extribulum

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

You Must Stop Wooing Monsters

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

People have to stop getting into bed with Amazon.com. They have to stop. Or at least they have to stop being surprised when Amazon turns out to be evil.

I don’t buy from Amazon.com anymore. With the exception of spending a few Amazon gift certificates I’ve been given, I haven’t bought anything from Amazon in something like two years; not since #amazonfail, anyway.

Short version of #amazonfail is that Amazon decided books about non-heteronormative sexuality and women’s reproductive health shouldn’t show up unless you searched for them specifically, so they stripped their sales rankings and essentially made them invisible; you could write a bestselling novel about two gay men and Amazon wouldn’t list it in their bestsellers, under this system. They blamed it on a “glitch” when they finally apologised, which was something like three days later after #amazonfail had been top-trending on Twitter for hours.

I called bullshit then when I was a part of the protest and I call bullshit now. If you want more detail (it only gets worse for them, I promise) you can Google “amazon fail”.

That was part of why I stopped buying Amazon, but news stories about the way Amazon treats its clients and competitors were sent to me because I was raising hell about them, and that made me decide there were other businesses that needed my money more. I’m aware that Amazon gives a leg up to small businesses who can sell through the site, but I’m afraid the off-chance of supporting a small business is not worth the certainty of supporting Amazon.

Jim Hines has the latest report on Amazon’s latest “we price at lowest sale price to be found anywhere, and you’ll take it and like it” deal, which has actually been going on for quite a while; I was puzzled as to why he seemed surprised by this, and why people linking to it did too, till I remembered that not everyone is a selfpub news junkie like I am, or has a well-known Amazon grudge to hold.

But whether we’re aware of it or not, it’s still been going on for literally years, this bullying of the little guy. The only way it is ever going to stop is if you stop buying Amazon, stop doing deals with them, and stop selling through them. And yeah, that’s inconvenient and it sucks, but they are committing genuine injustices against the literary community and the only way to stop them is to stop giving them money.

Or this is going to become institutionalised, and Amazon’s dominance will become a fact of life. When that happens, the opportunity we have here to free the writer from the confines of an old-fashioned benefit-the-corporation publishing system is going to pass us right by, because they’re going to eat us alive.

And the only person who won’t suffer by that, you guys, is Jeff Bezos.

I’m going to be working up a list of alternate resources in the coming days — bookstores you can buy from instead of Amazon, online stores with socially positive attitudes that sell the same kind of goods, and resources for self-publishers who don’t want to woo the monster. If you have links you’d like to share, drop ’em here and I’ll add them in.

Death And Imagination

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2012 at 9:00 am

There’s this post online called We, The Web Kids, and I think it’s a really important essay; I think it marks a turning point in the way our culture exists, and an exciting view of the future, and I think everyone with an interest in digital culture should read it, and it also scares the everloving shit out of me.

I haven’t been able to finish it, it unsettles me so badly. It’s a vastly important statement of the watershed that the internet established and a good explanation of the generation gap that is forming, and will continue to form, and I think my reaction to it is part of that — I’ve seen this reaction before from my elders, usually accompanied by scorn and denigration (the old pixel-stained technopeasant essay is a particularly good example of the breed; I did an essay in reaction here). I’m not lashing out against it because I think it’s true, and having been on the frontlines during the “internet is evil” bad old days, I can identify that now I’m on the elder side of the equation and need to be the guide, not the bully.

But yeah, it scares me, because it’s too big to be easily identified and too complex to be controlled, and as I said in my essay, well, writers like control.

And it makes me feel old. The older I get the scarier that feeling is. I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately — not contemplating it, thankfully, I think those days are done forever — but just considering what it means, and the reality that it’s going to happen to me. It’s not constant or anything, it’s just something I think about in my spare time (I’m trying to have as little spare time as possible) and I’m hoping it’s just a phase.

I really do not want to die, which is perhaps egotistical, but I’m me, I think I’m allowed to worry about me dying. I think about what it’s going to be like to go to sleep and just not wake up. I mean, hopefully I’ll be a hundred and fifty and go peacefully, but who knows.

I have a vivid imagination and I try not to think about dying because my imagination makes it real enough that just picturing it makes me twitchy and anxious; I’ve had dreams about getting the death penalty and waiting in a cell to die, and they usually stick with me for a day or two before they fade. Most of the time I love my imagination and I love that I can ditch out on reality whenever it gets boring, but this is not the place I want to ditch reality for. There’s a reason I choose my reading material carefully; my imagination makes it very real, and that’s not always something I can pull back from when I want to.

I don’t write my books out of a need for immortality. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to be immortal, bring it on, but I’m not going to grasp desperately at it. I’ve seen Death Of A Salesman. I write because I love to write and I like sharing it with people; I love it when someone suggests an idea to me and I write it and can delight them with the result. I just like writing. But it also makes me happy that I have three books out there, and hopefully will have more before I’m done, which will probably outlive me. I made my little mark, at least, and it’s the best of what I can do, so I have no reason not to be proud.

