It’s rare that one gets the opportunity to sue his hero—but, as my wife recently remarked to me, “You’re dangerous when you’re bored.” This is the story of how I almost brought the late P. G. Wodehouse to federal court.
You might recall from a prior guest post of mine—though you will certainly be forgiven if you do not—my mentioning that I was working on (that is, writing) a collection of parodic short stories featuring the best-known and -loved of Wodehouse’s fictional characters… placed in some truly absurd scenarios. Bertie Wooster wakes up one morning, for instance, to find himself transmogrified quite Kafkaesquely into a parakeet; Jeeves helps a certain Mr. W— of Gotham City, in America, adopt an alter ego. You know, those sorts of things.
I wrote ten stories over the summer of 2010. One was published in a literary journal of a college in Boston; another appeared in a Canadian humor magazine. Relatively low-profile publications, both, which might explain why, as far as I know, no one in the Wodehouse camp took notice of either back then. In the Fall of 2010, I began querying literary agents about the collection, which I had titled “Wodehousebroken.”
Several agents liked the work very much. One agreed to represent me (and persuaded me to add a pair of stories to the collection, bringing the tally up to a dozen). I won’t embarrass the agent by naming him or his agency; he and it are well-regarded. Nevertheless, after a year, he hadn’t sold the book, and I ended our arrangement. While (unsuccessfully) seeking new representation recently, I began to consider self-publishing the collection, as an eBook, and I recalled that an agent I’d traded emails with the first time around had strongly recommended that route, for a variety of reasons, suggesting memorably that it was a keenly appropriate manner of publication for this particular project, and vice versa. Ultimately, I decided to do it—to self-publish Wodehousebroken as an eBook for the Kindle, via Amazon.com.
I uploaded my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing website on May 13, 2012; it was approved for publication in a matter of hours (much fewer than the 12 hours KDP officially reserves to review new books for sale). I announced the publication of the book to my friends and others on the morning of Tuesday, May 15… and then I waited for the other shoe (or perhaps just the first one) to drop.
For, you see, I’m no dummy. And even if I hadn’t myself wondered if I might be running afoul of someone’s intellectual property rights by publishing Wodehousebroken, several agents and several friends had raised that specter. Interestingly, of the agents with whom I had discussed the project, half were of the mind (as I have always been) that my use of the fictional characters that had appeared in P.G. Wodehouse’s original novels and stories between 1915 and 1974 (the year I was born, as it happens; Wodehouse died in 1975) was unquestionably fair use, inasmuch as my stories are patently parodic. Bertie Wooster meets Dr. Emmett L. Brown, who asks Bertie to accompany him to the year 1967, to salvage the reputation of Wodehouse himself (in “Back to the Wooster”) ! In “Jeeves Your Own Adventure,” the reader plays the valet Wodehouse’s adventures featuring Jeeves and Wooster were silly, but they were realistic. Mine are just inane.
Still, not everyone has a sense of humor. Read More…