The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan

Some Thoughts on Puddles: Advice for Authors and Readers of the M/M Community

22 Comments

One of the best things about the m/m genre is that it’s close-knit and interwoven like a family. Naturally, that’s also one of the worst things about it. It’s true of any small genre though, I think, and right now just about everything about the world of books is either becoming small genre or at least learning to share our pains. Publishing is changing, no matter how hard New York shoves its fingers in its ears or how loud it yells (or how high they price their ebooks in an attempt to render them DOA). Up is down and black is white. The wheel is spinning round and round, and what our industry will look like when it stops, nobody knows. Which means we all get to try to guess what will happen, and it also means that many people will set themselves up as knowing which way the wind is blowing and will expel a lot of wind themselves saying so. This is fine and to a large degree expected. But authors and readers both should speculate with care, remembering we’re here to read and write, not predict the future, and that family is a lot more important than being right.

The Internet, bless its cotton socks, is like a small town on crack, heroin, and some seriously moldy weed at once. It creates communities and allows networking in ways we didn’t even know to dream of. It allows conversations that quite literally can change the world, and in the case of small genres like m/m fiction, it weaves an entire universe out of sexual politics, gender identity, a yen for something different and a bit of fanfic tossed on top for texture. And like all good universes, ours is ever-expanding and changing. Literally the whole world participates. There isn’t just one watering hole; there are hundreds, with more popping up every day. Our little puddle universes overlap and expand into others in ways we can’t even fathom, let alone see. These communities can become so powerful they take on their own life, puddles with surprising depth. But like small towns, they can be full of suspicion, power-mongering, and a healthy side order of crazy.

By and large this is just part of human nature strutting its stuff and is probably healthy. We are all nothing if not walking egos; why would we be otherwise on the Internet? For many jockeying for whose blog/book/review is more influential, who is the book-of-the-month on what site and who wins what award is part of playing the game, and watching this stuff play out makes for interesting TV. But sometimes catty remarks on twitter have a razors in them, and they cut deep enough to bleed. Sometimes friendly competition becomes a brawl that leaves not just bruises but scars. Sometimes one person’s offhand remark or dismissal or generalization cause serious wounds to our community.

I know readers who have stopped reading and authors who have stopped writing, for awhile or forever, because of community gone awry, and not just in this genre. I have literally and virtually held the hands and dried the tears of many who have been battered by accidental and deliberate swipes by Internet communities, and I have become a snotty mess myself over the same. My own experiences, personal and observed, have caused me to engage in Internet communities much differently than I used to, and most of it comes down to engaging less. Attempts to be more active usually find me flat against a wall of panic and remembered sorrow and a fierce determination to never get cut in the same ways again. I try to push myself beyond that, because I’d rather be a fool twice or thrice* or a million times than just hide out with a blanket over my head.

My desire to renew my attempts at engagement swelled to new highs after attending GayRomLit in New Orleans. Itwasn’t just going home; it was that universe-expanding thing again, a world I hadn’t quite realized was that formed and that big and that amazing. Prior to NOLA the m/m genre felt like my community and my place of work; now it feels like my family, my posse. Oh, yes, it’s still a small town on various mild-altering substances. But connecting with people live and in person, seeing faces and watching the way corners of mouths turned up and eyebrows waggled and hearing accents from all over the world—well, all my Pollyanna came swelling back, wanting to hug everyone and drown them in rose petals and kisses. Obviously that faded into something more sane pretty quickly, and after some percolation and imaginary Dunhills, this is my attempt to be a bit more active in the community conversation.

And my plea to the community conversation is this: Play nice.

Yes, let’s all splash in the puddles together and make a mess, but let’s remember that this is a puddle, and even growing like it is, it’s still a puddle, and there’s less room in here than we think. When one splashes, we all get wet. If we want to keep it a puddle and not just make it our footprint as we launch into a bigger pond, we need to watch ourselves. If someone starts lumbering around mucking up and upsetting people, we want to protect the community, yes, but we don’t want blood in the water, either, especially if our egos are more focused on a vendetta rather than keeping the peace.

The world of authors and readers is changing, and we don’t know how just yet. What we do know is who supports us and who is toxic to the air we breathe. In a puddle, sometimes those latter two are standing side-by-side and are different things to different people. Right and wrong are always subjective, but in close quarters that subjectivity can start a war.

Nothing has prompted this post, except possibly Sir Terry Pratchett. Anyone attempting to knit a conspiracy of this post being prompted by this-or-that flame war or review or blog post or twitter comment or sneeze or bowel movement or whatever is engaging in what I hope is at least a pleasant bit of fiction for themselves. I like communities, and I like to see them healthy and strong.

I dislike power plays a lot. I dislike anyone hogging the hill or the mic or anything and trying to make themselves out to be Top Dog, and I dislike whisper campaigns about who is currently too big for their britches as well. Oh, we all do it off on the side. We all have our foxholes where we vent and bitch and cry. That’s normal and probably healthy. But anybody doing it to get more power is a Mean Girl and deserves the karma they knit.

