Kage Baker closely monitored how her works were received.
A writer should do this, of course, to some extent – not so much that they get paranoid, but enough to be aware of what their readers want to see. It can lead to madness of various sorts, though. The writer can end up enslaved to public opinion, writing stories at emotional gunpoint, in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome affair that is basically channeling fan fiction. The weird side to this is that they may make obscene amounts of money, yet end up writing shit – but, you know, if you’re into that …
Some writers get so squirrely over the comments of critics and readers that they end up in the antagonistic stance of an affronted chimpanzee. They can’t tell me what to do, such a writer growls, and proceeds to punish his audience by killing off favourite characters. Or she changes the setting of a fantasy cycle to the Auto Supplies section of a WalMart. Worst case scenario, they stop writing and hold their breath until someone turns blue.
The most common response is just to try and ride the various hobby horses of your readers: try to enjoy the good letters, try to avoid the bad ones. Have someone vet your reviews before you read them (and maybe never read them at all, if they’re really bad. That was Kage’s solution.) Answer politely when possible, even if the questions are stupid, but never ever get into an argument: especially online, these days. Don’t give out your real address!
Kage retreated into a self-enforced purdah whenever arguments got out of hand. She left several sites behind rather than keep exchanging fire with some blowhard. And she ultimately took her name off ALL our mailing lists, catalogs, utilities and magazines, after a (self-described) retired CIA spook got obsessed with her and boasted he could find her no matter how she hid her address – and then actually did so. That was scary, and we undertook some rapid covert camouflage and complaints to his State Senator until someone apparently came and took him away … the VA helped, too. Daddy was OSS.
Anyway: if you would make your living by the pen, be prepared for people to tell you how they feel about it. Brace yourself. Come up with a script, if you’re secretive or otherwise on the lam; remember your answers! Get several layers of screens, especially some one you can trust to read your mail and translate the nastygrams into bearable words. Learn how to use a postage meter, and read a franking stamp. Get a PO Box and resign your membership in any embarrassing organization – or join some, if you think you need the publicity, because sure as shoe polish, someone will find out.
One of the many, many reasons I write this blog is to attract attention – to Kage’s memory, oevre and CV, but also, frankly, to myself: because, you know, I am trying to be a writer. I think I’ve managed to do that, at least; the next step is making some money at it. and then making lots of money at it, and then acquiring several acres on Catalina Island and building the Casa Mombasa Retirement Village for Aging Faire Performers and Company Operative … you know, a nice, simple plan. And since I am by nature verbose, and like typing, this as-often-as-I-can-manage-it blog has been a perfect way to keep both Kage and me in our little spotlight.
To my great astonishment, the eyes turned my way have steadily increased over time. You Dear Readers have been encouraging and faithful; and there are a few more of you all the time. From time to time, I write something that generates more than usual amounts of attention – and it’s usually a surprise to me what does it. Blogs on mass fish deaths. Blogs on extinct candies. Blogs on stick insects. Blogs on the incredibly stupid things two foolish young women did on the road in the middle of the night for 30 years.
Yestreday I wrote a completely self-indulgent eulogy for a woman who inspired Kage and me. And the quarter of a million people a year who came to the shows she invented. I tried to write well. I checked the punctuation and everything and I only mispelled one friend-of-30-years-duration’s name;, and another friend caught it for me, thank the gods and goddesses. I tried not to repeat words or use too many adjectives or too many quotes from people who wrote better than I do. But it was still intensely personal and narrow of focus – it was my version of standing under the uncaring sky and screaming in outrage that another of my loved ones has gone. My only excuse for the selfishness of it all was that it was composed beginning to end of tears.
And yet … what I thought would be of interest to a few dozen Faire friends has been shared by hundreds. In the last 24 hours, this blog has garnered more than 1,000 hits. Many of them were people I don’t know – though I hope to. Many of them have signed up to follow me.
(Some one of you, Dear Readers, should maybe tell them I don’t reach these heights every time. Hell, I frequently don’t reach any heights at all, and am delivering my sermons while clinging to the muddy edge of my trench.)
See, you always amaze me, Dear Readers. I really never know what the result might be when I launch these homely missives over the edge into Eternity and the Intertubes. I guess no one ever does …results may vary, as we are always cautioned.
As I approach 1,000 postings, though, I gotta say: mine have been great. Thank you, Dear Readers. And welcome to the madhouse, nice new people.
I am glad to hear the smile in your words, and glad new people are coming to read them.