Is Networking a Meaningless Term?

Fi8s-n7v (1)Every time I hear the term “networking” I get a particular image in my mind. Not a good one.

Thus, the short and surface answer to this week’s topic at the SFF Seven, “The Net Worth of Networking,” is that it’s a big fat zero to me. No – less than that! Negative values there.

But come on by to find out how wrong that image was

 

Authors Interacting with Reviewers

Figs by Kathryn GreenwoodMy post on Tuesday, about friends who are also competitors, sparked more conversation than I expected – both in comments here and in other social media venues. It struck a chord with people, that we find ourselves in competition with the people who understand us best. I’m beginning to think that the concept of being in competition is what’s not real. Maybe that’s why we trip over it.

As I was mulling over these various comments, I saw that Elisabeth Lane over at Cooking Up Romance, put up this post, exploring her ideas about reviewing critically versus celebrating her love of the story. I became aware of Elisabeth and her blog when she tweeted about preparing the food for this review of my book, Ruby. I loved what she did so much, that I blogged about it, on the topic of sharing creativity. As I mention in that post, seeing something I imagined become an actual meal that she created was hugely satisfying and fun for me. We’ve since become friends and even met in person.

(She also did an unholy amazing take on the cannoli from Under His Touch – you have to see it!)

At any rate, Elisbeth’s post is about reevaluating her purpose for her blog, weighing the outside pressure she feels to be an objective, even critical reviewer of books against her initial concept, which was to celebrate the books she loves and do that by taking the food elements in them one step further and making them real. I really understand what she’s getting at because this is the aspect of writing and hearing feedback from readers that I love, too – this kind of communication and collaboration over something that lights us both up.

On one of my author loops, a newish writer asked about responding to reviews. This discussion comes up All The Time. There are certain reviewers in the community who are adamant – and have impressed this “rule” upon many writers – that authors should NEVER respond to reviews. They feel it creates a chilling effect on open discussion and that reviews exist solely for the reader and are off-limits to the writer. I can see the point there, particularly when writers want to argue the reader’s interpretation. (Just… no. Let it go. Once it’s published, it’s no longer solely ours.) However, what this prohibition does is kill one of the best, most exciting aspects of this art. An author writes largely in solitude and the reader absorbs the story in much the same way. It’s only then, when the reader feeds back to the author, that there can be real exchange. And it’s glorious.

I don’t think it’s fair – or even beneficial – to ask authors and readers both to forgo that profoundly exciting communication. That’s what art is about, the flow of ideas.

The photo above was taken by a longtime friend, all the way back to high school, Kathryn Greenwood Andrews. She sent it to me for Christmas, with a note that she picked figs for me because they’re the most sensual fruit. This is another kind of artistic feedback loop – that she offers to me her image that reflects the stories I tell. It’s hugely meaningful to me.

I suppose some would parse this dilemma by saying that authors should limit interaction to readers, and draw the line at actual reviewers. However, as Elisabeth points out, she wants to review the books – but only the ones she loves and wants to gush about. As with the idea that authors must compete with each other, I think the idea that a blogger must review critically and “objectively” is a false construct.

Of course, I really want Elisabeth to keep giving me culinary advice for my stories and then making the meals come true. The best kind of creative friendship.

Writers Helping Writers

B-UQ3E6CEAAPVlUI’m kind of blue today. For the past few days, my bestie and crit partner Carolyn Crane has been visiting. We got up in the mornings and did “parallel play” – working our social media and indulging in dishing about it, in a way we never get to do otherwise. Then we wrote, sometimes silently, sometimes discussing. On the best weather day we went hiking around noon. Regardless of weather we headed into town around midday and indulged in long, delicious, boozy lunches. We used the opportunity to give each other live discussion feedback on our latest works – so much better than on the phone or via social media. And we talked about writing careers in general – both our own and people we know.

This morning I dropped her off at the airport and my world feels emptier for it.

We talk a lot about writing being a solitary profession, which it certainly can be. Worse, however, the various writing communities can be, well, less than fully supportive. There’s a lot of professional jealousy out there. Carolyn and I both started our writing careers in the literary fiction world and that’s one of the worst. One of those cases where the fights are so fierce because the stakes are so small. There is very little friendship in those particular trenches, with plenty of tail-sniffing, jockeying for position and plain mean behavior. The egos run huge and the competition intense.

Neither of us miss it a bit.

