The Private Lives of Writers and the Blurred Lines of Ministry

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the novel series, The Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot).  His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, most recently including Dark Dreams II & III, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine.  He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology (Apex Books).   Read his blog where he often opines on issues of race, religion, writing, and pop culture and learn more about him at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.

One of the on-going conversations that took place during Mo*Con this past year (a convention I throw each year) involved guarding our personal lives.  Writing would be so much easier if all we as writers had to do was write.  Yet there is a business side to the craft.  One of the hardest things to put my mind around is that I am also a brand and I have to protect my brand.  Part of that mentality fuels my belief in publishing well.  But that also bleeds into putting myself out there and marketing.  On the flip side, being a commodity also means that there are those who want to treat you as theirs.

Jim Cobb gave some great advice about online privacy protection. This hit a little too close to home as I never thought about how “available” I am.  A lot of folks have my address, for example, as it’s in the phone book, on my business cards.  Granted, I’ve not had too many incidents.  When I had my local column, folks would call the house to let me know if they agreed or disagreed with me.  I’ve also been fortunate in that the only things my fans have ever sent me was books they thought I ought to read.

One of the reasons fans scare me is because they want a piece of you.  It’s one thing to have the writers conceit that something we’ve put to page is important enough to (demand to) be read.  It’s quite another to realize there are folks who want to (demand to) consume you, use you, and otherwise be in your orbit.  Some people have twisted needs, perhaps stemming from us being [wired to worship], some need partially met from pastors, musicians, athletes, artists or whoever they connect with.  But how much of our lives do we shut down to protect ourselves from one or two nuts?

On the more cynical side of the discussion, a side borne out with the dark side of the experience of the cost of fame as they rose in prominence.  There is the dawning realization that all relationships become suspect and that the reality may be that you have no real friends.  No longer do people want to get to know you, they want to get with what you represent:  a possible blurb, an introduction, a connection, “star author”.  Some “friends” will resent your success.  Some people are there to use you.  Others will simply break your heart.

My struggle is that this can be said of life in general and how then are we called to live?

I discussed this with some pastor friends of mine, after all, they often deal with similar things.  I’ve been in church leadership circles long enough to know that it sees its share of crazies.  Congregants can hold pastors in reverence, maybe not the rock ‘n roll star struck brand of fandom, but there is certainly an aura about them.  The type of consumption is different, also, as their “fans” are there out of a desire to learn from (and follow) them.

Many pastors have a dividing line between their home life and their church life.      Protecting themselves by being not especially relational with their congregation.  Part of this is the fact that they are not able to be themselves around everyone because of some people’s preconceived notions about how pastors should behave.

Beyond the fact that I suck at setting boundaries, I think we’re called to live differently.  The idea of protecting ourselves might be one of those American/western values that we’ve embraced to our detriment.  If we believe that we’re called to lay down our lives, then our lives are not about us.  We’re not called to protect ourselves.  We’re not called to be safe.  But we’re not called to be foolish either.  At the end of the day, my wife puts it this way:  that’s some great theology, but I have two children to protect.  So the conversation will continue.

Comments

  1. says

    Needless to say, this applies in other fields if what you do has a wide audience. When I was producing paintings in the 1990s for games like Magic: The Gathering I started receiving a lot of mail from card collectors, all of whom wanted their cards signing. That was flattering at first but it quickly became a chore and one I felt ambivalent about since many of the cards were no doubt from card dealers who wanted to sell on the signed ones at a higher price. The trouble was, you wouldn’t know whether some guy saying “Please sign my son’s cards” really had a boy waiting eagerly for the post to arrive or whether it was just some guy preying on your generosity. At the height of this period it was costing me money every week to return these cards; people would send foreign banknotes and stamps, or the wrong postage, or simply a return envelope with no stamps at all. One dealer phoned me out of the blue one night from the US asking if I wanted to sell the proof editions the companies sent out; I’ve no idea how he got my phone number. I still feel guilty about things I forgot to return.

    This is the thing that no career advice ever mentions, how your life as a creator with an audience gradually accumulates a low-level buzz of neediness and demands from others which is a drain on your time and energy. There’s no way round the problem that I can see, you can’t have the good feedback without the bad, you just have to find your own way of dealing with it the best you can. The Robert Heinlein form letter is probably one solution!

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