Interview Transcripts

Douglas W. Clark: Writing the Media Tie-In 6/1/06


Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

 

I hope you all had a fun Memorial Day weekend. :-) I was off at a very fine writers conference so I certainly did.

 

Tonight we're visiting with Douglas W. Clark. Doug has been a full-time writer and editor most of his life, and has written a number of science fiction and fantasy novels and stories, including his most recent novel, "Saving Solace," set in the Dragonlance universe. He has also worked as an environmental consultant, a laboratory director, and a lecturer and teacher.

 

He's also a Long Ridge instructor and one of the instructors for the new novel course.

 

Doug, welcome! It's great to see you here.

Douglas W. Clark

Glad to be here!

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, folks, Doug and I go way back. We swapped critiques  long before I first published. JThat was awhile ago.

Douglas W. Clark

Yes, Mary provided some key insight into my first novel before it was published.

Mary Rosenblum

So tell us about your writing...how you got started!

Douglas W. Clark

Like many of my students, I started writing early.

 

But initially I wanted to be a poet. Not just any poet mind you

 

but a GREAT poet.

 

Then I discovered fiction.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, yes, didn't we all. J

 

You started off with fantasy, right?

Douglas W. Clark

I was lucky enough to take a short story writing course early in college. The instructor concentrated on publishable fiction, not just literary fiction.

 

I actually had my first sale in the confessions market.

 

(My mother has never seen that first story.)

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, cool! I had forgotten that. I think it as Marion Zimmer Bradley who paid her rent with confessions, true crime, and other – uh --

 

less than 'upscale' genres.

Douglas W. Clark

It was a great place for writer to start.  I'm not sure what the state of the confessions market is these days, but there must be similar genres out there.

Mary Rosenblum

And it's still a place you can make rent.

ashton

Welcome! Since you are a writer of science fiction and fantasy...just what ARE the rules of magic and sci-fi realism?

Douglas W. Clark

Magical realism is a strange bird, a kind of hybrid creature...

 

not quite fantasy, but taking elements from it.

 

As for science fiction realism, could you explain what you mean?

 

The only way to know what magical realism is, is to read lots of it. It's a genre peculiar to Latin America

 

and several of us have often discussed whether it can be transplanted into the northern hemisphere and thrive. There was a fling in fantasy with magical realism for a while, but I think it's waned. It'll come back around eventually.

Mary Rosenblum

I suspect she might have meant the rules of magic, Doug. Rather than magic realism.

ashton

For instance...We try to make everything real except for the actual sci-fi element.

 

Just how do you bend something real into something that's not and still make it seem like it is

Douglas W. Clark

That's a good point, Ashton. Magical realism stresses the mundane, ordinary world

 

except for the one peculiar element thrown in.

 

Okay, how do you bend the real into something unreal and not make it snap.

 

The only thing I can say is with great delicacy

 

and a willingness to stand out in the cold if it doesn't work.

Mary Rosenblum

So you just have to play with the story and see if it works? Is that what you mean, Doug?

Douglas W. Clark

You have to know where your readers will accept a non-ordinary event.

 

Some kind of bending will be tolerated, while others won't

 

and it varies from culture to culture, and within particular genre readerships.

 

Something that works as "realistic" fantasy in one culture would look like mere foolishness in another.

writermom

What exactly is the confessions market and how do you get into it?

Douglas W. Clark

I'm not sure the confessions market still exists. It collapsed in the late '70s.

 

Essentially, it was a first-person kind of story that was always supposedly "real".

 

There were no bylines, because the narrator was presumed to be an actual person telling her own story.

 

The narrators were almost always female.

 

It was a hit pulp genre for several decades.

 

The stories tended to follow the formula "sin, suffer & repent."

Mary Rosenblum

A few markets still exist. True Crime, True Love...same formula.

mephistopheles

Do you think the invention of the home computer may have contributed to the demise of the Confessions Market?

Mary Rosenblum

Interesting question, meph. What do you think, Doug?

 

Or maybe the internet?

Douglas W. Clark

Could be. We like our "reality" programming in different forms these days, both on the computer and on the tube.

