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