Two posts in two days. It's a new era, Gentle Readers. This is the first rant of the new year. Thanks to a friend of the blog (FOB, I suppose), I read a missive by Laurell K. Hamilton, writer of the Anita Blake series. Ms. Hamilton has her own blog, where she communicates with her fans -- although I don't believe she has Comments enabled, so she just writes and they read. I don't read the blog on a regular or a semi-regular basis or, well, ever, but since the post was titled "Dear Negative Reader," how could I NOT read it?
First off, almost every writer who's been produced or published has at least been tempted by the internets. You want to see what people thought of your work. You're proud of it, so it stands to reason that it went over big with the audience, right? Pretty much wrong. I entered a few skirmishes when our first Millennium episode aired, mainly because I'd been a part of the internets community before. So I thought I knew how to handle those reactions. However, I did not. Because things change. You are no longer a part of the community. You're the "professional." It's a weird transition but if you block out the negative stuff, you discover that there are a lot of people who appreciate your work. And then you take the next step -- not looking at all. Let the forum peoples have their private place to discuss you. Seriously. It's much easier when you draw that line.
Ms. Hamilton simply Does Not Get It. She makes many cardinal mistakes in her post. First is her assertion that she rarely gets to the message boards, but something compelled her to look this time. I love this. Because one thing I've learned is, either you look, or you don't. There's no in-between. If this sort of thing bothers you, by all means, DON'T LOOK. EVER. Because if you look AND you have a forum, you'll talk about how pissed off you are. Which is exactly what Ms. Hamilton did. And like most injured professionals, she claims that she wasn't upset or angry. Um. Okay.
She continues her mistakes in the very next paragraph by stating that if you don't like her books, she's thrilled for you. Because why waste time reading books you don't like? The genius of this paragraph is what follows. I'm not sure of the efficacy of snipping from other peoples' blogs, so I'll paraphrase. She tells these Blake-haters that there are other books out there for them -- books that don't make you think as hard, books that don't push the envelope. In short, the kind of picture book George Bush still enjoys. And I gotta say, WOW, that's awesome! Because clearly, girlfriend isn't pissed off or angry or hurt. No sirree, implying (nay, SAYING) that people who don't like your books simply hate good, complex writing doesn't indicate fury of any sort. She just CARES that these people find the books suitable for their third-grade level of reading.
The next mistake is to feign confusion about why someone who hates something so much would say so, and would keep reading. This goes directly to the psychology of the internets. Hyper-critical people DO read/see/listen to things they don't like because some people tend to get more out of criticism than praise. Or, hell, they just like yanking chains. There's nothing you can do about this, and you're not the only one it happens to. Unfortunately for the universe, only Harlan Ellison is a master at deflecting these types. There is no other. I love how Ms. Hamilton takes this shit to heart. Because although she says that her books are complex little masterpieces (more paraphrasing), she refuses to hear any negative criticism. Kinda like the Christians who claim to be so faithful but whose faith is threatened at every turn. Yes, faith is hard. But crap, stand behind what you do! Nobody cares as much about your work as you do. That's just a fact. But if all you want is to write wonderfully and have people praise you, don't get produced or published. Because once it's out there, man, it ain't yours anymore. Nobody's gonna have the same interpretation and love that you have. So either don't publish, or learn to live with it.
Ms. Hamilton actually does one thing right -- she mentions her sales figures. I once had an internets tiff with a romance writer (I won't name any names but she also writes under a pseudonym). Said romance writer was furious that I (along with others in the same forum) denigrated her genre by saying that no great writers had ever crossed over from romance, although writers from other genres have and are considered great writers. This is simply true. But this particular romance writer took major umbrage. Because the most important thing to her was being respected. She spent all of her online time in a forum, as herself, where fawning acolytes spewed praise upon her. Negative attention never occurred to her. But when the negative attention came, all she had to do was go, "Hey, you know what? I'm insanely popular, and way richer than you could ever hope to be. And people adore my work. That's all that matters to me." She never did that. She spent her time trying to force us to admit that romance WAS a critically successful genre. Geez, woman, just wave your paycheck in front of me and say that's why you write! There's nothing wrong with that, if that's who you are. Absolutely nothing. So Ms. Hamilton didn't fall into THAT trap. But occasionally going in forums, wandering into communities because you need a quick ego fix? You're doomed to get pissed off and hurt. And that's why she's really pissed off -- she didn't expect it. She expected total adoration and she didn't get it. When the subject of a forum appears, she/he is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. It's not fair to the participants, and it makes some of them act out like three-year-olds. And you, the professional, pay the price.
The rest of the post, which is practically one ranty paragraph of about three million words, consists of Ms. Hamilton defending her characters which she, of course, sees as extensions of herself. She once again implores readers who don't like complexity to find it elsewhere. She actually wants "negative readers" to read books that are clinically organized, lacking in character, consisting only of plot. Um, sure, because that's the only alternative. And Ms. Hamilton thinks she's not pissed off? Seriously?
I've read several of her Anita Blake books. I quite liked them at the beginning but when they started getting self-indulgent, I checked out. Not when they started getting complex, Ms. Hamilton, or started to push the envelope. I can tell the difference, you see. The real kicker here (aside from Ms. Hamilton's utter failure to properly use an apostrophe) is that she goes on and on about HER universe and HER characters and how much they mean to her. What's funny about that? Her new series is uncomfortably close to Emma Bull's "War For the Oaks." Like, one step past "inspired by." And I'm not the only one who's noticed. It's funny that writers like Emma Bull, Tim Powers, Cory Doctorow and Robert Charles Wilson don't see the need to scream about their detractors. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they're not engaged in the social aspect of writing which, let's face it, is one tiny step above fan fiction. Ms. Hamilton is lucky enough to get paid for her fanfic. Better writers just WRITE, and damn the negativity. Stop whining, Ms. Hamilton. It's unseemly.
I'll talk about music in the next post. I swear.
np - "Condoleezza, Check My Posse," the Majestic Twelve. Hilarious.