Mailbag: Merchandizing and Resentment

It’s mailbag time once again, Action Force.  Remember, if you ever have any questions or comments, you can reach me at, on Twitter (@ALeeMartinez), or Facebook (A. Lee Martinez).


Paul Angelosanto asks:

How do you think it would feel to have one of your books merchandized?  How would you feel about a Helen and Troy board game?  I imagine it would feel especially good for your wallet but I was wondering how the artist side of you would feel about it?

Obviously, I’m all for it.  Being a hardcore board game and card game fan, myself, I’d love it if one of my books inspired a game.  But I don’t limit myself to merely games.  Posters, movies, comic books, tea cozies, bathmats, collectible figurines . . . I’m more than willing to jump into the merchandizing pool if the opportunity should arise.

Speaking of which, it’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned my Cafepress store ( where you can find some cool T-shirts, mugs, etc.  It didn’t really take off, and that’s probably my fault.  But it’s there and worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet.

Merchandizing is a funny thing because it can be a double-edged sword.  There’s always the risk of “selling out”, but I don’t see any reason to worry about that yet.  It’d be a nice problem to have actually.  Right now, I’m camped out in relative obscurity, and I’d welcome the chance to be told I sold out my artistic integrity because of the superpopular cartoon, movie, or video game that came out based on something I wrote.

Ultimately, my feelings always come down to this.  No matter what else, I’ve written books I am very happy about, and if I should happen to branch out into games, movies, action figures, even if those things were terrible endeavors, the books would still remain.  That’s really what I’m all about as a novelologist.  I never write books in hopes of them becoming movies or collectible card games, but if it should happen, I’m not going to complain.  And if those merchandizing efforts lead to something great, then all the better.  If they only lead to more cash in my pocket, I’d be fine with that too.

Being an artist doesn’t have to be a war between success and integrity.  That’s probably hopelessly naive on my part, but until I see otherwise, I’ll believe it.  And if I should happen to be wrong about it, then I’ll admit here that I’m all for selling out a little bit at this stage.  Maybe not the most inspiring answer, but absolutely true.


P.T. Dilloway writes:

On the “Today” show this morning they were talking to a 21 year old British girl that got a book published, “The Bone Season”. It was getting lots of publicity, and a movie deal, and from what I saw on B&N and Amazon it got ok reviews, but when you look at all of the ones not written by sycophants it really is not a very well-written or polished book and probably would have never been published, but it sort of crosses “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” with maybe some other YA tropes mixed in, which I think is one of those things that the agents and publishers are looking for these days.

Does is make you feel upset when you see someone like that, really young and not very well written, getting published and a movie deal and all sorts of publicity when it has been such as uphill climb to even get noticed, let alone published, especially in a similar genre to some of your own stuff?  Do you think it cheapens the writing community or career when someone immature gets so much (possibly undeserved) attention?

There’s more than one question here, so let’s unpack them one at a time.

First of all, I’d like to state that this is the first I’ve heard of this particular book, and so I have no opinion on it.  Could be amazing.  Could be terrible.  Don’t know.  Won’t comment on that.

I will say though that being young doesn’t automatically mean someone is a bad writer.  For that matter, being older is no genuine indication of someone being a good writer either.  As a member of the DFW Writer’s Workshop for over a decade now, I’ve seen plenty of aspiring writers pass through our doors.  I’ve seen young writers who were solid storytellers and older folks who struggle to make things interesting.  Like most skills, the true measure of a writer’s talent is usually found in how much time they’ve spent mastering the art of writing, and it’s perfectly reasonable for a young person to have loads more writing experience than an older person.

Add to this that quality is such a nebulous thing to measure, I’m rarely confident criticizing anything as genuinely “bad”.  I don’t mind saying that I, myself, found something disappointing or even poorly executed.  See my essays on Man of Steel or Tron Legacy or . . . well, a lot of stuff.  But I always try to preface it with the acknowledgement that it is just one guy’s opinion, and that my opinion is often out of step with what your average person wants.

Also, a lot of people don’t really want anything complicated.  They want to read stories that strike an emotional center, and they couldn’t give a damn about all those things writers have trained to notice and care about.  Star Trek: Into Darkness is an unending failure of story construction and sensible plotting, and for a lot of folks, they either don’t notice OR notice but don’t care.  Twilight breaks some of the most important elements of conflict and character development, and none of the fans care because that’s not why they’re reading it.  And while I can certainly find that frustrating on occasion, it’s just the truth.  No point in fighting it.

As for the notion that I might resent someone for being successful in the same business I’m in, I’ll admit that’s mostly something I don’t have to deal with.  I would love to be more successful, but I also don’t think that someone else’s success necessarily came from stealing my own opportunities.  Perhaps I’m just not wired that way.  Or perhaps I just don’t believe that quality and success are necessarily the same things.  For that matter, I’m not even sure I can easily define either quality or success.

I will say that Hollywood isn’t looking for well-written books to make into movies.  Why would they care about that?  In the end, no matter how eloquent a book is, a lot of that eloquence is going to get lost in the transition from page to screen.  Hollywood is looking for commercial ideas, stories that would translate well to film.  But, even more, Hollywood is looking for “buzz”.  If a book has a good hook (such as a young writer), that’s what Hollywood really desires.  Anything to make selling the film to the general public easier and justify the expense of producing a film.  Quality isn’t entirely unimportant, but it’s not at the top of the list.

As for the notion of “Cheapening the writing community”, I’m not quite sure how to respond to that.  While I do consider myself an artist, I chafe under the idea that there is some higher calling to what I do.  It’s a job, and I take it seriously.  But I don’t take it that seriously.  It’s dangerously pretentious to assume that there is worthwhile artistic endeavor or shameful bubblegum and nothing in-between.  I get stuck between this dynamic far too often, and it probably doesn’t help that I’m writing neither high art, nor brain candy as far as I’m concerned.  I believe that any honest attempt to express ourselves is worthy of respect, even if I might not enjoy the form that expression takes.  Yes, even as much as I disliked Man of Steel, I can appreciate the artistic talent behind it.  And even when that artistic talent fails (as it often does), I can respect the effort.

I was into B movies before it was cool, and some of the best B movies are glorious failures.  Yet it is the effort to succeed that makes them so admirable to me.  It’s also why I have a hard time with movies like Sharknado, which ape the failure of a B movie with none of the ambition.  Yet even then, this is just my pet peeve, and a subject for another time.

All of the above ends up being a long way of saying, I try hard not to resent anyone their successes (as long as they don’t let those successes go to their egos), and I long ago stopped believing that there was rhyme or reason to our successes or failures.  Life is unpredictable, and all we can really do is our best and hope.  So that’s what I do, and I don’t waste a lot of time obsessing over why one thing gets to be popular while something else doesn’t.  And I don’t begrudge anyone fortunate enough to be doing better than me because life is full of ups and downs, and there’s little point in tallying the unfairness of the universe because, in my experience, the universe isn’t unfair.  It’s indifferent.

Until I finally get that movie deal.  That will be due entirely to my own amazing talent, of course.


Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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One Comment

  1. Posted September 17, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Because I had nothing better to do I made an action figure of the titular character in the Tales of the Scarlet Knight series. Basically I repainted a Marvel Legends Hope Summers action figure and recently gave her a sword taken from a Justice League Katana figure. Now all I need is about a thousand more of those figures and a bunch of people to repaint them and then I can start merchandising them. Though talking about merchandising always makes me think of Spaceballs. I’d really like a Scarlet Knight flamethrower or toilet paper–or both.

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