Monday, July 09, 2007

Three of Three: Literary Enemies

At last, here is the promised third installment to my series on "The Literary Life." Previously I blogged about genres and about literary friendships. Interestingly, the official news just came through the pipeline that an old writing pal of mine, Sara Gruen, just had her book, Water for Elephants, optioned for a film! And her new book, Ape House, should be a smash hit as well. I belonged to a small critique group with Sara long before either of us had a book published. I didn't even have an agent and Sara was still on her first agent and crossing fingers for a book sale. I got to meet Sara in person, in Chicago, from whence I hail and where Sara still lives. What a treat that was!

The members of the group have all drifted off their separate ways, but some of us still remain in touch. Now, years later Sara has published three terrific novels about animals, the latest a New York Times #1 bestseller. How proud I am of her! One thing that impressed me was that Sara made sure the film contract specified the animals would be treated humanely during the filming of Water for Elephants. A class act 100%!

At any rate, I am now going to post the third of my series about the Literary Life. It's a topic not many people like to discuss: "literary enemies."

People have asked me if I have any literary enemies. I find this question quite funny. Maybe that is because to me, the concept of a literary feud is quite absurd. We are all vessels for the Spirit. That's what we touch when we write. There is plenty for everyone. No one is going to write in the same way, just as no two singers will sing in quite the same way. I heard three awesome soloists at Glide the other day. They all moved me in very different ways, but the Spirit sang through them all. I didn't see any them feuding over singing styles after the service. How silly would that be?

Not everyone agrees with me though. For instance, there's an infamous feud between Bret Harte and Mark Twain. Mary McCarthy and Lillian Helman had a longstanding literary feud. Leo Tolstoy threatened to shoot his neighbor, Ivan Turgenev. After Colson Whitehead gave a bad review to Richard Ford, Ford spit on him at a party. And heavens knows what Melissa Banks thinks of Curtis Sittenfeld.

I don't have any enemies I am aware of. But that is because I think you need two people to have a conflict, and I am in a position where I cannot afford any resentments. Resentments for me lead right down the road to a drink. And for me or any alcoholic, to drink is to die.

So I practice peace, forgiveness (of myself and others), and letting go. I read a book recently that said all people on earth, including me, are to some degree spiritually ill as well as frequently wrong. This includes me. (Imagine!) Learning this is what has given me the gifts of goodwill and tolerance toward myself and others.

Have I had differences with people? Yes. Were some heated? Yes, especially before I quit drinking. Did I say things I regretted? Oh boy. You bet. But the important thing is I made my amends for those things and then let them go into the Universe. There are people to whom I was once close, who refuse to talk to me now due to some things I did and said when I was still drinking. But that is OK. Everyone doesn't have to talk to me. It would be awfully noisy if they did!

I notice sometimes new authors deciding that they are only going to be friends with authors who write the same type of books they do or that they are going to separate themselves from authors of other genres. In my not-so-humble opinion, you are really selling yourself short by doing that. You have an opportunity to build a real support network among those who understand--other writers. Why sacrifice that just due to some misplaced sense of pride? As I said, none of us is better than any other. There's also an unfortunate one-upsmanship going on between literary and genre writers that I really try to avoid. I would urge writers, especially new writers, to open your arms wide. You never know from where your support might come.

One other thing I would caution new writers against is dissing other writers in public. There was one time I gave an off-the-cuff jab at a very successful author when I was in conversation with an LA Times reporter. I immediately felt terrible and begged him not to print it. Fortunately, he agreed to my request.

What you write on the internet is permanent. Google can find it even if you take it down. And from what I have seen, authors (even the famous ones) spend an obscene amount of time looking themselves up on Google, Technorati, Blogpulse and everything else. There is a very real chance they'll find your post.

Awhile back on the blog I mentioned a book I wanted to throw across the room. I won't be mentioning that author's name here (though my close author friends may know to whom I refer). I really don't see a reason to drag this writer to the carpet in public for a book I happened not to like. Tons of people loved it. Who is to say I am right and others are wrong?

Besides, why be mean? What good is it to hurt someone? Maybe I am wishy-washy, but aren't we all part of the same whole? What hurts one hurts all. That's what I believe in my heart of hearts. As Shakespeare said, "The play's the thing..."