Apropos of nothing in particular, I was thinking of the “idiots and assholes” theory of driving while I was on my exercise bike this morning. (Yes, even cancer patients need their exercise.) That’s the idea that whatever speed you’re driving at is the one you think is right; anyone driving slower, and therefore in your way, is an idiot; anyone driving faster, and therefore tailgating you or blowing by you, is an asshole.
Mind you, this is not a theory I consciously subscribe to any more, nor have I for years, but I suspect it lurks in there somewhere. This is very much a part of human nature, sort of like the same guy who will cut you off hard on the street outside the bank will hold the door to let you in when he sees you as a human being and not as an idiot/asshole automobile in his way. This analogy has a lot of implications in Internet debates where anonymity is used as an accountability-free platform for all manner of viciousness, but that’s a topic for another time.
The thing is, if you drive a distinctive car, as I have off and on over the years, and as
Writers are the same way. With the recent releases of Pinion and The Specific Gravity of Grief, I’ve published about a million words of fiction over the past ten years. I haven’t done the math, but I’d guess I’m somewhere between one-and-a-half and two million words of blogging in the same time frame. Every last word of it, with a few very rare exceptions, under my own name. The name you’ll hear in the convention bar or in line at the bank.
Am I an idiot? On occasion. Am I an asshole? Also on occasion, though hopefully as rarely as possible. Certainly if you want to prove either thesis, all you have to do is even lightly touch the corpus of my work, and you could prove literally anything about me from written evidence. Strip off the sarcasm in some of my blog posts, and you could prove in my own words that I am a hardcore neoconservative. Strip off the humanism in some of my fiction, and you could prove in my own words that I a cast iron bastard who believes people deserve exactly what they get in life. Neither could be further from the real, nuanced truth of me, but, hey, there I am. With the tiniest bit of cherry picking and a little bit of interpretive gloss, you could just as easily prove I’m a Christian, a Communist, an activist, a reactionary: pretty much anything you wanted to. My brand is backed by a little bit of everything.
And that’s one of the risks of being a writer, of being a public person. You do have a brand. Your words speak for you. People will interpret those words how they will, with whatever needs they bring to the text in the moment. As I’ve often said, “the story belongs to the reader.” Maybe a more accurate statement is “the words belong to the reader.”
Still, it’s incumbent upon me as a decent human being to be as little of an idiot as possible, and as asshole as rarely as possible. More to the point, it’s incumbent upon me as an author to write good, interesting fiction; and as a blogger to right engaging posts.
This is not a career for the faint of heart. Unless you’re very good at either engaging with people or at ignoring them.