The GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO | Stieg Larsson

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist, co-founder and editor of Millennium Magazine, receives a guilty verdict for aggravated libel of the businessman and market speculator, Hans-Erik Wennerström. He is sentenced to prison for his attack on Wennerström's otherwise well-protected reputation. Mikael knows that he is innocent, yet he is resigned to the fact that the corrupt and admittedly more powerful Wennerström has bested him. Lisbeth Salander is a twenty four-year old misfit with significant socialization deficits. Yet she is a savant, a prodigy at least, in the ways of obtaining information even the most sophisticated private investigators are unable to access.

Henrik Vanger is the elderly former captain of the Vanger Corporation, obsessed with learning the fate of his niece, Harriet, who vanished in 1966.  He suspects she was murdered. Vanger hires Mikael to research and write a Vanger a family history as cover for his real assignment, which is to learn what happened to Harriet.

Blomkvist, seeing no better option for the next year of his currently difficult life, accepts Vanger’s offer. He steps down from his editorship at Millennium; leaves his best friend and occasional lover, Erika Berger; and moves to Hedestad.

Mikael hires Lisbeth Salander to be his researcher.  Soon, the two misfits are extraordinary partners.  Mikael learns that all is not as it appears with the petite, tattooed, anti-social Lisbeth.  For her part, Lisbeth learns that she is capable of trusting another person for the first time in her life. Over time, her feelings for Mikael deepen and she grows in new ways that are foreign, even startling to her. Together, they discover the facts of Harriet’s disappearance forty-plus years earlier and an ugly, depraved, sadistic vein in the Vanger family.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo merits the excitement that preceded its arrival in America from Europe where it is an unprecedented publishing phenomenon. Larsson’s writing has a steady grasp on the pace and dynamics of mystery storytelling. Unfortunately for us, he died after finishing the third in this series.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Random House Raises the Stakes

The climate for writers is changing as it is changing for so many other professions.  At least three writers I know believe that we are approaching a tipping point where a sustainable writing career might slip beyond the grasp of many talented and deserving writers. Contracts written prior to 1994, when Random House modified its contracts to include electronic rights, are subject to interpretation as to whether e-rights are covered.   It is primarily these backlist titles that are the focus of much of the current dispute.  Large publishers' legal departments see sufficient ambiguity in older contracts to claim the rights advantage before the courts intervene and define these terms for them. While publishers, agents, lawyers and judges argue whether imprecise pre-ebook contract language amounts to legally defined rights, the practical result is denied opportunity for writers.  This is not meant to ignore that the economic downturn and the paradigm shift in technology have also forced publishers into an urgent sprint to develop a business model that works for them.  My focus here is on writers and their ability to continue to create the raw material required by the publishing industries. Uncertainty in publishing leads to risk aversion among all parties, delay, and ultimately a degraded environment for writers whose professional survival is already a marginal existence. Last night, I dreamed I was a polar bear on a small floating patch of rapidly melting ice.  Nothing symbolic there, right?

Are traditional publishing's aggressive responses to the evolving e-book market threatening the careers of writers who invent, research, and craft original literary fiction?  Probably not in the long-term, yet it seems that way sometimes.

If you haven't already read it, here is the Authors Guild Dec. 15th Advocacy article, "Random House's Retroactive Rights Grab," in response to Random House CEO Markus Dohle's letter.

Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
or
He who has the gold makes the rules

Publishers are lining up for a high stakes confrontation with writers and agents. Traditional publishers are positioning for expanded control of individual author's rights, including wrapping e-rights into their traditional print rights contracts. Authors want to share in the revenues produced by e-books at a level that reflects the lower cost of marketing e-books vs. print books. If publishers will not honor this proportionality, then it seems reasonable that authors would want to retain the opportunity to market the e-rights to their books. The Authors Guild sides with the writer. Where will the courts side? Which Golden Rule will guide them? Ultimately, enterprise and economics will decide. In the meantime, we writers have to keep writing, keep finding ways to support ourselves while writing, and keep faith that our work will make a difference.

DISCOVERY of the Day

Melville House Publishing and its informative MobyLives literary blog keep the literary flame burning.  For another perspective on the Random House story, take a look at MobyLives' Dec. 16 coverage.