I’ve heard tell that one of the drives for Steven King’s novel Misery came from his reaction to fans stealing bat statues off the tops of his gateposts. I don’t know if it’s true, but it should be. We all dream of adoring fans popping up at opportune moments to gush about how great we are. I’ve had that happen exactly once (when a person at a train event, realizing who I was, went delightfully ga-ga about Fire and Bronze). Very, very nice.
But what we don’t think about are the over-cooked fans, the ones who haunt us, pester us, bother us, even endanger us. It’s hard to imagine why a person would worship you so much that they could cause you pain, suffering, and even death. But for every thousand people who really like your work, how many fans might have their bolts cross-threaded? One? Two? Five?
I’ll mention two times this has occurred to me. In the first, it wasn’t even a fan. I was manning a book for Early ReTyrement at OASIS 25, a sci-fi convention. When you do the booth, you need to be warm and inviting (like a Venus flytrap). It’s a specific pose of casual interest/disinterest, standing at the ready to toss your pitch, spark their interest, and don’t cross your arms!
So one guy comes up and I tell him about the book. Turns out he knows about the Persians and siege of Tyre. We talk. And talk. And suddenly I realize he’s like a steam engine with a jammed regulator – he’s not going to stop. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty. I see customers eyeing my flashy book art, considering, but then deciding it’s worth the hassle of getting around blabbermouth. I made all the social conventional break-offs; “Well, gosh, it’s been nice chatting” and “Oh, look at the time”. He was stuck to me like shit to my shoe. Finally I had to look to Tim Robinson, next booth over, and ask him to watch things – I had to go to the bathroom. Excusing myself, I bolted out, looked at my reflection for about ten minutesin the toilets, then sheepishly snuck back. Tim looked up and smiled at my desperate gambit.
Sales for the hour: $0
But that’s just enthusiastic nerdishness. The more disconcerting version if this recently took place on my other site, my pen-name site.
When I wrote Fire and Bronze, I wanted to bring some erotica into the mix, to spice it up. In this, I researched such writings on the web and found that pretty much all of them, regardless of flavor, fix or fantasy, were badly written. After finishing the book, just for fun, I wrote a couple of short erotic stories which earned great receptions. Shortly afterwards, I submitted to an online publisher and had two collections (five stories in each) published. The pay is rock bottom but the art spec is the bomb. Going forward, I established a site elsewhere to post whatever comes to mind, finding myself with something like a hundred downloading fans and a lot of nice feedback. And for freaks, the folks on my site are very, very friendly.
Except one guy. He originally entered and talked about how I was the best erotic writer out there (I should learn to identify over-praise. I really should). And that was fine; people join all the time. I was focused on a multi-chapter fantasy anyway, trying to get it to play out. It started with one or two comments from him, that my hero is not heroic enough (I explained that he was just a POV, nothing more), and that the situations weren’t just titillating, they were evil. No, not that, that they were going to be evil. That the storyline was winding towards the hero’s inevitable madness, the heroine’s fall into despair, the implosion of the sun, everything. At first I thought he was joking. I just chided him, pointing out that I produce nothing but slap-n-tickle. But no, oh no, it was a trick, a misdirection, one he could see coming.
On the day my car got rear-ended (I wasn’t in a good mood), I came home to find that he’d responded to seven different chapters, each posting more raucous than the last. These I manually deleted, then posted him offline that he was really close to getting bounced. I didn’t have to do this. I was giving him a chance. His response was a plea to stay my hand until the last chapter came out, when he could see, with his own two eyes, the evilness I was plotting. Fine, okay, he could stay, if only so he could see that I was following through with a plot device whereas the hero’s missing girlfriend was right under his nose all the time. So we had an understanding.
A day or two later, I came home and found him scuffling with two of my regular long-term readers, arguing a two-front war against all reason and logic that everything was going to end bitterly and badly.
And that was it. I bounced him. Never had to do that before.
It bothers me, of course, that there are people out there who fixate on something, be it Jodie Foster or your upcoming surprise conclusion or whatever, and turn an easy-going writer/reader relationship into a field of contention. It annoys me further that I have to take action against these people, to fling them through the lintels and onto the cobblestones because they can’t behave civilly.
I love writing. I love positive feedback (and even some negative feedback).
I don’t like being a bouncer.
Keep this in mind. Not all of writing is fun. I’ve posted about agents and copyright and poorly-attended speeches and all the other pitfalls. And now you know about ‘Fans from Hell’.
Just keep your head down and keep writing. What else can you do?