The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

DRM vs. the Tip Jar

I am a bit of a Stoic, in the classic sense of the word.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex philosophy, what I mean when I say this is that, in order to get the most satisfaction out of my life, I devote a certain amount of time and mental energy toward envisioning how things (anything, most things, some things) might go wrong, and how I’ll deal with it if it does.

This, I am told, is weird and counter intuitive and even sounds depressing to a non-trivial percentage of people (or at least a high percentage of vocal people), and I understand their reaction; I’ll admit this approach to the life’s daily events has a tendency to, let’s say, flatten the peaks of whatever high points come along during the day.

The flip side is that it also softens the blow of the low points, because I’ve mentally prepped myself for unfortunate events – often something far worse than what actually happens. (I have a pretty good imagination, so when I tell you I envision things going wrong, understand that I take things quite a bit further than “what will I do if I get a flat tire during rush hour?”

It may not work for everyone, but it works for me – in short, I make plans to deal with the worst that might happen, and as a result I’m generally pretty pleased with an otherwise unremarkable day: the house didn’t burn down, everyone’s healthy, and my kids didn’t run into traffic while I was getting the mail. Yay!

I will admit, there are downsides, the primary one being the fact I go through the day expecting people to, collectively, be kind of horrible.

But people aren’t entirely horrible – it’s possible they aren’t even mostly horrible – and when you prepare for the worst (as I do) and instead encounter the best, it’s worth talking about.

I want to tell you a story about people not being horrible, and how it’s changed the way I approach making stuff and putting it out in the world.


When HarperCollins published Hidden Things, I didn’t expect anyone to buy the audiobook rights – it rarely happens with first-time authors – and of course no one did.

But I still wanted an audiobook of Hidden Things to exist, so I asked the agent representing me for that book to ask HarperCollins for the audiobook rights back, once it was fairly clear nothing was going to happen on that front. They said yes, paperwork was signed, and it was done: I could do whatever I wanted with the rights, limited only by my finances and ability.

Now, I had the funds available to pay for the recording and production of an audiobook, but I didn’t like that option for two main reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to get bound up in some kind of financial bottom line with the project, where I only judged it “good” once I’d (for example) made as much money as I’d spent on the thing.
  2. It sounded boring.

So instead, I started up a Kickstarter to fund the audiobook development. (You can check out the video for the project over here

The main reason I did this was because it meant I didn’t have to worry about the financial bottom line, because the project would be in the black from day one, thanks to backers who essentially “preordered” the audiobook through the kickstarter.

This gave me a tremendous amount of freedom, and I wanted to use that freedom to explore ideas that I believed in very strongly in theory, but which I hadn’t been able to test out where it really mattered.

Specifically, I wanted to release the audiobook in as many formats as a could, in ways that would make the story available to anyone, anywhere, without running into problems with Digital Rights Management and all that other “treat the customer like a criminal” bullshit the publishing industry does (because they didn’t learn anything from the music industry failing at the same thing, ten years previous).

In this, I took my cues from Cory Doctorow, who is something of an evangelist of the anti-DRM movement, and who makes all his books freely available for download off his personal website and yet still manages to pay the bills.

“DRM does nothing but punish honest people,” a paraphrased Doctorow might say, “so I’ll make it easy to get my stuff, no matter what, and prove ‘digital theft’ is a silly bogeyman in publishing, compared to the very real problems of inaccessibility and obscurity.”

Did I buy that? Here’s bit of my narration from that kickstarter video:

I plan to make this audiobook project a demonstration of the futility of DRM in today’s digital marketplace. I believe it is possible for a creator to ask a fair price for good work and receive that price from fans who believe in the work and want to support it.

I was pushing that line pretty hard, but you’ll notice that I was basically setting up the kickstarter to help make that happen. I didn’t say it in so many words, but the underlying message was something like this:

“Listen: if I have to pay for this myself, it’s going to go out as an audiobook, and that’s it. If the kickstarter funds it, and I know I’m not going to lose a bunch of money, then it’s happy fun peace love time in here.”

x-files-i-want-to-believe-poster1

Yeah. That was me.

See, it all seemed to make sense to me, and as a reader/listener/consumer, I know first hand how much DRM infuriated and frustrated and insulted me.

But when you bring this argument up in publishing, there’s a some nodding and agreeable murmurs and then a WHOLE LOT of what I’ll call “expectation management,” and mostly it boils down to this:

“That’s a fine idea… if you’re Cory Doctorow,” they say. “Once you have a hundred thousand happy-mutant BoingBoing readers buying his stuff, even though he’s giving it away for free on his website, just to prove him right, then of course he can say DRM is bad and trusting people works better.”

And I understand that mindset – I really do. You can’t come into the publishing world with a horror novel and expect your career to describe the same basic arc as Stephen King: that would be stupid and unrealistic, but people still do that, every day, so you have agents and editors and publicists trying to help a new author understand they aren’t Stephen King. I get it.

But at the same time, this didn’t feel like a “you’re not Stephen King” situation. This wasn’t about the writer as much as it was about the readers – it wasn’t what a person could do, but what people would do.

In other words, I was pretty sure everyone who was telling me “that only works if you’re Doctorow” were wrong.

So I put my hand out, asked for some help, got it, and made the audiobook the way I wanted. I “gave it away for free” via a podcast that anyone could listen to, then remastered it and released it on Audible for what I suppose are normal audiobook prices, while continuing to make the free podcast available.

And I did more than that. Once the podcast was done, I put the whole thing up on Podiobooks. If you don’t know what Podiobooks is, it’s kind of given away in the name: audiobooks, in podcast format, and the thing with Podiobooks is, everything is free: listen all you want, and it doesn’t cost you a dime. More than that, the guys running the site even do the work of getting the stuff up on the iTunes as well, also for free.

Did you get that?

I had my book on Audible (US only, because of DRM), iTunes (ditto, I think), and Downpour (eventually) but I also had free podcast versions on my website and on Podiobooks AND AGAIN on iTunes (sitting there, free, right next to the pay remastered version).

Clearly, I’m not going to make a dime, right?

Not so.

Sales through Audible have been steady. I don’t get much of the proceeds, because everyone involved takes their cut first but, well… I don’t care – the whole project is in the black: I’m enjoying the “long tail” of digital sales, from day one. Given the option to buy something or just take it and walk off, people have been pretty nice and bought it. Yay.

But that’s not the thing I want to tell you about.

See, the people behind Podiobooks aren’t a charity. You can listen to everything for free, yes, but they do ask listeners to pay for the stuff they like. I’ve listened to Hidden Things over there, and about halfway through there’s a little reminder from the Podiobooks spokesperson saying:

“Hey guys, if you like this… you really ought to show that by giving the author something for all their work. We take a percentage, yeah, but most of it – a whopping eighty percent – goes to the author.

And then there’s a similar reminder at the end.

In short, there’s a tip jar. Just a tip jar and a reminder.

That tip jar and reminder has earned me more money than Audible by an order of magnitude – maybe several orders of magnitude; I’m kind of bad at math. It continues to earn me more, every month.

No DRM. No treating every customer like a potential criminal.

Expecting people to be awesome, and finding out that, by and large, they are.

I’m a believer.


In a few months, I’ll be releasing the last of the things funded by the Hidden Things kickstarter – an ebook + audiobook collection of short stories set in the Hidden Things world. It’s called Little Things. Again, released as a podcast, then put up everywhere, but still free if you want it that way, and available anywhere.

Because seriously: fuck DRM – I trust you guys.

You’re awesome.

Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Student Commencement Address

Earlier this August, I and thirteen other writers received our Masters in Fine Arts degree for Creative Writing, from the Whidbey Writers Workshop and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.

I was selected by my peers to be the student commencement speaker, and I wanted to share what I said, both for posterity and simply because I think I have have accidentally included some pretty good advice for writers in general.

So, below, the text of the speech, and an audio recording of me, reading it.

Enjoy.


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@: commencement speech

On June third of this year, I logged into the MFA’s online campus and learned that my fellow graduates had chosen me to deliver our commencement address.

I’d like to share some of the comments that followed this announcement.

  • “I know he will do a fantastic job.”
  • “Doyce, you will rock!”
  • “Thank you for representing the graduating class to our friends and family.”
  • “No pressure, but I expect to be inspired.”

I want to thank my fellow graduates for selecting me – it was surprising, humbling, and – I think – an excellent opportunity to talk about writing, and unrealistic expectations.

During my undergraduate studies, I had an English professor – one of my favorite instructors – who, upon hearing I wanted to be a writer, asked “Do you just feel like you… have to write, all the time?”

It was, I think, the question she thought she was supposed to ask, when confronted with someone who claimed to be a writer.

And, faced with that question, I grudgingly admitted that, yes, I needed to write, to the point where it interfered with every other part of my life… which is why my paper on Catcher in the Rye was late.

I was lying, of course. My Catcher in the Rye paper was late because my roommate had subjected me to a Monty Python movie marathon that weekend… and I certainly did not “have to write, all the time.”

But just as surely as that professor thought that was the question she was supposed to ask, I thought that was what I was supposed to feel – a gravitic pull toward any keyboard or blank sheet of paper so strong it overwhelmed every other influence in my life.

That’s what I thought being a writer meant.

But I didn’t feel that pull, and it terrified me.

It took me a long time to realize being a writer is something quite a bit different, and quite a bit simpler, and not nearly as fun or as easy as a mysterious cosmic force that reaches out and grabs you and drops your butt into a chair and tunes out the world and makes you put words down on paper.

The truth goes something like this:

Writers write.


People love to label and categorize things, and it’s no different in the world of writing and publishing.

Are you published? Then you’re an author.

But, what kind of author are you? A novelist? A poet? A journalist? An essayist? A lyrical essayist?

The labels (and the qualifications) get more obscure the further down the rabbit hole you go, and in my opinion it’s all a bit boring and pointless.

Are you a writer?

“Well, what are the qualifications for that?”

Do you write?

If so, you’re a writer.

Now, some smart alec with impossibly white teeth and an MBA will smirk and tell you, by that simple criteria, almost everyone is a writer; lots of people have scribbled down an old family anecdote, or tapped out a poem that holds together as long as you sing it to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody, or written an essay on The Catcher in the Rye.

