Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Earnestly

I am having a conversation with an earnest young writer. I have no choice; I'm trapped in a doctor's waiting room; all the chairs are taken and he's in a leg cast sitting next to me. I'm pretty sure the receptionist, who has been reading my vampire novels and demands a new one everytime I have an appointment, has let it slip to Earnest that I am a real author (as opposed to a fake one? One who is only a figment? Ghost writer? I never get that label.)

After heaping me with praise for being the real deal, although he tempers the gush by admitting that he's never actually heard of me or any of my books, Earnest confides: "I have a fantasy novel that's ready for publication."

The standard published author response is to smile and congratulate him. Something vague, along the lines of "That's terrific." My watch tells me the doc is probably going to keep me waiting for another 30 minutes, so I might as well be nice. "That's great," I say, and think of Jesus weeping before I go on. "What's it about?"

"Well," says Earnest, before he launches into a description that tells me nine thousand things about his hero's backstory and absolutely nothing about the novel. It sounds like Lord of the Rings with only one guy being manly instead of twelve of them. While I listen, I amuse myself by inventing titles for this book of Earnest's heart: The Sauron and the Fury. Death of a Hobbit. Alas, Poor Gandalf.

From Earnest's lengthy description, his book is about as ready for publication as I am prepared to take the gold in Women's Olympic Skating. Just before I lapse into an irreversible coma, Earnest adds the final blow. "It's like Terry Brooks' Shanara novels, but not exactly." He gives me a hopeful look. "Do you know Terry?"

I am briefly tempted to claim Terry is one of my ex-husbands, just to enjoy myself in a small but evil way, but that kind of joke has a way of biting you on the ass in a small town. "No, I'm sorry, I don't."

"But you've read his books." Earnest is fan-anxious now.

I shake my head and invoke the Rule of Silence: Never explain to a fan why you don't read his idol's novels. Never. There Can Be No Adequate Excuse.

"I'm surprised." And he is. "You being a published author." Doubt, too, implying that maybe I'm not, you know, real. "You've read Lord of the Rings, though."

Bingo. Honest response: Not even if you drugged me. Polite lie: Many years ago. I make mine reasonably honest. "Nope."

Earnest is earnestly speechless for about two seconds. "What is it you write again?" Horror has given him temporary amnesia.

I could give him a run down of the backlist, but he's had enough jolts for one day. "Romance novels," I say, and observe the superior gleam appear in his eyes. He's about to explain to me that I write trash, in a polite, condescending way, and with the mood I'm in, I might break his other leg.

Before Earnest can patronize me, I say, "Excuse me" and wander up to the receptionist's window. To her, I say, "I will give you an ARC of Dark Need if you take me in right now."

I am on the exam table two minutes later. The doc's new tech comes in, puts up my x-rays on the light board and eyes me. "Ms. Kelly?" When I nod, he smiles. "Alyssa says you're a real author. I've been working on a novel myself."

I am sitting on a metal table in a large paper napkin that passes as a patient gown, so I can't make a break for it. "That's terrific," I say. "Have you met the other author out in the waiting room? Guy with the broken leg. Writes just like Terry Brooks." I think of a way I can make a break for it and get off the table. "Excuse me, I have to use the restroom."

I wash my hands nine times before I go back to the exam room, and it works. When I leave a half hour later, tech and Earnest are talking in the hallway. Both of them ignore me. It's okay. Not like I'm a real author.

33 comments:

  1. Thanks for the chuckle. An easy situation to visualize, but it makes me wonder why other professions don't have that problem. No one ever strikes up a conversation with a stranger in a waiting room by saying, "You're a waiter? You know, I've always wanted to be a waiter, too!"

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  2. This comment is pretty much useless, but I just love this story. Had me rolling.

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  3. I think a lot of people think the life of a writer is glamorous, and they have no idea how wrong they are.

    I loved the part about using an ARC as bribery *grins*

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  4. Funny how the non-real authors are the ones actually able to clothe and feed themselves through their writing *g*

    Thanks for the chuckle.

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  5. Yup, that was fun. In fairness to this guy, I have a bad feeling that, thanks to inexperience, I'd make a muck of explaining my novel, too. One of these days, I'll have to learn how to make a smooth pitch. That line, "It's Animal Farm . . . in space!" might hold their interest for a few seconds, but their very next question will be, "Yeah, buddy, but what's it about?"

    And that's when I get out the .44 and shoot my foot off.

