Burying the lead and cutting some ties

Michael Easton

Whew, my Blog Book Tour’s over at last. Ten stops in two consecutive Monday-Friday work weeks. Today I was planning to wrap it all up with a summary, including links to all the sites I visited, but I’m simply too frazzled, so I’ll do it early next week. Today’s illustration, incidentally, is a more up-to-date photo of Michael Easton, from 2007. I decided the photo from his days as a vampire on Port Charles, the one I used in my post on villains, simply didn’t do him justice. And what with all the hype on the opening weekend of the second Twilight movie, the photo seems appropriate – some eye candy for those of us women who prefer our men a bit more mature than Robert Pattinson.

Actually, my post today has nothing to do with villains, vampires or Blog Book Tours, and I’m not frazzled because of the book tour. I’m doing what I believe journalists call “burying the lead.”  I’ve been careful on this blog not to put anyone down. I don’t malign individual writers, even those who write atrociously, and I don’t violate confidences. But today, in the interests of lowering my blood pressure, I need to break my usual pattern and vent.

Today I quit a local organization of fans and writers to which I’ve belonged since its founding several years ago. It’s a chapter of a national organization that will remain nameless. My decision wasn’t taken lightly; in fact, it’s a step I probably should have taken long ago. Here are a few of the issues that came up at our lunch meeting today at an Albany pub:

  • Election of new officers: our new president is fine, but she’s the only writer to hold an officer’s position. The rest are allegedly fans. A writer friend of mine ran for vice president but was defeated by an open show of hands – a mortifying way to hold an election! The winner was a state employee who is not now and has never been a writer.
  • Throwing away $8,000: through a personal contact, the same writer friend was invited to apply for an $8,000 grant for an anthology of short stories by our members. The president, however, ordered the treasurer not to release the documents necessary to complete the application, because “we hadn’t had time to discuss it.” Those present today also expressed concerns: What if we didn’t have enough material to fill the book? What if the foundation wanted their money back? What exactly did they want us to write? They decided they had made the correct decision in blackballing the application.
  • Payment or reimbursement for authors’ appearances: they reaffirmed their longstanding position that authors should not be paid nor reimbursed for mileage for personal appearances. The organization exists not to promote individual authors, but to promote the chapter as a whole. All income from library and other appearances should go to the organization, not the individual writers.
  • My personal book sales: the woman who has appointed herself the chapter’s book seller berated me at length for attempting to sell my own books rather than give her a percentage of my sales. Her independent bookstore handles all the authors’ sales, she said, but she reaffirmed her decision not to handle my suspense novel ELDERCIDE because she finds the title and concept disgusting. The fact that I was named Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library doesn’t cut any ice with her.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I hoped that venting here about today’s fiasco would help tamp down my rage, but I find my blood pressure climbing once again, so I’d better quit. Suffice it to say I asked the treasurer to return the check I’d just written for next year’s dues, tore it up dramatically in front of all those assembled, threw down $10 for my lunch, and slammed the door on my way out. Talk about burning bridges!

With fans like these, who needs enemies? Only one of these fans has ever bought a book of mine.  I still have my writer friends, a couple of whom I’ve met through this organization, but other than that, as Heidi Klum would say on Project Runway, I’m OUT. And I’m not particularly worried that any of those alleged fans will see this blog post, because they’re steadfast in their hatred of the Internet, and my blog in particular.

And now I’m off to see the new Warren Miller extreme skiing movie and collect some free lift tickets. Seeing all those skiers jumping off cliffs and being buried in avalanches is just what I need tonight!


31 thoughts on “Burying the lead and cutting some ties

    • Thanks for your kind thoughts, Patricia. I’m back from the movie and it did provide some diversion, but unfortunately it’s 10pm and I’m still feeling furious, with my adrenaline still in overdrive. I talked the situation over with my husband, who just got back from an out-of-town Unitarian Universalist board meeting, and he’s outraged on my behalf.

      These kinds of situations are literally toxic both to the body and to the soul. Fortunately, I’m in a position to be able to back away and cut communication with bad-news people. Life is too short to put up with them!

    • Hi Morgan,

      Actually since this group was founded (mostly by fans), I’ve never understood what they want. They give lip service to loving mysteries and supporting authors, but they rarely buy our books. Some of them seem to actually detest the authors, most of whom have already drifted away without a fight. They genuinely seem to believe it’s selfish and disgusting of us to want to sell our books.