The romance community is SO unbelievably better that way! With a very few exceptions, the egos remain manageable in romance. Maybe that comes from writing a much-sneered at genre or maybe from it being such a predominantly female community. Or from the original friendly and supportive mindset of the organization’s founders. Regardless, I love my sister romance writers and greatly appreciate having that network. Still, even in my few years spent in this group (six – since 2008), closer friendships have come and gone. I mourn some of the ones that have fallen by the wayside, but the ones I’ve gained more than make up for the few losses.

I’ve long observed that friendships tend to develop among the people who are doing the same things we are. You know – in college we have our college friends, and among those the theater friends or the peer counseling people. After college, most of those friendships fade away. Not because anything goes wrong, but because all that energy that came from shared daily experiences evaporates into the ether. It’s more difficult when the largest energy in my life, the experience I have to share, is with people who are also my “competitors,” in some sense. It can take an active effort to combat that, to not let it get in the way of supportive friendship.

Carolyn is an amazing friend that way. Someone I love, admire and enjoy – and who always makes me feel like an important and precious part of her life in return. Last night we skyped for nearly an hour with Anne Calhoun, sharing this same kind of friendship. There are others, wonderful, nurturing friends, but for the moment I want to celebrate these two and give my thanks to the universe for bringing them into my life.

Love you gals!

Doing Right by Our Friends

boundbyinkHappy Release Day to Marcella Burnard with the newest in her Living Ink urban fantasy series, BOUND BY INK!!

This is such a cool series, with tattoos that capture demons and bind them to people. Marcella has been a friend for a long time, so seeing her books release is always fun for me. I met Marcella online through RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FFP) chapter, back in… wow – 2009, I think. We used to “meet” every morning in the online water cooler and do writing sprints. Later, when I happened to be out in Olympia, Washington, she drove down to meet me for dinner. I’ve had a number of writing friends come and go over the years. This business seems to be particularly hard on friendships, with some people withdrawing as our careers and fortunes wax and wane.

Marcella, though, has been a steadfast friend to me throughout – something I’ve really come to value.

There’s a saw that friends are the family you choose and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I have friends who go back most of my life, nearly as long as some of my family and some longer than the younger/newer family members. How closely in contact we are changes all the time, but the best friends are the ones where that doesn’t matter. I recently saw two college friends while I was out in Baltimore and it was lovely to visit with them, touch base with their lives.

The people who are our friends form the fabric of our lives, their threads interweaving with ours. Maybe part of one space of time, maybe running throughout the length. Their impact on us, and of us on them, can be profound.

This is on my mind because a friend of my mother’s died last week. They’d known each other for around thirty years. They shared a whole group of mutual friends, couples who spent lots of time together, partying, traveling, celebrating each others’ milestones. Her death came as a shock to most everyone in that more-dispersed circle. Largely because no one knew she’d fallen ill. All her friends knew was that they’d left messages that she hadn’t returned. Finally she didn’t return so many that one of them pinned down the husband. Turned out she’d not only been sick, but she’d gone comatose, was on life support and the family was meeting to make a decision. She died the following day and the service set for the end of the week.

None of them got to see her before she died.

Of course, by the time they knew, she was beyond communicating. But, while it’s understandable that a family in crisis will circle the wagons and not communicate such a terrible event, it hurt my mom and the woman’s other friends terribly not to be able to say their own goodbyes. They could have let her know one last time that they loved her. For themselves, they could have tied off that thread, instead of it hanging as a ragged edge.

It’s something to think about – if we suddenly fall ill, is there a list of who to contact? For many of us, a phone call to one or two friends will set in motion a chain of communication. It’s probably worth it to make that list. Just in case.

If not for ourselves, then for our friends who love us.

Reflections on Losing Friends

tumblr_mc5vf0jUMH1qzozjoo1_500This is a photo from Amanda Palmer’s Tumblr, with the caption “books are home.”

When I saw it go by in my Tumblr feed last night, I thought that I glimpsed the distinctive spine of a book a friend wrote. To the point that I downloaded the photo and magnified to see. I had this idea that it would be Karol’s book and I would write the story about what it meant to see her book on that shelf.

And how I mourn her still.

Even though it wasn’t her book, I had a happy feeling, knowing that her book is out there still and people read it. I know this because they search the Internet for her and sometimes find that blog post and send me messages. I hadn’t intended that, when I wrote it, but now I kind of love that I have that lasting connection to her through that.

I’ve been reading this book, The Friend Who Got Away: Twenty Women’s True Life Tales of Friendships that Blew Up, Burned Out or Faded Away, and it’s put me in a reflective mood. The essays are so varied, with different friendships and reasons that they didn’t last. One is about a friend who died, but also a friendship that formed around that death – and then faded away again. One “rule” that I’m extracting from all the stories is one I thought I knew already – it isn’t always about you.

