Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Archetypes, Tropes and Copyright

There’s an important post over on the Pink Heart Society blog this  morning.  It’s by Michelle Styles and it talks about tropes, archetypes and copyright.  If you’re at all interested in writing  - and  reading – I suggest you go and read it right now.

Now I’m not just saying this is important  because it has been provoked by something that happened to me. That’s important right enough  -  but this has more wide ranging impact  and is much more significant for the writing world, for authors, unpublished writers, and anyone who is interested in that world for any reason.

Some of you may know that an unpublished author recently brought a case against me and Harlequin  claiming that they had used her contest entry to craft  my award nominated novel The Proud Wife. The unpublished author had submitted her 20 pages and synopsis into many RWA sponsored contests and cited one where  she thought I had been one of the judges. In fact I  had never heard of the contest and had never judged it. The unpublished author felt so strongly that the works were similar, citing 40 different   points of commonality that she took the case to court.   Earlier this month the federal judge dismissed the plaintiff’s  claim with prejudice and without leave to amend  because there were no instances of copyright violation. In other words, the judge did not have to decide if I had accessed the unpublished author’s work through a contest entry because there was no copyright violation in the first place.  All 40 elements cited belonged in the unprotected category, rather than the protected  category. In other words they were part of the trope of romance and the similarities flowed from that.

If you want to know more about tropes in romance  then read Michelle’s post.  All I will add is that from time immemorial writers have been reworking plots, telling the same stories in different way, with a new slant, a new twist.  Prior to the 18th century, writers borrowed freely from each other without shame or punishment. (The Latin word plagaria referred only to the act of physical kidnapping.) Shakespeare borrowed passages from Plutarch and contemporaries. Books were copied by hand prior to the rise of the printing press, and amanuenses were given liberty to rework texts. England passed the first copyright laws in 1709, as mechanical reproduction of works and new ideas about individuality became widespread. These laws provided legal remedies for authors--writers and composers mainly--who believed their works had been unfairly lifted. The U.S. Constitution required Congress to pass similar copyright laws.

Plagiarism is  abhorrent  to me -  totally wrong – but plagiarism is reproducing  verbatim without the author's prior consent.  Plagiarism is  lifting another person’s words, copying their story, adding nothing new or different and above all never acknowledging the debt to the original.   What romance  writer has never written her personal version of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty,  The Taming of The Shrew, Pride and Prejudice . .  .   Even if she hasn’t followed the path of the original story, the memories of it, the themes  and plot lines are there in our collective story-telling imaginations and they will come out to a greater or lesser degree in each story we tell.   If I meet any  writer of romantic fiction who tells me that she had never  ever touched on any of the classics  then I’m unlikely to believe her. Where  do the wonderful alpha heroes we all know and love (or hate  as the case may be) come from if not from these classic stories?

All fiction is full of echoes and reflections that writers play with their predecessors. The Russian critic Vladimir Propp has even  proposed that all stories could be  made up of one of seven archetypes, that cover the whole of fiction for all time. No matter what amazingly unique idea you might come up with for your new novel, chances are it's already been used hundreds, possibly even thousands, of times before. You can’t copyright an idea.   You can’t copyright tall, dark handsome heroes.  Or beautiful heroines  - whatever  their colouring. You can’t copyright the weather on a day a scene takes place.  You can’t copyright a book about a miscarriage – miscarriages aren’t copyrightable. I should know, I’ve suffered one and so, sadly,  have many of my friends.

Since I wrote The Proud Wife  I have read a dozen or more novels with very similar themes – some series romance, some  bigger ‘single title’ books.  None of them  stole anything from me. They might or might not have read The Proud Wife – it doesn’t matter. The themes, the tropes of this book  are archetypes of romantic fiction. Each time a story is retold it is worked into a different form , with different characters, a different setting,  different  touches that take a classic trope/archetypal characters  and turn them into something fresh.

I’ve written 60 published novels in  the nearly 30 years I’ve been writing. My 61st  A Throne For The Taking will be published in June. I don’t need anyone else’s stories to keep me writing – I have enough trouble with the ideas and the characters who are buzzing in my head demanding that I find time to write them down.  But  there is one other side of this case that truly saddens me and that is the effect that this case has had on so many, many fellow authors. And as a consequence, will have on many as yet unpublished writers working hard to learn their craf and looking for help and advice along the way.

