Log in

No account? Create an account
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-19 04:56
Subject: [personal] On being political and being a writer
Security: Public
Tags:books, mainspring, personal, politics, stories
A funny thing happens on my Twitter feed. I gain two dozen or more followers a day, and lose about half of them almost immediately. I suspect roughly the same ratio holds true on my blog readership, though the tracking is less obvious to me. Though it's possible some people don't care for my writing, or my humor, or my looks (as Nick Cave said, I'm sorry, but there ain't much I can do about that), I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of my unfollowers are reacting to my strong political stance.

When I began writer blogging in earnest, about seven or eight years ago, I was conscientiously apolitical in my public persona. I'd been experimenting with protoblogging as far back as 1998 or so, but that was before my writerly identity had emerged, so basically I was a dude with a Web site complaining about politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (And yes, the astute reader will note that I have, in effect, come full circle.)

As a new-writer-who-blogged, I was very concerned with not offending readers and fans. I generally don't write explicitly political fiction, unlike, say, douglain. I felt like it was important to present an amiable, neutral persona that could appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.

Basically, I wanted to be mayonnaise.

This lasted a few years. Over that time, several problems with this position made themselves known to me.

First of all, although I don't write explicitly political fiction, everything I write has a stance. It's very rare for me to be morally neutral on cultural and social themes. Sometimes I write contra my own beliefs — the theology of Mainspring certainly doesn't reflect my perspective on the relationship between God and His creation, for example — but there's always some position being taken, usually a strong one. Not didactically so, for I despise didactic fiction, but simply arising organically from my own sense that strong convictions are essential to becoming a fully engaged moral and social being, whether one is a fictional character or a walking, talking person.

In other words, my fiction is rarely neutral, whether or not a given piece aligns with my views.

Second, I am a political animal. I actively engage with the world on a political level, on a level of principles, and I spend a fair amount of time thinking about such things. Denying my political sense was akin to denying my sense of myself as a dad, as a foodie, as a writer. It bothered me.

Third, I realized that the fiction(ish) blogs I admire most are unafraid of taking strong positions. matociquala, scalzi, Making Light. None of them suffer from a lack of readership, no one's career seems damaged by being overt about their convictions and opinions.

I was mayonnaise, they were strong spices. Not to everyone's taste, but far more interesting and engaging.

So I stopped being mayonnaise.

Was this a good career move? I may never know. I can't tell you how many readers have decided not to pursue my fiction because they've realized I'm a liberal idiot. Surely some, possibly many. On the other hand, my blog readership doubled almost immediately when I took the gloves off, and has been growing ever since. And for people who love good fiction, the writer really is not the story. (If the writer was the story, I'd have been locked up a long time ago for "The Goat Cutter".)

I am not a political writer, but I am a human being who is both political, and a writer. It's more honest for me to embrace both those identities, and trust people to follow my work for its own sake, whatever they think of my opinions.

Plus I have a lot more fun being spice than being mayonnaise.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Post A Comment | 18 Comments | | Flag | Link

User: lotusice
Date: 2009-08-19 13:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great. Now I'm hungry.
Reply | Thread | Link

Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2009-08-19 13:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A friend of mine told me I might have more readers if I wasn't so open (and strident) about my political beliefs. I thought about it and while I understand his position, I can't do it and be truthful to myself and what I believe ABOUT myself.

That works for my friend and I'm glad it does, though.
Reply | Thread | Link

scarlettina: WW: Level of discourse
User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-08-19 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:WW: Level of discourse
You were always spice, fella. Now, you're spice strong enough to get noticed. :-)
Reply | Thread | Link

User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-08-19 15:02 (UTC)
Subject: Not Fond of Mayo
Mr. Lake, I would have stopped reading your blog ages ago if you were mayonnaise. I like the spicy mustard writer you really are.

Suzan H.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: darkerblogistan
Date: 2009-08-19 15:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
People think they have to avoid discussion of politics and religion to stay polite, but it is an artificial blandness. Like Michael Moore said, everything is political in some sense. It is the prism through which we view the world, so it cannot help but strongly shape what we write and how we interpret that writing. So why stay in the closet about it?
Reply | Thread | Link

User: elizaeffect
Date: 2009-08-19 15:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if much of your follow-unfollow flow is spammers. I'm not as famous as you, obviously, but I get one or two of these every single day, and it's always some improbably-attractive woman encouraging me to visit her webcam site. Some of these bots stick around for a couple days but many of them follow you just long enough to show up in your notices and then disappear.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: fledgist
Date: 2009-08-19 16:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a manifesto that's got a certain oomph to it: Up with spice, down with mayonnaise!
Reply | Thread | Link

Clint Harris
User: wendigomountain
Date: 2009-08-19 17:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I figure, you are bound to make somebody mad at you for some reason sooner or later. Might as well be honest about your opinions and if they wind up hating you for it, at least you gave them a good reason.

And in the meantime, if they present good arguments in a civil manner, at least we've got that. It's not like we can get that sort of honest discourse through our representatives in government.
Reply | Thread | Link

A large duck: tea!
User: burger_eater
Date: 2009-08-19 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I will now unfriend you for the way you bad-mouth mayonnaise.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: ann1962
Date: 2009-08-19 18:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Isn't mayonnaise with spice Miracle Whip?

Just keep being you, that is what keeps us all reading. Thank you.
Reply | Thread | Link

Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2009-08-19 18:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not only do I prefer Spice over Mayo ANY day of the week - I can do spice on a diet - Mayo, has to go :>.

And really, you? Mayo? For any length of time? BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA

Reply | Thread | Link

Jon Gibbs
User: jongibbs
Date: 2009-08-19 18:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Personally, I don't care which side of the political fence people are on. I don't even care if they rant every now and then, it's their blog after all.

The only time I find it off-putting is when the rant gets personal and/or venomous. It has the same effect on me as being at a friend's house and hearing them lose it with their kids.

It makes me uncomfortable, and when people do that, I tend not to hang around with them if I can help it.

Just my two cents :)

Reply | Thread | Link

russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2009-08-19 19:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
"Though it's possible some people don't care for my writing, or my humor, or my looks (as Nick Cave said, I'm sorry, but there ain't much I can do about that), I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of my unfollowers are reacting to my strong political stance."

Not to imply that you're not a unique and beautiful snowflake with a strong spicy taste, but I'll bet that most of your unfollowers are simply people who check it out and then unsubscribe for no particular reason other than that the intarwebs are too damn full of shiny distractions, and there's only so much time in a day to read blogs. :)
Reply | Thread | Link

Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-19 19:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But I *am* a unique and beautiful snowflake. I *am* I *am* I *am*.

:: kicks Internet ::
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

Leslie Claire Walker
User: lesliewalker
Date: 2009-08-19 20:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, you are.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

Leslie Claire Walker
User: lesliewalker
Date: 2009-08-19 20:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Reply | Thread | Link

Visiting Associate Professor Pro Tem of Rock
User: kessel
Date: 2009-08-20 19:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not that there seems much chance of you changing, but please stay political. It's one of the reasons you're my hero.

(Another one of those reasons would be your quoting "Thirsty Dog.")
Reply | Thread | Link

my journal
January 2014
2012 appearances