      The money I’m referring to is the minimal amounts (typically $50 or $100) that libraries or other venues sometimes give the chapter as honorariums. So we’re not talking big bucks, but the authors deserve at least something to cover their gas mileage, in my opinion.

      Oh, and I didn’t even mention that they turned down my repeated offers to do a website or blog for them. Most of them hate the Internet, and they didn’t see it as valuable, kept deferring the topic at meetings, so I finally withdrew my offer.

      Unfortunately, I can’t afford to sustain this battle. It’s now Sunday morning, and I woke up feeling cheerful, but writing about this brings my blood pressure and pulse rate up again. Guess I’ll go work on putting my garden to bed for the winter – or start a short story about a fiendish group who hate writers, and what ghastly fate befalls them.

  1. Oh, my goodness. The part about authors not being paid for their time and expense reminds me of a man who stood up a few years ago during a PTA meeting at my son’s school, and suggested that author visits should not be included in the budget – after all, the author was basically getting paid in book sales and had an opportunity to promote their books for free. The librarian was very restrained; my husband held me back; and the man laughably suggested that the money would be put to better use in the athletic department or the end-of the-year party for the Fifth Graders. Fortunately, he was quickly – and unanimously – voted down.

    With “fans” like those, who needs enemies?

    Oh, maybe this is why I’m not much of a “joiner.” I don’t have a lot of patience for such political and bureaucratic nonsense. I would have enjoyed watching you storm out in a fit of righteous indignation, though.

    • Hi Holly, and thanks for visiting. I just found your comment in my “pending” folder or I would have answered sooner. Great story!

    • Yes, I read “Misery,” and saw the movie too! Loved Kathy Bates as the crazy fan, and was it James Caan who played the writer under siege? I’ll have to reread it.

  2. This sounds like it was a hurtful experience for you and you endured it way too long. Sometimes it’s so difficult to pull yourself from something you’ve committed to, but once you do, it’s a relief. Sounds as though the problem was that the fans outnumbered the authors and the organization moved to accommodate the fans. Perhaps the authors, too, had become another means to accommodate the small group of fans who were in control. I’m only guessing, but what I know is that you will be better off now that you can breathe and move on up in your career.

    Straight From Hel

    • Thanks for your insightful comments, Helen. You’re right, I’m feeling better now that I’ve decided to let go of this group. The fan/author issue is an interesting one, and now that I’ve had time to cool down, I’m going to try writing about it more objectively for my next post.

  3. This doesn’t sound like a group of fans and writers – more like wannabes or people envious of the success of others. I think you made the right choice. Writer’s groups are supposed to offer support and encouragement – I can’t see anything positive that this group has to offer.

    Hope your blood pressure returns to normal soon.

  4. Julie,
    I’m so sorry you had this experience – and let it build to the need for a dramatic exit. Hopefully you will find a supportive group that focuses on helping authors improve both craft and marketing – a group that understands writing is a business and those of us who write enjoy being paid just like everyone else.
    Have some chocolate, lower you bp, and smile – because you have a published book, fans who love the book, and more books in you.

    • Hi Charlotte,
      Thanks for your comment, which I just found today in my “pending” file. I’d thought all the “pending” comments show up in my recent comments for approval, but I guess not.

      More than 10 days after that disastrous meeting, I’ve almost banished those folks from my mind. The group includes some writers I respect and like personally, including Marilyn (M.E. Kemp), whose comment is below. Those writers are pretty spread out geographically, though, and most have been reluctant to take on leadership roles because we’d rather stay home and write! That’s one reason we find ourselves in our current predicament.

      I find more support and encouragement from the online writers community. The Capital District writing community, including the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, is also a good source of support – it’s people from that scene who got me nominated and chosen as Albany’s 2009 Writer of the Year. Except for Marilyn, none of them are mystery writers, though! Many are poets, and most are not big on publication and marketing – maybe that’s why they’re more fun to be around.

  5. Well, I was there, Julie, and it’s not a support group, it’s a cabal. I am taking a leave of absence until the poison people leave, which I think they will eventually do. With no authors there they have no reason to be envious. I still can’t believe they turned down an $8,000 grant for an anthology! The grant was almost a sure thing. And there’s another writers group in our area that is much more welcoming. M. E. K.

    • Hi Marilyn. Welcome, and thanks for posting! I just followed the link to your website, and it looks great. I love your new post about looking forward to winter. I hope others will follow your link there to learn more about your great historical mysteries.

