With the release of my first short story, “Roadkill, ” there’s one important issue I feel the need to explain. It’s one thing that, when people find out about it, is always met with an intense uncertainty, unease, and even derision. The question on their minds is: why release a book (or any type of artwork for that matter) without copyright?

Currently I’m working on a longer post for this blog called “Why I Am a Free Culture Artist,” but that is a rather complex tale. Even the term “Free Culture” might not be one most people are familiar with. To explain it all, I’ll have to explain some of the background of copyright itself, because it’s such a frequently misunderstood and confusing concept. This will make for a rather lengthy post, and I want to create a version for those who might take one look at the longer post and say TL;DR. That shorter version is what you’re reading now.

So, you might wonder, why is my short story “Roadkill” in the public domain?

Why am I releasing it without copyright? Isn’t copyright a good thing?

I don’t think that it is, despite the conventional understanding of its supposed virtues.

“But aren’t you worried about plagiarism?” you ask.

Yes, but I don’t believe copyright will stop plagiarism. Others’ recognition of me as an author, and my work, will be much better deterrents to plagiarism. Whenever I see an act of plagiarism online of an artist I like, I feel moved to draw attention to it, to see that it doesn’t go unnoticed by other fans. See my comment on a crappy ripoff upload of a beloved public domain Hussalonia album. I hope others will do the same for me if I’m ever the victim of such nonsense.

Don’t I want to get paid?

Yes I do, but I still don’t think copyright is the way to go.

Here, then, are my reasons:

“Roadkill” is in the public domain because I want people to share it without worrying about me suing them or sending threatening cease-and-desist letters.

I want people to share “Roadkill” because the more it is shared, the more it puts my name out there, the more people are exposed to the story.

The more people become aware of it, the higher the chance is that those who enjoy it will willingly pay for a copy. Paying me for the story gives me incentive and support to write more stories, and to have more time to write stories, and if you like “Roadkill,” there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy other things I write. If I make much money from this release, and/or if I receive positive feedback, that’s much more inspiration for me to want to release more stories I’ve written and plan to write. Perhaps, in the future, I could even write full-time. You never know.

Releasing the story under the traditional copyright system locks the story away and discourages sharing. It increases the likelihood that the story will be doomed to obscurity. People aren’t going to stumble onto the title of my story in the database of the U.S. Copyright Office and suddenly feel compelled to seek it out and pay for it.

Even if someone copies “Roadkill” and sells copies themselves, there is incentive for them to share profits with me, as that will encourage me to write more stories that they can also sell. Readers will be encouraged to buy copies or derivative works that I release or that share profits with me, as it increases the likelihood that I will write more for them to enjoy.

The availability of free copies ensures access to the story for those who can’t pay, and who simply wouldn’t pay even if payment was mandatory. I don’t want to deny anyone access to my work just because they can’t afford it. If someone can pay, I hope they will, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to do so if they have problems making ends meet. Making a living is difficult and there are more important things to worry about than paying for books, so if that’s your situation, I don’t want you to worry about paying for mine.

I don’t believe anyone owes me anything up front for “Roadkill.” Nobody paid me to write this book. I wasn’t contracted to write it. It exists, and is available, and is easily copied, whether anyone pays for it or not. I don’t see how I have a right to demand payment of anyone for something they didn’t ask for, even if they enjoy it once it’s there. Copying is not theft, it’s copying, plain and simple. No one steals from me by making a copy of my story. It did take a lot of my own hard work for this story to exist, but so does a carpenter work hard to build a park bench; that doesn’t mean he’s owed money every time someone sits on it while passing by.

Even if I accept that copyright is a sensible and valid concept, in order to enforce it, I would most likely have to violate much more important rights (to things like privacy), bringing to mind such widely protested legal movements as SOPA. Even if I were to believe that I’m owed money for every single copy of my book that someone downloads, I can’t imagine feeling justified trying to police everyone’s computers, and likely relying on some horrible, invasive spying organization to do so.

I also want to focus on writing and creating valuable, worthwhile content; spending all my time tracking down cases of copyright infringement of my work would waste more time than it would be worth. It’s time better spent just writing more and making sure people know my work and where to find it, and how to pay me if they enjoy it.

Lastly, I want “Roadkill” to connect with people. I want to connect with the people who enjoy it. (Please leave a comment if you enjoy it!) I want it to inspire more creativity. I want to see it become an animated film, a radio play, a painting, a comic book, and countless other things. Time will tell if any of those things come to be (if you’re interested in collaborating with me on one, please, send me an email, I’d love to talk to you) but if the story were released with the pretense of copyright enforcement, they almost certainly wouldn’t. At least by releasing my story with the Creative Commons Zero Waiver (a.k.a. CC0), it has a chance to become something more.

If you think I’m naive, idealistic, or crazy, so be it. I don’t have any regrets. I just hope you enjoy the story.

“Roadkill” will be released October 1st, 2013. A print edition will be released on CreateSpace, along with eBook editions on Kindle, Smashwords, and other retailers. The free version will be released a short while later on TUEBL and the Internet Archive. For more information, check the “Roadkill – A Short Story” page on this blog.

Thank you for reading,

Leo

P.S.

For another blog post that even more succinctly sums up my feelings about copyright, check out Leo Babuta’s “Uncopyright” page on his blog Zen Habits. For more information about copyright law and why I don’t believe in its validity, check out the resources on QuestionCopyright.org.

P.P.S.

The cover for “Roadkill” was made by the wonderful Piti Yindee, creator of the Wuffle, the Big Nice Wolf web comic series. Piti’s views are similar to mine, and you can read his own explanation of why he uses CC0 and rejects copyright here. The “Roadkill” cover will also be released via CC0.

Finally, it’s here; I can hold it in my hands. A real, honest-to-goodness print edition of my short story  “Roadkill” finally exists. The proof copy is sitting next to me as I write this.

It’s a such a thin, frail little tome. Not surprising, of course; the story itself only spans the length of forty-three pages, six-by-nine in length. It’s a little wisp of a book, and to look at it you wouldn’t think of just how much effort went into it, how much insanity-inducing, teeth-grinding, hair-pulling effort. I can hardly believe the thing is actually finished. For a while (a long while) I wasn’t sure that it ever would be.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. It’s not QUITE finished. It’s just a formality at this point, however. I need to do one last check, one last time before I hit that magic button that says “approved.” Then, suddenly, anyone who might want it could order an actual, physical copy of this thing. They, too, could hold it, read it, write in the margins, the whole bit. Will they? Will anyone ever actually discover and buy this book? I have no idea, and to be honest, while I would love to find out that someone, somewhere eventually does buy a copy, at this point it’s quite enough for me that I finished it. I can let it rest.

What is “Roadkill” about, you ask? My intent here isn’t to tell you the story, you’ll have to read it for yourself. My intent here is to tell the story of how the story came about. Still, it would be helpful to have a little bit of description, wouldn’t it?

“Roadkill” is the story of four friends who go on a late-night fast food run. Perhaps that brings to mind some adolescent memories for you. What you might find less easy to relate to, however, is that the these four friends happen to be the anthropomorphic ghosts of recently deceased animals, the victims of violent, grisly deaths. Along the way they meet some sort of Fox-forest-spirit thing, some kind of Animal Control Officer-Grim Reaper-guy, and discover that their favorite fast food hamburgers might be the key to their very existence.

The story is filled with mystery, wonder, suspense, comedy, tragedy, rambling philosophical conversations (but it’s the amusing kind), death, and life. There are ghostly animals, pursued by a hooded figure who might be the Angel of Death! There is a forest that absorbs the memories of those who pass through it! The clock is ticking for our heroes, who could vanish from the earth by sunrise! There are late night snacks! Don’t miss it!

It covers a surprising amount of ground for only 15 chapters, really. “Roadkill” came about due to a mix of real life experiences (I’ll mention those a bit later) and my desire to tell a story that is at once direct in its confrontation of mystery and death, yet nonetheless upbeat about it. One might say it’s a story about faith, of a sort. There are no deus ex machinas, just characters who stand up in the face of who-knows-what and keep moving forward.  You’ll have a few laughs, and you might feel a little catharsis near the end. You might become a vegetarian. What’s not to like?

But now let’s get back to the story of how I wrote it. Let’s see, now, exactly how long has this book been in production?

The Road to Nowhere

The book has been nearly one year in the making, though the story itself was created over a year earlier than that. But let’s start in media res, shall we?

In November of 2012, I had turned a corner; I’d come to realize that I wasn’t feeling particularly fulfilled socially or creatively. I had spent the last several years pursuing a degree and feeling miserable about it from start to (incomplete) finish. Nothing about my school work felt authentic or meaningful and I didn’t feel I was learning much of value, with a few noteworthy exceptions. I was forced, in order to graduate, to take four classes that stressed me out so much that I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. For the average person, they would likely be nothing to worry about at all, but that’s anxiety for you. By August of last year I failed the mid-term of my second-to-last class (never having failed any class before) and, exasperated, gave up.

I had always told myself that once I finished college, I would devote as much time as possible to writing. I would, I thought, finally take advantage of the free time I hadn’t had in so long and create all the crazy, wonderful stories I’d dreamed up during countless dreary classes. However, I was horrified to realize that I couldn’t get the groove back. I’d got in a habit of viewing life as including only mindless work and mindless pastimes. My poison of choice was gaming; most of the time I wasn’t even having fun, I was just killing time. I couldn’t focus on writing anymore, I procrastinated at it just as I had done with school work. Years earlier, when I first started college, a classmate asked me about my major. When I replied that I wanted to major in Creative Writing, she warned me that by the end of it, I would hate writing. I was terrified that she had been right.

My writing projects last fall all began to feel dry and stale, being locked up alone with no one to read them, and me without any feedback on the stuff I was creating. I’ve long had that unfortunate, rookie-mistake tendency to not share something until I feel totally satisfied with it…and, as it usually happens, I end up not sharing much of anything. Combine that with my school-inspired procrastination habit and I tended to never get close to completion on any project, and even when I did, I never felt satisfied with it enough to want to release it. I’m only slowly recovering from this.

My birthday, though, last November, was a particularly contemplative one. I felt very alone and isolated and disconnected from people. I’d lost my job as a janitor, which I loved, when my place of employment went through a regime change of sorts. Everything felt dry and lifeless. The last time I could remember feeling really inspired on a novel-length writing project was in 2009, and the last time I felt really alive and challenged on a creative project was a short film my friends and I had made in 2008. I’d always wanted to work on movies, but I’ve just never had much patience for the complex organization involved. Writing had always seemed the most accessible way to be creative, and I tend to believe I’m pretty good at it (whenever I actually do it, that is). At the time, though, writing had lost its magic for me, and I wondered if it ever really had any, or if it was just something I told myself I enjoyed in order to have some kind of “productive” identity.

Strange Angels

Something had to change. There had to be a way, I thought, of snapping myself out of the slump. I found myself being inspired by three unlikely sources. The first was Zen Habits, the self-help blog by Leo Babuta. The second was my discovery of the videos of Shaye Saint John, surrealistic and unhinged works of either sublime art or utter trash (the best, most luscious kind; Happy Halloween, by the way). Lastly was none other than my childhood “television neighbor,” Fred “Mister” Rogers.

I can’t think of a more bizarre combination, but somehow it all made sense. I became obsessed with all three of these odd, creative personalities and their work. Things began to come into perspective. Zen Habits taught me to be unafraid to experiment and to enjoy the process of creating something without worrying about failure or end results. Shaye Saint John also taught me to be unafraid to experiment, even when the experiments involve things that no one else understands, like doing the Hand Thing, trying to make salad out of dead leaves, and a feeling of deep unease. Mister Rogers taught me to reconnect with my inner child, to try new things (see a pattern here?), and to take things slowly. All three seemed to be teaching variations of the same lessons, more or less, and they really hit home (even if Shaye’s lessons were a little…different, in form).

