14 May, 2012

The Nice Squirrel

As I start this, it's Monday, a bit shy of two in the afternoon. We've just completed a rather late lunch of grilled shrimp skewers and tomato salad. It's a gorgeous day outside and we have just about every window in the house open. Bill's mowing and the kid's downstairs working on her jewelry side business. I, however, am currently sitting in our living room/office at my desktop iMac - fwiw, I do almost everything composition related on my MacBook, a traditional keyboard doesn't work as effortlessly for me. If I'm sitting here at my desk then I'm not working/writing, I'm planning my grocery trip, paying bills, or futzing around online. Today I'm online. The iPod player in my sewing room is blaring Johnny Lang, and I've spent the last half hour or so trying to get through the stack of tabs in my browser.

I regularly pile up a lot of open tabs in my browser.

I intentionally research lots of things for the books, but I also follow links that sound interesting and take me to all sorts of odd places. Like Victorian death photographs. watching LMFAO music videos, and if consumption of factory raised chicken contributes to obesity. I call it the SQUIRREL!! factor. I see something that seems weird or quirky or thought provoking, or just plain fun, and I click.

I spend waaaay too much time screwing around online. I do. I admit it. It's that damn scampering squirrel, ya know?

SQUIRREL!! factor aside, most of my browser tabs are for recipes, quilting, or writing. Especially writing. Recipes and quilt patterns are usually printed, archived, or simply tossed aside. They're quick and easy to process through. Writing posts and articles, though, are a bit trickier. I follow several writers and publishing professionals (especially on Twitter) and, if their topic of the day interests me, I'll click. And I'll click, and click, piling up tabs like crazy. Marketing. Platform. Character Arcs. Theme. Pacing. Structure. Writing links are like nuts for my squirrel. Most end up being somewhat craptastic or utterly inapplicable to me. While I do enjoy reading about different processes and methods and all, I know what works for me and my writing brain, and what screws me up. A lot of the writing articles I read are simply discarded. Works great for them, not so much for me. But that's okay. We're not all supposed to do this job the same, after all.

Every once in a while I run across something that really intrigues me, or scratches a mental itch. Those things I'll print or bookmark. Even rarer are the posts and articles that make me nod my head in utter agreement. They're the posts I tend to share. I don't share much, but today I have two. Yes, TWO.

Today's first big nod was Don't Be An Ass case studies: Wheaton and Gaiman on I Should Be Writing. Immediately after reading it, I ran across Chuck Wendig's On The General Weirdness of Having Fans.

Let's start with 'don't be an ass'. Honestly, I think every public professional... no, screw that, every freaking PERSON, should have that branded somewhere on their psyche. I grew up with a professional musician and, starting as a small child, met many famous people. I worked as an advertising graphic designer for much of my adult life (more creative professionals and locally famous people), and have spent my whole life in middle America dealing with shop owners and loan officers and repair people and teachers, just like everyone else. I became a pro writer and rubbed elbows with some fairly famous authors. In all of those interactions, I've met supremely nice human beings, and utter shit-head assholes. As a regular person living a regular life, I refuse to work with assholes. I don't seek their expertise, and I sure don't buy any of their wares.

There are a handful of writers that I will not, regardless of how 'great' their writing may be, ever spend one penny of my hard earned money on. Heck, I won't allow their crap in my home, they're that awful as people (and no, I won't name names). There are other writers who are consistently so sweet and kind and approachable I buy everything they write even if it's not my thing. I've seen writers act nice to their fans then turn around to their friends and say something nasty about the fan that's walking away beaming after meeting their idol. The fan that spent money and time and gathered the guts to just walk up to them - as an introverted person, lemme insist for a moment that approaching someone you look up to is just about the most intimidating thing ever - only to be presented a false front or, even worse, utter disdain. Yep, I've seen that too. Treating fans like last week's dirty diaper.

Most writers are incredibly nice, but some are not nice at all, just like any other group of people. I've met Neil Gaiman (mentioned in the linky above) several times. He's nice. Supremely nice. Gracious, even. Despite never meeting Wil Wheaton, I have a lot of confidence he's sweet, too. He sure seems that way online, at least, and I really appreciate his 'don't be a dick' stance. As for myself, I do my absolute best to be friendly, approachable, and kind. I don't know how many free books I've given to fans. Lots. Signed lots more. I have - so far - responded to every bit of fan mail I've received, and I even respond graciously to the 'not a fan' letters. I'm happy to talk to writing groups, school kids, whoever wants to hear about this crazy job I found myself in the middle of. I answer all sorts of interesting questions and, more often than you might think, fans become friends.

The point of all that is Don't Be An Ass. There are a lot of amazing people out there, and if you approach the fan/writer equation with grace, kindness, and overall good will, it's a great experience for everyone, including the writer.

However, as Chuck Wendig (whose blog you probably ought to be reading if you're not already. Yeah, yeah, it's laced with bad words and references to bodily functions, but that's part of its charm) it is really weird to have fans. Don't get me wrong, I love my fans, but it's a bit of a mind-bender the first time (or the hundredth) a stranger rushes up to you squeeing about how awesome you are.

Frankly, I consider myself to be rather mundane, boring and, well, a bit of an air head, so there's always the moment of wanting to look over my shoulder to see what genuinely cool and worthy-of-attention person is behind me. Even when I'm at a signing table at a conference or have just been on a panel or whatever. It's WEIRD, okay? Especially when I know that I wash dishes and trim my toenails and change cat litter just like every other mortal. When I know that, for me at least, writing isn't 'special' or even remotely awe inspiring, it's a whole lot of lonely late nights glowering at my computer screen because what I'm typing is obviously a slimy lump of rotting muck. Ask my daughter. She'll tell you how boring I am. Fans make it rather surreal. They make it all surreal.

But without the fans I wouldn't have three novels still in print. I wouldn't be able to send checks to charity four times a year from the ebooks. I wouldn't have another novel being shopped around, two more in progress, friends scattered literally all over the planet, been to places I'd never thought I'd see, and I certainly wouldn't be sitting here on a Monday afternoon blogging about being nice to fans.

We all should strive to be kind. Always. Play nice. Be thankful.

If I ever don't do that, y'all have my permission to set me straight.


Maripat said...

Tammy, hugs. That’s a great post. Spending so much time at FM, and seeing a lot of my friends get published, I don’t get as start struck anymore. And it burns me when I see an author get snippy or the You’re Lucky I’m Noticing You. (Some people should not have a blog.)

It’s a real turn off to see bad behavior, and I’ve given up buying books from certain authors. Truthfully, it’s why I don’t like going to the conferences as much.

Tammy Jones said...

Thanks, hon.

It saddens me how many people let their egos get in the way of simple politeness.


Dragonmyst said...

Good post. :)