Friday, September 8, 2017

Doing the Curly Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

Do you have a literary executor named in your will? What would you like (or loathe!) to have happen to your work when you've shuffled off this mortal coil?

by Paul D. Marks

Hmm, I’m not sure what there is to execucute (is that a word?). A bunch of stories, some books, hopefully more of both to come. Right now, I don’t have a literary executor for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost is we, I anyway, plan to live forever. Second, it’s really just not something I’ve thought about and I figure Amy will outlive me, hope so anyway, and she would take care of my expansive literary estate. Or we could leave it to the dogs, literally.

But maybe it’s a good idea to leave a few words about what I’d like to have done with my properties when I do the Curly shuffle off this mortal coil.


Of course, I gotta go but my work doesn’t have to, especially not in the digital age so I’d like to see it stay alive even if I’m not. It’s nice to think that future generations would want to read it and that it would have something to say to them. Maybe a bit of a message and hopefully just a lot of entertainment. But it seems that many younger people today aren’t much interested in anything that happened before they were born for the most part and I’m not sure how to get them to be interested in something like that. They’re missing out on a lot because of that, but as to how to reach them, I’m just not sure.

And while I’d like my work to live as well as live on, I’m not sure I’d want it to get the sequel or continuing treatment from another writer. I mean, our work is like our children and look at what happened with Gone With the Wind and Casablanca, where a sequel book was written to the movie and some of Chandler’s works. Some of which are good, some not so good. It’s hard to find someone to carry on an author’s work who has the same sensibility and tone and life experience that makes a work or a body of work what it is. So any continuations of my characters might not be my vision but being that I won’t have any vision at all at that time I guess there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it. And, that said, wouldn’t it be nice for the work to be that popular that someone would want to continue it? There’s something to be said for that.

And maybe after I’ve done the slip and fall off this mortal coil my work will even increase in value (to someone anyhow), the same way an artist’s work surges after his death. There’s a movie from the 1960s with Dick Van Dyke and James Garner called The Art of Love. In it, Van Dyke is depressed because his works aren’t selling so he fakes his death to increase their value. Now there’s a thought. If I fake my own death everyone will be clamoring for my stuff and my assigns can sell it for much more than the normal rate. Of course, they’ll be living high off the hog while I’m in hiding somewhere pretending to be dead and probably wishing I was.

But the ultimate answer to the question is yes, of course, I’d like my work to live on and be enshrined in the canon forever to be read by future generations, who look like this:


And now for the usual BSP.

I’m happy to say that my short story “Bunker Hill Blues” is in the current Sept./Oct. issue of Ellery Queen. It’s the sequel to the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll winner and current Macavity Award nominee “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”. And I’m surprised and thrilled to say that I made the cover of the issue – my first time as a 'cover boy'! Hope you’ll want to check it out. Available at Ellery Queen, newstands and all the usual places.

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.


R.T. Lawton said...

Paul, loved the Curly Shuffle. And, yeah, I need to set up a literary will, not only to cover reprint rights, but also to cover the digital part where Kindle pays by EFT and Smashwords pays by Paypal, both of which are connected to my credit union accounts. No sense putting all that into a legal limbo.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


You are right. We do need to set up a literary will. I'd like my work to be preserved as well, but once we're not here, who knows.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post, Paul. And I love the Curly Shuffle.

Unknown said...

I think kids will be interested in the past, they just need to get a bit beyond being kids first. Also I wonder how the many Conan Doyle followers are doing with Holmes sequels. I tried one, and put it down after page 1, but maybe others have done a better job.

I want to check out that Van Dyke/Garner film. Sounds fun! Maybe I'll learn a trick or two as well.

Anonymous said...

Paul, thanks for this important topic and reminder. As for the young folks not appreciating what happened before they were born, I like to think their perspective will change when they become old folks. That's the optimist in me!

GBPool said...

We have lawyers in the family. I guess it's time to have a chat with them. I hope they give me the family rate.

Paul D. Marks said...

R.T., there is definitely something about the Curly Shuffle, isn’t there :-) ? And I think you’re right about not putting anything into legal limbo, especially if you have people you want to leave your literary estate to.

