The Changing Face of Entertainment

Netflix just premiered a new sitcom (sort of, more of a situation dramedy) from the makers of Two and A Half Men called The Ranch, and the reviews of it set me thinking. I watched the show before I read the reviews and I found it funny, fresh, thought-provoking, and original. The reviewers I read (about seven) didn't like it. I'm not going to get into why (I'll start to rant about political correctness and the new Thought Gestapo and all that, and that's not what this post is about.) The important thing is that the critics, to a one, missed the entire point of the show and why it's good.

Having lived in Colorado, where the show is set, I know a lot of rural people like this. The critics clearly don't. Like most who live on either coast they have no clue who people in the middle states are. There is a segment of the country to be served by a show like this, who have minimal interest in shows by Hollywood scions who assume everyone lives, speaks, and thinks like them.

The Evolution of ManI submit that a show like this is perfect for a new, wet-behind-the-ears, upstart entertainment source like Netflix (new in the sense that they have only been offering original programming for the last few years.) Netflix is more interested, at the moment, in building a viewer base than they are in bowing to convention. So shows that the networks and cable cabals who think they rule the industry would never green-light are getting made and broadcast anyway.

Likewise the recent boom in electronic publishing has allowed for the publication of books that the big New York/Los Angeles publishing houses would never consider. They are getting distributed, read, and enjoyed by thousands. Add POD (print-on-demand) services like Amazon's CreateSpace.com, and suddenly the market is being flooded with books that would otherwise never see the light of day. And I'm surprised to say that as far as I can tell, for the most part the quality remains relatively high, considering how abysmal many predicted it would be.

It's the great democratization of the entertainment industry. No longer are a few gatekeepers with a whitewashed point of view about their industry the final say in what the public gets to choose from for their entertainment dollar. And many of these electronically published books have gone on to great commercial success as well (most notably 50 Shades of Grey and The Last Ship.)

So while the sudden opening of the floodgates has many feeling overwhelmed and afraid that their book will never be seen or read amid the cacophony of other books suddenly flooding the world, I submit this is a good thing. The industry is changing (perforce) and change is scary. But another equilibrium will be found eventually, and in the meantime we are witnessing evolution first hand.

Volunteers…the Lifeblood of RMFW

RMFW is an organization run entirely by volunteers. For a group with over 600 members and a budget of more than $175,000, this is no mean feat!  As our new Volunteer Coordinator, I want to spend some time highlighting this Herculean effort.

We began trying to track volunteer efforts in 2014, in part because we needed the information for our audit. But we also recognized there were a lot of volunteers doing things behind the scenes without anyone being aware of their efforts.  That year, we asked all of our board committees to submit lists of their volunteers along with their job role(s).  In 2015, we did the same, but also began to analyze the data in other ways.

RMFW has a twenty-three member board: president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, anthology, by-laws, conference, contest, critique, education events, history project, hospitality, I-PAL, membership, newsletter, PAL, podcast, programs (monthly), publicity, retreat, technology, volunteers, and western slope programs. As board members, each is responsible for helping to run the organization through oversight and policy-making. However, board members also have the responsibility of chairing a committee or heading up special tasks as an executive committee member.  Each committee utilizes volunteers for sub-roles.

Our smallest committee is by-laws, which has no volunteers beyond the board member.  The largest committee is conference, which had thirty-four different volunteer positons in 2015. Some of those positions were filled by one person while others (such as workshop moderator) involved dozens of people. 

In 2015, we recorded 113 different volunteer positions.   Many of those roles (contest judge, newsletter contributor, e.g.) involved multiple slots. By our best estimate, there were 471 separate volunteer slots filled last year. They were filled by 196 different people.

Volunteer tasks ranged from short-term in duration (picking up an editor from the airport, hosting a table at conference) to long-term (planning retreat, editing the anthology). Some involved small spurts of volunteer energy (writing a blog once per quarter) and some involved daily responsibilities (maintaining the website, coordinating contest or conference, serving as president). Some efforts were easy (tweeting) and some were more involved (selecting conference workshops).

On an average, RMFW volunteers took on 2.4 tasks each.  Most (102) of our volunteers filled one role each though 79 people completed two to five different responsibilities. Eleven members stepped forward to offer their time for six to ten different tasks.  Four members fulfilled more than ten roles during 2015. 

