Monday, May 28, 2012

What Makes a Successful Booksigning

mini-champagne bottleI mentioned in my last post that I was headed for a booksigning with my CPs. But first I spoke at a writers conference, where I did another booksigning. What a contrast between the two. At the writers conference, I sat a table with 8 authors and people trickled by. I signed maybe 3 books and had a few people stop me in the halls from time to time to get a book signed. At the booksigning table with me was a New York Times bestselling author. She had the most traffic, but I'd estimate she signed about 8-10 books. Not a spectacular turnout. 

That same weekend a friend of mine had a book launch in a well-known bookstore in a major city. The three authors offered a workshop followed by a reading and signing. Attendance was decent, but she sold only two books.

So I was totally surprised when I got to the library for the anthology reading and signing. Every seat was filled and people were standing on all sides and in the back. Amazing.

Several great readings were followed by a champagne toast (note the mini-champagne bottles--with the book title--they had for each author) and the booksigning. The standing room only crowd enjoyed refreshments and lined up to get authors' autographs.

Other than at BEA, where all the books are free, this was the first time I've ever been at a booksigning where it was non-stop signing during the whole event. Absolutely amazing!

More photos of the event can be found at Cate Masters's and Don Peschel's blogs. As Cate said, it was definitely "A Launch to Remember."

So what made the difference? Both events received a similar amount of publicity. And approximately the same number of people attended each event. Actually, the writers conference had several hundred attendees, compared to slightly more than one hundred at the library event, but almost every person at the library bought a book. Book price wasn't an issue. At the writers conference, all my books were discounted. Yet library goers paid full cover price. Sure, they wanted to support their community library, as all proceeds from the anthology benefitted the library. But I believe a big part of the success of the library event had to do with the organizers. Mega-thanks go to the library staff and to Ann Elia Stewart, the anthology editor. Their enthusiasm inspired the crowds.

So what can authors learn from this to make their own booksignings go well? First, find enthusiastic backers. One of my friends has a group of influencers who get the word out whenever she launches a new novel. This group reads advance copies, then blogs and tweets and posts reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book-related sites. Influencers gather people to attend her book tour events. This author was listed as one of her publisher's top selling authors, and she's with a major publisher.

In addition to that, if you're launching in your community, let everyone know. Most people like to support hometown authors, and newspapers and TV stations will often do features on the event. One Canadian author I know had a radio station approach her about doing ads and an interview about her book launch. They gave her a deal she couldn't pass up, and she sold 125+ books at her first booklaunch.

Think about ways to attract crowds and media attention. A Gothic Tea Party made for another successful launch. Themed events that tie into your book are always good draws.

Give attendees a night to remember. Three YA authors in Canada held a spooky event to launch the anthology Spirited. With a band, refreshments, and ghouls like the one here, who wouldn't want to attend an event like that, which promises fun for everyone? And with proceeds going to charity, people stepped up to buy the books and get them signed.

Think outside the box. What's your book about? Try an non-traditional venue or connect with a group that's related to your book's theme. Consider donating some of the proceeds to a related charity. The charity will often help promote the event, and people who support that cause will learn about your book. And you'll be doing your part for something you believe in.

Good luck with those events! And if you have any tips for making booksignings shine, be sure to leave comments below. We can all help each other so we don't end up like this:

For more tips on successful booksignings, check out Writing

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What's In A Name?

Apologies everybody. I've been battling some family issues as well as trying to cope with a deadline that's threatening to strangle me any minute - and honestly, the days just keep getting away from me. 
But - I'm so excited to be back and so, let's get on with some writerly stuff... 
Despite trying to finish the second book, I'm under the gun to produce a partial for the third book, and I can see my hero quite clearly and he is  very  c-u-t-e… Very different to gorgeous, heart-melting Seth from Dead, Actually. . Very different to meltingly hot and broody Finn of Almost Dead.  This guy is cute. Playful.  Twinkly eyes that always look they’re they’re sharing a joke with you?  Oh, be still my heart…
Anyway – to me,  this guy is very definitely a  ’Charlie’. Upmarket guy, but grounded. It’s a cool, trendy name that brings some history with it. I like it.
However, my friend and crit partner, Heather, pooh-poohed it. So what to do? For what it’s worth at the mo, I’m sticking with it – because he’s so ‘Charlie all over’  to me.  My arguments for doing so? Any name can be cool – it depends on who it’s hung on. Look at Edward from Twilight. Edward? Really? Nothing wrong with the name per se – but honestly, are we talking hot hero names here? Really?

Edward from Twlight
Yet, Steph Meyer created one of the most lusted after heroes of recent times.
To prove my point, let’s flip to another Edward who features in  a perennial fave movie of mine – and one that has something of a cult following. (Or is that just in my house???)
Of what do I speak? “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (NLCV) of course  - and the unforgettable ‘Cousin Eddie’.

Cousin Eddie
To coin a popular advert phrase over here in Ozland : ‘let’s compare the pair’. Edward of T/L fame? And Cousin Eddie of  NLCV.
Both Edwards, right?
No contest.
I rest my case.  It’s all in the creation of the character. So, until my agent or editors tell me different, my next hero will be Charlie. 
I think... Whoever he is, I love him already.
So, what’s your fave character name and is there a name you came to love because of that character? If there’s no one – just pop in and say hi. I'd love to hear from you.   
Till then – thank you again for your support and understanding! 
Posted for Kaz Delaney

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Drinking with Hemingway

Last night, Midnight in Paris was on cable and even though I'd already seen it before I couldn't resist watching it again.  There are so many things about this movie that I love, on so many different levels.

