Changing Behaviors

I’ve written about this topic before, if not here than definitely once on spooklights that I can recall. But it seems worth a revisit.

Yesterday my husband and I were walking over to the school to pick up the kids, and we were talking about how so many of the parents—the ones driving—use what’s known as the “back loop” for pickup, even though every email from the school principal has a reminder that the back loop is NOT open for pickup because it’s for handicap services only. Now, I could hypothesize that a few of those parents who are going against the rules don’t get email? And their kids also don’t bring home the printed notices? But not all of them.

Does it seem to you that more and more people are breaking rules or behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them? (I recommend reading F You Very Much by Danny Wallace, btw.)

I’m going to scale this down a bit and use an example I typically fall back on when discussing this subject, one that I think most of us can identify with: batteries.

We all know we’re not supposed to throw batteries away. There are community events where you bring your batteries and electronics to be disposed of, and there are sites you can bring these things to, and in our town we can even put our batteries in plastic baggies and tape them to the tops of our bins so the garbage collectors take them to dispose of them. How much easier can it get than that?

Or think about recycling in general. For years it was nearly impossible to get people to do it, but then cities began giving people special bins that they could use just like their garbage bins, no need even to separate the types of recycling, and then what? More people recycled!

There are two prongs to changing people’s behaviors, and (spoiler alert) repeated emails telling people not to do something is not one of them.

1. Convenience.

By making recycling as convenient as throwing away your garbage, cities were able to increase the number of people recycling. By putting recycling bins out next to trash bins in public spaces, again, more recycling. By making it possible for us to just tape our batteries to the tops of our trash bins, our town made us a lot less likely to throw batteries out. Because in our busy lives, no one wants to make an extra trip to Wherever to hand off dead batteries.

If and when you want people to do something, you have to make that something relatively easy. The minute you begin asking for extra effort, you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential buy-in.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell it from the point of view of trying to get reviews. Many readers aren’t used to writing reviews, and to do so requires time and effort they’d rather put into reading the next book in their stack. But authors who put a link in the backs of their ebooks tend to get more reviews than authors who don’t. Because just clicking on the link? That’s relatively easy. Write a few words while the reader is still high (or low) on what he or she just read? They’re way more likely to do so at that moment than to come back to it later. And that link makes it convenient.

Going back to the pickup situation at our local school: Why might parents feel the need to break the rules and use the back loop? My guess is it’s because the current system for drop-off and pickup isn’t efficient and doesn’t suit their needs. Well, and they’re impatient and don’t want to wait their turn. There’s a streak of entitlement there—the notion that their needs are greater than anyone else’s.

Which brings us to

2. Consequences.

Another reason these parents have no problem using the back loop when they’re not supposed to? No one stops them. There’s never a police officer waiting there, or even a school official. In short, they do it because they can get away with it. There are no consequences for breaking the rule.

We want to believe people are mostly good, but don’t we all sometimes speed when we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught? “What’s the harm?” we think. Until the day we’re pulled over or, worse, in an accident. I see it every day at the school, people doing well over the 25 mph limit—unless there’s a police car parked nearby.

Why do some people throw batteries in the trash when they know they shouldn’t? Because the benefits (not having to go to any extra effort) outweigh the disadvantages. These people know they won’t get caught, won’t be fined or jailed or anything. So why not do the easy thing rather than the right one? (We as a species are pretty terrible at thinking ahead to greater consequences down the road—Exhibit A: climate change.)

Until the cons outweigh the pros, people will continue to disregard the rules.

How many people do you see driving in the HOV lane when they’re the only ones in the car? Where I live, it’s quite a few. Recently, I read a statistic that only 1 in 40 would be pulled over for it. That’s less than 3%, so the odds are in the favor of those disobeying the law. Clearly a number of people feel it’s worth the risk of (at least here) a very high fine. However, if the numbers were to change—if, say, 60% of people were caught and fined—behaviors would likely change. (My guess is, at 50% these drivers would still play the odds. Hell, even at 60% they might. But if they were statistically more likely to get pulled over and fined than not, they’d probably think twice.)

