Friday, March 15, 2013

Dan A. Sproul unpublished short story

In 2004 I accepted "Costa Rica? No Thanks," a short story by Dan A. Sproul for an anthology I was editing. Sproul, the author of several short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and other publications—including two of my anthologies—died in 2007.

Unfortunately, the anthology was cancelled by the publisher. While other contributors have placed their stories elsewhere, Dan's story languishes in my filing cabinet.

I do not know how to contact Dan's surviving relatives and suspect they may be non-writers who have no idea what to do with Dan's unpublished manuscripts. I suspect they have trashed the hardcopies of his manuscripts and/or erased them from his computer drive because they do not understand the value of what he left behind.

I am left with a conundrum. I have a contract with Dan to publish his story, but the contract was tied to a specific anthology. Unless I somehow resurrect the dead anthology, I have no right to publish Dan's story nor do I have the right to see that someone else publishes it.

On the other hand, if I do nothing, the story may never see publication.

If anyone knows Dan's surviving relatives and can connect us, I would greatly appreciate it.

If anyone knows of a loophole in the copyright law that would allow me to shepherd this story into publication without his family's permission, I would greatly appreciate that information as well.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Michael,

Do you have a lawyer who you can ask this question--friend or relative in the legal profession?

Have you tried checking out the author's name and address with There may be a wife or children still at his old address or phone number.

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks, but the old address has been defunct for years. Royalty checks sent there shortly after Dan's death came back. His family had not given the Post Office a forwarding address for his mail.

Jan Christensen said...

Is it possible that any of the other places which published Dan's stories might have a more current address? If so, you could try contacting them. Good luck!

lisekimhorton said...

Here's my thinking (I'm not a lawyer but work in an entertainment law firm where I've been for 20 years and we deal with publishing, IP & trusts & estates of artists. Here's the rub. The copyright holds with the author for life plus 75 years. Which means the copyright is held by whomever was/were his beneficiaries. If he left everything to a relative, they own the copyright. If he died intestate, the estate would have had to be probated and whoever was the "winner" in the end would hold the copyright - even if it was someone other than a relative (charity, for example). But bottom line, unless you can find who holds the rights and get permission for a new project, you cannot use the story, no matter your altruistic desire. And I am not certain if you even would have the right to publish it in a new version of the anthology either. It would depend on the parameters of the contract originally in place.

lisekimhorton said...

Your other last ditch effort would be to see if he filed the story with the US Copyright Office. If he did and everything was handled appropriately after he died, the copyright may have been transferred to his estate, to a trust, etc.

Robert Lopresti said...

I like LIse's last comment. Might work. This is the problem known as the copyright orphan, by the way, and if you google it you will see that Congress has made attempts to deal with it. My understanding is that solutiions are mostly being held back by photographers who feared, reasonably enough, making it too easy to use their works without paying them for it.

Not suggesting what follows as a solution, but you might find some leads by pursuing it. As I understand it a decade or more ago there was a science fiction writer who died, leaving no will and no relatives. Publishers refused to reprint his work for fear of getting sued if a long lost relative showed up. Finally a writer who was a fan unilaterally dclared himself to be the deceased author's agent. He would vet contracts, put the money into a special fund and if anyone showed up and wanted it they would go after him, not the publishers.

I don't know the names of the authors but science fiction writers might.

Michael Bracken said...

I'm aware of the situation you describe though, like you, Rob, I don't remember the details.

Y'all have given me several good suggestions. I'll let word spread among mystery writers first in hopes that someone, somewhere, knows Dan's family.

If I don't make contact with someone this way, then I'll try some of the things y'all have suggested.

Joanne Tuttobene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanne Tuttobene said...

Hi Michael, You may stop your search. My name is Joanne and I am Dan Sproul's niece. He wrote stories since he was a young lad. Yes, he passed in 2007.

Michael Bracken said...

Thank you, Joanne, for contacting me.

Can you connect me with the literary executor of Dan's estate or, if he didn't name one in his will, with the person now responsible for Dan's literary estate?

Please contact me (or have that person contact me if it isn't you) directly at