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November 09, 2003

A Scalzi Christmas: My Donation Thing

I talked about this briefly last month, and I've decided to go ahead and do it. I'm running a donation drive here at Scalzi.com.

Here's the deal: In December, I'll write three Christmas-themed fiction pieces: Two short stories, one poem. Everyone who donates money through my PayPal account (here's the link to that) between now and New Year's Eve will receive access to a Web site where I'll post these stories, as well as provide the stories in downloadable/printable format. All monies received (minus PayPal's processing cut) will be donated to Reading is Fundamental, which supports child and family literacy here in the US. The Suggested Donation is $3, but you can donate more or less; it's entirely up to you.

So that's what I'm doing. Here's why:

Over the last year or so, readers have shown that they will financially support the online writers whose work they admire. Andrew Sullivan is making a decent chunk of change with his pledge drives, and Josh Marshall was able to convince his readers to underwrite a reporting trip to New Hampshire during the 2004 primary. Readers have also shown they will support the things their favorite writers support as well; when Pamela Ribon asked her readers to donate a book to the Oakland Library when the library's budget was cut, readers responded with over 500 books. My own experience with online readers also shows that they willingly pay if they feel they've received something of value: Over the four years my "shareware novel" Agent to the Stars has been online, I've collected thousands of dollars from readers who were not obligated to pay me a penny but wanted to compensate me for the enjoyment the book gave them.

In the five years I've written the Whatever, I've never asked for money or put up a tip jar to financially support what I do here because, simply put, I don't need to or want to: My other writing pays the bills, and I enjoy the freedom of writing what I want when I want to write it. But at the same time, I'm aware my audience -- and the audience for online writing -- has grown to a point where, by appealing to my readers, I might be able to do something meaningful for a cause I'd like to support.

The cause I want to support at this moment is literacy. I have an obvious professional reason for supporting literacy, of course: I'm a writer. I want people to be able to read my stuff. It's in my economic self-interest to cultivate readers. But even if it were not (if I suddenly ditched writing to start a career in interpretive dance or discount retail welcoming, say), it'd still be something I support. In our complicated culture, being literate is the critical tool in being able to think for one's self; People who read are not at the whim of what others want them to think. A literate person has access and avenues to many points of views and a fuller perspective on the world in which he or she lives. Not every literate person chooses to think independently, of course. But every literate person can. In a place and time where so many people have invested so much money and effort in telling other people what and how to think, we need all the independent minds we can cultivate.

Literacy is also the great equalizer. A book doesn't care who reads it. It doesn't matter to a book how much you make, who your parents are, where you live, what you're wearing, who you love, what you weigh or what you had to eat (or didn't) for breakfast this morning. Its purpose is to be read, and it's cheerfully indiscriminate about who performs that role. Books are positively indiscreet; they'll talk to anyone who picks them up. A poor child with a love of books has a chance, and you're hearing that from someone who ate more than his share of government cheese growing up.

Giving a child a book is an implicit act of faith in the child. You when you give a kid a book, you're saying that you believe they have the means within them to understand it, even if at that moment they haven't yet learned the skill. Kids know this, you know, even if they don't always have the means to express it. They know what books are, and they know what they represent. When you give a kid a book and say this is for you, those four words encompass more than the paper-and-binding object you're pressing into their hands. They encompass everything we understand. Most of the time, kids get that on one level or another. And even when they don't you can still see them flip through the pages of a book, sucking up everything in them and imagining the world in the book that takes place off the edge of the paper. Books imply more -- more words, more pictures, more adventures, more understanding. More.

One of the reasons I like Reading is Fundamental (here's a summary link for the organization) is that it actually puts books into the hands of kids -- hundreds of millions of books over the years -- and lets them keep them for good. I think that's terribly important. The organization also fields hundreds of thousands of volunteers to help kids sharpen their reading skills and provides other literacy services, including family literacy programs that encourage adults to read as well as (and to) their children. All that is worth supporting. Naturally, I'll be cutting them a check from my own bank account. But I'm also hoping to convince you to contribute something as well.

I don't expect you to do it purely out of the kindness of your own heart, however, which is why I'm offering an exchange. You contribute to Reading is Fundamental by making a donation to me through PayPal. In exchange, I'm offering three new, original pieces of Christmas-themed work -- I'm envisioning one humorous piece, one Christmas poem (also likely to be humorous) and one short story -- to be posted on the 8th, the 15th and 22nd of December. I'll put these pieces on a restricted Web page and provide those who contribute with the password. So that's three totally original pieces, each positively wallowing in Holiday spirit!

(Note to those of the not-Christian faith: Yes, I'm focusing on Christmas; it's the holiday I grew up with. But I promise to make the stories accessible and enjoyable to all.)

The amount I suggest you contribute is $3. Why? Well, three stories. Three stories, three dollars -- you see where I'm going with that. Also, that way, there's still a goodly amount left over after PayPal takes its processing charge. Now, you don't have to contribute $3. If you feel like contributing more, then by all means go right ahead. If you feel like contributing less, that's fine, too (although try not to dip below a buck -- less than that and PayPal's cut starts being a huge percentage). I'll keep a running tally on the site so you can see how it's going.

You may ask: What assurances do I have that what you write will be worth my $3? My answer: Well, I do have a track record of selling writing -- yea, even fiction -- so I feel pretty confident in my ability to deliver three bucks worth of holiday entertainment to you. If at the end you're not fully satisfied, send me an angry e-mail and I'll apologize abjectly. No money back, though -- it's going to buy books for kids.

You can donate through PayPal here. I have a business account with PayPal, so even if you don't have a PayPal account, you should be able to make a payment with a credit card. Astute observers will note this is the same account through which I accept payments for Agent to the Stars; I've cleared out the account so there's no confusion as to what money goes where, and between now and the end of the year all monies received will go to RIF. So if you send me money for Agent between now and 2004, congrats, you're contributing to literacy!

So there it is: Three Christmas stories, $3 -- all the money (minus PayPal processing) going to literacy. I hope you'll think that's a good deal. And I hope you'll tell other people about it. Really -- if you only link to one thing off the Whatever this year, this is it. Thanks.

Posted by john at November 9, 2003 04:03 PM

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