Monthly Archives: October 2015

Pay the Artists

This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for a while and I keep putting it off because I know it will make me sound more than a little grumpy, but today’s the day. I suppose I have been slightly triggered off by the closing of an opera company in Ottawa last week. I made the mistake of reading the comments (forgetting what is perhaps the most essential rule of the internet), many of which predictably said that it was the company’s own fault for setting ticket prices too high, that art isn’t a priority for people right now, and that if artists want an audience they should offer their work for free.

This is all nonsense.

We are a society that loves art. I suspect this is true world-wide, but I’ll stick with Western society for today. We love it to the extent that it is very rare to find a person who doesn’t appreciate it, at all. Really. Try and think of someone you know who doesn’t like any movies or television shows, doesn’t enjoy any music, does not have any pictures they like to have up around their home or as the background on their computer or phone, and never reads any stories. If you like even one of those things, you like art. (I left out sculpture, going to the theatre and probably some others.) This is (obviously) not to say that everyone likes every kind of art, or that we like all kinds of art equally, but as a society, we don’t just like art. We love it.

We play our music (different kinds, sure) all over the place and throughout the day. We put up images in almost every space we move through and occupy. We are storytellers and lovers of story; currently television is probably our most popular way to experience them, but that doesn’t change the basic truth that we make stories an important part of our lives as well – Appointment Television – as the immense success of Game of Thrones and Walking Dead easily attest. So let’s set aside the idea that art isn’t important to us. Demonstrably, palpably not the case.

Our problem is that we don’t then seem to want to support the people who create all these things. Put bluntly, we don’t want to pay the artists. Yes, of course, there are musicians and actors and writers who are stupendously wealthy. However, if you spend a little time speaking with people in artistic fields, you will quickly learn that it is Bloody Difficult. It’s extraordinarily hard to make a living, or part of a living, from art. It is really a rare few who are able to support themselves entirely from their art, and thus devote themselves to it completely. Most artists do one or several other jobs to support themselves, and then get the art in where they can.

Many people will now be thinking that this is the expectation, and you’re right that it is. The ‘starving artist’ is a cliche, and one that we tend to laugh at. There are endless jokes about waiters and actors. We seem to regard it as basically fine that if you want to be an artist, you will probably be poor and probably have to do other things to pay the rent. In the popular mind, it’s part of the gig, this despite our love of art noted above. (You would think, given our love of art, that we would cherish our artists and support them lavishly. Not how it seems to work out.)

We don’t do this with other professions, though. You don’t graduate from university with your MBA (remember that many artists have been to university and have one or several degrees in their field, and their craft) and then get told that the understanding is that you’ll work serving tables most of the time, squeezing in your business work between shifts and hoping to have an understanding boss, while you gain experience and hope to make your reputation. It isn’t expected that you will do a lot of it for free (for the exposure!) and put off making any money from your labour to some distant day. We don’t make jokes about the ‘starving biochemists’ just getting started in their field; absolutely, every trade has its ‘entry level’ and the expectation that you must work your way up, but not the expectation that you will do a whole other job to subsidize perhaps getting started in the work you want to do.

Artists do these things because they love their art. It is a great gift to create and (here I speak from experience) leaves one very sad to stop. They persist, as long as they do, in their craft because it is just that important to them, that they are willing to scramble around and find ways to Make It Work while still doing their art and expressing what is inside them. Of course, it brings them pleasure. It should bring them more than that.

The reason it is so difficult for people to make a living in art is, increasingly, that we don’t want to pay for it. We don’t want our tax money goes towards art (it is inevitably the first thing cut when a budget appears difficult to balance, and objections are usually minimal), and we are relentless in wanting to get our art for cheaper, and hopefully for free. Want a crowd? Lower ticket prices. Want someone to read your book? Put it up for free download on the internet. Both of those things will probably work, but leave unanswered the question of how these artists are supposed to support themselves in their craft.

