Do You Know Who You Are?
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
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
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
for what it may not be
For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
to start her death-defying leap
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
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.
Filed under: Book Marketing, Craft, Peter Morin | 22 Comments
Tags: jim berkus, lawrence ferlinghetti, pete morin, reed coleman, seth grahame-smith, writing craft