Why do people in power do things they shouldn’t? Because no one will hold them accountable. There are no consequences. Look at the sexual harassment scandals making waves through Hollywood and beyond. Only now, as people are starting to hold abusers responsible, are behaviors beginning to change.

And change is not instantaneous. It’s slow. To get people to do things, or stop doing them, is like turning a massive cruise ship. It takes time, and some people are going to feel queasy about it.

To summarize: in order to get people to change their behaviors, you must (1) make it easy for them to change, and (2) provide strict and immediate consequences for not changing. We’re creatures of habit, after all. We can be taught, but not easily. We’re like tigers in a circus: crack the whip over us, sure, but also give us treats when we do well. Eventually we’ll be trained.

Fiddling

I’m wandering into the weeds today and exploring some characters who are not my own.

Years ago, I began writing a fanfic that has since been lost to time. Basically it was a Tokyo Babylon / X / Cardcaptor Sakura crossover. Touya had a creature inside him similar to Yue—the opposite of Yue, really, as this alter ego was the power of the New Moon, the byproduct of Clow having created Yue. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Unlike the sun, the moon is inconstant [visually; obviously it’s always there regardless of our ability to see it]. Touya’s alter ego was named Xiwan (or Xi-Wan? something like that). I don’t remember where I got this name, but I do remember readers sending me fan art of the character. I still have it . . . somewhere . . .

I don’t remember much about the fic except that Seishiroh hits Touya with his car. This was the inciting incident, I think? And it was done on purpose as I recall because Sei needed Xiwan, or needed to eliminate Xiwan for some reason. Might have had to do with the Dragons of Heaven.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this here and now except that with the return of Cardcaptor Sakura I find myself thinking more and more about the dynamic between Yukito and Touya. I always want more of their story, really. Mulling it over, I think about how Yuki admits to Sakura that he has feelings for Touya but isn’t sure how Touya feels. How must Yuki have felt, then, when Kaho came back to Tomoeda? When I go back and re-read the scenes in which Yuki gently probes Touya about Kaho’s return, it feels different in light of knowing Yuki loves Touya but is uncertain if that love is reciprocated. Yuki wants Touya to be happy, of course, but part of him must be in knots over wondering whether Touya still has feelings for Kaho, what their relationship was like, etc. And Touya is not particularly forthcoming; he doesn’t do much to ease Yuki’s anxiety.

Not that Yuki ever shows it. He puts a smile on for everything and everyone. It’s easy to read or watch CCS and take Yukito at (no pun intended) face value. But I’m a character person, and I like depth. I like to think that Yuki, sitting home alone night after night, wrestles with these thoughts and feelings. Touya is friendly, yes, but in a somewhat unapproachable way. Even for his best friend.

When you toss Yue into this, Jesus . . . Here is a creature who is as aloof as Touya, but we also know he has deep feelings for his creator Clow Reed. Which means he’s capable of love. Kero gets to be himself all the time, whether in small form or large, but Yue must swap his personality out with this non-person . . . It’s so complicated it makes my head spin. Yue has a sense of duty to Sakura, though his heart appears to remain with Clow. He has very little agency in “life” (if that’s what you call it). He knows Yuki’s thoughts and feelings but doesn’t seem to share them; he’s merely required to carry the burden of them. If he’s lonely, he refuses to admit it. You get the sense he’d prefer to disappear entirely now that Clow is gone. But he feels chained by his loyalty to Clow to continue to care for his new master. All that lies before him is a long trudge without the one person who means the most to him. Think about that for a while.

Love triangles may be cliché but damn does this have the potential to be a fun one. In the fanfic I wrote, Touya is in the hospital and Yuki refuses to leave his bedside. At one point Sakura comes in and discovers Yue there instead. She is alarmed, of course—Yue shouldn’t be seen by anyone, and what if a nurse or doctor or even Mr. Kinomoto were to enter? Yue tells her that he could not bear Yuki’s broken heart and needed to put him out of his misery for a while.

