*This post amused me, because ALL the drama has got more so in the last –omg — 8 years. And organized fandom, cons, and increasingly trad pub mean even less than they did then. Meh. Shine on you crazy diamonds. I’ll be in my office and I’m not to be disturbed. – SAH*
One of the problems with being a writer is that you end up living way too much in your own mind.
This is fun when what you’re doing is… oh, coming up with wonderful worlds, or even horrible ones, alluring characters, or perhaps even horrible but interesting ones.
What I’m trying to tell you here is that it’s fine to let your imagination run on the page, but do not under any circumstances let it run free in your real life.
Okay, fine, so I admit that I’m the sort of person who has to control herself not to make the story of her trip to the grocery store more exciting.
Early on I realized that telling my mom how I was attacked by brigands on the way to get peanuts at the corner store was a bad idea. If it didn’t sound realistic, I got grounded for lying. If it sounded realistic, mom went on the war path.
So I learned not to lie. Though I reserved the right to tell the story of the hunting for the peanuts in as thrilling a way as I could, “And then there I was in the isle, when, looking to the right, there it was: PEANUTS. Oh, how joyous I was—” etc.
For the rest of the stuff I wrote stories. I mean, people in general don’t expect stories to be true. Though there was the gentleman who chided me for making up elves in my biography of Shakespeare. (Yes, he DID mean Ill Met By Moonlight. No, I don’t know why.)
For the rest of the stuff I still write stories. You can sort of assume that if I’m telling something as true, it is true as far as I know, always barring errors of memory and the way the past becomes colored in our minds. (How is it that I always remember things happening at six, eight or fourteen? I think the Author forgot to fill in the other years.)
I do know the limits of memory and what you think happened in the sense that after about twenty years things blur a bit, in my case particularly visual details. There are places I’m sure I knew so well they live inside me and places in my head (the places I make up) look just like them. My grandmother’s kitchen has done the turn of fantasy palace kitchen and science fiction kitchen/cottage. And… And yet, would I be shocked if I could go back to it? Would I find I’d miscounted the number of chairs? That the cabinets were the wrong shade of blue? And how come I can’t remember the color of the walls at all?
Memory, particularly when you’re a writer, when it softens with the passing of years, tends to make things “better stories.” Usually it messes the timing. Say that this is the story of how I found a ring. (No, I don’t think I ever did.) In real life, I might never have found who the ring belonged to. But my mind will conflate it with the story I heard years later of the woman who threw her engagement ring away, and I’ll be sure I found out that was her wedding ring.
Not, consciously, you realize – just over the years, as they pass, the random events assemble themselves into story.
That’s fine. It’s human. The human mind creates stories out of random. It’s possibly what makes us human. The ability to turn “don’t go into the forest because there’s a 20% chance you’ll fall and break your leg and no one will find you in time into “don’t go into the forest, there are rodents of unusual size and swamps of flame.” And if you made the story good enough, the kids believed it, and nothing bad happened.
However, there is a tendency being writers to make stories out of other things. Specifically, to make stories out of things we don’t understand. And since most of the things we don’t understand are people, there is a tendency to make up stories about how people are behaving this way because they personally hate us… or something.
Years ago, when I took the Kris and Dean Professional Writers Workshop, they kept telling us “Try very hard not to make up stories about why publishers or editors are doing things. THAT can kill your career because you’ll decide they hate you and act weird.”
I’ll grant you it was easy to decide all publishers hated you. If you go by once it’s a mistake, twice it’s a coincidence, three times is enemy action, all of us midlisters were under enemy fire ALL the time.
But most of the time, it was just how the system worked. Doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t walk, when you finally could. (Free, thank the Lord Almighty, free at last.) It just meant that your editor was not doing it on purpose. He/she/it worked for a very large house, and if you weren’t one of the properties hotly defended you were more likely to get trampled and the book’s chances destroyed in bizarre ways than of getting off the gate with nothing bad happening.
It was almost impossible not to get paranoid, and of course my FEELINGS were often that everyone was against me, but realistically I knew mostly they didn’t remember I existed. Sort of like the old joke “Everyone hates me.” “Don’t be ridiculous. Most of them don’t know you.”
But because my rational self knew that whatever the emotions, most people in NYC publishing didn’t in fact know I existed, I was very surprised when, telling an older writing friend about an editor missing an appointment with me, he teased me by saying “Oh, yes, he hates you and is trying to destroy your career.” I guess he thought that’s what I was thinking because of how distressed I was. I was distressed because I wasn’t absolutely sure I’d kept the appointment at the right place. (I have no sense of direction.) And paranoid or not, it’s not a good idea to stand up editors. (Turns out we had each heard a different hour, and he called me and it got straightened out.) But at the same time I wanted to say “Oh, that, no. Thank you. I’m not that stupid.”
At the same time, I couldn’t blame him. I watched people go into meltdown because their editor didn’t smile at them in the elevator. Writers and the sort of explosive emotional situation old publishing created resulted in… drama.