On one level, the movie itself is such a beautiful fantasy that I suspect every writer has had.  Who hasn't imagined sitting down in a Parisian cafe with a glass of red wine and having a conversation with Hemingway?  Or Fitzgerald?  Or Gertrude Stein?  Or in my case, a mug of small beer in a tavern in Bankside, sitting across from Shakespeare.  Wouldn't it be amazing to pick their brains about what inspired them, what kept them going during the droughts, what their processes were?

Because here's the thing - I believe that, even 500 years ago - writers went through the same things we go through.  They fretted over a line of dialogue.  They rewrote and rewrote their opening scene, trying to get it just perfect.  They had days when they dreaded facing their typewriter, or quill. 

Last year, at the SCBWI-LA conference, I had the great fortune of hearing Judy Blume speak.  She talked about how, back in the '60's, she was a housewife, and it was making her sick.  Not being able to express her creativity, not having the outlet to write, was literally making her sick.  And my heart skipped a beat, because I know that feeling.  As much as I love my family - and I love them more than anything - I need to write.  I need to be creative.  I need to express myself, or I would become sick.

And so there we were, Judy Blume and I, nearly fifty years removed from each other, and experiencing the exact same thing. 

But the other level I love Midnight in Paris on is that it's an artist's meditation on being an artist.  It makes me believe that even an artist as established and successful as Woody Allen still ruminates on what it means to be an artist.  On what's really important - making money, or making good art.  That even after all his years of being an artist - and being one of the most important filmmakers of our time - he still harbors a secret fantasy of hanging out with Picasso.

The experience of being an artist is universal.  Whether it's Shakespeare tearing his hair out over the opening lines of Hamlet, or Hemingway pouring his war experiences onto the page, or Judy Blume struggling to find her voice.  Or Woody Allen living out his dream of meeting Fitzgerald on the screen.

Across the ages, across the chasm that separates someone like me from someone like Woody Allen, we all experience the highs and lows of an artist's life.  It's a comfort to know that we are not alone.  And that the experience of being a writer is universal.

Please share in the comments below - which famous (dead or alive) writer or artist would you love to share a drink with?

Friday, May 25, 2012

GEEKALEGAL:  Parody Everywhere

In an entertainment law discussion a few months ago we talked about  Kim Kardashian suing Old Navy for misappropriating her identity.  She alleges that the company used a KK look-alike in a commercial for their clothes.  Unlike a lot of Intellectual Property, this is not a federal action, or one based in the constitution.  It is a state action, one that was confirmed in the robot Vanna White look alike case by the Supreme Court (albeit with a dissent that was extremely feisty).  

Check out the commercial and see what you think.  I am not a huge tv watcher, so I was not familiar with the multitude of Kardashians, and when I watched the commercial and compared the two females, I didn't see the association.  But friends who are far more hip than I have told me that it is confusing.   To win, KK will have to show that the commercial meets the element of this sort of misappropriation of her identity.  There are a lot of defenses that Old Navy could use, including parody. 

Parody is when one uses the basis of one copyrighted work and makes a social, humorous or critical statement.  One example that was held to be parody is the book “The Wind Done Gone” which utilizes the elements of Gone with the Wind, told from a slave's point of view. Wierd Al is another good example of parody.  The Courts have been willing to absolve someone from infringement claims when they are actually doing a parody.

So what happens when you want to use this in an element of your book, or perhaps the entire book?  How do you make sure that you have stayed within the parameters of the law and can have a safe defense if some famous person decides that your using their life as a basic plot element is just not right?  This is where having a lawyer in your state is helpful as each state differs.  But the main thing you should look at is if your work is actually making a true parody statement ABOUT the original work.  Or is it just outright copying?  And if you are using a famous person, did you cross the line in disparaging them or are you mentioning them simply as part of the general ambiance and culture of your book's setting?  

Keep in mind that certain rights to publicity such as this do survive death, again fact dependent.  Just because someone is dead doesn't mean you are safe.  Elvis's estate has been vigilant about policing the use of Elvis.  They recently won against a local Houston restaurant that not only was using one of Elvis' songs in its name but also had every food and drink named from an Elvis song.  How far is too far in use? That is going to depend on your particular situation.

Most of the time, artists will obtain a license to use the original work from the copyright holder.  However not everyone is going to be thrilled about the use of their work or name in your book.  This is something that one should keep in mind when plotting and using a character that is clearly someone famous.  Flatter them, you are probably OK.  At the same time, if this is a conservative person and you 'flatter' them by putting them in an unflattering light (eg. Putting a well known minister in a hot steamy erotic) is probably not going to make them happy.

If you are writing a true parody then you should be ok, but it is best to get the permission of the copyright holder.  Remember that copyright (including foreign copyright holders) have the benefits of their work (the ability to reproduce, make derivative works, that sort of thing) for their life plus 70 years.  Soon we may see that expand when Mickey gets close to losing his copyrighted status.  The idea of 'public domain' seems to narrowing.

