Aug 28, 2015

What an Artist Owes

Earlier this week, Amanda Palmer posted an open letter on Medium, a response to a fan of hers who contacted her via per website to ask the following question:

"Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?"

The subject line of this message:

"Baby announcement right after joining Patreon?…Scam much?"

The full content of the message is in Amanda's Medium post. And I'll leave it to all of you to read through her (frankly astounding) reply. Seriously, Amanda Palmer shows more class, tact, and honesty than I think I've ever seen any artist give in response to such criticism as this person levied at her.

Aside from the blatant baby-shaming (because how dare a woman change her mind about wanting kids, right?), what really digs at me about the letter is the self-entitlement. We've seen it before. The behaviour which prompted Neil Gaiman to comment "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch." And we've seen other cases of artists accused of scamming readers by using money for something other than the creation of more art.

I brought this up before, and it's a question which has still not resulted in a satisfactory answer.

What does an artist owe?

Do people expect that the only thing an artist should be allowed to do with money earned from that art is to create more art? Or should they, like all businesspeople, be free to spend the profits of their work as they see fit?

Art is not a single, repeatable product. Every time an artists sets out to create something, it will be different than the things they have created before. If you no longer like what the artist creates, you're not obligated to expose yourself to it. You can listen to other music, read other books. You can even say "I prefer their older work" and yes, you can even tell the artist you no longer like their stuff.

But how dare anyone be so cruel as to think this is an appropriate way to address someone:

"You didn’t NEED to join Patreon, but you did anyway." (This fan has psychic powers that let them know how much money an artist needs to pursue certain projects.)

"you announced your pregnancy, after years of saying you didn’t want to be a mom" (Women are not allowed to change their minds about this, remember.)

"Chances are you’ll pass [hyper-sensitivity] on to your kid." (Because what a first-time mother really needs is someone seeding them with more fear that motherhood will be difficult, and then blaming them for it)

"did you do this on purpose?" (Women can't be trusted, naturally.)

"Is what you’re doing really fair to your fans?" (She should clearly have asked her fans' permission before being so inconsiderate as to have a child, and we all know no-one ever starts a family while also holding down a job.)

And this beauty:

"I need answers before I can feel comfortable giving you more of the money that I earned with my own sweat and tears." 

That's what gets me most of all. This person feels that because they've been giving money to an artist, that they have a say in her life choices. They feel that their money is more hard-earned than the artist's money. Because art's easy, right? Artists don't have bills to pay, food to buy, or private lives to lead. And no-one in any other field ever has to change their work routine and habits because of pregnancy.

While we're here, let's get really honest.

No-one asks a man if having children will affect his career.

No-one is emailing Neil Gaiman to ask him why he's been sharing photos of his pregnant wife instead of writing more books. Society says that women can either be successful and career-driven, or they can have children. They're not allowed to do both. And if they try, they'll be accused of being irresponsible and letting one suffer for the sake of the other.

If you like an artist, support them. If you stop liking them, stop supporting them. But don't send a passive-aggressive message full of threats, demands, and blame, and try to pass it off as concern.

It doesn't make you "Worried-but-Still-Devoted." It makes you an asshole. Don't be an asshole.


Aug 25, 2015

Diversity, Politics, and the Hugo Awards

Worldcon is one of the largest and most recognized yearly conventions in science fiction and fantasy. It is also home to the Hugo Awards, which has been a subject of controversy several times. Most recently, this year's awards fell victim to slate nominations at the hands of two groups: The Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies.

I'll spare you the details on the Puppies themselves. You can Google them. Suffice it to say that the very best of them are ignorant and misguided, while the worst of them have spewed what is honestly some of the most vile hate and bigotry I've seen this side of Gamergate.

In short, the Puppies claimed that science fiction and fantasy had become too political, too concerned with diversity and social issues, and less focused on rocket ships, 'splosions, monsters, and pew pew pew!

It's bullshit, of course. Because SFF has always been political, and has always addressed social issues, right back to arguably the very first sci-fi novel, Frankenstein. I mean, a book where a man uses science to create life? Literally replicating the power of the divine through technology? Creating a being in his own image, only for it to turn on him?

But in any case, the votes are in.

Not only did none of the Puppies' slate win their category, but in every category where only the Puppies' favourites were nominated, the win went to "No Award". No Award came out on top in an unprecedented five categories.

There will of course be much discussion over this result, now and as time goes on and we look to next year, to see will the Puppies make good on their threat to sabotage every Hugo Award from now on. There are some excellent articles already, from Chuck Wendig, Foz Meadows, Amy Wallace, and others.

