Friday, January 19, 2018

One of my seminal influences turns out to be a real douchecanoe

I was wondering what you think when a potential client likes an author who you dislike. I'd heard the author of one of my favorite series was kind of a jerk, and after avoiding it for a while, I finally looked further into it.

Oh boy. It's bad. Real bad. In an interview they essentially insulted their entire genre, authors and fans alike. Many years later, they tried to correct themselves, but still came off as extremely arrogant. Other research also indicated the author is hard to work with. There's another issue: the writing isn't great. Especially with books later in the series. There are these huge, pages long monologues about philosophy that get in the way of the story.

While I recognize all of this, the series was still a major influence on me. So I'm wondering if you like someone's manuscript, and then they say Author Terrible was one of their biggest influences, would that be a red flag? I know it's hard for us to know an author is a jerk when we pick up a book. But even still, I could see how it might make an agent pause and go "Uh oh, if they are anything like Mr. Terrible, we are going to have some issues."

I love the fresh and new ways you devise to torture yourself!
Honestly, I hope you query me one day cause you've really got a gift for inventing things.

For starters, stop worrying. If you list Attila the Hun as one of your seminal influences I don't care one way or another. I have a few blackguards in my reading past as well (Robert Heinlein anyone? Mickey Spillane?)

If you can't stop worrying, just don't mention this in the query. Truthfully I don't care who your influences are. I care about what you wrote.

All of us develop more sophisticated reading tastes as we go through life (I hope). It can give rise to those lovely self-tortures of watching a movie or reading a book you loved as a kid/teen and thinking "Holy Helvetica, what was I thinking?"

Well, you were thinking like a kid/teen, and hopefully now you are not.

I won't judge you by the costume you chose for your fifth grade school photo, if you won't judge my hairdo for any or all of my four years of high school.

You are not what you read. You are what you write.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"You are not what you read. You are what you write."

I read on-line news and write about the collective we. That makes me a questionably somewhat informed self-centered busy-body.

OP, worry about something important like the disappearance of bees or the health benefits of cheaper store brands.

Hey Janet, regarding high school hair styles, I may have been a chubby teenager but my blond flip was perfect.

Unknown said...

My day is complete.

Unknown said...

Also, regarding yesterday's discussion: I love how this group can be so kind and kick your butt at the same time.

(OMG, douchecanoe!)

Lennon Faris said...

People almost always have at least one good attribute. I like to find it. It makes me think of Madeleine L'Engle's book (can't remember the title) where Meg has to 'name' people to save them from being X-ed. She has to remember tiny, wonderful things about everyone, even her hateful principal, the antagonist in the first 2/3 of the book. It was a strangely relatable concept in a completely fantastical setting.

Maybe 'writing' is this person's one good attribute (at least with their first books!).

Might as well celebrate that you found it!

Timothy Lowe said...

Great question OP. Does this apply to comps too? I read a tweet by an agent claiming they will not look at anything comped to Ender's Game, since (according to the article listed in the tweet, anyway) Orson Scott Card is an avowed homophobe.

Are we torturing ourselves? Sure. But we're also trying to be sensitive.

And, by the way, does this apply to pitches made to editors? Aren't they looking for comps and influences? I was under the impression that that was an important piece of the pitch.

Any information anyone can provide on this will be very helpful to me - all this stuff is swimming in my head and I'm trying to quickly make sense of it.

Happy Friday, all!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Ah but Heinlein has so many wonderful quotes attributed to him. Almost as many good ones as Raymond Chandler (who seems to have been a very strange person).
They both loved cats anyway.

Donnaeve said...

A new rodent wheel worry! OP, when the publishing world says they like "fresh," as in a new idea, it ain't this.

Much like Janet says, you are what you write,, so too is Author Asshat. It's his writing that influenced you (the good stuff) not his asshattery.


Kregger said...

Off topic,
In 2016, NERC held a poll to name their new polar research vessel in the UK. Boaty McBoatface won getting +120K votes.
In 2019 they will do a similar poll to name the next ship. I think Reiders should get ahead of this and nominate "Seminal Douchecanoe".
The obvious reason?
Everyone loves a homonym.
There is an adolescent reason also, but...
Happy Friday!

