Something Tangible.


The first thing I ever had published wasn’t published.

Before I explain that I want to talk about the new movie Coyote vs. Acme. It’s based on a story by Ian Frazier published in The New Yorker in 1990 in which Wile E. Coyote sues the Acme Company for selling faulty products. It’s a slim premise for a full-length movie but a lot of experienced professionals worked on it—including Emmy winners—and I don’t think any movie should be judged without being seen. And, because I am an enormous fan of Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, I would be first in line to see it in the theater. Maybe I’d be the only one in line, but, hey, there have been movies in the past that people assumed, just from the trailers, would be flops that turned out to be blockbusters. I’m not saying Coyote vs. Acme would do as well as Star Wars but maybe it would be successful enough to earn a profit. Test audiences apparently gave it high marks.

Except the Warner studio that produced it has decided to shelve it, putting it away where it will never be seen by anyone. To be clear this is a fully finished film that cost around $75 million to make. The studio is treating it as a tax write-off, for which they’ll probably get about half what it cost to make the film, but some cartoon-villain-brought-to-life executive decided that was financially smarter than releasing the film. It’s extremely short-term, limited thinking: even big-budget films that fail spectacularly in their first theatrical release later become profitable. I’m not saying Coyote vs. Acme would do as well as The Rocky Horror Picture Show but even Waterworld earned a profit eventually. And there’s something seriously wrong with the tax code when a studio is rewarded for never releasing a multimillion dollar project.

That’s an opinion that most people seem to share but what I haven’t heard as much about is the cast and crew who worked very hard to make the best movie they could, who took a lot of pride in that work. Movies are a multi-person art form. A single person can write a book, compose a song, paint a picture. Movies are sort of like plays, but they’re also like buildings. The director as auteur may be top dog, big cheese, head honcho, but most films require a team. For big studio productions that team can be hundreds, even thousands of people, and even if they don’t appear onscreen their work does in some way or another. For a single executive to decide that work doesn’t matter is, at the very least, a terrible insult, even if all the people involved still got paid for it.

That brings me to the first thing I ever had published. I was in college and saw an ad in the English department for a poetry contest. I submitted a poem along with an entry fee and won five-hundred dollars. The announcement came with a long list of runners-up and additional poems they’d accepted for an anthology that was supposed to be published later.

The anthology was never published. I don’t know what happened. I don’t blame the publishers—small presses are lucky if they break even and most don’t stay in business long, so it’s not like the situation with Coyote vs. Acme, but what reminded me of it is, at the time, a lot of people said to me, “Well, at least you got the money,” as if that was all that mattered.

It would have been nice to have the anthology too. It’s been more than thirty years since I won the contest. The money is long gone. If the anthology had been published I could still have it now.

There’s more to it than that, too. Without the anthology I didn’t have any tangible proof, other than a photocopy of the check. When I submitted to other places an untitled, unpublished anthology from a defunct publisher wasn’t exactly something I could put under “Previous publications”.

Maybe no one’s career will be harmed by the shelving of Coyote vs. Acme, and other films—oh yes, this has happened before—but one of the ways people in the entertainment industry get more, and better, gigs is through their previous work. It’s stupid that too many are in the position of saying, “I put a lot of effort into this and take pride in what I did. No, you can’t see it.”

The anthology was one thing. I believe everyone involved had the best intentions but, as a far better poet than me said, Things fall apart. The case of Coyote vs. Acme is another—good effort by a lot of people undone by greed and stupidity—but they’re both about what it means to have your work seen.

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  1. mydangblog

    Send the poem to DarkWinter and see it finally published!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I need to find it! I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere buried among my other poems. I keep thinking I should submit some of the poetry I’ve written.

  2. M.L. James

    Chris, That sucks about Coyote vs. Acme. I would have enjoyed that. Also, I’m not sure that I agree with you that it only takes one person to write and publish a book. I think that falls into a multi-person art form as well. At least for a well-written book. I hope you take Suzanne up on her offer regarding your poem! I think we’re now all curious and would love to read it! Mona

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Mona, you’re absolutely right–a well-written book is a collaborative effort between the writer, editor, readers…shoot, that reminds me, I volunteered to be a beta reader of your book. Well, I will get to that, I promise.


    Thanks for all you build here, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      All art is a cooperative effort and I appreciate you adding to the effort here, Ann.


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