A Threat to the Regulators

A Threat to the Regulators: Vanessa Cavendish

“who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you; wholly to be a fool while Spring is in the world my blood approves, and kisses are a far better fate than wisdom lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry–the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids’ flutter.”  — e. e. cummings

I first read that in, I think it was seventh grade, before I’d been so much as felt up, never mind syntaxed. But that didn’t stop me from knowing a thing or two about courtship and poetry, both. The first of which is that folks come in two sizes of stupid: those who know the rules and follow them, and those who don’t. I hate to break it to you, but you and I are more alike than you might be thrilled to admit.

Meaning what, exactly?

Meaning that most of the time the best of us will fail to venture out of that first category—the category of the small, of the follower, of the tell-me-what-to-do-and-I’ll-be-a-good-self-starter-I-swear-I-will-if-you’ll-just-give-me-a-chance-and-read-my-query-I-slaved-over-it-it’s-gonna-sell-like-nobody’s-business-and-make-you-and-me-rich-rich-rich-just-please!

There’s a reason why so many of us speak in such tiny and irrelevant voices.

Nothing gets regulated unless it somehow, someway represents a threat to the regulator. That’s a fact of nature, not a rule I made up, and it applies to kissing and telling stories equally. This list of regulators includes, to name a few, People Magazine and Facebook and Goodreads and your English teacher and rapists and publishers and your parents and your agent and your best friend who just wants you to be happy. In other words, regulators are not inherently evil, they just want to be in control. So add me to the list and, while you’re at it, yourself, too.

Kissing, done well, is an act of grace and power and promise. It is a prelude to poetry. When lips rhyme with lips and fingers find their rhythm, form goes out the window and in walks danger.

With a posse of grammarians to insist you wear protection.

The dirty truth is that neither fertility nor contagion will ask permission to cross your bodily or literary premises. When we’re highly charged, we neglect to think about the social, political, moral and practical implications of our speech and behavior. We are liable to shed such useless accoutrements as panties and the prefrontal cortex. We go to a deeper, stupider place where the muses do the heavy thinking. We go there in order to wholly kiss one another. To sanctify our bruises. To get with our genetic legacies and provide for the continuation of the species.

I’ll try and not speak for your muse, but mine, you may rest assured, gives not a rusty fuck for dependent clauses or the agreement of verb tenses. She grunts like a slut and bucks to fill a need that’s got nothing to do with how I define my genre or whether an agent might get me a better deal on a sequel. Because why? Do I need to point out that the poor dork who’s got one eye on your word count and another on your Twitter following has traded true mastery of the situation for a poor attempt to control the outcome? I can’t begin to tell you how wrong-headed, how mean-spirited, how downright unloving that is. You need to dump him pronto. He is not. I repeat: Not. Trainable. Simply getting tested for viruses does not make him a good match for that fine whore of a goddess that’s got you on your back again.

The thing is, you can teach a good kisser how to get the job done in 140 characters if you need to. Or iambic pentameter or whatever the form requires. But you cannot. Never could. Never will be able to teach that part of you that cares more about how many hits your blog got last week than whether you spoke your mind or, god forbid, your heart.

Let me put this in plain English for you. The minute you float a question about your plot twist in your Facebook group or ask your writer friends to vote on whether your heroine should have green eyes or amber, you have entered the zone of the incorrigibly little. Want to take this to the mat with me? If your muse works at Surveymonkey, I am here to tell you, you are both in the wrong line of work. You are making out with a little boy who took a dare to prove himself to his buddies, not to you. He is only dimly aware that you exist, he is the worst kind of liar, and everyone around you knows that he’s lousy in bed to boot. So why do you keep him?

If I tell you why, you might hate me. I can live with that if I have to, but I can’t abide him correcting you all the time for your own good.

You keep him because you are afraid. (I almost said, “of your big girl voice,” but let’s not get cute.) You are afraid that your reputation will suffer if you once fuck like you mean it in a public place. If you take down your defenses and dismantle your readers’ armaments in the process, they might take offense at you.