Parody is a favorite of my husband.  For me, not so much.  I think I just don't have the same kind of funny bone, although I have to say I enjoyed the Wired Al concert last year.  Granted I was as entertained by the variety of Weird Al fans (everything from red neck to goth) but still it was fun.  

How is this geeky?  Ah, that is a good question, because June is going to be  “No Plagiarism” month here.  With the internet, it is all too easy to find information that can be used in our work, be it a famous person who does something really stupid (facts are not copyrightable) to a work that just HAS to have our twist on it.  If this is your thing, then make sure you look at what parody really means.  Check out if that public figure has a tendency to sue, and evaluate how you plan to use them in your writing.

I've talked a bit more about 'Right of Publicity' than just the parody element, but since we have a litigious world I thought it fit.

Have a happy Memorial Day weekend. A huge salute to all those who have made our country safe, with their service and their lives.  A big kudos to all the military service dogs.  You have a special place in my heart.


Iona McAvoy, Intellectual Property Attorney, Houston, Texas

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I wanted to announce the release of my first YA, MEMOIR OF DEATH (Etopia Press)! Have you ever had no one to eat with in the cafeteria? Have you ever latched on to boyfriends because of how empty you feel? You're supposed to look forward to summer vacation, but have you ever been so bored, you would do anything, even if it was wrong, to make something happen? These are the questions that MEMOIR OF DEATH deals with, so I hope teens can relate. The blurb is as follows: Can you change when you will die, or just the way you live? Keira Alexander still hasn't made any friends in her new town of Cedar Heights, but at least she's snagged a summer community service gig at the Cedar Heights Police Department. Normally, all she does is busy work, but this time, she finds herself at the scene of an apparent suicide--Rhian Sullivan, a girl from Kiera's high school. But when Keira finds a trunk full of Rhian's diaries, she becomes obsessed with the life of the girl she barely knew--and with her death. Because Rhian didn't kill herself. She was murdered. And the murderer does not want Keira to talk... I wrote MEMOIR OF DEATH last summer with my initial inspiration Lauren Oliver's brilliant BEFORE I FALL. It was accepted by my publisher with a twist ending, but then when it went into edits, the editor made me change the ending because it wasn't realistic enough. I was happy to do it though since she has a good sense of things, so now it has turned into a straight mystery. I hope the new ending turned out just as well! The publisher also made me change the name of the city. It was originally written as Austin, Texas, but she found out that they don't accept 18 year olds as police there, so I had to make it a fictional city. I put a poll up on my Facebook page, and asked what to rename Austin. I put a couple of suggestions together, and came up with Mesquite Falls first, which was dismissed by the editor as "too country," so Cedar Heights became my next choice. If you couldn't already tell by the title and the cover, yes, it's dark. I know I used to enjoy reading morbid stuff as a teenager; I found it comforting in a strange way. So maybe teens will find the same morbid fascination in this, although it does have a fairly happy ending to round things out. Got to give them something to hope for! If anyone wants to post a review for MEMOIR OF DEATH, please let me know, and I would be happy to give you an electronic copy. I also have an ongoing offer for my editing services. I will do 10 pages of line and substantive editing of your work-in-progress if one of my books is purchased. Until June! Jacqueline Corcoran

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Inspiration Comes From Everywhere: Get Out of the House and Travel!

Sometimes I find myself stuck in a rut, sitting in front of the computer and visiting the same places day after day. A life filled with routine. Inspiring—not. But nothing can motivate me faster than breaking free of the house and going somewhere I’ve never been before.  

I try to take a major trip to a new place every year or two. My last trip was to Southern France. One of my favorite cities was Narbone. After a morning filled with sightseeing around the beautiful medieval town, my friend Teri and I visited the famous market and had a wonderful lunch with a view of the Midi Canal. I told Teri I wanted to squeeze in one more historical sight before we met up with our friends who were souvenir shopping. I decided to ask a local if it was worth rushing over to see the cathedral since we had some time.  

I approached an older woman loaded down with shopping bags. In my broken French, I asked, “The church by the square, is it beautiful?”

In a heavily accented English, she said, “The cathedral is old but simple. Not nice.”

How could a place with such an elaborate buttress system be simple? “Really. It looks quite large and impressive from the square.”

She wrinkled her nose. “No. Not worth your time. Go shopping!”

And with that pronouncement, she marched off toward the market to do just that. I looked at Teri. “Something in my gut tells me we should take a peak.”

She gave me a smile. “Who am I to keep you from getting your cathedral fix?” 

We speed walked up the street to the church. My jaw dropped the second I caught a glimpse of the impressive height of the façade.  “Wow, no wonder they need buttresses on the top. The church is ridiculously tall. My neck hurts trying to find the roof.”

The entrance to the cathedral was quite plain, as the woman said, but when I walked through the impressive doors, the sheer grandeur and volume of the space was overwhelming. One hundred and thirty feet of vaulted majesty accented by enormous stained-glass windows. Although the cathedral didn’t have the fame of its larger sisters like Norte Dame, standing in the nave no one could question its beauty.

I turned to Teri. “This church is simple? What the heck was that woman talking about? The place gives me goosebumps.”

“I guess the French are spoiled.  You’ve seen one grand cathedral, you’ve seen them all.”       