One of the things I have always loved about the world of romance writers is the way that so many of them – of us, because I include myself in this group -  have been only too willing, totally happy, to help unpublished writers on their way towards to goal of being published.  For years, published authors have judged  contests  run by the RWA and other organisations. We have read and critiqued scripts for new writers – writers who often send scripts unsolicited, asking for help.  We have offered our professional expertise to help both new writers and important charities  like Brenda Novak’s  annual Auction  to raise money for research  to look for a cure for diabetes.
Not any more.

Because this  generosity is what this case has damaged.  So badly.  I have had so many messages from fellow writers who would have donated a  reading/critique as a lot in this valuable auction or who would have volunteered to judge a contest to help unpublished authors – but after this,  not any more. 

And this is why the article on the PHS is important. Because  if people don’t understand what is copyrightable and what isn't and what plagiarism really  is  then this can happen again and other authors can be put through  this  with no justification.

So please read Michelle’s post  and  learn   more about these things – and if you are interested, you can read the full 18 page judgement here   The analysis starts on page 9 and runs to page 17.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St Patrick's Day

Happy Saint Patrick's Day to everyone.

Both my parents were  born in Ireland -  and on my mother's side I’m descended from a man called Chevalier Charles Wogan whose story is something of a delight for any romantic novelist – here is a brief summary:

"The Chevalier" (Knight) Charles Wogan was born in Rathcoffey. Is it possible that his heroic actions on the night of April 29th 1719 have given rise to the romantic fairy-tale tradition that for every fair princess shut up in a castle tower there comes a knight in shining armour ready to set her free so that she can marry the handsome prince of her dreams?

Wogan was a staunch supporter of the Stuarts. He initiated the alliance which led to the marriage of James Edward Francis Stuart (the Old Pretender), son of Charles II, to Clementina Sobieski, daughter of John Sobieski, King of Poland. She was apprehended, however, on her way to marry the Prince in Bologna. She was held captive in Innsbruck in the Tyrol. Wogan arranged false passports with the Austrian Ambassador and along with a small group feigning to be a Count, Countess, the Countess’ brother (Wogan) and her maidservant, managed to gain access to the princess. Following a quick exchange of clothing between the princess and the maidservant, the party escaped in high winds and blinding snow through the Alpine passes into Austria.

The marriage to James took place and from it Charles Edward (the Young Pretender) was born in Rome in 1720. Wogan’s reputation for daring and enterprise spread throughout all Europe.

It’s rumored that in fact Charles Wogan and Clementina fell in love on their journey but that his loyalty to his king meant that he didn’t press his own claim for marriage. It’s also rumored that as a result of this, the Chevalier and his family are entitled to wear their hats in the presence of the king and to a pension of £10 a year. Unfortunately, like most of these things in English law, this was only passed down through the male side – which has now died out - and I come from the female line.

But this story has been in my mind a lot lately and I keep thinking that seeing as there's really nothing really new in romance plots, it could make a good romance story for Presents.

What do you think?



Friday, March 15, 2013

We Write Romance Day

It's the 15th of the month so that means that  today's blog is  my regular Kate's Corner over on the blog on We Write
So  that's where you'll find me today.
The Q&A on Delivering Emotional Punch on the EHarlequin site ended to day - but the lessons, and the questions are still there if you want   to take a look.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm late . . . I'm late . . .

I feel  like the White Rabbit, rushing around, muttering 'I'm late,   I'm late . . .'

I'm late picking the winners for this giveaway -  but sometimes life just gets in the way

Anyway - here we go

The winner from Liz Fielding's Blog  is Samantha Veerasamy

Other winners -
Unknown/Anonymous - sorry, I don't know your real name

Julie M  - Happy Birthday for the 16th Julie. If you send me your addres fast then hopefully the prize will arrive to be  an extra birthday gift for you

CC - I reckon you deserve a copy for finally remembering all those dates! And maybe your husband's mother would like to read it?

 And as Charlie was too greedy to stick at just 5 copies -
Eli  - you can share a copy with your bookclub friend - and maybe read it to  your mother!
Mary Preston -  an early birthday gift - as long as you share with yout Mum too!!

Ok ladies - you  know the drill.  Send me your postal addresses to the email  at the bottom of the page  and I'll get the books in the mail to you!