I don’t like bullies, either. Like Randy Jansen, I  know how to play poker, at least metaphorically, and it isn’t important to me that I walk out with the pot, just that the asshole doesn’t. I will defend this genre and this community with everything I have, and while my body is a bit of a mess and I get awfully tired, my tongue has a few edges left on it. I haven’t felt the need to get my bristles up much, thank goodness. I don’t ever really want to.

But sometimes I feel like we get too close to trouble in River City. As we get bigger, I suppose that’s natural, and eventually our puddle might splinter into different puddles. That’s evolution and the way of the world. What I hope never happens is that we get so caught up in games and ego that we send out all the water altogether, that this amazing family gets destroyed over something foolish.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for several weeks, and before GRL my metaphor of choice was going to be curtains, that authors should remember they can shut theirs and keep their eyes on the keyboard while readers (or authors ready to play) muck about in Oz. I’m of the opinion that drawing the curtains (and respecting the need for them) is not a bad plan. But after GRL, I’m thinking more about the puddles. Because this is not a pond. This is not, thank god, New York publishing. This isn’t RWA or any of the usual romance sub-communities. This is us. This IS Oz, and it’s damn hard to keep yourself curtained off when you know there are yellow-brick roads and other wonders out there.

I hope no matter how we grow, no matter what the future of publishing brings, that we stay a community. I hope we work hard together to keep ourselves strong. I hope we keep looking out for each other and for our puddle as a whole, even if it gets too large to be called that anymore.

I hope that as other genres and pods of publishing and readership look around and see our community, they find themselves wanting to model their own communities after ours because we are that awesome, or better yet they join ours and enrich the conversation. I hope that magical feeling of connection and family and wonder we felt in NOLA is not an anomaly but just the tip of the rainbow. Yes, cheesy, but how could I resist? My Pollyanna is back, and man, rainbows? She’s shitting them. Because yeah, probably eventually somebody’s going to send too much water over the edge.

But we made this puddle once. I’ve decided to focus less on how much of a miracle that was and more on that no matter what, once managed we could do it again. And again and again and again.

Pollyanna, over and out.

 

 

*My husband will see this word and think “intrauterine!” and frankly, you should too.

22 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Puddles: Advice for Authors and Readers of the M/M Community

  1. Thanks for the reminder to play nice. We all need it periodically!

  2. Beautifully said.

  3. Amen, sistah. And “what she said”!

  4. I like your comments about how communities are both good and bad, and we should watch out throwing stones at each other. I am not a professional writer; perhaps I could be called a professional reader.

    A young man whose blog I was acquainted with recently closed blog and withdrew from at least one online community. Part of his reasoning was driven by conflicts he had had with this community. I am not privy to the details, but I think it’s a shame that we have lost someone who had the potential to be a positive force toact as anI example to other people, and possibly a writer of some merit. He will be missed by those of us who enjoyed his on-point observations, his great sense of humor, and his ability to spin a great story.

    We all need to keep in mind the axioms we learned as children about doing unto others as we would want for ourselves, and not throwing stones in glass houses.

    • It’s always sad when that happens. It’s usually complicated as to why too, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. But I do believe, cue my syrupy soundtrack, that if we think with the community in mind rather than our own entertainment and desires, a lot of things get sorted out pretty quickly and easily.

  5. My own experiences, personal and observed, have caused me to engage in Internet communities much differently than I used to, and most of it comes down to engaging less.

    Yep, that’s me too. Or engaging more distantly and with less invested emotion, because if you care too much you’re going to get hurt.

    To a certain extent this is a good thing for the long term, at least if writing is a business. Remembering not to treat the internet as though it was your BFF and you were safe to bare your inmost soul to it, is probably wise. And everyone needs a good healthy dose of “you’re a despicable person, you shouldn’t be writing this stuff” every so often if only because it forces you to clarify to yourself why you are.

    • Well, I’m hoping it can be good things too, socializing and finding common ground and such. There’s self protection, and there’s focusing on work (which I so need to go do, right now), and then there’s using old grievances to build a wall. For me that’s the big struggle, making sure my wall is built of healthy things, not scrawled with the graffiti that first made me want to erect it. Speaking entirely for myself, in hindsight I know I was part of the problem that got me slapped down, at least part of the time and probably more of the time than I’d like to acknowledge. I do think it’s healthy to err on the side of caution to a degree. But sometimes risks are healthy too.

      • I’m sure I was too! And everything is good in the end – even if lessons are harsh, it’s a good thing to learn from them. I don’t bear anyone a grudge, but I am an acute introvert, and a bit of a delicate flower, so my natural inclination is to run and hide and not to come out again. I need some kind of a protective wall if I’m not to disappear altogether.

        I’m working on it, but it’s difficult to change the self-protective habits of a lifetime.

  6. It’s that close-knit thing that I don’t like about my genre, but that’s because I’m a misanthropic curmudgeon who’d rather live in a cave, and not any criticism about the community itself. The most slings and arrows that I’ve seen have been from outside the community aimed at it, attempting to corral it into an even smaller space–the gay litters throw monkey poo and much of the romance community turn their retrousse noses up and pretend we don’t exist. I wish that we would stop allowing ourselves to be corralled into the same old publishers, the same old ruts and push up and outward to bring the genre more into the light. I am criticised for this attitude, in much same way as I was criticised for wanting to go professional and break away from fandom, because people like “olds” not “news” as Pterry himself would say.

