I have a blogger I follow – Jim Wright. He writes amazing, funny, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking pieces for his blog, Stonekettle Station.
I can’t remember when my husband and I started reading his blog, but I was instantly addicted. I went back and read everything (and I do mean everything) that he’d posted on that blog prior to our discovery. It was easy to see the progression of his writing and the way he honed his skill and developed his own voice in following those early posts through to the most current ones. He has a great voice.
He has made us laugh out loud. He has made us cry. He has made us angry. He has made us think.
One of the things I appreciate the most about Mr. Wright is his habit of stopping to think himself. When something big happens – like the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy – he doesn’t leap to the keyboard to spew out his in-the-moment thoughts. Several days go by, sometimes more than several, while he considers the situation and what he wants to say about it. What he should say about it.
The result is not always calm, but it is always reasoned. Always.
I don’t always agree with everything he has to say, but I respect what he says and how he says it. It is rare these days to find someone who thinks before they post on the internet, and who can explain their position without sounding like a grade-school bully doing it.
I have eagerly anticipated each new post, and my husband and I always race to ask, “Have you read the new Stonekettle?” We read them to each other, and we share links to them without reservation.
And now, he’s going dark.
Not because he doesn’t have anything to say – I don’t believe that will ever happen.
He’s going dark because people suck.
And I’m really, really angry.
No. Please understand.
I’m so angry that my fingers shake on the keyboard. I’m so angry that I’m having some difficulty wrangling the words in my head into some kind of order.
Jim Wright wrote a post called, “Absolutely Nothing.” It was awesome, and it went viral. That, in and of itself, wasn’t all that remarkable. He’s had other posts that have done the same – his writing speaks to people and for people and they are compelled to share that.
Then something happened that was remarkable, and not in a good way.
I don’t know the exact order of what happened when, and honestly I don’t care, so I’ll just lay out what I know without regard to a specific timeline.
Someone took his face (available on his blog and his Facebook page), and a particularly wonderful quote from the piece, and turned it into a meme. I say it was a particularly wonderful quote because I used it as the comment when I shared the link to his website and the full post on my Facebook page.
Apparently that’s happened before, although I haven’t seen it. I can see how someone would do that, thinking there’s no harm in it. But having seen the meme now, I can honestly say it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It makes a big deal out of Jim Wright’s veteran status, and absolutely fails to link to his website. It feels a lot like it’s using him for someone else’s agenda, and whether or not that agenda is in line with his, I can see how that would rankle. I know that I wouldn’t like it much.
But the real shit came from two people I’d never heard of: Mike Malloy and Stephanie Miller.
They are, apparently, talk radio hosts. Which is probably why I’d never heard of them. I detest talk radio of any ilk, and political talk radio worst of all.
These two are purported to be “progressive” shows. In looking at their websites, and the general information available on the internet, I would judge them to be the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or any of the other denizens of this murky pursuit. Specifically – eager to express the most extreme point of view on their end of the spectrum with the sole apparent goal being to stir up the audience. Truth is optional, entertainment is king.
These two really liked Jim Wright’s post. In fact, they liked it so much they decided to read it on air. Then entire thing. Not a quote. Not a line or two. Not a few tidbits with a recommendation that listeners (who pay to subscribe to their shows, by the way), head on over to Mr. Wright’s website to read the rest for themselves.
Now, there’s a concept that most people who create are aware of called “Fair Use.”
Basically (really, really basically), it means that there are rules for using what someone else has created. It protects the work that goes into writing, painting, composing, and all sorts of other creative endeavors.
But here’s the thing, Fair Use is not cut and dried. Here’s a quote from the U.S. Copyright Office:
The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. US Copyright Office
So yeah, they recognize that it’s going to be hard to know what someone can use under Fair Use, and what they can’t. And what do they recommend? Asking permission.
Well, hell. That’s kindergarten stuff right there! These people are professionals, they know this stuff backward and forward, so of course they asked for permission first, right?
No, actually they didn’t.
And when they were called on it, Mike Malloy – to use the local vernacular – showed his ass.
This was Mike Malloy’s professional response:
Well, I’ll be goddamned! I read your piece on the air because it appealed to me. I decided it might appeal to others. Big fucking mistake. I had no idea you are such a mercenary, greedy type. Wow. I had no idea you are such an amateur as to bitch when someone (me) gives you publicity. Make money off what you wrote? You have to be kidding. This is where your amateurishness is so apparent. In the first place, reading a piece on the air is considered “fair use.” And, um, how would I “make money?” As far as your web site and what it says there about “using” your “stuff”, sorry, but I’ve never been to your site. A friend emailed a link from Australia. Now, take your ugly, mercenary words and go back to wherever you came from. And, strong suggestion: Back off with your threats, especially on social media. You are leaving a very public and incriminating trail. Sue me? For reading something you wrote on the air? Un-fucking-believable! Sorry I rattled your cage, JIm. My mistake. Big time. Trust me on this: you just disappeared. – MM
Guess what? Reading the entire blog post on air, to paying subscribers? That’s not fair use. In fact, that’s just about as far from fair use as you can get, with or without acknowledging the source you got it from, and you could probably argue that since Mike Malloy didn’t bother giving anyone the link to the blog, he didn’t even do that much.
To make matters worse, there were whole drafts of people suggesting the Jim Wright should be grateful.