I signed up for an online voice acting class. It was something totally new to me, something I’d wanted to try for a long time, and something I’d always been encouraged to do. Of course, most of the encouragement was due to my ability to perform a few funny voices, and as any voice actor will tell you, that’s really not enough…you have to be able to, well, act, and acting is a great deal more difficult than funny voices. Still, I had no real expectations for how it would go and decided to just embrace the discomfort and the strangeness and see what happened.

The class was stressful but fun. Lucky for me it was an unusually small one, only three other students, so we all got plenty of face-time with our instructor, a prolific voice actor who does extensive work in anime dubbing (and who, funnily enough, appears in some of the very video games I wasted too much time with). I still have vivid memories of drinking chamomile tea during the break and watching clips of Shaye Saint John and Mister Rogers to calm myself down (yes, I watch Shaye Saint John to calm myself down). I get anxious all too easily, and it was difficult, but in the end I was glad I’d tried something new and felt some renewed energy.

When it was over, though, I felt like I was back at square one. I didn’t have any really promising opportunities for trying out more voice acting, and I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to pursue further anyway, at least not too seriously. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to pursue it as a career. Still, I needed some new way to connect with people, and I needed a creative outlet. Somewhere along the line it hit me that I needed to just release something, to get something out there. Writing had been my focus for most of my life, even if I’d lost some of that focus recently, and it was the best place I could think of to turn to. Yet I was still too burned out to consider writing a whole new story. That was the problem in the first place, after all; my major projects seemed too daunting and I was just too burnt out. The Zen Habits blog stressed the importance of starting small, taking tiny steps. What was the smallest step I could take?

The Road to Self-Publishing

That was when I remembered “Roadkill.” It was a script I’d written in spring 2011 for a screenwriting class. The idea first came to me during fall of 2010, due to three events: the real-life horror of watching a dog get hit by a car, nearly getting run off the road by a semi-truck myself, and seeing a long line of various dead animals by the roadside and thinking “I wonder if they talk to each other.” Despite few of my creative writing courses at university ever inspiring me much, it was that screenwriting class, which I took for my minor in film, that for a while had made me feel like a writer again. “Roadkill” was one of the most satisfying projects I’d worked on in recent memory. Unlike the aforementioned group film project, which had made me feel so alive, and my larger novel-length projects, I didn’t really think of “Roadkill” in usual terms. It was a different medium.

I wasn’t used to writing screenplays, and I doubt I’d have done it at all had it not been for that class. It was one of the few times I can credit my university experience for having a major positive impact on me creatively. “Roadkill” didn’t quite fit into either my video-making experience or my writing experience. I imagined it primarily as an animated film. Truth be told, I imagine most stories I write as movies first; this was only different because it was actually written as one. Exposition was understandably sparse; the story was nearly all dialogue.

Nonetheless, it seemed the best candidate for something to release publicly. It had great feedback during the screenwriting workshop. One fellow writer took me aside at the end of the last day of class and gave me some really positive comments about the story’s uniqueness and said it had been his favorite part of the class. What more can you ask for as a writer? Well, maybe this: another person had said that “It’s what would happen if “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” was written by David Lynch.” Both comments made me very, very happy. The class also offered a lot of helpful constructive criticism, too, so I didn’t feel so uncertain about it.

Besides the promising feedback, it was already finished; the story was already there, all that was needed was to reformat it into a short story. It was a story I was satisfied with and proud of. The dialogue was funny and flowed smoothly. The story was tight; due to having been written for a screenwriting course, the classic three-act structure was at the fore (even if I was a bit loose with it, and even if the premise is rather bizarre). Of course, it did occur to me that translating it so directly from script to short story would make it a rather dialogue-heavy piece of fiction, but I don’t really mind that if the dialogue is done well so I figured (hoped) that no one else would mind either. In the end, every single chapter of the story is exactly equivalent to each scene of the original script.

I set to work. From November through December, I went back to the original script. I copied most of the dialogue verbatim at first. I tweaked it. I added a few details, and expanded one or two scenes. I tweaked it again. Late in the process, I caught a minor plot hole (or at least a character inconsistency) and tweaked it again to fix that. I added exposition to balance the heavy emphasis on dialogue. I tweaked it some more, and then some more. Finally, I had a worthwhile rough draft.

Then it was time to edit. So I edited. I’ve never been very fond of editing my own work (in fact I usually kind of hate it) but I persevered. I got one edit done. Then another. I began sharing the edits with friends, including my long-time editor Franklin D. Lewis, who did a complete editing job for me, and for which I thank him immensely. Grammatical mistakes were caught and fixed. Spelling errors were repaired. Potential snags in the plot were revised. Sentences were punched up, things became a bit more brisk. It all started to take shape at last. I even ran the story by a friend of mine who studies microbiology, to check and see if the (potential) light science-fiction elements made any kind of general sense (apparently, they did, at least well enough).

By late January, it was all ready: all I had to do was format the thing as an eBook, and maybe a print-on-demand book, and I could say “Hey, I self-published a book!” The hard work was over, and the rest was simple, smooth-sailing, right? Say it with me now: WRONG!

If there is a Hell and it is designed to suit each person by surrounding them with what they hate the most, there’s a fair chance that mine would be filled with lots of book formatting. My naivety on this subject was immense; I had absolutely no idea how much work went into formatting. The idea of formatting an eBook, in particular, seems so simple; it seems like something you could do just by clicking a button in Microsoft Word. Once again, say it with me: WRONG!

Formatting the book turned out to be a labyrinthine maze of horrible crap. If you’ve never done it before, I’ll try and summarize it for you. Essentially, for an eBook, the formatting process involves keeping the text as plain as possible (no fancy fonts or any such thing, which isn’t so bad) and completely devoid of simple things you wouldn’t even give a thought to when writing normally. What “simple things” do I mean? For one thing, manual indentations are NOT ALLOWED. If you’ve hit the “tab” key at any point, you’ve committed one of the deadly eBook formatting sins. And God forbid you should, in your effort to properly format your book, miss something; if you mess something up and can’t identify what it was, you may have to “go nuclear” and start again from square one. Things like centering text require the set up of specific text styles, and even then, it might not work correctly in every format. It’s extremely easy to get lost; you have to save a new file after virtually every change you make, and Microsoft Word seems inclined to a lot of invisible shenanigans that are hard to identify. And don’t forget file conversion! That’s when you think you’ve fixed everything, only to look at the end result and discover a whole new set of mysterious problems.

I should probably qualify this by mentioning two things about myself: I can be a rather slow learner at times (quick to impatience and distraction) and I’m not all that tech-savvy. It’s entirely possible that someone who is quicker to learn, has more patience, or is simply more handy with these magical computer device thingies may not have nearly as difficult a time at book formatting as I did. Nonetheless, it was a special kind of grueling torture for me. There was a constant barrage of nigh-impossible-to-identify problems that were only solved by “going nuclear” and starting over again, and it seemed that even the simplest things were needlessly complex to do. There are those who format books for a fee, but I neither had the money nor desire to outsource; it was something I wanted to learn to do myself, even if I hated it. Boy, did I hate it.

Somehow, despite all the frustration, I eventually got it settled. First I decided to release it via Smashwords, due to their no-DRM policy and their willingness to include a “pay what you want” price option, which I’m fond of. Not only that, but their “Meatgrinder” software will convert your book into just about every major format imaginable and put your book up for sale on virtually every major bookseller’s site. Thankfully, the founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, created The Smashwords Style Guide, a incredibly helpful formatting eBook. My initial plan was a Smashwords-only release. Amazon’s Kindle store could help me reach a wider audience, but they include DRM in their eBooks and that I don’t care for.

However, I realized that fellow author, Free Culture advocate, and CC0 user Aelius Blythe released her books on Kindle. Her rationale was that even if DRM was part of Kindle, it would make more people aware of her work and its CC0 status. The DRM of Kindle, after all, doesn’t cancel out the non-DRM versions. This made a lot of sense to me, so I decided to do as she did. But Smashwords (as Mark Coker admits in the Style Guide, and kudos to him for his honesty) doesn’t work well with Amazon, apparently, and the Style Guide recommended authors actually bypass Smashwords for Kindle releases and upload directly to Kindle to avoid headaches.

So from there I had to create the MOBI file, the only format accepted by Kindle, using the free conversion software Calibre. While some of The Smashwords Style Guide was general formatting advice, a good deal of it (as you can imagine) is specific to Smashwords. So formatting for Kindle involved a lot of searching through author blogs, tech blogs, Youtube videos, and tons of other things looking for formatting guides that even remotely came close to the helpfulness of the Smashwords guide. There were a ton of new problems and frustrations. Eventually, though, it too was finished.

Then came the last major formatting hurdle, one I had put off. I had really, despite the book’s short length, hoped to create a print edition. While initially considering going eBook-only, I couldn’t shake the feeling that not doing a print edition would be too much of a disappointment. There’s just something particularly satisfying about having a physical copy of something you’ve created. After some research, I settled on Amazon’s CreateSpace service. Another painful round of formatting commenced, with many new problems (the words “widows” and “orphans” have new and even more painful meanings for me now). Yet, once again, eventually it somehow was finished. Formatting all three had taken roughly four months, from January through the end of April.

There was just one big problem left. The book needed a cover.

The Cover Story

My first thought was an artist friend of mine, the very talented Dane Eichinger, but for personal reasons he wasn’t taking commissions at the time. I tried a few artists on Fiverr ($5 per image was really all I could afford, having lost my job the previous fall). While some of them weren’t bad, none of them really captured the look I was hoping for and had tried to describe, and most didn’t look very professional.

There was one artist in particular who came to mind as a great candidate for the job: Piti Yindee, the creator of the Wuffle comic series, who I’d written about on this blog at the beginning of the year. Not only is Piti an incredibly talented artist, he also shares my rather unique views on copyright, a quality I wasn’t likely to find anywhere else. His comic series Wuffle is released with a CC0 Waiver, just as I planned “Roadkill” to be, and I imagined that he might be my only chance to have a CC0 book cover to go along with my CC0 book.

Piti had commented on my blog when I’d written the post about him, and replied to a tweet about it, but I’d never spoken to him before otherwise. I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t used to asking for help from someone I barely knew. I had to be upfront about the fact that I didn’t have much money, and wasn’t sure when or if I could pay for a commission, but assured him that if he was willing to help me out, I would do my best to pay him back; if nothing else, I figured I could help out by doing some kind of writing or editing work. I don’t like the thought of taking up so much of someone’s time and effort without being able to give something back, so I hoped my writing and editing skills could at least be of use…if, that is, he would be willing to help me at all.

To my delight, however, Piti proved to be a most friendly and generous person, and he was willing to help me despite my uncertain situation. I was, ultimately, able to pay him, too. I’m still blown away by his generosity and patience through the whole process (especially for putting up with my long-winded, rambling emails). I don’t think I could ever thank him enough for all of his help and support.

However, I contacted him at one of the busiest possible times: his Wuffle IndieGoGo campaign, which I’d written about months earlier, had finished, and he was extremely swamped dealing with his own book being formatted, printed, and shipped out. It would be a few months until his schedule was free enough that he was able to begin designing my cover. So the project was on hold throughout the summer; it was frustrating to have to wait even longer, but I felt very lucky that Piti had any time at all during the year to help me, so I counted my blessings and moved on, though “Roadkill” was always at the back of my mind. I experimented on new projects in the mean-time, and began another new longer-form series of a much larger scope.

Once August arrived, however, he set to work, sending me rough sketches and revisions along the way. It was a magical experience, seeing the cover take shape from the rough idea in my head to the final, polished form Piti created. It was in mid-September that the cover was, at long last, finished. And it was a beautiful thing. I’m still in awe of it. Once again, I can’t thank him enough.

Bringing “Roadkill” to Life at Last

That brings us back to the present. The beautiful cover Piti created adorns the first, printed proof copy, sitting here next to me. I can still hardly believe that it’s finally almost over, and I can hardly wait to share this strange little story I’ve written with you.