Megan V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RosannaM said...

My brain worries about a lot of things. A lot of things. Earthquakes and pestilence and gray goobery avocados, but never would it occur to me that my writing might be judged based on me mentioning books I may have enjoyed.

But if you're worried about it Opie, just keep it to yourself. Just like I don't mention here I am actually fond of kale.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, don’t borrow trouble. Write a good book. Don’t worry about this kind of thing. Be a good client and writer and let your influences silently be. Even if your influences were jerks or are painted as such doesn’t mean you are although guilt by association has become quite the thing as of late. So yeah, keep your trap shut. Agents probably don’t give a rat’s ass about their writer’s influences. They just want work they can sell.

Megan V said...

Lennon, that would be A Wind In The Door (my favorite book of the series :))

Back on topic though,

I like this idea that you're going to be judged by what you put out into the world, and not by what what you've taken in. There's so much awful in the day to day that it's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't been influenced in one way or another by rotten actions or a rotten person (even if that person influenced them in a good way)

But I'd like to take a slight detour in the conversation to say that this doesn't mean writers shouldn't make a conscientious decision as readers. Sometimes, even when we love a book or a series, it's important to remember that the purchase of it etc. ultimately supports the writer. Sales are important to a writer's career. Refusing to support Writer Rotten because they're a douchcanoe can be an important step as a reader as it may influence to what gets put out in the world and may affect change in Writer Rotten (albeit it being a very very slim chance).

Ashes said...

I was worrying the other day that my writing tastes are actually regressing.

At 12, being a snotty little showoff, I read the bible cover to cover so I could say I did. I also read White Fang, and most of Jack London's short stories that year. In middle school I read the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle, and by high school I was reading whatever my parents had around the house. John Grisham, Dean Koontz, some Jean M. Auel. It wasn't until I got to university that I caught up on Harry Potter (in time for the last book's release). That led me to a lot of other YA including the Divergent and Hunger Games books, most of the works of Cassandra Clare, with a fair sprinkling of John Green and other contemp YA. I am currently loving whatever Leigh Bardugo writes, Six of Crows is a fav.

I figure at this rate I'll be reading middle grade as I prepare for retirement and picture books by the time I'm 90 and you know what? That's not a bad way to go.

Colin Smith said...

Timothy: Orson Scott Card is an avowed homophobe I'm not trying to open a can of worms here, but simply make a point. Orson Scott Card is a Mormon. As far as I know, the Mormon Church does not approve of homosexuality. Hence, it probably follows that Orson Scott Card does not consider homosexuality to be a good thing. Calling him a "homophobe" for following what his church teaches on the subject is a highly emotive, and, IMO, not very reflective attitude, that dismisses the man without recognizing he simply holds a position that you may not agree with. Surprise! Get us all in a room together and we will all disagree about *something*.

One of the things I learned as a Christian studying Theology at a secular university is that people you have deep disagreements with can teach very useful things. My Hebrew professor was one of the most anti-Christian people I have met. But he really knew his Hebrew, and I learned much from him. Likewise many of the professors I had.

Does OSC's attitude toward homosexuality come through in his books? Does he have characters protesting gay marriage? If not, then why would it be an issue? If I only read fiction by Christian authors, I'd be dumping 98% of my library. And some of those stories tread on issues where I have severe disagreement with the author. But I can still learn from them, especially if they're well-written.

Back to the topic: As Janet said, it's what you write that matters. We are all influenced by all kinds of people. But it's what comes out of the heart of a person that matters most, not what goes in.

Sam Mills said...

H.P. Lovecraft was Lord Supreme Douchecanoe. His works are riddled with racism in particular. But that mythos is just so damn evocative! So what are folks doing with his delightfully public domain eldritch horrors these days? Playing in his sandbox with an eye to subvert tropes, turning the mythos on its head and facing what's underneath.

You should never be flat out mimicking another author anyway. Influence can mean taking the bits that inspire you and running to the hills.

Timothy Lowe said...


I agree with you 100%. I didn't agree with the tweet. But the idea that some people might take issue with that particular comp (it's one I've used in the past) shook me a little. I guess I have to grow a thicker skin.

