Our Writing Friends

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Most writers I know lead a comparatively solitary existence, which is why we, more than the average person, need our friends. I don’t mean we ‘need’ our friend—I mean we need our friends. DragonCon was a few weeks ago and to be perfectly blunt about it, 99% of the reason I went was to spend time with friends. The costumes are fun and the panels are interesting and the opportunity to do some professional networking never hurt anyone, but for me, DragonCon (and most other smaller cons, too) have turned into a convenient gathering place to find and spend time with my favorite people. And as much as we need to get out of the house more and interact with our fellow humans in general, we especially need our writers friends for certain things.

A few years ago a writer friend of mine called me up to tell me she had just landed an agent to represent her novel. And it was a big-time agent, with some serious heavy-hitter clients. Writers know this is a big deal. My friend, however, had made the mistake of first calling her parents. The conversation had gone something like this:

“Mom, dad, I just signed with an agent.”

“That’s, uh… that’s wonderful, dear.”

“He’s got all this big-name clients and has all sorts of connections with all the big publishers. I can’t wait.”

“Can’t wait, dear?”

“Yeah, for him to start submitting my book.”

“How much money did you make when you signed with this agent.”

“You don’t make money when you sign with an agent, mom. He’s the one who sells the book for you.”

“So when is your little book going to be published.”

“I don’t know, he hasn’t sold it yet. I just signed with him today.”

“You sound awfully excited about nothing, dear.” “Love you, too, mom.”

Click.

And so it was, that despite just signing with a major player in the industry, she called me on the verge of tears because her parents so clearly did not understand the realities of our “little book” business. I was appropriately thrilled on her behalf, and after a while the moment turned into the glorious event that it should have been all along, but I’ll never forget how important it was for her to talk to someone who really understood.

Of course, there’s a dark side to this writer-friend business, too. I’ve read novels written by friends that I desperately wanted to like but couldn’t because they were riddled with flaws. Just today (literally about an hour ago) I had to call a writer friend and tell her I couldn’t write a letter of recommendation for a grant she was applying for. I like her and she’s a talented writer, but the project she’s working on now is one that I had personal objections to and I knew if I tried to write a letter recommending it, it would sound half-baked and insincere and in the long run probably do more harm than good. I called her on the phone and talked to her in person, and fortunately she was very understanding about my position, but it was a terribly difficult call to make. On the other hand, that’s exactly why I called her up to talk about it instead of sending her an email: I need my writer friends and can’t afford to throw any of them away, so as they say here in the South, I’m a pleased as punch that it went well. (I don’t know how happiness became equated with punch (unless they’re putting moonshine in the Kool-Aid, which around here is entirely possible…)).

I guess in the end my point is simply this: be as kind to each other as possible while still being true to yourself. And since I feel like I’m on the verge of getting up on a very big soap box and boring people, I’ll aim for short and sweet and leave it at that.

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15 comments to Our Writing Friends

  • Hi Edmund. Yeah, visiting with you guys was the biggest fun of D*C. And is one of the biggest reasons I go to cons.

    As to kindness, and sharing the highs and lows, yeah. We need each other. We need each other bad. It isn’t easy to be a writer. (Or to be green…)

  • Cons for me are almost entirely about seeing friends and hanging out with other writers. I love meeting fans; I enjoy panels and readings. But being with people who understand my day to day existence, and the professional pressures and pleasures that come with it, is far and away the most important benefit of the convention scene. And yeah, without my friends here at MW and a few others I’ve come to know over the year, this profession would be almost too hard to bear.

  • Guin

    *surfacing out of lurkdom for this*

    This is why I love the local mystery writers’ group I joined last year. One Saturday a month we get lectures from local experts (historians, police officers, CSIs, etc.) and/or pro writers, which is all great, but the best part is before/after/at lunch when we get to socialize with our fellow writers. (A few of us also dabble in SF/F, so we get to let our geek out in the socializing, too.) The leaders also give everyone a chance during the meetings to share news about signing/publishing/etc. that “normal” people might not get as excited about. We don’t meet in the summer, and attending the first fall meeting last week was a breath of air I didn’t realize I needed until I had it.

    Tomorrow I get to go to a book launch party for one of these new friends, who just published through a small press. I’m excited to help him celebrate this success.

  • Yay for surfacing out of lurkdom, Guin. Welcome to the sunlight! 😉 Very happy to meet another mystery/speculative crossover. I’ve written both and don’t see why some people make a big deal about it. Heck, Asimov published gobs and gobs of short story mysteries.

    David — Amen. That’s all I’m going to say. Amen.

    Faith — That’s why I don’t recycle my stories; being a green writer would just be more than I could handle. 😉

  • That is something I have been worried about recently, “How to be true to myself and beliefs without burning bridges.” As David has come to be aware, I am a conservative by heart but the Fantasy Genre is one that is very Liberal by my experience. At times, conversations at meetings, writing groups, online forums, twitter, etc can make my own blood boil. Yet I am slowly trying to learn how to balance my values against those around me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend anyone, but then I don’t want to give tacit approval for things I don’t approve of.

    So to end this ramble…. yeah, this is something I worry about to this day.

  • I would not be where I am today without my writer friends, the ladies of the Pendragon Variety podcast. :) I was extremely lucky to meet them all in high school and continue a close friendship through college and beyond–these girls are the ones who support me and inspire me and let me know when what I’ve written is just plain bad (or just plain brilliant).