The work these dedicated volunteers accomplish, in addition to being writers, is nothing short of amazing!  Together, we achieve as much as a crew of paid employees do in the business sector. We undertake great things and make them happen, allowing RMFW to devote its funding almost entirely to educating writers,  improving  our craft, networking, and sharing knowledge.

If you’re interested in joining the RMFW volunteer corps, please visit the volunteer page on www.rmfw.org. We’ll then send you a volunteer application to get a sense of your interests, skills, and desired level of activity then match you up with the best roles for you. 

Random Thoughts

A Little Bit Every Day
DSC01502I started writing the fifth book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series on Jan. 1, 2014. (Yeah, New Year’s Day. Just Because.) I finished the draft on Monday, March 28. I wrote 500 words a day. That’s 453 days, which would have been 165,433 words if I made forward progress every day. But I needed to back up a few times, re-work a few things. I took a break to write a short story. And another. I finished Draft 1 with 112,000 words, still too many. Lots of cutting to come. What’s my point? 500 words a day isn’t much. It adds up. Do the math.

 

 

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There’s A Feeling I Get
April2015StairwayThis excellent column by Bob Lefsetz is all about rock and roll. But I thought about writing the whole time. Led Zeppelin went their own way with “Stairway to Heaven.” Their previous album was a dud.

Here’s Lefsetz: “What Led Zeppelin said back in ’71 is that you’re best doing it your way, by yourself, with your peeps, than hiring outside hands to meddle with your vision … That we react to and love most that which is personal and human.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons Learned
April2016WeirdI’ve had some excellent podcast guests lately, but check out the one with Eleanor Brown. She had a huge hit with The Weird Sisters. Huge! She was on the road doing promotion for 18 months! And then she wrote three more books that all went pffffft before finding the groove for the one that comes later this year, The Light in Paris.

Much like Led Zeppelin, she listened to her heart. (I guess Tom Petty sang that, too.) Humility, folks. It’s a tough business. Listen.

Her workshop is Saturday, April 30 at Columbine Library in Littleton.

 

 

 

 

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Legends of the Fall
Harrison & ReillyEverything they’re saying about Jim Harrison, who died recently, is true.

Read his stuff if you don’t know his work—gritty, singular, raw, honest. I looked up an old review I wrote of his three-novella collection, The Woman Lit By Fireflies.

Anyway, at the bottom of the review I came across a funny exchange with my late pal Gary Reilly and I shook my head (yet again) at Gary’s dry humor. I miss that guy. (Click on the picture to read the exchange.)

 

 

 

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The Detachment
The Detachment Cover - FINALSpeaking of Gary, Running Meter Press is launching The Detachment at The Tattered Cover on Friday, April 15 (Colfax Store) at 7 p.m.

I managed to get advance blurbs from some amazing writers—Stewart O’Nan, Ron Carlson, John Mort, Fred Haefele.

Carlson compared The Detachment to Catch 22 and that’s a guy who teaches fiction in an elite program out in California. O’Nan (pals with Stephen King and one prolific writer himself) called it a ‘classic.’

Speaking of length, The Detachment is 534 pages. It’s a powerful, heavy book based on Gary’s experiences in Vietnam as a military policeman.

 

 

 

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Honors for Gary
Pick Up at Union Station - Final JPGSpeaking of Gary, Pick Up At Union Station (his seventh novel in The Asphalt Warrior series) was named a finalist in literary fiction for the 2016 Colorado Book Award.

That’s three finalist nominations out of that seven-book series.

The other two were Ticket to Hollywood in 2013 and Doctor Lovebeads in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

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Productive

My pal Gary Reilly.
My pal Gary Reilly.

The Detachment is the ninth title we’ve published of Gary’s—after seven books in The Asphalt Warrior series and The Enlisted Men’s Club, the first book in his series about Vietnam following Private Palmer.

And Running Meter Press still has about 15 books to go.

Fifteen.

Gary wrote more than 500 words a day.

 

 

 

 

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Tethered by Letters

April2015FrictionIs Metro Denver and the Colorado Front Range chock full of writer groups?

Right?

There’s bound to be one out there to suit your needs.

Here’s a new one I came across last year. Tethered by Letters.

