There is a place, a bounded land where I go to write books. It is a safe place I guard fiercely. As of late, I’ve let other people’s emotions and needs push hard on the walls I built around my favorite place. A few bricks fell out of my castle tower, a hole emerged here and there. The detritus of other people’s narrow mindedness and mendacity seeped into my writing world. It’s not a good mix.
By nature, I am an empathetic person. I take on the moods of others. I feel their pain beyond sympathy. It served me well as an actress, this ability to feel so deeply what it was like to be someone else. I feel sure that empathy at this level makes me a better writer than I would be if I couldn’t understand what it was like to be a whole different person, with emotional scars for which I have no actual frame of reference. It has been both a blessing and a curse. The curse comes from the very real pain this empathy can bring.
As authors, readers contact many of us because a novel we wrote moved them in such a way that they were compelled to communicate that to us. My email address is on all my novels and I encourage people to write to me. There’s nothing quite as motivating as knowing something I wrote changed someone’s life in their eyes. Readers also share heartbreaking personal stories that often leave me astonished, in tears, and a true believer that truth is stranger than fiction, (if truth can be found on the Internet.) I’ve also been deceived and perplexed at why someone would lie to me, a total stranger. To what end, I always wonder?
Still, it’s a small price to pay, to listen to a reader’s troubles, but email has made authors so accessible, it can become overwhelming and time consuming. I had to learn to respond politely and, respectful of the person’s feeling, offer a short “hope it gets better.” That may sound heartless, but becoming emotional invested in the lesbian dramas of the world would be a full time job and one for professional therapists. I am not qualified. That point was driven home to me very recently. I still enjoy getting email and I will read everyone. I simply put a brick back in the wall.
I don’t read reviews. I am in agreement with Rita Mae Brown on this one. Once the book is published, a review isn’t going to change how the book is written. It’s already out there. Nothing I can do about it now. My wife reads the reviews. If she thinks I could learn something from a bad review, she tells me. She’s very intelligent, fair-minded, and not afraid to challenge me on what I write. She also reads me a good one now and then, just to keep me motivated. All of this was learned behavior, after a particularly nasty personal attack by an unsatisfied reader. I am also reminded that there is a distinct difference between a “review” and a critique based on classic literary definitions and themes. I’ll take a critique any day. The delete button is my friend and I don’t seek out sites that review my books or those of other authors. Another brick back in the wall.
I belong to several groups, one of them my own. I love my group. We talk about my books, other people’s books, ask questions that puzzle us, share answers and have fun. I only had one person post anything negative and I just happened to be online when it happened. Her racist remark about the President was met by a quick banishment. Problem solved. I belonged to another group that did nothing for my writing career and caused me anguish. Removing myself from the group brought instant relief. I hadn’t known how much I dreaded opening the messages until I was out. That brick was a pleasure to mortar back in place.
I had alerts set up to let me know when new topics popped up in several lesbian fiction discussion groups. I only responded in the groups when a direct question was asked about one of my novels. After weeks of nothing but notifications of one particular overly enthusiastic new author, tooting her own horn to the point of obnoxiousness, I disabled the notifications. If I was anything close to that verbose in my excitement at becoming an author, I do humbly apologize and ask forgiveness. If someone is truly interested in my books, they know where to find me. That brick went back in pretty quickly and the silence was golden.
Readers sent me transcripts of conversations from other groups that I am not a member of. It’s amazing what people will say when they don’t think the person they are talking about will ever see those words. After several of these, I asked the kindhearted readers, that were only trying to defend me against what they deemed unwarranted attacks, to please just leave me out of it. Let them talk. To give it another thought would be lowering myself to the level of middle school “she said – she said,” and quite frankly, I’m just too old for that. If another author or anyone involved in this genre feels the need to bash my novels in public, more power to her. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and it just might trigger a reader to go find out for herself. I, for one, believe there is room for lots of lesbian fiction authors and no need to attack each other, since the far right does such a good job of it. Another brick in the wall.