 

In the end, they are probably all equally unreal.

mephistopheles

First off welcome. How did you get into writing for the Dragonlance series? Had you read the original series and decided to continue from where Hickman and Weiss left off? There were a lot of spin offs from that successful series some good and some just down right unreadable/unbelievable.

Mary Rosenblum

You had your own books published before you started with Dragonlance, right Doug?

Douglas W. Clark

Thank you, Meph. I had a fantasy trilogy and a number of short stories published before I got into Dragonlance.

 

Then I took a break from writing for several years, and was looking for a way to get started again.

 

A dear friend of mine was writing for the series and I thought it sounded like a fun place to get my feet wet again.

 

She introduced me to the novels editor for Dragonlance, although it was several more years before anything came of it.

 

In the meantime, I did a couple of short pieces for them as freebies to show them I could work in that universe.

mephistopheles

It truly was a fun place in Solace.

Douglas W. Clark

Thank you. That means a lot.

 

To get back to your question, Meph

 

I read the Weis and Hickman books, of course, as well as a number of other novels and short stories

 

in order to understand the rules of the universe.

 

I wasn't a role playing gamer, so I had to learn the universe through the fiction.

 

At some point, the people at Wizards of the Coast (the publisher) were looking for fresh blood in the series,

 

and I got asked to submit a novel proposal.

 

Later they told me that someone else was actually the expected winner in that process, but my proposal surprised them, and they took it.

mephistopheles

That was my next question. Did you play Dungeons and Dragons prior to writing fiction? I would imagine it would be difficult if you did not do RESEARCH on your subject and I am looking forward to reading your book.

Douglas W. Clark

No, I've never been a game player

 

so I had to learn the hard way.

 

Or maybe it was the more fun, because I prefer fiction anyway to playing games.

 

But some people are really into the gaming aspect and come to the fiction, either as writers or readers, from there.

Mary Rosenblum

The Dragonlance series is what is called a media tie-in, right? Do you want to explain just what that means and how it works in the Dragonlance universe? I think some members of our audience are probably wondering.

Douglas W. Clark

Yes, thanks for the reminder. Dragonlance started out as a role playing game (RPG)

 

much like Dungeons and Dragons.

 

Then a couple of people by the names of Weis and Hickman came up with the idea of writing a novel trilogy based on the characters and settings from the game.

 

The fiction line was a HUGE success at the time, and many, many more books and short stories followed.

 

I just happened to be able to grab hold of the coattails of the people who launched this concept in the first place.

 

The fiction end of it has almost acquired an autonomous existence by now -- related, but distinct from the game.

Mary Rosenblum

So when you write for Wizards of the Coast (owners of the Dragonlance universe), you are writing a 'work for hire' right? Want to explain what that means?

Douglas W. Clark

Good question. "Work for hire" means that you're working with someone else's proprietary universe.

 

They own the characters, the setting, etc,

 

and the writer agrees to provide a story that will fit their concepts of what those characters are about and where the universe is heading.

 

The writer may be paid either a set, one-time fee for the work, or may be paid royalties

 

with the royalties usually at a lower percentage than for "original" work.

 

The advantage is that there usually is a large audience already primed to buy the book, so even though the royalties start out smaller, the total paid may be far more.

Mary Rosenblum

It's quite common in nonfiction, too. There, you write a specific work on contract, but you do not own the copyright, and your name may or may not be on the work. You have no right to use those words again after you are paid for them. Textbooks are often 'work for hire' projects for example.

speckledorf

So would doing a work for hire be considered fanfic for pay?

Douglas W. Clark

Right, I forgot it's often done in nonfiction as well, though I've done it myself.

 

No, definitely not.

 

Fan fiction -- stories written by and for fans of a series or game or whatever

 

are usually frowned upon by the publishers of "regular" fiction for that game, series, etc.

 

They aren't considered in the same league, because there isn't the same kind of editorial oversight provided.

 

Dragonlance doesn't frown on fan fiction. But some publishers definitely do.

 

Try writing fan fiction for, say Star Wars, and you risk getting a lawsuit.

Mary Rosenblum

Is there ever any connection between fanfiction and an eventual tie-in contract? Is that a way to start out?

Douglas W. Clark

I don't recommend it as a way to start.

 

As I said, fanfic doesn't employ the same kinds of editorial standards

 

and isn't usually considered up to par with professional (for pay) fiction.