When I look at my book Manifesting Destiny, I realize I probably subconsciously adopted some of the dynamics of the Touya/Yuki/Yue situation when I developed the Cee/Marcus/Diodoric triangle. After all, Diodoric is Marcus’ alter ego. Of course, there is a fourth player in my story: Cee’s alter ego Livian. Not that he’s romantically interested in anyone, but Cee still has to navigate life with him as part of her.

Again, I don’t have a particular reason for bringing this up at the moment. Just something I was thinking about. When, really, I should be worrying about my WIP! So off I go to do some “real” work . . .

Favorite Books & Authors

Image courtesy of pexels.com

Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.

As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.

Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas

You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.

Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.

Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.

“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.

Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.

“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.

Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.

For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.

This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.

Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?

Pondering

Okay, I’m wondering if any other authors have noticed this. I follow a number of agents on Twitter. In particular, I add them to a private list when they’ve requested materials from me so I can sort of see what they’re thinking and get any updates on their slush piles. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a lot of agents and agencies running bootcamps and workshops. And every time I see it, I think, But aren’t they already too busy?

Agents have their clients to look after: sending out manuscripts, reading new ones, etc. And they have a bazillion queries coming at them, plus they need to wade through any materials they’ve requested. We all hear about how swamped they always are, and that’s why it takes them forever and a day to respond to queries. So when I see that they’re also helming bootcamps and workshops, I get a little frustrated. Because I know it means I’ll be even less of a priority, and I was already at the bottom of their lists.

Then I start to wonder why they’re doing this. Are they not making enough money for and from their clients, so they need to supplement the income? That’s a bad sign. Or are they simply looking to part hopeful authors from their money? That’s a really bad sign. And I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe agents are truly doing what they think is best for new authors. Trying to help them succeed. But with the hundreds of writing conferences and whatnot out there, these agents and agencies are not filling a need. There’s no hole in the industry as far as workshops go. So again I wonder: why?

Meanwhile (and not entirely unrelatedly), it looks more and more likely that I’ll be self-publishing Hamlette. But I’ve done pretty well with that route. Check out the feature in yesterday’s BookLife newsletter:

There’s Brynnde! And Faebourne is on the way! 7 August. Mark your calendar!

Author Diversity

The other night my writing group had an in-depth discussion of diversity in the writing and publishing world. As we’re all writers, we mostly focused on that aspect: the push for more authors of diverse backgrounds.

There are a lot of parts and pieces to consider when discussing this topic, and I don’t mean to make light of any of them. If I skim over something, or fail to consider an angle, I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

I am not a person of color, nor am I LGBTQ+. The most I can say is that as a child many people mistook me for Latina (and sometimes still do if I’ve been out in the sun). People will come up to me and start speaking Spanish until they interpret my blank expression as lack of comprehension. I am French Creole, and I do speak that language (very rustily now), but in the eyes of the world at large, I am Caucasian and privileged.

This is, I think, the fundamental starting point for a discussion like this one. I can identify as French Creole, but I did not grow up with as much of the oppression as many other people of color. (Though I did find Adam Sandler’s Cajun Man extremely offensive when I was younger.)

I won’t lie. I do sometimes get frustrated when I see so many calls for books by diverse authors. I want to ask, “Aren’t my words worth something too? Even if my skin is ‘white’ and my sexual orientation is hetero?” But I also understand WHY it’s so important to get a variety of perspectives into print. Readers need to see themselves represented, and the world needs to hear stories that go beyond what we’ve had for the past 400 years. In all that time, literature has been dominated by white, heterosexual characters penned by white, mostly male authors. It’s long past time to change that.

One of the reasons that literature has skewed in favor of white authors is that those were often the people who had the means to sustain themselves as writers. Writing was an elitist hobby, something rich kids did for fun and sometimes profit. There weren’t many wealthy people of color who had the time or education to sit down and write novels. Even now, the publishing world depends largely on interns who can afford to live off their parents, often in expensive cities, while attempting to learn the trade. And there’s no lack of nepotism either. Recently a literary agency has had to deal with backlash because the founder’s son became an agent who, to put it bluntly, screwed over many authors.

