JMS on CompuServe (Dec 28, 1996) *POSSIBLE SPOILERS*

Brent Barrett bbarrett at
Sat Dec 28 18:49:24 EST 1996

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 [ Summary of subjects in this section: ]
    Sb: #631092-#writers
    Sb: #631172-What Happened?

 [ Summary: The unpublished writer who prompted JMS to write about what it
   is to be called a "writer," responds to JMS' post. ]

 #: 631233 S2/Star Trek: General
    27-Dec-96  17:26:39
Sb: #631092-#writers

      Well, I think I still have to argue with you on this one.  Your message
is clouded with misconceptions and misinformation and poor judgment.  If the
conversation went as you describe -- short of getting into a prolonged exercise
in "he said/he said" -- then the initial snotty response (to use your term) was
yours, not his.

      First, a couple of disclaimers.  I have no vested interest in this
discussion other than I happened to see it out of the corner of my eye.  I have
nothing to gain by ragging on you.  I have about 35,000 different things I
could (and probably should) be doing right now, but I think something of merit
may come out of this conversation.

      Second disclaimer: I have no special love of John Ordover, so this does
not proceed from any partisanship on my side.  We have, in fact, crossed swords
on many occasions, and I was never more pissed off than the one time a guy
shook my hand and I discovered afterward that it was Ordover, who I would
otherwise have refused.  If you look up the word Haughty in the dictionary, you
will find John's picture beneath it.  Personally, I have little patience with

      But...and this is an important but...I have never heard anyone speak an
ill word about John as an editor.  And in this profession, that's saying a lot.
So for my money, at least in this one specific area, that says that he knows
whereof he speaks.

      So now that all agendas are out in the open...we proceed.

"How many writers have an opportunity to write as a profession even now? I
wouldn't want to be a journalist or contracted writer with deadlines. At least
not at this point."

      Actually, if one looks around, there are more books and magazines and
newspapers and ezines than at any point in the past.  In the past, writing was
a profession that could *only* be practiced by those who had either a patron or
an estate or a job that did not require their full and complete attention.
There are more venues for publication now than at any time in the past.  Go to
an ABA (American Booksellers Association) Convention some time if you want
verification...rooms the size of football fields packed to the gills with
publishers of every sort, hawking endless lines of books and magazines and the
like.  It's dizzying.

      If anything, the problem is that there's more competition these days, and
print is in general going through a kind of upheaval at the moment as it tries
to fit into the electronic age.  But there's FAR more opportunity than at any
time previously.  And more people are working as writers part-time or full-time
now than before.  Even if you have a full-time job, you just find a way to make
the time IF IT MATTERS TO YOU.  If it doesn't, you won't.  Real simple.


      An unpublished writer.

"Me: I have an idea for a Trek novel, but I'm not comfortable using established
characteres/continuity. Is there some way to just submit an idea to Pocket
Books?  John: No. To be a good writer takes blah blah blah.  Me: I'm not
impressed. You're an editor. Like you'd know."

      And this is where you make your largest error in the discussion.  I can
only assume you don't understand the role of the editor in publishing.  It's an
editor's JOB to know, and to say when asked, "this is what it takes to be a
good writer."  An editor has to find good books, work with the writer to hone
the content of those books, and to make a judgment call on whether or not that
writer has what it takes for the long haul; nobody wants to publish
one-book-only writers.

      It's his (and any editor's) JOB to know.  That "knowing" varies from
editor to editor, depending on what strengths they emphasize, the needs of
their own line of books and the like, but they KNOW well enough to talk about
it intelligently.  Can they be wrong?  Sure, it happens.  But that's simply due
to a lack of infallibility on anyone's part.

      His statement was not rude, or condescending, as you imply.  It was a
professional opinion that was blunt and to the point, and just what he'd tell
anyone else, and what he has an OBLIGATION to tell anyone else.  So in the
final analysis, it was your response that was out of line.

      Believe me, if I could find something to gig John about, I'd take it. As
I said, I have no particular affection for him.  But in this instance, he's
right and you're wrong, and in this kind of discussion you have to set aside
personalities and try to focus on something that at least looks like the truth.
That puts me on his side in this, and I'm as uncomfortable being there as you
are hearing this.  But there it is.

"But to imply that because I don't feel confident using someone else's
continuity makes me a no-talent or means I don't _know_ what being a writer
is... is, well, rude."

      Again, wrong.  Specifically, your original comment (as relayed above) was
that you wanted just to submit an idea or two for books.  This is the first and
strongest indicator of a rank amateur.  Anyone -- ANYONE -- who writes for a
living knows that nobody wants to buy ideas, nobody buys ideas in the
publishing business unless you've been around a zillion years and your nam is
Stephen King...who got that far NOT by trying to sell idea, but by writing and
selling fully formed book manuscripts.