 

If you want to be a pro, write to get paid.

 

And yet, even as I say that I'm aware that I mentioned having done a couple of small freebie pieces for Dragonlance before getting a contract to do a short story. I guess there aren’t hard and fast rules, although I still don't think fanfic is a good way to start.

mephistopheles

So work for hire is getting paid to produce an article or book by a deadline?

Mary Rosenblum

Want to explain the 'copyright' issue, Doug?

Douglas W. Clark

Deadlines are usually involved whatever the kind of professional writing you engage in.

 

When I wrote magazine articles, there were deadlines by which I agreed to turn in the articles or do any rewrites.

 

Even though the writing I was doing was often "original" rather than work for hire

 

deadlines are just facts of a writer's life.

 

Work for hire says that the publisher owns all rights to the published piece.

 

Once the writer is paid, he or she has not right to resell or reuse those words in any other form.

 

For original work, the writer is parting, usually for a limited time, with particular rights, such as "First North American serial rights," or whatever.

 

Hm, have I covered copyright adequately? Or are there more questions?

 

Oh, another thing about copyright.

 

New writers often think they have to file special paperwork to get copyright protection for their work.

 

Actually, your work is automatically protected from the moment you produce it

 

and it isn't necessary to file for protection for manuscripts.

 

When it's published, the editor will then file for the copyright in your name.

mephistopheles

Thanks for clearing that up for me and others. :)

Mary Rosenblum

That was very complete, Doug, thanks.

ashton

How can you prove something is yours? And what do you do if you find out your work has been taken?

Douglas W. Clark

It is EXTREMELY rare for a writer's work to be stolen. There simply isn't any profit in it.

 

Usually, a publisher doesn't make much on a writer's first book, but hopes to build a successful career

 

over the course of which all parties will profit.

 

But if you're really concerned about proving a work is yours, mail yourself a copy of the manuscript

 

and get the Post Office to hand cancel it across the flap that seals the envelope

 

then don't open it when it arrives in your mail, but file it away.

 

This will prove that as of the date when the envelope was canceled, this work was in your possession.

 

As long as that's before the work gets published, it's assumed you're the one who wrote it.

ashton

One thing I've wondered about is this...nobody has read everything...so what happens if you create entire lines that are the same as another writer’s and you don't realize it? Will you get in trouble?

Douglas W. Clark

This is a very tricky area, and the more so if a book becomes hugely popular.

 

Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE is a prime example.

 

The book used ideas presented in a previous, supposedly nonfiction book

 

(supposedly, because that earlier book turned out to be based on a hoax)

 

and the earlier authors sued.

 

You have to have reproduced a significant portion of a previous work for it to be considered plagiarism

 

although what constitutes "significant" may be up to a court to decide.

 

There will inevitably be similarities with other works that a writer isn't aware of.

foxx

If I have a copyright how can I transfer it to some one else?

Douglas W. Clark

The contract you sign with a publisher transfers the right to reproduce that work in specified forms for a specified period of time.

 

So transferring copyright to a publisher is an automatic part of the publishing process.

 

But if you mean how do you bequeath the copyright to someone in the event of death or for some other reason, that would be a little different.

 

I don't know how that would be done, except that ordinarily one's heirs will inherit any copyrights as part of a writer's estate.

foxx

May it be transferred to another person, not a publisher? Ghostwriting, maybe?

Douglas W. Clark

Good question, Foxx. Yes, it can, but I'm not familiar with the process.

 

That would have to be spelled out with the person you were doing the ghostwriting for --

 

again as part of the contract.

Mary Rosenblum

You can do it with a simple contract. You agree to transfer all rights to this work to the other person and sign it.

Douglas W. Clark

Oh, that was easy.

Mary Rosenblum

I had to do that once when I was co-writing a novel with another writer

 

and we parted company. He needed that in order to own the copyright to the joint work.

willvj

Is copyright attached to your legal name or your "pen name?

Douglas W. Clark

To your legal name. This is a legal matter

 

and the recipient of the copyright needs to be a recognized, legal entity.

 

Then you can put whatever pen name on the work that you want.

 

But Mary, you know more about that than I do, as you've published books under pen names, right?