So here we are in a world where it can be difficult to get people of color to write. Not necessarily because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the time or means to do it. The result has been a rise of scholarship type programs to help those would-be authors.

At the same time, I find myself wondering whether an agent would have signed me by now if I’d come from a more diverse background. That’s probably me making excuses for why I haven’t landed an agent, though—I recognize that. I know that if my writing were truly great it wouldn’t matter what color or sexual orientation I was. So don’t rage at me. I’m just trying to be totally honest in this post and voice my doubts and fears.

The flip side of all this is the ever present discussion of whether authors who are not from a diverse background can/should write characters from those backgrounds. As someone who writes a lot of gay characters, I certainly hope that’s permissible. And I hope I haven’t offended anyone in doing so, or gotten too much wrong. I do talk to my gay friends for perspective. The spread of sensitivity readers speaks to writers’ desire to get these things right. That said, sometimes it does feel as though one cannot win. If we try to write incorporate diverse characters in our writing, we’re “pandering” and told we can’t write these stories because we haven’t lived the right experiences to tell them—we’re “whitewashing” characters, or making them tokens so we can fulfill a checklist. Yet if we write stories about all-white, heterosexual characters, we’re not being inclusive. Short of only ever writing in collaboration with a minority author, I don’t know what a white, hetero author can do to meet the conflicting criteria.

And AGAIN, I’m not angry or putting anything or anyone down. I’m just saying that I’ve heard all these different arguments and I don’t know the answer. Or if there even is an answer. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Writers use their imaginations for a living. If men can write women characters and women can write men, it’s not so farfetched to me that a hetero writer can possibly imagine an LGBTQ+ character, or a white one can imagine someone of color. I do think it’s important to get feedback from those quarters. Don’t write blind. Writing, really, is a blend of experience, direct intel, and imagination. An author can make something up, something fantastical, but for it to have impact it must speak to the reader in a way that the reader nods and says, “Yes. I know that feeling.” And that feeling may not be, “I know what it’s like to be gay,” or, “I know what it’s like to be black,” but it can often be, “I know what it’s like to be other, an outsider. I know what it’s like to want something I can’t have. I know heartbreak and joy and love and hate. I know what it means to strive and fail. I know fear, and stress, and frustration, and relief.”

Anyway, this post is really just a collection of thoughts on the subject of author diversity. I’ve endeavored to be open and honest and cover a variety of angles, but as I said, if there’s something I missed, please let me know.

Good News/Bad News

Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:
 
 
 
 

So that was fun.

I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.

The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.

The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.

I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.

I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.

Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.

Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.

Romanticizing Darcy

So I read this article today about how Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy is a less worthy hero than Bhaer from Little Women. I’ll admit here and now that I love Jane Austen and never could get into Louisa May Alcott, so I’m probably biased from the get go. But I also am not the type to enjoy “bad boy” stories, alpha male romantic interests, etc. And so I think this article misses the mark.

One of the fundamental assumptions of the article is that Mr. Darcy changes personality over the course of the novel—Lizzie changes him. I agree that in fiction I find the woman-makes-him-a-better-man thing annoying and problematic. But I’ve never read P&P that way. To me, Darcy doesn’t change. He’s always himself. He just has a really hard shell and a gooey center. Lizzie doesn’t change him, she cracks him open in a way only those close to him have ever been able to do.

Take it from Darcy’s side. Here is a man who (a) must fend off women on a regular basis, and (b) also has a young sister to worry about. He has many responsibilities and a lot on his mind. One can hardly blame him for knowing Mrs. Bennet for who and what she really is—a grasping mama. He’s surely dealt with his share of them before coming to Netherfield. He’s learned to be wary, and he’s put up necessary defences that make him standoffish and seemingly rude. But that’s a matter of self-preservation, really.

I’m probably making excuses because I so adore the book, but I still believe my argument is valid. On the flip side, I do prefer nice men to dominant alphas, which is why there are scads of books I don’t read. I don’t find the alpha male trope hot or romantic. Which is why you won’t find them in anything I write, either. And yes, I think it’s possible to write a nice guy character that is still interesting. (Well, they’re interesting to me, anyway. But maybe I’m alone in that.)

