Where is the Science Fiction Writer’s Promised Land?

August 30th, 2010

When I was in Manila last month, I was happy to be able to meet fellow speculative fiction writer and blogger Charles Tan.   Something he said resonated with thoughts I’d had over the years.   Basically it’s this idea: if writers are paid a certain amount per book that depends on the market and their audience size, without consideration for their local cost of living, why not maximize their effective income by living somewhere cheap?

The context of my conversation with Charles was the Philippines, where it’s possible to live very inexpensively if you desire.   There are also countries where writers pay no taxes, I’m told (as well as other artists in general).   And inside the United States, there are a lot of places to live that are a hell of a lot cheaper than New York or California, but I’m one of only 3 SFWA members in Wyoming, and other states with low cost of living are not overly represented in writing.   I suppose I could do an analysis of a group like SFWA, state by state, or even city by city, and see if writers maybe are seeking out cheaper places to live, but I doubt it from taking a glance at the state-by-state listings.

So many cool writers seem to live in expensive places!

I have little doubt that some seek the big, expensive city life for culture and stimulation.   And if you’re an English writer and want to interact with others who write in English, you’d be unlikely to move as other English-speaking countries are not that cheap either.

So, if you’re a full-time American writer who doesn’t want to give up too much but does want to maximize that paycheck, what is there to do?

(This is hypothetical for me, as I’m tied to my University job and it outpays the writing — significantly.)

There have been movements by political and religious types to create ideal communities before to maximize their power and make over areas into utopias of a sort.   There’s a “Christian Exodus” moving into South Carolina, for instance.   For liberals who don’t want to move to Canada, there are the bluest options here.   I believe I’ve heard about New Hampshire being targeted specifically by liberals and/or atheists, but I can’t find anything with google at the moment to support that recollection (anyone?).

So, I wonder if there is an ideal place to target for science fiction writers?

How about states without state income tax: Alaska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Florida, South Dakota, Washington, Nevada, Texas, and Wyoming?

How about cost of living? The ten cheapest are Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama and Kansas.   Cities within these states can vary quite a bit, however.

Probably want at least one decent university in town.

Home prices are also an issue.

Austin, Texas comes to mind as a good option based on the above information, but having lived in Austin I know it’s gotten crowded and expensive.   A suburb of Austin, sufficiently far out, might be a good idea.   Michael Moorcock and Elizabeth Moon are two writers in that situation, and Howard Waldrop, notorious for living on the cheap (once in an empty septic tank, I’m told), has lived in the Austin area.

Tennessee shows up on both state lists above.   Maybe Nashville or Memphis?   I don’t know of a concentration of SFWA writers there, however.

Maybe income tax and cost of living aren’t super critical, as long as you’re not in a place like California or New York where they are crazy high.

Someplace not too big, not too small, that is cheap to live, and ideally already has some core of professional writers in the area for critique groups, parties, and science fiction culture.   I know a number of great writers in New Mexico, and it’s not too expensive.   It’s a state that already hosts some great observatories including the VLA, national laboratories like Los Alamos, covering the science side.   Heck, Roswell is there!   That’s the state that comes first to mind.   How about Albuquerque?   Don’t take any wrong turns there, just stop and create a rich science fiction writing community.

Not much going on there?   So what?   You’re a writer.   Get your ass in the chair and get back to work.   Take a vacation somewhere exciting.

Well, I’m going to throw out a city near Austin, Texas or in New Mexico as my thoughts.   There must be other great choices out there, so what are they?   Inside the USA?   Outside the USA?


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