Thursday News: Three’s Company parody prevails, authorial agency and commercialism, Fresh Romance Kickstarter, and Nature’s April Fool’s joke
Play Reimagining ‘Three’s Company’ Wins Case – This is sort of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the play “3C,” which parodies the television series “Three’s Company,” has prevailed in federal court as transformative and therefore not infringing on DLT Entertainment’s copyright over the television show. The bad news is that playwright David Adjmi has lost a number of opportunities for publication and licensing to other theater companies. And if DLT appeals the judgment, Adjmi’s ordeal will not be over anytime soon. Fortunately, Adjmi was able to get legal representation pro bono, but it does not appear that the case sets any radically new precedent where fair use is concerned.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Donald Taffner Jr., the president of DLT Entertainment, said the company was “surprised and disappointed by the ruling” and would be “reviewing our options.”
“The decision was made without discovery and without the benefit of the court seeing the production of the play, either live or on tape,” he added.
Robert A. Jacobs, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said that this ruling “shows a continuing evolution of courts being comfortable with fair use and recognizing it.” Still, he added, “It won’t resonate as a groundbreaking seismic shift with these issues.” –New York Times
Clean Reader’s Profound Illiteracy: The Consumption of the Text – This post by Remittance Girl is ostensibly on Clean Reader and its censoring effect on erotic texts, but it’s also much more than that. Indeed, the scope of the piece is quite broad, covering issues of genre, reader expectations, consumerism, and the moral rights of authors in regard to having their work interfered with (and there’s a very interesting connection drawn between fan fiction and apps like Clean Reader). I don’t agree with everything argued in the post, but I think it’s really worth reading and discussing, especially as the argument relates to the control that authors do and don’t have over their work and the way readers engage with it. Remittance Girl, for the record, has decided to no longer offer her work for sale, as “the only way for me to have some agency over the relationship I have with my works, and some control over the way I want to have them consumed.” Whether or not you agree with her reasoning, it’s definitely a put your money where your mouth is kind of move.
Before we lay all the blame at the door of publishers and retailers, consider that some genres of writing, like Regency Romance or Post-Apocalyptic Zombie novels abound with such precise conventions and tropes that, for many writers, they are essentially a formulaic recipe that can be repeated over and over again, with minor changes. Readers of this sort of work not only like this, they expect it, they demand it. They are the customer and have been taught to believe the customer is always right. More recently, with the massive popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, sold as erotica, readers consistently punish erotica writers with scathing comments and one star reviews when they do not provide a central romantic plot and a happy ending, because those readers believe they are buying a manufactured product that will offer them the predictable experience they might assume from a Big Mac or a Skinny, Venti, Caramel Latte from Starbucks.
We have all participated and enjoyed the choice afforded to us by this consumer culture. The exchange of anything for money now comes with the implicit understanding that no one should ever have to pay for a single moment of unpleasantness or discomfort ever again. Indeed we are constantly exhorted to adjust things to our liking. –Remittance Girl
Fresh Romance – An Ongoing Romance Comics Anthology Magazine – Another good news/bad news situation. The good news is that a project like Fresh Romance — a “monthly, all-digital romance comics magazine” — has already exceeded it’s $28K goal, with 20 days still to go. The bad news is that we need crowdfunding to make a publication like this happen. Still, it’s heartening to see the enthusiastic response.
The first issue features sundry stories ranging from a clandestine, queer high school love affair to an impeccably researched and illustrated Regency-era romance. In addition to three forward-looking romances, each issue of FRESH ROMANCE delivers a relationship advice column by a quartet of divorced writers, behind-the-scenes art coverage, and a fashion report. Thanks to our ongoing anthology format, the kinds of stories we feature will be constantly evolving. The magazine will be R-rated, so while not all of the individual chapters or stories will be racy, there will be some adult content. Our goal is to bring avid comics readers and those new to comics together to enjoy the romance genre. –Kickstarter
Zoology: Here be dragons – Nature’s April Fool’s article on the real existence of dragons. Given the amount of material and potential available to exploit for something like this, I wasn’t blown away. Were you more impressed than I was?