What do you think? Darcy: yea or nay? Is he just a Georgian-era bad boy? Who are your favorite romantic heroes?

Thank an Author?

I’ve seen a resurgence of posts saying some variation of: “The best way to thank an author is to write a review!” I’ll admit I’ve even (re)posted these from time to time.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think readers are looking to “thank” authors.

I’m not saying readers are ungrateful. I just don’t think couching it in terms of gratitude is useful. An author does his or her job by writing what hopefully is a good book. A reader then purchases that book. To many readers, that’s the end of the transaction. Readers figure that when they buy our books, we’ve made our money. They’ve done their part. And then we go and ask for additional work from them and tell them they should be grateful we’ve done our jobs and entertained them.

You don’t see posts saying, “The best way to thank an actor is to write a review!” Or, “The best way to thank a band is to write a review!” Why do we do this for authors then? Do we really think it will motivate readers? In my experience it doesn’t.

I would very much appreciate more reviews. But I’ll equally admit that, after closing a book, my first thought is seldom if ever, “Gee, I wish I could thank that author!” In fact, it’s human nature to be more likely to write a review complaining about something bad than one praising something good. We expect good; we feel entitled to it, particularly after spending our money. When something isn’t good, we’re angry and want others to know it.

(I do write reviews, btw. I post them on my spooklights blog and on Goodreads. If I were a better person, I’d also post them on Amazon. For some reason I can’t seem to ever remember to do that. So I guess I shouldn’t complain when others don’t do it for me either.)

The big question is: How do we motivate readers to leave reviews? We can try explaining the importance of those reviews—that without them, authors can’t afford to keep writing and publishing books. So if you like an author’s work and want more, show your support by reviewing. I don’t know if that would work, but I do believe people like to believe they’re helping, that they’re contributing to a worthwhile cause.

Then again, even without reviews, there will always be authors writing and publishing. So readers aren’t going to lack for books if a few under-reviewed authors fall out of the machinery.

Asking for applause is a tad gauche. And that’s what reviews are: textual applause. (Or boos, if the reviews are bad.) How can authors instill the habit of reviewing in readers? We all know to clap after a live performance; sometimes we even give a standing ovation. But theatre has been around for centuries, and when watching something live, we can see the hard work going into the show. How can we help readers appreciate the same for writing?

I don’t pretend to have answers. I just think it’s worth posing the question. In order to get more reviews, we need to examine the culture around writing and publishing and reading—we need to figure out how to add that final step of reviewing to the chain so that it becomes a regular part of the cycle. And to do that, we need to understand how people read and what motivates them. If and when they review, why? Only when we have a clearer picture can we hope to make better progress . . . and get more reviews.

Luck & the Ladder

This morning, author Chuck Wendig posted a really nice Twitter thread about maximizing your luck as an author. Here’s the first tweet:

If you click on it, you can then read the entire thread.

Chuck (if I may be so informal) makes a lot of good points. Writing isn’t a meritocracy. You can work really hard and still not succeed. In a society that has shown us again and again in movies, television, and yes, books, that hard work always pays off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Luck plays a pretty significant role in success . . . of any kind, really, but we’ll stick to writing for now. But as Chuck also notes, you can maximize your chances. Write a really good book, or better yet, write several.

Now, I’ll admit I always bristle just a little when an already successful person tries to pat me on the head and give me advice. I suppose they think it’s helpful, but it’s a little too diffuse to be truly useful. “Go write some more” isn’t some great kernel of knowledge. Still, I know Chuck and his ilk mean well when they hand down their opinions and musings like gods spitting peanut shells from their thrones in the clouds. So I try to take it in the spirit it’s intended.

One piece of advice he gives, however, is to write more. And besides the fact that pretty much everyone gives that advice, it only serves to kick people like me—slow, deliberate crafters of tales—in the gut. I write 1-2 books a year. I know I should write more and faster, but I simply cannot. It’s not for lack of trying, but you might as well tell a fish to climb a tree. It isn’t going to happen.

