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Writers: The Morlocks of Creation

Read a thing on a friend of mine’s facebook feed today. It was a picture of a Craigslist ad or similar that went something like this:

I’m looking for a fiction writer who can write a series of books in the Paranormal Romance, Werewolf Romance, Christian Romance, or Military Romance genres. You must think creatively about the topic I give you and write a full book (5000 words) that is unique and original and that will attract readers. Must have lots of description. I will pay $40 (Canadian) and a $5 bonus if delivered within 5 days. Copyright will revert to me upon publication. Send a writing sample.

Two things here (well, a lot more than two, but let’s focus on the big ones, shall we?):

  1. What kind of idiot would ever sign up for such a thing?
  2. What the actual fuck is this poster thinking?

What’s sad here is probably somebody gave this a shot. Being a writer is depressing, lonely work at times and getting a quick $45 is probably tempting if all you’ve had is Ramen Noodles and multivitamins for a week and a half between pulling doubles at TGI Fridays. But holy crap, writers, don’t you dare do this! Don’t! Hell, I’d pay you $40 US to not do it. (please note: I have no actual money. Just, you know, making a point)

I’m reminded of this wonderful, expletive-laced rant by Harlan Ellison which I will share with you now:

The man is right, dammit. We are living in the middle of a society that is constantly and aggressively seeking to devalue art and artists. I talk about writers here, but it may as well be anybody we loosely categorize with the flavorless moniker “content creators.” Actors, graphic artists, musicians, sculptors, writers – performers of any stripe – have been reduced to being seen as hobbyists with nothing better to do or lazy bums who will dance for a nickel.

Granted, there are always dilettantes – that guy who comes up to the lead guitarist in a band and says “hey! I play guitar! But I gave it up – I like making money.” Yes, we (by “we” I mean “actual artists”) dislike that person for belittling our art and they suck and so-on, but the person who’s worse – the person who is far, far worse – is the person who expects you to perform your task for free. If you consider yourself a professional, the answer should be no. It should always, always be no. Be polite, of course, but tell them to walk. Professionals, by definition, get paid. Maybe not a lot, but still something.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Artists may not run the government, they may not drive the economy, they may not fight the wars or pave the roads or build the houses, but they create the culture. They fashion the very ineffable substance that makes our daily lives bearable. Ever gone to work humming a song? Ever imagined yourself as this or that great hero or wished for romance of the kind you read about in a book? That stuff – the stuff of living – is made by artists, most of whom are pretty near broke or, if they aren’t, are working a side-job and squeezing in their passion between shifts and kids and meals and their love life and everything else. Like the Morlocks in HG Wells The Time Machine, they make your life more liveable while they toil in the shadows. Ponying up the occasional Eloi isn’t too much to ask, right?

I’ll tell one more story, and then I’m out:

During the Writers of the Future Workshop, my fellow writers and I were let loose on Hollywood Boulevard to talk to a total stranger as part of our “24-hour story” exercise. I talked to a number of people, but maybe the most interesting was this one guy hawking CDs by the Chinese Theater. He was yelling as people passed by, trying to give them the hard sell on his music, hassling strangers. He had a shield up around his inner self – he was the carnival barker, not the guy putting his love on the street for others to walk over. I’ve worked jobs like that before, and it’s pretty demoralizing, especially when it’s your own work you’re hawking. So, I walked up to him and bought a CD. “How much,” I asked.

“Whatever you got, man, that’s fine.”

I gave him twenty bucks.

His eyebrows shot up. He got quiet for a second. He took my hand and he shook it. “Thank you.” He didn’t seem to think that was enough. The shields were down now – I could see this was an important moment for him, even if only a small one. “I just want you to know…” his voice cracked a little, “I want you to know that I’m really good, okay? I’m not just talking. My music is important to me, and I really think I’m good.”

That right there was worth the twenty bucks.

Pay the writer. Pay the artist.

Publicity Notes

  • I’ll be signing copies of The Oldest Trick at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA on October 1st from 7pm-9pm. Come check it out!
  • I’m heading up to Dover VT for the Independent Film and Television Festival this 24th-27th! I’ll be giving a presentation on World Building in Science Fiction and Fantasy on Saturday morning at 11am. The rest of the festival looks great, and time is running out to get passes and lodging. Hopefully I’ll see you up there!