Sunday, June 12, 2016

What the Late Great Prince and I Have in Common

Dear readers, fans, and attorneys for the other side:

It may surprise you that I, your humble writer, have something in common with the late but entirely great Prince, he of Purple Rain. I met Prince once, very briefly, in a hotel lobby in London but that's not what we have in common. No, what we have in common is the reason he once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and the press threw up its collective hands and simply called him "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince." That makes a nice acronym, by the way, so I would have called him TAFKAP but nobody ever did so that's just me. I've always been pretty good at making up acronyms. You have to remember I once came up with FECAL to describe a cat litter box in space (Feline Environmental Control Automatic Lavatory) or, as one of my characters preferred it, FECES (Feline Elimination Control Environmental Station). You can read all about this interesting experiment in my novel Back to the Moon and also my memoir Paco: The Cat Who Meowed in Space.

But, anyway, what does the Prince of the symbolic name have in common with me? Well, I think most of you know that I am suing It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named movie studio and a couple of its executives. You can go right here to this site at Deadline Hollywood (deadline.com) and see the entire complaint which is pretty detailed. Although there's obviously a lot more to it, the heart of the thing is an ancient contract between them and me. So what Prince and I have in common is that he had similar problems with a contract he made with a giant corporation, one that he felt held him down as an artist, interfered with his ability to make a living, and was just entirely unfair. Being the creative person that he was, he chose to fight it by simply changing his name to a symbol. Go here to read about it. Pretty clever, eh? So therefore, I am announcing from this moment on, my name is [check out the symbol below which means Faith, I think, but sorta looks like an H] or, if you don't like that, you can call me The Author Formerly Known as Homer Hickam or TAFKAHH.

Just kidding (sort of).

Attorneys don't like for their clients to talk about their lawsuits and mine has certainly put the fear of God in me about doing it. There's an interesting reason for that. Before I tell you what it is, I have to tell you that I'm learning far more about litigation than I ever wanted to know but I guess the good Lord decided it was time for me to know this stuff (although I would have preferred a publishing contract to write a legal thriller). Sky of Stone, by the way, is sort of a legal thriller so, fans of that genre, check it out. Anyway, the reason why a party in a lawsuit shouldn't talk about it is because anything we might say could be "actionable." Here, in a very simplified way, is what "actionable" means. If I went around calling the other side mean names like arrogant and corrupt and said they were heathens who ought to be horse whipped, no matter how much I believed it to be true, their corps of attorneys might decide what I said was "actionable," and could sue me for defamation of character, slander, and that kind of thing. Obviously, I certainly want to avoid that! So I'm just going to invite you to read my complaint in its entirety at this website by Deadline.com and make up your own mind.

But embedded within my complaint is something of true importance to the nation's authors and, thus, the reason why I'm writing this blog.

My experience with my contract has led me to believe that contracts between big movie studios and authors stick around entirely too long. For instance, the contract listed in my complaint was written and signed way back in 1996 and was created to make a movie out of my book Rocket Boys which became the movie October Sky. Yet, although the movie has long since been made, the contract lives on and will maybe continue to live on long after everyone who drafted it and signed it and knew what it was for is dead.

Such contracts are still being drafted every day by gigantic movie studios that can be used to beat authors over the head indefinitely. So what I plan on doing, as the poster child for all this, is to lobby my Senators from West Virginia, Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito, and my Senators from Alabama, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, (it's nice to be able to claim two states) and all the other congresspersons who owe me a favor (for voting for them, maybe), to insert into one of their bills a requirement that henceforth there must be the automatic inclusion of a seven-year sunset clause into every contract between a movie studio and an author. In other words, after seven years, no matter what the contract says, it's over, done with a fork stuck well in, turned into a bird cage liner, or filed away in a museum. I mean, if a giant movie studio can't squeeze every dollar out of a book in seven years, it's time to let it go back to the author.  Do you see anything wrong with that? Me, neither. But I bet the movie studios do and I have a hunch they might own more than one Senator. As I go forward in this quest for that simple paragraph in federal law, I'm going to try to enlist not only Senators and other politicians but the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, the Writers Guild of America, and every other outfit purporting to represent writers to the cause. Although some of these folks will probably hide under their desks (big movie studios, you see, do not take kindly to resistance), I'm kind of persistent so maybe I'll get them on board sooner or later.

So stay tuned at this blog or my website here. I would appreciate your support in any manner you might consider.

As for our superior musical, we plan to forge on whether It Which Should Not Be Named likes it or not. We hope all in the theatrical community will recognize that what we are doing is honorable and will rally behind us.

Your author and friend (with a special salute to the attorneys from the other side),

Homer Hickam aka TAFKAHH aka