Monday, March 31, 2008

On Starting Over, or, How I Screwed 'Diesel Sweeties'

Logo of CNET.
Logo of CNET. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So last week I got canned from a job of seven years and seven days. Came as quite a bit of a shock, since my ego hadn't really prepared me for losing what was on many levels a dream job, where I got to write trivia questions, blog about science fiction, dream up Web site features, analyze interesting data, moderate a forum, and basically solve problems all day in an office with sanctioned video game systems, free decaf tea, a scandalously casual dress code, and cube mates who kicked ass and took names. Yes, there were such jobs hidden in the bowels of CNet, if you knew where to look.

I was not happy to be let go. And today it finally occurred to me that I've also--in betwixt feeling sorry for myself--accidentally kind of screwed Diesel Sweeties. I was about to expand my geekish blog franchise into video (something I was really looking forward to) and the good R. Stevens--creator of Diesel Sweeties--was all lined up to to donate some of his mega-awesome t-shirts as my on-camera wardrobe (for you see, one of the unwritten rules of video is never wear the same shirt twice).

Mr. Stevens kicked in with these two ubercool shirts just to get the ball rolling--and then I got downsized with extreme prejudice before nary a video was filmed.

Teenage Mutant Ninja 80s ReferenceChewie is my co-pilot
Now, Mr. Stevens will scarcely feel the pinch of this setback--he's hobnobbing with Warren Ellis, so I'm barely a blip on his radar screen--but I still feel like a heel for not living up to my promises. Yes, I just got a career smackdown, and I'm worried about offending a webcomic artist whom I've never personally met.

What's really strange about all this is that R. Stevens and Warren Ellis have been top of mind of late, and not just for the t-shirt scamming. Ellis, Bastard Tyrant of the Intarweebs, and Thane of Comicdom (it's a MacBeth reference; look it up), recently spoke about why he doesn't get all gooey in the pants over the chance to, say, write Batman or The X-men:
It's as simple as this -- if I don't own it, I'm not going to spend my life on it. ...

Or, if you like: you can only paint someone else's house for so long before you start thinking that it might be nice to own your own house one day.

I'm okay with painting other people's houses for short periods, because I'm good at it and it pays well and on nice days it's fun. But I never ever confuse painting a house for owning that house. And if I spent every waking hour painting other people's houses, I wouldn't be able to build houses of my own.
I spent the last seven years painting somebody else's house, and all that work just got taken from me and dismissed as part of a corporate cost-cutting measure. I was work-for-hire, to use a publishing term, and I never thought that I actually owned anything I wrote, but it all was identified pretty directly with me personally, and when I was let go, they decided to just stop doing the column and the blog that I had toiled to build to success.

Put another way: My work was meaningless, so far as my employers were concerned. That's a bitter pill, since I spent so much of my time and passion building those things. Guess I had to learn the hard way. Time to paint my own house or, in this case, start my own blog. You're reading the inaugural post of that new beginning.

Do I expect to make money at this blog? Probably not, or at least not much. Certainly not enough to live on. I'll need another day job, as John Scalzi advises, but that day job won't be about building a personal brand around me--unless I own the brand.

It's time for me to get serious about my long-dormant writing career. My buddy Ian "Lizard" Harac just got a novel deal, and I can't let him have all the fun. I'll post some of my practice fiction here, maybe even toss out a trivia question or two, and basically try to be interesting enough that my old contacts at SFSignal feel the urge to link to me again. I invite all of you along for the ride.
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