On Creativity Vs. Copyright

Back from Fencon.  It was a terrific time.  One of the best cons I’ve been to in a while.  Enjoyed every panel I participated in or watched from the audience.  Met some very cool people.  And just had a lot of fun.  I don’t know what else to say beyond that.  Great convention.  Great time.  Just supremely great.

It even gave me some ideas for some good blog posts.

Today, I’d like to write about a conversation I had with a fan.  He approached me after a panel and remarked that he had seen me on a panel from last year on the subject of copyright.  He was struck immediately by my lax view of copyright, and how I didn’t think it should last nearly as long as it does.  It intrigued him enough that he went ahead and bought one of my books.

First, that’s always wonderful to hear.  While I do enjoy sci fi cons, I don’t do them for my own pleasure.  I do them for the exposure, to get people excited about my books.  If I can get one or two people to take a chance on something I’ve written, then I consider things a rousing success.  One step at a time, right?

Even better, he read the first book, liked it, and bought another.  Don’t remember which books he mentioned, but he said that he enjoyed the second book too and had recently bought a third.  All great news.

Then he mentioned that he could see why I didn’t fear shorter copyright laws because I was constantly creating new characters and settings, so while another writer might have a vested interest in preserving their primary creation / universe, I was clearly a guy who’d just go make another.

For the record, I don’t think of myself as more creative as other writers.  Well, some other writers, sure.  But there are plenty of creative writers who are primarily series writers.  And it’s worked out well for them.  It’s just not my thing.

While it’s not my intention to free myself from copyright concerns by writing varied characters and universes, perhaps that’s an accidental byproduct.  Whereas many writers are looking for that golden goose to pin their career on, I’m more interested in writing fun, cool, varied fantasy stories.  While it has probably stifled my career’s growth, bucking a common trend, it’s also helped me in other ways.  And maybe one of those ways is giving me the confidence to believe that I don’t need to hold onto a story forever.

I like coypright.  I certainly like getting paid to create stories, but I do think there’s a danger of creative stagnation that comes with current copyright law.  It’s most visible in comic book superheroes, where so many older characters refuse to step aside for the next generation.  (Although this is trademark law, which is slightly different, but close enough for our purposes.)  Would Marvel continue to publish Spider-Man comics if the character was in the public domain?  Maybe.  But they’d also have the impetus to create new characters that could be more reliable revenue producers.

It’s true.  If I only had one money-making character / universe at my disposal, I’d want to hold onto as long as possible.  But I don’t.  Or at least, I choose not to.  Maybe it’s because I’m dumb.  Given current copyright law, one really strong, popular idea is worth a dozen less popular ones.  As I’ve said before, if I was writing my ninth Gil’s All Fright Diner novel, I’d probably be in a stronger place as a novelologist.  I don’t begrudge any writer who takes that path.

I just decided not to.  Rather, I just ended up going another way, mostly by habit and accident.

There are bonuses.  My fans tend to enjoy that I don’t write sequels.  They almost always have a favorite character / setting they’d love to read more of, but they also appreciate the variety.  And at least one guy respects me for it, which is always nice.

And then there’s Hollywood.  I’ve been fortunate enough to dip my toe in that pool, and it’s been a lucrative, fun experience.  I’ve earned a small reputation as a creative guy who can come up with cool ideas.  I’ve had several books optioned for films.  I can’t say whether they’ll go anywhere, but there still out there, still working for me, earning me a check now and then.  And getting me work that I never imagined I’d do.  Yes, I’ve written quite a few treatments and worked as a consultant.  I don’t think that would’ve happened if I’d just written a long-standing series, though if I were lucky enough to have a popular long-standing series, I’d have no reason to complain.

But I don’t have one of those.

What I do have is eight (make that nine, next year) fantasy / sci fi novels that have done respectably well, and a reputation as a creative guy who isn’t afraid to experiment a little bit.  That’s just fine by me.

Though selling more books is always something to strive for.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Bartleby Mosander
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Well, hold those words for a bit. You could do both. You could appease both sides of your audience by producing a new character-verse and adding a new sequel on alternating years. Because it takes you about a year, give or take 2 or 3 months, to write a novel. It seems to me that after you write the novel you are currently writing you could start writing a sequel to one of your other novels–nigh Too Many Curses.

    Damn right I used the word “nigh”!

    I mean, I know you choose not to write sequels, but you said it yourself there are pros to writing a serial. So, why choose to be known as creationist, but not show you can hold your own as a traditionalist? It would help your situation to be both; yet…(we are scattered puzzle pieces on this end)… you don’t.

  2. Revereche
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    .. . Well damn, I WOULD love a sequel to Too Many Curses. That one ended so abruptly, and I did love it so :< On the whole, though, I do love your tendency to explore new universes.

  3. Bartleby Mosander
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I know this is not a democracy. I understand Martinez does not do sequels. I, however, would love to put this to a vote. Vote 1: Should Martinez write a sequel? (Y/N)

    And if there is enough Yes votes for Vote 1, then

    Vote 2: What novel(s) should Martinez sequel? (Meaning, what novel has the best potential as a sequel?)

    I believe Too Many Curses would not have very many votes for Vote 2. Too bad this isn’t a democracy.


  4. Bartleby Mosander
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Off Subject:

    I also believe Martinez is lying about the inability to create crossover universes. Minus the Automatic Detective, each of his books have pan-dimensional characters. If the paper man from Monster has the ability to control dimensional travel, Martinez has written at least one character who could force a crossover between book universes. In Chasing the Moon, he explains how dimensional travel works and disorientation. Disorientation is perfect, because that would mean heroes from one book are not necessarily heroes in another. Unfortunately, if he has already chosen not to write serials, then it would be a hard sell on that crossover.

    What is awesome is Martinez promotes fan fiction! In fact, he wants it bad. Me too. I would love to read the serial Martinez never created (refused to create). Perhaps, someone will write a Monster or Divine Misfortune sequel (please!).

    Speaking of which, have you ever noticed that whenever the “sequel argument” ever comes up, he always says “that sounds like a great idea. I would love to read some fan fiction. You write it.” or words to that effect. At one point, those words made me disgruntled…prick…but now I think what a great idea it would be for some other author to show him up. You write it. Have him read a better version of his own character-verse–like shooting a man with his own gun, except less violent.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Copyright vs. Creativity | baloo123q on December 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm
  2. […] A. Lee Martinez on Creativity vs. Copyright. […]

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