As things currently stand, “Roadkill” should be released first on CreateSpace, as a print-on-demand book, on October 1st, 2013, followed shortly after by the Kindle edition and Smashwords edition (and Smashwords’ various affiliated sites, like Barnes and Noble, and Kobo). Last but not least, it will be released on the Internet Archive, and of course, the beloved TUEBL. I wish I had a more definitive date for the various eBook releases, but as this is my first attempt at releasing a book, I’d rather be honest and vague than misleading. All I can say is that I will get them all released as soon after the print edition as possible, hopefully on the same day. The ideal, of course, is for a book to launch in all formats at the same time, but this is a one-man book launch operation, and that man happens to have no prior book launch experience, so hopefully fate (and potential readers) will be kind to me. I’ve done my best.

Looking Back Down the Road

As I finish up this little recollection of “Roadkill,” and the past year, I can’t help but wonder about what’s next. Once the book is released, what then?  I feel much like the characters of my story: tired, worn-out, uncertain, and yet strangely hopeful for the future, ready as I’ll ever be to face the unknown and secure in the knowledge that I’ve spent this time as best as I knew how. The last couple of years have been full of ups and downs. I’ve made some excellent friends along the way. I’ve felt lost. I’ve considered giving up writing for good. I’ve considered never releasing anything else once “Roadkill” is online, effectively retiring before I even really got started.

During the course of working on my book cover, Piti gave me the opportunity to become a proofreader on his Wuffle comic series, an opportunity I didn’t expect but couldn’t be more grateful for. Inspired by his kindness, and the dedication of other artist-and-author friends of mine, I started work on another series. I’m still not sure when or if I’ll release it publicly, but despite that uncertainty I feel better about writing than I have in a long time…too long a time. If nothing else, that makes me feel like releasing something new is more likely than not.

I suppose what I do next will, in part, be influenced by the reaction I get to “Roadkill.” I don’t have any expectations for it. It is, after all, a short story (or “novelette,” if you’re fancy), not a full-length novel. The strongest possibility seems to me that it won’t make much of an impact; it’s not a series, not something likely to build a fan base. I’m fine with that. What I really hope for is one or two kind words from a stranger who enjoys it. It may be short, but I really do think it’s a beautiful, strange little story.

I doubt I will rush into self-publishing something again, not to the same level of detail, anyway. I spent far more time formatting and polishing “Roadkill” than actually writing it, and I’d prefer to get back to simply writing. The next time I release something, if I do indeed release something else, I think I’ll just post it online first, likely right here on this blog. A friend of mine who writes fanfiction has inspired me to worry less about the polish and consider just sharing what I do, even the rough stuff.

Releasing even rough drafts would be a great way to focus on gaining feedback and finding readers who enjoy my work and want to return to it, and read more of it. It could be a great outlet for releasing a series, too, and the way things are going on my current project, there may be quite enough material to begin posting stuff soon if I decide that I want to. I’m even considering releasing it on a fanfiction site (though it’s mythology fanfiction, not popular-franchise fanfiction). It could also create a kind of collaborative process with readers, one that might make writing a little less lonely for me. What do you think? Feel free to comment.

Eyes on the Road Ahead

In my last “CC0 Heroes” post, I quoted Aelius Blythe’s description of the webfiction community, and it’s worth quoting again here: “…we happen to like the neighborhood. We say “Hell yeah!” to cheap fiction. We say it may not be worth $14.99 or $9.99 or even $5.99, but entertainment doesn’t need to have a price tag. And when it does, we’re likely to pass it by and go hang out on the porch steps of our crappy neighborhood for kicks.”

I love this idea. I think I might want to hang out in this neighborhood. If there’s one thing I learned during my little quarter-life crisis last fall, it’s the value of a good neighborhood. That value doesn’t come just from having good neighbors, but from being one. And good neighbors share. So I’ll share “Roadkill” for now and maybe I’ll have something else fun to share in the future. After all, isn’t that why I support Free Culture, and release my writing with CC0 in the first place? Isn’t that what Aelius, Piti, and every other artist who shares his or her work online (Free Culture or not) hopes to do? Sharing is caring, after all, and I hope more people realize that.

For now, though, I’m just going to enjoy this moment, enjoy the fact that finally, at long last, “Roadkill” is nearly finished. And I want to appreciate how far I’ve come in my writing practice, too.

After all this time, writing is fun again, something I look forward to doing rather than viewing as an obligation. Will it continue to be fun? I don’t know, but as long as it’s fun, and feels meaningful, I’ll keep at it. If it’s no longer fulfilling, I’ll see what else might be out there.

But for now, I’m going to keep writing.

I hope you’ll join me on the road ahead.

In my previous and first “CC0 Heroes” post back in January, I wrote about Thai artist Piti Yindee and his copyright-free web comic Wuffle, the Big Nice Wolf. Since then, I’m happy to report, his crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo was a huge success (it made over $7,500, way past the $3, 500 goal) and the book was finally printed and shipped out late this past summer. Having contributed to the campaign and received a signed copy myself, I can say that the end result was spectacular. It’s a delight to see such a polished, finished product from an artist using CC0. I was also able to get in touch with Piti after my blog post was released, and was given the chance to commission him to work on a project of mine…more on that in a future post! Not only that, but recently he graciously asked me to be the new proofreader of Wuffle, a job I absolutely love! Thank you, Piti!

There are other artists out there using CC0, however, even if there aren’t as many as I’d like there to be. I think it’s high time I profiled yet another one, and this entry into the “CC0 Heroes” series is none other than author and not-really-official TUEBL blogger Aelius Blythe!

I must confess that so far, I’ve only read one of Aelius’s books, though she’s released several. I intend to get caught up on her work in the upcoming months, but for now I’ll limit myself to a review of her short story collection, “Stories About Things,” and give a little bit of information about Aelius herself.

If you’re already interested in Free Culture, either in the form of creative works, activism, or both, then chances are you’ve heard of Aelius Blythe at some point already. (Heck, my last entry on this blog was a re-post of one of her Free Culture essays, one of my all-time favorite writings on the subject.) Her Twitter account, @CheapassFiction, is one of my favorite places to seek out news related to Free Culture and copyright nonsense (though be warned, it contains a lot of links to irritating, double-face-palm material…because a lot of copyright nonsense out there is very irritating). Her blog, Cheapass Fiction, is an excellent source of Free Culture info as well. (In fact, she gave a signal boost to my first “CC0 Heroes” post about Piti Yindee back in February! Thanks Aelius!)  Along with  QuestionCopyright.org, the CheapassFiction blog was one of the first places that really inspired me as my thinking on copyright shifted circa 2011/2012.

Originally serving as her personal blog for several years, she’s built up a lot of cool stuff there, including a brief collection of correspondences with publishers and authors who have attempted takedowns of their copyrighted works posts online. As she says on the page description, “My goal is to reach out to these authors, open a dialogue, show empathy, encourage an informed approach, and present “the other side.” I can’t imagine a nobler goal for a Free Culture advocate, can you? Too often debates of this kind tend to get very shout-y and one-sided, so it’s a relief to see someone simply reaching out to discuss these issues peacefully and with an appreciation for the “other side.” As someone who now has no real love for the idea of copyright at all, but who once was strongly in favor of it, I really appreciate Aelius’s attempts to reach out, especially with other authors.

Now, Cheapass Fiction is not only Aelius’s blog, but it also serves as the not-really-official “TUEBL Lovers’ blog,” with some extra resources added in specifically for those who use, or are curious about, TUEBL. What the heck is TUEBL, you ask? TUEBL stands for “The Ultimate eBook Library,” which is, as the name implies, a (non-profit) online library for eBooks of all kinds. Being a non-profit, and being a library, means that the eBooks within its virtual walls are all free. It’s a fantastic service, and anyone who loves Free Culture books (or just free books in general!) ought to check it out.

In addition to being one of the interweb’s best sources for Free Culture news, Aelius is a very nice person; I’ve spoken to Aelius via email a few times, and not only was she helpful when it came to my noob book formatting questions, it’s also nice to have someone who shares my grief over the CC0-unfriendly world of self-publishing. I’m sure that topic will surface in a future post here.

And in addition to being a very nice person, Aelius is also a pretty dedicated author. To date, she’s released three stand-alone short stories, including “Ask,” “Richard,” and “Ceasa,” two short story collections, including “World” and the afore-mentioned “Stories About Things,” and a novel, “Skyland: Abominations,” the first in what is to become a series. Recently, Aelius also released an “Extended Edition” of “Skyland: Abominations.” For those who have no idea what exactly this means, it’s a bit like the “Director’s Cut” of movies that are sometimes released. It features over 70 pages of material that expands the original story, created by lots of re-reading, note-taking, and note re-writing done by the author after the release of the original book, in preparation for writing the next entry in the series. It isn’t simply a bunch of cut scenes added back in, but the result of trying to create a richer, more detailed world for the stories to take place in…which I think is a pretty cool idea. For those interested, an autographed print copy is available here for purchase, and of course the eBook is free on TUEBL.

Another thing I love about Aelius’s blog is how much of it is dedicated to showing webfiction a little respect. Aelius views webfiction as its own creative subculture (sort of a sister-movement to the fanfiction world), one that rejects the view that only published fiction, fiction with a price tag, is worth reading. I love her description of it, so I’ll just share it with you here:

“Stories and novels on the internet that aren’t published through recognized commercial companies are often seen as cheap and worthless. WebFiction isn’t even allowed in the gutter of the literary scene. It’s the bad neighborhood down the street that the gutter runs into.

Well, we happen to like the neighborhood. We say “Hell yeah!” to cheap fiction. We say it may not be worth $14.99 or $9.99 or even $5.99, but entertainment doesn’t need to have a price tag. And when it does, we’re likely to pass it by and go hang out on the porch steps of our crappy neighborhood for kicks.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I’m very fond of this idea not just for the stick-it-to-the-man ethos, or for any pretense that one type of writing is more “real” than another or qualifies as “true art” versus another, or because one is a “sell-out” and another is not, but because the emphasis here is simply on community. I think that’s lacking too much these days regardless. I’m fairly new to the world of webfiction (and fanfiction, for that matter) but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s the perfect place for any writer and/or reader. It’s a community. A place with constructive criticism and positive feedback, and maybe, just maybe, a little less pretentiousness than you might find elsewhere.

Despite the internet’s (perhaps too often deserved) reputation as a perpetual hate machine, there are places where one can find its true potential being reached, where people are coming together over a shared love of things like writing, music, and art of all kinds. I recently began looking into the world of fanfiction thanks to a friend of mine who happens to be an avid fanfiction author, and despite, too, that particular subculture’s not-always-stellar reputation, I was very impressed by the mutually supportive atmosphere of the community. It’s a beautiful and all-too-rare thing.

So, now that I’ve covered some of Aelius’s accomplishments as an author and Free Culture firebrand, what, you might be wondering, do I actually think of her work? As previously stated, so far I’ve only read “Stories About Things,” so allow me to share with you a little review! For the record, I actually purchased the print-on-demand version, partly out of a desire to own an actual, physical book released via CC0 Waiver, and partly to see what I might be getting when I eventually release my own book via the CreateSpace service (not to mention that it’s always nice to support an indie author). I wasn’t disappointed!

“Stories About Things” is split into two sections: “Thought and Memory: things of this world,” and “Fairies and things: things of other worlds.” Needless to say, the first section is comprised primarily of realistic fiction, while the second half is comprised of fantasy fiction. I should say, before going any further, that I didn’t particularly dislike any of the stories…it was just that some “missed” in the sense that they went over my head and didn’t make much of an impression. Others, however, were definitely “hits,” the kind that leave an impression and won’t be easily forgotten.

I think the brevity of the collection is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness (even the introduction is incredibly brief, with the preface “Don’t worry, it’s short,” she ain’t kiddin’.). The stories that flew over my head were did so due to me feeling that I was missing something. I wasn’t sure if I really did miss something, or if I was just slow to comprehend what was going on, but I believe that regardless, the minimalist use of exposition caused my confusion. On the flip side, this same minimalist style is what made some stories so brilliant and rewarding to read. One of those stories was “Teacups,” the first in the collection.