Saturday, May 19, 2012


I am working on a new short story and I am having a hard time coming up with names. I have a book called  THE WRITER’S DIGEST SOURCEBOOK FOR: BUILDING BELIEVEABLE CHARACTERS by Marc McCutcheon. Here is the link to it: In this book the author discusses ways to make your characters come alive, so to speak. He lists given and surnames from around the world and I use this list to peruse names. I also use a baby names book list, a medieval names list, an Arthurian names list, and I sometimes go through my bookshelf to find a name of an author to use.  How do you find names for your characters? Sometimes it’s difficult and nothing comes to you, other times the character seems to name him or herself. 

SETTINGS: How do you go about finding the perfect setting for your story/book? I have a tendency to use a made up named city/town unless I know the area well. I will go through maps online to find a city name I like and mash it up with another city name. For example, Grandville, or Beechton. Sometimes the meaning might strike you. In LORE OF FEI, faeries are called fey so that was a logical name for their land to me.  In another book I wrote the name of the city was Caeron, a small medieval city on the coast.  In the same book a country I made up is called Inkexia where the inhabitants have blue ink coloured skin.  Another place in that same book is the Iron Sea. Can you tell it’s a fantasy? It’s actually a paranormal romance/space opera between a Selchie (half-human/half-seal) and a Werewolf (called a Were) in space. The selchie is from a planet made mostly of warm, green oceans. Another planet in the system is made up of crystals including the inhabitants. Still another planet has undulating dolphin-like creatures on it.  And another one is made up of scholars who do the main research and teaching for the other planets.

I have a file folder on my desktop I named WRITING HELP. In it I have the following things:
Anatomy of a Synopsis
Character Worksheet
Building a YA Fantasy World
Editing Checklist
How to Write a Query
Narrative Structure Worksheet
Story Concept Template
The Parts of a Synopsis
What to Ask an Agent

What do you have in your WRITING HELP folder?

I finished doing a STORYBOARD for my zombie book. It was fun and it helped me to write the Dread Novel Synopsis. I found a plot error toward the end of the book so that was good!  Have you ever done a storyboard for your novels? If so, how did you like doing them? I totally borrowed it from screenwriters.

I have 2 full manuscripts out to agents and 3 partial manuscripts. I keep hoping someone will pick up one of my books (I am querying five at the moment, LOL).

What are you working on?
Be sure and check out my YA faerie fantasy book, LORE OF FEI, now on Kindle! Available here:
Take Care, Until Next Time,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mind Like a Steel Sieve

Lately I've been forgetting things.

I didn't forget about a guest blog post I owed someone, but I did forget which date she and I'd decided on, resulting in the post not going up when it was supposed to. (And I'm sorry about that!) I had the wrong date on my calendar.

I forgot what color the love interest's eyes were in my upcoming novel Dolphins in the Mud. Thank goodness for galley proofs, because the error got through two rounds of editing, plus line edits and proofing. At their first meeting, my main character mentioned the other boy's "deepest brown eyes", but later on he compared his new friend's eyes to the "blue-green of a summer ocean." (I liked the latter comparison better, so I changed the color in the earlier reference.)

In the same book, I forgot that one character had already met the main character and his younger sister, and had her explaining that her son had told her the younger sister had autism.

I forgot where I saw a comment that I wanted to blog about, which means that I can't blog about it because I don't want to do so without referring back to the comment.

According to my daughter, I forgot to buy her favorite snack at the grocery store. My argument that she didn't tell me she needed it doesn't seem to have worked.

I also forgot that that daughter had a doctor's appointment last week. Thank goodness for reminder calls!

I have come to the conclusion that my brain is full of holes and the information is leaking out. So if anyone knows where I can get a good brain repair kit, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Words and Genres

I just finished a YA that I really enjoyed.  But there were a couple of words and phrases that made me pause and think about word usage. One was the term satchel instead of book bag. There could be several reasons for using  this word:
a) a new trend that I'm not aware of
b) written by someone outside of the country, where this word is more common place
c) a different area of the country
d) this term was popular when the author went to school

Another was 'color from a bottle' referring to hair color. I blush to admit I remember this phrase but I'm not sure young people would be familiar with it. So I googled 'color from'  and got:
color from hex
color from image
color from vin
color from argb
color from string c#
etc but not color from a bottle

I also noticed the protagonist liked music from a previous generation.  Music that I'm guessing the author likes.  Do you include music from your generation that you like when you write? I know I do.

Words and genres get tricky.
For instance, the sentence: My buggy was wet.
If its a historical, the reader probably will think the writer is referring to a horse drawn carriage.
If its a modern Southern Romance, the reader (if she's from the south) will assume the author is talking about a cart.
Now if I'm writing a contemporary romance set in the Midwest and write, 'I pushed my buggy down the produce aisle', I can guarantee Mid-westerners are going to be scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Another phrase that you're apt to see in current YA or contemporary romance is 'bad hair day'.
Do you remember when it first became popular?  Make your best guess on the poll at the right. Or you may not have to guess, you may already know.  After having done so you can find the answer by scrolling to the bottom of this post.  No peaking before you cast your ballot.

The beast had slumbered for thirteen years. Now it was awake and hungry.


The phrase became popular after Buffy used it in the 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Empowering Your Writing Life

As writers we know how powerful words can be. But how often do we destroy our dreams with words—internal thoughts guaranteed to keep us from succeeding? What thoughts or words are holding you back in your writing career?

