Secret Sequels

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
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A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

There’s recently been a flurry of posts about Undead Press, a small publishing house that a) doesn’t pay, b) allegedly humiliates its authors by inserting gratuitous rape scenes into their stories, without asking those authors if they want those rape scenes to be there, and c) has apparently published and continues to advertise a sequel to George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing an absolute lack of respect for copyright or concern for the legal consequences.

Much has been made of the illiterate rants editor/publisher Anthony Giangregorio sends to authors who dare complain, and the questionable wisdom in sending stories to a one-man shop whose proprietor seems to have a command of english less impressive than that of the fourteenth commenter down on an Aint-It-Cool-News thread (“that flik’s gona suck bigtime lol!”). Giangregorio has reportedly sent abusive mail to professionals who contacted him trying to tell him that he’s playing with fire, with that DAWN OF THE DEAD sequel. He appears to be the platonic ideal of the know-nothing, not only ignorant but proud of it; not just a bull in a china shop, but one with a contempt for china.

I could pass a few words about publishers who pay in “exposure” and how it doesn’t really help writers. Just look at Edgar Allan Poe. He died of exposure. Nyuk, Nyuk.

But what I really want to address is that DAWN OF THE DEAD sequel, an act of supreme arrogance given that the zombie tropes have entered the public discourse anyway. For years, anybody who has wanted to write a zombie story using George Romero’s rules has been able to do just that; the rules are loose out there, and have inspired zombie stories of varying quality running the gamut from repugnant to sublime. There’s absolutely zero chance of anybody writing a basic zombie story being sued for it. What Giangregorio has done is specifically, and deliberately, hijack the name of a better work and superior work to his sequel; he is specifically saying, “This is a sequel to DAWN TO THE DEAD.” Which he has no right to do.

But are there no conceivable circumstances where a writer can get away with something like this, using a prior story by someone else as a jumping-off point?

Of course there are. Harlan Ellison wrote “The Prowler In the City At the Edge Of The World” as a sequel to Robert Bloch’s “A Toy For Juliette.” Of course, he asked permission, and what resulted was a very neat bit of literary feedback, especially given that both stories appeared for the same time under the same covers.

But it goes further than that.

Writers are people who ask, “What happens next?” They tend to ask this whenever dissatisfied with something, including work by others. When they read a story that to their mind gets a certain plot point wrong, or leaves another plot point dangling, they start thinking, and sometimes come up with responses in the form of their own stories. BILL THE GALACTIC HERO by Harry Harrison is very specifically an angry response to Robert Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS, in much the same way that Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is an angry response to “God Bless America.” That doesn’t mean Harrison plagiarized Heinlein; it does, however, mean that his work began as a thematic sequel. It is just not *legally* a sequel.

Writers who wonder what happens next sometimes tell us. That lonely waitress who at the end of one story throws down her apron and storms away from the diner, in search of a better life? Another writer may wonder whatever happened to her and write the tale of a woman who arrives in another city, with no money and no prospects, but a pocket full of hope. He may never SAY that it’s the same woman. He will likely change her name, her hair color, even her age and speech patterns. He has put his own touch on the material. He has made sure that nobody will ever know that he’s written a sequel. But it is a sequel, a secret sequel, where one work immediately led to another.

I have done this.

I have written a published and frequently reprinted story that is, to my mind, about the estranged brother of the hero of a very, very famous and very influential work. The other work is not named, but the story makes clear reference to my own protagonist’s issues with his sibling. It is, to my mind, a sequel. Nobody, but nobody, has ever gotten the connection unless it was pointed out to them. That’s fine with me. My story needs to stand on its own.

I have a future history, “The AIsource Infection,” that at this point comprises three novels and multiple short stories, novelettes, and novellas, set in an interstellar civilization. It is very much my creation. IN MY MIND, it is all a sequel to a certain famous piece of science fiction, written by one of the greatest minds the field has ever produced. The clues to what piece of science fiction are in the stories themselves. Good luck figuring it out. And it won’t matter if you do; I have added so much from my own palate that the ancestry is now clearly distant. My story stands on its own.

I have a story I haven’t finished, about a man and woman who find each other after being transported to an unimaginably far future. It is, to my mind, the sequel to yet another classic. If I ever finish this story, I promise that you will not recognize the background. The first story provided inspiration, and themes I wanted to pursue.

It is literary feedback.

It is a far cry from what Giangregorio has done, subsume the original work in his sequel, exploit the original to make money, and trumpet a connection he hasn’t earned.

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