I became involved in the marketing and daily grind of running my own publishing business. Lawyers, accountants, editors, formatters, sales and taxes, the realities of running your own business. Communication with readers is also essential in today’s market. I gladly spend time each day on Facebook. I have, however, begun to watch my time there more closely. It’s on in the corner of my screen while I write and when I take breaks I pop over to see what’s happening or comment. Facebook can suck two hours away before you know it, so I check the time when I click on the page. I know exactly how much time I’m spending there. If I’m stuck or plotting, it’s a nice diversion for a while. The most important thing I realized is that the people on my FB friends list are already readers. That’s how they found me in the first place. No sense in wasting writing time, chatting with them all day. They would rather I were writing anyway. A small brick in the corner went back in.
That brings me to my final brick. My fortress is almost as good as new, as pristine as when I began this journey. I was alone in my fantasyland back then. No one but my wife knew I was writing. It was blissful in that world, no voices of decent, no distractions, just me and a keyboard. I didn’t worry about what the readers would think. I never thought there would be any readers. I wrote that first novel for my wife and me. I shared it with a few close friends. They liked it. I was hooked. I wrote like a demon possessed and turned out four manuscripts in less than nine months. Every spare moment was spent in my little very productive world. I saw that production decline as the popularity of the novels I eventually published rose.
Distracted by this and that, I longed for the peace of just writing. That heart pumping excitement that greeted me each time I sat down at my desk. The days when all I thought about were the characters and plot lines, and what to cook for dinner. I truly missed it. I set about putting my house back in order. A friend told me yesterday that another author said to her, “Readers read and writers write.” She went on to say, and I paraphrase (hopefully well,) “anything beyond that is just extra.” Readers want more books to read and writers want to write them, it’s as simple as that. Get back to basics, what got you here, why you began to write in the first place. I’m doing just that. I made up my mind this morning to put the last brick back in the wall.
As my hands shook from anger, I wrote a long scathing post in one of the last two groups I’m in, outside of my own. I didn’t send it. I realized my heartfelt response would fall on deaf ears. I am the odd man out here, and out I’m going. I wouldn't hang out with people I don't trust in the real world, why should I do it in the virtual world just because we “seem” to be in the same profession. In “real” life, I would simply walk away, because my life is complete as it is. My mother-in-law has a saying. “Life’s too short to hang out with people you don’t like.” She also says, “Don’t put yourself in situations you know you don’t do well in,” meaning eventually I would go off on a rant, because I don't do well staying quiet while others clog the air with deceit and complete self-absorption. I was going to blow a gasket if I stayed in that group. I’m going to take that advice. The last brick goes back in the wall and I am once again shielded from the distractions of negative karma.
I am writing this while taking a break from the novel I’m working on. I was amazed at how freely the words flowed this morning. A weight has lifted and I am once again in my safe place. If I feel intense emotions like anger and anxiety, I want it to be in the middle of a scene I’m writing, not staring at group messages. I get all the support I need from my family and readers who enjoy my work, and let's face it, writers thrive on feedback. I’m remaining in one group only and if at anytime the pleasant atmosphere dips to negative drama, I’m out. If this is poor marketing strategy, because word of mouth plays a huge role in this tiny little incestuous genre, then so be it. My blood pressure will remain at healthier levels.
I’ll do a better job of protecting my space from now on. As an author, my brain is my only asset. If I clutter it up with things that really have no relativity to my work or my family, then I’m misusing my instrument and disrespecting the people who truly love me for me, not because I write books. If you are an author reading this, then you’ve probably already had these revelations. You’ve learned to manage your time and not let things interfere with your work, and are nodding your head, "Been there, done that." If you are a reader, then know I truly appreciate your support and if you’re not a nut case, I’ll probably keep talking to you anytime you feel like dropping me an email or a message on FB. (don't flame me over the use of the term "nut case." If you've been on the Internet, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Let's be real here.) Don’t freak if I don’t answer right away. Know I’m writing and managing my time better. That’s what most readers want anyway, more books. There have only been a few readers that expected more than I could give, but that few taught me valuable lessons. It was a hard lesson for me, fraught with hair tugging and tears, but I made it back to my turret, where I gaze now over the land I’ve created. The tower is again a stronghold, and I write, and write, and write, because after all, what good is a castle without a fairytale.