Saturday 19 November 2011

The artist as public property

It's always fascinating to me to explore just who we writers write for. In my personal case, I write because I have to.

When the Muse is his glorious, wing-beating self (imagine my Muse as a black-winged, vaguely human-shaped, vaguely male creature not unlike what I'd picture an angel as, but one of those kick-ass, sword-wielding angels, drawing a thunderstorm in one hand and soaring like an eagle when the energy is there) - there's simply no stopping. I know that the Muse is likely part of my own soul, some deep well of energy that I tap into when I work. Sometimes, writing has nothing to do at all with the Muse. Then it's just putting words on the page. Making the screen look untidy. Ruining perfectly good paper with ink scrawls.

When the Muse is involved, it's fire and fury and thunder. Then the book comes out in one piece, as if it has only been waiting somewhere else for the gates to open. It's lightning - indivisible, extremely powerful, and really interesting to feel pass through you.

So, in many ways, I write because I can't not. A book is a primal force that hits me like an earthquake. Tell that incoming train headed your way that you really don't quite feel like it. Hah. Good luck with that.

I can't refuse to write. I'm a writer, that's why I'm here for. If there's any reason or sense in human existence, mine is that I was put here to write my little black heart out (and help others do the same).

There've been some denizens of the lunatic fringe that think (and have said, although, crazy as they are, they aren't crazy enough to say that to my face) that my refusal to write in a certain genre is "holding my stories hostage". Yeah, so me writing is just giving people what they own anyway - like it's not me giving those stories to the world, but somehow TAKING something from those readers. Not just owing, but evilly withholding what's their due. To vid, read the "GRR Martin is not your bitch" post by Neil Gaiman.

(As a sidenote, these people are a tiny minority - while many have expressed dismay, they also respect my decision, whether it's permanent or temporary).

In response I want to repost (slightly rephrased and borrowing from other commentators for context) what I posted here:

Whether or not an author is "public property" and whether he or she owes readers anything is a question I've grappled with myself. E M Foster didn't write certain books because he felt he couldn't write about the gay subject matter. Kafka wanted all his work destroyed - everything we're reading of Kafka's has only survived because a dying man's wish was blatantly disregarded and a promise was broken. To read his work at all is to benefit from an act of treason. I'm on the fence about it, too. Kafka made world literature a richer (and much stranger) place, but on the other hand, those were his stories - he didn't owe us anything. At the same time, as a reader, I want to chain some authors to the desks and make them write book after book for me. As a writer, that same idea horrifies me.

In a way, we owe the Muse and the book to tell those stories (not that I could stop either). We got this gift, and I think we are obliged to to the best we can with it. As I keep saying to my writing “padawans”: Your Ego Doesn’t Matter.

Or, another analogy. I compare the job of the artist in his/her own community as that of the shaman to his/her tribe. We mediate, we heal, we walk the path into the imaginary/spirit world, wrestle and negotiate with spirits, and come back with gifts that heal/benefit the community. In return, the community respects us and feeds us (in my case, I do my own feeding, but the idea is to give something back to even out the relationship).

The last couple weeks have given the appearance that my “tribe” had turned toxic – on me and others like me. Handing over the hard-won kill to them, when all you see is clenched fists, is not easy. Personally, I’m not that selfless. So, the returning shaman, witnessing all that anger, turns on his heel and walks off to a less hostile tribe, sick to his heart over it.

In the mainstream, there are prominent writers writing under a variety of names that not necessarily reflect their physical, genetic gender. I’d never speculate whether Val McDermid is actually female or identifies as somewhere along the Rainbow spectrum (I frankly don’t know enough about the person), but there’s an example where the mainstream is a hell of a lot more accepting than I’ve seen the m/m community be over the last weeks. In the end, it’s the story that counts, and hopefully the author – without whom no story – gets their just rewards.

Of course, I’m hoping that the m/m community/genre will grow up. That we’re going to be less torn back and forth through what’s essentially some of the most odious residual traits of “fandom” (which, when it’s supportive, is very supportive, but when it’s bad, is VERY bad). What we need is a “level up”, to borrow a roleplaying term. If we ever want to hope to be taken seriously, this shit’s gotta stop.

I fully understand if people turn their backs in disgust. I received an email from a dear friend – one of the strongest writers in the genre – who is so hurt and disgusted she may never come back. This is collateral damage that many people will never notice, because few of those who left made the kind of blog post I did.

