So, Tim Cooper and I…

So, Tim Cooper and I had an argument about a week ago. I don't know that I particularly want to go into it all publically, but I am glad to see him posting again; I got sort of snippy in my last mail to him, and said a couple things that were probably out of line, and my only real excuse is that I get irrational when it's late and I've been off my thyroid medicine, and things upset me far more than they should. That's not much of an excuse, because I know that well enough that I shouldn't let myself write e-mail when in that state. So I'm sorry about that, and glad to see him posting (the long silence worried me), and hoping we can patch things up.

But I also feel like he missed my main point, and I don't know whether I expressed myself badly or whether we just have really different views on this, so I'm going to talk a little about what I mean by 'professionalism'.

I am all for idealism, y'know. I couldn't have done Clean Sheets, or published my own work, if I wasn't willing to do what I think is right, no matter what the establishment, or the authorities, or my parents think. Sometimes doing that is awfully lonely. Sometimes you say stuff that people only get upset about, and you wonder if it was worthwhile. Every time I've posted a version of "Mint in Your Throat", I've had to deal with lots of frustration and anger and denial from readers who didn't think I should talk about rape and arousal in the same breath. When I wrote that robot teddy bear sex story ("Amanda Means Love"), looking at child sexuality, I got blasted by some people who I thought were friends. I still haven't found a market for that piece, and maybe never will. So be it. If I eventually give up on all markets, I'll post it here, because I think it's important to say these things. It's incredibly difficult to say them sometimes, but that's just the way it is with the important things, sometimes.

What surprises me more, and always has, is how much people do listen. How most of the time, they don't actually recoil in shock and fear. And I may be wrong about this, but I think a lot of the reason I've had as much success as I've had, has to do with style and presentation. Meaning that if I write and publish something and talk about it as a perfectly normal sort of thing to have published -- people respond that way. If I'm at a dinner party and my work comes up and I stay very calm and matter-of-fact -- within fifteen minutes, I often hear other people saying very honest and revealing things about their own attitudes about sex. That's amazing, and it really changes the way people think, and I bet you that if I'd acted jittery or ashamed or gone quiet, that later conversation wouldn't have happened; people would have had their prejudices confirmed and gone away thinking less of me. Some of them, anyway. Should they have risen above their own programming? Maybe -- but if I can help them, so much the better.

So it's felt very important to me with the erotica to be as professional as possible about it; to do is well, and with elegance and grace if possible -- to stand up straight and speak the truth, as much of it as I can figure out. Of my truth, anyway. To strike the right tone, so that I make it as easy as possible for people to hear what I have to say. To engender respect -- and if I have to start with respect for my spelling and the magazine's timeliness and its pay rates, and only then have readers move to actually respecting the work, that's okay with me. It's part of why I cross-publicize CS in the sf/f world; because I know that if I act professionally there, sf/f writers will think of the magazine professionally. They're deeply invested in being paid on time for their writing, after all. (Susannah's taking CS in different directions, which is fine -- I'm just talking about the way I operate, which doesn't have to be the way anyone else operates).

For me, professionalism never means not saying what you believe. Let me repeat that, just in case -- Say What You Believe. But professionalism is all about saying it in such a way that people hear you. It's usually about presenting your best side, your calm, reasoned arguments. It's about making sure the trains run on time. It's about putting in hell of a lot of work, and then taking a shower and putting on a clean dress, so that they don't see the sweat. It's about not getting so carried away with emotion that you say things you don't really mean. It's about trying to be someone worthy of being admired, and emulated, because I think that's the best way to really get your message across. It's about wearing a suit if you have to (and gods, I hate suits, and am profoundly grateful that sf/f doesn't expect them) in order for people to see and hear you in the right frame of mind. It's about thinking over what you say ten times before you say it, sometimes. It's about being a little careful, thinking about all the ramifications of your actions. It's about trying to understand why and how people judge you.

This is not the approach for everyone. It precludes possibilities, like fine, inspiring rants. You don't see a lot of those in here, and the ones you do are still generally pretty carefully written, even if the tone is that of an impetuous madman. I'm always aware that the world is watching, and it keeps me from saying some things. I don't always rant about a book I hated for example, or an author or editor who pissed me off. In part because I'm not sure that kind of thing is ever very constructive, in part because I'm thinking about consequences. So I end up making trade-offs between complete honesty and what I think will lead to greatest effectiveness. I might wear a suit, even though I hate them -- because in the end, the suit doesn't really matter. In some ways, it's a very political choice; compromise sneaks up on you over time.

I have a few friends who are wonderful, passionate, honest people -- and they say things, publically, that get them into trouble. That is their right and prerogative and it's probably good for us all to have people like that around. If they were just lone voices crying in the wilderness, working as happy accountants by day and posting journal entries by night, I'd say go for it (but remember that what you say can hurt people sometimes). But all of these friends of mine also have writing-related careers -- as writers, editors, publishers. And I'm worried about what will happen to those careers when they come up against the reputation that they, as individuals, have built. Because people do judge you, and if you're trying to reach those people, if their opinion matters to you in any way at all (even if you're just trying to change their minds, or especially so), then you may have a hard time reaching them if you're not speaking their language. Some lone wolves have managed to be heard very widely -- but I think that's a really tough road to walk; it's hard to balance on that kind of edge and not fall off into oblivion.

I really want Speculon to succeed. I really want some of my writer friends, who I think write some truly fine stuff, to find publishers, so more can read and enjoy and learn from their work. And while I acknowledge the value of speaking up and speaking loud and saying exactly what you're thinking -- I think that sometimes the result is that you shout so loud that nobody hears you anymore. Unless you've built a really solid reputation (which is why Ellison still has people listening to his truly idiotic rants -- because he wrote some amazingly fine stories, that established part of his reputation for all time in sf), it's just too easy to dismiss you.

I'm all about the consequences, I guess. I care deeply about what happens as a result of my words and actions -- and if I have to compromise some things in order to be effective, I will. I won't compromise everything, and there are some things I won't compromise on at all. It's all a question of where you draw your line in the sand, I guess -- what compromises you can reasonably make without destroying your own integrity.

Every time I went home for Christmas, I used to fight with my mother about getting my hair cut. She wants it short. I want it long. It used to be a symbol of all our disagreements; I was deeply invested in not cutting it. A few years ago, I got a trim while I was out there -- they took off four inches. She was so much happier. And I didn't compromise on anything that really mattered to me -- I did a small thing to make her happy, and we talked better that year than we've ever talked before -- about my writing, my love life, all the important things.

The hair grew back, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *