Do You Know Who You Are?

30May12

I’ve had a most unusual month.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a very scary car accident. I was fortunate not to suffer serious injury , but I did experience the trauma that comes with the life-threatening incident. And that blasted “whiplash” that keeps a lot of lawyers in business.

In that frame of mind, I pursued my usual routine (or tried to), which includes occasional visits to discussion threads on the various LinkedIn writers groups. What I witnessed there made my car accident look like a bump in the night. A discussion purportedly focused on how one gets an agent, or if one is even necessary (a thread that had already surpassed the 3,000 comment mark) turned as nasty as any thread I’ve ever seen in an online community.

The precipitant to this insanity (I choose the word carefully) was an individual who engaged in clumsy and excessive promotion of his book marketing services, including some very amusing (and obviously phony) namedropping. This prompted some acerbic and cynical ripostes, one of which characterized the activity as “pimping.”

The book marketer didn’t take kindly to being called a pimp. That’s when it got weird.

A new member, purporting to be an agent with “Simon & Schuster Literary Agency” (doesn’t exist) and Janklow & Nesbit, showed up to vouch for this book marketer. His profile had just been created, he had no contacts, but he certainly did know of this book marketer!. Under intense fire, he had to admit he wasn’t an agent, he changed his profile, and soon melted into the wallpaper.

But not before the arrival (on the morning of Mothers Day) of Mr. Jim Berkus, the (real life) Founder and Chairman of the amazing United Talent Agency, which represents a slew of top Hollywood names. He, too, had registered just moments before, had no connections, and dropped into this particular thread to affirm that he, too, knew of this book marketer.

By mid-afternoon, he was joined by Seth Grahame-Smith, the successful author (most recently of the acclaimed Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter). His profile was also new, and he had only one “contact” – the book marketer. “Seth” immediately jumped into the fray, delivering some withering insults and outlandish threats. Here on Mothers Day were the head of UTA and an award-winning author rolling in the mud with a bunch of schlubs like me.

Of course, we weren’t absent when the brains were dispensed, and aside from a few inflated egos who fawned over Berkus and told him all about their bestsellers (they really were fooled), the rest of us knew what was going on. It was the tired old game of sock puppetry – but this time using the names of real, famous people. What we lawyers call “actionable.”

This got me thinking about all of the writers I meet and observe in online communities. Like any particular occupation, they certainly do run the gamut, don’t they? And tell me if you agree – but it sure seems easy to spot the fakers, doesn’t it? This book marketer fellow, he certainly had fooled himself, to think that he could impersonate famous people so absurdly.

Then I thought of the advice from Reed Farrel Coleman, when he talked about how to imbue your characters with feeling. Do you know your own deepest, darkest secrets? Do you know what’s in your heart, and are you willing to expose that in your fiction?

I have a confession to make. Up until I began to write fiction, I’m not sure I knew who I really was. It took the death of my father to permit me to explore that. Now that I have, and discovered lots, I find I am better able to write fiction in a way that gets to the core of how we view the world and relate to one another.  How we view ourselves.

And there’s an awful lot of lying in that, isn’t there? There’s a lot of lying, a lot of self-deception, posturing, manipulation, jealousy, insecurity, egomania and cowardice.

These things make for good fiction. A novel where everyone was self-aware, truthful, honest and respectful of others would be a dull read, wouldn’t it? We need treachery to carry a story. Duplicity. A world where things are not as they seem. Where characters you trust (or not) face the difficulty of discerning truth from artifice.

We as readers want to see these conflicts of discernment and truth. And I think that we as authors are more capable of conveying the conflicts, and the truths, in a convincing way if we are honest with ourselves and what makes us tick.

We can’t be afraid of this. If the core of your drama involves the workings of the human heart, you must know how it works, and you know how it works most convincingly from your own heart and what you and others have done to it.

Sharing that is terrifying. It is how Lawrence Ferlinghetti described the poet in Constantly Risking Absurdity:

Constantly risking absurdity

                                             and death

            whenever he performs

                                        above the heads

                                                            of his audience

   the poet like an acrobat

                                 climbs on rime

                                          to a high wire of his own making

and balancing on eyebeams

                                     above a sea of faces

             paces his way

                               to the other side of day

    performing entrechats

                               and sleight-of-foot tricks

and other high theatrics

                               and all without mistaking

                     any thing

                               for what it may not be

       For he’s the super realist

                                     who must perforce perceive

                   taut truth

                                 before the taking of each stance or step

in his supposed advance

                                  toward that still higher perch

where Beauty stands and waits

                                     with gravity

                                                to start her death-defying leap

       And he

             a little charleychaplin man

                                           who may or may not catch

               her fair eternal form

                                     spreadeagled in the empty air

                  of existence

Okay, this is dreadfully existential. It happens when you have a brush with death.

But I’m filing that one away, and I promise you I will be using it.

You authors: grab hold of your inner selves and trumpet it with clarity.

You readers: give those little charleychaplins a standing ovation.

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22 Responses to “Do You Know Who You Are?”

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your car accident and am glad you weren’t hurt seriously

  2. On the button as usual, Pete. I smiled at the ‘dreadfully’ before ‘existential, though. I know exactly what you mean, but it’s a shame we have to qualify that particular noun in such ways. Ever since I started holding tutorials on Sartre and the rest (way, way back), their interpretation of how and who we are, how that’s judged and experienced, the “l’enfer, c’est les autres” conclusion and their definitions of freedom and its limits seemed to make complete, practical, honest sense. And yet the word existentialism has become almost synonymous with pretentiousness or unreality. Quite the contrary, it articulates the shifting, unreliable “truths” and “identities” of people – and, of course, of the characters we create.

