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."


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, 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.