their cut is from Amazon, you give up entirely control of the franchise. Instead, you consent to having the franchise weakened and watered down but poorly written, derivative, wish-fulfilling fully licensed fan fiction.
Call me crazy, but I’m going to guess that Paramount (the real Paramount, not you) is gonna give it about 90 seconds’ consideration and then decide, “Aw, HELL no.”
Now. Here’s the other way in which I think that Amazon has really stepped in it with this.
As you may have noticed, there is something of a difference of opinion regarding the legitimacy of self-published works. Kindle and other ebook publishers have allowed some authors of quality to bypass traditional publishing and create a splash with self-published books, and a lot of readers who would have turned up their noses at something obviously self-published on paper ten years ago (if they even encountered it, as it wouldn’t show up in most book stores) will now give serious consideration to “indie-published” ebooks. But there’s still a lot of dross out there, as everyone who’s Aunt Mabel told them that their hidden-in-a-drawer first-and-only manuscript was really really good, never mind what those 119 stupid publishers said when they rejected it has now shoved it up on Amazon.
The proponents of traditional publishing — both the publishers themselves, and those at the top of the bestseller lists who see their own fortunes tied to that publishing model — play up the lack of gatekeepers in indie publishing as being evidence of its substandard output.
How much more traction will those voices for traditional publishing have if they can point to oodles and oodles of fan fiction as being the median output of Kindle Direct Publishing? High-quality self-publishers could end up tarred by association.
As I said, these negatives either aren’t seen or aren’t given much credence by most of the other commenters I’ve seen. I hope that I’m just out in left field. But I don’t think so.
…who argues that “Apple has violated the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law” (I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean), I present the words of Judge Learned Hand:
Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.
Just so I won’t finish this post with an anticlimax, here’s a pic of an unfinished creature:
I actually took that on Saturday; i should have the completed version done tonight.
And here’s something completed for real:
(Taken with my phone, so naturally not of the best quality.) It’s supposed to look like a reconstructed fossil skull, with the fill-in parts in an obviously different color.
If you’re lucky, then tonight not only will I have the finished version of the top photo to show you, but also the after shots of this critter!
CONduit runs May 24-26 in Salt Lake City. Here’s my schedule of panels and presentations:
4:00 PM – Dark Gods, Deep Ones, and Dagon, oh my… The obligatory H.P. Lovecraft Panel
12:00 PM – It’s called Horror, not “Gore”or
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM – Live MST3K (with Larry Correia)
Other than that, I’ll be at my table in the dealers room during all open hours. (Or maybe running to the potty.)
Thanks to making creatures, creature containers, and my upcoming assemblages, unusual things have been arriving for me in the mail. I love Ebay for the sheer expansiveness of the long tail: no matter what you need, somebody will be selling it.
Recent arrivals have included antique square nails:
… and tiny antique phlebotomy test tubes (these are under three inches high):
And soon to arrive are a rubber alphabet stamp set:
…and, of course, vaccuum tubes:
And no, these aren’t all meant for the same thing.
Last night, Michele and I ran to Wal-Mart for a few things right after she picked me up at the station. Nothing had been started for dinner, so we decided to pick something up. Big Daddy’s is a hot-and-ready pizza place (except they have to call it something else, because that’s a Little Caesar’s trademark). This was about 6:15 p.m. on a Monday night, so I figured they’d be all decked out for the suppertime trade.
They had nothing ready.
So I went to Plan B, which is the Little Caesar’s kitty-corner, in the shopping plaza on the northwest corner of the intersection. And when I got there…
They had nothing ready.
Fine. The plaza that held Little Caesar’s was anchored by Macey’s, a local supermarket. I’d just grab a fried chicken dinner from their deli. And when I went in…
There was no chicken ready.
Had I died? Was this Hell?
I surrendered and went to the Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza outlet on the northeast corner. (For those keeping track, I’ve now visited every corner of this intersection except the southwest. There’s nothing on the southwest corner except a Panda Cafe, and I’d sooner eat my socks.) We called the kids to turn on the oven as we went home with out pizzas.
I said to Michele, “I know that modern Western civilization has many many problems, but it’s one redeeming grace for me has been that things are there when you want them. But I am witnessing the failure of the hot-and-ready paradigm. I am losing faith in my cultural milieu.” Pause. “I can probably get a blog post out of this.”