Yes, based here but with connections all over the world, really. One reason I mention them is because they do a great job—web site, online interactions, classes and a literary magazine called F(r)iction.

The other reason to mention them is because they offer pretty good money for flash fiction, short stories, poetry and more. Check ‘em out!

 

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Rocky Mountain Writer #39

EleanorBrownEleanor Brown &
"Flammable Characters"

Eleanor Brown is the New York Times and international bestselling author of The Weird Sisters, an Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Book of the Month.

Later this month, on April 30, Eleanor is giving a free workshop in Littleton, Colorado called "Flammable Characters."

On the podcast she gives us a preview of the “flammable characters” concept and chats about the bumps and roadblocks in her writing career, including writing three whole books before finding the right source of inspiration that would make for a worthy follow-up to first. The Light of Paris will be published in July.

Eleanor Brown

The Writers Table

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis

Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

The RMFW Spotlight is on Wendy Terrien, Secretary

2016_Wendy Terrien1. Welcome to the blog, Wendy. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

First and foremost, I am the bag lady!  I don’t push a shopping cart around town, but I do coordinate the swag bags for Colorado Gold. I also serve on the workshop committee (which is a tough job—we get so many great workshop proposals!), and I recently became the new Secretary for RMFW.

Being involved with RMFW beyond membership is an excellent way to give back to an organization that has given me so much, not least of which is the strong network of writing mentors and friends. The support system is genuine and solid, and it’s made a huge difference in my writing journey. I’m happy to do what I can for the organization, and for fellow writing friends, old and new.

2016_Terrien_Rampart Guards2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My debut novel, The Rampart Guards, launched on February 26, 2016. I’m thrilled with how it’s done so far. The novel received a starred review from Kirkus (AAAHHH!) and the editors at Kirkus Reviews chose it to be an Indie Book of the Month in April. It’s been an amazing ride.

The Rampart Guards is available at Amazon, as well as Tattered Cover and BookBar. And it can be ordered through any bookstore.

I’m also part of Wicked Ink Books, which consists of me and fellow RMFW members Becky Taylor, Corinne O’Flynn, Sue Duff aka Sue Loeffler, Aimee Henley, Shawn McGuire, and Kristi Helvig. We just published our first anthology, Tick Tock: Seven Tales of Time. It’s available at Amazon, and we just signed a contract to have it published in Turkey—very exciting!

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Publishing The Rampart Guards was one of those and I’m proud of that achievement. Now I’d love to see it, and the rest of the series, build on the initial success and take it to the next level. I envision seeing it made into a movie—wouldn’t that be fun? And I’d of course invite all RMFW members to the premiere.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Procrastination. Am I the only writer in RMFW who suffers from that? I read about all these diligent writers we have, who do things like get up at 4AM every day and write for several hours without fail. That’s so not me. I find chunks of time when I can write (not a set schedule), but then I’ll pay bills or do laundry first, telling myself I won’t be able to focus if those other things aren’t finished. There may be some truth to that, but it drives me crazy sometimes because I do want to be writing. I guess that’s my tortured artist bit—LOL.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

The magic. I love how the characters come to life and direct the story themselves, so much so that it feels like I’m merely the typist. And I love how a scene I’ve written can still get to me like I’m reading it for the first time. And it all makes my mind function and think in a different, exhilarating way. It’s fantastic.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Stay focused and know you’re on the right track. There is much to learn, and much work to be done, but keep going, keep learning, believe you can do this. We all suffer from that inner voice that tries to pull us down--don’t give into the negative thoughts. Embrace and leverage the excellent resources around you.

2016_Terrien_Office7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I have a sit-stand desk that I love, and I always have at least one pup nearby (we have three dogs—all rescues), which I also love.

I have the word Dream on my desk, followed by a quote from Walt Disney: All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. I remember when I first put that on my desk, the idea of writing a novel was so far away I could barely imagine it. But here I am.

I also have a trophy I won in 8th grade for first place in an essay-writing contest. It makes me smile, and it reminds me that I can be successful if I work hard (and I did work hard on that essay, with much thanks to my English teacher at the time, Mr. Williams). It also reminds me how important it is to ask for and accept feedback on your writing.

And I always have a glass of water—I drink plenty-o-water, and I hope everyone else out there does as well.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I’m reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and I’m really enjoying it, though I wish I had more time to spend with it. I need to put reading at the top of my list when the procrastination-bug strikes. That’d be way more fun that paying bills.

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You can learn more about Wendy and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

The Muddle

One of my favorite writing quotes is, “Every book has a beginning, an end and a muddle.” It’s been true of every one of my books. The first few chapters flow. My characters are vivid and alive. There’s conflict and motivation galore. I can see all the plot points lining up. Everything is moving along nicely. And then I descend into quicksand and my story starts to flounder and flail and slowly sink.

My plot derails. My characters’ motivation stops making sense or feeling right. I can’t figure out the next scene. Or the one after that. My characters refuse to say their lines. Seemingly because they don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if I know how the book is going to end. Or even if I'm clear on what will happen in the last third of the book. I’m stranded in the no-man’s land of the middle.

I thought it would be different this time. After all, I’m not writing this book from scratch. I’m rewriting a story for which I have two complete manuscripts and a detailed synopsis for a third version. In theory, I’ve already made it through the “muddle” of this story—twice. But it doesn’t seem to matter. I get stuck. Horribly, wretchedly stuck. I write paragraphs and delete them. I start in a different spot and write some more. And delete that, too. I get discouraged. Maybe I should shelve this project for now. Write on something else for awhile. But superstitious dread won’t let me. The fear that if I quit now, I’ll never get unstuck and figure out the story. I’ll never get past the middle and finish the book.

So, I do what I’ve always done. I think about the story. At night, before I go to bed. In the morning when I wake up. During the day when I’m doing things that don’t require much focus. I contemplate jumping ahead and writing a scene later on. But I’m not sure that will work. If I don’t know where the story goes next, how will I tie everything together and have it make sense?

This time it is a “snowday” from work that rescues me. I finally have a chunk of hours when a dozen other tasks aren’t insisting on my attention. I do what a lot of experts advise: put my butt in the chair and stay there, working at it until the immovable plot starts to move. Once it does, it is like a logjam getting unfree. Everything flows. Clear river ahead.

I think that taking the time to work through the tangle in one sitting is part of the secret. And thinking about the story and letting it foam and fester in your sub-conscious for a few days also helps. But I still don’t understand the actual process that brought about the breakthrough. I can’t remember any of the details. It’s like giving birth; your mind blocks it out. Not because the process is so painful (Not quite !), but because when it’s happening, you’re so focused that there are no circuits in your brain available to imprint the memory.

Which is a darn shame. I’d really like to remember my thought process at the time, the exact steps I took to free my story from the dreaded muddle. Because I know I’m going to have to do it again…and again.

Finding Time to Write … by Danica Favorite

2016_Danica FavoriteWhen people outside the writing world find out that I’m a writer, they’re always shocked because they have no idea how I find time to write. I work what amounts to a full-time job, and though I work from home and have a semi-flexible schedule, I still have to put those hours in. With two children at home who are involved in multiple activities, I spend most of my evenings and weekends driving them back and forth. Some days, I feel like I live in my car. I am on the go from the time I get out of bed until I fall back into bed, exhausted.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a crazy deadline crunch. I just turned in my line edits for a book I have coming out in September, my January book is due May 1st, and I have a book releasing April 1st. Which means I don’t have the luxury of writing when I feel like it or hoping my life is going to slow down so I can catch up.

So, how, then, do I get the writing done?

The key is in finding ways to make the schedule work for you. When my kids are at their activities, I have my laptop with me. An hour of dance practice becomes an hour of writing time. The kids have to be at the riding arena all day? Have laptop, will travel. And, for those unexpected wait times, I have my book files saved on Dropbox, which I can access from my phone or tablet. Writing on my phone is not fun, but I can do it. I was just at my daughter’s robotics competition, and all of my electronics had dead batteries, so I pulled out a notebook and wrote by hand. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

2016_Favorite_ShotgunOne of the most important things I do, though, is communicate with my family. They know when I’m coming up on a deadline, and what kind of time I need. Part of that is knowing how much time it takes me to write a book, then looking at our schedule to see where I can find that time. And when those times don’t add up, it means figuring out what I need to do to make it work. Sometimes, when I’m in a crunch, I’ll spend the weekend at a hotel, locked in a room, writing.

