Saturday, April 22, 2017

We are one, but we are many

We live in an interesting time, don't we? The 21st Century is a time of rapid unending change. Most of this we can call progress and then shake hands and say "Aren't we doing well? Aren't we so much more enlightened than those who came before us?" Isn't that nice?

But a lot of it is just change. Is the wide availability of a smart phone progress? Sure, you can make that argument. Is the wide availability of the 8th generation of Samsung Smart Phones, now slightly larger, slightly more waterproof and slightly faster, progress? I guess by the strict definition it is, or is it just fashion? And does fashion progress or does it just change?

Regardless, I'm not interested in talking about smart phones. My point is that not all change is necessarily progress. Sometimes change is just change, not good, not bad, just different.

Media, publishing and distribution is changing. Everywhere around us, the main stream is embracing genre fiction and, in particular, sci-fi and fantasy are big money and broadly accepted by our culture. Comics aren't just for children, any more. And how about TV? There's a booming industry. For over a decade, seeminly trapped in a stasis of reality TV and talent shows, suddenly TV is high quality entertainment, telling stories that the big screen never could.

Is any of this progress? Does this better humanity? Probably not in any big way. Mostly it's just change, I think. But not the kind of change I want to talk about.

You know what I love? Robin Hoob: Men In Tights, the Mel Brooks Robin Hood parody film. Actually, I'm a big fan of parody, in general. Flying High? (Airplane, for you yanks) An amazing film. Weird Al? Can't get enough.

There was a glut of parody films for a while, movies like Meet The Spartans and the Scary Movie franchise. It seemed like we had a new one every six months. Alas, they all kind of sucked... A lot. Since then, it's been quiet on the parody front, hasn't it?

Or has it?

You know what else I love? YouTube. If you think the world of parody is quiet or dying, take a look at YouTube and rest assured parody is thriving. Parody music and parody films are in no short supply and they are as varied as the stars. Even Weird Al has lamented that, through the studio system, he cannot keep pace with parody artists on YouTube.

Change. That's what it is. That's what we're seeing in media.

I'm not a film maker or a musician, but I am a writer and the world of publishing is changing. The Internet has given new vigor to the community of independent publishers. More authors than ever are becoming their own publishers as well as writers, using the internet the distribute digital and print books in every genre and in every style. It's a change happening now and happening fast.

But that's still not what I want to talk about. We know the change is happening. Pointing at it like it's a new thing, now, is redundant. "Keep up, Carl. This is old news!"

No, I don't want to talk about writers and publishers and change and the internet and indies and traditional publishing houses and literary agents. At least, I don't want to talk about it on this basic level of mere acknowledgement.

I want to talk about people. Mostly I want to talk about writers, writers who often believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have the biggest stake in the game and that all this change has the biggest impact on them. If you're in the know, as it were, if you're part of the industry and community of writing and publishing, you may have noticed something odd, something a little weird, something that's actually kind of concerning.

I have.

I've noticed that some people, especially authors on either side of the taditional/indie line talk about all this change like it's a war or a bloody revolt, upheaving society at its foundations. Really? Is that how we want to view this change? Is that what this is? Are indies freedom fighters struggling to liberate books from oppressive gate keepers? Are the traditional publishers maintaining order and ensuring quality for the betterment of society, keeping back the wave of poor writing even in the face of a smear campaign by bitter rejected authors? Is this the change we're seeing?

I don't think so, and it concerns me that some people do. Don't get me wrong, there is change in the air. There's change in all facets of life here in the 21st century... But it's not a huge change. As it happens, there have always been authors who publish independently. Before there was Kindle, indie authors used personal websites, before the internet, authors sold their books by hand, paying for printing then carrying them about in boxes to local markets. The size of the pie for indie publishers has perhaps gotten bigger, but it's not like they had no pie before.

And what does this mean for the traditional houses? Well maybe it'll hit them in their back pocket, maybe it'll shrink their bottom line. Maybe it won't. Maybe the book market will struggle against the same external rivals it always has: Radio, cinema, television, sport. I don't have the data, I'm not an economist, and I'm not psychic.

But I'll still make a prediction.

I predict the big publishers and the small press are not going anywhere. I predict the ones that are big enough to weather the storm will survive and the ones who are flexible enough to bend with the wind will survive and the others? Well, they were probably always living on borrowed time. Sorry. Capitalism is a Darwinist bitch.

Things are changing, but probably not as much as you think. There also isn't a war over the soul of publishing and literature going on. Traditional and indie publishers have co-existed since the birth of the industry. As it happens, there is room for both, and both can even thrive.

Indie authors aren't the worst writers, rejected by every publishing house and literary agent on the planet, bringing about the death of literature as we know it with their storm of unedited, thinly veiled fan fiction. I should know, I'm a reasonably well reviewed indie author.