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  6. A real writer is one who is published if this post from my blog in Dec is any indication.

    Tis the Season!

    Him
    "So what do you do"?
    Me
    "I'm a writer"
    Him
    "What kind"
    me
    "I've written one novel working on another"
    Him
    "anything I might have read"?
    me
    "I'm unpublished at present"
    Him
    "So you might as well write in a journal"
    me
    "well so far it's had the same result"
    Him
    "except then you would be a Journalist"
    Me smirk as I notice someone, anyone trying to get my attention.
    Oh look there's the bar!

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  7. Oh gawd, Girl!
    It may be wicked of me, and my sympathies should lie with the poor sod - being novel-unpublished myself... Yet I cannot help but identify with you entirely, yea, even unto each and every mental observation.
    Maybe that's one of the reasons you're a REAL writer.

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  8. Anonymous7:31 AM

    I can't help thinking that any unpublished author who has the opportunity to talk to someone who is published - no matter the genre - had do well to ditch their presumptions about writing and talk to the person. They had to do something right, after all, and my bet is that they *gasp!* wrote a book worth reading, at least by some editor's perspective, and wait, aren't editors those people we want to like our books...? Hm. Perhaps I'm missing something here, but the guy obviously has a long way to go, and I say that without condescension since I'm in the same boat. *shrug*

    Jess

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  9. Ha! It could have been worse -- you could have said, "Yes, I've read Lord of the Rings. Hated every single page of it." Then you'd see the fan indignation fly!

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  10. Hey, a trick to getting in to see the doctor without waiting for 5 hours! I'll have to remember that (and schedule all medical issues for after I have an ARC). ^-*

    What's weird is that I've had something like this happen, and it was similar: I had been looking through the SF&F section of the bookstore, taking note of various themes and such with my roommate - trying to decide where my stories would fit in. A young guy overheard me and came up to me after we'd left the store to ask if I was a writer. I said I was, but that I wasn't published yet (I think he ignored that part), and he launched into asking me for the "secret key" because, of course, he had "brilliant" (quote - I'll never forget it) story ideas. I decided to be nice and told him about Forward Motion, saying it was a great place for beginners to get some advice and polish their craft. He was offended and very disappointed that it was the best I could do. I thought it was actually useful advice! It made me wonder what published authors go through - especially when they give the same kind of advice of finding a place to LEARN. Now I know!

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  11. I really, really hope this really, really didn't happen, but I've heard enough stories like it to consider it did. A teacher at school told the story of a time she was attacked in a parking garage. She managed to get away without getting hurt, but after reporting the incident to the security guard and talking with him, he learned she was a college writing teacher and asked if she'd be willing to look at his novel. Sheesh!

    Seems everyone you run into is an aspiring author.

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  12. A day in the life....It's quite funny. As soon as people find out I published a novel, suddenly, they're all working on a novel. I don't ask for any further details. And to think you didn't break the other leg. I might have been tempted to break it, too....

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  13. ...Wow. If I ever run into a published writer, I must remember not to tell them I'm an unpublished writer; it would likely make them run screaming in the other direction, expecting someone like that guy.

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  14. I should mention that in normal social situations I'm always happy to talk shop, lest someone think I'm a total snob, and I would never be nasty to an unpublished writer.

    On the other hand, when I'm about to voluntarily allow needles to be stuck into my joints while I'm sitting almost bare-assed on a slab of aluminum in front of people I'm not having sex with, it's probably not a good time to tell me about your Terry Brooks knockoff.

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  15. I made a t-shirt I like to wear out just in case of moments (or many moments) like these. (g)

    http://www.cafepress.com/thewritesnark.49789950

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  16. PBW, you handled that as graciously as anyone could expect.

    I know that sometimes people don't realize how insulting they're being when they diss romance novels. Of course, that could be because they assume that we would never write "those" books by choice but are only doing it for the money and, therefore, completely agree that they're writing 'real' or 'serious' books. (At this point, I don't make much money, so it's a damn good thing I love the genre!)

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  17. I'm mildly curious as to how old this kid was. Not that it matters, really, except that I might think of him a bit more kindly if he was fifteen rather than, say, twenty-two.

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  18. I know of a writer who read "The Hobbit" just because she was tired of saying she hadn't.

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  19. Jonh wrote: I'm mildly curious as to how old this kid was.