The other crucial piece to balancing my busy life with my writing time is making time for self care. If I don’t have enough fuel in the tank, I’m not going anywhere, especially when it comes to the energy I put into both my family and my writing. I have a standing massage appointment every other week.. I have a regular journaling habit, and I also do a lot of art journaling. That all seems to add up, time-wise, but what I’ve found is that when I am doing all the things that support me emotionally and creatively, I’m a better wife, better mother, better writer, and I don’t feel as pressed for time, even though I still have exactly the same hours in the day.

How do you get that balance?

Take a look your writing habits and needs. Track how long it takes you to write. If you can write an average of 1K in 1 hour, how many hours do you need to write your book? Then look at your schedule. Where in your schedule can you fit those hours? Does that mean cutting something out? I’m amazed at all the ways we all waste time when we take the time to analyze how we’re spending it. Also be aware of hidden times you can use to write. I can usually get about 6 hours of writing time just sitting and waiting for my kids at their various practices. When you’re making your schedule, be intentional about also scheduling down time and self-care time. It’s tempting to pack every minute full of stuff, especially when you’re feeling pressed for time, but in those circumstances, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a break.

How do you balance your writing life with everything else you need to get done?

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A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She and her family recently moved in to their dream home in the mountains above Denver, Colorado. Danica loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun.

Learn more about Danica and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 2 of 2 … By: Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYesterday we discussed defamation. Today we'll cover two related concepts that can also expose a writer to liability, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to adopt.

"Right to Privacy" simply refers to the right of an individual to be left alone in her personal affairs. As with defamation, privacy laws vary from state to state, but with common elements in most states. Generally speaking, an aggrieved plaintiff must prove (a) that publicity was given to matters concerning her private life, (b) that the matters made public would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities, and (c) that the matters publicized were neither newsworthy nor concern any legitimate public interest.

This last element of the tort – newsworthiness or public interest – effectively precludes invasion-of-privacy suits by celebrities or other public figures. But authors of biography, true-crime, and other forms of nonfiction often write about real people who are not celebrities, and even novelists will sometimes base their characters on people they know. Care must be taken in these cases to avoid invading the privacy rights of your subjects, whose identities are either explicitly stated or can be gleaned from the context of the writing.

Memoirists who publicize private and embarrassing information about their (non-celebrity) friends or family run an especially high risk of being sued for invasion of privacy, and this is doubly true of self-published authors who cannot cite a traditional publisher’s support for her work as evidence of its inherent “public interest.”

As is the case with defamation, only a living person can sue for invasion of privacy. Unlike defamation, however, the truth of the statement in question is no defense against potential liability.

"Right of Publicity" refers to the commercial value of an individual’s name, likeness, or identity. If you’re planning to sell t-shirts with Justin Bieber’s unlicensed image, for example, or to use his name to advertise your other products or services, you can expect to be sued.

Unlike defamation or the right to privacy, which are considered “personal” rights, an individual’s right of publicity is a property right that exists during her lifetime and that, in many jurisdictions, survives her death and may be enforced by her estate. (So much for your fallback plan to sell Elvis Presley t-shirts.)

But can you put Justin or Elvis on the cover of your latest book? The answer is . . . it depends.

Unfortunately for authors whose works are, of necessity, published in all fifty states, the laws governing right-of-publicity actions are a veritable hodgepodge of inconsistent state laws. Roughly half the states, for example, have statutes that expressly govern right-of-publicity claims, while half still rely on common law principles that prohibit unfair competition or preclude the misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness on privacy grounds. Moreover, in those states that have enacted legislation, the laws vary widely, with some affording post-mortem protection to all citizens and others protecting only those persons whose name or likeness had demonstrable commercial value during their lifetimes. Also, in those states with right-of-publicity statutes that include post-mortem protection, the length of that protection varies, from a low of 20 years after death (Virginia) to a high of 100 years (Indiana.)

Fortunately for authors, some states expressly exempt books, as well as advertisements for books, from right-of-publicity claims. Many, however, do not. And while the First Amendment has been held to protect so-called “creative or expressive works,” both factual and fictional, some courts limit First Amendment protection only to those works whose creative or expressive character is found to “predominate.”

The upshot is that authors, unlike commercial advertisers, should be safe from suit on right-of-publicity grounds where their work is predominately creative or expressive in nature. That means (subject to the photographer’s copyright) using Elvis’s image on the cover of your Elvis Presley biography is probably safe, whereas using it on your Elvis coloring book is inviting a trip to the Heartbreak Hotel.

