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Monday, 16 April 2012

I CAN’T WRITE ABOUT THIS, SO MUST WRITE ABOUT THIS.

Here’s the bleak matter not under discussion – because I never talked about it. Kacey Vanderkarr and Missy Biozarre, two writers who followed me on Twitter, made me look at the one thing in writing that I never wanted to consider.
   I was editing and reformatting book number three on my backlist of books. It’s a massive book, LYGHTNYNG STRYKES. I took leave of my senses to help assorted authors during this trudge. Still, I felt that I had to. Help of that kind isn’t a one-way street. It can help the one who offers help. And I’ve received a huge dose of perspective, based on Kacey’s fear.
   In the Olden Times®, by quaint eyesight-straining gaslight, if you wanted to contact an author then you wrote a letter to the publisher. Traditionally, the publisher was duty-bound to pass the message on by sending a man with a cleft stick to the scribbler’s door.
   That’s what I did, back in the day. Wrote letters for the messenger to trudge off with.
   Now, we’re all just an e-message or Twitter comment away. A system that feels too immediate. In some cases, I’ve not just discovered authors. I know what cars they drive. Roughly where they live, and work. What they had for breakfast. How they dress their kids. I can read of their heartaches and high hopes. Learn too much personal info that would be of great use to fraudsters. Even discover little movies they made – so I can put an accent to the writing style. I read of triumph and tragedy. Bereavement and birth. The loss of a mobile telephone to the non-mobile toilet.
   Writers have become more like television presenters or newsreaders, in a way. Familiar. Yet, quite clearly, still strangers. I was given a slice of life, a guide to how a writer’s mind worked, in reading an author’s book. If I wanted to indulge in further exploration, I could catch a movie about the writer, read a biography, watch a documentary, or, regarding the living, write a letter to pass on through the publisher.
   With the internet, I can gain access to slices of life that are far more visual than the usual smattering of photos in a biography. There’s a guiding intelligence behind the flag-waving and dancing in Coach Vanderkarr’s Winterguard videos – and the guiding intelligence is hers. She lives in a place with Creek in the title, and posts an image of the water feature to prove it. Links lead to more links. Layers of an onion, peeling away. Facebook. Twitter. Blogger.
   When I worried about seeking a business contact, my business contact shared the same concerns. As the business e-mails shot back and forth, Karen Woodward, author of Until Death (that’s a plug), felt that she was my cyberstalker. Perhaps that’s just the internet’s default setting. The abstract nature of linking things generates a sense of isolation that clashes with the freakish sense of inclusion provided by assorted social networking sites.
   So how do I feel about helping strangers? I was shopping the other day, and a small boy tried valiantly to reach a DVD at the top of the chart. On a high shelf. I handed him the DVD. Helping authors is a bit like that. Covering that last little distance with a spot of assistance. In turn, the week before, I was helped by a shop assistant who had no hands – which I must rewrite as a piece of fiction in some story.
   I have no hard and fast statistics. The big one. I contacted, helped, and received help from more authors in the past half-year than in all the other years combined. On gender lines, the split seems to be around fifty-fifty. Being the internet, sometimes it’s hard to tell.
   There is a slight bias in favour of the ladies, who are keener readers and, therefore, more likely to follow an author on Twitter. The gents are too busy clubbing and spearing wild boar for the cave feast. Ug!
   In terms of nationality, I’ve encountered mostly Americans and Canadians. Proving a form of English is still used in those parts of the world. The same may be said of Scotland.
   Age is also difficult to tell. Almost without exception, the age-range seems to start at 30+. (I can think of a couple of young scamps who sneaked in without being carded.) There’s no real way of putting a figure on the age-range, as help on Kindle Forums is almost wholly anonymous. I expect a load of twenty-urm types were in there without my even noticing. It’s impolite to venture a guess as to the upper age-limit. Though it is HIGH.
   Type of advice sought/gained varies. Tax. Banking. Formatting files. Blogging. Twitter. Kindle-based stuff. Marketing. Thoughts on writing. Approach. Plans. Pretty much everything connected to e-publishing, with some avenues stepping outwith writing into general business.
   What have I gained? A lot. To the extent that I am now considering a PROFOUND stumbling-block connected to discussing my work. I took a step in that direction when I started blogging. Didn’t want to blog. Decided, if I did, that I had to go into it with the same joy of writing that I get from writing. Because it is writing – albeit writing ABOUT writing.
