Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On Meeting Authors and Expectations

So, recently I went to a signing/book-selling event a couple hours away from me, up in Eastern Washington (We measure distance in time. Don't bring your cockamamie "miles" and "actual units of distance" into this.). I roomed with another writer friend, and that was a good time. Nobody really sold anything, but that's the risk you take when you do these sorts of things.

Now, I'm not a big name author of any sort. I have some modest recognition in my circles, but I'm not approaching NYT or USA Today or even WSJ bestseller status like a good number of the authors who were there. And I don't make a lot of appearances as Raven de Hart… which you may know why if you've seen my posting at all.

See, I'm a guy. Yeah, it's not like it's a massive secret. It's not like I'm the first man to write romance under a woman's name. In point of fact, I deliberately chose to write it under a female pen name because that was the industry standard. Of course, with changing tides in the M/M romance sphere, that's no longer the case, but the die has been cast, so to speak. Can't turn back now without losing all the progress I have with this pen name.

Now, most of the people were very lovely. You could tell they were surprised, which I fully expected. You think of Raven de Hart as a woman, and then you see a very intensely bearded fellow behind the table. I expect some double takes and some questions.

But what I wasn't expecting was the high school drama, where I was excluded by a clique of other writers. Again, this was not the majority, but it was pretty obvious that they weren't into the whole "man writing romance" thing, for whatever reason. I didn't ask, because fuck 'em.

But that's just an anecdote leading to a more salient, widely-applicable point… also I'm kind of catty and enjoy gossiping. See, we all have these ideas about authors, and because we basically only know them through distant means (Books, short stories, curated social media accounts), we can get one picture of them in our heads. I think that's true of anyone with any amount of time in the public eye, but with writers… well, our words come first, and sometimes you won't know what we look like until you meet us. You won't know our actual personalities, because we're probably not like our characters (Or at least not just like our characters.).

I remember a story about a romance author (Can't remember who.) who went to a signing. And she wrote some pretty hot romance, and some pretty intense relationships. A fan, thinking that he was in love with her because of her writing, came and saw her… and like a lot of authors, she was shy, quiet, and socially awkward. Said fan threw a fit because she had been "lying" about herself.

Other times, the author isn’t actually the gender of their pen name. Josh Lanyon? Woman. Perhaps she wouldn't stand out as much at a romance event as the opposite (Namely, me.), but it's still jarring. And other things can be jarring as well. Some people don't like to be photographed, or use a picture that hasn't been current since cassette tapes were the new innovation. Some people are going to be really sweet, even though they write some pretty awful, vomit-inducing horror (Not quite the same thing, but Michael Rooker, who played Merle on TWD, is just the sweetest fucking man alive. He still gets people who confuse him for the character.).

I understand, and so do most of us, that readers know us through the content we've put out there. Could I have been honest from the outset? Sure. Would I have sold as much as I did when I started? I honestly can't say, because the climate was very, very different. And even with changing tides, I'm still writing in a female-dominated genre. Maybe I'd be unique and eye catching if I wrote as Marshall Maddox or something like that. Maybe I would be "that weird guy who writes M/M" and my sales would tank. I don't know.

The point behind this whole thing is this: whatever expectations you have of an author, don't be shocked if they don't fit your mold. Certainly don't be rude about it. We're all just people trying to make a living and be happy.