“Teacups” is a very strong start, and I think that it is my favorite story of the entire book.  It’s a story about memory and loss, and it perfectly captures a certain mood I’ve felt many times but which I know no English word or phrase to describe. An old friend of mine used to call it the “after the party” feeling, the strange dissonance between the quietness of a place and its former activity and energy. To read a story that can capture this feeling so clearly and so beautifully, and in only about two and a half pages, is a rare delight.

“Time” is one of the stories in this collection that went right over my head. The tale of a scientist trying to master time travel, I understand the basics of what’s going on, but…I feel I’m missing something. Further, if I do understand it correctly, it seems this story borders on sci-fi…which of course isn’t the same thing as fantasy, but it certainly feels out of place among stories that are “things of this world.”

“The Name” could be considered dark comedy, I think. The story of a rather awkward funeral, it’s a bit slice-of-life, and it made me laugh in a way that made me feel a bit guilty for laughing. It wasn’t one of the stories that stands out in my memory, but it was nonetheless quite fun to read, and it felt strangely relatable, though hopefully I’m never actually in the situation it portrays.

“Maple Syrup” is one of the weirder stories, at least in the “things of this world” section of the book. This one is all “dark” and no “comedy,” making it a bit of mood whiplash after “The Name.” The premise, of a young man compulsively drinking maple syrup in order to remember the details of a traumatic past event, is pretty bizarre…and the names of the characters (Chi and Geo) make the story feel a bit like fantasy fiction rather than realistic fiction, even though there is nothing specifically fantastical about it. For all its quirkiness, “Maple Syrup” is one of the stand-out stories in the book; it’s a haunting, sad tale.

“The Swing” is a bit similar, thematically, to “Teacups.” For whatever reason, though, it doesn’t stand out to me as much. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy reading it; much like “Teacups,” it captures perfectly that dissonance one feels when standing in a single place, but torn between two very different places in time. It may not be one of the stories I remember as easily when I think back on reading this book, but I’m always glad when I find it again.

“That Night, There Was No Dinner” treads some slightly different territory than the other stories in this section. Some of the elements are the same (the dissonance between “then” and “now” being prominent once again) but it deals with a relationship (specifically, the marital kind), which is unique amongst the other stories. Whereas “Maple Syrup” explicitly deals with trying to remember the past, “That Night, There Was No Dinner” is focused on being unable to forget. While it didn’t stand out to me as much as “Maple Syrup” (though that could be because the latter is more dramatic) it’s a nice alternate take on the subject of memory.

“First Impressions” concludes the “things of this world” section of the book, and it’s a nice finish before the intermission. For some reason, I kept breezing through this story and not really absorbing it…I read it, barely remembered it, re-read it, and finally re-read it again just prior to writing this review. Strangely, the third time was the charm; for whatever reason, it seemed to “click” with me the third time. This is definitely in the slice-of-life genre, specifically the awkward trying-to-make-conversation slice-of-life genre. Despite my initial inability to focus on it, I really enjoyed this one, and I feel it concludes the first half on an even note, taking things down a notch from all the more dramatic stories in the middle.

The second half of the book, “Fairies and things,” begins with “Sun Set.” It certainly sets the tone, in a very we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore kind of way. To be too specific would be to spoil it (I run the risk of that with nearly all these reviews, since the stories themselves are so brief) but suffice it to say that this story is weird, and it is creepy. It makes for a strangely effective leap from the contemplative and melancholy of the first section to the creepiness of the second. It feels like taking a left turn on the way to buy some saltines at the grocery store and winding up in “The “Twilight Zone.”

With “Shark,” the weirdness just keeps on coming. Like “First Impressions,” this one isn’t really much of a “story” in the traditional, classical, beginning-middle-and-end sense. If there’s such a thing as “supernatural slice-of-life,” then “Shark” would probably qualify. It’s short, it’s weird, and it’s unsettling. It’s very effective…I love stories that can set up a mood, specifically one of such unease, in this way. It feels a bit like a modern retelling of an old fairy tale.

“Dinner Bells” is one of my favorites of this half of the book. Yet again I must restrain myself from explaining anything for fear of spoilers, but it’s delightfully creepy, and by the end of it I had the vague sense that this could be expanded. It worked perfectly in this limited format, but sometimes stories like this have a way (and generally, I think, this is the intended effect) of making the reader want more, and I certainly did. Once again, as in the first half, the dissonance between past and present was at the fore…but in a much more supernatural, eerie way.

After reading “Leaves of Trees” I think I finally understood why these stories were so appealing to me. I have a particular affinity for stories, movies, music, or anything that can conjure up the feeling of being in a dream. Nearly every story in this section of the book conjures a nightmare, but it’s effective nonetheless, and I enjoy the effect just the same. “Leaves of Trees” has the atmosphere of a nightmare or a childhood fear. Don’t try to make sense of it; the uncertainty is what you’re supposed to feel.

“The Bear Would Starve” is another of my favorites from this collection. It’s also similar to “Dinner Bells” in giving me the impression, even more so, that it could be expanded into a longer story, maybe even a series. Though a bit confusing at times, it nonetheless hints at a strange, strange world just below the surface of the everyday. The imagery and scenarios are particularly bizarre. I found myself wanting much, much more of this, more back-story, more information.

Finally, we conclude with…nothing, as the author’s note points out. “Space” is one of the less outright frightening, but equally surreal, entries in this collection. I loved it. It kept the momentum of that dream-like atmosphere and finished up the book on a satisfyingly mysterious note. It brought to mind “Twin Peaks” a bit, and, once again, I found myself thinking about “The Twilight Zone.”

All in all, “Stories About Things” was a most delightful read; though uneven at times. There were some grammar errors here and there, easily fixable with another round of proof-reading, and perhaps par-for-the-course for “cheap-ass fiction,” no? While some stories captured my attention a bit less than others, the majority of them made quite an impression, and I’m a big fan of the short-form. Aelius handles realistic (and semi-realistic) fiction as well as fantasy/supernatural fiction, and the end result of all of it is most entertaining. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of her work soon, especially “Skyland,” as I have confidence that her skill at writing fantasy fiction will translate very well into the format of a full-length novel. It’s also worth mentioning that she did a lovely job with the book’s formatting…something I’ve recently learned to appreciate through bitter experience.

That concludes this edition of “CC0 Heroes,” I hope it’s inspired you to check out some of Aelius Blythe’s work. I think “Stories About Things” is an excellent place to start, if my experience is any indication. Perhaps, too, it will inspire you to release something via CC0…there may not be a whole lot of us CC0 artists out there yet, but as I’ve said before, I think you’ll be in pretty good company if join us!

I normally reserve this blog solely for things written by yours truly. However, as anyone who knows me is likely well aware, I tend to have rather strong views about copyright…namely, that copyright is a bad thing. Recently, my fellow blogger and author Aelius Blythe posted this essay on Medium, and I felt that it is a perfect description of the utterly backwards way the language surrounding the copyright debate is structured. As a signal boost, and to practice what I preach (specifically, sharing and spreading a good thing by copying it) I’ve decided to re-post her entire essay here. Thank you, Aelius, for the inspiration.

“Your Words Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad” by Aellius Blythe:

“A writer’s biggest threat is the laws meant to protect them.”

“Director Simon Klose has won his copyright battle. For now.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to this year’s drama in the pirate world, here’s the 5 minute summary: Simon Klose is not your usual Hollywood crusader fighting those damn kids pirating his movies. In fact, this year, he was fighting to defend his own film – the documentary on the Pirate Bay trial, TPB AFK – from overzealous DMCA takedowns. The takedown notices weren’t directed at the content – which he himself uploaded to YouTube and the Pirate Bay –they were rather attacks on Google for even linking to the content. While not removing his work, this made it harder to find for your average viewer who doesn’t have a favorite Google-alternative at the ready.

Mr. Klose isn’t alone – Google gets over a million takedown requests every month to remove links to so-called pirate sites. Chilling Effects keeps a record of DMCA takedowns, which occasionally contain hilarious errors, like requests to remove content from Hulu or even the rightsholder’s own website. However, sometimes these errors are not so hilarious. While they cannot be proved to be malicious, takedowns often target news sites, reviewers, and even other creators, like Mr. Klose.

Fortunately, this battle ended well for the creator.

Unfortunately, not all creators are fearless Swedish pirates with the Pirate Bay on their side.

What of the smaller creators who don’t make the news? What of the creators who don’t have the resources or connections to fight false copyright DMCAs? What about your average small-time, indie filmmaker or artist or author who doesn’t even know that they can fight the far more powerful DMCA-wielders?

What about me?

I’m a newbie to the writing world, and a relative unknown outside of my small circle of readers, writers and fellow bloggers. Having reliable ways to be able to reach readers is absolutely essential. With so many content creators online, it’s way too easy to get lost in the competition. If a reader hits an obstacle – like a disappeared link or DRM that doesn’t play well with their e-reader of choice – they’ll just move on. Here at the bottom rung of the ladder, it’s really hard to get noticed, and one stumbling block can set all your hard work back several paces.

Fortunately, for authors we have libraries.

Libraries – the old standby for access to information, art, and culture.

Libraries – free to all, and proud of it.

In their digital incarnation, libraries have been the subject of intense copyright debates over how the readers benefit at the expense of writers by getting things for free. But the reality is that libraries can be a serious advantage for authors as well.

It’s an advantage I am thankful for every time I reach a new reader.

But some people want to take it away.

Earlier this year, while Google was censoring Mr. Klose’s documentary, somebody was DMCA-ing my books at The Ultimate Ebook Library. And it wasn’t me.

And these weren’t just links disappearing, these were my books. Somebody took my books away. And it turns out, mine weren’t the only ones. I recently heard from another author whose books were removed without her consent, and from the owner of the Ebook Library who recognizes that, sadly, these are not isolated incidents. While the library of course reinstates the books as soon as they are told, the implications of these kinds of errors (“errors”) are troubling. How many others out there have had their work disappeared, and don’t even know it, or don’t know what they can do about it? As a creator, especially a small-time creator, I can tell you that it is an unbelievably helpless feeling to have your primary channel for reaching fans hobbled.

I blame Newspeak.

The Copying is stealing! mythos has terrorized the entertainment industries since the days of Napster. Almost fifteen years, later few people – not even the Supreme Court – hold onto the literal interpretation of that particular moral stance. We laugh (or glare) at the rich and powerful making 9 year old girls and grandmothers into hardened criminals. But while many don’t exactly believe that copying = stealing, the fact is that the newspeak of the copyright monopoly is so pervasive, their new language so obfuscated, that many have well and truly forgotten the meaning of the words.

As much as we laugh at the old You wouldn’t steal a car! interpretation of copyright infringement, we also laugh at – or worse, ignore – the counterargument that copying isn’t stealing. Whenever the topic comes up in writer’s circles, there’s eye-rolling and head-shaking. It’s old news, but no one remembers it. Authors still rail against their readers “stealing” their profits. And even journalists in the mainstream media, often and incorrectly, refer to infringement as theft.

Did we forget that actual theft meant taking something away?

Did we forget that actual stealing deprives a person of what’s taken?

Yeah, I think we did.

Whoever took books down from the Ebook Library, or links from Google, or videos from YouTube isn’t sharing something, isn’t copying something, isn’t borrowing something. They are taking something away.

And yet, this is ok.

You won’t hear journalists call that theft. You won’t hear writers complain about stolen profits. You won’t have the responsible parties disconnected from the internet or forced to take a class on DMCA abuse, or made to pay the victim 7,000 per book in restitution and punitive damages.

Sharing, copying, and borrowing are – under the new language – terrible, terrible acts of theft. And yet taking something away – whether it’s a distribution channel or other means of communicating with fans– is totally ok. That’s a mistake. That’s acceptable collateral damage.

Yeah, our creative work is collateral damage.

This isn’t just a consequence of overreaching laws, bumbling politicians, or greedy lobbyists. It is a consequence of a forceful and deliberate manipulation of the very building blocks we use to understand our world: our words.

