The world around us is continually changing, but in few areas as strikingly so as in the world of publishing. One of the issues up in the air is the definition of what it means to be a professional writer.
I’ve met people for whom the definition of a professional writer or artist, musician or other creative, is someone who makes his or her living through that work. The Romance Writers of America defines its Pro writers as those seriously seeking publication (querying agents and publishers qualifies.)
I know people who make their living through a day job but devote themselves whole-heartedly to writing or art or music, who have established names for themselves and identify themselves by their artistic work. Their recognition may be in a limited arena and their monetary reward small, but as far as they are concerned, this is their life’s work and their contribution to human culture.
This article* came to my attention lately, telling how the Minnesota Department of Revenue is currently auditing Venus DeMars and Lynette Reini-Grandell, (subjects of the 2004 documentary “Venus of Mars,”) musicians who have achieved some recognition, tour regularly, and sell recordings. The auditors claim that these musicians are only hobbyists and their costs can’t be claimed as deductions because serious professional musicians would be doing more to make a profit. For instance, they should sign with major recording studios.
Seriously? When the big name publishers of music (and books) are becoming fewer and fewer? When it is increasingly difficult for any artist, no matter how talented, to win one of the limited niches offered in these limited venues? When more and more artists are reaching audiences through the internet, through small publishers, through crowd-funding, or independent publishing? When the whole model of how artists reach their audiences is in flux and no one knows what the future will bring? When books published by the Big Five have limited shelf lives and authors with back-lists can self publish and keep their works available forever? Who is to say where the most reasonable expectation of profit lies?
One of the many cool things about the internet is the opportunity it offers for all varieties of niche-interest artists (artisans, writers, musicians and creatives of all sorts) to connect with audiences who will appreciate their work.
Traditional media venues are looking for artistic products that will appeal to the widest audiences – and turn a profit despite the huge investment needed to produce and distribute hard-copy works on a national and international scale.
Major record producers will not put out albums of filk** songs. Big NY publishing houses won’t publish Brony poetry or Star Trek slash fiction. The audiences are too small, too specialized (even aside from copyright issues) – but the audiences exist, and it’s now possible to fulfill those creative inspirations and share them with the people who will appreciate the work.
As a creative-type myself, this last comes closest to my definition of what it means to be an artist. It’s much more about connecting the inspiring vision to the audience than it is about making a profit. Profit is nice. We all have expenses, and all want to know our work is valued, but creative work is about much more than that.
The vision some of us grew up with – of earning a living as a creative professional – may not be in the cards for those with small or specialized audiences – but if one can earn a living by other means, sometimes it’s enough just to have the audience that ‘gets it’ – that recognizes the special quality of one’s creative efforts.
As long as I’m doing creative work for an appreciative audience, I can be happy — even if it means I’m earning my living working some not-too-arduous part-time day job. My experience includes many temp jobs: clerical and customer service-type positions, as well as more creative gigs. I have no problem with doing honest, useful work for which I’m suited, as long as there’s room in my life for my creative work.
I don’t believe the practice of the arts is meant only for those in the tip of the creative iceberg who can find ways to make their livings exclusively through their artistic work. I believe it’s important for as many people who have a creative inspiration or vision as possible to fulfill these inspirations, and to find an audience for them.
Artistic careers can take many forms. Some artists can continue growing over time in craft and in appeal to broader audiences; some may find satisfaction in much smaller spheres.
There’s a place for work with broad appeal – even a national or worldwide forum – and there’s a place for smaller, more intimate creativity of specialized appeal in village- and family-sized forums. Some artists start with the small and move into broader arenas, others remain in the niche fitting their interests.
Artists, writers, musicians are professionals if they are making the effort to reach an audience appreciative enough to offer some financial reward. If the audience is small and/or has little reward to offer that does not lessen the seriousness of the artist’s effort.
