Friday, November 10, 2006

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing

So Katie Melua tells me. There are six billion people in the world. That's almost enough for everyone to have a pound each of JK Rowling's money. Okay, that's an exaggeration. Maybe a penny each.

Warning: what follows may insult those of a thick-skinned, straight-talkin', don't-call-me-a-bitch-like-it's-a-bad-thing nature. That's right. This rant is brought to you by the Cat Marsters Broadcasting Corporation. Normal service--talking about kittens, and promoing my very pretty new cover--will resume shortly.

I was reading over a vitriolic spew of hatred against writers (came up when I Googled myself, filthy habit, am trying to cut down) and was amazed at the vicious attacks coming from all corners. From the original poster (because you already knew this was on a reader's blog. There's not much point in telling you which blog, you could pick one of dozens. Probably hundreds) to the forty-some comments that came after. Writers and readers alike lining up with swords, machetes, Kalashnikovs, ready to hack pieces off each other and decorate their helmets with them. Look! I took a chunk out of MaryJanice Davidson! Go me!

Well, look. MJD makes lots of money. Lots and lots. She probably doesn't care if you don't like her. It'd be like Madonna worrying that some little pop upstart said she wasn't all that (yes, I'm looking at you, Lily Allen). But the thing is, even if MJD lost 50% of her readers because they thought she was too up herself, she'd still be making piles of cash. And anyway, anyone who's ever read a page or two of her books is probably aware that they're founded on the biggest don't-give-a-shit attitude I've seen since...oh, Ghengis Khan or someone. Go, MJD! Write what you want! The snarky among us will approve any bursts of retaliation, because that's what we buy your books for.

There's a hell of a double standard at work here. Readers can say what they want about writers, but we can't say what we want about them. Well, there's a double standard for writers, too. It's not half as satisfying, but here it is: thank the people who say nice things about your books. Ignore the ones who hate them. At least, in public. It's voodoo dolls all 'round in private.

The underlying thread of that hate-filled post--Okay, I'm sorry, I can't finish that sentence. The overwhelming, rammed-down-my-throat, spewing with red-hot molten angst point, and I use the word point in its fullest sense, of that post, was that writers are too ungrateful for their readers' attentions, and shouldn't be putting their opinions out there, because it hurts the reader, who has after all paid the writer for their hour's entertainment. Writers, the poster told us in no uncertain terms, are the servants of their readers. We are here to entertain, not to have opinions, and certainly not to have feelings. Readers are entitled to any and all opinions about writers (and their books and covers), and the writer must meekly sit by and take all abuse heaped upon them. Or else, the mighty wrath of the Collective Readership will descend and that writer will Never Work In This Town Again!

It's all so playground, isn't it? So teenager-with-a-blog. Have Opinion, Will Post. Look, here's my take on it, for anyone who's still reading by now. JKR and MJD aside, writers are slaves to their reading public. My God, I've earned less in one month from my writing than I did in one day working at Blockbuster Video a couple of years ago. I don't write for money (although some money would be nice). I don't know anyone who writes for money. You do it because you have to. It's like having children--I read the other day it costs about £180,000 to raise a child from birth these days. Children are expensive, noisy, smelly, exhausting, ruin your social life, ruin your working life, ruin your house and your figure and basically everything you have. And yet people are constantly having babies. They go to massive lengths--and massive expense--to get impregnated or adopt Chinese orphans. Why? Well, maybe for the same reason I write. It sure as shootin' ain't for money.

I probably spend 25% of my time writing and the other 75% thinking up ways to kiss the public's ass. I, basically, can't afford to go around mouthing off and offending readers. But that doesn't mean I don't want to. Whenever I read a spew of anger towards writers and their art it makes me incandescantly angry. The only person I'm a slave to is my muse. When she says WRITE, BITCH, WRITE, then you betcha-by-golly-wow I sit on my ass in front of this keyboard and forget mealtimes to get the words out. She doesn't care what the readers will think. She doesn't even know they exist. And if one of them says, "My God, that cover is so ugly, I'm never going to buy one of her books again!" then the muse will hear it as a faint buzz, like a wasp trapped in a Coke can.

But you see, I'm not my muse. I'm a sensitive soul. Writers tend to be--the thick-skinned are not known for their creativity. If I may compare writing to having children again, it's a damn insulting thing when someone tells you your child is ugly. I think if they did, you'd tell them to fuck off. So if someone tells me my book sucks, then fine, it's their opinion, and maybe they're right. But I'm still going to tell them to fuck off. Unless I'm feeling classy, in which case I'll ignore them. But I'm not going to actually thank them and I'm sure as hell not going to waste any more time sucking up to them. I might be poor, but I'm not going to prostitute myself.

To put it another way: sprawled out behind me on my old desk chair is my 8-month old cat, Spike. I consider him to be my pet, which isn't a very respectful term. But which of the two of us feeds the other, pays for the other, and rearranges housework schedules to accommodate the other's sleeping times? Yep, you're right. It's me. I even give up my favourite chair for him. So who is whose servant here? And who, if the services stopped coming, would just find another servant?

Writers aren't like dogs. We're not totally dependant on our readers' love. We're more like cats: you stop loving me, and I'll find someone else. There are, after all, six billion of you.

1 comment:

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