Publishing houses aren't run by fu manchu with the sole purpose of exploiting the struggling sensitive artists, squeezing every cent out of them that they can before tossing the scraps to wolves to make space for the next generation of suckers begging for validation. I should know, I've been traditionally published and I'll gladly go back for more.

The world just isn't that simple.

But one thing is for sure: Everybody, be they agent, editor, author, cover artist, marketer, or what-have-you, we're just trying to get books (in whatever shape they take) into the hands of readers. We'd really like to make some money from it, too. You know, so we can keep eating and being alive long enough to make another book.

And as soon as we smash capitalism, I'll be glad to give up the money part.

Until then, there's no war. We're all in this together and that means the very best road forward for us all is the one paved by cooperation and respect.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Don't Write pt 1

I've said it before and I will continue to say it into the future.

Writer's block doesn't exist.

Writer's block is a myth, a lie, a comforting fabrication. We writers like to discuss writer's block as though it's a disease - it strikes anybody, amateur and professional alike, at any time, in any place and we seek cures for it. How can we overcome writer's block and start writing? Or perhaps we just have to wait it out, like the common cold, until we can start work again. Just hope we don't end up like those poor souls who suffer writer's block for months, even years, on end.

Except none of it's true. There is no writer's block. It is, at best, a shared delusion and, at worst, an excuse to be lazy.

But I've said all this before. So let's say something different.

I don't get writer's block but sometimes I stop writing for long periods of time. There's plenty of reasons and I'm going to talk about a few of them, starting with the least worthy of reasons.

Television.

Fun fact: I stopped watching TV for a long time. Around the time Nickelodeon stopped making surreal, creative and interesting cartoons like Invader Zim, The Angry Beavers, and Kablam (except for Spongebob. Spongebob is still going and is the bomb) and began making sit-coms about pre-teens, TV lost its appeal to me. The nice thing about watching movies is that they can be consumed in 3 hours, tops, and then you're free to do other things. Movies are enjoyable bite sized entertainment for a relaxing afternoon.

But then something unusual happened. DC Comics decided to change its business model. It launched the New 52 line of crap comics, began planning a whole shared cinematic universe of awful movies and focused all its effort and quality on TV shows. They began by taking my favourite super hero, The Green Arrow, and giving him a hot new TV series that is in every way amazeballs (amazeballs is the industry term.)

I suddenly had a very good reason to watch TV again and while one TV show might be only 40 minutes, unlike movies, they just keep making more and soon you're watching 14 hours just to get to the end of the story.

I don't think anyone is upset that TV suddenly became good again, this decade, and there's now dozens of high quality serial dramas around and whether you like fantasy, sci-fi, politics, history, there's something for everyone on the idiot box.

And services like Netflix make it easier than ever to watch it all at once. It's easy as pie to lose a whole day binging on your favourite TV show about really sad cute guys with daddy issues trying to save the world.

Writing is work. It's fun work and I enjoy it, but it's also work and it can be hard and you can spend all day writing something, look over and say "Well that was crap" and feel defeated and then you find out The Flash is almost as great as Arrow and now you need to catch up on that.

So sometimes I don't feel like writing, I don't even want to write, I just want to watch more Arrow. Then I might run out of Arrow, sit down to write and I can't focus on writing because at the back of my mind I'm still thrilling over the season finale and I know that Legends of Tomorrow is probably just as great and I should give that a chance, too.

And that can sure feel like writer's block. That can feel like I can't write when, really, I don't want to write, I want to watch move TV and, folks, there's a lot of TV to watch.

Kevin Smith called this Writer's Laze and his poison of choice was Dora The Explorer.

Fortunately, TV is a pretty easy addiction to break. Even if you're not interested in breaking it, even if you still want to watch every new season of Supernatural (and why wouldn't you?) it's generally pretty easy to get away from a TV.

Want to write without the temptation of great serial drama to pull you away? Take your writing tools of choice - laptop, pen and paper, stone and chisel - and go to a park, a library, a cafe and get to work. I've done a lot of writing, some of my best writing, at my local library where the wifi is so slow even checking dictionairy.com is a pain and I'd rather write now and look up words later. It's not just an environment lacking easy distracting, it's an environment made for quiet work. It's also cheaper than a library.

I said that a crippling addiction to superhero TV shows is a poor reason not to write, but it's an honest reason. I have no doubt that many cases of Writer's Block are similarly a simple case of "I'd rather do this other fun thing today."

Not all of them, of course. There are far more sympathetic reasons writing might be difficult for you. They're still not this mystical unstoppable writer's block, but they are what we'll talk about next time...