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Gardening and Writing

My fiancée Amber has a plot at the local community garden, to which she devotes hundreds of hours a year. Her area, barely fenced off, is barely larger than our modest bedroom. Aside from fresh air and the athletic rigor of plowing and weeding, her reward is a few hundred dollars worth of fresh produce. If you can do the math, she pays herself well below minimum wage. She gardens because she loves doing it, because she wants to be more self-sufficient and have a firmer appreciation for what we eat.

However, the community garden almost ceased existing shortly after its inception. It is operated for free, entirely by the sweat of those who work the land. When it began, nineteen people claimed their plots and farmed them tirelessly. When they started showing results, students from the nearby, private, liberal arts college swept in and stole almost all the food. They did not pull a single weed to earn it. They have their own garden on campus and the college is more than accommodating in feeding the students as much as they could eat. They definitely never asked any of the gardeners for a cucumber or pepper. They took because they felt entitled to the vegetables by dint of them being available without guards or security cameras. They took and destroyed the garden in the process, because it was not their garden and it did not matter to them if strangers lost their work. Vegetables want to be free, right?

The next year, the first Amber tried gardening, there were five gardeners and none were especially active. Most people gave up, since they intended to grow vegetables for their own use, not to feed entitled college students. It is cheaper and easier to just stop by the grocery store than to labor over something for love.

And the college students returned to raid Amber's garden one night. I held her as she wept in frustration that her tireless work went to sate the momentary interest of someone who didn't want to spend a few dollars on a watermelon at the grocery store literally a hundred feet from the garden.

This year, there is just Amber and a couple of other people. The organizer is going to shrink the garden to appease the landlord, who sees that the garden is not popular. Next year, it may not exist (though Amber is doing everything she can to keep it running).

If you don't take the analogy yet, I'll speak plainly. I write because I love writing, because I want to improve my skill and prove to myself time and again that I have written a better book than before. For every hour I spend writing, researching, editing, I have maybe gotten a couple of pennies back. This is not exaggeration, nor does it take into account the effort and education it took for me to become a competent enough writer to be published. I already operate at a considerable loss, factoring events I do where no one buys anything and the personal stock of books I have on hand to sell. (Yeah, those boxes of books are mine, purchased in bulk with my own money. My publisher gives me a small discount so I am maybe making $2 per book sold.) And, still, I hear people tell me that they think my books should be free. I have politely insisted a couple dozen pirate sites remove my books already this year. I have to search for the plagiarists who don't even credit me when stealing from me. I have even had people demand that I should get an additional job so that you can have my work without charge. Not only must they find my effort worthless, but I apparently should pay for the privilege of being read.

It is fine if you don't want to read what I write, but do not ever tell me I should be working for free or, worse, that I should have additional jobs because you can't afford a $2 ebook. I have another job, one most people would rather skin themselves than work, but it is for the comfort and pleasure of myself and my anarchist gardener fiancée, not louts who think I am worthless (but not so much that they don't want to read me).

As my readers know, I do try to make my stories free for a day or two at a time on Amazon, but I am not about to ask my publisher to take a hit when they are already sending me dire emails about plummeting sales (quite possibly because people seem to think writing is something that doesn't deserve recompense). Whenever someone complains that they can't find books they like, it could be that the thieves have robbed writers so much that they stopped publishing or that publishers stopped accepting more daring work that won't keep them in the black. This attitude hurts innocent readers as much as it does writers.

(And, much as Amber is amenable to share her vegetables with people who ask-so long as it is not a watermelon she had been babying for weeks-I am not shy about helping people out with a free copy or a copy in exchange for a review. Just ask. Let me be the one to give you a clean copy because I think you will love it but cannot afford it right now, not some sketchy Russian torrent that misspells my name.)

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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