      If you get more involved in this online community, I’m sure you’ll find it much friendlier and more fun than our local group. The potential for you as a writer is much greater too – it’s global, not local!

  6. Oh, Julie, so sorry you had such an awful experience. But it sounds as if you took really good care of yourself by deciding to leave. Once I left my toxic teacher situation, I felt so much better, but it took awhile for everything to settle down. Please take good care of yourself and watch that blood pressure. We want you healthy and strong.

    • Thanks, Karen. Yes, I’m fortunate to have the option of cutting my ties to anyone who provokes anger and hatred. Life’s too short, and as you suggest, it’s much better for both physical and emotional health to leave such toxic situations.

  7. I’m finding the concept of treating authors so badly when you’re a “fan” of reading .. unbelievable. Although I’ve seen it happen in the world of music fandom, as well. They’re not fans. They’re fanatics, as Jane said jealous wannabes.

    I tend to shy away from organizations in general because of too much pettiness everywhere, plus too much play for power which I find disturbing.

    Glad you jumped out and can move on.

    • Thanks, LK. The music parallel is interesting – I’d like to hear more.

      I’m working on another blog post on this subject, but I don’t think I’ll finish it today. I took good care of myself by going to my Nia class and then doing my weights at the Y – something I’d skipped last week because I was too busy with my blog book tour.

      Then tonight I’m going to usher for Ray Davies of the Kinks. He has a new band backing him up – can’t wait.

  8. You’ve take the first step in turning a negative experience into something positive. Years ago Marion Zimmer Bradley called my writing hackneyed. It made me so mad. I wrote her back about how devastating her comments might have been on a new writer, I was strong enough, but not all writers might be. I then turned around and used it as an example in a letter to Writers Digest editors, which was published. My actually first published piece. I know you can turn this negative experience into something positive. How about you getting together a group of local authors and apply for that grant?

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Linda. I agree this kind of criticism can be devastating. That’s why I became an art therapist rather than an art teacher – I’ve never been comfortable inflicting my judgments on others.

    • Hi Heidi. Right now my feelings are more in line with LK’s above – I want nothing to do with groups, at least live in-person groups. Or at least I don’t want to assume any responsibility in such groups. Been there, done that – now I’m looking out for myself, at least when it comes to writing organizations.

  9. I just checked my e-mail and learned that my friend Marilyn Rothstein, who writes as M.E. Kemp, has forwarded my blog post to various people who used to be part of this chapter, as well as to the New England chapter.

    The cat’s out of the bag – this is the Upstate New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime, AKA Mavens of Mayhem. We started out promisingly, but things have gone badly awry.

    Incidentally, the number of visits to my blog yesterday was the highest ever – 240 hits. I guess people love a good cat fight.

  10. I was born not to be a joiner and your experience only fortifies my position. I’ve tried church, clubs and other organizations, and been stuck sometimes with union membership whether I liked it or not, and in every case you get shot down every time you open your mouth, and/or the “officials” began demanding more and more of your time and energy. Of course, as in you experience, no one wants to pay for anything.

    I was pushed to join Facebook and Twitter, all guaranteed to promote sales. They have done nothing but irritate me and even some offers of hot sex did little to excite me (maybe forty years ago, but not now).

    Besides, I’m pretty sure my wife wouldn’t go for that.


  11. Today I’m down in Woodstock babysitting my granddaughters, using the brand-new computer we recently bought our daughter. Just feeling my way around, and I see I logged in as a guest. I feel truly blessed to be here, and the squabbles with Mavens of Mayhem seem light years away.

  12. Julie, This is so far from what Sisters in Crime was meant to be. Our chapter is made up about equally of writers and people who are strictly readers. As far as I can tell, everyone respects everyone else. We try to have programming that will be of interest to both types of members.

    I’ve never heard of a Sisters in Crime chapter that demands a portion of the authors’ sales. Is that even allowed in the charter? I suppose if the chapter were arranging all the signings, that would be a possibility, or if a specific event were earmarked as a fundraiser for SinC, but just demanding a portion of the author’s sales? I’ve never heard of that.

    I’m glad this is being brought to the attention of the National Organization.

    • Thanks for the comment, Beth. My friend Marilyn Rothstein (M.E. Kemp) may pursue this further, but I’m staying out of it. Not worth taking it to the national SinC, because it’s simply not worth my time and energy – our local situation is simply too toxic.

      I’m glad you have a chapter that works well for you, though. It all depends on the personalities involved.

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