It was easy to convince myself that once I got published I would belong.
I would be an author.
It would mark the accomplishment of a lifelong dream and I'd have a place at the table. Other people who shared a passion for writing would recognize me as one of their own and I would be surrounded by others who understood the ins and outs of writing. I'd be able to give and receive support along the way.
The grass would be greener. Everything is always better once you get through the gate, right?
In some respects, the significance of the writing community at the time I was coming up set me up for greater disappointments than one might have thought possible. The blog community of 14 years ago was very different than the blog community of today. It was a common habit to put up a blog post and make the rounds, interacting on potentially dozens of blogs throughout the day or week. We didn't have Twitter - this was back in the days of MySpace and that space was quickly fading. Our engagement happened directly at the source. Post writers responded, and there was a lot of back and forth with both published and aspiring writers. Just look at Anne Frasier's post with 52 comments. She replied to those who commented. People were accessible in a way that made us newcomers feel accepted.
14 years ago I could email Laura Lippman and Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham and Simon Kernick and a whole list of others and schedule interviews.
Today, I can't even email some alumni of this blog and get an interview with those people.
Due to the fact that people communicated with each other years back we had a sense of knowing each other. We also had a sense of friendship that was different. Many discussions that started on blogs spilled over to emails and when you went to a convention you had a long list of people you were looking forward to chatting with. It didn't seem awkward because you felt like you already knew them.
However, things changed. Perhaps it was always an illusion and this imperfect but generally positive community was never real. Maybe those of us being published got schooled in the business and found ourselves placed in boxes that put barriers between us and others who were viewed as less than, because we found there were expectations that accompanied being published that we never anticipated. Was that why connections we once formed by choice were sometimes replaced by ones that were promoted (by publishers, agents or our own business decisions for how to elevate our careers) while the original bonds faded?
I have looked back on those early blogging days with a lot of nostalgia. I miss the interaction we used to enjoy.
I miss the illusion of friendship.
Twelve years ago when my first book was coming out I discovered not all writers are equal. I don't mean because some are bestsellers and others aren't. I mean that some are accepted and others aren't. To most readers an author is an author. All that mattered to me when I went into a bookstore or library was that I found something with an interesting story that I wanted to read.
It never mattered to me whether they were with a big 5 publisher. I didn't even know what that meant. I didn't care if they were with a small press. I didn't know. I never looked at the publisher name.
People were accepted as part of the community. It wasn't perfect, but it enabled a level of interaction that only extreme controversies on twitter come close to matching. Look back at that post from Anne. You were part of the discussion, not just another person reacting to something.
Recently, a friend from back in those days made something of a return to social media. It wasn't that they'd completely disappeared, but they had gone off some platforms and been quiet on others.
They returned with fire and brimstone and posts that shocked.
My read between the lines was that things weren't good with this person. I'd had that sense for a while before their crash return. I was worried. I'd told them that.
Nothing I saw in their behavior fit with the person I'd interacted with online for over a decade.
My mom is bipolar. She wasn't diagnosed until I was 17, so I am familiar with cycling. My ex-husband's brother committed suicide in a horrific fashion. My grandfather died in a mental institution.
And a few true losers right now are probably thinking that they knew I was crazy, that because my life had touched mental illness I must be nuts. It's catching, right?
You want to know something that bugs the piss out of me? Not that we treat self-published authors like they're less (although, seriously, some of them are much better than). Not that people pretend to care about others just to get something (as true in publishing as any industry, because there are users everywhere). Nope.
What bugs the piss out of me is that people pretend to give a shit about mental health and pass on the mental health awareness notices and appropriate ribbons and talk the good talk because it's politically correct, and yet when a person who is connected to our own community is clearly in distress, they unfriend and/or block them.
Many after taking a sledgehammer to them.
Now, I get that ego comes in and people take things personally. I've had times people have said things about me that have stung. I understand fully the inclination to respond in kind. I've defended others and myself when I thought it was warranted.
Sometimes perhaps too zealously.
However, there is a notable difference between someone saying something insane because they are not in their right mind and someone saying something cruel just because they're an asshole.
It's one thing to take offense and say so. It's one thing to say that you disagree, or that you don't find their comments valid/fair/appropriate. It's one thing to tell the person that they seem to be working out some issue that they're taking out on the wrong people and ask them to stop.
It's another to rain down judgment and start calling a person names or to say that they're a bad person.
I'd like to think that the average person I know has the maturity to be able to assess when someone is hurting or not well and separate their behavior and know that it isn't coming from a place of health.
I'd like to think that the average person I know has the ability to feel compassion for someone who is in a bad state.
I'd like to think that the average person I know would calm down after the fact, even if they reacted in the moment harshly, and see the situation for what it is.
Instead, I saw people who weren't even part of the community 14 years ago checking in on the person in distress to ask if they were okay, while others who were part of the community tossed flammables back and lit a match.
Perhaps no group of us ever truly has been a community.
There is more evidence of fracturing because there seems to be less community discourse. Remember the good ol' days of discussing things at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind or Miss Snark's blog? (500 plus comments on her farewell speaks to the level of engagement there.) Remember the powerhouse group blogs, like Murderati?
Now, we seldom even have much engagement here on the blog in the comments thread. People have their discussions on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, for me, is friends and family. I've been weeding out the people who do not engage with me personally.
