Sunday, May 23, 2010

Titles vs Text: What Can I Use in My Writing Without Getting Permission?

Because so many of us find other artists' works important to our own creative process, it's natural that our characters do, too. So, our heroine might hum a song as she gets ready for work, or our hero might remember an inspiring passage from a book he read. But those songs and books, as well as TV shows, movie dialogue, and even web content and photographs, might be copyrighted material. If it is, you'll be expected to undergo the long process of getting permission to use it.

What can you use in the text of your story without worrying about copyright?

Titles can't be copyrighted, so chances are that if you say that your character was reading a book called Mystic River, Dennis Lehane can't do anything about that. So, if you want to name the song your character is humming, you can. You just can't quote the lyrics without permission.

Words or passages from the public domain.
A copyright expires after 70 years (with some exceptions, see here), so after that, the content of the song, show, or book is fair use unless the copyright holder gets it renewed. That's why we can have books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; the original Jane Austen novel has moved into the public domain. Here's a site that can help you find out what books are in the public domain, and here's one for songs.

Things you made up.
Why not avoid usage issues altogether and make up the lyrics to your song, or write for yourself the important book passage? If your character is rocking out to that classic hit, “I Love Vampires and They Love Me,” you can say so much more than you could with someone else's words.

Passages you have permission to use.
Whether it's a song or book, you need to contact the publisher and explain what you want to do with their work.

What's not allowed?
This one's easy: everything else. You can't use someone else's text unless you have permission from that author/band/songwriter/photographer...whoever holds the copyright. You must contact the publisher to get that permission.
Not even if:
You met the lead singer backstage at a concert last year.
You give them a shout-out in the acknowledgments of your book.
You make it clear that these words are their property, not yours.
You change a word here and there, making it not quite the same as the original.

Think of it this way; you're a writer, right? You wouldn't want someone just using your words without your permission. You might be flattered, but you didn't work your butt off for flattery. All artists and their representatives get final control over what happens to their work—and so will you, when the time comes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Salamander Fiction Prize

Deadline June 15, 2010. All entries considered for publication.
Each story must not exceed 40 double-spaced pages in 12-point
font. $1,500 honorarium and publication.

Resource: Mira's List

Mira's list is a blog that focuses on publishing funds available to writers, especially free money like grants and fellowships. Mira is a writer herself, and understand what it's like to need some bucks to finish a project. Check out her site to learn how to tap into the money that's out there for artists and writers.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Writing Tip: Alright?

Seriously, this one is so common that I don't even bother to correct it in fanfiction any more (original fiction is another story--I WILL nail you on it).

But here's the deal: “Alright” is not a word. You probably mean “all right.”

New Love Stories Magazine

New Love Stories is a hard copy magazine that pays $300 per accepted submission.

They describe themselves like this: For women over the age of twenty. It is designed to invoke in the reader a wide range of emotions relating to love and romance. Each issue will contain a well rounded mix of stories of loving female/male relationships that will stimulate the readers’ imagination. Adult women of all ages will relate to and live vicariously through the escapades of the female lead in each story. Also included in each issue will be a topical selection of cartoons and poetry.

You can find the writer's guidelines here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scare the Dickens out of Us Contest

First prize, $1,000 and a trophy.
Second prize, $500 and a ribbon.
Third prize, $250 and a ribbon.

Junior contest prize $250 and a trophy. Junior contest writers
must be age 12-18.

We want ghost stories. Any genre, any tone,
any subject, whatever type of ghost story you can come up with.
The contest is open to published and unpublished writers alike.
All publication rights remain with the author. The ghost story
must be 5,000 words or less. Entry must be postmarked no later
than October 1, 2010. Entries accepted beginning July 1, 2010.

Writing Exercise: Create a Family Tree

Creating Characters: Create a Family Tree!

Step One: Pick a name, including a first and last name. Male, female, twins - it doesn't matter. All that matters is that this person has a first and last name.

Step Two: Ask your CHARACTER - the one you just created a first and last name for - whether or not he or she has any siblings. This is where you might create a half-brother/half sister or a step-brother/step-sister or you might discover your character was adopted!

Step Three: Since no one is ever born at age thirty, there must have been some sort of parental unit for your character and, if applicable, siblings. Now, give those persons first and last names. If your initial character is illegitimate, this is where you could identify his/her mother/father. If he/she was raised by an uncle/aunt/grandmother/friend of the family, give that person(s) a name!

Step Four: Branch out as far as you want to go! Think about how your own family is structured. Is there a middle name that all first born males/females receive? Does every third child in the family carry the maternal grandmother's maiden name? Did someone in your family marry someone with a different ethnic background and give those children names that match their heritage rather than the core family?

Step 5: As you're doing this, jot down anything that comes to mind about any of the names appearing on your family-tree chart. Was Uncle a miser? Did Grandma have a heart of gold but was a terrible cook? Did someone's sister run-off and have a child with a man she refuses to name? Is your cousin gay? Is one branch of the family happy and poor? Is another branch rich and miserable? Is there an ambitious family member conspiring to take the family fortune? What would happen if distant cousins united to take on the family patriarch for control of the family coffers/land?

What you're doing is providing yourself with, not only a comprehensive look at your character's backstory, but invaluable information about how your character 'ticks'. You have the basis for daddy-issues, mommy-issues, inter-racial relationships, family drama, sibling rivalry, cousin-to-cousin rivalry - so much juicy stuff! Not only that, but you'll have characters to draw on should you find that you've written yourself into a corner, need someone your character can trust or someone to betray your character - so many possibilities!

But don't keep this to yourself!

Share it with us! We'll post it here and on the website!

PS: Do you need a name to get you going? I have hundreds and hundreds of names in my handy notebook--I'll be glad to share!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Writing Quotation

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis