Could I be any dumber? Obviously. My darling editor started reading the second draft of CORNERS, which I have completed and sent off to her a few days ago, and the first question she asked me was, "Did you think about copyright?" And I replied, boisterously, with flippant facetiousness, "Nope!" And then it hit me in the gut. Why didn't I? Was I blind? We do things in life sometimes that leave us puzzled. The short story is, I will have to swap out 8 of the 25 mentioned books in CORNERS for some other ones, because they are not in public domain (the author has to be dead for 70 years before her/his work enters public domain). What does this mean? Well, it means several things.
One, the book will be darker than originally planned. I wanted to write a story in which I would get a chance to hop in and out of books that shaped my childhood. I had a list of about 50+ total, and I chose the ones that were most memorable for me. Now that I have to cut out titles like Mary Poppins and The Hobbit and The Magician's Nephew and Moomintrolls and even Pippi Longstocking, I'll be replacing them with stories that are much darker and bloodier, since the deeper you dig into the the history of children's literature, the more gruesome and morbid it gets. For example, instead of my main characters, when they're hungry, dropping into one of the moomintroll books and salivating over Moominmamma's pancakes, they will now tumble into The Dwarf's Nose by Wilhelm Hauff and, witnessing an old woman pull out cabbages that turn into men's heads, be served by guinea-pigs in aprons a soup that will make them sleep for 7 years. Lovely change, right? What a sweet sweet bedtime story. Instead of the peaceful green wood between the worlds in The Magician's Nephew Rusty they will drop into the deadly poppy field in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and instead of holding the council in The Hobbit, they will gather in the blue suite of The Masque of the Red Death's mansion. Sorry, no warm cozy hobbit holes.
Two, I must have learned my lesson in the past, but somehow I didn't. I have brushed with this copyright issue before, when wanting to use Radiohead's lyrics in Siren Suicides. I went as far as contacting the band through their manager and figuring out the cost of the license. I blogged about it here. In the end, I didn't have that kind of money, so I wrote my own lyrics. The second time I brushed with it was in Rosehead. I quoted and made allusions several times to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Thankfully, his works are in public domain. Now, whatever devil prevented me to do research before starting Corners? I don't know. Hit me on the head with a fridge, maybe next time I'll remember. I knew that I could use the title of the works, I could quote them, I could mention characters' names, but no way can I write them into a book without appropriate permission. Lesson learned. I hope it sticks.
Three, in retrospect, I'm glad of this change. I initially wanted to make Corners darker than it is, but got scared, worried that I would write a book too dark for my readers. And, as we all know, this is a big no-no for any artist. I have to stay true to myself, and in a way I'm grinning an evil grin right now, savoring the idea of writing darker stuff in Draft 3.
Four, Corners might need four drafts instead of three to smooth all this out, so I am setting myself on a very tight deadline. In March, as you know, I'm leaving on the Amtrak train and starting to write Tube, so Corners has to be done by then, which means that I will have January for third draft, and February for fourth draft, with hardly any breathing room. Yikes. But I'm up for the challenge.
Five, this is the very reason I'm not copyrighting any of my work and am publishing every book under the Creative Commons license. In the perfect world we would be able to share our art and to get inspired by the art of others and use it not for monetary gain, but to build on it, to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. But, this world doesn't exist. I want, however, to do my small part and share what I do unreservedly. If you want to use my books or characters or story lines in your stories, you can. If you want to write fan fiction, you can. You can do whatever you want, as long as you use the same license I use and give it away for free, as I do. Perhaps one day this practice will catch on and more art will be made, art where we don't need lawyers to dispute ownership and kill the desire to create anything new, or set in anxiety, because, let's face it, every possible story has been already told.