Still, I feel weird being thirty-two and thinking about my posthumous legacy.

God, I hope this is a phase. I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life picturing my death, that’s just depressing.

Go To Nashville, They Have Bookstores

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2012 at 9:14 am

Normally in this space I’m a lot more thoughtful/narcissistic, but I wanted to share the best quote I have read all month, found in a transcript here at Geekwire. Ann Patchett, who just opened an indy bookstore in Nashville, to Stephen Colbert:

Now, listen this is what I want from you. When your book comes out, I want you to come to Nashville. You can see your friends Jack White and Al Gore, we will have a party for you….we will have the Goat Rodeo guys to play at the store as your warm-up, you’ll sign and you will have such as great time. And then the next week, you will take your Sharpie, you will go to the warehouse at Amazon, they will cut the boxes open for you, and you can sign all day. You see which one you like better.

Hell yes, Ann Patchett. Next time I’m in Nashville, I’m coming to your bookstore.

The Free Lunch Manifesto

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

One of the features I regularly do on my personal blog is Radio Free Monday. All week long, anyone can submit a cause, news item, call for help, or “fun thing”, and I collect them up and post them every Monday to help raise money and awareness.

It’s discouraging sometimes, and sometimes it’s wonderful, and it’s usually exhausting. It wears me out. But…well, I can’t deny it keeps me on top of current events. After all, in order to vet everything I have to read everything and understand it, so I can put it into a three-sentence blurb format to pass on. This has done wonders for my ability to write concisely. I can jam more information into a sentence than most people will provide all day.

Lately I’ve been getting more and more information about copyright legislation, because of SOPA and PIPA and ACTA, because Congress now has the legal right to take works out of public domain, because Marvel Inc. sued Gary Friedrich for more money than he has and got away with it. Because YouTube is continually removing media that corporations claim to own without asking for even the slightest proof.

Artists are getting screwed left-right-and-center while trying to support themselves, and the corporations that license the art are making all the money. And the people who have the power to viciously, paranoidly protect their intellectual property are the ones who’ve already made their pile and are apparently afraid someone else might end up richer than them, while the ones who can’t afford to protect their work get it stolen or find it undervalued by corporations who are willing to pay artists less and publicists more.

I’m not someone who makes their living making art, and I publish my own work so I have no official dog in this fight, but it still worries me. I’m an artist, and most of my friends are artists of one kind or another. I worry that I set a bad precedent, making my work free, that I screw up their chances by encouraging people to loan my books and share my digital files and basically pirate me all over the place so that the idea of free art becomes normalised.

The thing is, I believe that artists should receive fair compensation for their work. I absolutely do. It upsets me that nearly nobody gets what their effort is worth these days. But I also believe that the lucky artists who have the means to be generous should be. And a lot of times they can’t because a corporation owns their art. Man, we are a mess.

I believe that because I make a comfortable living and write books on the side, I have a duty to make sure people who can’t afford my books still get to read them, and to encourage other artists to create transformative works if they’re inspired by my work. I learned to write by writing fanfic. I wouldn’t be a writer today if I had been prevented from using someone else’s brilliance as a guiding hand to explore my abilities.

A few years ago, when I was working in an office for the first time, I used to get emails sometimes about “free food in the conference room!” and be angry that I couldn’t leave my desk, that by the time I could the food would be gone. And then one day I thought about this and I realised, Jesus Christ. I make twenty bucks an hour. I can afford to buy my own lunch, and some people here make twenty bucks an hour and have three kids to feed as well. Only once in my life has there been a time where I couldn’t afford to feed myself, and that time is long past. Fate willing, it will never come again.

The lure of something that is free, the lure of something one can just take, is a powerful one, but I’ve worked, consciously, to remind myself that just because I can go take it doesn’t mean I have to. This has led me to the belief that I don’t need to have All Of Anything; I don’t need to vigorously protect my work, because I can afford to share it. When you step back from the worldview of desire, just a little, you come to see that about 99% of the world’s problems boil down to greedy people who don’t even seem to notice their own greed. Greed drives nearly every cruelty I see.

All it took was not eating a free lunch to get me to see this.

I didn’t sell my belongings or leave my home or do without anything I needed or even anything I wanted badly enough. I’m not saying we should renounce worldly pleasures; I love worldly pleasures. I think everyone should have them. I think everyone should have a roof over their head if they want one and food to eat, and more importantly food they like to eat. I think everyone should have access to healthcare, to books, to art, to travel if they want it.

And I think nearly everyone could, if the people who don’t need the free lunch would stop goddamn eating it before the people who do need it can have their chance.