Remember also that First Amendment protection may not extend to works that are published or to suits that are filed abroad, as the Scarlett Johansson verdict – a five-thousand Euro defamation award in France – clearly illustrates.

There are a few commonsense steps that you as an author can take to avoid being sued. In choosing your book's subject matter, for example, you can avoid reference to living persons. For authors of true crime and historical literature, that may mean choosing events that occurred more than a century ago. If that is neither possible nor desirable, then take care in your research to avoid factual errors or embellishments. In memoir, consider changing the names, physical descriptions, or other identifying characteristics of the real people – particularly the non-celebrities – about whom you write. In fiction, be sure your characters do not closely resemble real people you know or have met. When in doubt, consider obtaining written permission from those you wish to portray.

Lastly, please bear in mind that the foregoing is merely an overview, as was yesterday’s discussion of defamation, and that a full explication of the law in this area could and does fill entire textbooks. At the end of the day, buying an hour or two with a lawyer experienced in the publishing field may be the best investment an author can make.

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A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 1 of 2 . . . By Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYou’ve heard the horror stories. Scarlett Johansson sues acclaimed French author Grégoire Delacourt for invoking her name in describing a fictional character. A jury awards Jesse Ventura $1.8 million against the estate of American Sniper author Chris Kyle over Kyle’s account of an alleged barroom brawl. Novelist Haywood Smith suffers a $100,000 jury verdict for her pseudonymous description of a friend in her bestselling The Red Hat Club. Augusten Burroughs settles with the family depicted in his bestselling Running With Scissors and agrees to rewrite the book’s Acknowledgments and Author’s Note.

As these and other cases illustrate, there are risks inherent in writing about real people. And since most publishing contracts require the author to indemnify the publisher in the event suits like these are filed, those risks fall squarely on the writer’s shoulders. Fortunately, lawsuits over literary depictions are rare, and adverse outcomes rarer still. Authors should nonetheless familiarize themselves with three legal pitfalls that, if ignored, could expose them to substantial attorneys’ fees and costs and, in some cases, to liability for monetary damages.

Today we’ll discuss defamation, the first and most common, and therefore the most dangerous, of these pitfalls:

Defamation refers to false statements of fact that result in reputational injury to another. Spoken defamation is called “slander,” while written defamation – the kind we’re concerned about – is called “libel.” While the laws governing libel vary from state to state, all have certain elements in common. In order to win a judgment for libel, an aggrieved plaintiff – that's the person bringing suit – must usually prove that a statement of fact (a) was published, (b) was false, (c) was not privileged, and (d) caused injury to the plaintiff’s reputation.

Note that libel laws pertain only to statements of fact, and not to opinions. Thus, the statement “I think Jones is a jerk” should not be actionable, whereas the statement “Jones is a child pornographer” would likely be actionable, depending on Jones’s ability to prove the other elements of a libel claim. Note also that simply couching a statement as opinion – i.e., “I think Jones is a child pornographer” – will not necessarily insulate its author from liability where, as in this example, the statement implies the existence of supporting facts.

“Publication” in the context of libel does not mean that the false statement was actually printed and sold; it simply means that the statement was communicated to a third person who understood it. Thus, a libelous falsehood that appears in the first draft of a manuscript that the author shares only with her agent, or with a few beta readers, has been “published” for purposes of the libel laws.

Because “falsity” is an essential element of defamation, it follows – and this cannot be overemphasized – that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of libel. But if suit is filed, who has the burden of proving the statement’s truth or falsity? Ordinarily it is the plaintiff in a civil action who must prove all elements of her claim. In libel law, however, a “media defendant” – which includes an author, journalist, or publisher – bears the burden of proving the statement’s truth unless the plaintiff is herself a public figure or official, in which case the burden remains with the plaintiff to prove falsity.

“Privilege” will often, on public policy grounds, insulate an otherwise libelous statement from liability. The First Amendment, for example, protects authors and journalists who fairly comment on matters of public interest, or who accurately republish official statements or proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the false reporting of facts about a public figure or official by a media defendant enjoys First Amendment protection unless the defendant acted with “actual malice,” meaning with knowledge of the statement’s falsity or reckless disregard for its truth.