    I think he was in his mid-to-late twenties; he didn't have the bloom or acne of adolescence, and there were the beginnings of crowsfeet at the corners of his eyes (strange way to judge age, I know, but I can almost always tag teens by skin quality.) I've been cornered by writers of all ages, though, and do try to be polite to all.

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  20. One does wonder who broke his leg and why....

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  21. The "never explain to a fan why you don't read/like his idol's novels" part has happened to me.

    I ran into a casual friend in a bookstore once and he was standing in front of a certain author's books, perusing the back cover of the latest one. We greeted each other and he excitedly said, "have you seen that such-and-such has a new book out?"

    I said, "no, not really. I don't read such-and-such."

    "But why? He/she is a great author."

    At this point, I faced the same choice. Be blunt and say "he/she isn't all that great." (a polite way of saying he/she sucks) Or smile, shrug, and say "I just don't."

    I chose the second in the interests of tact, knowing perfectly well that everyone has different tastes and as a result this person is still a casual friend instead of, well, whatever the option is for someone who is irked that you don't like his idol.

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  22. "So much to read, so little time..." allows the fan to believe that the slightly worried expression on your face is because you might die before having a chance to read his idol. He doesn't have to know that you're actually afraid you'll have to chew off your own arm to avoid being dragged into a discussion of that sludge...

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  23. I think an old physics equation in the success matrix applies here.

    T + A = k, where talk + action = constant.

    Those that can, do; those that can't talk (or worse, teach)

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  24. Okay, I'm going to ask even though I have a feeling I won't get an answer. Why the Not even if you drugged me about reading LoTR? Just too much hype that you know you'll be disappointed, or a general aversion for the whole thing leads you to not want to read them? Just curious. It took me thirty-five years to get around to it, and I've still not read The Hobbit.

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  25. Have you considered publishing this to a magazine? Baen has a new ezine that would probably love something like this. They're publishing stories and non-fiction articles from sf authors--both their own and others. Check it out (no ulterior motive here other than I'd like to see more of your writings, and I subscribe to this ezine).

    http://www.baensuniverse.com/subguide.html

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  26. ARC bribery, nice getaway! You were probably one step ahead of the pitchforks and the torches. *g* Although the "I'm a romance novelist" is a good deflector. Nobody expects romance writers to read SFF.

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  27. You were smart to retreat. LOL! Next time I suggest an iPod or a Walkman. They work well. (wg)

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  28. Lynn M wrote: Okay, I'm going to ask even though I have a feeling I won't get an answer. Why the Not even if you drugged me about reading LoTR?

    An English Teacher who considered herself The Guardian of All Things Literary scarred me for life by forcing me to read The Hobbit at an age when I considered Paul Zindel one notch below the Almighty (and still do, in some ways.)

    I never got over the harm done to my poor adolescent brain cells. Thanks to that damn book, I've struggled to overcome a lasting aversion to epic fantasy for the last 30 years. I made myself watch the LOTR movies as sort of aversion therapy, but my right eye still twitches whenever anyone invokes the hallowed name of J.R.R. and his masterpieces.

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  29. Melody wrote: Have you considered publishing this to a magazine?

    That's a nice suggestion, but I made a promise to myself when I went public with this weblog not to profit from the content. I make enough money from those of you who go out and buy my books. I do let online magazines and other bloggers reprint some of my posts at no charge, as long as they let me know where it's going to be. It's good free publicity.

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  30. PBW,

    I've got this absolutely, great book floating around on my hard drive. It is soooo good I didn't even have to edit it!!! For some reason, all that I've been getting from the publishing houses are rejections. They just don't know what they are missing. Would you mind putting a good word in for me? It's just the break I need. Maybe, I could even just email you a copy. Huh? Don't you just think that would be way too fun?
    ------
    ;) I really needed the laughter today. Thanks.

    Back to RL, now.

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  31. Anonymous6:32 PM

    PBW said:
    "An English Teacher who considered herself The Guardian of All Things Literary scarred me for life by forcing me to read The Hobbit..."

    How odd. My English teachers scarred me for life trying to shove down my throat such things as The Pearl, Cannery Row, etc. To protect my sanity, I fled into The Hobbit, et al.

    Silverdrake

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  32. LOL

    This is a good reason for a pen name. *wink*

    I loved The Hobbit and LOTR but they aren't for everyone. I even liked The Silmarillon, which shows what a geek I am. But then I've always liked history and genealogies and such.

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