Yes, languages change. Words shift, meanings appear and disappear, and our understanding evolves. That’s what makes language useful — it’s adaptable.

But in this case, I think I liked the old language better.”

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

- S.K.

In a sense, my familiarity with the life and work of Soren Aabye Kierkegaard began with a reflection on the end of his life: his (supposed) last words.

I was sitting on the balcony of a condominium my parents had rented in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. One of my closest friends had joined us for the trip; he was inside watching TV, I was listening to my favorite album, Bob Dylan’s Infidels, and watching the moon shine down pale blue over the sea. “Sweetheart Like You,” my favorite song, was probably playing. It was 2003, ten years ago this summer; I had just finished my freshman year of high school.

The door slid open and the cold conditioned air blew the humidity off of my skin. My friend asked me to come inside, there was something I had to see. The music was a ritual, though, so I told him to wait. A few minutes later I walked back inside to see what the big deal was. On the TV, I saw something mesmerizing. I later found out that the film was called Waking Life. Animated in a unique, trippy rotoscope-style, the film featured a nameless dreamer wandering from dream to dream, having in-depth philosophical conversations with a seemingly endless stream of interesting people. At times, the dreamer himself would simply fade out of the movie from scene to scene, with only the dream characters themselves conversing.

Most conversations in the movie lasted several minutes. As I watched, though, one scene stuck out to me for its brevity. It was composed of a single line spoken to the dreamer by a bearded man who passes him on a sidewalk at night: “Kierkegaard’s last words were sweep me up.”

To this day I can’t explain why, exactly, that line captured my attention so much. Yet somehow as soon as I heard it I was struck by the name “Kierkegaard.” I felt an instant curiosity, a draw to learn more about the man, despite knowing nothing about him at all (aside from his last words, though I later learned that the line in the movie may have been misleading regarding that point).

The movie ended, the vacation went on, I went back to listening to Bob Dylan, and before long I was back home in Ohio again. Then, about two or three weeks later, I was shopping at a Borders bookstore in West Virginia when I happened to glance around the philosophy section. Browsing idly, suddenly a particular title caught my eye: Works of Love. As I checked the name of the author, suddenly I was struck with the sense that this was a meaningful coincidence. I bought my first Kierkegaard book that day.

Yet another few weeks passed, and I was sitting around bored at a Fourth of July barbecue. It was held by a friend of my mother’s, and I didn’t have anything to do or anyone to talk to. I had my copy of Works of Love, though. The inside of the house was mostly quiet, so I slipped away from the backyard festivities and into the sitting room. The house, built on the banks of the Ohio River, was something of a historical landmark; it had been an inn throughout the 1700s and 1800s and likely played host to some noteworthy historical figures. The huge sitting room transported me back a century, and what better place to start reading the work of a man born in 1813?

The book proper begins with a Foreward and a Prayer. The Foreward starts out saying that the book, comprised of “Christian reflections,” will be “understood slowly, but then also easily.” I’ve always found that to be a very accurate prediction in my case. I’ve never been a very fast learner. Science and math fly right over my head most of the time. I’m not particularly adept at many practical skills. Yet beginning with my reading of Works of Love, I found a certain knack for philosophy. I may never have done well with the numerical abstractions of math classes, but in study hall, I learned to love logic, and working my way through the world of abstract ideas found in philosophy. Yet Kierkegaard’s aim was never to be purely abstract, and that’s a big part of why I came to love his writings. The Foreward explains that because the book is a series of “Christian reflections,” it is not about love but the works of love, and this is because love is inexhaustible, everywhere, and yet “essentially indescribable in its smallest act.” Kierkegaard’s writings, Works of Love being a prime example, are often focused on the importance of individual responsibility and experience, the importance of faith and belief expressed through deeds rather than words, and, ironically, the inexpressibility of the very subjects he writes about.

Kierkegaard wrote often (including in the Foreward to Works of Love) that he was writing specifically for That Individual. This idea has had a profound effect on the way I view my own writing practice. I always felt so moved by Kierkegaard’s words, yet his books were dense and dealt with the subtlest of things, matters of faith, thought, and action which all-too-often get dumbed down and over-simplified in everyday speech. It was difficult to share my enthusiasm for Kierkegaard with anyone else, as it isn’t exactly easy to discuss him in the small-talk that comes up day-to-day. You probably couldn’t do justice to a single book by Kierkegaard in a conversation lasting an entire week.

It occurred to me early on that I might never be able to share my joy over reading his books with anyone else. It also occurred to me that maybe this was okay; maybe this was the whole point! Kierkegaard often used a word translated into English as “edifying,” a building-up of a person’s best self, of virtue. I always felt edified reading Kierkegaard, and perhaps, I thought, that was exactly enough: to be an individual, to be myself, someone who happens to be energized by Kierkegaard’s work, and to spread the joy and the insight I found in his work to others in my own way, rather than trying to regurgitate Kierkegaard’s words alone. (Though I did pick up his habit of writing unreasonably long sentences.)

It may very well be the case that no other idea influenced me as much as this: that I must write not for a “general audience” or a “target demographic,” but “That Individual,” that one person in the world who, for whatever reason, would benefit from reading what I was writing. It’s not a plan for success; it isn’t a plan to become famous or popular or wealthy. It might be wishful thinking of blind faith. Yet it’s always motivated me more than any of those things. Even now, all these years later, I can’t write if I focus on more than one reader. In my mind, there is always only one; sometimes I write for someone specific that I know. Other times (such as right now), however, I write only hoping that someone, somewhere out there will read what I write and feel inspired and edified. Perhaps that someone is on the other side of the world, perhaps they won’t be alive until long after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, just as I didn’t discover Kierkegaard until he’d been dead for 190 years. The details don’t matter, as long as I have the hope that somehow, my words will be read by the one person who really needs them.

Soren Kierkegaard, like many great artists, is a paradoxical figure. A large part of his work was written under various pseudonyms, personas with conflicting views and arguments; seemingly this was done as a kind of reductio ad absurdum tactic to point out the logical conclusions of various ways of thinking. Still many of his writings, such as his “Edifying Discourses,” were as straightforward as any other Sunday sermon and as direct and personal as a private letter from a friend.

As I finish writing this, Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” is playing on my turntable; the title character is an enigmatic figure, not unlike Kierkegaard, a man of many faces. This is the music I listened to ten years ago when Kierkegaard’s books came into my life. I may not have learned much in my classes, but those study hall times spent reading Either/Or, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, The Sickness Unto Death and others were very educational, and the lessons I learned have stayed with me. On Soren’s 200th birthday, and the upcoming 10th anniversary of my first reading of Works of Love, I’m revisiting all these old books and songs from my early adolescence and musing on the way some things have come full circle.

I don’t remember all the details of the books I read back then; I may have, given their subtlety, misinterpreted or misremembered many of them. Some things, though, remain, not easily forgotten. I plan to read all of Kierkegaard’s books some day; I collected the entire set of the Princeton English translations over the last few years. Maybe then I can write a full commentary on Kierkegaard’s literary output, if I feel the need.

Many interpretations of Kierkegaard’s life and works have been written over the years, though. Commentaries abound. I’m afraid I’m under-qualified to offer any such academic insight now. All I can do is share my memories of the lessons I learned about the value of individual effort, individual passion and individual responsibility. Yet what I ultimately took away from Kierkegaard, looking back, isn’t the kind of “rugged” individualism you hear about more often. In the end, what matters is neither the pure independence of individualism nor the “untruth” of the mob-mentality of crowds, but rather the ability to connect to individuals as an individual, and the bonds we form between one another.

Kierkegaard was one of the first people I can think of who came from a Christian background, who described his writings, such as Works of Love, as “Christian reflections,” and yet he did not call himself a Christian. He was at odds with the state-church of Denmark, with the idea that being a Christian was a default state, a pretty social nicety, rather than a path to be followed with passion, and perhaps full of hardship to be endured. He made a distinction between Christianity, what he believed to be the truth that was the object of his faith, and Christendom, the all-too-worldly religion.

What I learned from this is just how important it is to be utterly honest with one’s self. The pursuit of Truth with a capital T, whatever you ultimately conclude it is, requires honesty of self first. All too easily, things can become homogenized and watered-down amongst the crowd, or buried under the illusions of individual ego. Kierkegaard’s take on labels was “when you label me, you negate me,” and these are words I’ve come to live by. In his life, the title “Christian” was something bestowed by God alone. Spoken in polite society, such a thing loses meaning.

Even if you have no relation to Christianity, I think that Kierkegaard has much of value for anyone who appreciates the pursuit of truth. Indeed, perhaps this is why his work was so popular with atheist existentialist philosophers such as Sartre and Camus, with Jewish author Franz Kafka, with Japanese philosophers, and many Catholic theologians, among others. This may even be why Kierkegaard spared a few kind words for contemporary atheist philosophers, for their unrestrained passion and honesty, even the pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer. The value of the honest pursuit of truth is something that I think those of nearly all religions and philosophies can agree on, and even if one doesn’t share Kierkegaard’s faith, I think there’s much to be admired about his commitment to it, and to exploring and questioning every aspect of it.

I don’t think of Soren Kierkegaard as any kind of saint; I’m certain he’d be the first to agree that he was nothing of the sort. I do think of him, however, as a kindred spirit, as a friend from beyond time. When I read his words I’m transported back to the same spirit of wonder and hope that I felt back in my youth, and I can share a sense of the faith he had.

So thank you, Soren, for sharing your books, your thoughts, your soul with the world.

Happy 200th birthday.

“If anyone thinks he is a Christian and yet is indifferent toward being that, he is not one at all. When Christ says (Matthew 10:17), “Beware of people,” I wonder if by this is not also meant: Beware of being tricked out of the highest by people, by continual comparison, by habit and by externals.”

“Which is more difficult, to awaken one who sleeps or to awaken one who, awake, dreams that he is awake?”

“Spiritual love, on the other hand, takes away from myself all natural determinants and all self-love. Therefore love for my neighbor cannot make me one with the neighbor in a united self. Love to one’s neighbor is love between two individual beings, each eternally qualified as spirit.”

- Works of Love, Translated by Howard and Edna Hong

In my post Why I Write, I dealt with many of the problems I’ve faced over the years as I’ve struggled to “be a writer.” Many of the problems aren’t really specific to writing, or writing as a career; they’re problems with life in general. I’ve been reflecting on one of those problems again since that post, and I feel compelled to write about it (crazy idea, huh?) in a bit more depth.

Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, identifying oneself as a writer seems to be a sign to certain people that one is lazy, or at least “unproductive.” Again, it’s that stigma of writing not being a “real job.” I wonder if popular writers like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have family members who, even now, balk at their writing careers because it isn’t a “real job,” despite all their success. I hope not, but it wouldn’t really surprise me. It seems to be a common reaction to any kind of career in the arts, as evidenced by Amanda Palmer’s beautiful TED Talk The Art of Asking.

Part of that stigma, I suspect, is based on the fact that writers have to be dreamers. All writers find inspiration differently, I’m sure. I would bet that most get inspiration in many of the same ways I do. Sometimes a story will appear in my mind fully formed, spurred into existence by a chance phrase spoken by someone in conversation, or by a scent in the air, or by something I see going on across the street. At other times, these same things inspire me but only a fragment of a story comes to mind, and it takes many such instances of inspiration to develop the pieces into a full story.

In all these inspirational moments, however, I’m very rarely ever doing anything that looks like “real work” (though working as a janitor the past five years proved to be a memorable exception). Writing begins with dreaming. It’s no wonder, then, that in the eyes of many people, in my “busiest” moments I appear to be half-asleep.  One of my most consistent sources of inspiration, and one which has inspired some of my favorite ideas, has been simply riding as a passenger in a car and listening to music as I watch the scenery go by. It appears so passive, and even moochy (why doesn’t he do the driving? they wonder) and yet without it I’d lose one of my most loyal muses.

Are all “lazy times” really inspirational, though? Is saying that you’re a writer really a get-out-of-jail-free card, an excuse to slack off for the rest of your life?

Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time in my life doing nothing. I don’t mean productive, daydreaming-for-inspiration nothing. I mean real nothing. I’ve played videogames mindlessly for hours (the shocking numbers are recorded on Steam). I’ve checked Facebook, email, email, email, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook, email, email, Twitter, TV Tropes, TV Tropes, Cracked, TV Tropes, random website, random website, etc. etc. in an seemingly endless cycle.  Was any of that anything but laziness, or, at best, a nasty habit of being unfocused?

I’d venture to say that yes, a large part of it was flat-out laziness. But laziness isn’t as simple as it sounds. Laziness isn’t necessarily just being a parasite, contributing nothing to humanity. Laziness can be a burden, just as overwork can. Laziness isn’t happiness; it’s not always making out like a bandit while everybody else slaves away. For me, anyway, laziness is often what fills the unhappiest of times.

I recently read a book by Ernie J. Zelinski called The Joy of Not Working. While I found the book delightful in general, one of my favorite parts of it dealt with what Ernie called “passive leisure.” Zelinski wrote of how, until recent decades, leisure time was almost always filled with active pastimes: sports, trips to the park, socializing, creative hobbies and more. Over the course of the 20th century, however, and after the Industrial Revolution, the popular choice for leisure shifted from active to passive: going to the movies, watching television, listening to the radio, surfing the internet, etc. Even those activities with some social or active elements in the past (driving or walking to a movie theater and watching a film as part of an audience, or even just traveling to the video store) have, thanks to the advance of technology, become even more passive. Now, movies are readily accessible at home on our televisions via things like On Demand service and Netflix, or on our computers. Too many of us socialize through Facebook and Twitter far more than in person.

These advancements are convenient, to be sure. I certainly appreciate them. Yet it does show an unfortunate trend. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the infamous “Protestant Work Ethic,” many people began to feel trapped in a 9 to 5 existence (not to mention overtime), and it has continued that way through the present. Their energy is sapped by work, and they come home, tired, relying on passive leisure to “decompress.”

I have, mercifully, avoided being stuck in the 9 to 5 world thus far, but there’s a reason Ernie Zelinski’s book resonated so strongly with me. My college years were spent quite miserably, in a constant stream of assignments I had no passion for, story ideas popping into my mind during idle moments. Then, when I got home at the end of each day, I’d be too burned out on writing stuff for professors and instructors, stuff I didn’t care about to begin with, to feel like writing anything else. Naturally, this kept me from writing anything I really wanted to most of the time, and my need to “decompress” and “unwind” inevitably led to mindless videogame playing and internet surfing. The lack of productivity would make me depressed, but the cycle continued. My schedule would keep me from eating right, my health became sub-par, I felt constantly tired and drained and, to sum it up, I just felt like crap. It’s a miserable way to live. The hilarious irony, of course, is that I was too burned out pursuing a creative writing degree to get hardly any actual creative writing done.

Since I’ve been “semi-retired from school” (a story for another time) beginning in 2012, I initially found it difficult to readjust and spend my leisure time constructively. I was still stuck in the “desperately use every free moment to do as little as possible” mindset, playing far too many videogames, watching far too much TV, etc. During the first half of the year I was still enrolled in a very difficult online class and still feeling a very strong sense of meaninglessness in what I was doing. In the fall, I crashed and burned, faltering and eventually dropping out of the class.  I felt that my social circle, the people who I would turn to for support, were too few and far between, with most old friends having become too busy to collaborate on projects and such as we had in years past, and no new friends in sight.

I had always told myself that when I found free time again, I’d throw myself into writing. I’d quell the naysayers, especially people within my family, who worried about my life going nowhere, about me not making any money, about me being a bum. I would get my work out there, I’d construct the elaborate stories I’d plotted for years. I might, I thought, even make a few friends, by connecting with people who enjoyed my work. I didn’t believe I’d be a financial success with writing, but I always thought that I could fill my life with enough activity to at least shut up anyone who considered me lazy.

Yet when that free time was there, I just didn’t know what to do with it. Writing wasn’t fun anymore. I wondered if it ever had been. The elaborate stories seemed like daunting tasks, like the college assignments all over again. There was meaning for me in writing those stories, but I just couldn’t feel connected to it anymore. The fun was gone. What happened? Was I really, at heart, just a lazy bum? Was that it? Were the naysayers right?

I didn’t find my way out of it until I hit rock bottom, though I saw a few rays of light along the way. I attended a certain fan convention that inspired me, seeing all of those people sharing a common interest and a love of creativity was a huge boost (not to mention meeting one of my favorite voice actresses/singer-songwriters). An environment filled with creative, passionate people is, surprise surprise, quite conducive to feeling creative and passionate. I discovered the work of a late artist who shared my love of insane, surreal humor. Yet it wasn’t until I realized that my “passive leisure,” my intense droughts of meaningless inactivity, were making me feel sick that I began to see a way out.

I remember those moments when I really became conscious of it. I would “awaken” from a stupor, having played some videogame or other for far too many hours, or having spent virtually all day sitting at my computer doing nothing but obsessively check the same websites again and again. It occurred to me that I’d been lazy, idle. I’d spent all day doing nothing (at least nothing worthwhile). It occurred to me that I felt terrible.

But there was something else that I realized in those moments. I didn’t feel terrible because I let down society, or failed to live up the Protestant Work Ethic. I didn’t feel terrible because I’d failed to meet someone else’s expectations, or because people would think I was a bum. It wasn’t even because I’d failed to live up to my own expectations, my own plans to write this or that, create this or that. Unlike all the brow-beating I’d been giving myself for years, I suddenly realized that guilt wasn’t the real source of my misery.

I felt terrible because doing a whole lot of nothing just feels terrible.

Playing videogames is fun. Playing videogames all day is not fun. Playing videogames for more than an hour or two isn’t fun.

Watching TV is fun. Watching TV all day is not fun. You get the idea.

All my life, all the criticisms I’d ever heard for being lazy, or idle, or unproductive were always founded on guilt. “You’re wrong to be doing nothing and enjoying yourself while those in the ‘real world’ slave away,” they’d say. Anytime anyone gave me any crap for not working enough, or not socializing enough, or whatever, all of it was based on this ethereal, flimsy idea that I somehow owed a debt to…someone, or something. Society, perhaps. Not once can I recall someone saying to me “you ought to be more productive because it’s good for you. You’ll feel better.” I can remember so many occasions in which someone would berate me for not getting out enough, but I can’t recall nearly as many times that someone asked me to get out more because it would make me happy, or that they appreciated having me around. It was always this guilt-trip of “don’t be a hermit, don’t be anti-social.”

I suspect that many people berate others in this way with the best of intentions. Maybe they really are trying to help, they’re just not expressing themselves very well, or considering the psychological ramifications of what they’re saying. Yet it is my experience that such attempts at negative reinforcement are almost always failures. I never wanted to get out more when the people inviting me to hang out with them were acting like I’d be a loser if I didn’t go. Who wants to hang out with such negative people? I would procrastinate and accomplish nothing the more people would guilt-trip me about being unproductive. The same goes for all the times I’d tell myself I was a failure for not working on some writing project or other. I berated myself for not doing something rather than focusing on why it was worthwhile to do it.

The focus was on obligation, not on creating for the sake of creating, for the fun of it.

How can we ignore that, though? How can we ignore our own passions and expect to live a fulfilling life? How do we find the fun of things again, the passions that make productivity worthwhile, its own reward? Why exactly do so many people seem to want others to be miserable drones?

I’m still learning that. In the months since I came to realize that I was pressuring myself to write, treating it like an urgent school or job assignment, I’ve been experimenting, taking things slow. I’ve found this is the best way (with some of my biggest inspirations coming from Leo Babuta at his blog Zen Habits and, of all people, my childhood “television neighbor” Fred “Mister” Rogers). You can’t rush happiness, you can’t achieve happiness with a checklist (well, maybe you can, but I certainly can’t).

In the past few months I’ve tried different things. I’ve started strumming a ukulele without any prior musical knowledge or skill, and enjoying the feel of strumming the strings. Even something as simple as that can be invigorating. I’ve decided not to fight my urge to be lazy sometimes, but to always be mindful of it. As I began writing this very post, I felt a strong urge to go lay on the couch, curl-up with the quilt made by my great-grandmother, turn on Netflix and watch some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I went ahead and did just that, and I have no regrets. I watched two episodes, resisting the pull to watch more out of a desire to stretch out the experience past the point where it’s fulfilling.  I took time to appreciate how nice it was to sit in the dark, just for an hour and a half, nice and warm, and enjoy some television. I enjoyed it mindfully, thoroughly, without over-doing it and without guilt.

Then, later, I returned to my writing, and here I am. Everything in moderation. I’m enjoying the sensation of writing this post, right here, right now.

Do things in moderation, and do what is fun. If you want to watch TV, ask yourself if you really want to watch TV or if you’re only doing it to avoid something else. If you are, ask yourself why you’re avoiding whatever it is you want to avoid. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it. If you do, in fact, really want to watch TV, then go ahead. Watch some TV. Enjoy the heck out of it. Enjoy the sensation of relaxing, watching it, getting lost in the story or the learning experience. Be aware of how you feel. When you feel like you’ve had enough, stop watching TV and do something else. It sounds simple, but it’s so easy to over-indulge in everything, especially if we indulge as a form of escape from something else.

Maybe you are under stressful deadlines in your life. I am, thankfully, for now, free of such concerns. I can’t presume to tell you to magically learn to enjoy all of the burdens you might be facing. Perhaps those deadlines are things you really can’t change. But here’s what you can change: you can change the way you view your circumstances. You can experiment with your methods for getting things done, and your way of living, within the confines of your obligations. You can look for the joy in tasks both mundane and overbearing, you can try to focus on each, tiny step, and see if there’s any joy to be found in it.

If nothing else, you can free your own mind from the guilt. You can realize that, while you may have real obligations to loved ones, you don’t, in the strictest sense, owe anything to anyone. You can focus on acting out of love rather than compulsion. If you fail at some obligation, that’s not an occasion to berate yourself or feel guilty. If you don’t feel like working, that doesn’t mean you’re a lazy bum, but even if you are, why should you care what anyone else thinks? Just make sure that your “laziness” (perhaps use Ernie Zelinski’s term, “creative loafing” instead?) isn’t just as much of a drain on your happiness as the guilt others try to foist on you for it.  In the end, the only one you ought to answer to is yourself, and you should consider what things really make you happy.

In conclusion: work when you find the joy in it. Give yourself a chance to find the joy in work, and what work you enjoy; keep experimenting.  Give yourself the chance to find the joy in laziness, in doing nothing, too; know how much laziness is too much to really enjoy yourself, know how much turns you into a joyless zombie. Know how much work is too much work to enjoy yourself, and know how much turns you into a joyless zombie. Everything in moderation. Free yourself from baseless guilt, from the expectations of others, and learn what is best for you, what makes you happiest and most fulfilled.

And whenever you do choose to do nothing, I hope you that you enjoy it completely, and that you see that it can be just as valuable as “productivity.” I’ve found that it can certainly live up to my expectations.

One thing I’ve hoped to accomplish on this blog is to highlight the work of artists who reject copyright, distributing their work in a way that is guided by Free Culture ideals. While I may sometimes write about artists using Creative Commons licenses, I have a very special fondness for those artists who take the Free Culture philosophy to its logical conclusion and use the Creative Commons Zero waiver, also known as CC0.

CC0, as I wrote about previously, is a legal statement an artist attaches to his or her work declaring that he or she renounces all copyrights to the work and effectively places it into the public domain to the fullest extent allowed by law. Doing so, by the way, was more or less unprecedented (at least in a legally clear way) prior to Creative Commons’ release of the CC0 waiver just a few years ago. Very few artists have embraced CC0 yet, though I feel, optimistically, that the increasing use of it may very well be an indication of a copyright-free world coming in the future.