The 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 has sparked an unprecedented investigation of literary resources from the early medieval period. One such document, uncovered by chance under a pile of rusty candlesticks in a locked cupboard marked “loste propertie” in the depths of the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, provides strong evidence that the field of fantastical beasts requires urgent re-evaluation. Attributed to the monk Godfrey of Exmouth, the treatise discusses many verified aspects of English history but, crucially, proffers evidence that for millennia dragons have periodically been a scourge to civilizations (Fig. 1). –Nature
Re Remittance Girl’s comments about readers’ expectations on text – I read a review of J R Ward’s latest book “The Shadows”, on Goodreads this morning which gave the book a one star rating – predominantly because the book failed to meet the reader’s expectations of the genre. I don’t want to spoil the book (which was only published on Tuesday) for anyone by describing the issue the reviewer had with the book but it was interesting that the reviewer seemed to have been invested in the narrative but gave the low rating because it didn’t conform to her views of paranormal romance (her label not mine).
The Nature article on dragons was quite clever and so very, very dry; reading to the end, as well done as it was, took real work and a dictionary.
While I admire her choice to remove her work from sale sites, the Remittance Girl piece only serves to emphasize the gaping divide between author and reader. Sorry, your book isn’t a special snowflake that shall remain forever unsullied by the opinions/actions of the unwashed masses. If you put it out there for public consumption you don’t get to dictate how a reader chooses to interact with the text. I think the Clean Reader App is ridiculous on so many levels, but so what. Nobody’s forcing this app on anyone. If a reader wants to avoid profanity in a book and there happens to be an app for that, great. Once she’s purchased that book, it’s a reader’s choice how she interacts with it. If I want to burn the latest Ward book for violating reader trust, that’s my choice.
And I think a lot of certain types of one star reviews she’s talking about could be easily avoided by Setting Appropriate Expectations. Don’t tag or market your book as one thing when it’s another (not saying she did this). Genre readers have certain requirements in their reading, and when an author thinks they’re being clever or innovative by violating those requirements but still marketing to those genre readers there will be some seriously pissed off readers.
Now if only someone would make an app that could tell you if a book contains sexual assault.
I know what the Ward spoiler is and, even though I’ve never read a Ward book thus I’m not emotionally invested, I was truly shocked. It’s about reader expectations, yes, but the reader expected to get what was advertised. Ward writes romance and there are only two iron-clad requirements, which should NOT be confused with a trope. She violated one; therefore, it was not a romance and thus, not as advertised. This was far beyond trope-fiddling, these two rewuirements are NOT tropes, and good writing/storytelling (or not) is irrelevant in this case.
Re Clean Reader: I come from a culture that does this by default mentally or with a pen (scratching out words in print books) or with clever film editing (there is/was? a service that did/does? this), and if they can’t edit to their satisfaction, they avoid the work and lobby heavily against others consuming that work.
I personally would find it hilarious if someone wanted to read my books but with the profanity (and other stuff) taken out. It says to me (after living in this paradigm my whole life) that the temptation’s too great, but marking stuff out makes it OKAY. I love watching people tie themselves in knots to partake without partaking because they don’t have the guts to say, “Fuck you, I like it.” Go ahead. Clean-Reader the hell out of my books. You’re adorable in your little handbasket.
So I’m chuckling at the consumers AND the authors. Really? Silly people doing silly little things, and it’s this big offense?. The authors’ outrage made an app that was a niche market and virtually unknown a Big Deal. They should’ve checked the stats on those downloads before getting worked up about it. What is this business about control? That went out the window with fan fiction.
@Moriah Jovan: I want to stress that I have no idea what the Ward spoiler is, so all I am doing is speculating based on what you said. My guess is one of the main characters dies and/or romantic couple does not get their happy ending. If I am right and I do not know if I am, I so agry that those are not tropes, but the requirement for genre Romance. I just do not understand why invent the wheel trying to fight it. Just do not call your book a Romance and the reader won’t go in expecting it. I recently read a decent m/m erotica novel (and trust me, it *was* an erotica novel) and I was almost shocked when it turned out to have HFN ending. I did not expect a bloodbath coming in but I surely did not expect the main characters to stay together even if on a shaky ground and who knows for how long. And I would have been totally fine with it because I knew I was not reading genre Romance. I am always grateful when SFF writer lets the main character live at the end, but I do not expect it when I start the book and I surely do not expect if the character is allowed to have a happy life. Different genres, different reader expectations.