Writers -
I'm also late with this - sorry! But there's still time to catch up -
Over on they are having a Harlequin Presents Spotlight and I was asked to run a teaching week for those who were preparing a novel for the Presents line - and in preparation for  a Presents writing event coming up on the site.

So I'm running a class/Q&A on  Delivering Emotional Punch  this week. I've already posted 3 lessons, but you could soon catch up. 

Anyway - you'll find the lessons - and the  questions here

Friday, March 08, 2013

Mother's Day Giveaway

The wonderful  Liz Fielding -  who has won both the RWA's RITA and the Romantic Novelists' Association  Romance Prize - has  a special  feature on her blog -  First Page Friday  - where she features  - obviously! - the first page of a new  - or a favourite - romance novel.

Today I'm delighted that she has chosen my novel The Proud Wife    as her  First Page feature this time. 

Thank you Liz!

I always find it really special when an author I admire (and if you haven't read Liz's books, you've been missing out!) enjoys my own work and tells people about it.  Liz and I both write romance  but in such different styles, which is what I love about the genre we both write in. We can both take the same themes, ideas, plot elements, even character types, as are so common in romance fiction - but make those elements our own and turn them into something special - something with that elusive thing called 'voice' - that make  reading books by individual authors a unique experience.  And Liz's books certainly fit into that category for me.  I've read everything she's written and I'm so looking forward to her upcoming  novel in the new  Harlequin KISS line - Anything But Vanilla  coming in April . (Ice cream + a new Liz Fielding book - sounds like the perfect combination to me!)

Liz and I  - together with Anne McAllister  - usually run the Here Come the Grooms contest jointly around this  time  but unfortunately this year cinrcumstances conspired against it and we didn't have new books with new 'grooms' in  this time.  But for me a new Liz Fielding novel is always something to celebrate - and here in the UK  this weekend we have cause to celebrate because Sunday 10th  March is UK's mother's day.

Sadly,  I don't have  my mother to celebrate with any more and two years ago we also lost my MIL - which is  extra poignant as March is also the birthday  month for both these very special ladies - but  I do want to celebrate  right now - so I'll celebrate Mother's Day/March birthdays   with you all instead.

So  I have five copies ot The Proud Wife to give away for someone who has a birthday this month - or whose mother has a birthday - or whose mother would love a copy of The Proud Wife.

So take a look at Liz's site -  read the first page of The Proud Wife and if you don't already have a copy  then either leave  a comment on Liz's  blog  to say  hello to her (tell her I sent you!)  - or post a comment here telling me about your Mum, or  your birthday - or hers  . . . or someone you'd like to give a copy of The Proud Wife to . . . .

And on Sunday - Mother's Day - I'll get Charlie and Flora on the job of picking out the winners who'll get to celebrate this time too.

Oh and while you're over on Liz's site - take a look at the details of some of her wonderful books and if you haven't tried any of them yet - well, why not treat yourself?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Well - what do you think?

Last week,  I shared the USA Presents cover of my new book - A Throne for The Taking - with you.  (You can see it below if you missed it) 

I quite like it  - and the people who commented were pretty positive too. 

Now I have the UK cover  and  - er  - well I'm having a hard time trying to imagine my rebellious, emotionally scarred 'black sheep'  prince Alexei  in the cover image I've been given. So I'm posting it here for you to see this one too.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tote Bags Day

Today is  the first Sunday  in March so that means that today is my day for my regular post over  at Tote Bags 'N' Blogs. So that's where you'll  find me today.

March 3rd is also a rather special day for me personally so I'm marking it with a small giveaway  for someone's mother if you visit Tote Bags and make a comment - see you there!

Friday, March 01, 2013

I almost forgot . . .

It's March 1st - and a Friday. So that means it's the first Friday in the month.
And the first Friday of the month is my day for blogging over on the Pink Heart Society Blog.  So that's where I am today.

It's also where I've been able - at last - to show the cover of my new title, A Throne for The Taking  which is out in June.    But I also want to post  it here for everyone to see.  This is my black sheep  prince Alexei  and his reluctant bride  Ria. (I know there are a couple of readers who will particularly like that name.)

I only have the Harlequin  Presents edition cover for now  but I'll post the Modern Romance one as soon as I get it.

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