My works, those (few) previously released and those (many) yet to be (at least when I work solo and don’t have another artist’s views/intentions to take into consideration), are/will be CC0, and I’ve felt pretty lonely taking this stance. If things like the Creative Commons By Attribution license makes most people uncomfortable or confused, then CC0 cranks that discomfort and confusion up to eleven. I’ve been hoping, ever since finally settling my mind on using CC0 as the rule rather than the exception, to find others following the same path, and those who’ve blazed the trail.

As I write this, a very, very talented artist making use of CC0 is crowd-funding a book, and I feel that this is the best time to start my planned series of posts highlighting artists who use CC0. Hopefully, a few people will read this and give him some support.

His name is Piti Yindee, and he’s a freelance illustrator/comic artist based in Bangkok, Thailand. For the past year or so, he’s been drawing a very cute comic strip series called Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf. The comic strips bring back a lot of lovely, nostalgic memories for me; the format, of course, is reminiscent of reading the “funnies” in the newspaper, and the lighthearted, feel-good tone of the comic very much fits in with that style.

The art shows an obvious influence from classic cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s (and thereabouts). One special issue even features a traditional title card that looks like it came straight out of the opening of a Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse cartoon from the Golden Age of Animation. As I read through the archive of the last year of Wuffle comics, I was also struck by a distinct similarity that popped up now and again to the work of one of my own personal inspirations, the “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka (or Tezuka Osamu, if you want to be proper). My perpetually in-progress Snowy series owes a lot to his influence. Then, late in 2012, I was delighted to find an outright parody of Tezuka’s work, Astro-Wuf. Tezuka fans, or fans of old-school anime in general, will find quite a few hilarious references in that one. I’m very happy to see young artists like Yindee keeping awareness of Tezuka’s work alive; I find him far too underappreciated among younger manga and anime fans.

The humor is mostly straightforward, traditional comic-strip style; it’s very cutesy, which maybe some people feel too “grown up” for, but I happen to love cutesy things. On occasion, the humor does get a bit surreal; these are fairly rare moments, but they’re my favorites (especially the “puking rainbows” moments). Once in a while the dialogue is a bit rough, owing to a rough use of English, I suspect. I imagine English is not Yindee’s first language, but the rough spots here and there aren’t numerous or too overwhelming, and as someone who has struggled to learn to speak even a little bit of a second language for the past few years, I’m not about to be very critical of anyone else who can speak one so fluently as Yindee.

Of course, anyone is free to read, enjoy, and copy the series thanks to the author’s use of CC0, and Yindee even makes it possible to download Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf at no cost in one large archive zip file. His website even includes a “Free License” page (declaring “Wuffle Has No Copyright”) in which he explains, in his own words, his reasoning for using CC0. It’s definitely worth reading, as it is a very succinct and direct explanation of why an artist chooses Free Culture. In particular, I love this statement:

“For arts to become a culture, you have to let it go free.
Let it be shared and copied. A language dies if nobody speaks it.
Same goes with art.

It dies if nobody share or talk about it.”

“But wait,” you might be saying, “I love this comic, and I love that it’s free, but I have an overwhelming desire to give Mr. Yindee some money!”

You’re in luck, as there are several ways to show your support monetarily (in addition to showing your support by spreading the word about Wuffle). Buying something from the Wuffle Cafepress and Zazzle stores, or buying a commissioned piece of art from the Wuffle site would certainly help. Still, there are more options!

On his website, you’ll find Mr. Yindee has both a Flattr (as I now do as well, assuming I posted it correctly) and a Paypal donate button.

But that’s not all!

I mentioned earlier that Mr. Yindee is crowd-funding a book. This link will take you to the IndieGoGo page for Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf – Year 1.” This will be a nice, printed, physical book that you can actually hold in your hands and read even if your power goes out (assuming you still have a light source).

The book crowd-funding campaign already met and exceeded its goal within the first few days of funding, I’m happy to report. However, the campaign, as I write this, still has 35 days left to go. The goal has nearly been exceeded by one thousand dollars so far! If you donate, you can feel satisfied with more than just helping out a talented, hardworking Free Culture artist; you can also pick up some excellent rewards. At the lowest reward levels you can get your name in a thank-you section of the book; for $35 dollars you can have your own, autographed copy of the book. For the higher-up rewards, you can even get some custom Wuffle art and comics from Piti Yindee himself.

Even if you can’t contribute financially, and even if you’ve already spread the word to everyone you know, there are even more ways to support Piti Yindee and Wuffle. Take advantage of the CC0 waiver and make some perfectly legal (even for you to sell for yourself!) fan art. I’m sure Mr. Yindee would love to feature it on his website’s “Fan Works” page. If you do happen to make and sell some Wuffle fan art, fan fiction, fan films, or whatever else, consider showing Piti Yindee some love and sharing some of the profits with him (you can contact him to arrange profit-sharing via his “Free License” page). If you do happen to follow that advice and arrange some profit-sharing with Mr. Yindee, you might consider using whatever “Creator Endorsed” mark is appropriate for whatever arrangement you come up with, courtesy of QuestionCopyright.org (and the marks were designed by another CC0 artist, Nina Paley).

That’s all for the first edition of “CC0 Heroes.” Go show some support for Piti Yindee, get yourself some cool Wuffle swag on IndieGoGo, and then get back to being creative. When you create something amazing, consider using CC0; you’ll be very good company if you do!

Recently, something happened that, for quite some time now, I’d secretly been hoping for: Nina Paley dedicated her animated film Sita Sings the Blues to the public domain using the Creative Commons Zero Waiver. I only wish the circumstances that inspired her decision weren’t so tragic and offensive.

For those who don’t know, Nina created quite a stir when the film was first released in 2008, as she chose to release it with a Creative Commons license. Specifically, she chose the “Creative Commons By Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported” license, which, for those not familiar with CC licenses, gave anyone the right to copy, share, screen, remix, sell, or otherwise distribute or reuse the film any way they chose as long as Nina Paley was given credit and as long as the license was maintained on copies and applied to any derivative works.

I’ve shared Nina’s internal debate over what Creative Commons license (or waiver, as the case may be) to use for quite some time. By Attribution is appealing as it essentially makes the work almost-public domain while guaranteeing that any copying/reuse is attributed to the original author, preventing plagiarism. By Attribution Share-Alike is appealing for the same reason, and also promotes Free Culture ideals by forcing derivative works to also carry the same open license. Creative Commons Zero, or CC0 for short, is appealing because it really cuts right to the heart of the whole issue of permission culture vs. Free Culture: it allows the work to truly run free within the public domain as much as legally possible.

So what are the downsides? The downside to By Attribution, as I see it, is that it isn’t always applicable in any reasonable way. For example, if I wrote a story that was turned into a film, sure, that’d be a reasonable place for attribution. After all, films have credits at the end. Likewise, books have plenty of space at the end for acknowledgements. But say someone were to take a 5-second clip of a line of dialogue from my story, as it was used in a film adaptation, and use it in a song, along with about a thousand other clips of similar length, all from different stories adapted into different films? Does the track have to include an addendum, in which the artist reads a list of all his sources? Many people don’t read the credits in movies, I imagine fewer still would listen to a 5 minute “Sources Cited” reading at the end of a song. It’d be even worse to have to cite attribution for works that, for example, used a remix of a line from a movie adapted from a novel which itself used lines from other stories, films and music. The attribution list could end up longer than the work itself, probably even longer than War and Peace.

The downside to By Attribution Share-Alike is that while it promotes Free Culture ideals, it does so by force. Like all CC licenses, brilliant as they are, it relies on current copyright law as a means of controlling another person’s access to and use of a copy of something. This, in a sense, goes against the very ideals so many Free Culture activists support, even as the aim remains in line with Free Culture ideals.

Lastly, there is CC0. The only downside to using CC0 that I’ve been able to think of is that without requirement of attribution, someone could plagiarize your work very easily. Yet this happens under the current copyright system anyway, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are many opportunities for us to get our work out there and identified with us as authors. I’ve seen quite a few stories of artists’ whose work was plagiarized, and fans called out the plagiarists and saw to it that there was no mistake as to who the original artist was.

In the end, I just came to the conclusion that if nothing else, copyright was not a morally legitimate concept. It infringes on the rights of others in the name of “protecting” a single artist’s work. As an author, I certainly want to get paid, but I don’t want to force people to pay. I’ve bought too many DVDs I didn’t enjoy watching, bought too many novels I didn’t enjoy reading to want others to go through the same thing. On the other hand, thanks to public libraries and being lent books and movies from friends, I’ve come to find many things for free that I became so fond of that I purchased for myself. I would rather someone pay me for my work because they genuinely enjoy it, rather than be forced to buy it up-front only to hate it.

Yet there is one other problem with CC0, and, in fact, likely with all or most Creative Commons licenses: it paradoxically seems to make a work untouchable for distributors. This, in fact, is why Nina Paley chose to change over the By Attribution Share-Alike license to the CC0 waiver: distributors didn’t want to broadcast (not to mention create derivative works of) something under the BY-SA license. By switching to CC0, Nina hopes to leave distributors “no excuse” for not showing the film.

Yet I doubt that will happen. The ironic thing is, every distributor is so locked-in to the world and mindset of copyright, apparently radical notions like Creative Commons licenses and public domain dedications seem scary, like liabilities, like hidden lawsuits waiting to happen. In other words, it’s the kiss of death for a work’s promotion in traditional distribution channels; it makes the work untouchable.

Despite that problem, I am delighted that, though she still believes in the Free Culture ideals reflected in the BY-SA license (as I do), Nina has chosen to release Sita Sings the Blues as a CC0 public domain film. Her commitment to “legal nonviolence,” of not threatening anyone legally for use of her art whether their use agrees with her ideals or not, sets a wonderful example and hopefully will lead others to follow in her footsteps.

That brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post. I’d like to ask for help, if anyone out there happens to read this.

I recently finished the final draft of my short story, Roadkill. I have not yet released it, but when I do, I intend to release it into the public domain via CC0, as I intend to do with all of my works. Yet I’ve discovered a problem: I’m not sure if any distributor will carry it.

I’m entirely new to the world of eBooks and eBook publishing and distribution; at least, I’m new to participating in it. I’ve researched formatting and all of that. Yet my commitment to CC0 is something I can’t find much precedent for.

In the terms of service on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, it is said that one may sell a “public domain work” if one makes an original edition of it that differs significantly from other editions they offer, but only a 30 percent royalty will be given. This is different than the 70 percent royalty given to authors of “original works.” The problem there is, naturally, that CC0, or likely Creative Commons licenses in general, were not on the minds of Amazon’s lawyers when writing their terms of service. My work is both an original work and, when released, a public domain one, by my own choice. It isn’t “Treasure Island” or some other work that lapsed into the public domain by virtue of age or some nuance of the old copyright laws.

I emailed customer service about this some time ago; the initial reply more or less restated the very terms of service I was asking for clarification about. I told them that they had misunderstood my question and asked again. After being told to wait for several days while they presumably consulted their legal team, I was told that they couldn’t tell me (!) and to consult a lawyer (!). It’s rather unsettling that they were unable to explain their own terms of service! It brings to mind Cory Doctorow’s comments when writing about one of the more infamous Kindle DRM cases,They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of “Die in a fire,” which is more or less in line with the unhelpful responses I got regarding CC0.

Then I checked Smashwords, a popular, DRM-free (unlike Kindle) platform for independent authors, only to discover in their terms of service that public domain works weren’t allowed at all, and that only original works by authors with “exclusive digital publishing rights” were permitted. As much as I admire Smashwords for taking a stand against DRM, I’m disappointed that their TOS doesn’t accommodate authors with a Free Culture stance such as myself. Perhaps it is still too new, too  radical, too much of a fringe stance to take, even for the more open-minded and welcoming of distributors.

I’m not the first author to deal with this; Aelius Blythe, judging by her Twitter photos, has had similar problems trying to make her CC0 works available on Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. She took a rather cavalier approach to it, and I admire that, but I’m hoping to go into this thing knowing exactly what I’ll have to deal with beforehand, without having to engage in any little battles with a distributor. Perhaps that’s asking too much, though.

So where does that leave me, or any other authors who wish to dedicate their work to the public domain?