@Moriah Jovan: @Moriah Jovan: I want to stress that I have no idea what the Ward spoiler is, so all I am doing is speculating based on what you said. My guess is one of the main characters dies and/or romantic couple does not get their happy ending. If I am right and I do not know if I am, I so agry that those are not tropes, but the requirement for genre Romance. I just do not understand why invent the wheel trying to fight it. Just do not call your book a Romance and the reader won’t go in expecting it. I recently read a decent m/m erotica novel (and trust me, it *was* an erotica novel) and I was almost shocked when it turned out to have HFN ending. I did not expect a bloodbath coming in but I surely did not expect the main characters to stay together even if on a shaky ground and who knows for how long. And I would have been totally fine with it because I knew I was not reading genre Romance. I am always grateful when SFF writer lets the main character live at the end, but I do not expect it when I start the book and I surely do not expect if the character is allowed to have a happy life. Different genres, different reader expectations.
@Sirius: UGH “agry” means “agree” :)
JR Ward sure ignores genre requirements a lot. It wasn’t that long ago that there was a HUGE kerfuffle about one of the BDB stories failing to meet expectations (and I think it was that book, or the one right after it, that was the last I read by Ward–the one where the heroine is a ghost). As I recall the discussion, the world-building wasn’t strong enough for the book to be called urban fantasy, and the romance wasn’t strong enough for it to be called paranormal. Essentially, it was a marketing fail.
You can write whatever story you want, but when you tell buyers it’s a romance, and then it’s not a romance, be prepared for backlash.
Hrm. Actually, it was kind of a long time ago. 2008-ish?
But to bring the conversation back to Remittance Girl — unlike Ward, she does NOT publish her books as romance. She writes erotic fiction. I reviewed one of her books and it was in no way a romance, nor was it meant to be. So I think she has a point, which is that some readers are confusing erotic fiction with erotic romance, and they are two different genres.
@Janine: Oh, I agree then – I think that as long as it is not labeled as a Romance any expectation of the happy ending is on reader and not on the writer.
@Janine: But then I honestly do not see a problem. Surely any expectation of happy ending in the book not labeled Romance is on reader and not on the writer?
@Sirius: I could be wrong, but I suspect the concern is that readers are giving her books negative reviews because they don’t contain a HEA.
@Janine: I think you are probably right, but then I am just not sure what can she do except completely lock her works away . I mean clearly she feels strongly about it, stronger than wanting to make a profit on them since she took her works from paying sites, but unless she completely hides them from public eye she can’t control how the reader interprets her works. She just can’t as CG said . I think it is still the matter of trusting that her audience will find her ( additional audience I mean I am sure she has faithful readers already). If I were in any way shape or form interested in her works, would I pay any attention to one star review which says oh hey, there is no happy ending so here we go, one star. No, of course not. I would roll my eyes and find this review completely unhelpful for myself. But while I find it completely unreasonable for the reader to downgrade the book which is not genre Romance for the sole reason that it does not happy ending, it is still reader’s right to feel whatever they want to feel about the book, right? I am rambling, and not sure if I am making much sense but my point is that IMO the only solution to her ” read as I want you to read or else” is to distribute her works by mailing list or something like that. And even then what she is going to stay over reader’s shoulder and dictate how she is supposed to interpret her works? It just feels silly to me you know? IMO if you want to share your works with the world you really have to make peace with the idea that you should let them go and let readers pick them apart , discuss, criticize, enjoy , whatever. Of course if the only reason you write is to make yourself happy and not show it to anybody else then sure this is your writing, you don’t have to show it to anybody and you and only you know what you are writing about. But if you are sharing it even with one more person, that person’s interpretation is her own.
@CG: I ranted on Twitter about this last night. I basically said what you said here.
I don’t have time for the Clean Reader App. It’s not for me. But I do object to the idea that any artist can tell me how to consume the art. It doesn’t matter whether it’s free or it’s borrowed from a library, viewed in a gallery or purchased. The *consumer* gets to decide those things, not the creator. (And, whle books are art, they are also too a product. Being free doesn’t change that.) If the creator wants ultimate controll, then don’t release the art. It matters little to me whether I’ve bought it or borrowed it or it was given to me for free, for whatever reason. I’ll consume it how it suits me to consume it.