Mary Rosenblum

Oh yes. Pen names are just window dressing. The copyright belongs to you as a legal entity...your real name in other words.

Douglas W. Clark

Sometimes, writers will establish separate pen names for work in different genres

 

so that readers won't be confused as to the kind of book they're getting

 

or publishers may want a separate pen name just for works of a particular author published by that house.

speckledorf

How do you find assignments as "writer for hire" or doing media tie ins? Right time, right place, market guides or what?

Douglas W. Clark

Also, when a writer's career has suffered a lapse or other setback

 

a publisher may want to start with a fresh name.

 

Usually, publishers of media tie-in fiction want some kind of track record.

 

The writer has to be able to show that he or she is capable of completing a work to acceptable standards by a given deadline.

 

For me, other than the two freebie pieces I did for Dragonlance (which may not have had any effect at all, since they were for a different editor)

 

I got started by doing a short story for one of their themed anthologies.

 

It's far less risky to give a short story slot over to a relatively unknown writer than it is to contract with that person for a whole novel.

 

The short story showed that I could find my way around in the Dragonlance universe

 

so when the opportunity came for a novel, and they needed some new writers, they asked me for a proposal.

 

But even there, I had three novels of my own to point to as examples of my professional standing. Work for hire can happen anywhere from the local level in a writer's community, on up to the national and international scene. It's usually easier to start small, doing contract work for smaller entities and parlaying these into larger jobs as you establish your credentials.

Mary Rosenblum

Didn't Dragonlance have a contest for awhile, for novel ms from unpublished writers? Seems like I saw one a couple of years back.

Douglas W. Clark

It wasn't Dragonlance

 

and it was considered a bad deal for the authors...

 

It was for a similar line.

ashton

When you are just starting out, knowing that you'll be switching genres from time to time and you are all set to publish your very first book, should you start with your real name for the first book by which you'll be recognized, or start out with a pen name? Or does it matter?

Douglas W. Clark

In the long run, I suppose it doesn't matter a whole lot.

 

If the book is in an area where you want to do more work, there's probably something to be gained by using your real name.

 

At least your friends and your mother will know where to find the book.

 

But if it's in an area other than where you want to spend the next few years, maybe a pen name would be justified.

 

I don't have any experience with pen names, as I've been too vain to use one

 

and my work hasn't spanned genres sufficiently to need for me to establish a pen name.

Mary Rosenblum

What about fans of a particular series, is there any hope that they can write for something like Star Trek or Star Wars? How does that happen?

Douglas W. Clark

Those two lines probably represent the pinnacle of work for hire, media tie-in fiction, and a beginning writer isn't likely to be able to start there.

 

Better to try one of the numerous smaller markets first.

 

These days, almost any moderately successful movie or TV show results in a series of spin-off novels.

 

So find a movie or series you particularly enjoy, but that isn't so large it's drawing the big names in the business, and try starting there.

Mary Rosenblum

Don't forget the video games. Isn't it Wizards of the Coast who is publishing the Mech Warrior books?

 

So where should people go to see what lines are being published? Barnes and Noble?

Douglas W. Clark

I'm not sure, but the Wizards website would say.

 

Contact the producers of a movie or series and ask whether tie-in fiction is being considered, and if so, through whom.

Mary Rosenblum

Maybe movie websites would have the information?

Douglas W. Clark

That should be "the offices of the producers" . . . . Obviously, you're not going to be able to talk to the person getting producer credit personally.

 

But the offices of that person should know.

 

Possibly movie websites, but it may take more researching than that.

 

I should perhaps say that writing tie-in fiction may not be a good idea for a beginning writer, for a variety of reasons.

Mary Rosenblum

Aha...that was my next question. How does it help or hurt a writer's career?

Douglas W. Clark

The condition under which most tie-in fiction is produced is brutal.

 

Deadlines are extremely tight and editorial expectations very narrowly defined.

 

You might get a certain guaranteed readership, but these readers won't necessarily carry over to original works later.

 

It's very difficult and often disillusioning work, frankly.

 

A beginning writer stands a better chance of growing in his or her craft...

Mary Rosenblum

I have to say that the professionals I know who have done media tie in have done it for the money

 

and really approached it as a day job.

 

As you say, it's demanding work.

