Is it possible to sue someone on the basis of copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property if they have been dead for 131 years? I just got done reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (I know, I know, I'm late to the party, but I come from that era immediately proceeding the discovery that masturbation doesn't make you go blind, so... ) and let me just say, my thesis statement is this: Somehow, some way, Fyodor Dostoyevsky got access to a time machine and stole the just-scribed manuscript for my next book. I mean, my God, he stole it exactly -- the plot, the language used, the themes described, even the very character names!
Perhaps some of you are sitting there, thinking: "Yeah right, Jeff. More likely you're just trying to scam your way into fame and fortune like you always do... " that is, of course, if you're still reading this at all. I figure most of you got to the words "time machine" and just tuned right the fuck back out. For the rest of you, I know I have something of a checkered past, but this time, it's different. Why you ask, was I writing a period novel about 19th century Russian class warfare instead of, say, my latest screed to the Penthouse Forum? The answer is simple: diversification.
We have emerged from a world in which the author is God. It used to be that Charles Dickens would simply publish some claptrap about orphans and everyone else would line up down the block to buy it at a midnight sale from Ye Olde Barnes & Noble. He didn't have to moonlight as a screenwriter for snuff films or come up with catchy jingles persuading overweight Americans to buy more Tang. Nowadays, simple authors have been put out to pasture, subsisting on grass and rainwater until the day a man in a truck loads them all up and grinds them into dog food. Modern authors must fill every facet of writing available to us, yes, even writing class warfare novels from 19th century Russia. We can no longer afford to turn down work -- any work -- hell, my uncle has me ghostwriting threatening letters to the United Nations. Is it worthy of my talents? No, but it keeps my poker in the fire and it gives me a lot of street cred with Palestinian publishing houses. I would even stoop to write for The Big Bang Theory if I didn't find enough spare change while scribbling racial epithets on public bathroom walls; this is the sort of diversity I am talking about.
Yes, it's an ugly business these days (one writer I know even pays his mortgage by writing Braille editions of Dan Brown novels--how desperate do you have to be that you would accept money to torture blind people?) and if the trade papers are any indicators (and usually, they're not, but so what?) it's only getting worse. Nobody wants books anymore, not even to give out as "filler gifts" at Christmastime to make kids think they got more presents than they really did. Books are so unpopular that we don't have to worry about there being a black market industry on the Internet dedicated to stealing our electronic editions. Even books are too coarse to use as toilet paper (especially Amy Tan novels, for some reason?). What little market there is left is split down into crappy subgenres like "teen fantasy" and "teen autoerotic asphyxiation manuals" that most of us know nothing about (cough). Can you imagine Tom Wolfe attempting to write the unfocused thoughts of some 19-year-old college girl? How terrible does that sound? Well guess what? It happened. And if Tom Wolfe is not immune to money (can't have that fancy little lad dressed in rags, can we?) guess what? You, and me, and every other ass clown with his laptop open at a Peet's coffee (ugh, Starbucks is for posers) are subject to it as well. Forget meandering character studies about Middle America housewives in the 1960s, if it doesn't have a good-hearted werewolf in it, keep it in your pen.
By the way, for those of you who have stuck around this long just to get some closure on the whole "Dostoyevsky stole my book" claim that I suckered you in here with, OK. I'll tell you what I did: I built my OWN time machine 20 years from now, came back to this time, told myself my plan, THEN I went back in time and made a deal with ol' Fyodor himself. He could keep Crime and Punishment but he had to give me one of his brilliant, unpublished novels that I could sell under my own name in this time. It's a pretty fair trade I guess, except the novel he gave me is a whimsical epic about a boy wizard at a school of magic. I guess Future Jeff doesn't read much, either...