Everyone is familiar with the idea that saying “can’t” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ve all read The Little Engine that Could. “I think I can…I think I can…I know I can…I did it!” Yet how often over the course of a day do you say, “I can’t do that”?

Do you read an award-winning book and think, “I’ll never be able to write like that”? Not so. If that author did it, so can you. You may need to study your craft or learn some new techniques, but you can write a book like that. Or one that’s even better.

Get in the habit of catching your “I can’t” thoughts and replacing them with “I can.” The simple change of phrase does two things: it puts you in a positive frame of mind and it opens you up to possibilities. Your brain will immediately begin thinking up ways to make this affirmation true. When you say “I can write like that,” your mind says, “Yes, you can. And here’s how you can go about achieving it.” You’ll be amazed at what a simple change from “can’t” to “can” will do for your writing and life goals.

To make it even more powerful, try adding the phrase “or even better” to the end of the statement. “I can write like that or even better.” How does that make you feel when you say it? If words like “impossible” come up, keep changing them to their opposites. “That’s impossible” needs to change to “That’s possible.” Counter every negative thought this way until your brain stops throwing out objections. Just this simple exercise alone can empower you and move you closer to your dreams.

Another phrase you often repeat that may not seem negative but that can stop your momentum is “if only.” The next time you start to use that expression, listen carefully to what comes after those two words. The rest of the sentence gives you a clue to your heartfelt wishes, deepest desires, greatest dreams. It’s a reflection of your heart and soul’s yearning for something yet unfulfilled. Rather than making “if only” statements a time for regret, turn them into affirmations and encouragement. Just drop the first two words and change them to present tense.

“If only I could find time to write” becomes “I find time to write.”

“If only my days were less hectic” turns into “My days are less hectic.”

“If only I could interest a publisher in this book” is now “I interest a publisher in this book.”

Doesn’t that make a world of difference in your attitude? Changing two little words can move you easily from despair and discouragement to excitement and possibility. So watch your internal self-talk to be sure it’s moving you toward your dreams. If you dream it, you CAN do it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why Do You Write?

This month, I've been taking a fabulous online workshop from called Fearless Writer.  It's all about tapping into what makes us unique and channeling that into our writing.  It's actually been pretty intense, starting with the very first lesson.

We were asked to answer a deceptively simple question.  Why Do You Write?  Sure, you can rattle off a quick answer: because I love it, because I want to, because it makes me happy.  But the key to answering this was to dig deeper than that.  Why do you love it?  Why do you want to?  Why does it make you happy?

I had to sit for a few minutes and really think about this.  Why, indeed, do I write?  I do love it...but sometimes I really don't want to do it, and sometimes it really doesn't make me happy.  So, why then?

For me, it's about hearing my own voice.  Separating out my thoughts from the cacophony of the world around me, and expressing them in my own unique voice.  I do it escape the world and go into a fabulous world of my own creation.  I do it to go on a journey that is impossible to take in real life.  I do it because I've had a lot of crap happen to me in my life, and writing about it helps me to make sense of it.

We all write for our own very personal reasons, and I bet that for most of us the reasons go pretty deep.  Most of us don't write to be famous or rich (and if you are, you're barking up the wrong tree).  Most of us don't do it because we're bored and have nothing else to do.  We do it because something deep inside us compels us to write.  Whatever that something is, it's unique to you.  It's what makes your stories unlike anyone else's.

So tell me, Why Do You Write?  What's your own unique reason?

Nicole Maggi writes YA - paranormal, historical, and beyond - and strives to have something available in bookstores soon.  She's represented by the fabulous Irene Goodman of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, their daughter Emilia (after the Shakespeare character), and two cats Sawyer & Hurley (after the LOST characters).  Yeah, she's a geek.  Check out her website & follow her on Twitter!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Geekalegal- Right of Publicity & Copyright

I was recently in a discussion where we talked about Kim Kardashian suing Old Navy for using her image (in that the woman who was in the commercial had similar characteristics), thus misappropriating her 'likeness'. We all watched the ad and then debated if she really has a case against the company. Sure the actress in the ad looks similar to Kardashian, but frankly so do a lot of other young actresses and models. This actress actually is someone in her own right in Canada, so was there an attempt to use this actress to make it seem like it was Kardashian, or is it a generally thumbs up to the dark haired, slim, body type?

Some argued that it was a spoof on Kardashian. If that's the case, then a defense if fair use as it is a parody. Does Kardashian have that much of a following and recognition in the market that viewers of the ad immediately thought of her?

I'm not a tv watcher, when I have any free time I tend to read. I love tv but it is just a preference for no noise when possible. So I kind of missed the whole Kardashian phenomena. When I compared the two women side by side, I thought they had similar basic looks, but I didn't get the Kim Kardashian connection even after watching some of her. It wasn't like there were tattoos or oddly placed piercings that were copied, something specific as has been in other cases. Maybe there was something in the ad I'm just missing, but even the younger lawyers in the group were not seeing it.

How often have you seen something in a book that sounds familiar? Book covers that are look alikes of popular sellers. Characters that seem straight out of the movie you saw two weeks ago? You read a book and you think, wow I have heard or read that exact same phrase before. Deja vu, copying or just happenstance?