But that’s not how it works: Writers write.

It’s not that they have written, at some point in the past.

It’s not that they will write, at some point in the future.

It’s certainly not that they intend to write, at some point in an alternate future, with jetpacks and flying cars.

This is not about the past, or the future. It’s not even about the present – it’s not a verb, it’s a description: a statement of reality.

Writers write when it is sunny, and they’d rather be outside. Writers write when they are tired, and would rather watch television, or read, or go to the movies, or browse the internet, or play a game, or just nap.

Writers write when it’s hard. Writers write when they don’t wanna.

And it’s never – almost never – because of some mystical pull toward the blank page — it is a conscious act. Call it whatever you want: Will. Determination. Desire. In my case: sheer cussedness.


Sitting up here, looking a little nervous, a little nauseous, is the largest graduating class the Whidbey Writers Workshop has ever produced.

Fourteen graduates who know the writer’s simple, painful requirement. Yes, they’ve studied their craft. Yes, they’ve put in the hours on workshops and thousands of pages of reading, but more than anything else, despite every imaginable personal conflict, and distraction, and loss, they write.

We are writers.

Those of you who smiled at that through are probably also writers.

Those of you who did not clap or smile… live with writers. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience, and apologize on behalf of my fellow graduates and students.

You, our long-suffering, patient, loving family and friends have shooed the kids outside to play, or volunteered for another tedious school function, or brought in a cup of tea, or simply listened while we tried to sort out the lives of imaginary people you have never met.

More often, you’ve done the hardest thing: left us alone – in a quiet room, or our favorite chair, or a coffee shop, or a hospital bed, knowing, if not always entirely understanding, what we had to do.

Understand this: we made it here, because you were there.


On behalf of my fellow graduates, I also want to thank our our Faculty. You have the unenviable, it-would-seem impossible task of providing guidance and direction to a pack of wanderers who each see a different landscape.

You don’t know – you can’t know – what challenges any specific writer in the program might face, so you teach us the craft: you show us the tools of exploration and survival; the techniques for navigating by whatever strange stars we’ve put in our personal sky.

And, when we need it, you give us a little shove, just between the shoulder blades, to keep things moving.

That shove is, I think, the heart of this program, and it consists of two words; the same two words with which Wayne signs off every email he has ever sent, since I started this program.

“Keep writing.”

“I’m not sure this story is working.”

“Keep writing.”

“I don’t know if I really get this poetic form.”

“Keep writing.”

“I’ve graduated! It’s over! Now what to do I do now?”

“…”

You are both our mentors and our friends; we are here, because you helped us find the way and never let us stop moving.


Finally, to my fellow students and graduates, I will share this thought.

You won’t always know what you’re doing. There will be days filled with joy, pride, excitement, and hope; and there will be days filled with panic, confusion, frustration, and disillusion. Sometimes, they will be the same days.

This is what you do.

You write.

If you can’t figure out where to stand, write the ground in under your feet. If you feel like you can’t breathe, write the air. If you can’t see your next step, write the sky; write your horizon, and put it far, far in the distance.

If you don’t know the rules about this thing you’re doing, find some comfort in the fact that no one – no one – knows the rules, either.

Keep writing.

Make amazing things.

No pressure, but I expect to be inspired.

Technology

I've been thinking about this more and more as I consider the idea of friction — of resistance — in my life, and how to eliminate it.

To paraphrase and subvert the standard definition, technology is the collective term for techniques, methods, and/or processes that make an activity easier. Cooking has tech. Hunting has tech. Manufacturing, from machinery to millinery, has tech. Scientific investigation has tech.

Basically, if it's something humans do, we've come up with tech that makes it easier to do.

Sometimes, we iterate on that tech endlessly (see: ways to kill each other), sometimes, we figure out the best option right away and leave it (see: the wheel and/or lever).

Sometimes – the majority of the time, probably – an attempted improvement to existing tech fails to make The Thing easier (whatever The Thing is). In those instances, the iteration is discarded or is itself iterated on until is does improve The Thing.

This is so obvious it seems silly to say; if you do a thing that makes the existing tech worse, that is failed tech. (Maybe not a failed attempt, if it teaches us something, but it is failed tech.)

In short, good technology – functional technology – reduces friction: it makes the effort required for A Thing, less. If it doesn't do that, it is not technology.

By this definition, DRM – Digital Rights Management – as it is implemented today by various media industries, is not technology.

It's not a failed iteration of technology; if DRM were completely successful in its purpose (it isn't), it still fails to meet the one criterion for technology: it does not reduce friction for whatever Thing it affects. In a perfect world (which, again, this isn't) it might theoretically achieve a state of adding no additional friction, but it will never make friction less.

It is, in short, doing nothing but making things worse.

Today, it makes it harder to get to your stuff. Tomorrow, that difficulty increases, and as time goes on, so does that difficulty, until we reach a point where The Thing no longer works because of this anti-technology.

Until we reach a point where we've lost years or decades of our culture because we let our Things be locked in vaults we didn't control, to benefit people who only exist to sell keys.