      Everybody had ideas.  Ideas are a dime a dozen.  Writers write.  They
don't just talk about it, they don't try to palm off their ideas on other
people ("you do all the work and we'll split the money fifty-fifty!").  They
write.  It's long, difficult, laborious *work*.  It's applying butt to chair
and filling up page after page after page, wrestling with the words, failing
999 times, but succeeding that 1,000th time in making the words say what you
want them to say.

      Editors and publishers and yes, even producers and TeeVee writers are
endlessly approached by people wanting to sell them/us ideas.  After a while,
you just want to run screaming out into the night.  He could have simply
ignored your message here.  But John chose to stop for a moment and explain to
you what is required if you're going to be a writer.  Not a dilletante, not a
sightseer, but a *writer*.  If you choose not to profit from that information,
that's your choice, but that does not make the information any less valid, or
the delivery any more an insult.  It's neither rude nor fair, it just Is.

"Now, if he's not interested or whatever, he can just say so. 'No, not
interested/don't think it'll work/don't have time'... If he replies, 'No, to be
a _real_ artist requires blah blah blah,' he's being patronizing. That's rude."

      Let's say you're a chicken buyer.  In other words, not to put too fine a
point on it, so you won't think I'm saying you're a cautious consumer, you buy
chickens.  A purchaser of fine fowl from MikalMart Industries, the leading
purveyer of chickenmeat from sea to shining sea, a king among chickens, we're
talking here the brilliant Kilimanjaro of fresh wings and things.  Are you with
me so far?  Good.

      You spend every day looking at chickens.  Smelling chickens.  Fondling
chickens.  (On second thought, let's not go there.)  Suffice to say, you know
from chickens.  It's what you do.  You know the chicken needs to be full, not
skinny, better raised natural than pumped full of chemicals and hormones and
things nobody else should know know the meat should not look
brusied, or appear that it was in life anything but a happy, contented chicken
right up until the day it looked up and realized that the god of all chickens
wasn't really paying attention to his little prayers and boom, the head goes
flying and it's a fine day for chicken sandwiches.

      So one day, somebody comes up to you, and says he's a chicken farmer.
Well, he's not *actually* a chicken farmer, he doesn't have the time or the
wherewithal to actually *raise* chickens, but he has some good ideas on how
they should be raised, and he knows, just because he KNOWS, what would make for
a good chicken.  And you rock back on your heels, and because it's a slow day
in the MikalMart Head Office, you've got a few minutes on your hands, you
figure, what the heck...and you try to explain to this kid what makes a good
chicken...and he cuts you off and says, "Yeah, like you'd know."

      Do you begin to see the picture here?

      Am I saying that writing is like chicken buying?  No, though certainly it
isn't a field for chickens.  (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.)  But in their
ways, both are professions, and both require judgment calls by people in a
position to buy material.  When you talk to a professional, he will give you
his professional opinion.  Nothing is served by then saying that the opinion is
rude.  That's what kills most people who want to be writers; they get easily
offended, they don't want to do the work, they don't like the way the field
works, they want it to work the way they THINK it should work rather than the
way it works.  But as with any profession, good information is crucial.  Not
mythology, not feel-good-aw-that's-okay-sweetie little bunny-hugs.  Writing is
a field for the strong of heart, who can take stern warnings and rejection and
deal with the difficulties of the field, and the lack of real time, and all of
the grief...and still persevere.

      That's a writer.  Whether or not you can do that is, of course, your
call.  To show us, or not.

      Bottom line...though mistakes can always be made, an editor or a writer
*can* tell you what makes for a good writer.  If you choose to ignore that,
well, that's your choice.

      Final aside: there's a movie starring James Garner, a western, I'm trying
to remember the name...might've been Hearts of the West, but I'm not sure.
Anyway, Garner is looking over a campfire at the Young Kid in the movie, and
says, "So kid, what's your story?"

      The kid sips at his coffee, and says, "I'm a writer."

      And Garner smiles, shakes his head.  "Kid," he says, "you're a writer
when a WRITER says you're a writer."

      To quote Sean Connery..."Here endeth the lesson."


 [ Summary: A poster (Lynn Dimock) comments on why Garibaldi is acting funny 
   now. ]

 #: 631235 S6/Babylon 5: Spoilers
    27-Dec-96  17:26:50
Sb: #631172-What Happened?

"Whatever *did* happen to Garibaldi, it appears to have exaggerated his natural
personality traits more than anything far."

      A smart cookie, is Lynn Dimock....



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