[The following was in response to a Red Room Request for posts on the issue of Writing for Free].
Dear John, the Internet Reader:
We simply can’t go on like this.
I want to break up with you.
You’ve been reading me for years now. For far too long I have labored to send you Winnie-the-Pooh parodies, strangely popular fanboy tributes to movie villains, and essays about nature’s best places to take a soul-stirring walk.
I have made you cry. I have made you frown. I may even have made you laugh (though for the wrong reasons and only when I am out of earshot.).
And what do you, John, the Internet Reader, give me in return? Oh, you may leave one or two comments on my webpage per week; you may “like” me on Facebook (or do you really only “pity” me? There’s an idea for ya: a “pity” button on Facebook); maybe you visit me five hundred times a week on all three of my main pages, including mostly the Red Room.
But do you ever give me your . . . MONEY!?
You never even give me your funny paper.
Ever since the late 1990s, when San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll—an actual writer who is PAID to write his daily column—suggested to a group of writers that we start an e-mail column to lift us from obscurity’s lonely pit, you have been reading my pearly prose without paying one copper PENNY for the privilege.
Do you ever send MONEY? Nope, not a even rusty worn DIME. No MacArthur Grants, PEN Awards, not for a PLUG NICKEL. The most CURRENCY I have ever made was for writing squibs for the East Bay Express Best of the Bay 2010 issue.
You know what your casual neglect gets me? Half-hour vacations on the porcelain shores of Lake Burchfield, no thanks to you!
I know what you’re going to say: that I am an Artiste and must remain Pure and Starving in my Cramped Cold Garret, while my darling wife continues her ceaseless labor to bring home a PAYCHECK;
That just because Orson Welles once said he’d pull his pants down on Times Square to draw an audience does not mean I have to drop mine for the same Mercenary Values.
That it would be Wrong and Immoral to Sell Out to The Man, the same Man who PAYS MONEY to the writers of The New Yorker, The New York Times and Teen Beat (which mysteriously rejected my daring trenchant essay “Why Youth is Wasted on The Young.”)
But you, Dear John, the Internet Reader, you who live in Jack Benny Heaven, are Wrong.
As you continue to insist that everything must be free—or so cheap as to be worthless--I only have to point to Peter Straub, Thomas Pynchon and Vladimir Nabokov (who whiled away his later days chasing butterflies around a palatial Swiss hotel oh why oh why is it not me!?), to emphasize that Art and COMMERCE do occasionally meet and I am tired of sitting out in the waiting room scheming how to craft a query letter to Cosmopolitan (“Ten Hot Sex Positions to Try Out in Times Square!”).
And those free essays and articles I’ve been posting and e-mailing for so many years? Over the next year or so, I will be removing them from their various pages, collecting, repackaging and then reloading them as actual e-books for which you will GIVE ME MONEY if you ever hope to read such sterling feullitons as “Hiking Turlock” “Fun with Pliers,” and “The Hotel Bars of Emeryville.”
If you buy enough of my books online and off—say enough to pay for beer—I may vanish from the Internet altogether. You will have to PAY just to hear my heavy breathing over a Skype connection.
Oh, I may lose a few clicks from getgoodinsurance.com and numberoneweightlossblog.com, but think of the fine beer I will drink with the MONEY you will PAY me!
So this is a kind of good-bye, a farewell, a tear-stained handkerchief waved delicately in the air.
No . . . no . . . don’t! I hurts me to see you cry! Don’t get mad!
Just break out your VISA, whip out your CHECKBOOK, or hop on down to the ATM. The free ride’s coming to an end, lover. It’s war now and I cannot let you depress the Marketplace—and by implication, the whole economy—anymore.
Your Favorite Online Writer
PS: I hope we can be friends.
Photos by author
Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.