There’s an excellent interview with Steven Erikson at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and I wanted to highlight some extracts – not covering the content of his books, but discussing the internet and genre.
I track things for a time, usually at the start, but invariably someone decides to trash whatever book is being discussed; it’s not the trashing that bothers me, it’s the often inane observations accompanying that trashing. I’m as human as the next guy, after all, though over the years my skin has toughened and, ultimately, I continue to go about my business unaffected by criticism — even still, it does sometimes seem that reviews (ie amazon reader comments) attack with a hidden agenda that baffles me. What’s become clear via the internet is that some readers of certain writers confuse their pleasure at that writer’s work and end up positioning themselves in some weird kind of belligerent loyalty: as if other writers were somehow competing with their favourite. It’s an odd notion, and for what it’s worth, I often hang out with said writers and, surprise, we get along just fine, and bizarre ideas about competition or rivalry, well, they are the exclusive inventions of fans, not us writers. As to the lengths such fans will go, now that’s alarming indeed. But it’s all misplaced and a waste of energy, as far as I can see.
I’ve watched this behaviour from the sidelines and it is, at first, amusing that readers can act like this. But when the Lord of the Flies tribal mentality kicks in… well. Let’s just say I can quite understand why many authors withdraw their online presence. This tribalism might be fun to some, however, it has long term consequences to the genre, and the involvement of authors.
I remember very much liking the opinion of Lou Anders on a related issue (I can’t remember if it was in a convention bar or otherwise): there should be no competition between authors. The success of one author does not thieve sales from another; on the contrary, a proliferation of entertaining, engrossing, well-written genre writers only grows the audience.
One discernible change is the role of the internet, but that almost goes without saying. Once, thousands of years ago when I was just starting out, writers produced stories and books and all they had to say was in their fiction. Now, they speak in their own voices, in blogs and such, and that’s stirred things considerably. We’re no different in feeling the need to fire a salvo every now and then, across the bow or rather more directly on target, and sometimes the fallout gets … heated. And, for all that I said upon beginning this interview, ultimately I think a writer should speak through his or her work; all the rest is just fluff. Often well-written fluff, but still. That said, some writers truly know how to exploit the new media, in terms of self-promotion, and my hat’s off to them. But for me, even the thought of it has my head ducking down. Gun shy, I guess, or maybe it’s that I’d probably end up sounding off on things a little too forcefully. Best I keep my mouth shut, for the most part (and these interviews are like cracks in the smoky glass, I dart out, then back in again).
I’ll admit I’m one of these type of writers who exploit the new media, so far as this blog exists, I have a Twitter page, and a Facebook page – though the latter tends to be not particularly about pushing the books, since I’ve friends and colleagues on there. I suppose all of this new media isn’t just self-promotion, I actually quite enjoy it. Plus, being British and cynical, I loathe it when people spam Twitter and Facebook with self-promo rants constantly.
However I totally agree with Steven Erikson on the fact that a writer should be judged through their work, primarily. How much do readers take into account the personality of a writer? Though if I’m honest, if I don’t like the online persona of someone, I’m less inclined to read their work. Is that a bad thing? I guess it probably is, and makes me a hypocrite.