Archive for February, 2013

This morning’s Performance Today (27 February 2013) featured a choral piece by composer, Eric Whitacre. In describing the process of composition, he said that he had wanted to use Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, but was unable to do so since the copyright to the poem is still held by Frost’s family, and the family refused to grant permission.

This strikes me as curious, since Frost himself has been dead for fifty years now. The relevant law is a thorny thicket, but as I read things, a work remains the property of its creator for seventy years after said person’s departure from the planet.

The reason for this, presumably, is to give the creator’s living relatives time to suck dry the now-dead teat, but I find the idea to be wrong-headed.

There is a clear difference between physical property–land, cars, dust bunnies, etc.–and intellectual property. The latter, at least in terms of music or writing, is infinitely repeatable. It also is of a nature that can be commented upon in critique, included to enhance another work, or altered to reframe the creation. Intellectual property, especially after the death of the person who produced it, ought to be the possession of all of us.

A better system would be to declare that during the creator’s lifetime, anyone wishing to use said person’s work must inform the creator and, if asked, arrange to pay a reasonable and small percentage of the profits on the new work. Once the creator has died, intellectual property then enters the public domain.

This approach balances the needs of the artist (of whatever medium) against the benefit to society of disseminating creative work and responses to it as widely as possible.

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Cruel Ironies

Here are a couple of cruel ironies:

Dyslexia is a hard word to spell.

Asthma takes a lot of breath to say.

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People obsessed with safety tell us that distracted driving is a bad idea. To me, the bigger concern is all the people who drive while stupid, but life is risky, ultimately a terminal illness, so I can’t get too excited about this. As a writer, though, I am interested in the question of distracted writing.

I recall reading a while ago a story of how Victor Hugo stripped naked, gave his clothes to a servant, and went to his tub to write. The servant had orders to return the clothes when Hugo had written a thousand words or a chapter or something like. That’s a cute story, but I don’t have a servant, and I’d object to someone telling me what to do, anyway.

When I write, I have music on. Westerns get Irish folk music, a band called Great Big Sea, or country. (You can read examples of my westerns here and buy one here.) I write science fiction while rock or classical. (More on that subject here.) When I try my hand at poetry, I can’t listen to music with lyrics, but otherwise, someone singing is fine.

But music isn’t enough. This is because of the crushing onus of white space. White space demands that the writer fill it. It also creates an expectation of creating Good Writing (TM). This causes writer’s freeze, if not outright block. I have two solutions:

1. Every writer ought to have a cat. Felines provide helpful distraction. When that white space is being particularly oppressive, the cat will jump into the writer’s lap and insist on being petted. In the process, words will shake free in the writer’s brain.

2. Twitter does the same thing. The announcement that I have a whole new batch of tweets to read gives me a moment of irrelevance. Then I can go back to filling that white space.

Perhaps this reveals me to be a sufferer of, um, SQUIRREL!

If you feel the need for your own distraction, you may follow me @GregCampNC.

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Dear Readers, you have the chance to enjoy my foray into Bigfoot fiction:


The story is actually titled, “The Rocks of Ages,” but that’s a small matter. If you want a print copy, order it here:


It appears in the anthology, Bigfoot Confidential.

Crossposted on http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/

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You, dear reader, have likely heard that rotten saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” There is so much wrong with this idea, but of particular interest for this essay, I observe that teaching–whether in a classroom or doing editing work with a client–is a good way to improve one’s doing.

This may seem like nonsense. Isn’t a teacher supposed already to know a subject? Frankly, that is the attitude of those who aren’t involved in the process. Teachers learn a field in the same way that everyone else learns that field. Now teachers presumably are more interested in the subject and thus may absorb more of its knowledge and skills, but being human, they have the same gaps in learning. They also learn from a perspective or a limited number of perspectives. Having acquired a finite body of information that they’re skilled at using and seeing it from one position, they go out into the world to share with students.

Here’s where the best learning comes in. I know for a certainty that a teacher will discover the gaps in his understanding the quickest when standing in front of a class. I also know that good students bring new ways of seeing the subject. By being willing to adapt to and sometimes adopt alternative views, I improve in my own knowledge of English writing and literature, the subject that I teach and practice.

But there’s more. Students need to see a process step by step. People who have been doing something for years tend to skate over the basics and fudge the details, and that’s where errors and stumbles often come in. Students don’t tolerate this. They force the teacher to pay attention, to follow the logic in every step, and to make sense. This makes a teacher a better doer.

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