The Puppies made the mistake of thinking that taking political action could remove politics from a genre which has built its foundation on tackling political and social issues. Opening up discussion is one thing. Extolling the virtues of a particular author or book isn't political. Organising a widespread attempt to rig an award, on the other hand, nevermind how much the rules allow it, is certainly political. Threatening to sabotage those same awards if people don't play your game your way is certainly political.

Why? Because the people being represented more and more in fiction are marginalized. They do not see themselves in stories. And they deserve to. Everyone deserves heroes and villains. Not because of political correctness or because there has to be a particular quota for representation, but because they're people, and people have a burning need to experience stories. We seek them out every day, and we seek out stories that speak to us on a personal level.

By saying that speculative fiction should go back to a mythological era when bare-chested barbarians swung swords while rescuing half-naked damsels, and clean-cut space heroes flew rockets and shot big-headed green aliens with ray guns, and no-one ever spoke of "themes" or "allegory", the Puppies are saying that only the stories they prefer deserve to receive recognition.

There's a word for that. When a group of privileged people look down on those who want what they have and tell them "this is not for you."

Prejudice.

The Puppies' message, whether they believe it or not, whether they even intended it or not, was basically to hang a sign up on their clubhouse reading "No girls, no gays, no coloureds". They can swing around that "we just want the story to be considered first" excuse all they want, but it doesn't change what they were saying. It just makes them sound utterly self-righteous, and ensures that sensible, rational people will not want anything to do with them.

And I know, because I used to be that person.

"I'm not a sexist author," I once said. "I'd totally write a book with a woman as the main character, if the story called for it." (emphasis 35 year old me, not past me)

That phrase, "if the story calls for it" needs to be stricken from every discussion about fiction. The story calls for whatever the author wants. That's all a story really is; the decisions of the author.

The simple fact is, diversity is worthwhile in its own right. The fact that a book tackles race, gender, or sexuality, assuming it does so well, automatically sets it apart from books that stick to tired old formulas about straight white men killing brown (or blue, or green, or insect) people and saving damsels from certain doom. We need diversity. We need authors willing to push the limits and expand the genre further.

The Puppies showed us how strong prejudice is in SFF fandom. The Hugo Awards showed the Puppies how strong the desire for diversity is. So let's keep this going, and keep making SFF a better, more accepting place for everyone.

Aug 17, 2015

Summer comes to a close

Inspired by my friend and fellow writer, Ellen, and her blog post today, I'm stirring myself into action again.

Like Ellen, I hated school, but loved the end-of-summer season. Buying stationery, getting ready for all the good tv shows to come back on, waiting to see friends I didn't get to see during the summer. When I went to college this became even more intense, because as much as I hated school, I loved college with a passion.

I'm a fan of new beginnings. 2015 was to be a new beginning for me, to get away from the negativity and hardship that had plagued me for years. It's been a challenging year, and I'd be lying if I said there was nothing I was happy to see the end of. So I like the idea of approaching the coming weeks as another new beginning. A new academic year is starting. A new learning season.

I always did my best creative stuff right at the start of the college year.

I'm also turning 35 in a few days. I've decided that one of the benchmarks for "growing old" as a writer is marking when you reach the age another author was when they had their breakout hit. That's what I'm working towards now. I've got five published novels under my belt. It's time to get more people reading them, and decide what my next book will be.

Lately I've been coming up with book ideas with the intent of tackling particular issues. I still want to do that, but I also know that the more passionate I am about a book, the more it'll show in my writing and the more readers will enjoy it, regardless of the issues being addressed.

I'm also hoping to launch a new website soon. Presently, www.paulanthonyshortt.com redirects to this blog, but I've decided I need to start thinking, acting, and presenting myself as much like a professional author as I can.

So here goes. Wish me luck.

Jul 21, 2015

We Need Labels

Labels are a touchy thing. Any time I see a discussion on a heated issue such as bullying, feminism, homophobia, or any form of prejudice, odds are good someone, either trying to act as a kind of peacemaker or, more commonly, trying to shut down the argument entirely, will pipe up with "this is why I hate labels" and "just don't be a dick."

Why do people shun labels? It's never fun to be stuck with a label we dislike, of course, but rather than kick back against the very concept, have people ever thought about why labels are so often used to address people and issues?

The fact is, we need labels.

Highlight Issues
At the most base level, how can you bring a problem to people's attention? You find an example of the problem in action and say "That's it, that is The Thing, right there." People need to be able to assess experiences, both our own and those of others, in ways we can quantify. Otherwise people trying to help would wind up running around going "Everything is terrible and I can't explain why!"

Determine Solutions
I've often said that you can't say to someone "build me a house" or "fix my car" and expect them to get the job done there and then. Every problem, no matter how broad or focused, has a range of issues and contexts which must be identified and assessed for a solution. The place you want to build your house might have water mains to work around. A specific part your car needs might not be in stock. The same applies to social issues.

