Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Aline’s post yesterday was depressing and interesting in equal measures.

I’ve watched with amused resignation as Hollywood has for years used all TV shows as jumping off points for movies. Most make for just hideous cinema. Remember The Brady Bunch Movie, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, The Beverly Hillbillies, Car 54, Where are You, The Honeymooners? I saw – or should I say – endured parts of all of these celluloid abortions. In fairness I should say that a few TV show/movies conjunctions have been reasonable and some even excellent. Take the Star Trek franchise as an example of that. The movies have been far more successful than the original TV series, which attracted only a cult audience. But great film adaptations of TV shows are rare.

Then there are the myriad remakes of earlier movies, movies based on comic book characters, even movies based on children’s games. Where will it end and why are they doing this?

The answer lies in what Aline’s post hinted at: the almighty dollar. The purveyors of all these entertainment wonders are looking for a secure place to park their investment money. They want to hedge their bets as much as possible in order to get the desired financial return. What better place to do it then in something that already has a built-in audience?

Even if the movie stinks, they should make their investment back. If it’s only marginally successful, they can turn it into a franchise and make even more money. Take the most successful of all film franchises: James Bond. The first 22 Broccoli-produced movies have earned over $5 billion, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, they’ve brought many times more than that (1965’s Thunderball alone made $1.1 billion in “adjusted” dollars, according to an article in Time magazine). Who wouldn’t want to sign on to something that successful?

Which brings me back to books. It was inevitable that corporate interests in publishing would want to use this model for their products. As mentioned in my comment to Aline’s post, Harlequin, for example, right here in Toronto, has been using this model for years. They perfected a formula for books that housewives consume like candy and they’ve codified it, massaged it, and now have a complex “bible” that their authors must strictly adhere to if they want to see publication. And the successful romance writers under Harlequin’s banner can get embarrassingly large (compared to what we earn) paycheques for their work. To me, it’s a very sad state of affairs.

On the crime writing front, it’s not just people like James Patterson who have succumbed to the lure of a big payout to “franchise” their novels. People are still champing at the bit for new Sherlock Holmes stories, the latest Ludlum thrillers, you name it. The only reason it’s not being done even more is because a lot of successful authors who are eminently franchisable are resisting the siren call of easy money. To them our hats should be off.

Can you imagine a world where our entertainment, whether it be on paper, electronics or celluloid is nothing more than recycled ideas and characters? Many of us would be, rightly, appalled, but in corporate boardrooms they would be thrilled beyond measure.

The problem is that the public wants things that are comfortable and familiar, that give them a sense of security, knowing that their favourite characters are going to appear in yet another adventure. Why is it that publishers are much happier to sign authors who are writing a series? Every time I approach my main publisher with yet another standalone, I know I’m going to get asked about writing a series. I don’t want to do it for reasons amply laid out in previous posts here on Type M, but I’m already bending my rule more and more with characters from one book appearing in another. Writing a series can be fun and rewarding, but I’ll bet at a certain point (Kinsey Millhone?), nearly every author asks him/herself, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t started this!”

I can easily imagine the day where publishers won’t take crime fiction submissions from a new author unless they’re writing series-based novels.

And that will be a sad day indeed.


Melodie Campbell said...

Point taken about series, Rick. I am already cursing both my series, and I've only just finished book two of each. The problem I've encountered (I'm not up to the point of boredom yet) is that I've established things in the first novel that I wish I could dismantle now. Silly things that weren't important, but will impact my plot for book three.
Great post, as usual.

j welling said...

Sofia Kovalevskaya used a quote as her identifier in a mathematical competition: Say what you will, do what you must, come what may.

You make a good point.

I think readers want gratification and as writers we can be cast as tour guides at the scene of the crime. People want the body on the sidewalk, the widow on the steps crying, and a chance to gawk at someone's tragedy.

Of course, they'll always be a market for the writer who traces that pain and anguish on vellum so that it merges with that experienced by the reader. That's a trip to someplace they haven't been. That's an adventure. That keeps them coming back for more trips with you.

The choice is if you give them that great tour as the leader of an expedition to an emotional world they didn't expect - or are you a tour guy taking them past the ropes to see yet another cadaver in the night: something they've seen before and probably want to see again - or at least will say they want to see again.

I saw a train wreck as a boy. A whole town came down to see this car tumbled by a 60 mph coal train from Wyoming that rolled a station wagon. I saw my second grade teacher - a short woman - standing unknowingly on a torso - a rib cage - in tall grass to get a better view. I was a child and could see her feet better than I could see across the ragweed above my head. She never knew what she stood on because it was all tangled up in the weeds and grass. I knew. I saw.

They'll always be a crowd to see the dead family tragedy. However, they'll also be someone who will be taken by an image of a woman standing on part of rended corpse to view the event and they'll like that image of voyeurism from the boy's perspective better than that of the teacher and the crushed Oldsmobile.

Which tour to take ? Which to give ?

Rick Blechta said...

Two great comments. Thanks so much!

Toe Hallock said...

OK. I've had it up to here! I have written numerous cogent comments that have been totally obliterated by your stupid robot system. If this gets through I refuse to be anything but justified.

Aline Templeton said...

J welling's comment is fantastic, especially the point about going on an expedition instead of a guided tour. I'll remember that one

Rick Blechta said...

Dear Toe,

We're really sorry you're having such trouble with the system blogger has in place. Having to log on remotely several times to place comments, I feel your pain. However, there's absolutely nothing to be done about it. The only reason it's turned on is because we'd be inundated with spam if it weren't. This was a real issue for us about 2 years ago with four and five coming in every day.

Again, sorry -- and thanks for persevering!


Charlotte Hinger said...

Right now, I'm very happy to be writing a series. We'll see when and why that changes.