Friday, March 26, 2010

The Horror of Non-Writers

Posted by LD Keach on Friday, March 26, 2010



(Or, how to freak people out by admitting that you write in public.)

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to have the courage to talk about being a writer, let alone a horror writer.

Years ago, I never mentioned the W-word in polite company and rarely spoke it aloud, even when no one was listening. I hid my foul secret in the closet behind my porn and the random piles of brittle, dusty bones tucked behind old knitting projects. (Really, officer, I don’t know how those brittle, dusty bones ended up in there...) I learned to not speak of my Writerness because of the conversation with non-writer people that always seemed to go like this:
Me: I’m a writer.

Non-Writer: Really? Are you published?

Me: Well, no. Not yet.

Non-Writer: Oh. (gives a disdainful look.)

I’ve gotten that disappointed Oh and that disdainful look from co-workers, neighbors, coffee house baristas; lots of normal people to whom I’ve been fool enough to confess my writerness. Nothing is so horrible as to have a random stranger sum you up and knock you down with that one little Oh.

Sometimes, these “normal” people like to try to make us justify our writing habit. As though we’re not Real Writers unless we produce something that resembles validation in the eyes of society. They’re not writers, they don’t understand. They think Writer = Hemmingway, and if you’re not freakin’ Hemmingway yet, you’re just faking.

But, it doesn’t get any better once the meager publication credits start to trickle in. Then, the conversation goes a little like this:
Me: I’m a writer.

Non-Writer: Are you published?

Me: Uh…Does it matter?

Non-Writer: Yes. I only want to know published writers.

Me: Okaaaay, well…I’ve got a couple of stories out there.

Non-Writer: Oh, my! How thrilling! Where are your stories published?

Me: (shrugs) Mostly semi-pro and small press markets…

Non-Writer: Oh. (and there’s that disdainful look again)

Oh, sure—win a Pulitzer and you’ll be a Writer. Sell a blockbuster, and you’ll be a Writer. Plug out a thousand copies of the same, re-hashed thriller crap with different titles (cough-Koontz-cough) and only then, will you be a writer. It shows in their eyes. Many non-writers will seek to destroy you because you’re not famous enough to impress them.

And to make things worse, when the topic of horror writing comes up, they give that skittish look like they think you might sneak into their house at night and sacrifice their pet Chow-chow to the dark forces that’ve been whispering in your ear when the moon is full.
Me: I write horror.

Non-Writer: Oh, dear God, no! Run away, run aaaaawaaayyy…!



So, for years, I stopped telling people I was a horror writer. I stopped trying to explain that no, I’m not a psychopath, I just write about them. I didn't bother to tell them that I’d been writing for going on ten years and it didn’t matter how many rejections I got, I’d never quit. I never claimed to be an Award-Winning Author but, for some reason, non-writers like to hold us to that standard once we admit the W-word, even though the only thing that makes us writers is the fact that we write.



But, once you reach the point where you realize you’re hooked on writing, and you’ll still be writing no matter how many disdainful looks you get, those kinds of non-writer conversations go a lot more smoothly.
Me: (proudly) Yes, I am a horror writer.

Non-Writer: Really? Are you pub—

Me: My, that’s a very fine Chow-Chow you have there. My dark lord Zularotron whispers in my ear that such an animal would be a fine addition to his undead army bent on taking over the world.

Non-Writer: Uh…thank you?

Me: Would you like to read the short story I wrote in Zularotron’s honor? It’s called “The Brittle, Dusty Bones I Like to Gnaw On.”

Non-Writer: Uh, no.

Me: (shrugs) Okay.

Ah, life is sweet when you’re out of the closet.

3 comments:

  1. My mother is so guilty of this. I constantly hear from her about how I should take writing "seriously" (I thought I was doing that already?) and sell a novel to some large publishing outfit sight unseen.

    She has no idea what she's even talking about. Neither does anyone else in my family.

    Every time I make a sale to a small press anthology and mention it to her, she asks "Did you have to pay them to do that?" No, Mom, aside from that stupid poetry anthology you and Dad were snookered into buying (and then paying extra for my bio) when I was twelve, I haven't had to pay to be published. My god, that's like asking if I had to pay a dude to have sex with me or something. It's gotten to the point where I don't even mention my sales to her any longer. It's better that way.

    She must have told my grandmother something, though, since now she's been sending me links to Good Housekeeping-sponsored fiction contests and asking me when I'm going to write "seriously."

    It never ends.

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  2. Oh, that's horrible! I'm so sorry. By "seriously" I wonder if they mean "Real Literature" instead of "Genre fiction." Some people think that if we not trying to write The Great American Novel, we're faking, too. Oi.

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  3. That's exactly what they mean. My family's full of Oprah's Book Club readers (and the Left Behind Series, and Twilight, but i'm trying to repress those facts for the sake of familial piety) and nobody appreciates the value of a good scary tale. Their loss.

    The older I get, though, the more of a "haters gonna hate" attitude I seem to cultivate. It's more amusing than upsetting at this point.

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