And I very much objected to her sneering at the HEA. Genre fiction isn’t lowbrow and/or unimportant and the HEA isn’t necessarily “easy” to write. Non-genre fiction isn’t automatically elevated to “better” because it is “literary”. I seriously want to kill that argument with fire.
I know Remittance Girl doesn’t write romance. I’m not terribly interested in reading her work because I am primarily a romance reader and my HEA-love will be prised from my cold dead hands.
It seems to me that she’s getting reviews disappointed that there’s not HEA, then that’s a marketing fail on her part.
As for the Ward book. I am SO glad I gave up that series some books ago. I would be so stabby right now – for wasting my time and my money.
And the concept (per her spoilerific blog post) that she is not in control of her books, that the characters tell her what to write and if she goes against it they go “on strike” is just ludicrous. If an author is not in control of her work I don’t want to read it. I certainly get that sometimes books go in unexpected directions and ideas occur to authors in the course of writing which may make the original outline of a story unworkable. I’ve heard the “my characters wouldn’t let me do x” before and mostly I regard it as a metaphor. Ward seems to be serious. Nope Nope Nope. If I can’t trust you do be in charge of your own book, I’m not going to trust you with my money or my time.
@Sirius: Oh yes, I agree. Authors can’t control how their books are interpreted. But it is her right to take it off bookselling sites, much as it disappoints me, and I thought her position should be distinguished from Ward’s because the Ward book was mismarketed but I didn’t see anything in the packaging of Remittance Girl’s books to suggest that she had mismarketed them. I believe her when she indicates that 50 Shades of Grey has altered the publishing landscape enough that it’s become harder to market erotic fiction. While I think it would be better for her and for us if after publication she let go of being so invested in readers’ responses to her work, I’m also sorry to see her work made unavailable for purchase because I really liked the one I read.
@Moriah Jovan: I went looking for the Ward spoiler last night and like Kaetrin, it made me soooo glad I quit her series after Xhex’s and John Matthew’s book. I couldn’t help but wonder what Ward’s editors had to say when they saw the way this book ended. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that convo.
@Kaetrin: So curiosity killed the cat. To be honest I never heard of Remittance Girl before this article (I checked what novel Janine reviewed here so I guess I read her review before, but that was the extent of my brief knowledge which I completely forgot anyway. The fact that I have not heard of her is totally on me because I am not well read in m/f or menage erotica at all. So anyway, I went on Amazon and her only solo work left there (not sure if she planning to take it out or not as well) is “Beautiful losers”. Novel which Janine reviewed is not there (have no idea if it was there before and how many of her other works had been there before). There are couple of short stories collections which include her work, but I am not even sure if it includes only her work or not. So I looked at the reviews for “Beautiful losers”. Um, I tried very hard to find one star reviews for non HEA ending (I should say for abrupt ending – thats what some reviews are saying, not sure if that means you can stretch it into HEA or not). I failed. Vast majority of the reviews are four and five stars – they praise evocative prose, depth of the characters, exploration of the issues of gender and sexuality. I mean, yes, some of those *four and five star reviews* are saying that they would have liked to see more. They want to at least know what happened to the most fragile of the characters, they want more certainty, etc. But they did not downgrade the book for that. They just express how they felt as readers, while at the same time giving the work its dues. Are they not allowed to even do that?
I remember very well few years ago writing five star review for the so called Romance where author killed one of the main characters at the very end while other guy was watching. It was all fitting in the story, and I respected it. But was I going to not say how I felt and how irritated I was? Of course I was going to say it and I think at least reviewers for this work did it with grace. Of course maybe there are reviews on good reads for no happy ending, or for the books she took down, I do not know that and have no interest finding out.
Re: Ward. I think it is hilarious about “characters dictating her to do this or not do that”. I also always took it as a metaphor – you get new ideas, you know that plot must go into this direction and not that. I get that, you never know where your muse will lead you. But *you* know that, you are the writer, your characters may be alive in your mind, and you may have poured your soul in them to make sure they will come alive in the readers’ minds, but they are not alive. They cannot dictate you what to do, they have no capabilities at all to do that. Gah.
@Janine: Oh definitely! It is her absolute right to do that, I completely agree. As I just wrote above “beautiful losers” are still on Amazon in case you are interested in purchasing it.