    Also, I had a blast hanging out with you all at D*C

  • Edmund, as someone who took a while to meet and connect with other writers, I can totally agree with how important writer friends are. Hanging out with people who ‘get’ it is amazing and often a relief. It is also nice to have friends you can turn to for advice that most people wouldn’t possess. (Ironically, I sent Faith such a query this morning.)

    This really is a lonely business. Most days I’m locked to my keyboard (and not just writing, there is a lot of other business keeping me at the computer.) Cons are a major change in my schedule and I usually start going hoarse by the second or third day. I was thinking about this at dragon and realized that if everything I said on any average day was added together, I’d be surprised if it would fill more than an hour. No wonder my voice box thinks I’m torturing it when I go to a con and talk to dozens if not hundreds of people! LOL

  • Mark — Challenging situation. I wish I had wisdom to offer, but at least know that you’re not entirely alone.

    Lauren — D*C was great, to be sure. We’ll have to do it again.

    Kalayna — Cons are change of pace, to say the least. As much as I love/need them, they can be quite taxing, too. Totally worth it, but taxing none-the-less.

    To everyone else, I’m out for the rest of the day. I’m heading down to Charlotte NC for an Incubus concert. Pray for my soul.

  • I did that “Oh my COW!” gasp of horror when I read Ed’s first scenario – not because it’s so unthinkable, but because I’ve been through similar soul searing conversations with my parents both about my dissertation and my fiction. Conversations like that with parents are so much more awful than with others – it’s viscerally harder to blow of a parent’s comments as mere ignorance and it’s programmed into us to want their approval. Which is why I think of my writer friends as my tribe – you guys are the kith in “kith and kin.” If the blood kin can’t give you what you need, the kith can and will.

    Speaking of which – Mark I’m rather conservative too (though I admit my politics are shifting around in recent years) and I’ve found that at Cons people may be passionate, but not usually vicious about differing opinions. I’ve seen panelists go away muttering “fascist” under their breath about others on the panel, but I’ve also seen panelists strenuously disagree and then go out for a beer together afterward. I’ve had some very vociferous, but entirely friendly debates with fellow con-goers. I think there are more conservatives in sci-fi and fantasy than it might appear at first, especially if you count libertarians, and there are lots of liberals who have a good sense of humor and a willingness to engage in debate without being personally nasty to the opposition. Try sticking your neck out a bit more in personal conversations, and see how it goes. (Note I said personal conversation – I’d rather not see MW itself turn into a policy forum.)

  • The first time I sold a short story, it went to a small press magazine that paid in copies. I was beside myself with joy, so I naturally called my parents. Who couldn’t understand how I could possibly be happy that I was getting nothing for my work. (And I think there might have been a comment in there somewhere about me trying to write something like Harry Potter, since that made lots of money.) It wasn’t that they were trying to be dismissive – exactly the opposite. They just wanted me to be rich and famous, immediately. 😀

  • Razziecat

    I’m lucky to live with my sisters, who also write, so we can and do support each other’s efforts, and we can have some pretty passionate conversations about writing. Beyond that, I have to say I find myself wishing for a little bit of that “isolation”, because to me it would mean that I could spend days just writing, instead of dealing with co-workers & customers, nosy neighbors and household stuff. I’m an introvert at heart, but I do appreciate writer-company; I just wish I could fit in a little more solitary time as well.

  • Yes, writers – writer friends – understand what we go through: the solitary world we exist in while we’re writing; the trials and tribulations of trying to get published; the strange and mostly incomprehensible emotional gamut we run. But even more important than that, is the way writers think.
    After a long conversation with my Dad several years ago, we decided that the only difference between a psychopath and a writer is that one of them doesn’t act on his thoughts, or, as he put it: “Normal people don’t think those things, Dear!”
    Sitting down with my writer friends means talking with someone who actually understands me! And they don’t wonder if they should be calling the cops, or the FBI, or maybe Homeland Security when my part of the conversation starts wandering into ‘what-if’-isms that we writers live on.

  • Edmund, I’m digging this. Writing is incredibly different from the other careers I’ve had. Nobody near me truly understands. Regardless of attending cons, it’s nice to be able to interact with people who understand the process, the industry, and the highs and lows. That said, I’m really hoping for ConCarolinas 2012.

    Cheers,
    StillNewGuyDave

  • mudepoz

    Truth. I would give up all my things (and I’m trying, damn it! I keep getting more), but I will not give up my friends. Writers, doggy, what have you. Of course, I’m also honest with them, and it sounds like you are too.
    Oh, my William Shakespringer *Kof* litter was born. You know, Out damn Spot, and he did? http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2297216145656.2130188.1106691725&l=fd0ef24682&type=1
    (Yes, they are named for Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream so the TD doesn’t divorce me)

  • Oh Lyn, that is so true. My writer friends don’t blink an eye when I sit down at a table and the first thing out of my mouth is “I need a deadly poison that is virtually undetectable in the body once metabolized.” Or “I think I have to kill CHARACTERNAME” Now, the other patrons sitting too close at the particular restaurant we’ve decided to gather at do tend to give us strange looks. Once or twice we’ve lucked out though. We were discussing something about dead bodies in a coffee shop one night and a girl who overheard us happened to be student doing a rotation in the morgue. She ended up joining our table and talking with us for about an hour about her experiences.