Douglas W. Clark

Yes, it's bread and butter work, by and large

 

and not often creatively satisfying.

 

Learn your craft and grow as a writer through your own work first, then take on tie-in writing if you're so inclined.

Mary Rosenblum

I second that advice.

 

I don't think it will help you build a readership as much as writing your own original work.

Douglas W. Clark

So many beginning writers gaze fondly at tie-in fiction

 

stemming from a series or movie they loved, and long to write for that line.

 

But they can come to loathe the whole enterprise if the writing experience turns sour, as can so easily happen.

Mary Rosenblum

But then again, I know writers who started writing for the tie in because they were a huge fan of that series and have never left it...that's all they write. It's up to YOU, really.

Douglas W. Clark

That's another potential problem.

 

A beginning writer can get trapped writing only one kind of fiction for one particular line.

 

Grow as a writer first.

 

Experiment with your craft

 

and don't constrain yourself to writing in someone else's universe right from the start...

 

Of course, there are always exceptions. But be wary.

ashton

If you choose to use a pen name...does that mean you cannot have a book signing? My town makes a big deal when the locals publish and have a hyped up book signing and all.

Douglas W. Clark

Sure, you can have a signing if you publish under a pen name.

 

If it's your home town, that may require an explanation that the author's real name is a local

 

but it can still be done...

 

I'm not sure which name you would use to sign, though. Maybe both?

Mary Rosenblum

It's up to you and the person you are signing for, Doug. Collectors usually want the pen name, but some may want both names.

 

Regular readers may want one or both...ask.

 

Before we run out of time, Doug, tell us what you have coming up in the future? What are you working on right now?

 

Anything new coming out?

Douglas W. Clark

Something is in the pipeline -- another tie-in novel.

 

It's kind of like childbirth...

 

After a while, I find myself wanting to do this again.

Mary Rosenblum

LOL Doug!

 

When will it be out? Soon?

Douglas W. Clark

At least a year. There isn't a contract yet, though I think we're close to an agreement.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool!

 

Keep us informed!

Douglas W. Clark

Will do!

mephistopheles

I don't understand why someone would want to have a pen name, the synopsis on the jacket will tell them somewhat of an idea that your book will be this or that.

Douglas W. Clark

It often has to do with marketing and reader expectations.

 

This is a business, and publishers produce a commodity that has to be identifiable in the marketplace.

 

Individual publishers or genre lines want to have products that can be distinguished from their competitors.

greenfaile

Actually I understand the idea. I am a big Anne Perry fan, she writes mysteries usually. Her fantasy novel was misfiled by the bookstore with her mysteries. It's about branding right?

Douglas W. Clark

Exactly! Readers have to know where to go for a certain kind of work

 

and this often has to do with the particular name on the book jacket.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, Doug, I really do want you to let us know when the new Dragonlance book is out. J And in the meantime, any advice for our audience of aspiring writers? What's the best way to get started?

Douglas W. Clark

It's a tough business, but I strongly believe that if you write well and keep at it...

 

you'll get published eventually.

 

Meanwhile, cultivate your own unique talents as a writer before trying to leap into tie-in work.

 

See what you can do as your own self first, then try for tie-in work if you want once your reasonably established.

 

No need to clip your wings before learning to fly.

Mary Rosenblum

What about writers conferences? Are they a good option for new writers? Worth the money?

Douglas W. Clark

They're a mixed item.

 

I've been to some outstanding conferences, as well as a few abysmal ones.

 

The good ones provide a chance to network with agents, editors, and other writers, as well as offering discussions of important topics in the business.

Mary Rosenblum

Doug, thank you so much for visiting with us tonight! I really appreciate your take on tie-ins...that's not something I'm familiar with at all.

ashton

You have been a great guest, Doug. Thanks for giving up part of your evening to be with us.

Mary Rosenblum

Ditto!

Douglas W. Clark

You're welcome. I enjoyed it. And thanks to all who participated in the discussion.

Mary Rosenblum

I hope you'll join us again; it was a lot of fun.

Douglas W. Clark

Any time.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll hold you to that! :-)

 

Goodnight, and we'll talk soon. Good luck with that new novel!

 

Thank you all for coming tonight!

Douglas W. Clark

Goodnight.

Mary Rosenblum

Good night all!

 

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