And what? Look the other way? Talk about you? Not read you?

Listen to me. You were not put on this planet to write a best-seller. No one was. That’s the god’s honest truth, no matter how much you can think you know better. If you’ve bothered to read this far, you might be here to figure out how to observe and tell the truth in the form of a story that gets down and dirty with the reality of pain and the beauty of kissing. Or the beauty of dying. Or the terror of loving. And you might, in the process, agonize over the possibility that the protagonist you got naked with last night might not show up for a second date. And if he does, you might legitimately wonder whether he will pay for dinner this time and provide for the children you neglected to mention—those brats from your first marriage, if you can call it that—or at least keep you entertained enough to want to support his good-for-but-one-thing-and-one-thing-only ass—on a contingency basis.

Your writing life is a private party, I know, and I don’t mean to invite myself and my advice for no cause whatsoever, so let me tell you why I care.

Because when you get naked, you begin to think not for your puny self—which is another way of saying, for your career, for the marketplace, for the sake of your imaginary status as a literary figure or popular icon or whatever passes for cool in your circle; all that shit is truly none of my affair. No. You begin to think and behave the way a human being is born to think and act: for the species, for the tribe, for the long-term survival of the gene pool. You begin to tell stories with the mind and heart and spirit of a moral and social animal, a shamaness, a fertility goddess intent on keeping order in a universe whose rhyme scheme has a deeper, longer, holier scansion to it than we can imagine with our pants up and our skirts down.

Hemming the Bone Veil

Yannick Bouchard

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in my years of blogging that once an author snags an agent, the focus of their blog usually changes. Once they sell a book, it changes even more. Once their book is close to its release date, they start to seem distant. They talk about publishing a lot. Their posts contain carefully planned honesty. Something seems like its missing, and more often than not, that missing piece is never shown after they are published. A sort of veil goes up. A wall, even, and thus we come to the division between the published and the unpublished.”  ~Michelle Davidson Argyle

I was going to blog today. No, I mean really blog. Not whine and then take the post down less than 24 hours later. But, then I read my dear friend Michelle’s post and realized that she’d eloquently laid out what I wanted to talk about today. We’ve been talking in-depth about this subject for days (months really), so I suspect that it is keenly present on both our hearts.

Here is that post. And I want … nay need … you to read it and even if you’re not where we are right now, at least if you’re destined to wind up there, you’ll understand what’s in your future. Then, come back and let’s talk about it a little. I think there might be more truth in that post than in anything else I’ve read in years on what it truly means to be a career author. And it’s worth a discussion.

Yes, I’m not kidding. Go read it. I’ll wait.

OK, do you understand now why I wanted you to read it? The analogy of the veil is anything but mere analogy, and I want to expound a little on it in a personal context. Or rather, how I see it beyond the beginning stages of its placement … the “why” of the veil, if you will.

We’ve taken an artery, a thing that feeds our hearts and minds, and we’ve made its homeostasis a public matter. We’ve taken our somewhat protected world  of alpha and beta readers (whom we trust) and blown it all to hell, by introducing a third party. The Public. And to me, it feels like the equivalent of introducing a third person into my marriage bed.

In other words, it might sound to some of you like a blast in the moment, but the long-term consequences are reprehensible when you consider how they affect that initial relationship. Nothing is the same. Nothing will be the same, and if you’re going to keep your ‘marriage’ solid, you need to know this going into things. You are, in effect, taking another lover.

The veil is your only protection. Imagine it, if you will, as a separation of your lifelong commitment and your illicit affair. No, you can never fully reconcile with your soul mate, but if you must exist in this way, then do your best to devote 100% to each when you are with them. It’s the only thing you can do. I liken it to an affair for a variety of reasons, but the most important of them is this: The unspoken rules of your affair will change dependent upon the participants, but your marriage vows never will. If you are a wholistic writer, as I suspect a great many of Asylum readers are, then you will always be true to that first relationship. You will always be tied to that fiery love of writing and that dogged determination when it was all about the story, that Michelle spoke of so beautifully in her post.