In fact, it rarely is.

I think it’s human nature to believe the world revolves around us. Even though we learn as kids (ideally) that people lead lives when we’re not present, that revelation can be hard one. I remember when my stepkids were little. They would spend every-other weekend and one weekday night for dinner with us. Once they excitedly told us about a new restaurant in town (small town, so big news) and we said, yes, we’d eaten there. They insisted we hadn’t, because they hadn’t yet been. They couldn’t quite grasp that we did things when they weren’t around – as if we retired like companion androids to the closet, when not needed.

Eventually, we grow up and realize that other people have complex external and internal lives that have nothing to do with us. And yet, when a friend turns away, we automatically think it must be something we did. Or didn’t do. Most of the time, though, it’s really about them and what they need.

At any rate, it’s a very interesting book and has given me a lot of food for thought. It’s been lovely, too, to return to reading some nonfiction.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Meeting Real Writers and Readers

I had to be in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the #dayjob this last week. One of the best parts of traveling for the job is getting to meet the people I usually only talk to online. On this trip, I got to meet two people, one who was already a good friend.

In the last six months, Carolyn Crane has become first a favorite author, then an online friend and then a critique partner. We were hooked up through a bit of savvy writer-matchmaking by Sullivan McPig. This was our first time, after increasingly copious online conversation, to meet in person.

We had dinner twice and, yes, talked a whole bunch. She even introduced me to her husband, who was a little dubious about who the hell I was, anyway. Carolyn got to meet my boss, Laurie, who joined us for some wine. We ruminated on how much the internet has added to our friendship connections this way. Without the internet, it’s highly unlikely that an enthusiastic reader in The Netherlands would have connected me to a writer who lives in another city and with whom I share so much.

The other person I met up with is Susan Doerr, who works at a book publisher (U. Minn Press). We had drinks after work and chatted about books we both love. She’s been lovely to me about my own books and asked lots of questions. When I told her about plans for stories I’m working on (*cough*Rogue’s Pawn 2*cough*), she actually jumped up and down with excitement about getting the “inside scoop.”

We may also have gossipped a little about various industry folks. Shhh….

But the whole conversation made me think about what readers like to know about the authors they read. I fill out the blog interviews and it’s hard to answer some of the questions because I often feel like so much of it is old hat. What can I possibly say about myself that everyone doesn’t already know? It’s easy to forget the enthusiastic readers on the other side of that equation – even though I am one, too.

So, I’m back home again at my house in the country, and savoring the wonderful in-person conversations I was privileged to share with these two very sharp, totally fabulous women. And I’m going to try to remember that, despite the physical distance and the lack of cocktails, real people are on the other side of these conversations.

Here’s to internet friends!

Networking and the Value of Writing Friends

Forest fire season is starting here and the skies are filled with smoke this morning. The flip side to this is that the sunsets should get pretty spectacular.

We’re also hitting summer conference season. I have RomCon in June and RWA National in July. I was considering DragonCon in August, but decided against it and am waffling on World Fantasy Con in November. For me, it’s mainly a question of time commitment, though going to conventions can be pricey. A lot of writers (or their spouses!) try to parse out the return on investment (ROI) for going to conventions. They try to calculate if book sales increase in proportion to the expense of going.

This kind of math is impossible to do.

A number pre-pub writers have told me they’re not going to a convention until they have a book to sell. I usually nod understandingly, but I usually want to take them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them.

Because you don’t go to conventions to sell books.

You go to make friends.

And, not to sound like a famous advertising meme, these kind of connections are beyond price.

That’s what networking is all about. It sounds like this very dry thing, which I suppose it can be. But in truth, networking is about forming friendships, finding your tribe, developing that extended family of choice. In reality, it’s the least dry effort there is. Those friendships become your greatest support. These will be the only people in your life whose eyes don’t glaze over when you weep over your 49th rejection and who rejoice right with you when that 50th query strikes gold. They will pet you when those edits seem too difficult to contemplate and understand why it’s just SO VERY WRONG that your heroine on the cover is holding a knife. They are also your first and best cheerleaders.

Today, there’s an article in USA Today on the Happy Ever After Blog with a list of recommendations from authors for books like Fifty Shades of Grey. Two of my friends recommended my books – one said Petals and Thorns and the other cited Sapphire. I owe them big time for this and will find ways to pay it back. But I also know I don’t have to, because they’re my friends.

