I Miss The Old Days

I miss when I was just someone who liked to read books.  I miss spending a whole weekend curled up on a couch reading a series of books I’d found at the library.  Like The Belgariad by David Eddings.

I miss those days.  When my biggest concern was how long it was going to be before my mother yelled at me for spending all my time with my nose buried in a book.

Because now, as a writer of speculative fiction (gotta use the “right” term there), a lot of the shit I read just annoys and saddens me.

I’ve pulled back the proverbial curtain and seen what’s behind the scenes.  No longer can I just sink myself into a wonderful book.  Now I have to think about how that particular author said women should emulate Barbie and how that one hates homosexuals and how that one would like someone to explain to him what’s so wrong with walking up to random women you don’t know, introducing yourself, and asking if they’d like to fuck you.  (And what the appropriate approach would be nowadays if that’s no longer acceptable…)

And, even though I’m still trying to figure out how to write a story that other people will enjoy, I have to also think about how much flak I’m going to get if I don’t write stuff that’s diverse enough or inclusive enough.  Because, you know, maybe that makes me part of the problem if I don’t.

I miss the old days.  No longer can I hide out in my little corner of the world enjoying books for their own sake.

I know that it takes some pretty unique or twisted individuals to write some of the stuff I like to read.  But, man, is it exhausting to know this stuff about people.

What happened to the days when you saved all your worst thoughts for family and close friends?  (Not that that made it ok, and, trust me, not that it made it fun to visit my relatives in small-town Texas, but at least I didn’t have to see people I hardly knew and know that kind of thing about them.)

Probably my fault for spending too much time on the interwebs and not enough time writing that next story.  But it seems to me that I’m early enough in my writing career that I can choose different directions to take.  And maybe speculative fiction isn’t that path.

Or maybe traditional publishing isn’t.  (If I self-pub and do everything from home, maybe I’ll never have to spend a moment in a room with some of the asshats I’ve seen commenting recently…)

I think in the struggle to find publication, we often overlook some of the other struggles that come with the writing life.  And maybe, at the end of the day, it’s those struggles that are going to be the hardest to navigate.

Is that person a mentor or exploiting me?  Is that agent furthering my career or their own interests?  Is that publisher giving me greater exposure or using me up and spitting me out?  Is it worth a thousand more copies sold to be polite to that person who I know has said this, that, or the other thing?  Is this a learning opportunity or have I unwittingly aligned myself with a camp I don’t want to be part of?

All careers are full of landmines.  And I’ve certainly set a few off in my day.  I just somehow had this naive belief that writing would be different because it’s such a solitary activity.  Haha.  WRONG.


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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5 Responses to I Miss The Old Days

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I am perhaps fortunate that I encountered the dichotomy between the qualities of writing and the quality of its writer when studying at school, then went on to argue case in court for many years. So I have lost my dislike of good work on the basis I do not like its producer.

    For me writing comes from the person who writes it, so someone who believes in equality will instinctively shy away from writing a work that perpetuates inequality. Once you have the work drafted you can check the prejudices of the characters to see if it is clear enough they are shown to be in-world prejudices.

    I spent a reasonable period trying to make sure I did not accidentally include any hidden prejudice and all I have to show for it is a 75,000 word manuscript that I abandoned because all I feel when I open it is fear that one of my characters is not sufficiently subjectified(sic). I firmly believe that it is possible to write fiction with a deliberate message but that it is an advanced technique: first we must learn to write engaging prose, then we can turn a moral essay into a rip-roaring action thriller with space penguins.

    Is that person a mentor or exploiting me? {&c.}

    Some of these situations might be better viewed from outside the linear conflict model: for example, you can gain all the benefits of mentoring from someone who is gaining all the benefits of exploiting you. If you start from the hypothesis they are not zero sum you can focus on whether the cost to benefit for you makes it worthwhile, without getting tangled up in whether someone else is getting an “unfair” benefit from their participation.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Fair points. I’ve had very beneficial mentoring relationships in my professional career. There’s just one particular author who I’m starting to think piggybacks on newer writers. I would never be approached by this writer, but I don’t like what I see there. And I think too many people don’t enter a situation like that aware that there could be an ugly side to it.

      I will say that for the most part I wasn’t much of a fan of most of the people I’m now seeing voice certain opinions. So I think you’re right that people will write in line with their own beliefs. For example, one of my betas has now suggested more than once that I include sections in my novels mocking different groups of people, but that’s just not something I believe in so would not do so.

      My concern is more the being judged if my main character happens to be a white male and so does his sidekick/best friend and being accused of not examining my unconscious biases enough in writing that story. I don’t think the solution to the lack of diversity in SFF is to get the non-diverse folks to write about diverse topics. I think the answer is to get a more diverse group of writers involved in the genre.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        I don’t think the solution to the lack of diversity in SFF is to get the non-diverse folks to write about diverse topics. I think the answer is to get a more diverse group of writers involved in the genre.

        A sound point. Although I think trying to write more diverse characters is good for all of us.

      • mhleewriter says:

        Agreed. But I don’t think it should have to happen on every story for every writer.

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