But, like me and like Michelle and so many others, once you’ve changed the dynamics of that relationship, it will change you. How it will change you, and your craft, is entirely dependent upon you and your intimate details. But, don’t ignore those subtle shifts in the flow of your creativity. They can, and have in some cases, proven fatal and I mean this literally.

Why do you think so many authors suffer from depression, anxiety and why so many creative individuals wind up taking their own lives? Because this one thing … this private endeavor, is not something many of us can afford to lose to public scrutiny. To many of us, this relationship is the very fabric of our beings. It is in a sense, our truest God. We would never seek to harm it or do something to dishonor it. Yet, the world and especially the media and the consumerism of that world, forces those of us who are not independently wealthy to do so if we are to write full time.

I’m not saying that getting published is wrong. Or that I regret it. Physically, financially and realistically, it isn’t. But, to my real soul as an author, it’s more than an abomination, it’s disillusionment at its core and regrettably, has shown me for what I really am. Human. It was bound to happen, but did it have to happen quite like this? With this symbiotic of a relationship? For me, and for a good many of you … yes. It’s meant to be this way.

We don’t live in the world of Dickens, or Tolstoy or any of the greats who had to purposely go buy a paper to hear how people responded to their work … to be reminded of just how crudely commercial the literary world has become. They didn’t know what a book trailer was, let alone a blog or book review websites or the soul-sucking darkness that is Goodreads. Their veil was firmly hemmed to their being. I’d even venture to say that it might have been a tad easier to read reviews in some cases because once you walked away, assuming the author didn’t keep the review, they could really walk away from it.

We can’t. It’s blogged, cached, eternal. That infiniteness of our criticisms does not escape our subconscious. It festers and works at moth-holing that veil. So, the bottom line is this: If you find yourself there … with a wad of fabric in your hands and no clue what to do with it … start sewing it to your foundation. Hem it firm and keep the remnants. You’ll need every last stitch because this fast-food, instant gratification society that we exist in, will require you (if you’re to stay sane) to mend and patch those weak places.

Good news is, we are all hemming the veil together and once you’ve reenforced a hole, it’ll never tear in that exact place again. That’s why I’ve called it the Bone Veil. It isn’t just fabric, since I firmly believe it’s a part of our being. And once torn, the fabric threads back together like a bone, ever stronger for the strain.

The Role of Author Identity

“Father was the eldest son and the heir apparent, and he set the standard for being a Rockefeller very high, so every achievement was taken for granted and perfection was the norm.”  ~David Rockefeller

How do you identify yourself as an author? On your blog, FB page, Twitter … do you specify whether you’re published or not? When you’re introducing yourself to other authors, do you quantify what you mean by “author” by prefacing your title with a ‘published’ or ‘unpublished’? Someone sent me a note on Twitter a short while ago and thanked me for the follow, then said that they were an unpublished author with one completed novel and hoped to “one day get a publishing deal.”

Not to downplay the achievement of publication, but does it really matter? I don’t mean utterly. Does it matter in the context of how you should be seen by others? Frankly … no. Why do I say that? Well, let’s think about this for a minute.

What did I do before I was published? I wrote. A lot.

What did I do after signing my first novel? I wrote. A lot.

What am I doing now that I’ve signed six novels? … you seeing a trend here yet?

In other words, it makes no difference. None at all. Maybe it would if I were bringing in millions of dollars a year. Maybe. But, actors don’t normally specify their calling with “working” or “out of work.” They do in movies, but not in real life. In real life, if they say anything at all about their status, it’s “I’m between roles.” Better yet, artists don’t quantify themselves at all. None that I know does. It would seem absurd for an artist to say “I’m an unknown artist.” Starving maybe … but not unknown. Why don’t you ever hear that? Because they’ve figured something out that a great deal of authors haven’t.

When was the last time you heard a mother say, “I’m a successful mother of two,” or “I’m a mother of two who hopes to one day be good at it.” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

It doesn’t matter who validates your stuff. You’re still an author. Your personal validation is all that matters at the end of the day. I’ve read a lot of posts on this subject lately and for the most part authors seem to get the general concept, but there are still a few who struggle with their identity as writers. Who am I and what am I worth?

