Names, Trademarks, and Tom Clancy’s Legacy

By Gary Wayne Gilbert [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

First an foremost, I am sad that the man died so young. I could swear that the world had 20 odd years more of his brilliance in store for perusing.  St. Peter is pleased to greet you at the door, Mr. Clancy.

A friend in a certain mailing list I’ve recently joined was noticing that there are a whole horde of Tom Clancy novels– that weren’t written by Tom Clancy. The quality is uneven, and the plots are not always a fitting tribute to his memory.  I had, in my last wander through Borders (RIP) had discovered the same thing. Ghost Clancies are haunting our bookstores. Should something be done?  I pondered this and wrote a reply, which I thought was worth sharing to a wider audience.  

It has been minimally edited so that people outside the list and outside my head can understand it. 🙂  

My first response was a sour spate about evil contracts that authors find themselves immured in, and the terrible practices of some publishers.  Afterwards, I readdressed my position.

Sometimes you discover you say things off the cuff, and did not think.  Well, it’s true in this case, about Clancy’s “books”.  Mea Culpa!  Be advised I never intended to imply that “publishers are all evil”. More like disparaging sketchy contracts off the cuff. But it occurs to  me that Clancy was probably savvy enough to avoid those… so I regret my comment.  Please keep in mind, I’m no lawyer. If you have questions about my reasoning, please consult one. I’m reasonably confident I’m accurate for general terms, but… I’m human.  YMMV, etc.

However, I’d forgotten that the use of names is now primarily covered by trademark law.  In the gaming world, it’s a pretty infamous fact that TSR basically stole Gary Gygax’s name from him with the sole explanation that it was unique, therefore it was not his property but a trademark of the material he created– which they owned.  So they stole the name his parents gave to him with this courthouse logic. He was forced to publish under a pseudonym that many did not know was him. Book after book of D&D that he never agreed to or sanctioned were sold under his name. You had to look at the editorial page (in the old days, at least) to find out who actually wrote it.   


By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Prince” became “‘Squiggle’ formerly known as ‘Prince'” to explain  patiently to his label that they may own his name, but they did not own him– or ALL his content.   Granted, at that point, the record label had used the fact that “Prince” was a name that the man invented to do work under, therefore it was a trademark and they owned it.  This situation was resolved eventually, but it took years and got very ugly.

By El Pantera (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons Cropped by Me.

By El Pantera (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Cropped by Me.

Granted, many contracts are done with people, and the fine folks …[I am willing to trust so far as to contract with]… I trust to be ethical reasonable and generous. But… if any old body comes along in 15 years, they just might buy up the agreement. Those agreements outlast the individuals involved–  even the entities involved. This leaves certain things vulnerable that people need to protect themselves.  I’ve chosen not to use the name my parents gave me for publication purposes for this reason. Trademark law in this country is sketchy and can be used badly by clever people for ill effect– even outside the good intentions and determinations of those participating in contract.

So I choose caution.  I can, grudgingly, I admit, give up a name I made up, for the purposes of attaining my rights. But the name I was given, the name I built with the love of my life– those belong to me, and whoever was lucky enough to share them with me. Full stop. This is why I choose a pseudonym.

All that being said– another thought occurs to me.  What if this is a thing done by Clancy in the name of charity?  What if Clancy chose to spend his  namesake capital to publicise, say– disabled marine veterans who turn to the pen for financial support?  I would expect this to be publicised far and wide, and not sprung on the unsuspecting reader by surprise. 

 I would expect him to go touring with said veterans in bookstores and give the audiences and fans a chance to meet them. I would expect various military/veterans support organizations to  pitch in and help. I would expect Clarion to join in the efforts and give our heroes support for advancing the craft.

But if Clancy’s health were failing… that might change these plans and lead to a strange situation that we have today.  This is all speculation, but I do this to chastise myself for jumping to conclusions– and to think about the possibilities in this situation.

My $0.25 in today’s currency.

A stencil in SoHo New York. taken by CrazySunshine 17:12, 3 September 2005 (UTC). From Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License  [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A stencil in SoHo New York. taken by CrazySunshine 17:12, 3 September 2005 (UTC).
From Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Margot St. Aubin

Is Fiction Evil?


Woodwalker; retouched by Poxnar
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

This started out as a comment on Sarah Hoyt’s article here, but it got so long I decided not to clutter her com box so much.

I had struggled with this idea for a long time. What got me to confront it head-on was a friend of mine in college. He had an inoperable brain tumor, a litany of health issues I can’t even name, and he believed that fiction was pure evil.

It was ironic, he was a scientific atheist but he believed that anything fictional was a lie, and therefore evil.

Sure, there were a few exceptions– he obsessively listened to Dr. Demento, and read political cartoons in newspapers. But, I never told him that I was a writer, and a theist because I never wanted to have that argument with him. In fact, I *dropped writing* during that part of my life so I wouldn’t have to lie to him. For what it is worth, I managed several years with only sins of omission.

The saddest part is that he and I eventually went our separate ways because I would not date him– and could not tell him why. It was not his disabilities, it was that I could never be myself truly and make him happy.

In a Chestertonian sort of quirk I realized that to operate in this fashion lead to an aseptic but sterile existence I could not manage. There is a line from him that describes it better than I can– but I’ll try. You can make very good arguments about why fiction can be entirely evil. But to live in that fashion is to destroy so much, to contort natural life into such unnatural shapes that it becomes apparent that to call it thus is contrary to reason.

For example: if fiction is evil– then what is a similie or a metaphor? What is a fable, or poetry or the teaching parables of Jesus? What about story problems for your math homework? What about those old stories you tell your children? Santa Claus? What do you do instead of a bedtime story? What are silly songs with bizarre lyrics or the poetry especially of Edward Lear? What about representative art that shows things that never were? Things that are half-remembered, things that you saw in a dream?

If our memories are so fragile and false, where do you indeed draw the line? It seems to me that the human mind uses narrative to make decisions,
keep facts straight, create bonds between individuals families and societies– what are those family stories anyway? How much of them are really true? You may as well ask “what is truth”?

I don’t know how other people write without reading. I also write some non-fiction, and without fiction I would be lost in that as well. Good thing we don’t live in that world. Trust me, it is a sad and lonely place.