I was asked about my influences the other day and the question flummoxed me. I can name a thousand books I loved and love but to analyze my own writing through those lenses is outside of my ability.

Miriam said...

Maybe it’s because I never grew out of middle-grade books, but I think I am what I read, at least in part. Books like A Wrinkle in Time played a big role in shaping my identity as I grew up. Still, it’s the book itself that mattered, not the personal life of the author. Would I have liked Madeleine L’Engle if I’d met her in person? Who knows? She was a rather complicated personality, as I understand it. But I will be forever grateful to her for creating Meg Murray and Vicky Austin. Those are ones who really influenced me, more than their creator.

Julie Weathers said...

Lord Lovat, the Old Fox, was the last man beheaded in England. That's where the saying laughing your head off comes from. He was one of the Scots executed for the Jacobite uprising. So many people gathered to watch his execution they were crowded on to bleachers which collapsed, killing several. Lovat was laughing heartily at the disaster when the execution took his head off.

Legend has it his clan stole his body and returned it to the family crypt. Recently some scientist found a coffin in the crypt with a headless body. The family gave them permission to investigate it.

The coffin contained more than one skeleton. Unfortunately, it did not hold the body of an elderly man. The complete, or nearly complete skeleton, was that of a woman.

I think rather than mention authors I was inspired by when I start querying, I'm going to say I was inspired by the headless woman in Lovat's crypt because querying makes me feel like I'm losing my mind at times.

Maybe not.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I would be more worried about who the agent would be under the influence of while reading my MS. Rob Roy? Johnnie Walker? My MS is best read when one is under the influence of Margarita:)

Seriously, I also suffer from the same fears as OP. Personalization and comps are finicky little buggers that make me sweat bullets so there's a good chance I will skip them altogether when I do hop on the query train.

Douchecanoe would be a great rock band name or the title of Harvey Weinstein's assault-all memoir.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

"Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say." ~ Barbara Kingsolver

(I'm a quote freak)

Claire Bobrow said...

This brings to mind Roald Dahl. Oh, that the people we admire could be tarnish-free!

Lennon and Megan: I love the idea (from Wind in the Door) of looking for tiny, wonderful things in everyone.

Craig F said...

While dressing the walls of my query trench to keep the rejection bombs from collapsing it, my mind wanders to strange places too. I have had in head conversations with Russian disinformation specialists and the Trolls under the Bridge of Time.

I have a hard time when the trolls drag up something from the dawn of time to describe someone today. The world has changed and will hopefully get back on that track soon. As long as it was only opinion and not misdeeds I will abstain from comment and hope others will too.

I do have to wonder where the hell those conversations will come from. I just want fair opinions on my work, not on which nostril I pick most often.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Re Roald Dahl, do you mean his male Mata Hari stint during WW2?

Because that made me love him even more LOL

Amy Johnson said...

A lesson I've learned is to be hesitant to believe negative things said about people. Often, we don't really know, and we don't know that we don't know.

I read a comment here earlier that had another commenter's name written in bold print. After reading that comment, I was left thinking bold-printed-name had said a particular thing. But after reading his own comment, I was left thinking he had not said that particular thing at all. :) Ah, the importance of checking original sources.

OP wrote about hearing bad things about an author. Interviews allege bad things about the author, and the author allegedly is hard to work with. Hard to work with? Allegedly that's what was said about a couple of actors who wouldn't accept the sexual advances made by a particular movie giant who is frequently in the news these days. And interviews? The interviewer, the editor, the publisher--they all have a say in what's presented to the reader.

I must go read some Amos Oz now. Hope everyone has a great day.

Claire Bobrow said...

Cecilia: I've heard all kinds of stuff about RD over the years that ranges from vaguely unpleasant to worse, but an article on LitHub last fall really got to me. It quoted a letter from his publisher that outlined some truly offensive behavior. Not what I was hoping to discover about someone whose work I admire so much!

What's the Mata Hari thing about? I've read Going Solo and can only say I'm amazed he survived his flight training and the Battle of Athens.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: *waves hand* That was me. My fault. Sorry, Timothy. You're right, Amy. The way I responded to Timothy's recounting of a tweet made it look as if those words were Timothy's and I was responding to him, not to what he was recounting. Apologies all round. I'm just glad y'all are nice, forgiving people. :)

Sam Mills said...