You’re worth a lot.

I know. I know. We’ve all felt the opposite of that statement. Keenly felt it in some cases. But, was Lewis worth any less before he was published? Tolkien? Woolfe? The very thought seems trite doesn’t it? Then why give yourself so much crap? Or is it that you’re not sure where you fit in? You don’t know who you are yet, so you can’t quantify how much your worth is? Let me say it again … with a bit more emphasis this time.

You’re worth a lot.

At the end of the day, there is only one thing you have that can never be truly taken from you. Your name. The worth of your name is directly correlated to the worth of your word. Do you mean what you say? Are you dependable? In that context, if you claim your name as an author, and you state your existence as an author with the authority vested in such a bold act, then you’re cementing your future. Think of it as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you start every session with those high expectations, you will find out how closely related to input, your output really is. You’ll find out that your worth is a lot more than you’d suspected.

My name is _________ and I’m an author.

There is power in a name. There is even more power in claiming that name as your own. You aren’t unpublished, or pre-published, or even published. You’re an author who happens to fit into one of those categories. You’re also an author who prefers your toilet paper roll either over or under, but you don’t bother attaching that to your name as an author, so why attach anything else to it? Why cheapen its value by weighing it down with unnecessary baggage?

It’s especially important, in this changing industry, to learn to identify yourself outside of the institution and its limitations. Don’t hedge yourself in, in an attempt to hedge your bets. It doesn’t work that way. A business doesn’t become successful because it waits for others to deem it worthy of success. It becomes successful because it started out with an identity and a goal and didn’t stop every five minutes to check up on itself. A healthy, thriving business model is one that, while keeping a finger on its customers’ pulse, keeps its eyes and ears on its mission statement. Its goal.

So, what is your mission statement as an author? What’s your purpose? What do you want to see from yourself, regardless of critical success or failure? Only after you’ve determined the answers to these questions, concretely or abstractly, will you be able to see the path marked before you with any sort of clarity.

Who are you? What are you worth?

The Most Dangerous Game

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I’m going to do my best to put this into words, despite my suspicions of their inadequacy to convey what I’m feeling.

We’re told as artists, from reliable sources, not to take things personally. Yet the act of being an author, or musician, or painter, is quite tied to our intimacies and close relationships. Any career that deals, even a little bit, with reputation is by default a career of duality. The self is suddenly shifted from a thing of sole possession, to a commodity to be bought and sold.

Don’t kid yourself—as an author, you are your writing. That simple truth is the reason why many authors choose to publish under pen names. It protects them. It shields them from some of the inherent pitfalls of this industry. In retrospect, I wish I’d used my pen as a true pen, instead of a novelty leftover from when I was a girl who once dreamt of being an author.

Why?

Because—just like in Son of Ereubus, nothing is what I thought it would be. I don’t feel like I thought I would. I am not reacting as I thought I would, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.  Blogging only goes so far. “Getting over it” only goes so far. “Holding your head up” only shuts out so much.

I mentioned, months ago, that everything was changing for me. Part of that change includes  sudden interest in my life, attention from people with whom I’ve tried desperately over the years to rekindle relationships—with whom I’ve tried to start friendships with, in some cases. It’s a double-edged sword. I am both grateful and heartbroken: Grateful because the support has been overwhelming; heartbroken, because it has nothing at all to do with me as a person.

I am now the equivalent of my accomplishments. This isn’t universally true—of course–there are some folks who have been in my life and been by my side since long before any of my dreams started to appear even remotely possible. This post isn’t about them.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s talk about relationships for a moment.

Brutal honesty, while honorable in some circles, is simply cruel in others. Siblings, parents, close friends and spouses often bear the brunt of our less-civilized selves, in part because we know they love us and that they aren’t going anywhere … when in truth, they should be granted only the best of what we are as human beings. They deserve our highest respect and deepest consideration. Yet, we seem to reserve those things for veritable strangers … people we want to impress or from whom we have something to gain.

