“Millions” in writing advice, paid out in pennies


Practical Art: On Teaching the Business of Creative Writing

Fine advice for writers – especially those in or graduated from one of the many MFA programs – but a bit too wordy with not enough practical advice. Sort of like grad school itself.

An apprentice artisan observes the economic realities of his or her discipline. My father and grandfather were carpenters. They built homes and remodeled bathrooms. They worked when other people slept or relaxed. They had to create things that were beautiful and useful in order to make money to help feed their families. Their profession required the synthesis of artistry and practicality.


The false “debate” about SOPA

Hollywood and some “quisling” artists want us to believe that intellectual property theft is pervasive, and that we must urge Washington to pass SOPA. They have been so skillful at spreading their alarmist propaganda (it is Hollywood, after all, the birthplace of modern propaganda) they even have a friend of mine convinced that if she starts a blog thieves will steal and sell her posts.

I did not make her up. And she’s not stupid, just very suggestible.

Hollywood liberals and Washington DC conservatives might seem like two different species, but in reality they are two sides to the very same coin. (Look at a coin. See that it has two completely different sides?) Both Hollywood and DC are cities that exist to feed – and exploit – people’s fears. They manufacture fear like Detroit manufactures cars – on an assembly line and according to a schedule, and despite popular opinion they operate more in concert than in opposition. They use fear like any predator does – to get the prey animals (that’s us) to react in predictable ways: noise on the left startles prey into moving to the right (or vice versa, which is the DC scaremongering model) while noise in front (horror movies, Hollywood’s specialty) scatters the herd – so they lose the advantage of numbers.

Of course, we prey animals don’t always act upon instinct. After all, we are not that different physiologically from the predators who exploit us, but they have tamed us enough with entertainment and false camaraderie – Hollywood’s other product, the one designed to lull us into complacency so they can ensure we remain prey between bouts of fear-induced panic.

So fear-mongering doesn’t always work as intended. But if the fear the predators manufacture doesn’t succeed in getting the prey into moving in the direction they want, they wait a few weeks or months and try again. Sooner or later we will go where they want and do what they want.

Which is why the SOPA arguments are so interesting. Hollywood wanted it; DC tried, but the herd didn’t tack as directed. We seem stubbornly resistant to this particular fear-mongering. No matter. As Chris Dodd says in this interview,

Here’s the good news: No one’s arguing about whether the theft of intellectual property needs to be dealt with. The question becomes, how?

[The technology community] globalized the issue, made it [about] freedom of speech and breaking the Internet. It’s [rather] a question of whether the hard work of the creative community ought to be protected.

Who is Chris Dodd? He’s past master of the DC fear machine and current spokesman for Hollywood’s fear-mongers. He recently replaced Jack Valenti as President of the MPAA – you will see Dodd make a brief appearance at tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony – but before that he was “the longest-serving Senator in Connecticut’s history.” Hollywood, meet DC. (Oh – you’ve already met him. See Dave.)

Yes indeed, it is a conundrum. How do you get people to believe your lie when it’s such an obvious one? Dodd – and by extension Hollywood – seems determined to continue trying to convince the herd to move toward their lie that they are trying to prevent theft. And who is for theft? Why, it’s even mentioned in the ten commandments!

Sorry, herd – it’s a fear noise. The internet “battle” isn’t being waged because people want to “steal” from the artist, it’s because the artist no longer wants to agree to a system where the chain of businessmen above them take the lion’s share of the money made from their art. Everyone knows artists make the smallest percentage from their art. It’s the studio heads and network owners and publishers – the owner class – who take the big money. Read the Dodd article carefully – what he’s trying to prevent is excessive profitability moving out of grasp of business and – not into the artist’s pocket. Instead, it remains in the consumer’s pocket.

These guys and gals in the non-creative side have had the artists in a vise for years, and they don’t like it that some artists did the math and discovered that a half a cent per song sold is about what they receive from a big record label anyway, so they might as well take the 1/2 cent per download that iTunes will give them and screw the studio system out of their “profits.” Same goes with the 99 cent book and the “pirated” DVD that Hollywood is holding onto in order to create a false scarcity.

I mean really – who knew that an artist could do math?

But there’s another issue at stake for the owner class: They are threatened with the loss of all that excess profit they gain from maintaining their artificial scarcity business model.

In actual manufacturing there is a very real threat of scarcity. Detroit can only manufacture so many cars, for example, and this limitation created scarcity. But anything existing in the “cloud” economy where, theoretically, an infinite supply exists. This should mean that demand will never outstrip supply, but the owner class is used to the scarcity model, so they are trying to legislate control of the demand.

No one would need to “steal” (their word) a movie or a television show if Hollywood (or New York, to be more precise, since that’s where film and television and publishing are headquartered) would simply distribute the damned thing a little more liberally, but they don’t because they are hooked on artificial scarcity.

Remember when the Harry Potter books first came out? The publishers wanted to maintain a by-now-nonexistent time lag between a London publication date and a U.S. publication date, but fans circumvented their delay and ordered the U.K. edition. In fact, so many fans ordered it from overseas that Scholastic Press rushed up the publication date and afterwards the books had worldwide simultaneous premieres…

… which increased their sales! But did the owner class learn the lesson? No! They still try to create artificial scarcity, but now they want to pass SOPA (or whatever it will be called when they next re-introduce it) so consumers can be arrested for not honoring their artificial scarcity business model, and artists/website owners can also be arrested – for eliminating the need for an owner class.

It used to be that studios and publishers and the like performed some service for the artist. They arranged for publicity and did the editing and manufacturing/publishing. Now they perform none of these services – they even have the customer conned into purchasing their own hand-held printing/recording machine so they don’t have to manufacture as many items – but they still want to be paid as if they still do perform a service.

The new economy didn’t just eliminate the need for a middle class. We no longer need owners. Predators are redundant – and they’re annoying besides. Let’s stop behaving as prey. Stop feeding the beasts!

How I became a Runaway Serfer

I didn’t start out as a Runaway Serfer. I originally wanted to change careers.

I was working as Executive Administrative Manager at a biotech company and hated it (hint: they are vivisectionists!). I had originally wanted to write, and abandoned it for personal reasons, and since I still wanted to write, I quit my job one summer day to ease back into writing, re-enroll in graduate school, teach elementary education as my new profession, and create a few writing websites on the side. (I’m a multi-tasker!)

Six weeks later: 9/11/2001.

In the years while I obtained my teaching credential and earned my MFA, the world – and both my planned professions – changed.

  1. Elementary education changed from wanting to educate to wanting to test children. (Might as well have stayed with the vivisectionists!)
  2. The internet morphed into social media, meaning simple websites were not so simple anymore and weren’t the only formats a writer needed.
  3. Graduate school turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had imagined (when I left it was a place to get a degree to impress agents and publishers).
  4. And September 11 really did change everything, and not in a good way

I re-emerged into a society that didn’t want to employ someone my age, then didn’t want to employ anybody, really.

So now I’m learning how to be a Runaway Serfer (a Serf without a Master).