OK, so perhaps you’ve heard some of the rumors swirling around Cross Plains Universe, the book that contains a variety of fictional tributes to REH written by various Texan writers, and which was given away to everyone at the World Fantasy Convention a few weeks ago.
The book itself was a success, hammering home to convention-goers — many of whom knew little about Howard — the importance of both his achievement and his status as theme of the convention. And as stated in a previous post, the book is already selling on eBay for twice its cover price, mere days after its first appearance. All in all, a pretty good burst of publicity for Howard. Not bad.
But those of us who attended the convention were surprised when, during the Con, we heard a lot of grumbling about the various hoops and gauntlets the book’s producers were allegedly made to jump through by Paradox’s legal team at the last minute. Without rehashing the complaints we heard, the sum total of the various gripes was to make Paradox out to be a boogeyman stomping over the spirit of the project in a fit of paranoia over their properties and copyrights. More than a few Howard fans walked away from those conversations wondering if this boded ill for future projects, and for relations with the new owners of Howard’s work. Was the honeymoon over?
Over the last week I’ve talked to Paradox about these issues. While I’m in no position to vouch for the validity of anyone’s version of what happened, I can say that — in addition to flatly denying that there was anything approaching the level of problems gossiped about at the con — they seem genuinely hurt that they would be perceived in this light, given all the ways they have striven to connect with fans and rejuvenate Howard’s reputation. Leigh Stone, Paradox’s licensing manager, has the following to say:
As the Licensing Manager at Paradox Entertainment, I worked closely with the editor Scott Cupp on producing the Robert E. Howard tribute book titled Cross Plains Universe that was generously distributed at the World Fantasy Convention. Our dealings included a licensing contract and approvals process for the book in full — including proper legal text and copyright. As rights holders and REH fans ourselves here at Paradox, we were thrilled about the book and pleased with its outcome and contents.
Shortly after the World Fantasy Convention, we began to hear rumblings of negative rumors surrounding the production of the book. Saddened and surprised by the complete untruths that we heard, I contacted Scott Cupp to find out where these rumors surfaced and asked for his version of events in writing (see below). I hope this will continue to confirm that — as the new estate owners of the REH library — we are committed to our fans, dedicated to putting out a good product, professional, and pleasant with which to work.
Scott Cupp, the co-editor of Cross Plains Universe, agrees with Paradox’s position, and has written the following open letter to all the people who heard the con rumors floating around:
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Scott Cupp and I am the co-editor with Joe Lansdale of Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard, an original anthology produced by FACT/Monkeybrain Books for the World Fantasy Convention held in Austin, TX in November 2006.
It has come to my attention that there are many rumors swirling throughout the field regarding the role of Paradox Entertainment with regards to this book. I wish to set the record straight on several points. I was the major contact point for Paradox as Joe was out of the country. All dealings with Paradox went through me.
1) Paradox Entertainment and Robert E. Howard Enterprises were supportive of the project throughout its genesis and were excited about the prospect of the book introducing REH to people not fully aware of the impact of his work.
2) When presented with the manuscripts to the story (at a time late in the production — my fault — not theirs) they requested some changes to certain stories. These changes generally involved the removal or changing of some copyrighted names, places or objects. In two cases, a very slight rewrite of a passage was involved. In every case, the change did not materially impact the story and was worked out with the writer of the piece. The reason for these changes relates to American copyright laws. Remember that the copyrights to all characters except Conan had recently been acquired. The use of certain things without specific challenge could result in the loss of copyright to these characters. These requests were made with that information in mind and I was very aware of that issue. The number of changes required were minimal for each individual story. I have heard the number “200” bandied about. There is no way that this number is accurate. Not all stories were involved, but those which were generally required under five corrections. The Bill Crider/Charlotte Laughlin piece required a few more as the name of the artifact which was changed is mentioned multiple times.
3) Changes were made at the last minute because I did not get them a manuscript to review until the copyedited version was made available to me. Because of the tight timeframes involved in this project, there was a great deal of stress and rushing about to get it completed. The invitation letters were sent out in January and the finished book appeared at the end of October — super fast for this type of project.
4) The people I dealt with at Paradox were Leigh Stone, Thommy Wojciechowski, and Fredrik Malmberg. They were always courteous in their dealings with me and I handled these phone conversations as business meetings. The discussions were respectful and mutually amicable.
Other than the stress of having a short deadline (again, brought about by myself), we had a pleasant relationship and I would gladly work with them again in the future.
If anyone wishes to discuss these issues further, please contact me at email@example.com.
In light of all this, it sounds as if any problems some people had with the project amounted to miscommunication combined with the usual pressures and messy compromising at play whenever a book needs to be rushed out to meet a deadline. Now mind you, the stories we heard at the con were detailed and convincing — some of the requested changes sounded ridiculous to us assembled fans, and when Scott says here “the use of certain things without specific challenge could result in loss of copyright,” one immediately wonders why a simple contract couldn’t be drawn up granting the one-time-only use of such terms. But all of that is water under the bridge at this point, and none of my business to boot.
The fact is, when you think back over the last year, Paradox’s record regarding its treatment of Howard and his fans is impressive. Again and again we find them going above and beyond to do things for Howard’s legacy that most other companies — the pre-Paradox, 1980s Conan Properties, anyone? — would scoff at. The two head honchos at Paradox, Peter Sederowsky and Fredrik Malmberg, attended Howard Days last June just to touch base with Howard’s staunchest fans, listen to their concerns, and keep them in the loop. Licensing Manager Leigh Stone attended the World Fantasy Convention and made the long bus trek to Cross Plains and the Howard Museum. Stone and Thommy Wojciechowski have attended cons and spoken on panels to get the word out about Howard, including at GenCon where they have masterminded a yearly Robert E. Howard Day set to start in 2007. Since Paradox has acquired the Howard copyrights there has been lots of movement on the movie, video game, comic, role-playing, and collectible fronts. And the new REH Foundation created by Paradox is set to release lots of original Howard that fans have been begging for since the 1970s, things like the Complete Letters of REH and the unpublished poetry.
If this is grumble-worthy, give me more of it.
MARK ADDS: I’ll second Leo’s sentiment above. Paradox has been nothing if not extremely cooperative with both the fans and the pros. I had a specific situation of my own in the CP Universe book, one involving a character I am actively writing. Two quick emails later, everything was smoothed over, proper copyrights were assigned, and all were happy. At no time was it ever a problem. Everyone at Paradox has my full trust and support.