Does that make me a bad writer? It’s an honest question; I have no idea.

Chuck also points out that writing to market rather than writing what you want to write is probably not the best choice. And he talks about helping other writers by talking about them and their work, introducing them to agents and editors, building community . . . But I’ve written in the past about how a bunch of new writers can’t really help each other much. They need established authors, editors, agents to reach down the ladder and pull them up a bit. And yet it seems like once someone gets a few rungs up the ladder, their interest in helping those below wanes. There are a few reasons for this. Some people, once they’ve made it over the hurdle, feel like others should have to do it themselves. I did it and no one helped me, so why should I help anyone?

Others feel like it’s a zero-sum game. They think if they help anyone else, they’ll lose their chance at making it all the way to the top. They’re afraid helping others will pull them back down a rung. They’re afraid of losing the tenuous position they’ve worked so hard to establish. They begin defending their territory rather than opening the borders.

And some are just frightened and overwhelmed by the cries for help. I imagine it looks a bit like a scene from a zombie movie. Say there’s a mass of people trying to make it to the ladder that leads to safety. They’re swarming around the bottom of this ladder, desperate. And if you make it partway up, and you look down into this mass of humanity, it looks pretty scary. You wouldn’t even know where to begin to help any of them. If you reach down, they’ll hungrily grab at you, may even rip your arm off. As it is, they make break the ladder before you can get to the top. So maybe this feeds into the previous observation, that need to defend your space lest you be dragged back down.

Then again, maybe you build more ladders. Maybe you throw some ropes over that wall so lots of people can climb.

Actions, amIright? I know we’re writers, but sometimes we still have to do instead of relying on our words.

It’s one thing to post a long Twitter thread cheering people on. That’s nice and all, but even if the thread is true and reasonable and posted with the best possible intentions, it’s no ladder.

It’s fair of you to ask at this point, “Okay, so what do you do to help other authors?” Well, I’m not all that successful yet, but I still try to help those coming after me, or even my peers. I give workshops on the writing and publishing process. I let fellow authors know of opportunities I think they may be interested in. And I’m an editor, so I help my selected writing groups by giving feedback that I’d normally charge for. I do what I can, and hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to do more. If the zombies don’t get me, and so long as no one pulls up the ladder before I can get there.

Self-Exploitation

I was listening to a podcast today about upcoming movies for the year, and the podcasters went off on a tangent about a dad’s memoir about his son, and how this dad has also written powerful essays about things he and his son went through. (I’m being intentionally vague here. Why should I shill for this guy and his movie? Though I’m sure it would be easy enough to find out which one I mean.)

It’s natural, I think, to feel that prick of jealousy when some [other] author is being touted. And of course I can’t help thinking, Sure, and of course it’s a man and his son, because their stories are valued. But then I have to ask myself whether I’m willing to pillage my own history for the attention it might win me as an author. And the answer to that has always been: No.

The truth is, I don’t want to be known for some of the things that I would become known for if I did that. If I decided to write about some specific aspects of my past—things I prefer to keep quiet; things I would rather not rehash or relive—I would then walk around with a label on my forehead. And I don’t want that. I don’t want the first thing people think of me or associate with me to be XYZ. I’d rather be taken on my own merits, even if they are mediocre.

Also, if I start talking about them, everyone will want me to talk about them. And I already don’t want to talk about them.

This has been a conscious decision all my life, so I can’t really be annoyed when someone takes the other road. After all, it does take a kind of strength to share these personal things.

Sometimes I’m told that I owe it to society to share my past, that to do so would help others. But I’m not convinced of that, and I don’t think I bear that burden. I’ll share my stories in my own way, in fictitious ways. I will plant the truth like seeds in my make believe. That is enough for me. That is as close as I want to get to opening up my chest and exposing my heart.

And whether anyone else likes my stories, which are my garden, and whether anyone else notices the sprouts of what has been planted, well . . . That’s rather beside the point, I think. A good story stands on its own, regardless of its creator’s history. A beautiful garden is best viewed in the absence of the cultivator.