What are the laws in regard to using another author’s characters? This question came up on a discussion board that I visit and your books were mentioned.
Any work published before 1928 is in the “public domain”.
Anybody can use the characters, retell the story, etc etc. if a work is in the public domain. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and James Fenimore Cooper fall into this category. So I am completely within the law by retelling Cooper’s The Pioneers and using some of his characters. There are hundreds and hundreds of books in the public domain that you can get for free over the web. A good list is maintained here.
Works that are still in copyright: no, you can’t just borrow the characters. You can’t write a novel about Captain Kirk and Spock on the Enterprise unless you first get written permission from the owner of that copyright — I think that would be Paramount, and I doubt they’d be receptive. So technically fan fiction is illegal, though I don’t think anybody has ever sued over it.
I used Diana Gabaldon’s characters with her permission, both oral and written. Anybody else who wanted to publish a novel using my characters or hers would have to ask first — with the exception, of course, of those characters already in the public domain. So you wouldn’t have to ask me to have Hawkeye tramping through your novel, but you would have to ask me if he had a son called Nathaniel with a wife Elizabeth Middleton who lived in Paradise on the Sacandaga.
I suppose I would call them (in fact, I have called them, when forced) historical fiction. That is, a lot of research goes into each one and a prime concern is making the era come to life. Beyond that, I hope to keep the reader turning the pages, interested in the characters and the plot. There is a lot of plot; some of it has to do with a love story. I would not call them erotica simply because I don’t write gratuitous sex scenes.
ITW was optioned once, long ago, but nothing ever came of it. The whole series has been optioned now. We will see.
For some reason my publishers have been unable to get on top of this issue for the last three or four novels. It first happened when I submitted a long list of final corrections before the deadline for The Endless Forest, and somehow they just never made it in.
Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) have a big sticker on them saying that the text is not final and should not be used for quotations. This is because they put the ARCs into circulation before the final proofreading.
For Where the Light Enters, things really went wrong. First Australia printed the ARC as the book, no corrections. The ebook versions will have the corrections, but not the hard copies are full of little burps. My heart fell when I realized this. I don’t know how it happened, but I am not pleased.
Then a whole list of corrections somehow — once again — didn’t get incorporated before the novel went to press for the hardcover edition here in the U.S. Yes, those corrections were incorporated into ebook and audio editions, and they will be included in future hard copy editions, but if you spent a big chunk of money on the hard cover, I would much prefer that you get the final product.
I am notoriously bad at proofreading my own work, but the publisher still hasn’t quite grasped the depth of my text-blindness. So apologies, all around. Mea culpa.
My contract with Berkley/Penguin is for three novels: (1) Where the Light Enters (the sequel to The Gilded Hour, published in 2019); (2) a third novel in the Waverly Place series, as yet untitled and (3) and a novel set in the southwest in the years before the Civil War, titled Little Birds.
Kate, my editor, and my publisher were convinced I needed to do the second and third novels out of order, so I am now writing Little Birds. I realize this makes some readers unhappy, but I think in the end they will see the wisdom of this decision.
Little Birds focuses on two of Lily and Simon’s adult children (Callie and Nathan) who travel from New York to the New Mexico Territory in 1857. Callie has accepted a job as a nurse and midwife in Santa Fe, and Nathan travels with her to see that she arrives safely. This novel will fill in some of the family history between the end of The Endless Forest and the Civil War.
The years before the Civil War were politically explosive. The term Bleeding Kansas might strike some bells from history class, and it was also during this period that the western tribes were fighting for their survival. Enough material for dozens of novels.
As soon as Little Birds is finished I’ll jump into the third Waverly Place novel.