Take domestic abuse as an example. Both men and women suffer from it, but the challenges they each face will be very different. A woman is likely to believe she brought it on herself, or that if she is only patient enough, things will change. A man, on the other hand, is more likely to be mocked for letting a woman inflict harm. Both will avoid talking about it, and remain in a toxic relationship, but each will do so for different reasons, and will need different kinds of help to get out of it.

So before you say you're not a feminist, but still believe in equal rights, remember that feminism is one part of the equal rights struggle, dealing with a particular subset of problems brought about by male dominance and enforced gender roles. If you do believe in equal rights, you are a feminist, by definition.

Sense of Identity
Labels don't only have to be used to address negative things. Labels can bring with them a sense of self, a strength of choosing an identity. They allow us to belong. If you're a geek, you can count on there being other geeks who should welcome you. Sports fans show supreme camaraderie. Book lovers can gather together to share in discussions. Rockers can share their love of music.

Most especially during our formative teenage years, but also still when we're adults, we need to be able to define who we are, and what our role is in society. Labels help us do this. When we choose a label for ourselves, we make it a banner, a mark of pride, a shield against those who would try to tear us down.

The Reality
As wonderful as the idea is that we could do away with labels and the words "treat everyone well" would be all we need for a peaceful, fair society, the reality is we don't have a hope of achieving that yet. Simply put, we are not at a stage in the evolution of society where we're able to give one straightforward rule to protect us from all social injustice.

Society has taught us to fear those things and people that are different from us. How many religions have spend thousands of years preaching to love one another? How many laws have had to be expanded and clarified so that people can't abuse loopholes and inflict pain and suffering on others?

Until we grow past that, we don't get to take the easy solution of saying "treat everyone well" or "don't be a dick." There are no shortcuts to a better society. It's hard work, and we've got a lot to do. So let's stick to what can actually help make things better and stop fobbing off our responsibility with lazy catchphrases.

Jul 16, 2015

What Have I Been Up To?

I've been very quiet this week, and I'm sorry for that.

Saturday was Conor's fourth birthday. He would have been starting school this year, so it's been particularly rough this time. We had our standard ritual of going to the beach to release a balloon for him, after which the five of us had chips in the car (because it was raining).

Added to that, I've been coping with a new source of chronic pain. It's a possible slipped disc, but I won't know for sure until I get another MRI. I need a walking stick to get around most of the time now, and have enjoyed the delights of all new levels of pain.

Now that things are settling down again, I want to get back into a regular blogging routine. So I'll see you all soon, and remember to pick up your copies of Lady Raven and Red Skies!

Jul 10, 2015

The Importance of Heroines

It's a pretty great time for heroines. We've got an all-female Marvel team in A-Force, the New Avengers features several women in the line-up. Mad Max: Fury Road boasts some of the best female representation in an action movie in years.

And a recent study has shown that a majority of children and teenagers want to see more women in games, and for those women to be depicted better.

But it's far from enough. Only 15% of movie protagonists are women. Women are automatically assumed to be inferior to men in certain film roles. One of the most popular and successful shows on television outright hates its women characters. And the books it's based on have some even worse treatment.

Heroines are important. A few scattered examples here and there aren't enough. For every Princess Leia, there are a dozen Han Solos.

We need more Princess Leias. It all started with her. Instead of sitting back and letting the boys do all the work, she grabbed a blaster got them out of an impossible situation. She carried out intelligence missions, co-ordinated assaults, planned battle strategies. She strangled the most dangerous gangster in the galaxy to death and is one of only two people known who had the guts to mouth off to Darth Vader, and the other one was nearly killed for it.

Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Tasha Yar, Buffy Summers, Xena, Lara Croft, River Tam, Kara Thrace, Imperator Furiosa. Why so few? Why so far apart?

"In every generation there is a chosen one"

Why do we allow ourselves to place all the responsibility of being a heroine onto the shoulders of one character at a time? Why does every new female character have to embody all aspects of being a woman at once? Why shouldn't we seek out more heroines, and create new ones whenever we can?

With Red Skies now over a week in the world, this has been on my mind a lot. As much as I dream of one day seeing people rank Cora Ravenell among the great heroines, I hope to see even more by her side.

Let's go tell some stories.

Jul 7, 2015

Chakras and Channeling

Anyone familiar with yoga, reiki, or any number of eastern beliefs will likely have drawn parallels between the channelling powers possessed by Cora Ravenell and the seven chakras present within each person.