Beyond price, I tell you.

You Can Pick Your Nose

We had brunch with friends, Krystal and Jonathan, at Blue Heron last Sunday. The photo isn’t great, but we had a fun time. Terrible service – the place is newly re-opened and the lone waitress was completely overwhelmed that people actually showed up. An hour after we ordered, food finally arrived, but my glass of Chardonnay never did. Fortunately the spot was lovely, the sun warm and the company excellent.

The next day, Krystal sent me a bottle of Chardonnay. Now that’s a friend.

I posted Tuesday about making choices. Never mind that not one of you commented. Blogger has been messed up for a couple of days, so I’m blaming that. Tip: don’t use Firefox. You can get in better with other browsers right now. But I can’t comment in any browser, so I figure that’s the deal.

Not that it’s making me crazy or anything.

At any rate, one of the things I mentioned is how we don’t get to choose our families and we often don’t really choose our friends. Our friends very often tend to be the people who are doing the same kind of thing that you are at the same time. So, in this case, Krystal is in David’s same class at Southwest Acupuncture College, fondly known as SWAC, which always makes me think of swatting flies. Jonathan is Krystal’s sweetie, so he and I roll our eyes at each other while David and Krystal complain to each other about classes.

Will we remain friends after graduation? Hard to say. Depends on where we all end up, what we’re doing.

One thing I’ve learned is that friendships come and go. People naturally come into our lives and leave again, like the changing seasons. And that’s okay – not everyone is meant to be a lifelong friend.

However, we can also carefully choose our friends. I learned this skill from one of my sorority sisters, Karen Koonce, now Weesner. She knew how to cultivate friendships. She picked out people in class who said interesting things and invited them to lunch. She paid attention to who knew stuff she wanted to learn and charmed them into letting her pick their brains.

This skill has served me well over the years, so that I have a life rich with interesting and supportive friends.

Thank you, Karen!

Brass Ring

As some of us shuffle off to the RT Convention today and others stay home to actually get work done and live their lives, it’s probably worth giving a nod to the business end of writing.

A big reason people go to conventions like RT is for business. They go because their publishers tell them to, because they think they’ll sell books and “connect with readers.” I’ve heard people say they won’t go until they have a published book to sell because it’s wasted time otherwise. I’ve written before about how going to writers’ conferences is an opportunity to learn from the big sellers in the field. But one of the very most important reasons to go is to connect with other writers.

Over the next few days you’ll see a lot of photos from RT. Partying, hanging out, lots of smiles for the camera. The business-oriented will call this networking. Another phrase for it is making friends.

The support network of other writers can’t be overvalued. People often mention the very supportive online community. Getting to meet those people in person is even better. And there are – *gasp* – writers out there who aren’t on the interwebz (yet). They must be found and indoctrinated, I mean, coaxed into the virtual world.

This is on my mind this morning, not just because I’m packing up to go see some of my friends, people I see maybe once a year or once every couple of years. It’s on my mind because of a couple of recent articles. This seems to be the season for jealousy and meltdowns. There’s this rant, from a self-pubbed author who’s “retiring” from professional writing in a rage at the lack of support her books have received. Then there’s this honest and heartfelt letter on book deal envy (via Galley Cat – thank you!).

Both stand out to me as examples of writers who’ve let the inevitable disappointments of this very competitive business breed into bitterness, anger and jealousy. These aren’t writer problems so much and human being problems. I think “Sugar” puts it well in saying the author of the letter is conflating “book” with “book deal.”

We all do this. We all want to be Cinderella at the ball or Michael Jordan on the ball court. We want to be King or Queen and have all the specialness that entails. We want the pick of the babes, to marry the prince, to be loved, admired and, and, and…

I suspect part of why we want these things is because we believe our lives will be better once we have them. “If only I had………., I’d be happy.”

But the deal is, happy comes from within. We repeat the adage that “Money doesn’t buy happiness” for a reason. (Though I still love David Lee Roth for saying that money does let you buy the big yacht that you can park right next to where the happiness is.) The point is, how happy or how bitter we feel doesn’t depend on whether or not we have these things we want. It’s just easy to pick those out as substitutes.

The other thing that struck me about both of those articles is the relationship with other people. Both with the “jerks” and the “true friends.” Despite the wildly different grips on reality, both writers saw their circle as competition or customers. Which I found troubling.

So, today I’m off to see my friends. To spend some time with people who love to talk about what I love to talk about.

It doesn’t get better than that.