Some people may believe that it doesn’t matter whether the ‘lesser’ artists ply their work, fulfill their inspirations or not. The reason I believe in its importance may sound starry –eyed and mystical – but I see the successful communication of many individuals’ inner visions as something that will make us wiser and better as a species.
Think of an iceberg: ninety percent lying below the surface. The greater the number of the ninety percent of unknown artists, the higher the ten percent rises above the ocean of obscurity.
Think of those mosaic-collage images in which many disparate photos are placed side-by-side like pixels in a larger image. Looked at from a distance, they create a larger image, one that may or may not be related to the smaller images comprising it. [Image]
[Image] Consider the work of every creative artist in the human community as a pixel in some vast meta-work, revealing to us the state and nature of the larger human soul – or the human portion of the world soul.
We learn from the arts what it means to be human, what matters, what is important enough to move us to action, or to tears, or to strive beyond hope.
The more of our creative-types who fulfill their work, the higher the resolution of the meta-image, the more clearly we can see, the more clearly we can understand, and the greater our wisdom – as a species. The profit here is not one to be measured in dollars.
**filk music is music specific to science-fiction & fantasy fandom
Naomi Stone’s latest release: ‘Spirited!’ from Champagne Books: [Image]
Thanks so much for having me here with the Roses of Prose today. I thought I’d talk about a lifelong interest of mine: Fairy Tales.
I’ve read a lot of fairy tales in my time. The complete collection of Lang’s colorful fairy books (‘The Red Fairy Book,’ ‘Blue Fairy Book,’ etc., through a spectrum of twelve colors) more than once. I’ve read ‘The Thousand Nights and a Night,’ both abridged and in the complete Burton translation, the Grimm Brothers collection, Hans Anderson and many lesser-known folklore collections from cultures as diverse as Gypsies and Polynesians. I’ve read modern retellings of the old tales, from Disney to Tanith Lee and read the articles of folklorists such as Terri Windling, Jane Yolen and.Jack Zipes.
Based on all this reading, I could enumerate countless examples (but will spare you) of fairy tales all leading to a happy ending in which the happy ending is thanks to the poor but good-hearted (simpleton, youngest son, shepherd, wood-cutter, etc.) winning the hand in marriage of the beautiful princess — or the beautiful, good-hearted (goose girl, orphan, youngest daughter of a peasant or merchant) winning the love and hand in marriage of a handsome prince.
The sheer prevalence of this trope tells me that there is a deep-seated longing in human hearts for an ideal match – for a mate combining physical attraction with social success (position, wealth and power). In days of old, fairy tales expressed and offered vicarious fulfillment for this longing – just as romance novels do today.
Fairy tales are the age-old root of modern romance. Fairy tales address a deep-seated human longing that still exists today. Fairy tales offered blatant, unapologetic wish-fulfillment in a world where life was harder than we can even imagine who live in a world with modern plumbing, electronics and health care.
But, in the evolution of fairy tales, a time came when fantasy and romance grew apart.
Romance eschewed magic for more realistic settings, with rational modern day men and women for heroes and heroines. Romance grew in its comprehension of what constitutes a happy ending. It taught us that there’s more to a hero than a princedom. That actual individuals are involved in marriages and their individual personalities and feelings offer challenges as mysterious as any found in a fairy tale quest.
Romance moved away from the realm of the fantastic and vice-versa. And while her followers might do so, Jane Austen did not write of zombies or eldritch monsters. If Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker did, well ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ were not romances. During the Age of Reason and for long since, Fantasy set aside Romance, pulled on its Grown Up Pants, embraced the machine age and gave birth to Science Fiction.
Both genres have grown and matured through the time they spent apart, but they have been coming back together in recent decades. At first, when romance and the fantastic met in modern times, romantic fantasy sneaks back in its horror-tinged vampire fangs and howls at the moon. Coolly logical SF often dismisses the happiness of two little people as not amounting to a hill of beans in this world with its larger, world-spanning concerns. Yet, story-telling has room for more than our limited genre-expectations can imagine, and all the old fairy tales are with us still, reminders of a natural affinity between romance and far-flung fantasies of magic and adventure.
