[personal|process] Reflecting on careers, mentorship and delivery dates

Being in Austin has put me in a reflective mood. I lived here for eighteen years, longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere, and possibly longer than I ever will again, depending on what the future brings me. Though I did not start selling fiction until after I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2000, in some very important ways, my career began here. Specifically, in the hands of a particular writer.

I owe this person an immense debt of gratitude. She introduced me to such basics as manuscript formatting, cover letters, critique, and even the very existence of workshops. She mentored me from an unbelievably wet-behind-the-ears newbie, through the convinced-of-my-own-undiscovered-genius phase, through the I-resent-the-conspiracy-against-gifted-newcomers-that-is-publishing phase, and many of the other tiresome but apparently necessary evolutions in the process of my becoming an actual working author.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the bookshelf. When I started showing measurable success, instead of merely expending effort, my mentor found this challenging. When I started appearing in tables of contents, and on bookstore shelves, with a higher profile than she has ever achieved, this writer became one of my most savage critics — not only of my writing, but of my professionalism, my behavior, my blog presence, and even my fashion sense. She eventually drove me off a mailing list and out of a social circle with her profound and unrelenting unpleasantness.

I value friendship very highly, I am almost stupidly loyal, and I can be a slow learner, but in time I learned I had to shut this person out of my life and work. It only took several severe outbursts and a great deal of my own emotional distress to get me there. As a result, someone who’s name should be in the dedications of all my books is instead someone I have not seen or spoken to in years, and probably never will again.

Coming to Austin has somewhat forcibly and sadly reminded me of this 15-year arc of friendship which ended so very badly. And it reminds me that we writers tend to be jealous creatures. Another friend of mine in this business asked me a while back how my friendship with had survived his meteoric rise. The question surprised me, because in a very fundamental way, it would never have occurred to me that Ken’s success had somehow come at a cost to me. This is not a zero sum game. Even if it were, he’s my friend, and my friendship with him is not so cheap as to be damaged by a book contract. What kind of friend would I be if that were true?

Yet my first and greatest mentor turned out to be exactly that kind of friend to me. And oddly, my second great mentor, who was very important to me in the years after I moved to Oregon and first began publishing, hasn’t spoken to me since 2005, except once or twice out of social necessity. Which of course, has me wondering if there is some aspect of my behavior which is to account for this.

Now there is the fubar going on in our little well-tempested teapot about when writers are “supposed” to deliver books. I know personally almost everyone who has weighed in, and respect them all. My only comment is that I’m supposed to deliver the book when the contract says to do, and so far I haven’t missed one yet. Not even when I had cancer. There’s one book I will never contract until after it is done, for precisely the kind of creative reasons that and others have cited (Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, for those keeping score at home); but otherwise, the whole issue of creative block is almost as much a mystery to me as the issue of the sort of professional jealousy that can shatter a friendship.

These are big words, I know, and I almost certainly will be called upon to eat them some day, but for now I will say this:

My friends are my friends, and their successes only magnify our friendships.

My books are due when they’re due, and my own personal definition of my professionalism has me turning them in on time.

Maybe some day I’ll learn differently, but I sure hope not.

2 thoughts on “[personal|process] Reflecting on careers, mentorship and delivery dates

  1. tetar says:

    Well said. I’m with you in never having fully understood the envy and jealousy success can bring among writers. Truth is, one writer’s success has nothing to do with another’s, except sometimes perhaps to make it easier, by elbowing out a bit of room for a certain kind of material. If I can help another writer succeed, even beyond my own success, cool. I’m happy for them, friend or not. I generally like writers and I love writing and promoting those two things can only help us all, in my view.

    Sorry to hear about your prior friends / mentors turning, but there is no accounting for humanoid primate behavior, either. We pick over each other’s foibles and flaws in gossip and to each other’s faces as part of being people, but in the end we’re all in it together and if some can’t see that, well, tant pis.

    Do the envious imagine the public who buys the work are in on some conspiracy?

    And after all is said and done, those resentful of others’ success apparently didn’t get the Secret Decoder Ring, so they’ll never know how it’s Really Done…

  2. tetar says:

    It strikes me that it’s the basic difference in character (or lack thereof) and personality between those dreaded labels Liberal and Conservative. One set smiles, the other scowls.

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