Since I left all publishers save the one I like and can deal with, I tend to keep from drama in my life. The sad truth about me is that you can completely annoy me one day and I’ll forgive you in a week – not because I’m good natured but because I have a rotten memory for names. You can be a total asshat, and unless I really know you, in a week I won’t remember.
What this means is that I can be fulminatingly furious at someone in the field, but it won’t keep. Look, I’m far more interested in what’s going on inside my head. I can write an entire article talking about how wrong, wrong, wrong you are – not, mind you, calling YOU names, unless you have really stepped in it, which usually means you attacked me or one of mine in a personal way – but this doesn’t mean that when I meet you at Worldcon (in the once every five years I go) I’m going to cut you dead. Chances are even if I think your politics or your favorite movie are repulsive, I find things about you to admire and even like.
Look I have friends – though they might feel otherwise about me – even among the glittery hoo-has of SFWA. If we don’t talk about their particular issues, they can be pleasant and even interesting people.
One doesn’t condemn an entire person or forfeit an entire friendship just because our friend has one or two really stupid ideas. If we did that, there would be no friendship and no person who passed muster – particularly among us opinionated lot.
What I mean is that I tend not to get in conflicts, and not to get involved in emotional drama, not because I’m particularly good, but because I’m really busy. I’ve got barely enough strength for my daily life, my commitments, and my writing. I do not have time to wonder if some friend is mad at me because I didn’t compliment her on her new sneakers, and I certainly don’t have time to be mad at you forever because you said my hair was funny. Even when sneakers and hair are stories, or careers.
Unfortunately I’ve discovered, either because people are scared of what is happening in the field and trying to find emotional relief, or because publishers are not all consuming targets of their anger anymore, that some people have had feuds with me for years – that I was TOTALLY unaware of.
Usually the first I hear of it is when a friend of a friend says something like “I don’t want to get in the middle of your quarrel.” Which leaves me blinking and going “Our what?” since I haven’t given this person half a thought in months.
This can be very flattering, of course. It’s almost as good as having someone in love with you, when someone cares so much they carry on an entire quarrel without your even knowing.
But it’s a little bit crazy too. Now, if you are in this field – or even if you aren’t, I understand this sort of thing happens in other careers too (though of course, I know as much about honest work as a duck knows about prospecting for gold) – and even in normal social life (about which I also know… yeah. Ducks. Gold.) – seriously, do try not to get involved in too many feuds.
I’ll admit the thing with SFWA got under my nose, like mustard, mostly because honestly, when they start going after older men for being older men, they’ve crossed lines that sheer decency would leave uncrossed. I was mad, but it wasn’t personal. I still am mad. It still isn’t personal.
What I mean is, the people on the other side range from a handful of self-willed villains (or at least self-righteous harm-inflicting people) to a myriad of people who are just going along, just heard something, want to be on the side of angels. Even when they act like loons, it doesn’t mean some of them aren’t quite decent, the sort of people I’d let catsit.
No, none of them have gone out of their way to pursue a feud with me – at least not that I’ve heard. (Though granted, I haven’t heard much, more or less on purpose.) I was just talking about that situation was an example, because of how insane it got and how fast, fueled by everyone’s imagination and wish to be offended.
I’m seeing that happen more and more, and the thing is, I think the reason it’s happening is that it doesn’t matter. Someone said that disputes are hotter when the stakes are very, very small.
Right now, there is no proof that good standing in fandom, or with your professional equals means anything anymore. A lot of the people who are buying books have never attended a con. The local fandom can no longer affect the laydown of a book. The author of Wool was second only to George R.R. Martin in sales, but when he attended a big con he had no one at his autograph session – because he was selling to people who don’t go to cons.
From personal experience cons have been losing importance. Organized fandom has been losing the ability to influence sales… at the same time that not a week goes by I don’t hear of some new feud. (Not usually involving me.)
I think it’s because, like thinking your publisher hated you was better than thinking you’d been THAT unlucky three times, thinking that people in the field are destroying you is better than thinking that you just haven’t figured out how to deal with the new conditions yet.
The problem is that when your creativity is going towards interpersonal drama, it’s not going to writing, or whatever you do for a living. Also, it makes people outside the field think we’re nuts. (Which might or might not matter 😉 )
Do other professions experience this too? Does it matter if someone is fighting with you if you’re not even aware of it? What do you do about it in saner fields than SF/F? Am I hurting myself by being unaware that some people might/might not have it in for me? Where do people find the energy for al this? Am I broken because my attitude is, “hate me all you want, so long as you’re not actively coming over to argue with me?”
I remember in the village women mostly spent their lives in interpersonal feuds over things like “she cut in front of me in the fish queue, so I’m going to cut in on her at the green grocers.” Even back then, I couldn’t muster enough interest to remember who was mad at whom, and shocked people who were feuding with my family by talking to them – not out of good nature, but because I couldn’t remember.
Am I the only one with a wretched memory? Or is it just that I channel so much inside, I couldn’t bother to remember who I was mad at?
Perhaps it costs me in sales, or friends, or something – but if I have to put that much drama into something, I want to sell it.
(Grumbles off, convinced there’s something seriously wrong with her.)