Increasingly, modern writers such as myself seek to bring the best of both worlds together again. I’ve been pleased with reviews telling me that the romance in my stories doesn’t get in the way of readers coming from the world of science fiction, and that the science fiction elements don’t prevent romance readers from finding the fulfillment of a satisfying love story.
I’d like to ask your readers today to tell me about their favorite fairy tales as children, and whether they can still find something meaningful in the tale.
Tell us three things about you readers wouldn’t typically know.
1. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I figure I have some kind of adult ADHD – a friend calls it ‘shiny object syndrome,’ but it’s more than that for me, more than simple distraction. I become deeply fascinated with all sorts of different subjects. I will devote hundreds of hours to various arts and crafts – inventing a dozen different styles of beaded bookmarks, (I am a bookmark Geek!) turning a tattered paper parasol into a refurbished Steampunk lace parasol, painting a whole series of watercolors inspired by mudras (reading books and doing the research to learn about the mudras), etc. The dark side of this is the hundreds of hours spent building a kingdom in Castleville, or furbishing a house in SimsSocial.
2. I love to filk. For those who think that’s a typo, it did start life that way. Filking is the folk music of the science fiction fan community. Early science fiction writers and fans started a tradition of re-writing lyrics to familiar tunes – and some original tunes. Think: Crazy Al Yankovich. The tradition continues to this day with people gathering to share their songs at each others’ houses or at science fiction conventions. I participate in a monthly gathering and in song circles at our local conventions. The songs are written by a wide range of fans and authors. Our local group still sings songs written by golden-age writers Gordy Dickson and Poul Anderson many years ago. My favorites include such titles as ‘Cats in Zero-G’ and ‘Smaug the Magic Dragon.’
3. I once illustrated a complete coloring book inspired by a made-up religion based on worship of the Goddess Eris. In the early 1980s Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea wrote a set of books known as ‘The Illuminati Trilogy’ inspired by all the conspiracy theory letters they encountered while working as editors at Playboy Magazine. The books include plots by the Bavarian Illuminati, space aliens, and everything else one could think of, including a cult of Eris worshippers whose goal is to balance the principles of chaos and order. The Principia Discordia sets out a philosophy supporting silly and creative disorder as a counterpoint to excessive, stifling degrees of control. My coloring book illustrates these principles and Discordian Catma such as ‘The conclusion you jump to may be your own’ and ‘Is the thought of a unicorn a real thought?’
Below is an excerpt from my upcoming interview with Calisa Rhose on Friday, April 12th at http://calisarhose.wordpress.com
It all began when…
Two seeds of thought came together and gave birth to an idea. The first seed sprouted when I learned about certain Harlequin guidelines requiring that the hero of a romance must be at least a millionaire.
I was out of work at the time and going through a very difficult period of life, facing bankruptcy and foreclosure on my home. I had problems that could be solved by money, so yes it would be wonderful if some multi-millionaire fell in love with me. I should be able to build a wish-fulfillment story about that … but, something in me rebelled at the thought. The second seed sprouted from my feminist/science-fiction fan sensibilities. I didn’t want my problems solved by some rich man. And, while I was dreaming, why stop at the problems money could solve? Why not dream bigger? What I wanted was magical powers that would help me solve my own problems. If I had the kinds of power a magical djinni might have, I could turn lead into gold, cash it in, and solve the monetary problems – and I could create things not found in any store, help clean the air and water, provide food and housing for the homeless, cure diseases… the possibilities were endless.
Thinking about those possibilities inspired me to write about them. But where would my heroine acquire such magical powers? Okay, I’d go Harlequin one better with a hero possessing vast magical powers. My heroine would encounter a djinni who would fall in love with her. He’d make sure she had the powers to take care of herself, whether she liked it or not.