by Laura Anne Gilman
Earlier this week, as I was writing this column, romance writer Judy Mays was “outed” by a local paper who went the full “oh noes an erotica writer teaching our young!” Never mind that she had been teaching for 25 years, and never mixed the two careers in any way (including using a pseudonym to write under – the topic of last week’s post, ironically enough). From the way this paper carried on, you’d think she’d been hooking out the back door of a strip club.
The writer for the newspaper (I hesitate to call her a reporter) seemed to think that anyone who wrote erotica must, of course, be a lewd and immoral creature, not the sort of person who should be allowed near children, and found a few people who were willing to be quoted to back this up. Thankfully, there was then a full-blown storm of support for Ms. Mays, from students, former students and parents alike.
But this dovetails interestingly with the original topic of this week’s post.
A writer writes about and from things deep within them, their experiences, their observations, their thoughts and dreams and traumas and all the junk and clutter that in a normal person gets stored in a room marked “for therapy.”
We write what we are, in a very deep and true sense.
However, we are not what we write. Not entirely. Because a good writer, a writer who is true to the things they observe and return, picks things up off the street, out of other peoples’ plates, out of other peoples’ lives. It is how a male writer can learn to write the female voice, the person of one culture recreate an echo of another, the straight writer share the heartaches and joys of a gay character, the compassionate writer describe the fearful hate of a bigot. We are not those things; we do not live those lives.
This gives many people – writers and readers – pause. The fear that you will write that character wrong, or have their words mistaken for your own, or draw down some firefight on your head because of what someone else saw in your work… it dogs us, and makes us, occasionally, hesitant to delve in a yard other than our own.
Don’t let that fear win.
You may screw it up. You may get people saying that you did it wrong, or howling about what they think you meant, or they think that you thought. You may, in fact, offend people. There may be people claiming that you espouse a particular view or belief displayed by a character [or, if you happen to teach AND write erotica, that you are letching after the young boys in your classroom. Or the young girls, for that matter.]
The reader will bring their own lunch to this picnic: you can’t frisk them at the gate. But if you’re worrying about what Someone Might Think, that will influence your writing, and make it weaker, less emphatic. And from that, readers might take away the belief that you are a lesser writer.
And that will do more damage – to you, to your career – than any misapplied critique.
Coming up in Week 18: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (your first book, or your 30th)
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.