This is quite intentional. I don't bring up my spiritual beliefs all that often here, but I've studied a wide range of teachings. From witchcraft to energy healing, law of attraction, all the way to ancient mysticism and mythology, I find myself drawn to all things spiritual.

I'm a reiki master, myself, and my love for reiki and its associated philosophies inspired me to draw on these elements when creating the magic system for the Lady Raven series.

In the series, magic, or channelling, allows a person to become a conduit for the energies of the universe. Drinking quintessence, the glowing blue liquid sought after by the Empire, can, if the person is strong enough, grant this ability. It does so by unlocking six chakras, or energy points. Once this is done, the channeller can harness their new power in a range of ways, calling on each of their chakras for different effects:


Root: Located at the base of the spine, the Root Chakra governs fight or flight, defence and attack. It allows the channeller to produce bursts of quintessence to attack and protect. As Cora is relatively undisciplined in its use, these attacks manifest as blue flame, but during Red Skies, she encounters channellers so proficient that their quintessence is pure blue light.

Sacral: The Sacral Chakra, between the navel and the groin, enhances the channeller's senses. Cora uses this chakra to improve her battle awareness and detect weaknesses others cannot.

Core: Found in the stomach, the Core Chakra empowers the body with strength, speed and reflexes. With it, Cora can become a demon in combat, able to take on multiple opponents.

Heart: The chest is home to the Heart Chakra, which, requires love of oneself and others to master. It allows the user to heal physical and mental damage in others and, for true masters, the self. When we rejoin Cora in Red Skies, she has not yet begun to practice such powers.

Truth: The Truth Chakra, in the throat, allows a channeller to see through, and cast, illusions and to manipulate the minds of others. This is another ability beyond Cora's level of experience at first.

Third Eye: Located in the forehead, the Third Eye Chakra, grants the user psychic awareness, and the ability to see places from a distance, listen to the minds of others, catch glimpses of the future or past, and even move objects with the mind. It is this chakra which guides Cora to join the Benin Rebels, as she becomes conscious of growing evil within the Empire, and a sense that there are far greater battles ahead.

Divine: Floating at the top of the head, the Divine Chakra is spoken of almost entirely in legend. It is said to connect the person to the cosmos and all its limitless power, uniting their soul with the Highers, the spirits, and the divine beings which created the world. However, no channeller alive can use its power. It is the one chakra not unlocked upon drinking quintessence. Its secrets were lost centuries ago, and no channeller has yet found a way to unlock it.

Jul 3, 2015

Interview

Earlier this week, Janet Ní Shuilleabháin had me on her new podcast, Worlds Beyond, to talk about my latest release, Red Skies, as well as my other books, love of storytelling, Octocon, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was my first ever podcast interview and I loved it.

Check it out on Soundcloud.

Jul 1, 2015

Red Skies is out today!


Here we are at last! When I decided to branch into self-publishing, I genuinely had no idea how much work would be involved. I've learned a lot, and at times I'm astounded I managed to get Red Skies out at all.

I'd like to thank everyone who's seen me through this. It's been rough going, and I wouldn't have made it through without all the support I've received from friends and family. And I promise not to put myself under that kind of insane pressure again. Seriously, writing two books in four months is not something I recommend.

I'm keeping both Lady Raven and Red Skies at their discounted Kindle prices for a little while longer, so grab them while you can.

You can find Red Skies on Kindle and in paperback.

Jun 30, 2015

Red Skies is out tomorrow!

























What a year this has been.

Those of you who've been following me for a while will know I've had a demanding couple of years. Those of you close to me will know just how hard those years have been, for various reasons.

We are now halfway through the year. June 30th. I won't say 2015 has been easy. But it has certainly been victorious.

Red Skies is out tomorrow. This is my fifth novel to be released in the space of three years. It hardly seems real, and while I'm still a very new author, hoping every day for the breakout that'll allow me to make a real living from this, I am genuinely proud that I've managed to accomplish all this while working full time and helping my wife raise our three wonderful daughters.

I started the Lady Raven series with the intention of doing my part to bring more female heroes into the world of action and adventure fiction. I wanted someone my daughters could look up to. Someone that anyone, regardless of gender, could look at and say "This girl kicks ass." That girl, that woman, became Cora Ravenell, who takes the mocking title "Lady Raven" and turns it into a weapon against the oppressive Empire that destroys her life.

Over the next several days, you can look forward to some blog posts discussing not only the world Cora inhabits, but also what I feel is important about what a character like Cora says to readers. The decisions I make within every book are carefully considered, and I'd like to share that. Posts will include such topics as "The Importance of Heroines," "Chakras and Channelling", and "Sex and Relationships in Lady Raven."

So heave to and raise the colours. It's time for Lady Raven to fly once again.

Yo ho!