After all, it attracted attention to his blog, right? On my blog, this one right here, that might matter a bit. I don’t get a lot of page views as a rule. But Stonekettle? Stonekettle draws over 20k visits. A day. My blog has been up since 2011, and I have just over 20k page views total. Besides, I’m going to point out again that they didn’t actually direct anyone to the blog! No link, remember?
And then there’s the whole mercenary thing.
OK, that one goes right up my nose. Right. Up. My. Nose.
First of all, this is coming from people who are being paid, as far as I can tell, to do what they do. And yet they have a problem with someone else wanting to get paid for doing what they do. Double standard, anyone?
But beyond that, all they had to do was ask.
It’s possible they would have been told no. It’s possible they would have been told yes. But the bottom line is that it should have been the author’s choice. They took that choice away. They took someone else’s work and profited from it, without asking. Without offering any compensation.
There’s a word for that, and it’s not pretty.
So yeah, I’m mad. I’m mad because this great writer that I love reading is going dark because this was the last straw.
But I’m also mad because this could be me.
Not as much as I’d like, but I do write. I publish some of my short stories and other writings here on this blog. I’ve also taken a swim in the questionable waters of self-publishing, and sent a novel out onto the internet to be purchased by strangers and, I hope, enjoyed. I put a price on that novel, and by association, on my writing.
Some day I could get a call or e-mail or Facebook message from someone congratulating me on getting my short story published in the online magazine they subscribe to. To which I would respond, “WTF?!” having not submitted that short story to any publication, much less the one that published it, and not having received any request for permission to publish it.
Or maybe someone will happen on my blog and really like personal story I wrote – one of the more or less non-fiction ones – and decide to forward it to a friend of theirs, who forwards it to a friend of theirs…and so on until it reaches a religious nutjob televangelist who reads it on air, with my name, in support of some asinine point they’re trying to make.
Maybe I don’t like the sketchy publication that randomly decided to pick my story. Maybe I’m appalled at the idea that my name and story are now associated with some slimy televangelist.
But according to an awful lot of people, I’m supposed to shut up about it. I’m supposed to be thankful that I was noticed.
I’m not supposed to want to get paid for the work I do.
Writing is work. Even a piece of flash fiction, written in mere minutes, carries the weight of years of writing with it. Years of viciously critiquing your work. Years of picking apart sentence structure and word usage. Years of trial and error while you find your stride. Years of learning the rule of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting.
Not everyone can do it. Trust me, I spent some very long years working for a small publisher. You know those horrible auditions for “American Idol” that they love showing? Now imagine that in writing form. That’s what I read, day in and day out, with only the very occasional ray of light from a truly talented writer. And honestly? Those usually turned out to be plagiarized.
How do you get your characters to talk? Are you going to use straight quotes or “smart” quotes? It makes a difference when you’re submitting to publishers, and when you’re trying to format your book for e-publishing. And how do you go about telling readers who is saying what? You can’t just tack on “he said, knowingly” (or whatever adverb you pick), to every single sentence. That’s boring. And really hard to read.
How do you describe the world your characters live in, without actually describing it. Some authors can get away with huge tracts of land devoted to nothing but description (I’m look at you, J.R.R. Tolkein), but those are the exceptions rather than the norm. But you have to give characters a place to stand.
Likewise, how do you explain your characters’ background and motivations, without having them just puke up tons of info for no apparent reason?
Creating anything, really creating it, is hard.
These days, it’s also massively under-appreciated.
I crochet, knit, sew, quilt, and do any number of other things that people like to call “crafty.” I’m good at what I choose to do, mostly because I choose to work at being good at it. I put the time in to learn the tricks and develop the specialized skills it takes to make an afghan that’s square instead of a trapezoid, for example.
And it used to be that those skills were valued.
People held on to heirloom quilts, kept them in cedar chests to protect them and hand them on saying, “Your great-great-grandmother made this for her wedding.” Mothers sought out women who could knit or crochet or sew to make those special baby items like christening gowns. And they paid for them.
Not now. I stopped selling the things I made. People didn’t appreciate the time and effort it took to make that beautiful afghan, or those tiny baby shoes, or that delicate beaded necklace, and they certainly weren’t worth paying for.
“I can get that at Wal Mart for six dollars.” Great, then get your redneck self right down there, I’m sure they’re waiting for you!
“That doesn’t look that hard, I bet I could make that myself.” Except you won’t. Because you don’t have the patience to learn the skills required, much less sit for hours on end to actually make it.
But wanting to be paid – for my writing, my afghans, whatever – makes me mercenary.
Wanting to be asked, wanting a choice in where my name and my work goes, makes me ungrateful.
That’s the lesson I’m taking away from Jim Wright’s experience.
There are people who don’t get that, who don’t understand why Mr. Wright is so pissed off. And I think I know why.
Because those people don’t create. They don’t create, out of their own skill and imagination, a product they actually believe in.
They’re not standing on the same ground, because they haven’t done or created anything that they believe, really believe, is worth anything. You’re not going to worry about someone stealing something that’s worthless, are you?
Jim Wright creates something that is valuable every time he writes, and Mike Malloy and the rest decided to steal it. He was assaulted and robbed, and then told to be thankful for it.
My response to that, and to Mike Malloy and Stephanie Miller?
FUCK YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON
I’m not interested in Jim Wright sitting down and shutting up. I’d rather he take a stand and go dark than to quietly acquiesce to this kind of bullying. Because next time it might be me. Or my friend AmyBeth. Or the guy I know who designs quilts. Or the young girl I know who aspires to be a great writer someday.
So yeah, AND the horse you rode in on.