Art does require work, constant work. Besides the actual creative process – whether that is learning a part, rehearsing your songs, or writing – you need time to practice and study your craft, to stay at a level where you can produce good work. You may need to do research, speak to other artists, and hopefully to your audience, too. Increasingly, you’ll need to spend some time promoting and marketing yourself as well. Of course you can do none of these things if the rent isn’t paid and there’s no food in the house, yet.

Many wonderful, creative people give up on their art because they just can’t afford to continue to support themselves in it; these are singers we will never hear and writers who we will never read. We love art, we want it to surround us and to consume it, but we’re reluctant at best to support the process by which that art reaches us.

Now there is, unquestionably, some level of market demand stuff going on and no, not everyone who likes to create is thereby instantly entitled to a living in the arts. As in any field there will be successes and failures, somewhat (although I suspect not as closely as we might think) tied to levels of skill and talent. So it goes, but I can’t help but feel that the pendulum has currently swung quite heavily against our creative people, in recent years. Our next great painter may be giving up on their craft because they need to work more hours to pay the bills. You may never hear your new favourite musician because they have no place to play and no way to be heard. Now, many people will say that if you give up, you just didn’t want it enough, but that’s the sort of thing that’s easy to say when one is not making that choice in the face of this month’s unpaid rent cheque.

Artists, ultimately, need to get paid. It isn’t being entitled to say, in our relentlessly capitalist society, that you should get at least a little compensation from the enjoyment something you created brings. Art does not need to be, and shouldn’t be, a road to instant riches. It shouldn’t, however, be one where the wolf is constantly at the door, either. The expectation that art should be free, especially a free download, is very common and seems to be growing. People seem increasingly to think that anyone expecting to earn anything at all, nevermind a living, from their art are fools and dreamers. If the government (any level) announces that it is spending money on art and culture, the accusations of waste are inevitable.

Meanwhile in Canada we live in a country that spent an immense amount of money on stealth snowmobiles (truly) and on advertising to remind us how grateful we should be for the things our government does (although that, I suppose, is a kind of art!) and yet the idea of spending to support artists in their work seems to gain little traction. Certainly there are different sizes of audience for different kinds of art and some kinds of artistic endeavour will not succeed. However, if we don’t support the creation of various kinds of art, how will people ever have a chance to discover it, and perhaps love it? Our forms of art are treasures, they are to me the very best of our cultures, and we owe it to future generations (as well as our own love of art) to keep them alive.

That only happens if we pay the artists. If you have art that you enjoy having in your life, support an artist if you can.

(I realize that this is all quite self-serving, given that I am a writer who has work for sale. I recognize my own self interest, here, but I also know that I love many kinds of art, am fortunate to know artists and to cherish them and their work, and so believe very strongly in supporting their work as I can.)

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On a less crotchety note, this past weekend we did the official launch of The King in Darkness at a wonderful event which also cracked bottles of champagne (not literally) over 3 other new titles from my publishers at Renaissance Press, and then one more from my friend S.M. Carrière. It was a lovely, energetic afternoon full of the love of writing and it certainly stoked the fires to Write More. Thank you to my new friend Kevin Johns for taking this picture of four scribblers at the end of a good, good day.

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And now, Can-Con approaches! There is still time to register, if you haven’t, and come to see an amazing array of panelists talk about all sorts of SFF-related topics, participate in a workshop, and meet other fans and creators of amazing fiction. I will be on three panels through the weekend and I’m quite excited to see what that will be like.

Renaissance Press will be selling the full line of their products (including mine!) in the vendor’s room, which is open to the public, so you can come in and buy some books without having to register, if that’s what you want to do, although it seems a shame. I will be at the Renaissance table at least some of the time, although I don’t yet know precisely when. I’ll update here, and on my Facebook page once I do. It should be another exciting weekend and I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

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Cities

Several times this summer, when I was out for a run, I caught myself thinking ‘wow, my city is beautiful’, or something similar. Yesterday, on my way to go and vote, on a carpet of autumn leaves, in a park full of glorious trees (including some pines that always make me smile), even though the beach is deserted (both by people and ducks) for the season, I found myself thinking it again. So I guess Ottawa is ‘my city’, now.

