In Europe every year they have this thing called the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s a huge to-do where everyone who’s everyone gathers to network, attend panels, party and, of course, hustle sales. I’ve been a small part of this convocation for four years now, with my books for sale to foreign markets. In the past I’ve had some really great deals made, including a substantial rights sale to Klett-Cotta, a German publisher. I always hope we’ll get a repeat of that particular feat every year, but it hasn’t happened yet.
This year I have a few wares on offer, including the Camaro novel, The Night Charter, as well as Missing and, last but not least, La Frontera. These last two are the final installments in my Mexican journey, so it’ll be interesting to see how and if they go to the nice folks gathered in Frankfurt. Obviously I have dreams.
One of the things that’s been interesting about my literary career is that my own country is considered a foreign market by the publishers I’ve had. Serpent’s Tail, which has published three of my Mexico novels, is a London-based publisher. Betimes Books, which published La Frontera, is based in Ireland. And when the deal was struck for The Night Charter by my English representation, the deal was considered foreign again because the agency is from the UK and Mulholland Books is US-based. So basically I’m an American author who has been marketed and sold as an overseas commodity. If you think that’s a little weird you’re not wrong, but this can be an odd business.
In television terms, a “bottle episode” is one that takes place primarily on one set, or a group of already existing sets, and does not require a lot (or any) new building or location work. These episodes are intended specifically to reduce budget issues on shows that need at times to control their money flow to bigger, more expensive episodes that occur along the way. Every show does this to a greater or lesser extent, even if you don’t realize it. The X-Files was no exception.
Already in The X-Files‘ run there had been some pretty pricey episodes, not least of which was (paradoxically) “Ice,” which had all the hallmarks of a bottle episode, but had to splash out on sets and recognizable actors. Showrunner Chris Carter was asked to come up with an episode or two that could be done on the cheap to make up for expenditures like these, and it’s in this spirit that “Space” was written.
On paper “Space” would seem like a fairly straightforward bottle episode. Most of its action is confined to a single building and a mock-up of NASA mission control in Houston, and the episode is loaded with stock footage of the Space Shuttle. Cheap, cheap, cheap. But….
It turns out that making even a small replica of mission control is not a penny-pinching affair, and that official NASA footage doesn’t come without a price, either. “Space” ended up being one of the most expensive episodes of the season. And what makes this turn of events more painful is that it’s also one of the worst episodes of the entire show.
In “Space” Mulder and Scully are called upon to investigate what may be sabotage at NASA. A senior techno-whatsit has discovered what she suspects to be evidence of tampering with critical systems. Her fiance is going up in the next shuttle, and if her suspicions bear out, he’s in grave danger.
Harvey Weinstein is a very strange man. As one of the masterminds behind the independent Miramax label, he has unquestionably brought some great films to the theater. But at the same time, he has spent much of the last thirty years snapping up the rights to various foreign films and either: 1) sitting on the movies forever without releasing them, or 2) cutting them to ribbons for an American audience. When he got his hands on South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s science-fiction opus Snowpiercer, we all braced for Harvey Scissorhands (as he is sometimes called) to mangle the picture for its North American release. But thankfully his chopped-up version of the movie tested so poorly with audiences that he decided to release it as Bong realized it, though he was kind of a jerk about it and only gave Snowpiercer a limited release to art houses and the like.
On the one hand one might wonder why a movie like Snowpiercer would be relegated to the specialty market. It’s a big-budget science-fiction film with a ton of action, stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans, and was already a modest-sized hit overseas. On the other hand, once you actually see the movie you realize pretty quickly that there was no way Snowpiercer was ever going to appeal to a mass audience. Certainly dumping it in a handful of theaters didn’t help matters, but this is not the kind of science fiction people generally associate with the term, having more in common with something like Brazil than with any Marvel superhero picture.
Once upon a time there was a teenaged boy with a lot of problems. He had been rejected by his father and forced to move across the country to a place and town he didn’t know. He was suffering from the first symptoms of bipolar disorder. And he was generally such an odd fit in terms of taste and education and other critical factors that make socializing as a teen possible that he could barely make friends. The only true companions he had were books, roleplaying games and television. And on that television was a show called The Equalizer.
Truth be told, The Equalizer wasn’t a particularly good show. It had an extremely moody opening montage, with a driving Stewart Copeland theme song, and an evocative setting in grimy, crime-riddled ’80s New York City, but it wasn’t anything to write home about creatively. It was a sort of contemporary update on Have Gun, Will Travel, where an expert at the art of getting tough came to the aid of those less fortunate and, week to week, solved their problems with various crooks, thieves and liars. At the time it seemed perfectly reasonable that a short, slightly portly Englishman in his late 50s would be an ass-kicking protagonist for a show of this kind, and the teenager was enthralled. He even wanted to change his name to reflect the actor’s. Like I said, he was a troubled kid.
Miami Vice had a pretty tumultuous production history, with lots of people coming and going behind the scenes. At one point later on in the series, none other than Law & Order‘s Dick Wolf would take over. Talk about a contrasting approach to what came before.
“One Eyed Jack” and “No Exit” represent a turning point fairly early in the show and the end result are two excellent episodes. The first one out of the gate is “One Eyed Jack,” which was the last episode produced with the involvement of series creator Anthony Yerkovich. I tend to think Yerkovich doesn’t get enough credit for his part in the advent of this groundbreaking series, especially in light of the amazing teleplay he wrote for “Brother’s Keeper,” and his sudden departure from the show didn’t help his stature much. Truth be told, I think Michael Mann — who would himself leave the show later on, setting the stage for the arrival of the aforementioned Dick Wolf — probably has more to do with those things I like most about Miami Vice. And it’s true that immediately upon Yerkovich’s parting with the show, Miami Vice had one of its very best episodes of the first or any season. But more about “No Exit” in a minute.
If you are at all engaged with the business of publishing, then you’re aware that for months now retailing giant Amazon has been locked in a bitter struggle with Big Five publisher Hachette over the wholesale price of ebooks. It’s a pretty frustrating situation all around, and one that one might have hoped would be resolved by now. It seems fairly simple. Hachette wants to sell product. Amazon wants to sell product. Just put together an agreement that lets product be sold. Neither side is going to get everything they want. Period, end of story. Move on.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I’m a Hachette author. This is an important point, and indeed might be the core element of this entire blog entry, which I’ll explain presently.
Some people on the internet have decided to make this whole contract dispute about traditional (or “legacy”) publishing versus self-publishing. It doesn’t have anything to do with that, since this is simply a matter of a wholesaler and a retailer squabbling over terms, but the self-publishing set are the very definition of narcissists and everything is about them.
People like JA Konrath and Hugh Howey, who’ve had tremendous success selling their self-published material, have taken this opportunity to argue yet again that publishers are the bane of the writing world and should be abolished. Since they’ve accrued personal fortunes working outside the traditional system you can expect that this would be their perspective. However, they both can’t seem to leave it at that. Instead they have to demonize those who traditionally publish. Meaning: they’re demonizing me.