Twitter is the wild west and as impersonal as it gets. And it seems to be where most of the personal attacks occur these days. People feel no sense of community to require them to respond to comments the way they once did on blogs. You mainly see the same people engage with the same people, who coincidentally are the same people who blurb each other and promote each other.
Part of the reason there seems to be less of a functioning community is the lack of open discourse. People have their cliques.
Also, a long history of alienation of certain people has led to support groups for diverse writers and others. This is, overall, a very good thing. It's tragic that it's necessary, but the writing world has not done a good job of welcoming writers with different skin colors, genders, sexual orientations.
Seriously, RWA published some bullshit about how it was unrealistic to have happy queer characters in historical fiction because other writers were criticized over the need to write about potatoes during that time period correctly? Do I understand this right?
The crime fiction community isn't the only one that has problems, but we do have problems, and that has become increasingly apparent. Now, I have a spouse who is, in some ways, more in touch with what's going on online in the crime fiction world than I am these days. And my spouse often alerts me to train wrecks on twitter and social media firestorms that are brewing. A certain A list author's lack of interest in female writers would have gone right past me were it not for my husband.
He is inclined to the view that his opinion on some of these touchy subjects is meaningless, that because he isn't an author what he has to say doesn't matter.
And I have been inclined, on occasion, to tell him I think he's using that as an excuse to avoid taking a stand.
The thing is, those of us who are at all a part of the community can't continue to ignore issues. Our indifference is a big part of the problem. Racism persists and even thrives because there are a lot of people who just don't want to upset the status quo, who say things are better than they used to be, like that's supposed to make it good enough.
Hell, how many people reading this have talked about going to a convention and finding their tribe? Have we stopped to consider how Indigenous people in Canada and the U.S. feel about that? I asked someone directly. They certainly weren't impressed. Honestly, I probably used the same type of language 13 years ago when I went to B'con for the first time, and I am ashamed of how insensitive I was.
How do we, as writers, excuse ourselves for not considering the weight of our words?
And yet so often we don't. We throw around remarks on social media, forgetting people take screenshots of everything when crap hits the fan. We hurl insults and judgments without thinking about the silent observers.
I completely understand that the lack of acceptance by white writers has caused writers of color to band together for support. I understand the reasons why Sisters in Crime is important for female authors.
Our response to this progression in the genre cannot be more fracturing. It can't be to form a club for white writers. Our response to this progression is to recognize it for what it is - progress - and to be an ally to those who have been overlooked and excluded. It is time to welcome our brothers and sisters, no matter what color their skin is, what gender they identify as or who they like to sleep with. It is time to celebrate diverse voices.
And yes, that even means there may be a few people who have some mental health issues. Good news. It isn't catching.
Be warned. People are always watching, whether you realize it or not. You may get away with pulling a certain amount of crap once, but you won't get away with it forever.
Everybody gets an off day.
Everybody gets a chance to apologize and mend fences.
If you don't? It must may be that you're the asshole.
However, your choice to be racist or sexist or intolerant may have consequences, and you may not get a second chance to make a better impression.
Therefore, is it too much to ask for people to be welcoming and supportive? If you won't do it out of the goodness of your heart could you try just because it will make agents and publishers more likely to want to work with you?
Is it too much to ask for you to realize that ganging up on a person going through a mental health crisis doesn't make you look tough? It makes you look like a completely intolerant, insensitive bully, even if they're the one who called you names first. You don't pick on people with disabilities or mental health issues. Only true losers do that.
To some degree, we have to work to make the kind of community we want to be part of. I am honestly struggling with how to do this, because the people who are at the top enjoy the status quo and many others have their cliques for support and endorsements and have no interest in wholesale change, particularly if they feel it may reduce their chances for publication.
I'm also struggling with how to address unacceptable behaviors. I do not always agree with everyone here about everything, and that's fine. I live in a world that's big enough to embrace some different perspectives.
However, when people step over that line and hurl personal insults at a person publicly?When other people stand by and think it's entertaining to watch a person go through a meltdown or be attacked? It's never entertaining. It's tragic.
I've learned when my husband tells me that someone is an asshole, believe it. He doesn't make that judgment lightly. He won't put it on Facebook or Twitter, but when he sees enough to render that kind of verdict? He warns me to stay far away. And he's helped me admit the truth to myself. I do not like the direction some people are pulling the crime fiction community in, because they seem intent on hostility, they seem to look for reasons to judge and provoke and they play favorites with the worst of them.
I'm not giving up on my friend who's been having issues. Even if texts and emails go unanswered. This person was once a part of a thriving community, and they need our help. I guess it boils down to this - is this just a business for you, where you form relationships you think you can get some benefit from and discard people who can't help you anymore? Or have you realized that being a human being and a decent person is about caring for others, even when they can't help your career?
I know if I needed help today I could call Danny Gardner or Mindy Tarquini or Anne Frasier ... There are a few others. And there are a lot of people I thought were friends who would fall silent in my hour of need. I watched some of them fall silent with our friend recently.
It really hurt how little some people cared and it made me wonder what I was doing as part of this 'group' that purports to be so supportive and turns their back on people in their hour of deepest need.
Very few of us will ever earn the kind of royalties that are enough to cover the price of our soul. If you're willing to sell out for a pittance what does that say about you? Will you be the kind of friend you'd want to have? Will you drop an encouraging message to a friend you haven't chatted with in ages or send them a gif to brighten their day? Or will you write them off?
Finally, ask yourself this. If you face a personal crisis and are in need of help, what kind of people do you want to be surrounded by?