I’m not exactly sure when that happened, but I’ve lived places where it hasn’t. I grew up near Toronto, and it has never been my city. It was always a place to visit, it was never home. Even when I (very briefly) lived there, the city and I both knew it was temporary. When I’ve returned over the years, it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘going back’ anywhere. I’m a visitor. In Windsor, where I studied for four years, I met people I treasure, made precious memories, and never felt for a moment that this was ‘my’ place.

On the other hand, York, where I lived for a year, did feel like my city. I was probably predisposed to fall in love with it, thick with history and medieval buildings as it is, but I really came to feel at home with the wonderful people that I met and the whole feel of the place. I never got tired of my walk to school up Walmgate, and then Petergate, or sitting by the river that has flowed forever through this place with old, old bones. I know, from one return visit, that it is so, so different from when I was there, but I also know that York will always, on some level, be the same, and it will always feel at least a little like home.

Montreal never felt like my city, even though I lived there nine years, and I’m not sure why. I really did (and do) like the place, I met wonderful people, ate amazing food, and had some fantastic times. I was even, after years of being a Montreal Canadiens fan in enemy country, cheering for the home team. I never felt like I belonged to it, or it to me, though.

And now I guess Ottawa is different, and again I’m not sure why. I do love a lot about the city, but I won’t bore you by writing a panegyric to this curious little place that is, somehow, Canada’s capital city. This whole thing has gotten me wondering why it is that we get attached to some places, and not to others. I suppose some of it may be the people we associate with them, although I met friends who are so important to me in Montreal, and Windsor, and Toronto, and none of them were home.

It’s a bit of a mystery, and it’s one I’d like to have the solution to, because (I guess obviously) being able to convey that sense of connection as a writer is an important thing. The setting of Ottawa is very important to The King in Darkness, and I hope I have conveyed a sense of the city reasonably well. The next book, that I am working busily on, takes place elsewhere, which means a whole new setting that at least some of my characters need to feel connected to.

It’s something I’ll continue to ponder, I guess, but I note that a lot of stories that really resonate with me give a really palpable sense of their settings. To reach way, way back, the Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved can really make you feel what Victorian London was like. More recently, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper quivers with the thick sense of Brooklyn that it conveys. Interestingly, in neither case do I know what the place is really like, but I feel like I do, from reading the stories. Maybe that’s the trick; finding the right words to make your reader feel as though they’ve been to a place and know the place, even when they haven’t.

That’s all a bit rambly, and introspective. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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A couple of updates: This Sunday is the official launch party for The King in Darkness, along with 3 other Renaissance Press titles and the new work from another Ottawa author, S.M. Carriere. I will be doing a reading from my book (as will all the other authors) and it promises to be a fun afternoon. Details are here, and it would be a delight to see you there, if you can make it.

Can-Con has also confirmed its schedule and I will be on three different panels, which is very exciting! I’ll be discussing what I’ve been reading lately in SF, talking about Portraying the Past in fiction, and then also about medieval armaments and transportation, all of which should be great discussions. The whole convention is a great deal of fun for both writers of SFF and fans of the genre(s); you should definitely come.

It’s looking good that I will be at PopExpo in November, as well, but details are still firming up there.

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Autumn Days

No matter what the calendar says, it’s pretty clearly autumn, now. The leaves are well along changing colour, it’s cool and crisp in the mornings, and here in Canada, we just did Thanksgiving. If you were desperately trying to cling on to summer, I think it’s time to give up. Not me, though. Autumn is perhaps my favourite time of year, rivalled only by spring, when it is also warm without being scorching and the world is also in transition.

