Well that didn’t go as planned.
After months of preparation for the launch of my new chapter book series, Shirley Lock, I released it to the world on the 3rd of July, 2012. A big day!
I’d put off writing professionally for decades, in my quest to make a lot of money doing boring work. The pent-up desire to tell stories was reaching critical mass. So, as I pressed the “publish” button on CreateSpace and Amazon KDP, it felt like losing 450 pounds in a split second.
I always knew that it would be tough to put my neck out there with a book. It’s hard for every writer and artist to release their work into the big, bad world. I was nervous. But I was ready!
Or was I?
One hour into promoting my newly released book, I got two messages on Facebook from “Friends”. The messages were posted on one of my promotional posts announcing Shirley Lock & The Safe Case.
One comment read, “What the HELL…”
The other comment read “Do you have something you want to tell us?”
Since my wife knew them better than I did, I asked her if she had any idea why these two were posting such cryptic messages on the first promotional post for my book. She said she was chatting with one of them on her computer.
He was claiming we stole his idea.
To make a long, irritating story short he and his wife had been working on a comic strip with a lead character with the last name Lock, based on Sherlock Holmes. It’s a story for adults about a female detective. He told my wife that Sherlock Holmes pastiche “usually use Holmes as the last name, not Lock.” He also claimed we stole their design of the girl. Their hero has glasses and so does ours. His evidence was that my wife Liked one of his images a year ago on Facebook.
(Because, as you know, we’re all profoundly moved by every image, post, link and photograph that we’ve ever Liked on Facebook. They all stay with us for seven years, like swallowed bubble gum.)
I didn’t steal a thing. The idea was mine. The name was my creation. The design of Shirley was based on a number of characters and real-life people, one of whom posed for the cover. The only inspiration I got was from Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew.
I struggled with an anger that made me want to get on a bus and give these kids a spanking. Saying that you have a lock on the name Lock, and that making Sherlock Holmes into a girl (with glasses!) is your idea is beyond self-centered.
The guy said he was being pressured to sue. He said his lawyer claimed he had a case.
He has a bad lawyer. As we discovered, you cannot copyright a name or title. We could have had an adult comic with a title/character identically named and they wouldn’t have had a case. So having a chapter book that’s written for fourth grade girls with a different name altogether left us in no legal danger.
Of course, anyone can sue for any reason. Clearly we were dealing with unreasonable people who cast aside years of our support for their work on a lark. We decided to back down to avoid any more contact. There’s a spiritual cost to dealing with people like them, and the cost seemed too high.
After hours of discussing it, my wife and I chose a new name that actually gave me a spine tingle.
Shirley Link is catchy. It implies Shirley’s ability to link together evidence, to see the world as a series of links that bind us and leave impressions that last.
In the context of this sad experience, it also implies the links that bind our creative minds together. We all have ideas. Those are cheap. But the execution of those ideas is essential to finding out who we are. Personally, I want to discover what makes my expression unique. I believe that’s what all artists and writers want. After all, we can’t speak with our voice until we find it.
Some of us keep our eyes on that goal, some of us get distracted by ego, paranoia, ignorance.
I used my anger and sense of betrayal to discover a name that “means” the character of Shirley. Consequently, I have an awesome heroine whose very name implies not only why she’s a cool, special girl, but also why I write.
Will I thank my harassers? I’m not that enlightened. But I do wish them the best. I checked out their comic strip online and it’s actually pretty good.
So, Shirley Lock has become Shirley Link.
And, to me, that’s perfect.