   I keep a load of material down in the vault. My very own Pandora’s Box, Mark II. That I can open alone without risk, check, then seal again. No harm to others. In writing two vast e-mails, I thought I was helping writers. When asked to interact a bit more with these bloggers, I found myself confronting so many different issues at once that I knew I’d have to think about helping myself.
   Kacey followed me on Twitter. She stated she was a writer, so I checked her blog. When I read Kacey’s blog, it was clear that she could tell a tale. The fear scattered throughout her blog was overwhelming. She was scared of completing manuscripts, thinking they’d never be good enough for publication. NEVER.
   I stepped away from editing and spent an evening composing a message to Kacey, asking what she had to fear. She responded in her blog by thanking me for sitting her down and giving her the biggest lecture of her life. Which she admitted she needed to hear.
   That embarrassed me, but it helped her.
   I noticed that Kacey had a writing partner in Missy. But I was wary of checking Missy’s blog – it was highly likely that Missy was infected by Kacey’s fear. Was infectious fear lurking there? I had low hopes for Missy when I got around to checking the material. Leading me to put off checking the material.
   So I returned to editing. Put more pages under my belt. Missy followed me on Twitter, and shouted hello, so I went along to scope out her blog. I was surprised to see that Kacey’s fears were not Missy’s fears. Let’s hope Kacey’s fears are no longer Kacey’s fears either.
   Well, I had my own fear to face. These two authors cast a mirror over my approach to dealing with talking about writing, and talking about my writing. There’s this anecdote concerning my work. That I knew I could never write down. Because I didn’t write about my writing anyway. So it was never going to come up.
   When I started blogging about my writing, I took my lantern down the thousand onyx steps to my audience-proof bunker. There I opened the vault and looked at this anecdote. It could stay hidden. And the mighty clang of the door was the clang of Finality.
   Everything about the anecdote was encapsulated in a phrase. And it seemed too stark and empty of feeling to share with anyone. To those who didn’t know me, it was COLD. That was that. Except, I helped Kacey see that she had dumped fear into her writing. Could I afford to remain fearful of this thing connected to my material?
   This is costing me a lot to let go, and I’m not sure why. Because it was ever thus, perhaps. Opening the vault, and exposing this anecdote to the light of a thousand suns, is HEAVY. I am reluctant to mention a story I never wrote down. And I feel a sense of dread, even mentioning the notion that those two authors prompted me into considering this. Just as author Karen Woodward prompted me to blog. Well, I got over that stumble-stone.
   I feel bleak just thinking it through. And I’m wondering how to write it in a blog post that lets me cut loose of the thing. It isn’t a problem, and I can leave it in the vault. But I wonder, now, at this distance, if I can give it to the world to mull over.
   How do I do it? Just blog. If I just blog, then the two ladies who instigated the act will face it raw along with anyone else who reads. Which is the only way to face the thing down in the vault. It can stay there – it isn’t damaging anyone. I don’t feel poisoned by it, or concerned. Nothing is festering. There don’t appear to be any consequences to leaving well alone.
   Except – having Kacey and Missy hold a mirror to my thoughts on writing…prompted all these thoughts. Do I just note the act of thinking, and shut the vault door again? It would look as though nothing has changed. But we know something has. So. Blog about it? Give up the anecdote? Leave it be. Bury it.
   I’ve moved far, in admitting that there’s an anecdote. That may be enough for me. I suspect there will be a clamour, from strangers, to take action. The other consideration is that I might not be up to telling the tale. I’m going to feel awkward and clunky writing it out. Okay, I was laughing as I typed that.
   Of all the things down in the vault, I picked one that is actually secret. Not much is. There you go. I’ve admitted that there’s something I’ve kept to myself. One person in the world knows it, and he’s typing this message.
   (Editorial note. I wrote this blog before the Red Queen intervened. I told her, to see how I felt in letting go of the burden. So two people know it as I type this editorial stuff in brackets.)
   I can hear a pair of Americans, shouting and waving. Inform the world. Release the bleak phrase to the internet. In the background, an American President is telling me I have nothing to fear. Except the cold. And this story-related image is as cold as cold gets.
   Keeping stories in my head, then writing them down, seems natural to me. Are all stories told? Not all. Some don’t make it to the page. They are recycled in fragments, assigned elsewhere in chunks, or left abandoned by the roadside.
   In blogging about a story-related piece of information, I’ve told you little. Except to say – I didn’t talk about my work. Now I’m blogging, I talk about my work. Oh, but not about THAT. It’s too cold to discuss. Even at this distance. With all that’s gone on since.

NEXT BLOG: I FINALLY MENTION THE DAMNED THING.

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