I don’t know. I’ve considered several options, none too satisfactory.

I’ve looked for other, lesser-known distributors who are more Free Culture-friendly. That, of course, carries its own huge disadvantage: by being lesser-known, it is less likely that anyone will discover my work on such a service. I discovered one that looked promising, Anjuno, which distributed both eBooks AND music using the name-your-own-price model (which is something else I wanted). However, before I could figure out if they were okay with works willingly dedicated to the public domain, they shut down after apparently being mostly abandoned in 2010. It figures that they closed up shop just after I discovered them a few months ago.

Another option is to simply post the eBook online myself, including a download link from my blog and hoping that somehow people stumble onto it. The problem there is that, while I want my work to be released under a “name your own price” model anyway, there wouldn’t be a very easy method for anyone to pay me if they wanted to. I know of sites that use PayPal donate buttons, but I’ve heard one or two horror stories about that, and PayPal’s site specifically says that the donate button is for “fundraising,” so I’m not sure using it to support the author of free eBooks qualifies. There’s also Flattr, which seems like a cool service, so that at least could be a viable option, though I’m totally inexperienced with it so far.

So this is where you come in, gentle reader. Do you have any ideas?

I must say, the irony is not lost on me: I have to ask for help to make it easy for others to voluntarily pay me for written works offered freely, while it would be easy to force people to pay in order to access my work. Such is the world we live in, I suppose; hopefully it does not stay this way forever. If you know of an eBook distributor site that allows original, public domain and Creative Commons-licensed works, or if you know of any other way to make voluntary payments/donations from readers easy (or at least possible), please let me know. Heck, if some small, independent publisher might like to carry a CC0 title as some sort of experiment (in a situation in which profits are shared with me; any publisher could do it anyway after I release the thing), I’d be interested in talking to someone.

If I don’t hear any ideas within a couple of weeks, nor any fresh ideas from a couple of people I plan to contact about various options, I’ll likely just wind up posting the story here and trying to arrange a Flattr account. That seems the easiest thing to do if all else fails, and I’m more concerned than anything, really, with just getting my work out there.

If you have your own tales of trying to spread Free Culture works, feel free to comment or contact me; such things are generally always of interest to me.

Lastly: thank you to all the recent followers and those who supported my previous post. It was a much-needed self-esteem boost. I hope this blog continues to be to your liking.

All the best,

Leo

Why do I write?

Better yet, why do I say I want to write?

I’ve been asking myself these questions for the last few months.

I’ve had some difficulty coming up with answers.

I know why I have said for many years that I am a writer, or that I want to be a writer.

I’ve said it because everybody is expected to be something. Usually, what they’re expected to be is defined exactly by what they do for money. You’re either a plumber, or an electrician, or a lawyer, or a banker, or…the list goes on.

“What do you do?”

“What are you going to do when you finish college?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I hear questions like that again and again. I’ve heard them for years, maybe my entire life. If you’re anything like me, then you probably have too.

So “I’m a writer,” that was my answer. It might not be a very prestigious answer. Nobody is ever sure how to classify it. It doesn’t exactly make anyone’s face light up with enthusiasm or interest. But it’s something; it’s an answer. It’s a nice segue into changing the subject. Usually something related, like gee, aren’t textbook prices high, isn’t tuition expensive, etc. etc.

The truth is, I always thought I wanted to be a writer. Scratch that; I always thought I wanted to write. I read something in high school that Kierkegaard once wrote, “When you label me, you negate me.” How could I have taken that phrase to heart and still let myself feel so pushed into accepting a label?

The stories I (theoretically) want to write have been brewing in my head for years. That’s what I’ve really loved doing all these years: dreaming up stories. Listening to music and creating music videos in my head, then creating a back-story for the mental-visuals. Spending boring moments alone waiting in line, or sitting in a restaurant alone between classes, or sitting in my car in the parking lot, spending all this time imagining plot structures, figuring out how things intersect. I’d imagine how different characters would get along, I’d imagine grand moments and, perhaps most often, climactic, emotional endings. Movies would form and play repeatedly in my mind. I dreamed of writing them and, perhaps just as much, making actual movies of them. Writing, of course, was the base goal; the cost is negligible to sit down and write a story, filmmaking is expensive.

So why don’t I write? And when I do write, why do I write?

Maybe I should look to the past. Why did I write?

I remember as a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I drew crude comic strips. First it was things like “Batman Meets the Shadow meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Then it was single-panel things, inspired by Gary Larsen’s The Far Side.  I still have some of these. Looking back on them, there wasn’t much in the way of nuance; I managed to cut down the serious, brooding, emotionally intense plotlines of Batman: The Animated Series into scenarios in which Batman beats someone up and then makes fun of them for having a big butt.

It didn’t exactly seem like the makings of a master storyteller, did it? Then again, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

I don’t know if I even wrote anymore after that through grade school. School itself was a source of frequent stress and misery. Up through college, I found it difficult to spend all day with a pen or keyboard, writing things that were meaningless to me, and then come home and pick those tools up again and craft a story. At the end of the day, I wanted an escape, and that escape usually took the form of television or videogames. I can’t really blame myself, then or now.

There were some exceptions, though. I remember in 7th grade having this idea for a bizarre story set in a surreal universe. It seemed so funny to me I could barely keep from giggling in class; it was a story about a middle-aged woman who, it was implied, was married to a chair that she believed to be sentient, and a group of boys in her neighborhood who shoved strawberry cake down their pants. My sense of humor has always been unusual.

I wrote three of those stories by hand during stolen moments in class, or study hall. I remember the first one flowed, naturally, and I loved it. I loved writing it and I loved reading it. In retrospect, it may be one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever created. The second one was pretty funny too, but not as easy to write. The last one was forced, neither fun to write nor particularly fun/funny to read.

Perhaps that’s the lesson my past has to teach me. Writing should be fun, and I can’t force it. The expectation of a certain result stifles the creative flow, either recreating a past success or attempting to emulate something else or just worrying about any particular aspect of finishing it. I don’t think I ever wrote anymore stories in that series, after that initial streak of writing the three in 7th grade.

I wrote other things in high school. I wrote other things that were surreal, abstract, strange, stories that defied interpretation or explanation. They weren’t all ultimately very fun to read, but I think they were fun to write, and those elements made them fun for me. I like to write things that defy logic, things that are unexplainable, that simply “are what they are.”

If it’s fun to write a story, then that story is a success. If it’s fun to read that story afterwards, then it’s a big success. If other people like to read that story, then that’s a bonus. If the people who like your work provide you with great conversations, or even become great friends, then that’s a gift.

That’s what I’ve come to realize.

So where do I go from here? Why don’t I write more often? Am I just lazy? Did college burn me out? Or is it something else?

Perhaps it’s the way, when I tell a relative I just finished writing a story, their first response is: “So what are you gonna do with it?” That just kills it. It kills the fun. It kills the magic. It’s saying that just writing isn’t enough. You have to make money, you have to sell you work, you have to sell yourself. Writing isn’t enough; no, you have to be a writer. As one relative recently put it, “but is [writing] even a real job?

Expectation kills it. It takes you out of the moment. You can’t focus on writing when you’re focused on eBook distribution and marketing and the approval of your family and friends and of deflecting those “so what do you do?” questions and looking busy and looking like what you do is legitimate and a real job and whether or not there’s an audience for the things you write, the things you like but maybe nobody else does.

I write because I enjoy writing, because it’s fun. When it isn’t, I don’t write.

The restlessness, the misery I’ve felt is, I think, a result of this sense of expectation. It’s the worry of “will I write that big novel by the time I die?” It’s the worry of “can I make this series just perfect, and avoid plot holes and contradictions and etc.?” It’s the worry of looking busy so I don’t look like a bum to everyone else.

The only answer I can find is to just be a bum. Embrace it. Own it. Simplify. Be creative bum. If I don’t really feel like writing, I won’t. I have to find the fun of it. That’s the only way. Everything else would just be the same as school and college, the world of obligations without any meaning, purpose, or life in it. But I think I can find the fun of it again. I wrote this same blog post months ago and didn’t finish it. I didn’t like how it turned out, and I didn’t feel like editing it. So I quit. And then inspiration hit again, and I feel it again, and though it’s a little uncertain, I feel good about it. So here we are.

I don’t know where this will lead. It may be the beginning of a wonderful burst of productivity on my blog. It may be the beginning of writing a massive novel, or a short story. It may be the last thing I ever write.

None of that really matters. What matters is that I lived this moment thoroughly, and I enjoyed it. That is success, and I am satisfied. I still don’t know why I write, or why sometimes I “want to” but don’t feel like it. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the moment is filled with life, life in the moment, not thoughts in the past or future. This moment has been lived, I enjoyed writing in this moment, and I am satisfied. It was a success. If I read it again later and enjoy it, then it’ll be a big success.

If you read and enjoyed it, that’s a huge bonus.

If you want to share your own stories of creativity, struggling with expectations (your own or those of others) feel free to comment or contact me. I’d love to hear from you. I’d consider that a gift.

Special thanks to Leo Babuta, author of Zen Habits, for all the inspiration he’s given me. Go read “Just for Fun” right now. Another special thanks to my friend Dane, for sending me an email just now that inexplicably created the desire within me to write this post without delay. He’s currently taking commissions on his DeviantArt account, and he does fantastic work, so consider throwing a few dollars his way if you feel like having some original artwork done.

All the best to you,

Leo

For posterity’s sake, here’s a quick update on the development of my projects, including this blog. I may have a few new visitors soon, so I’d like to give any potential new readers an update and hopefully a sense of direction as to where things around here are going.

I’ve published some surreal fiction online before (and via Creative Commons Zero Waiver, naturally) but as part of the Jeremy Kellerman Advice Hour Archive. This blog will soon see me release my first works online, those not done as direct collaborations with Mr. Kellerman or anyone else.

The first story I plan to release is “Roadkill.” Originally written in spring 2011 as part of a screenwriting class, it wound up being one of my favorite projects of all time. It tells the story of four ghostly animals searching for some fast food before their time on earth runs out. A member of the class, when I wrote it as part of a workshop, described it as “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle meets Homeward Bound, written by David Lynch.” Needless to say, I was quite flattered!

The adaptation process from screenplay to short story is finished. I need to do revisions now, and when I feel satisfied with it, both the short story and the script will be posted for your reading pleasure. As always, these will be released with the CC0 Waiver, so if you want to copy it, share it, or (my dream come true) make an animated movie out of it, please, do it, and if you choose that last option, consider letting me try out for the part of one of the characters! (Hint: for just this reason, I included myself as a character in a very minor role, so I should at least be able to get a few lines!)

In other news, my article “Let the Money In the Door: Opportunity in the Case of an Independent Artist,” was just posted to QuestionCopyright.org, thanks to the support of QC Executive Director Karl Fogel. It is my first contribution to Question Copyright and I’m honored to have been invited to submit it, and I hope it won’t be the last work I do for them. My thanks go out to Karl and all of the other contributors there for the work they do!

Now, as for this blog itself: a draft of a reflective little piece about one of my creative heroes (though one I’m generally not keen to discuss) was written in September and I’ve yet to take the time to edit it, but I plan to follow up on that soon. I’ve also got a sort of follow-up piece in rough draft form, “Why I Am a Free Culture Artist,” which is an open-letter to another artist with an opposing viewpoint to mine on the subject of copyright, a bit of an abridged personal memoir, a sort of artistic mission statement, and a follow-up to my article for Question Copyright.

If you’ve happened upon this blog thanks to that article on QC, welcome! I hope you’ll stick around and that you enjoy whatever mad little ramblings I feel inspired to post here.

Before I sign off, a quick side note: I started off calling this blog “The Dizziness of Freedom,” and I’ve now changed “Dizziness” to “Vertigo” because the former sounds stupid and the latter sounds kinda cool. The phrase is a translation from Kierkegaard, and until recently I’d only heard the former translation. The latter has a much better ring to it, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading and keep on your stick on the ice and some other warm, folksy farewell that I wish I could think of,

Leo Kirke

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