As you say, Jacqueline, once we’re gone, who knows? But we probably all have places we’d like to benefit from our stuff so it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Thanks, Dieter. And maybe we should do a whole blog on the Curly Shuffle. I love it too!

RM, I hope you’re right about kids being interested in the past at some point in their lives. I tend to be cynical, but I do hope you’re right. And some day maybe you’ll dust off your Holmes story. Or maybe they should do a contest like they do with the bad Hemingway contest, but for Holmes. (I’m not saying your story is bad, just that that might be a fun thing.) – And I haven’t seen the Van Dyke/Garner film in a long time. I hope it holds up.

Thanks, Maggie. And I hope you’re right about the young people’s perspective changing. I do tend to be cynical, but there’s part of me that’s optimistic, too.

Gayle, I think it’s definitely time for you to talk to the lawyers in the family ;-) . And I wonder if they’ll give a “friend” rate as well as a family rate.

Leslie S. Klinger said...

Paul, this is a serious topic to which Neil Gaiman and I have devoted a lot of energy. Every writer needs to think about a "literary executor." Note that I didn't say "needs"--I said "needs to think about." The question is, will the writer's heirs (spouse, children) make the decisions that the writer would want regarding publishing unpublished material or exploiting published material? Should it be someone other than the heirs who makes those decisions? Perhaps a committee of people? Should there be a trust for the works? The works themselves will live on for 70 years after the writer's death (the length of copyright). We all want to avoid the fate of Sir Richard Francis Burton, whose widow burnt all of his papers after his death, because she was so ashamed of his writing. Every serious writer should consult an attorney to discuss these issues and perhaps take action.

Kaye George said...

You know, I've asked the only lawyer in the family and she sort of turned me down. I'm not sure who to accos--approach next. I have no illusions that I'm producing great literature, but I would like to keep entertaining people for a while after I'm dust.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Les. I agree that it’s a serious subject. And I do think writers should consult with attorneys about setting up a trust. I also agree that maybe the writer’s heirs might not be the right people to care for their literary estate. If we care about our writing, and why do it if we don’t, we probably should consider these issues in a timely way.

Paul D. Marks said...

Kaye, I guess if the in-house (so to speak) lawyer turned you down you’ll have to find a pay for play attorney. And, while we might not be creating great literature, I’m sure it’s more readable than much “literature” and deserves to have some care taken with it.

Anonymous said...

That copyright lasts so long (70 years) after death strikes me as a problem for many writers too. I write short stories and I'd like my work to remain in print one way or another, but publishers who, in the past, might have collected previously published stories into anthologies (and I'm thinking now of some of the "Classic Science Fiction" anthologies that came out in the 1950s, introducing new readers to some of the best work of only a few decades past) are deterred, especially after the authors' deaths, because of the problem tracking down 20 or more copyright holders to get permission to use the works. If you have children of your own, that's fine, but does the anthologist need permission from all of them? If some of them are dead by then too, what about grandchildren? So a literary executor at least provides a single go-to place for each author, but then how do one find out who that is, if it isn't a direct descendant? And if a prospective re-publisher waits 70 years, and (like most of us, alas) your name was never exactly a household word, can they even find out about your work?
(A sudden silly idea comes: perhaps have your lifetime opus carved in microtype on your tombstone. Or maybe have a website or blog executor who will at least keep your bibliography in circulation for the needed 70 years before it goes into the public domain. Still, the problem for me is that, after my death, current copyright law protects too much, the idea of copyright in the first place being to facilitate work being shared by others, not lock it away :-) )

Paul D. Marks said...

James, you make a lot of good points. Especially about how a publisher can track down an author’s executor and not having to go to several heirs for permission. And I actually do like the idea of putting one’s work on one’s tombstone, something to say it’s yours.

EA said...

I advise my clients to choose someone who will keep their name alive. You can stipulate that covers and text not change; that you want them preserved. But the money from a literary estate, no matter how small, has to go somewhere, and since your bank accounts will close upon your death, someone should have legal rights to get things updated. Children, or a younger person who can maintain the FB accounts and blogs, is the best choice. Many families never think about the "name" their parent has in the public sphere as something of value. But if they keep that name alive, it will generate money, as well as be a focal point of pride for younger generations.