On Respect and Research

Welcome to Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson today! She has an amazing story to tell! How many writers can say they not only visited Egypt, but stayed on site at an archaeological dig?

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On Respect and Research

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield built an entire career on the trope that he ‘didn’t get no respect.’ It made him both rich and famous. Lucky him. It doesn’t work that way for most of us.

Writers ‘don’t get no respect’ – that is, if we’re genre writers. Literary writers whose work is often impenetrable and convoluted are lionized, and if they’re dead almost sainted. People who write the books people actually like to read – romances, mysteries – are regarded as a not-too-bright stepchild.

“When are you going to write a real book?” is a question we hear a lot, especially when we publish in electronic versions. “Why don’t you write something of lasting value?” is another. The one that makes me grind my teeth, however, is “I know I could write a book if I just had the time.” Or, “What a way to steal money! Just churn out a couple of books a year and you’re set.”

It’s a wonder some poor writer hasn’t just snapped and done one of them in with a cocktail fork or whatever else sharp is handy.

Another problem is the fact that when we’re writing, we are usually at home, and if we’re at home, we’re fair game. People who would never demand that we leave a regular job to go lunch/shop/hang out/watch their children/whatever have no compunction about demanding it when we work from our home. “You’re just writing – you aren’t really working,” was something I used to hear a lot – back when I answered the telephone!

Fielding these barbs and putdowns has become almost second nature to writers; some of us laugh all the way to the bank, but a lot of us just hold on to our dreams with grim determination and a rictus smile. Even after some 30 books I was one of the latter, until this last trip to Egypt.

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Dr. Dirk Huyge, a dear friend and a great help on my last summer’s release THE EGYPTIAN FILE, and I had been talking about doing a mystery set in the reputedly haunted dig house at El Kab, roughly halfway between Luxor and Aswan. Civilians never get asked to stay in dig houses, so when Dirk suggested that The Husband and I come stay for a few days, we jumped at it. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say nothing of a great research opportunity, but didn’t realize that it would be an incredible boost to my ego!

The dig crew was wonderful – friendly and welcoming and as sweet as could be. I had heard of some of them before – they are each well known and multi-published in their various fields, and each one of them had a very impressive alphabet soup of degrees after their name. As I don’t have any kind of a degree I was more than intimidated by them.

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One morning I all of a sudden had the idea of how the book should start. Creeping out of bed so as not to wake The Husband, I grabbed my computer and tiptoed into the common room where everyone worked and ate. Then I started to write. I wrote for most of the morning – we write when the muse grabs us, don’t we? – and only towards lunch was I aware that all of them (those who worked in the house and those newly returned from the field) were moving around more than usual. And all seemed to be moving behind me, very slowly, and somewhat surreptitiously taking a great interest in the words that marched across my computer screen.

It was only when one whispered to another in awe-struck tones, “She’s writing a novel while we watch!” that I realized why. They were impressed! These well-educated, well-published professionals were overawed by my oft-ridiculed storytelling. Seldom have I felt so appreciated or admired. As a gift to them I broke a cardinal rule and allowed anyone who wanted to read the first chapter when it was completed. Normally no one – not even The Husband – sees my work until it is finished.

The ones who did read it were impressed. One even marveled at my speed – 2,000 words in less than a day. (She should see what I can do when I’m in my office, alone, under a hard deadline!) She was working on a doctoral thesis and said 200 words a day were good for her. I told her it was easier for me because, aside from a framework of actualities, I didn’t have to bother with facts! I could create my world the way I wanted to.

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Whether she wrote fiction or not, she was a writer and she appreciated what I was doing. So did the others. Genre fiction is not easy to write, despite what the ‘I could write a book if I wanted to’ crowd says. After seeing some of the things that are out there, though, maybe I should say GOOD genre fiction.

Remember, if you have published a book, even a not-so-perfect one, you have done what 90-odd percent of the population has not. You have finished a book. You have created a world and populated that world and created a series of events, all out of nothing but imagination and caffeine. Whether you have been published by a trad publisher or self-pubbed, you have survived the tests of editing, artwork and the grind of publicity. Best of all, you have (hopefully) the final validation of complete strangers buying and reading your book. That is an awesome achievement!