Bringing this to a close – I think we need to all be more accepting and tolerant, which, however, includes shutting up the haters, showing support to those who are under attack (whether we like them personally or not), and educating ourselves through all of this.

If the space is safe once again, the shamans will continue dancing and singing and bringing you those strange things from the Otherworld – hope, stories of love and overcoming darkness.

Whatever and whenever I personally will write, I honestly don’t know. The Muse is very silent right now. I will continue to act as a publisher and supporter in any case. What I will do is take a stab at the mainstream, quite possibly under a totally different name, I don’t know. It’s not something that will happen very soon. The damage that was done in a few days or weeks may take months to scar over, and may never fully heal. It's easy for attackers to move on, but the attacked live with the memories of shame, fear, anxiety, stress, horror and disgust for the rest of their lives. It'll always be there, sitting low in our guts.


  1. Truth is, the 'fans' dance around you and stroke your ego as long as you give them rewards for it, porn. Or, stories to put it more nicely. And when the prize is taken away, they will turn against you. As such, they are that. Fans. They work as long as you give them electricity, and stop when you press 'off'. Readers on the other hand. They follow you. You say no to a certain genre, go back to another, and they will only beg that you'll tell them when another work comes out, regardless of what it's about. I personally, would even read a 5000 pages description of paint-colours, as long as you've written it.
    And friends, they'll stay there even if you stop sharing your writings, and only write for yourself.

  2. Your analogy of the Shaman is brilliant. I love your writing - I've heard it described as 'dark' and that's precisely why I love it. It tackles difficult issues and emotions; it makes me think and it makes me learn.

    And it's not just your fiction. The posts you've written recently have made me think about things I had little experience of and I think I have grown a little because of them. I can only thank you for being so brave.

    I confess, I'm selfish. I don't want you to stop writing but I recognise I have no right to ask you to do so. You have to write for you, not for me. If you have given all you can give, then I am grateful that you have shared it with me.

  3. I know what you mean when you talk about the Muse being quiet because of wounds and hurts, I had about two weeks (before all of this had gone on publicly with the other author and I was in the crosshairs) where I couldn't even look at my computer without feeling nauseous, my hands would shake and I'd want to cry. I didn't think I'd ever write, read or get online and play the Sims Social ever again, but one morning I woke up and turned on the tv as I was wont to do during that time and I saw a commercial that made me think about a plot of a story, before I knew it I had opened up a blank Word document and I was furiously typing away. Not all aspects of returning to my normal "Vic-ness" was that easy and eventually I knew I had to leave certain areas but my Muse has stayed with me.

    I truly believe that your Muse will return Dad and it may not be when you've fully healed, disturbing as it may sound, your Muse may use those healing wounds to write a story so moving and gripping that it causes a maelstrom of change or even a hearty chuckle. I believe that it is the same for other authors who felt that they had to leave the genre or writing all together, as well.

    As you said, you have to write, even if you do write for yourself and those who support you, truly support you, don't have to read your words to do so. Thank you for writing this, it reminded me of why I write and fought so hard to continue to do so.

    Love,Hugz and Squeezes

    Vicktor "Vic"

  4. I don't even know what to say anymore. My heart is still so sad over all that has happened. Is still happening. I'm still so angry. And I still don't understand how they don't get it.

    What I know for sure, is what I've been saying all along. I will support you, all of you. I also know... I will notice when the authors are gone. And I can't blame a single one for leaving.

    I woke up today feeling a tiny bit better about things. Now I'm at noon... and right back to sad and frustrated, growly and angry.

    *hugs you tight and hopes muse talks again soon but most of all, just hopes you're alright*

  5. I've always considered the stories I read and/or review to be a special gift straight from the author's heart, which they are gracious enough to share with me. I often hope for new stories from the authors I love, but I can't imagine feeling entitled to them; but it seems that many people feel that they are entitled to a lot of things these days without a reason.

    As I've said before, I'm heart broken and disillusioned about the pain all this controversy and, as you said, some of the damage will never heal.

    I, also, loved your shaman reference; as a healer myself, Reiki Healing Touch M/T, I can relate very well to what you are saying. At times, when I have given what I can, some people will still try to suck even more out of me, as if they deserve it all. In these cases, I know it's time to walk away so I can recharge and begin again. My hope for you, Aleks, is that your spirit will be renewed and that you will come back from this stronger than ever.