@Colin Not to further dump the worm can, but OSC is an example not because of privately held views, but because he has been so vocal about them, using his platform and profits to lobby against LGBT rights (including joining the board of the org behind CA's prop 8 gay marriage ban, etc etc).

Individual readers have to decide: Can I mentally separate the author from his work? Can I ignore the subtext that *does* permeate his work? Or do I prefer not to give him my money, knowing the causes it will be used to fund?

Again, individual decision, YMMV. Since some authors are so polarizing, your opinion might factor into whether your personality clicks with an agent who strongly lands on one side or the other in genre debates.

Timothy Lowe said...

Ha - no worries. I try to stay out of the political mishmash. I do think this is a fascinating topic, and am really glad that Janet attracts the type of people who can have a friendly, open discussion about this type of thing.

That said, I wasn't trying to steer anybody in that direction. Comps just make me a little nutty.

Colin Smith said...

Sam: There's the rub, I think. Do you have to approve of the way a writer/actor/singer/etc. spends their "free" time, the causes they support, the company they keep, before you invest in their work? Does my purchase of Stephen King's novels represent approval of the causes he supports with that money? Or my stamp of approval on his worldview? I think not. Many times, you don't know what causes an author supports because most don't make known their charitable giving. How many Conservative Party-supporting Potter fans in the UK bought Rowling's books knowing she would use that money to donate to the Labour Party (among other things)? Would it have made a difference? I'm sure there are many who object to the Christian worldview, who bought and love the Narnia books despite their very clear Christian subtext.

Our culture has become so emotionally reflexive, I think it's harming our conversation. How can you possibly hear someone who disagrees with you when you write them off as a "hater"? They might have a valid criticism. They might not. But if we all just arrogantly assume we're right and anyone who disagrees with me is just a hater or a whatever-phobe, how will we learn and grow?

Sorry. Sermon over. Carry on... :)

Sam Mills said...

Colin: (Did I bold right??) And you're perfectly entitled to that way of approaching it, too! :) You can buy or refuse to buy any book you want for any reason you want, and other people will have their own criteria.

Julie Weathers said...

Back from the doctor where a good time was had by all.

Have you been depressed lately?

The furnace going out in freezing weather does that.
Frozen, shattered water pipes from stem to stern further compound that.
Subsequent flooding doesn't help.
Microsoft screwing up my computer makes me ballistic.
Partial restoral of water helps a little as does heat, but yes, I've been depressed.

They removed some blood, maybe I was overfull. All seems right with the world now. eyeing the Papermate pen on the keyboard and I realize I stole the Papermate pen from the doctor's office thinking it was mine. sheesh. I'll return it next time.

At Surrey, there was a panel on queries. They spent some time talking about mentioning mentors, inspirations, and comps. The panel was split straight down the middle. Some definitely want them. Some don't want them at all. Ever.

While you might hit a home run sometimes by mentioning comps or inspirations, you also take a chance of turning an agent away. You may think comparing your MC to a female Dave Robicheaux is a good thing, but the agent may detest James Lee Burke. If they do, they are already thinking no even if they decide to read the pages.

The agents said you're better off to just let your work speak for itself.

And no, I wouldn't really say a headless woman inspires me.

Kregger said...

Colin, Sam and, Timothy,
Nail on the head. The erosion of common discourse has occurred over a few decades.
Growing up, a common saying around town was, "I may detest what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."
I sincerely doubt any in Congress utter or believe something so ancient.

Unknown said...

I'm in!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Everything Colin said. Just so. I wish I could be so eloquent in expressing myself.

I do always learn more from those who have different world views than myself than I do from the mindless monotone echo chamber of whatever the tired conventional wisdom of the day might be.

Assigning hatred to those who do not agree with you is lazy and unimaginitive. A disease of group think. Understanding new ways of looking at life can only make you a better writer and help you develop intrigiung characters with some depth.

And great writing wins the day- I didn’t know any of this stuff about OSC but I still love his work. There are a lot of things are said by authors I adore that make me shake my head, but for me, it does not damage their work. Few literary masters are palatable humans. A lot of them don’t even wear pants.