I suppose it always is. A lot of times we like the illusion of stability, but really change is constantly going on, in the climate, in ourselves, in the people around us. It’s just particularly noticeable at this time of year because things are changing colour and birds are heading south. Although the meanings we assign to things like this are largely arbitrary (why can’t autumn be the beginning of winter instead of the end of summer, as we usually see it?), it’s hard (in this culture, anyway) not to do at least a little taking of stock at this time of year.

A lot has happened this past season or so, some things not so good and others pretty exciting. I’ve gotten to change from being an unpublished writer to a published one – that’s one of the big ones. Hopefully I’m also on my way towards changing into a professional writer, as well. By that I don’t mean one who gets paid (although that would certainly be nice), but knowing how to do all the parts of the trade that take you from pursuing art as a hobby to art as a craft. I need to learn a lot more about marketing, self-promotion, and networking usefully. I keep being reminded that there’s a lot to being a writer beyond the writing part.

So that’s the change that’s mostly on my mind at the moment, as the seasons shift. We often like the illusion of stability because it feels safe, and things changing can be uncertain. We may like the way things are, and in any case, if things stay the same, at least we know what to expect. Who knows what might happen if things change? Sometimes that uncertainty is positive, though. Change is good. I have more changes I look forward to in the months to come, and no doubt some unplanned ones will make things interesting. By and large, it can’t be avoided and so there isn’t a lot of sense in worrying about it. For now, I shall try to just enjoy the autumn.

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Some exciting news this week: I got confirmation that not only will I be attending the upcoming Can-Con speculative fiction conference in Ottawa from October 30 through November 1st, and not only will I be spending some time at the Renaissance Press booth hanging out signing books, I will also be on a couple of panels! This will be my first time on the panel (outside of an academic setting) so this should be super fun and I’m really looking forward to it.

Can-Con has a great looking lineup of panelists that you can check out here, and read up on the con overall here. There’s still time to register, if you haven’t, Ottawa is awesome this time of year, and I’d love to see you there!

Even if you don’t have time to attend the con, the vendor room is open to the public, so you can get a copy of The King in Darkness – and all of the Renaissance Press titles, and whole stack of other Canadian SFF loot – that weekend anyway!

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Action That Day

Good morning. I’m going to do something I don’t usually do on the blog today and talk a little bit about politics. I know people don’t come here for political discussion, and I have no intention of turning this into a place for political wrangling, but bear with me this one time, especially if you live in Canada. We’re just under two weeks out from the federal election on October 19th. I’m going to make use of whatever size of soapbox this blog gives me today to encourage you in the strongest terms possible to get out and vote.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for; if you know me, you probably already know who I think you should vote for, and if you don’t know me, I don’t imagine you care who I think you should vote for. In any case, I think you should figure this out for yourself. I am going to tell you to vote, though.

Lots of people argue that it doesn’t matter if they vote or not. This is incredibly untrue. In the 2011 election, over 9 million Canadians didn’t vote. That meant that the current government won a majority government – letting them essentially do whatever they wanted for the next 4 years – with the support of less than 25% of eligible voters. Whether you’re happy with what they did or not, the numbers paint a fairly clear picture; there is a tremendous difference waiting to be made by people who did not vote in the last election. They could change the picture completely.

Sure, millions of other people will vote and your single vote doesn’t look like much in that context. That’s what democracy is, though, and every result in the election is nothing more than the adding up of all those single votes. You may argue you don’t have much power on election day, but you have exactly the same amount of power every other voter has. A glance at history shows that ordinary people voting brought in such mammoth changes as women’s suffrage, the minimum wage, health care, laws protecting the environment, and on and on the list goes. Elections have transformed our society, perhaps not always as quickly as we might prefer, but the changes are undeniable.