I remember when the phrase “Whatever” first hit our language. My initial exposure was in the movie Clueless. So if someone uses that phrase with a character that is a rich blond teen in Hollywood, is that infringement on the movie or is it common enough to be a common element such as star crossed lovers or a comedic sidekick?

So... does Kim Kardashian have a persona such that she can reserve that persona as uniquely her? Some of the more famous Rights of Publicity cases include characters such as Don Henly, Bette Midler, Vanna White).

Some editors have told me they don't want their authors reading other books in the same genre while writing, to make sure they don't subconsciously lift words, phrases, plots from those books. Access is an element in proving up infringement of copyrighted material. Yet copyright infringement can occur without intentionally plagiarizing (which is the subject of a future blog). George Harrison found that out when his song “My Sweet Lord” was found to infringe on “He's So Fine”. Even though he didn't intentionally use the earlier song, he'd had access to it and there was enough similarity to find infringement.

Makes this a difficult writing world, when we are bombarded by media everywhere. To be clear, there are always recurrent plot lines, characters, the archetypes are studied so much because they are exactly that- long standing types of personalities. How you express your ideas, tell your story, that is where the uniqueness comes in.

So we've gone from whether the Old Navy commercial misappropriates Kardashian's likeness enough to be a cause of action to a beginning talk about copyright infringement. I actually think it helps to look at the Kardashian claim to start thinking in our mind as we write to question whether our plots, characters, dialogues...are they mimicking something, trying to be a story that has been told in a very similar specific manner. When revising, and working with critique partners, make sure to be vocal if something sounds 'too much' like a book you've read or movie. It could be independent creation, and prior to the internet that was easier to prove up. Now, well, it is a lot harder to say you've been under the proverbial rock-- even when you have been!

Unless I get diverted with another topic, the next blog will be about infringement. Plagiarism is rampant and sad. I don't get it but it happens daily. As an author, it is probably one of the most frustrating things to happen. What is it, what can you do about it? Next time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Getting Out Of The Chair and Into The Setting- Part II

 Continued from "Getting Out Of the Chair - Part I":

Transport Your Settings by Going Away

First - my apologies for not having this posted for April 24th as promised. I spent five of the last six weeks traveling to workshops and exploring "settings" and was remiss.  Having said that....

A few years ago I began working on a middle grade fantasy which includes a scene of the protagonist observing his father planning a robbery of the British Museum.  Having never been to England I was forced to rely on photos of the museum and floor plans. This was well before the ubiquitous nature of YouTube and Google Earth.  Although the scene flowed well and had the appropriate amount of suspense, but something just didn't ring true.

I decided to extend my trip after a European writing retreat and take a look with my own eyes.  What a difference that made.  The museum isn't set on expansive grounds but is crammed into a crowded urban space off a narrow street. The central reading room is in the middle of what was once a courtyard. The entire interior space is covered by an enormous skylight. The scale can not even be imagined from a photograph and I was panting after I reached the restaurant at the top of the stairs.  On the first floor to the left of the courtyard, I found the room I'd been looking for - the Egyptian Exhibit, the Rosetta Stone was not positioned as I had imagined it, and to the right was an unexpected bonus -  enormous sculptures from the Abyssinian period just begging to be mentioned in the book. Can't you imagine those statues taking flight? As of this last visit, they may well be doing just that for my character.  Another room contained ancient doorways at least three stories tall. And I also discovered that my parent isn't going to be able to break in without high tech tools or superpowers (he has both, by the way).

So what does this have to do with YOU?

You've heard the phrase: Write what you know. Let's add to that. Write what you can see, hear, touch, or otherwise study in depth .

Well, you say --  not everyone can max out credit cards and hide from bill collectors in the pursuit of an experience to enhance and inform their literary works (shh - you don't know where I am if asked :-))   But what you can do is take a mini-vacation from the Butt In Chair Stare At Blank White Page Ritual we all know and love to visit locations nearby....or visit locations far away in virtual mode.  Even if you are creating a brand new "world" for your characters, you can use real places to ground your scenes.  Philip Pullman uses Oxford college as a backdrop, for instance.  Star Trek designs costumes for Vulcans  show East Asian influences.

Here's a writing exercise:   Write a short story (or novel) set at an exclusive European boarding school.  The coed campus attracts some of the richest families in the world, each student speaks multiple languages and, like Harry Potter kids, sit for formal dinners, wear uniforms, and sit for annual exams which are grueling. Tuition is out of reach for most mere mortals.

1. First: write a short paragraph describing the campus setting. Where is the school located? By a lake? By a mountain?  Is it secluded or near town? A single connected building (a castle) or a campus. What type of buildings do you see in your minds eye?

2. Next - describe your protagonist and antagonist. What uniforms do they wear? Do they live in dorms or "houses"? Are they in the same economic class? What does a room look like? Are there horses (magical or not)?  How does one get to town (bike, train, private driver?)

