The Fine Art of Literary Theft

I had an absolute blast this past weekend at the Emerald City Writers' Conference -- the friendliest conference you'll ever attend! For some reason, they let me have access to a microphone and a slide projector, so I was able to subject a room-semi-full of people to a presentation on genre tropes, mash-ups, and ethical artistic stealing. The slides are very pretty (thanks, Slidevana!), and some bits of it may in fact be intelligent as well! So I thought I might post it on Slideshare and on this here blog, for those who couldn't attend the conference in person. There's audio somewhere, and when that is available I'll see about posting that as well (or at least letting you know how to find it elsewhere).

{Edited to add this one single slide, as a reference link and teaser.}

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My Very First Pirate! And Why I'm Still Anti-SOPA and -PIPA

We here at Olivia Waite would love to introduce you to an anonymous internet denizen known as ioedpee on Dailybooth. If that first link does not work, it is because the account has been removed as a violation not only of Dailybooth's terms of service, but also as a violation of my own personal copyright. My publisher has sent them a cease-and-desist notice, but as of this posting they are not only still up, but still updating. You see, ioedpee is the first person to pirate one of my digital books.

Time was, I used to wonder if being pirated would change my views on ebook piracy—and so far, no, I feel pretty much the same about it now as I did then. I'm gently anti-piracy and vociferously anti-DRM; I'm pro-digital lending (even more so now that I've come to enjoy the digital collections of my local library); I'm even anti-SOPA (unlike the RWA) because it seems to cause far more problems than it will supposedly fix.

So it's nice that this new world where my books are being sold on the sly has not turned my opinions upside down.

Speaking of SOPA and PIPA ... This blog will not be going black tomorrow, only because I do not have quite the level of technical expertise to accomplish this fact. The best I can do is switch my posting schedule so I'm not actually posting on the protest day.

As for why I'm still against SOPA and PIPA, the best breakdown I've seen is from the eternal Sarah at Smart Bitches:

For me specifically, under PIPA, it would be my responsibility to check the provenance of every site I link to, making sure that that URL, or any other page at that domain, did not contain any content that was copyright protected or possibly pirated. If I did link to a site that, for example, contained a scanned copy of a Fabio-festooned book cover from 1993, I could be seen as encouraging piracy and could therefore be blocked, my finances could be frozen, and my domains could be confiscated. If I linked to a site that someone felt was infringing on copyright by including an excerpt of a book, I could be blocked, frozen and in a heap of trouble. The interpretations of PIPA are too broad for my comfort, and the penalties too severe.

These bills are essentially trying to use a hand grenade to kill a horsefly. The overly broad language penalizes individuals and trusts far too much in corporate goodwill to prevent abuses. This law is a terrible, terrible idea.

But! Back to the fun part of this post: my own personal pirate. It turns out that I am far from the only author that ioedpee is attempting to circumvent.

Here are a few intriguing selections on offer from my pirate (who obviously has excellent if eccentric literary taste). Important note: The links will not lead you to the pirate site. Instead, they point toward Powell's Books in Portland. Powell's has long been among my favorite bookstores in the world, and to my vast delight they recently added Damned If You Do to their ebook catalogue.

Some of these books sound really excellent, and I do hope you check them out.

{Disclaimer: because I am a member in Powell's Partner Program, actions you may take via the above links may prove beneficial to me personally. In other words, clicking those links helps me buy more books from Powell's. Click—click for your lives!}

Novel Films Blogfest: The Commentary

Hello there! Now that we've established my list of experienced book/movie combinations for Scribble and Edit's Novel Films Blogfest, let's jump right to the fun part—commentary!

The Princess Bride

Misty golden background. White horse in foreground. In middle ground, a pale-skinned man with long blondish hair and a blousy black poet shirt is passionately kissing a pale-skinned woman with long blond hair, an elaborate tiara, and a silver gown.

Of course I saw the movie first. And when I finally tracked down the book, I loved that too. And one of the reasons I keep coming back to this book/movie is that the way William Goldman uses framing devices is really, really interesting. Both the book and the movie have a real-life narrative that supports and comments on the fairy-tale narrative, and in adapting the book for the screen Goldman simplified the frame while keeping true to its emotional heart.

In the book: narrator-Goldman is a sad-sack father, mostly absent, trying but continually failing, until he recalls how his own father told the story and does the same thing for his son, to great acclaim. Now he's presenting this abridged fairy tale to the world. There are a lot of asides where narrator-Goldman talks about how it feels to read a book he thought he knew, only to discover his father had been making alterations to the story all the while. We also hear narrator-Goldman's opinions on whether or not these changes improve the story, and why.

In the movie: Charming grandfather Peter Falk reads a story to his sick grandson Fred Savage. They argue throughout about which way the story does go, or should go, or shouldn't go. At the end, the boy goes to sleep happily, and wants to hear the story again the next day.

Can it really be a coincidence that one of the best book/movie combinations of all time spends a lot of time asking the question: how should this story go?

One of the things that comes up a lot in book-movie adaptations is the value of fidelity to the source material. Princess Bride is unique in being unabashedly in favor of revising the original—both the fictitious S. Morgenstern book, and the Goldman book that became the Goldman-adapted screenplay. Sometimes we change things, it goes, so that we can enjoy the story more. So it can mean more to us. But we don't change everything—the grandson may not want a kissing book, but that one perfect kiss is so central to the story that the grandfather must insist on leaving it in.

The stories we love as children don't always serve us well when we grow up. (Cinderella, for instance, can be a bit of a problem.) We may find, as narrator-Goldman did, that the stories we heard as a child weren't necessarily true—they had embellishments, and excisions, and bits were rearranged. And sometimes we have to change the story, to bring it closer to the truth—for instance, to change history books to reflect the very real and often ignored contributions of women, minorities, GLBTQ folk, and so on. And sometimes—as narrator-Goldman did—we find something in the fairy tales that is better than the actual truth. Something that lifts us up, that brings us together, that tells a slightly larger truth than the one S. Morgenstern intended when he wrote his satirical original.

This discussion, for instance, about Wesley's unexplored past as the Dread Pirate Roberts, contains an imagined scene about our two main characters:

You could probably write a really funny sketch that takes place immediately after the movie ends, where Buttercup starts to ask Westley a little about his adventures. He tells her the most horrible stories imaginable in this wistful tone.

“Sometimes I miss the sunset over the waves, the cry of the seagulls, and the simple pleasure of having my way with a schoolgirl and making her parents watch.”

“Excuse me?”

“I was thinking of you every second, my dearest!”


The Princess Bride invites us to see narrative as open-ended, as variable, and as personal. And, to me, that's a more important truth than who originally said, "Life is pain. Anyone who says different is selling something."*

*In the book, this opinion is offered by Fezzik's mother.

Beginnings and endings are easy . . .

Well, that just isn't true, is it? It's a line from a movie, and it tends to appear in my head according to some mysterious schedule of its own. Taunting me. Beginnings, sure -- beginnings are fun. They brim with possibility. They can also be terrifying, and terror begets interest. Let me be scared -- let me be anxious -- let me be frozen with fear -- so long as I am not bored.

Endings? I find them impossible. There are two perfect endings:

  1. And they lived happily ever after.
  2. And someone/several someones died in a manner so wrenching that the survivors wished they'd died themselves.

Jane Eyre is a perfect example of No. 1 in its sophisticated form. King Lear would be an example of No. 2. (The contrarian in me suspects that the reverse would also be a defensible theory.)

This is why The Princess Bride is such a perfect book: you get both perfect endings at once. The rest of us are compelled to choose one.