I don't need to tell any of you it's been a rough week here on Planet Earth.
I can imagine aliens discussing Earth as we sometimes discuss bad neighborhoods. "I'd not touch down there, Zalod," said G'Frick to his cephalopod friend. "That place is so violent you can get killed just for drawing a cartoon."
G'Frick the three-legged saucer pilot is quite correct. On Earth, you can indeed be cut down simply because someone finds the lines you drew with plain black ink to be unacceptable.
You won't see me type the words 'as an artist' here in reference to myself. I do not and have never considered myself an artist. I don't wear a lot of black turtlenecks and I don't launch into lengthy orations on the 'art of the craft' or the 'craft of the art' or anything else along those lines.
I'm just a guy who tries to tell entertaining stories in the hopes of making a buck off them. I believe the classic definition of such activity is that of being a 'hack.' I've been called that before, and I didn't take the expected offense. Storytelling is an ancient and noble tradition, and so is eating. I don't see a single conflict of interest there.
But I do take offense at the notion that my words might get me killed one day. While my body is hardly likely to ever grace the cover of GQ Magazine, I've come to rely on the wretched thing, and rifle rounds would put an end to that relationship.
Am I likely to ever be targeted by nut-job fundamentalists of any stripe over something I wrote?
No. I write fantasy. Sure, there are a lot of people who see my genre as a tool of Hell, Devil, and Co., but in a happy twist of fate these people don't tend to read anything but Jack Chick tracts and they are thus unaware of my existence, much less my list of titles.
But that's not the point, really. If one of us hacks is in danger, then we all are, to a degree. Because once the arts come under assault -- once we who draw or write or make music or sculpt or paint are told we can't cross this line, or say these words, or mock this idea, then we might as well hand over our tools to the gunmen and let them take over the whole field of human expression.
Which would mean we'd only ever get to see one narrow view of the world and our place in it. Only hear one song. Only read one book.
I don't care to live in such a world. I doubt you do either.
It won't happen, of course. No matter how many gunmen take aim, or how many bullets fly. We as a species are simply too fractious, too ornery, too determined to each have our own way to ever unite, willingly or not, under a single icon.
Which is either our saving grace or our fatal flaw. Only time will decide that.
But for now, the arts and the artists and yes, even the lowly hacks, we will fight back. No one is ever going to tell me what I can or cannot write. And I'm not alone. At my sides slouch ten thousand times ten thousand bleary-eyed, coffee-swilling hacks, each of us pounding furiously away at manuscripts while not giving one single wet frog fart what religious, moral, or cultural objections our works might raise.
Do I write to insult, to mock, to inflame?
No. Quite the contrary, in fact. I want to make my readers happy. Happy with the experience of reading my book. Happy that they chose to spend their time and money on my work. I welcome Muslims, Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, Rosicrucians, Witches, Pastafarians, Subgeniuses, Orthodox Mayonnaissers, molds, fungi, Dalmations, heavy earth moving machines, robins, meter readers, Batman, and everyone else to my books. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I just want to tell a good story, and make someone smile.
But I'll be damned if I'll let anyone tell me how to do that. Nobody has the right. To no one will I extend the privilege.
So, to my fellow hacks, to the artists, to anyone and everyone who works to illuminate or illustrate some facet of existence, I salute you. We just lost a few of our own.
Mourn them, yes, but carry on. We owe them that. Let's bury the nut-jobs under an avalanche of good books and good music and good art. Bad books and bad music and bad art, even. Anything, as long as we don't ever let madmen dictate the direction and content of the arts from the barrel of a gun.
Carry on, folks. Always carry on.