    I find it hard to cheer when people say “my book is up for book of the week on some obscure website that no-one’s ever heard of and I’ll get an icon if I win.” Curmudgeonly, yes, but I suppose I’d like people to be more ambitious and to enter competitions that are heard of will get the genre heard of. I wish people would send their books to mainstream publishers FIRST–and if they are rejected, they can go with their usual publisher afterwards. I wish people would send their books to newspapers and journals to be reviewed.

    It’s not that i’m curmudgeonly really (although I am) it’s simply that I care about the genre, and don’t want it forever to be considered as “that nonsense that wimmin write about men who act like women”

    And I agree about Snuff. Loathing the “oh poor Terry he’s ill” attitude. I didn’t think it was his best, but I liked it well enough, and I’m not blaming his illness, which I’m sure he isn’t, if I know his attitude at all!

    • I wish that we would stop allowing ourselves to be corralled into the same old publishers, the same old ruts and push up and outward to bring the genre more into the light.

      I share this goal, and so do a lot of others in the community that I know. For my part, I’m choosing to do so via paths I know, which is RWA and the mainstream romance community. That’s not necessarily everyone’s goal, which is okay. If we push where we feel comfortable pushing, that’s the way it should be. And if we don’t want to push at all, that’s okay too.

      Where we get into trouble, I think, is insisting there is one pond and one way. Gay lit is the same as all lit. They never like genre fiction, and what they hate the most and refuse to acknowledge is that they are a genre too. It’s like trying to argue with a branch of a religion who insists they are the only right ones, where you get the jokes about the tours of heaven and the guide takes the newcomer past a room and insists they whisper, because “The [insert religion/sect here] think they’re the only ones here.” To me the greatest gift of the m/m community is our variety and our differences. I’m Unitarian through and through, I guess: the only wrong way is the way that says “my way is the only right one.”

      We do all need to seek out our own ambitions. I’d like to see the publishing world stay broad enough that for some people victory is something small — but yes, I personally would like to wrestle some larger alligators. Which is why I want to keep the community going. We will achieve more united — so long as we can acknowledge the union is fluid and always a work in progress.

      But caves are good too. I relish mine and retreat into it often! :)

  7. What you said. Sometimes I think I’m not doing myself any favours promo-wise, because while I comment on a few blogs, I haven’t really got to grips with Facebook or the m/m group on Goodreads (and don’t have a Twitter account, or any intention to set one up)

    But it’s hard to spread yourself so thin across all that social media, and easy to say things that get taken the wrong way and causing offence. Also, you can lose hours of precious writing time catching up on useless gossip about who said what to who, which doesn’t help anyone.

    So, I’m all for community, but I’d far rather meet up with people in real life or keep in meaningful contact with those I know, than gad about flirting with everyone online. Does that make me community spirited? I don’t know, but I’ve met some lovely people in this community. More of us meeting up in real life has got to be a good thing. I really hope I can afford to get to Albequerque next year, but at least I know we’ll have our Meet over on this side of the pond too :D

    • I think the face-to-face stuff is essential, I really do, and more valuable than the online. Networking should amplify what you already do well (I have a blog post I’m working on regarding this too), not drag down your work. My most valuable parts of my network are people I do occasionally meet, and I’m always trying to make more face time with those people I want to increase the value of. The Internet is important, but it’s still limited. Until we find a way to be more than just typed words on a screen and a few avatars, there’s only so much it can do.

      One of the best things we can do to community build is redefine what being “community-minded” means. Or rather, broaden our definitions. Meetups count. Twitter circles count. Conventions and pride booths count. In my mind, community isn’t about conformity but about allowing individual strengths to make communal strengths.

      And sometimes it’s knowing that you should go get more coffee when X or Y is in the room. Because we all know no story goes anywhere without conflict — but there’s a time and a place! :)

      I hope you get to Albuquerque too. And I hope one day I get to the UK again!

  8. Hear, hear :). And it was excellent to meet you at GRL *hugs*.

  9. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Halloweenity Linkity Booity, plus GRL Swag Giveaway!

  10. Amen.

    And I have to thank you (Marie, Zam, Belinda, and Rowan) for going to dinner with me that first night at GRL. After laughing away the evening with you guys, the rest of the retreat didn’t seem quite so overwhelming. :)

  11. **Claps loudly** Well said! Being online, behind a computer screen, people sometimes forget that there are people on the other side that have feelings as well. Now, I’m known for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but anyone who knows me, knows that I really don’t mean to intentionally offend or upset anyone. In person, I often just speak without really thinking first. I’m just now starting to get into the whole social media and online group things. I know, I know, I’m a a few years behind the crowds, but then again, I’ve never been one to follow others. So, why start now? For me, being online gives me that chance to stop and think before I hit that final post button. If I say something that might offend someone, then I have that chance to erase it and redo it… or not. Now, if everyone else would do the same.
    My hubby and I both commented on how accepting everyone at GRL was. It is a great community/family and one that I am proud to be a part of.

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