    Scary to hear of your accident. Scarier still when you think that Camus’ equivalent confirmed everything he’d ever been writing. I hope the trauma has now receded.

    • 4 Pete

      Thanks, Bill – the trauma has receded largely, but there is still that “if this had happened” kind of reflection that doesn’t go away so easily.

      I have concluded this after reliving it a thousand times:

      My peevishness saved my life.

  3. 5 Peter R

    Oh how true. Funny, the same seems to apply to self proclaimed “newspaper men” , whether online or in print. Taunting the truth at the expense of others with no regard for the actions. LOL, just another “Coney Island of the Mind'”

    • 6 Pete

      Peter, the newspaperman today treats truth as anathema to his story. It’s not Coney Island, it’s Riker’s Island.

  4. What a great post, Pete. “Do you know what’s in your heart, and are you willing to expose that in your fiction?” I think I am. Yes, with our deepest, darkest secrets we can write good fiction. I haven’t let myself get sucked into many threads. People will say the the most terrible things when they can remain anonymous. Sorry to hear about your scary accident.

    • 8 Pete

      Pretending to be someone else is pathological – especially when the someone else is a powerful person in your field.

  5. 9 Matt

    First, I’m glad to hear you’re doing ok after your accident. As an EMT and a participant, I’ve attended more than my share of motor vehicle accidents, and I know they can do all sorts of damage to our psyches as well as our bodies. But your brain is certainly still working. Indeed, a dollop of deceit can go a long way to spinning an enjoyable yarn, but it’s a pain in the ass in real life.

    • 10 Pete

      I can imagine what you’ve seen, Matt. I declined transport and signed the waiver. Then went right to the chiropractor, and I’ve been going back almost every day since.

  6. I could dive into conversation with you about so many points you made in your post. For instance, “nasty” conversations in these online writers’ groups. I finally shut down my connections. I don’t have time for all that crap. As far as I can tell, you have a slew of people who want to promote themselves/products/services, but online etiquette won’t allow them to, so they posture and proclaim online to draw attention to themselves while pretending not to. The whole thing is ridiculous.

    The death of your father. Yes. The death of mine, my struggle with his life and death more than thirty years later, has opened my eyes to a lot of truths about human beings, and these truths can break your heart.

    Thank you for the Ferlinghetti poem. Splendid. As was your last sentence.

    If you should go to my blog (www.cyn1020.com), which you advised me months ago to create, please take a look at my book (as opposed to the weekly posts) and at the accompanying pieces. BANYAN is “a world in which things are not as they seem.” In the advice you gave me when we first met online, you said that above all, I must learn to ask people to read my book. Okay, Mr. Morin, I’m asking.

    Thanks for the post. I really liked it.

  7. 13 M M Bennetts

    Very much appreciated this one, Pete. You really cut to the heart of something I’ve been sort of skirting about the edges of, for some weeks now, as I plot out the next book…I shall be printing this out and keeping it stuck to the wall to remind myself…

    And very glad you’re all right. I’ve told you though, mate, those Massachusetts drivers…ha ha ha.

    • 14 pete

      I was just thinking the other day (as I contemplated the horrid changes to Facebook) of all the people I miss, and you and Ben are at the top of the list.

  8. Yes, good points all. Duplicity, treachery, corruption — that’s the stuff of fiction. At least my fiction!

  9. 16 jodylebel

    I was on that thread, following it like my grandmother used to follow General Hospital, waiting for the next calamity, entertained and horrified at the same time, finding myself posting comments to the bullies and getting swept up in the storm. One thing I took away was how easy it is to fool someone when they want to believe something is real. Authors were pitching their books to this phony, he was telling them he went online and purchased all their books, and they were eating it up. At first I found it sad but after thinking about it I changed my mind. Sometimes you ARE in the right place at the right time when opportunity knocks. You’d be a fool not to take a chance. You can’t worry about the egg on your face if it all falls apart. So what? Stranger things have happened than a chance meeting of someone higher up in the industry that could give an author a helping hand. So, don’t feel bad those of you who wanted to believe and smiled at this guy. It just goes to show you have pure hearts. And don’t let this one jerk stop you from trying again the next time.

  10. Car accidents are scary – so glad you’re okay!

    I don’t understand some of these folks who post outrageous things online. Do they really think they’re going to fool people? Really? It’s sad.

  11. 18 Malc

    Oh hell. I missed Mother’s Day.

    Great stuff, Pete. Keep dodging them bullets.

  12. 19 Jim Crocker

    I’m kinda late to the discussion, but . . . On the Net, nobody knows you’re a dog. And I can be anybody I wanna be. Recalling the words to a Gary Moore song, “Don’t believe a word . . .”

  13. I just “discovered” your YouTube creations through a Goodreads discussion about writers and reviewers and fans who just can’t figure out how to act. The ease of communication has spawned massive egos in otherwise introverted people and my inbox is crowded with buy my book, no buy MY book. As if we have nothing better to do. And Ah Ha, I see from your picture you are “that” Pete. Hello, and it’s great to pull all the threads together at once. I’ve shared your videos with several writing groups and look forward to perusing your blog. Nope, no fan girl stuff, just appreciation and thanks.

    • Howdy Mona, welcome to the world of “that” Pete. Don’t tell me what you mean, please. Thank you for spreading the videos. I’m glad you got a kick out of them!


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