“Injury” to one’s reputation requires more than just hurt feelings, and a libel plaintiff must ordinarily prove actual monetary loss. Where, however, the libelous statement accuses the plaintiff of a crime, or of sexual misconduct, or of conduct (such as dishonesty) that’s incompatible with her trade, business, or office, then monetary damage will sometimes be presumed.

A final, important attribute of defamation law is that you cannot defame a dead person. This means that neither a deceased person’s estate nor her heirs or descendants can sue an author for libel unless the false statement in question also independently defames the suing plaintiff.

That’s a brief overview of the law of defamation. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the related concepts of invasion of privacy and the right of publicity, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to consider.

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A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

We sing because we have a song

This week I wrote, “The End.” It’s a rare treat--for me, that is. Some prolific writers (Marie Force comes to mind, and Nora Roberts) can write a full-length novel in 60 days or less. My speed is more like one book a year.

Please indulge me as I savor it. The book: Crimson Secret. Book Four in the Coin Forest series, set during England’s War of the Roses. I even developed a positioning TM tag line for the series: History  made passionate in medieval England.

I love these characters. I lived through their adventures, and they were exotic and breath-taking. I agonized over their life-and-death decisions, and enjoyed their triumphs. I love this story.

Now comes the revision process, during which we reach inside, grab our toes and pull, turning ourselves inside out as each paragraph, page and chapter is reviewed, revised, enhanced, deleted and polished to make it the best story it can be.

After that, my heroic beta readers will read it from cover to cover, and the gem will be polished again.

bird-287109_1920 singing 2.5 in
Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Then, because I’m an independently published author I will work with my book cover designer (my talented daughter, Jalena) to design an eye-catching cover that will provide clear proof of the genre and convince readers to buy it.

To add to that marketing effort, I will solicit reader book reviews, format my novel for Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo and write an intriguing book description. I will send ARCs to procure testimonials. I will blog and tweet and Facebook my way through those pre- and post-release weeks. I will go on blog tours, make community appearances and may produce a video trailer and appear on radio and podcast interviews. I will enter contests, because winning them provides more prestige for the novel.

I used to be a traditionally published author, and I did much of the same work for those novels.

Few people know the work involved for both traditionally published and indie published authors. But we do it, for one book, two books, ten. Thirty. Each novel is a cherished story, one that we hope will bring readers the same joy as it did us.

Why? Why do we do it?

A dear friend of mine, Joya Wonderlight, is a gifted piano teacher with high enthusiasm for children, music, and life.  A plaque on her wall reads, “Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be silent if only the best birds sang.” …many variations exist of this quote, credited to Henry Van Dyke.

An unattributed Chinese proverb says, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.”

These concepts are why I write. Writing enriches our lives. Good writing entertains, but it also stimulates the imagination. It validates our human existence, with all its trials and emotions and joys. It enlightens and invites thoughtful reflection. It can improve a reader's afternoon--or change his or her life.

It changes writers' lives, too. To bring a story from beginning to end is a tremendous workout for the mind. We become more aware of universal needs, and the bond we share with all of humanity. And we become better writers, because with each book we write, we become better and better at our craft, and the quality of our message.

Which birds sing the best? That’s a subjective question. Each person’s voice is unique and who among us would want to silence the forest?  Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus.

I love reading my work to my critique partners. We share a unique friendship, and I have come to love them as a special family in my life. We share a passion. I love it when they are pleased with my pages. I love it when I am pleased with their pages. We see and celebrate our progress. These friendships are gifts.

I also love my readers, and reading their reviews of my novels. When a reader writes that they loved my story so much they're going to read it again--when they intuit the theme of my books, love my characters, are eager to read my next release--that I've made the 15th century come alive for them.--it's a heady brew of emotions. Relief. Pleasure. Excitement. Connection. Before I was published, I used to fear reviews. I have discovered that they are another gift.

The other reason I write is because, in addition to the challenge of creating and delivering a story intact from my heart to the page, writing is a form of self-discovery.  I have learned much about my hopes and dreams by creating and following my characters’ desires. And just in case I get so  confident that I think I've conquered the hero's journey with its many satisfying goalposts, life often surprises me.

Which is good. This keeps life interesting, and our pens moving across the page. We sing because we have a song.

Why do you write?