Who writes my books when I'm dead?

The Family CorleoneIn the world of "problems I would both like and not like to have," Paramount Pictures is suing the estate of Mario Puzo, author of THE GODFATHER novel, to stop the estate from putting out a new Godfather book. I'll summarize below, but if you want more in-depth coverage, read the article from The Hollywood Reporter and/or Businessweek.

The situation in one paragraph (or less)
Mario Puzo is dead. His estate wants to put out a new novel, THE FAMILY CORLEONE, written by Ed Falco. This novel details the rise to power of one Vito Corleone (the role made famous by Marlon Brando) in 1930s New York. Paramount Pictures filed suit that the novel "tarnishes the legacy" of it's films, which were made based on the novel THE GODFATHER, written by Puzo. Proceeds from THE FAMILY CORLEONE will go into escrow while the courts determine the lawuit's result. In retaliation. the Puzo estate is counter-suing to terminate the original 1969 agreement that gave Paramount the movie rights to the book (I will avoid a mafioso line like "if they hit us, we hit them back twice as hard" because I'm mature and shit).

How this impacts me
This case, of course, has nothing to do with me directly. But, it makes a body think about the future legacy of works that I already wrote, am writing today, and will write for the next 352 years of my baby-blood-makes-me-nigh-immortal life.

Let's say someone buys the movie rights to NOCTURNAL. Let's say NOCTURNAL flick is a smash hit. What does that mean for the story integrity looking out ten, twenty, fifty years or more? Will my heirs someday commission multiple sequels to cash in on what I created and you guys dig? I'll be in the ground so I probably won't care, but story is the only real legacy an author can leave.

Just look at Marvel and DC:
The ongoing reinventions of Batman and Spiderman show that an author's original storyline is irrelevant when coporations own copyrights. Granted, those were works-for-hire, and corporations have owned Batman and Spiderman from day one (correct me if I'm wrong, here, I'm not an expert on comics history). So the people who came up with those original tales of the Dark Knight before he was the Dark Knight can't say shit as Frank Miller totally upends their creation and makes it something new. If I was the guy who created the original storyline? As an author who works very, very hard on creating solid stories, I'd want to come back from the dead and murder everyone involved. I'm a bitter ghost like that.

NOCTURNAL, the sequel! Based on the novel INFECTED:
When INFECTED was optioned for a movie in 2008, part of the deal was that the studio could make an INFECTED II and I would have no say over what that might be. So, while I had a perfectly kick-ass sequel with CONTAGIOUS, the studio could opt to go in a completely different direction. I tried not to think that INFECTED II might be as God-awful as HIGHLANDER II. To watch something I'd spent a decade on turned into a cash-grab piece of shlock? That would be a living nightmare. Yes-yes, I know, "First World Problems" and all, but that's not hyperbole.

Sometimes we creative types can get crazy-possessive of what we make. It's that obsessive nature that makes us slave over it, re-write it, edit it, re-write it again and again to make it the best if can be that brings it up to a certain level of quality. The story matters. It's not "just a book" to me. It is to you, and that's fine, but that is my creation. Would you tell Dr. Frankenstein to chill the fuck out when the villagers burn his monster? You could, but Doc would pimp-slap you all across the lab.

Which begs the big question: who controls quality after I'm dead?
And the answer is, I don't know. I know that the Puzo Estate thinks they can control quality (and cash in as well, let's be honest here). I know Paramount Pictures thinks they can control quality (and cash in as well, let's be honest here). This is about money. But is this also about protecting the integrity of a story that has surpassed mere entertainment and become part of the American culture?

Should creators take the money while they can, or should they try and find a way to protect their legacy? What if someone wrote GONE WITH THE WIND II: SCARLET FLASHES THEM TITTIES? How would that impact a piece of our shared identity?

What do you think?
As fans, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Say I get eaten by a rabid llama tomorrow. Should the GFL series be done, or should someone else write it? What if ARealGirl hires my nemesis J.C. Hutchinssssss to write it? If I had a grave (which I won't, because my ashes will be spread over the ashes of Marilyn Monroe (awww yeah)), would I be turning in it? As the person who'd control that business, does ARealGirl have the right to party on with the story, both to make her duckets and to satisfy all y'all who want to know what happens?

Comment. I'll be watching.

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