Author Plays Birdie in Political Badminton Warfare

Author Neil Gaiman, photo curtesy BoingBoing archives

The last few days I’ve been stalking reading Neil Gaiman’s blog and following him on Twitter.  After I went to a writing conference last month, everyone was telling me I had to read his YA book, The Graveyard Book, because it was the first thing they thought of when I told them about the story I was writing.  You all with me?  ‘Cause now I’m thinking, “Great you love my idea, but you’re telling me it’s already been written.  Thanks a heap you old battleax!”  So I did what any self-respecting writer would do.  I found me the nearest bookstore and bought the damn Graveyard Book!  Thankfully, the only thing similar about our stories is that they are both set in a graveyard.  *wipes sweat from brow*

So now that Neil isn’t the man responsible for crushing my literary dreams, I’ve rather enjoyed his writing.  You really ought to check out his blog.  He’s full of well-written, merited writing that packs a witty and intelligent punch.  And honestly, he’s a fresh spin on this industry.  He posts photos of himself and his family attending events, talks about radio broadcasts he’s speaking at, posts video clips of interviews and advice, and actually donates quite a lot to social abuse charities, like RAINN (which was founded by my favorite musician Tori Amos) and to literary/library organizations.  His latest is a book called Blueberry Girl.  I’m buying it for my niece as a gift!  Watch and listen to this clip, proceeds from the book go to RAINN.

One of the recent posts Neil wrote really interested me.  He wrote about being used as a political football.  Recently, Neil was asked to speak to at the Stillwater Library in Stillwater, MN.  He was paid $40,000 to do this speaking engagement.  If you’re jaw dropped just now, yes, that’s a lot of money.  I’ll let Neil explain:

As anyone who’s read the FAQ (which was written in 2002, thus the Clinton reference) or has been reading this blog for a while knows, if you want to hire me to come and talk somewhere, and people do, I’m expensive. Not just a bit pricy. Really expensive.

The main reason I got a speaking agency, ten years ago, was because too many requests for me to come and speak were coming in. And the speaking requests were, and are, a distraction from what I ought to be doing, which is writing. So rather than say no, we’ve always priced me high. Not Tony Blair high, or Sarah Palin high (last time I read about them, they’re about $400,000 and $150,000 respectively). But I’m at the top end of what it costs to bring an author who should be home writing and does not really want a second career as a public speaker to your event.

So if you want to pay me to come in and talk, it’s expensive.

Here’s the catch though, the money that was used to pay Neil was from the Minnesota Legacy Fund, not the library he was speaking at.  And many people thought that money should’ve been used to furnish more books or pay librarians.  But the contract for the fund specifically states that it can’t be used for those things:

“The money comes from a grant for programs like this. It can’t be used to buy books or pay salaries. The money was only allocated in October, 2009 and had to be spent by June, 2010 or it would be taken back. This was a big-ticket, inaugural event to generate interest in the program.”

The money is meant to fund programs that foster environmental, art, history and cultural programs.  It did that when 500 people came to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Stillwater Library.  And, as a side not, but one I think is important, Neil split that money he was paid to 2 charity organizations, one being a library.  😀  But, the poor guy wasn’t off the hook yet.  Apparently, the Minnesota Star Tribune wrote an article about the opposing viewpoints towards the Legacy Fund and how some people wanted that tax money to put towards a new stadium instead.  Others wanted the money to fund school and library programs.  This newspaper never contacted Neil for any comment.

What do you think?  Is it unfair for this author to be used as a political football?  (Or in Jess Witkins’ sports terms political shuttlecock?)  Is he the unfortunate name attached to an issue that already divided the public?  Is it ok because he donated the money to charity?  You can read the whole post with links to the contract and the Minnesota’s newspaper article in Neil’s post, A Political Football in a Teacup.

Cast your vote below on the subject, and don’t forget to subscribe on your way out!

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15 responses

  1. Neil is a great guy! Yes, it is unfair for an author to be used as a political football, but it is a fact of the world we live in. Whenever a chance to promote a “petty personal issue” is seen, well then its time to punt the ball. Sad fact.

    Kudos to Neil for taking the time to address the issue and put it into reality. Kudos to you, Jess, for spreading the word.

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      Yah I think Neil is very calm and smart about his response. It was a great post on the injustice he’s dealing with, but making it about the program and how it fosters the community’s arts and literature events.

  2. The guy got paid to go and speak so he went and spoke. If there’s something wrong with the policy that let them pay him so much money, then people should be attacking THAT, not the author.

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      Exactly! I again applaud Neil for quoting the exact contract from the fund he was paid. And he said what he wished the program would change to, which would address the concerns of the public. He wished it could rollover to support the library in book programs and in turn that’s what he did with the speaking fee.

  3. I really enjoyed “Coraline” (the book was better than the movie…but the movie was still pretty good). I don’t blame Neil one bit. Hell, if somebody wants to punt me downfield a few times for that sort of money, have at it!

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      LOL. Yah, wouldn’t we all love this problem. It shows just how talented and fortunate Neil is to be able to really support himself with his writing that he can give away a speaking fee like that! Wow. I own the film version of Coraline, but haven’t read the book. It’ll add to my list, after The Graveyard Book. hehehe. If you liked that style though, you should check out the Tim Burton book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. It’s got really eerie fun short stories/poems with Tim Burton drawings too. I got it for a friend’s birthday and he liked it a lot.

  4. Oh man, that is some fun stuff there. I really like what Neil has done. Noble man. Library systems have been on the decline for years. Sad story true. I think the only thing keeping them around are the stuents needing a place to go and find the research material they need for homework, otherwise, I think towns and villages would do away with them.

    But I do say, what an interesting way that you have discovered all of this and all because you thought your hopes and dreams were taken. Haha.

    But some words of wisdom I had received during 2010. Idea, does not equal story. You and I can have the same exact idea and write two completely different stories. And trust me, I stumbled upon the story series that I thought would bring mine down, but that is when I found that wisdom put to the test. The Left Hand of God. A novel about monastery controlling someone that could possible rip the world apart. To put it on the most simple of terms. I was completely shocked to see my idea already out there. However, after reading the novel, not only did he take it in a very different direction, the novel was terrible. The writing started off brilliantly, the character so intriguing! I was captivated by page one. Then about less than a third way through, it all went to hell. My point being. I have seen that ideas do not equal the same story in two different minds. So, if ever do you see your story so similar to another, read it for pointers or where not to go, where to go, and some ideas that you might even get to twist. I know that is why I read it. Now I have a few more twists to play with.

    Also, how has you story been coming along. You used to read my blog on worldbuilding, before I ditched the social media world for a while (I’m back now)? From this little bit on grave yards, I am itching to read it! Well have a great day!

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      Thanks for the great comment, AJ! First of all, it will be my dieing efforts to make sure libraries never close. They are THE pathway for everyman when it comes to continuing education. They encourage literacy and provide resources and programs for communities. I go to my local library at LEAST once a week. And try to go to the events they host as well. I LOVE LIBRARIES!

      I appreciate the advice you gave me on how story is what matters, and I’d kinda lapsed that point. But really that happens in movies all the time. For example I hated the film The Patriot. It was like Braveheart without the facepaint! Same leading man even! But it was the story. Braveheart was a stronger tale and connected to more people, it will be the film everyone remembers rather than The Patriot which was so so.

      My story? It’s on its 4th rewrite, but I finally feel I have some tools under my belt, some direction, and a strong support group. I attended a writing conference last month and formed a critique group, so I’ll be getting some great feedback from them. I also got the amazing Kristen Lamb to review my first 30 pages, and she gave me excellent advice and a fly on the wall spot in her Warrior Writers class to observe and learn more. Yay!

      How is your blog going? I haven’t seen too many updates lately (hint, hint). You had some really great posts on how to world build so I hope you continue to blog about things that interest you and help writers! Are you on twitter? I’m slowly making friends via social media tools, so you better follow me and join the Kristen Lamb twitter group #MyWANA. Thanks again! @jesswitkins

  5. It should be his choice! Nobody else’s.

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      Agreed, it was his choice. The issue was more on how the money was used in the first place. Some wanted the tax money to go towards a new stadium, or to roll over into the library’s budget for salaries or new books, but the contract for the fund states it cannot be used that way.

  6. I was turned on to Neil in Highschool when I read American Gods. That book is so stunningly good and is a wonderful example of how his writing will live on for years to come. If you are craving more of him I definitely recommend it. I have not read the Graveyard Book yet but it will be placed pretty high on my to-read list. Great article, Jess. It is always extremely interesting to read about what other issues many famous authors have to deal with outside of literature.

    1. American Gods is on my list too. The library has a couple of his books on cd too, including Anansi Boys and is it Good Omens? I like his style so far.

    2. American Gods is on my list too. The library has a couple of his books on cd too, including Anansi Boys and is it Good Omens? I like his style so far.

  7. I’m with Albert on this one. The person who’s recipient to discretionary funds such as these shouldn’t be reviled simply for being recipient. If folks have issues with the discretionary funds themselves, that should be addressed independently of any individual recipient.

    Then again, it’s also my take we ought not bash people online just because we can’t actually see them, so I’m not sure what my opinion’s worth to opportunistic–tho’ probably otherwise lovely– trolls. 😉

    1. LOL! “though probably otherwise lovely trolls” Nice! I completely agree, Deborah, it seemed the newspaper was ready to put Gaiman up front and center versus the rules in the contract. So it goes with everything. It’s always easier to identify something with a face versus the issue at large.

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