I spent a year tilting at windmills in the crime fiction community. A few of them were giants. And I’m tired. I know rumours are doing the rounds, questions are being asked. Am I giving the answers here? Not really.
See, the problem with much of it, is it's not my story to tell. People keep asking me to speak up. And I do have things to say. But I’m constantly, constantly, aware that the weight of these stories falls differently on me than it does for the people who own them.
I want to talk about a culture of people in power who will talk publicly about supporting #MeToo, but then privately question the motives of every.single.woman to speak up. Are they doing it to sell books? Are they doing it to grandstand? Have they simply gotten their story wrong? All these suggestions were raised. The validity of stories has been judged. And each one was a massive pull on my loyalties. Stay in the room to keep working towards the goal, or walk away to stop being complicit?
I want to talk about a culture where rules and precedent can be set aside to hand out opportunities to friends, but become all important when it comes to refusing to help out an indie author. I want to talk about a culture of standing by while authority figures are allowed to privately bully and publicly insult professionals within this industry. Of how evidence of this can be magically deleted soon after I forward a complaint about it. Of how other people in the conversation can tell me that evidence never existed, even as I tell them I saw it myself. I’d like to talk about how, when I was digging my heels in the sand, I was told that the person in the wrong had more support in the community than the person in the right. If people want the exact moment I lost the appetite to keep going, there it is.
I want to talk about organisations that are sitting on hundreds of thousands of your dollars, and provide very little accountability or transparency about the decisions taken with that money. But if a suggestion for change comes from an author it means less, because it's a fan convention. Even if authors pay for registration, and their names are used on the website as a lure for readers to (pay) attend.
I really want to talk about receiving a dog-whistle legal threat from an author who accuses me of trying to ruin his career. The Streisand-effect-level irony is that he keeps talking about something I’ve shut up about. Something I've never actually talked publicly about, and that each time he talks, more people ask what he’s mad about. If your career could feasibly be ruined by me (spoilers: it can’t) then you need to be honest about what level that career is at.
I’ve learned a lot about personal responsibility this year. I take responsibility for the things I’ve handled badly. I would go about certain things differently if I could. People I trusted too readily. People I didn’t trust enough. But we need to see more people owning their own shit. We need to look at how a few willing volunteers, and a few people with no choice in the matter, can be left to carry the weight and blame of big, important issues.
My point here is to say there's a dichotomy. My experiences of the past year are all my story, but at the same time, they're not at all my story. I can’t keep threading that needle. I’ve had a year in which I’ve gone through a load of stress and pushed myself to some unhealthy places, and I’d like to talk about that. I woke up recently in intense abdominal pain. At a level where I thought I needed an ambulance. And my first thought was of calmness, hey a whole bunch of problems will go away if this turns out to be serious. But talking about things also means co-opting other people’s stories, which I won't do. It’s been hard for me, it’s been much harder for them.
There are people who judge me for doing too much, there are people who judge me for not doing enough. They're probably both right.
There are some people I thought to be friends who vanished. There are others who’ve stood by me all the way. And I don’t make that easy. I’ve been an emotional drain on a small number of people, just as I’ve tried to give support to others. And there are people I’ve let down, too. People I couldn’t lend my vocal support to because I believed in doing the private good. There are also friends I’ve hurt or lost by being distracted, by not really listening to what they were asking for, because I was thinking about all of this.
I think where I come out of it is this; I had a go. I can live with that. Some people hate me. I can live with that, too. I can’t change who I am. But I can accept who I am. I will always want to support and help. But I’m nobody’s moral arbiter, and I only have so much headspace. I can’t even tie shoelaces, for fuck’s sake. Velcro is about my level in life.
We have a problem in this community. I’m talking a lack of collective responsibility. We want shit done, but we want other people to do it. We want change, but we don’t want to shoulder the burden of changing. Too many people end up shouldering burdens alone. And no, that bit isn’t about me. It’s about the people who still don’t feel safe speaking up. It’s about the people who have spoken up and been ignored. Its about the people who’ve been made to feel unwelcome in the community. It’s about the people who choose to stay silent or look the other way when bad shit is being said or done.
If we all, as a community, don’t start owning a piece of these issues, then we’re leaving it to others. We’re leaving it to private conversations, to unqualified opinions, to unaccountable decisions. We can progress, but it needs to be a collective action. People can't shoulder it alone.