The Trouble With Authoring
There's been a lot of drama in the writing world--from authors attacking reviewers, to authors having their books plagiarized, to a cat-five shit storm brought down at a particular book being put in a particular category. And all of this leaves authors standing at a fork in the road--of which we stand at many during our career.
To speak or not to speak-- that is the question Shakespeare should have posed. Not just for authors, but for people. How often do we stand in front of the Sea of Discord and ask ourselves, "Is it worth it?"
Everyone is at risk every time. Always. The things we say, the things we write, are up for public consumption. Most of the time, people's careers, their identities, their livelihoods aren't at risk from a handful of words.
But authors almost always are. (Alliteration intended)
It's easy to forget authors are people. That a real life, flesh and blood person sits behind the computer screen attached to humans through wires and wifi, across the globe, at any given time. It's easy to forget we're not a cute flower, or a sweetly arranged signature, or a snarky drawing who makes words magically appear on your kindle. We are people, and that's not always easy to be in a job like ours.
This holiday season has been rough for me. I've had to face a dark abyss of mental health issues, physical health issues, cruel family, and demands on my time that I was not prepared to give which pushed me toward the edge. I was emotionally drawn and quartered by a series of events that caused a break-down the likes of which I haven't experienced in years.
Long story short-- I scared the hell out of myself. I reached a near-ending, came back, and I'm better now. I think. It's often difficult to tell when your brain is, to quote Bruce Banner from the MCU, "a bag of cats." Luckily? Unluckily? The pain is usually aimed inward, and I remain fiercely protective over those I love most.
I wasn't kind to myself.
And then I was.
And now here I am.
I returned to a mess of epic proportions with a determination to carve out space for me. To put distance between me and a world which had a little too much access to who I am, and now I have a choice.
Because there is a lot going on--and more than that, there's a risk associated with it.
I've been an activist for a long time--activism is in my blood. Sometimes I joke that I was born with a picket sign in my hand. I've never not had an opinion, and I've never had much to risk when it came to taking a stand against the majority. Once upon a time, I had a lively personal facebook and didn't hesitate to say what I thought, and I never pulled punches when I felt like there was injustice.
That's not true anymore. I have kids--I'm a parent, I have a job, I have both rent and a mortgage to pay. I have a spouse who provides a level of security that monthly royalties never will. All of that means something to me. It means the difference between eating and starving, between heat and the gas being turned off. It means the difference between me standing up for what's right and me knowing that my kids won't be found and issued death threats by people who have nothing better to do than make author's lives miserable because they disagree with how I feel.
I have to tell you, choosing silence feels ugly. It's a molten-hot, heavy stone in my gut because I've never lacked courage or bravery. But I have seen what happened to people who spoke out--and it terrified me. I don't want to be afraid, and believe me, I've known fear.
I've talked my son down from hysteria when he was spit on for wearing a Chanukah sweater to school. I've sat with my youngest and explained to her homophobia and sexism, and why that horrible boy on the bus said all those things to her about why she's going to hell for being gay. Then I had to explain hell, and let me tell you, that was fun.
I am no stranger to conflict, but I am a stranger to walking away from it.
I told myself, "You're putting your health first. You're too fragile to take on this fight right now, and that's okay. Others are speaking out and that's what matters. Sometimes people have to be silent."
All of that is true. All of those are words I might have told another person if they had come to me with the same fears and hesitations. I have never, ever told someone to walk into a fight they couldn't handle. And yet, I'm harder on myself, because aren't we all?
This week, as I slowly crept back to social media in small doses to see if I was ready--I saw a lot happening. I saw threats against authors, I saw work stolen, I saw things that made my stomach churn. I also saw the usual--homophobia, ableism, racism, transphobia--every shade of bigotry really that, in a way, I've become desensitized to. And that hurts.
But I also saw bravery--authors speaking out and suffering consequences they should never have to suffer.
I will fight to the death for a reader to have a safe space online to speak their mind about the books they read. There is no caveat to that. The most important, and golden rule about being an author--Leave Reviewers Alone.
But I will also fight to the death to protect authors. To allow them a voice and a bravery--even when I don't possess it--to speak their mind. To say when something is morally reprehensible. To take a stand when a stand needs to be made. And they should do that without fear that readers will come for them--doxx them, threaten them, put their families in danger.
Authors are people.
It's a lesson I had to remind myself lately when I decided that I couldn't engage individually with readers the way I had--because I am a person and before I owe a stranger online emotional and mental labor, I owe myself humanity and peace.
Those who could speak out, did, and they deserve that too. Humanity and peace. Safety. Care. We can't scream about readers having a safe space without extending that same courtesy to authors. I'm posting this tonight with an actual fear of retaliation, but I'm doing it anyway.
It took a lot for me to be able to write this post, because I don't like admitting to feeling weak. It's been the biggest struggle between me and my body for years, and it doesn't get easier as the years go by. But I am speaking out. I'm using what little strength I have to say these things:
Don't steal work from other authors Plagiarism is bad Don't harass readers/reviewers Goodreads is readers' space Doxxing people is not cool Pedophilia is not romance Be fucking good to each other
I don't think it's a lot to ask for. Especially that last one.
Be fucking good to each other.