BJ Muntain said...

I was once asked, in a pitch session with an agent, who my influences were. I really had to think about that, but then I responded, "70s and 80s action television shows". Because they do influence me a lot - the fast-moving action, the edge-of-seat excitement... even the unrealistic results of the action (for example, shooting hundreds of bullets at each other, and no one dies). While I do try to make action more realistic, I also try to maintain the excitement, the feeling of 'how are they going to get out of this one?' And yes, I like explosions. The agent was interested (not enough to respond to my partial, though. Oh, well.)

A lot of people think those shows were laughable - even 'remakes' became spoofs - but I can still watch them for the thrill of the action and the interesting mysteries. Even my science fiction still contains mysteries, because that's what my influences contained.

But I won't tell an agent those are my influences unless they ask.

Joseph S. said...

Random thoughts

It never occurred to me to include my writing influences in my query letter. Not enough room for one, and I’m not sure who I‘d list for two. Maybe Stan Lee. Or Mary Ingalls Wilder. Or George Orwell. Or Carl Barks. I had thoughts of dedicating my first book to Guy Clark and Neil Gaiman, so maybe them.

Julie, my doctor encourages us to take his pens, which sounds like a fair exchange for his keeping my blood and urine.

I’ve read a few children and teen books the past year looking for books for my sister’s grandchildren. I really like them (the books AND the grandchildren). Lately I’ve gotten into Grant Goodman’s first two Agent Darcy and Ninja Steve books, and Steve LeBel’s Universe Builders series.

Off topic more or less, I’m in the middle of my second K.M. Rockwood ‘Jesse Damon’ novel. I never heard of Rockwood before reading one of her Jesse Damon books (I won it on Goodreads), but it sort of bothers me she is not included in discussions of worthwhile (or at least unique) mystery writers.

Amy Johnson said...

Colin, I so agree with you about the name-calling. I'm grateful to be in this place where we can discuss things nicely even if we don't always agree. And if we all do happen to agree about something, could be we're all wrong. :)

Julie Weathers said...


The pain clinic encourages me to collect pens. They have really bright, pretty pens. The receptionist says she wants me to have a whole set. I get one with each visit. I'm just not sure the injections are worth a pen.

Karen McCoy said...

*scuffling noises of replacing douchenozzles with douchecanoes*

Kathy Joyce: That Barbara Kingsolver quote is literally on my wall. Thank you for reminding me of it.

Claire Bobrow: I'm so glad you brought up Roald Dahl! Matilda was the first "big kid" book that I read when I was seven years old, and I immediately saw myself in it. That article you mentioned was indeed disturbing.

Colin: Brilliantly put. You must be a writer or something. ;)

The thing about the query process is that very little of it is in the woodland creature's sphere of influence. Perhaps that is why we invent all these little imaginary loopholes as a way of trying to influence a process we have no control over.

It helps to remember that there isn't any "us vs. them." As A.S. King once said, writers are humans writing for other humans (or something like that). We are all in this together, despite the imaginary lines we draw among ourselves.

Stacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theresa said...

Douchecanoe is everything. Thank you, Janet.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


I read about Roald Dahl's exploits (together with the young Ian Fleming and Noel Coward if I'm not mistaken) during WW2 from the book "Baker Street Irregulars". It detailed the things Roald Dahl and company did for England beyond the regular spy work.

Panda in Chief said...

If we had to rid art museums of the art of every artist who was a douchecanoe, the museums would be three quarters empty. Not that I think there is any excuse for bad behavior towards other people (or at least, now that I'm much nicer than I used to be, I don't) but I haven't quite figured out what I think about disappearing the work of those who have engaged in varying degrees of reprehensible behavior.

There is a wonderful book on kid lit about all sorts of "bad" behavior in the world of children's literature, which I can't recall the name of. But it's written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and one other person. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd go downstairs and look for it, but what can I say? Pandas are kind of lazy.

Claire Bobrow said...

Panda: it's titled Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature and it's sitting in my TBR pile. I think it's about mischievous characters and subject matter in kidlit, not authors. The SLJ review said: "The authors do a fine job of debunking the notion that children's literature is all 'fuzzy bunnies' and 'pots of honey.' "