Sunday, November 15, 2009

Castle’s Heat Wave

The other day in my post about Dollhouse, I talked about the creative marketing that the show was using, including having characters “tweet” updates that fit in with the plot and creating a complete corporate website for the evil Rossum Corporation.

Dollhouse is not the only show to do that. I’ve been enjoying the marketing tweets that are ostensibly from writer Richard Castle of the television show Castle. “He” tweets as WriteRCastle. In last week’s episode his daughter signed her grandmother (Castle’s mother) up for an account at MyFace (the fictional MySpace/Facebook). So this week Castle tweeted:

Mother's become obsessed with Facebook. She's been "poking" me all day. I should never have become her friend.

Someone must have reminded “Rick” that the show wasn’t using the real Facebook (or MySpace) so the next tweet was:

My Face. Yes. What about My Face?

And later he tweeted:

As long as she doesn't start Twittering, I'll be safe.

I’m guessing grandma will eventually “learn” to tweet.

For those of you who don’t watch the ABC television show Castle, the premise is that famous (and wealthy) mystery writer Richard Castle was tired of the main character in his long-running, best selling mystery series. So he killed the character off. Needing a new inspiration, he found it in NYC police homicide detective Kate Becket. Because Castle is rich and famous and well-connected, he convinced the mayor of NY to give him complete access to Becket’s team and he rides along on all the murder investigations. And occasionally has a thought that helps solve the case.

Then he goes home and works on his new mystery novel in which the main character is a female NYC homicide detective. Detective Becket is alternately horrified and fascinated that she is being used as the basis for a fictional character. The Mayor loves it however, because he sees it as good PR for the city. (I’m not sure this works with NYC as a setting; it seems to me that the Mayor of a smaller city would be more likely to see this as a big plus. But, I digress.)

I used to work with a mystery writer. He was a lawyer in my firm and he wrote a series of novels that had a woman lawyer as the main character. In her early incarnations she worked for a big(ish) law firm but then she went out on her own and started a one-woman practice. Of course most of her friends were lawyers and many of them continued to work at big(ish) law firms.

My former colleague still writes, but he’s at a different firm now. On the one hand, when he left I was sorry that I could no longer chat with him about his latest books and how he did his background research. On the other hand, it is a relief that I don’t have to worry that anything I say or any of my mannerisms will show up in one of his novels. (On a side note, he’s now at a firm where one of my close friends works and I find it funny that she had no interest in reading his books when he worked with me but the first thing she did when he got there was to find all of his books and read them. There ‘s just something about working with a writer ….)

I used to read his novels and recognize bits and pieces of characters. A phrase here, a gesture there. I could identify who he got those from. It wasn’t that his characters closely resembled anyone at the firm, but they might have a trait that someone in real life had. So I can relate to one of the sub-plots of the television show where the NYC police detectives wonder if they will show up in one of Castle’s novels.

At the beginning of this season, the novel was published and rolled out to great publicity. And as part of the marketing for the show, it turned out that ABC had commissioned someone to actually write the novel. They had it published. And it is now available for purchase. So when any character refers to the novel Heat Wave it is possible to go check the reference.

This is the exact opposite of what you might usually see – a television show based on a best selling series of mystery novels (such as the Fox television show Bones which is based on Kathy Reich’s novels) . In fact, I take that back. It isn’t the exact opposite. The exact opposite would be if they released a series of mystery novels with the characters from the show as the main characters (as, for instance, has been done in comic book versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). This is different. This is a fictional novel that now actually exists as a book that can be bought in a book store. The fictional characters, Castle and Becket, have now been fictionalized as characters of Castle’s imagination, and are incorporated into the fictional characters of the novel: award winning reporter Jameson Rook and NYC detective Nikki Heat (what a HORRIBLE name btw).

ABC released the first ten chapters of the novel in serialized form on the show’s website. I read the first chapter and, while it isn’t Dorothy Sayers or Laura Lippmann, it is entertaining for those of us who watch the show. After posting the first ten chapters in serial format, they then stopped- so anyone who gets hooked will have to find the book. This shouldn’t be hard, it is now on the NYTimes best seller list – which tells you something about books that make the NY Times best seller list imo.

Since I haven’t read the entire novel I can’t opine about it. But based on the first chapter and my own experience with a mystery writer, I think the characters are too closely based on the “real life” fictional characters. Which makes it fun for fans of the series but doesn’t really reflect how writers write – I think. I think someone really writing a novel would mask the “real” people more. Maybe if the televisions series and ABC produces more novels we’ll see a more “realistic” novel. It would be a great way to see how a writer uses situations from real life to create fiction. But I’m not holding my breath. This is purely a marketing tool and I keep reminding myself I shouldn’t expect too much.

One interesting facet of the novel is that it may be a way for the show’s producers and writers to walk the fine line of sexual tension that exists in these kind of shows. You know the problem: the sexual tension between the two main characters is palpable, everyone wants them to get together and yet … we all know that the minute they do get together the show goes downhill.

In an early episode this season Castle points out to Becket that there is a sex scene in the novel between the police detective and the writer. He even gives her the page number. So, although there is no sex between the “real” fictional characters, fans can gratify their imaginations by reading the fictional (and yet real) book’s sex scene.

It might be interesting where they take this. The sex scenes in the novel are how the character Castle imagines them. We don’t know how the character Becket would imagine a sex scene. I wonder if Becket will eventually critique the sex scenes and Castle will end up tweaking future sex scenes? That could be entertaining.

As I said, the novel is currently on the NY Times best seller list. So the big question is “Who is the ghostwriter?” No one is saying.

As for who is the real author of Heat Wave, Marlowe insists there’s no mystery: “Richard Castle. The roguishly handsome best-selling author of the Derek Storm mystery series. He’s charming. He’s a good writer. And I don’t know why you’re trying to take credit away from him. The guy worked hard on it.”