Some people will say that they don’t vote because politics doesn’t affect them. It’s very clear that this is not true either. The government decides many things that affect us every day; how much tax you’ll pay, what benefits may or may not be there when you need them, what rules businesses have to play by, what the rules of our society are going to be. To make even a somewhat meaningful list would have me writing the rest of the day. In fact, I guarantee that whatever issue is closest to your heart is affected to some degree by the decisions the government makes. This election is your chance to weigh in.

A lot of people will then say they don’t vote because the parties are all the same. This is demonstrably not the case; if you spend even a little bit of time looking at their positions on various issues, you’ll see very different points of view. Now, that’s not to say that there will necessarily be a party promoting the point of view you like the best, and perhaps it’s even less likely that you’ll find a party that you agree with on every issue. That can be frustrating and disheartening. I think it’s still important, if you have even one issue that you care about and think is important, to do a little research and find the option that you like the best, or (in the worst-case scenario) the alternative you dislike the least. You may rest assured that lots of other people will be making a choice, and if you don’t vote, those issues you think are important will be decided by opinions that don’t include yours.

One of the interesting things that I came to understand about young people from my teaching experience is that young Canadians care passionately about many issues: the environment, equal rights, and ethics in the economy being prominent among these. At the same time, they’re not interested in politics and tend not to think that voting is the right way to promote the agendas they believe in. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a terrible miscalculation. Absolutely there are other forms of activism, many of which did not really exist back in the Precambrian Era of my youth. Many of them can be effective. However, that doesn’t seem to me to be any reason to abdicate another way to have your voice heard, by choosing a party that most closely aligns with your beliefs and casting your ballot in their support.

You can go further and engage with politicians and ask them to support the ideas you believe in, but even if you don’t go that far, your vote is a chance to push Canada’s government (which does decide a great many things) in the direction you’d like it to go. Many people say that politicians don’t listen or speak to youth; although there is a lot being talked about in this election that seems to me directly relevant to younger Canadians, if you feel ignored, one way to get their attention is to show that young people are going to get out and vote. Even if you adopt the most cynical interpretation of politicians possible – that they’re ultimately self-serving and interested only in their own power – if you demonstrate that you’re key to obtaining or maintaining that power, they’re likely to help you out.

There is of course also the argument that there are people around the world who are willing to die for the right to do something that many Canadians can’t be bothered with. It sounds a bit overwrought and dramatic, but it is actually true. It doesn’t seem like a significant amount of power to us, and arguably it isn’t, except when you don’t have even that. We do have some opportunity to hold our government accountable and influence the direction it will take. It was an immense struggle to obtain that right, and I don’t believe we should take it lightly.

I suppose my most basic reason why I think people should vote is this: You don’t get asked what you think about all the issues that affect us and our nation and our place in the world very often. Most of the time, especially when we have a majority government in power, the mechanisms of government grind away, relatively heedless of voices from outside the great sausage factory of legislative authority. However you evaluate this one time when you do get asked, it seems to me a terrible shame to throw it away.

Please vote in your next election, wherever you are. Here in Canada, it’s quite soon. All the indications are that this is a pretty significant one. Don’t lose your chance to be one of the opinions that gets heard.

(If you haven’t yet received your voting card from Elections Canada in the mail, now is the time to go to the Elections Canada office nearest you and make sure you are registered to vote!)

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Ok, no more politics for a while, I promise.

I ha a great time at the Ottawa Geek Market on the weekend and, as a result, am looking forward to upcoming events even more! I will be at the Can-Con SFF convention at the end of the month (details to come) and at Ottawa Pop Expo in November (details … also to come). And, of course, we’re now getting very close to the official launch party for The King in Darkness and four other great titles by local authors – details here if you missed them before.

Also, The King in Darkness is now available (in both e-book and paperback editions) direct from Renaissance Press for a lower price than you’ll get on Amazon right here. If you buy the book this way, you can still leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads to help boost signal about the book if you would like, and it’s much appreciated!

Amid all that, I am (I swear) finding time to write and I’m about halfway done the manuscript for what I hope will become the sequel to The King in Darkness. Much work to do.

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