So, what do we say to the ‘why don’t you write a real book crowd’? Probably nothing we could say would make them happy, but I really don’t care about making them happy. And, as I am told on occasion I can be sharp-tongued and snarky, I just smile and tell them when they get their book finished and published, then we can talk about how ‘easy’ it is. Small-souled of me, I know, but oh-so-satisfying!

Writers ‘don’t get no respect’ from people? Believe me, that’s the people’s problem, not ours. We know what we’re worth. Or we should.

All photographs ©2015 Janis Susan May Patterson

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12 Responses to On Respect and Research

  1. Good post. I sometimes wonder if people listen to what they say. Would you say to a climber back from Mount Everest, I thought I’d try that someday. Would you say to a plumber, It can’t be that hard to fix a pipe. My theory is that people who really do accomplish something in one area appreciate how hard it is to succeed in other areas, including writing.

  2. Yes, that “if I only had the time” is the one that always gets me, as if I write just because I have so much time on my hands that I have to find SOME way of filling the empty hours! *sigh* I think, though, that what it comes down to is what they say about why comedy rarely wins awards: if you’re good at it, you make it look easy.

  3. Kaye George says:

    Then there’s, “Someday when I have time…” I smile and know that person will never be my competition! But every once in a while, there’s that person who says, “You’re a writer? Can I touch you?” OK, only one person ever said that, but I’ll love her until I die. You’re absolutely right that we should all pat ourselves on the backs if we’ve published a book or two!

    I SO envy you your trip–what an opportunity! I’m glad you grabbed it.

  4. Terry Shames says:

    I went to a doctor once who told her fellow-doctor that I was an author and he beamed. “Thats so cool! I’ve never met a real writer,” he said.

    But I had another experience, too. At my first reading at a bookstore a man said, “Do you write mysteries because you don’t think you’re good enough to write mainstream fiction?” The crowd gasped, not knowing that I had my answer ready. I said, “I think that at the heart of every novel is a mystery. And if you read my books you’ll find that my writing is quite literary. I take it seriously.” He came up afterwards and said he admired my answer!

    So don’t let them get you down. I used to have a cartoon on my door of two fabulous, tousled-hair young women in a hot tub, both holding a glass of wine. One was saying to the other, “I’d write a novel, too, if I just had the time.” Exactly.

  5. Probably the most annoying put-down came from a university professor when my husband told him that my first mystery novel had been published. The response: “Let me know when you get a real book published.”
    I was irritated I admit. But there are always people like that around. Those who have actually read my novels have been complimentary and asked when my next one will be published because they want to read it.

  6. Yes, I hear the one about how that person wants to write a book some day, and they make it sound like it’s really easy.

  7. My mystery just came out, and so far the only question that startled me has been “how much did it cost you to get it published?” I suppose with more writers self-publishing these days, people assume everyone goes that route.

    Its hard to imagine anyone could be so ignorant as in some of the examples cited above, but I suppose there will always be those whose way of lessening their feelings of inadequacy is to belittle others.

    Maybe we should stop being polite and respond by saying “the last person who said that to me disappeared one dark night. And no one has ever seen them again. :)

    • E. Ayers says:

      Or as one of my heroes said on his first date, “The last woman in my life wound up in the compost pile.” :-)

      Maybe we all need to stock pile a great line or two.

  8. E. Ayers says:

    Great post! Loved the pics. You were oh, so, very, very lucky!

  9. Dee says:

    “It’s a wonder some poor writer hasn’t just snapped and done one of them in with a cocktail fork or whatever else sharp is handy.”
    …and then write a Murder Mystery book!
    Great post Janis, lovely pictures, and would love to read your book.

  10. H. Schussman says:

    When I tell people I write Conspiracy/Action Adventure they say– “You? Really, you write conspiracy?” Me–”Yes, what did you think I would write?” Them–”I don’t know…Maybe medical textbooks or something intellectual.” Me–”Does it make you feel better that my main character is a doctor?”

    Otherwise, though people are generally excited to meet a real live published author :)