Got it?  How hard was that to do if you've never been to a boarding school campus? Were you relying on Harry Potter, or Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging to get a glimpse of boarding school?  Hmmm. There must be a better way:

The best way to do research is to study an actual school.  Take a look at Le Rosey which fascinates me as a concept and is probably one of the most exclusive high schools in the world.  Set in Switzerland, it costs a jaw-dropping $106,000/year to attend and there are up to an additional $20,000 in incidentals.  Students take classes in English and French, are bi and tri-lingual and sit for the IB.  The place settings at dinner are emblazoned with the student's names.  Students stand when an adult enters the room. Dorms are rumored to have cleaning service. Can't fly there, you say? Then use virtual resources. First start with the website which is full of information to attract parents and students:

Now dig deep and look at their own stated philosophy:

1. Only students who will later proceed to university are admitted.
2. Approximately one in three candidates is accepted.
3. So as to preserve its international character and linguistic mix Le Rosey operates a nationality quota system: no more than 10% of students from one country or group of countries with the same dominant language are admitted.

Does that change how you saw the school? Does the idea that no more than 10% of the students can come from the same country suddenly evoke a different texture to the campus and to the characters in the story? Does it increase the opportunities for tension and conflict? 

Still can't picture it - then go to YouTube and take a flyover, then find student videos to get a flavor of their activities and personalities:

Or were you imagining something more like the Harry Potter campus? Let's look at Taft in Connecticut where most of the Gothic classroom buildings are interconnected, there are buttressed ceilings in the dining room, and although the students don't wear uniforms, the stone stairs in the main hall lead up to the boys dorms/houses on upper floors. The fields are big enough for Quidditch.

Sticking close to home:

I put those examples first because - let's face it -  they're exotic. But when reading through manuscripts I've noted a number of people who are writing YA who:

1. don't know any current teenagers
2. don't hang out in a mall (perfect for eavesdropping)
3. haven't set foot in a high school since they, themselves, graduated.
4. write from distant memory rather than from fresh ones.

Or - the story includes an animal but the author didn't go to the zoo to observe the behavior.  There's a train, but the author hasn't been on Amtrak and can't relay to the reader the gentle sway or the quiet clackety-clack of the car as it rushes along the railroad racks.

Here's your assignment - should you choose to accept it:
Find a place nearby that is similar to a setting in your book - and go visit. Sit and observe. Touch the trees and flowers if permitted to record the textures and aromas in your virtual brain toolkit. Take a sketchpad and make notes of everything - the people that pass by, the weather, the way the sun shines.  Now write about it. You many not use it all, but get into the setting and make it one of your "characters." Let it live and breathe life into your narrative.

If your setting is far flung and you can't go there - find websites, read about it, mine Youtube for clues. Then go to Google and "walk" the streets to get a sense of a human eye view of the environment. The bakeries and small shops. The cobblestone streets. (Caveat: The latter can only go where a car can go, so it's not a panacea for research).  Of course, by sitting in your chair you'll miss a few details, like the amazingly awful toilet aromas in the Paris subways in contrast to the crowded but more aromatically neutral ones in London.  But that's okay. Not everything in fiction has to be true. That's why they call it "fiction."  But your experiences and depth of research can inform a work of fiction in a way a casual writer will not.  It's what made Philip Pullman's work come alive, and Lord of the Rings.

Read this excerpt from A Separate Peace by John Knowles written in 1959:

Like all old, good schools, Devon did not stand isolated behind walls and gates but emerged naturally from the town which had produced it. So there was no sudden moment of encounter as I approached it; the houses along Gilman Street began to look more defensive, which meant that I was near the school, and then more exhausted, which meant that I was in it. 

It was early afternoon and the grounds and buildings were deserted, since everyone was at sports. There was nothing to distract me as I made my way across a wide yard, called the Far Common, and up to a building as red brick and balanced as the other major buildings, but with a large cupola and a bell and a clock and Latin over the doorway — the First Academy Building. 

In through swinging doors I reached a marble foyer, and stopped at the foot of a long white marble flight of stairs. Although they were old stairs, the worn moons in the middle of each step were not very deep. The marble must be unusually hard. That seemed very likely, only too likely, although with all my thought about these stairs this exceptional hardness had not occurred to me. It was surprising that I had overlooked that, that crucial fact. 

Here's the school and the building he was describing - a campus I visited in New Hampshire just this past week, where the white marble staircase leading up from the main foyer to the Assembly hall still bore the worn moons in the middle of each step. And where I happened upon the author himself, in an amazing bit of serendipity:

Your turn.

What can you use as a setting that will surprise your readers and breathe life into your story? Got caves in your state? A castle or fort? Is there a river you can walk or a forest? How about a bakery where you can assault your senses? A local mall where you can sip a drink and observe people? When's the last time you went to a concert.  Surprisingly, Michael Buble is old-school but his crowds are filled with screaming hormonal teenager girls.

Get out of your chair and find your setting, but if you can't, then virtual travel is the next best thing.

Next entry: May 24th.  "Kiss him, or your reader won't want to kiss him either."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Productivity Tips for Writers