We are not immune to this as storytellers.

Our fellow authors deserve nothing from us but the kindest regard and the sincerest empathy. Instead, we’re often consumed with jealousy or simply too absorbed in our own pursuits to realize how our actions affect our peers in publishing. It all stems back to this childish competition mode that a good majority of writers fall into … as if one person’s triumph has anything at all to do with yours.

Seriously, as a whole, authors can be the most self-serving assholes on the planet. I’ve watched writers tear each other apart, disregard favors, back-stab and sabotage till they’ve flat run out of ideas. Then they wait till opportunity knocks. If you don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, then good for you. But, read on anyway because if you stay on this career path, you will eventually understand me. It might take moving up the food chain a few notches. The darkness of human nature, in some ways, seems at its most raw and excitable in the creative world. Maybe this is because we deal with the soul on a daily basis. I genuinely don’t know. And religious authors are not exempt from this untoward behavior. They just do a better job of hiding their nastiness.

Not all authors are this way (yet those who are, are unavoidable). Some of us will genuinely do anything and everything we can to help out other people. We want to see others succeed because we remember what it was like to feel the all-mighty Power of Suck. Hell, I’ve given shards of my soul away for the benefit of others, and you know what … it was worth it. I’d do it over again in a heart beat. The problem though, is that a great portion of up-and-coming authors are downright selfish. Pure and simple. A great many mid-level authors, who’ve been in the game for years are even worse. They’re not just egocentric, they’re ravenous and exhausted from treading proverbial water. They’re tired of being the sum total of their achievements to their friends and family, and especially strangers, and some are out for blood.

And in a way, it reminds me of the 1932 film ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ Why? Well, here’s the plot (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Famous big game hunter and author Bob Rainsford  swims to a small, lush island, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. There, he becomes the guest of Russian Count Zaroff, a fellow hunting enthusiast. Zaroff remarks that Bob’s misfortune is not uncommon; in fact, four people from the previous sinking are still staying with him: Eve Trowbridge, her brother Martin, and two sailors.

That night, Zaroff introduces Bob to the Trowbridges and reveals his obsession with hunting. During one of his hunts, a Cape buffaloinflicted a head wound on him. He eventually became bored of the sport, to his great consternation, until he discovered “the most dangerous game” on his island. Bob asks if he means tigers, but Zaroff denies it. Later, Eve shares her suspicions of Zaroff’s intentions with the newcomer. The count took each sailor to see his trophy room, on different days, and both have mysteriously disappeared. She believes their host is responsible, but Bob is unconvinced.

Then Martin vanishes as well. In their search for him, Bob and Eve end up in Zaroff’s trophy room, where they find a man’s head mounted on the wall. Then, Zaroff and his men appear, carrying Martin’s body. Zaroff expects Bob to view the matter like him and is gravely disappointed when Bob calls him a madman.

He decides that, as Bob refuses to be a fellow hunter, he must be the next prey. If Bob can stay alive until sunrise, Zaroff promises him and Eve their freedom. However, he has never lost the game of what he calls “outdoor chess”. Eve decides to go with Bob.

Eventually, they are trapped by a waterfall. While Bob is being attacked by a hunting dog, Zaroff shoots, and the young man falls into the water. Zaroff takes Eve back to his fortress, to enjoy his prize. However, the dog was shot, not Bob. Bob fights first Zaroff, then his henchmen, killing them. As Bob and Eve speed away in a motor boat, a not-quite-dead Zaroff tries to shoot them, but he succumbs to his wounds and falls out of the window where below are his hunting dogs, it is assumed that the dogs kill him for good.

Head on a wall anyone? There are days when this plot certainly seems to do a damn good job hemming up the publishing industry. And it certainly sums up what it means in this current climate to be an author in general. Whether it’s by fellow scribes, or old friends, we’re hunted once we’ve joined the game … one way or another. We can deny it all we like. But, we’re in this for better or worse. We agreed to this. Didn’t we? This most dangerous game?