I’m always looking for ways to write faster, even though I’m pretty prolific (11 textbooks, three self-help books, and three novels out with one more coming on Friday, Memoir of Death, my first YA!) Some of the productivity tips I’m posting here are ones I routinely use and others I’ve culled from the sources listed below. 1) Planning what to write before you write it: I can easily get stuck and stop writing (or never even begin) because I don’t know what to write. It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what will come out until you start writing (i.e., No Plot, No Problem or The Artist’s Way), but it can also go the other way. I sometimes grind to a halt or get too nervous to even start because I don’t have enough direction. Rachel Aaron in her blog post (listed below) suggests that you sketch out in writing for at least five minutes what you’re going to write about. You can think about this approach as being like an artist’s. Lots of famous artists have sketches in pencil or in a smaller scale than what they ended up committing to canvas. I don’t know where writers get the idea that you have to have a perfect product once you begin writing. Instead, you can do some sketching first where you list out what might happen next, and what the characters may say to each other, or a description of where they are located. You can also do some quick bullet points of what needs to happen next and how you will get this to happen. 2) Getting out of the house: Lots of writers will attest to this trick. When you go somewhere else to write (my favorite is a Starbucks or Panera), then you are beholden after you have made the effort and paid for a latte to sit down and actually get some writing accomplished. The caffeine helps, too. If I really want to stay off the Internet, I just bring a pad with me and write longhand, leaving the computer at home. 3) Create accountability: Sometimes you need to create a facsimile of a deadline, even if no one is clamoring for your work. A critique group for which you need to prepare pages does the trick here, or pay an editor to read your chapters as you finish them. 4) Commit to five minutes of effort: Usually, getting started is the hardest part. Reassuring yourself that you only need to write for five minutes helps you circumvent this barrier. You can stand anything for five minutes, and usually, once you start, you discover that it’s easier to go longer. 5) Write the parts you’re interested or excited about or inspired to write: Start at the ending, jot down bits of dialogue, or write a hook at the end of a chapter. The point, according to blogger, Beth Hill, is to jump in during a writing session, doing what comes most easily for you rather than forcing yourself to write in a sloglike way from start to finish. As an example, what ended up as my mystery Maiming of the Shrew began as little vignettes about my children when they were young – cute things they would do or say or particularly frustrating moments. Then I built up scenes around them and added the mystery. Slowly, the mystery started to take over and eventually I reached 80,000 words. In this example, I started with parenting vignettes. Usually, my first drafts involve mostly dialogue, some interior thoughts, and a few gestures here and there. Of course, I have to go back in and layer in more description, but at least I have the bare bones to work with at that point. The hard part is pulling words from thin air, so make it as easy on yourself as possible. 6) Limit TV: This is one of my biggest productivity tips – I’m genuinely not interested in watching the shows on T.V., so I don’t have this big time suck that I know people struggle with. Although I do watch movies that we get on Netflix and that leads to the next tip … 7) Multi-task: There are tedious aspects to writing when you don’t necessarily have to be terribly creative. One of the things that I’m constantly doing is typing up what I have written longhand, or typing in editing changes I’ve made on a hard copy. This is boring to do unless I have another way of occupying myself. This is where Netflix comes in. I’ll watch movies to make the typing a bit more pleasurable. 8) Related to multi-tasking is to have multiple projects going: Then when you get stuck on one thing, you can move to the next, until you grind to a halt there, and then try something else. This works well with my academic and my creative writing. The academic writing is drier but it is based on sources (i.e., I’m not just making up what I’m writing out of thin air) but then that can get boring and I switch to the more creative side. But then making up stuff gets too hard, so I switch back to my sources and studies. 9) Eat popcorn and M and M’s: This is another one of my original tips, and I’ve recently learned that popcorn contains lots of anti-oxidants and people who eat chocolate regularly have lower body mass index, so I’ve been vindicated on this almost daily snack. While I stuff my face with a bagful of microwave popcorn, I write. This gives me both a reward for writing and helps me munch through some of the frustrations of creating. What works for you? Until the 23rd of the month, Jacqui Corcoran MEMOIR OF DEATH, release date May 11, 2012 Sources by Rachel Aaron by Beth Hill by Ruth Harris

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Inspiration Comes From Everywhere: History—A moment in time.

Last month I attended a wonderful Titanic party. It was held on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the grand liner. The hostess, Nicole, (she’s a fellow writer on Downtown YA) had dreamed of commemorating the anniversary for years. She loved everything about the glamorous and tragic ship.

I’m just as taken with history. Certain moments in time hold a mystery and an allure that is hard to beat. Before the party I didn’t know much about the Titanic. But as the anniversary drew near, I became fascinated by the history of the ship and the passengers. For the party the guests dressed in period Edwardian costumes. Nicole is not only a writer but an actor. Several of the guests were actors too. One of them came as the captain of the ship.  
 We enjoyed a leisurely meal of six courses from the actual menu on the Titanic. The meal began with oysters on the half shell, and moved on to the poached salmon, filet medallions, roast rack of lamb, and roast duck with apple puree. The dessert course of waldorf pudding, poached peaches, chartreuse jelly, chocolate éclairs and vanilla ice cream was a wonderful finale to an amazing meal.

The dinner spanned several hours so we had plenty of time for pleasant conversation. The ship was never far from the guests’ minds. Nicole put various facts about the Titanic in little frames around the table. This spurned even more historical conversation. Was it true two men dressed as women to board a lifeboat? Did a dog save one of the lifeboats from being destroyed by the Carpathian when it barked its head off?  But I had bigger questions. And I just happened to be seated next to the person with the answers.

I turned to the captain curious what he had to say about that fateful night.

“How do you feel about the accident? You didn’t see the iceberg? Weren’t there warnings?

“I’m a very experienced seaman. Over 40 years in fact.”

“How did it happen? So many lives were lost.”

“I wasn’t on active duty when the ship hit the iceberg.”

“But you were the captain.”

“I’m not to blame. I was asleep when the calamity happened.”  

History can be full of surprises.