Karen Janowsky

Superheroes in Love

Oops, I did it again.

I wonder if I’ll ever learn my lesson. This month, I present to you two utterly bizarre conversations I had on social media: one of which was my fault, the other, I don’t think it was, really. You decide.

So, on my Facebook group page a couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of my cat, Wally, in his usual sleeping position (passed out on his back, legs splayed, tongue hanging out). I’d captioned it something like, “After reading my work, Wally either as passed out in aesthetic ecstasy, or I bored him nearly to death.” Cute, funny, got a few laughs. One guy, however, said, “I love ecstasy. Best club drug ever.” I thought he was kidding, and replied that my novels were the newest club drug. It went downhill from there.

He went on to say he only wrote “hardcore” poetry. I’ll summarize the rest here:

Guy in Group: I write extreme poetry.

Me: I don't know what you mean by extreme.

GIG: I only write Whitman and Emerson-esque poetry, along with touches of Thoreaux [sic-- and continually misspelled]. Do you understand?

Me: I am very familiar with those writers. In addition to poetry, my thesis director specialized in American literature.

GIG: I don't have a degree, but it doesn't matter because I own my own publishing company

Me: What doesn't matter?

GIG: I can send you my 1st book, but it's hardcore and you probably won't understand how deep it is.

Here, friends, is where I took the bait when I should’ve just let it go.

Me: Sure. I think “hard to understand” really depends on what one finds challenging, though. I still have a rough time of wrapping my head around Beckett, for example. Yeats is a fascinating challenge as well. Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau can be challenging reads, but they’re not especially inaccessible to me.

GIG: If you like poetry, you'll like my books. I have my own publishing company.

Me: So you've mentioned. (Explains why "if you like an enormous genre you'll like this book" makes little sense (too subjective); goes on to explain that I not only have read a lot of 19th century American lit, but also lots of other stuff as well, and a lot of philosophy and critical theory (so I can handle the complex stuff if I really put my mind to it most of the time), and not only do I know many published poets, the likes of whom publish with far more prestigious journals and presses than I ever will, but also have (what I think of as) a decent list of publications in my own right. This was my way of saying, quit the condescending b.s.). To be fair, I probably pontificated a bit too much.

GIG: My poetry is hard core. It's heavy reading. It was published.

Me: That's great. Congratulations.

GIG (moves on to private message): I hope you didn’t think I was being rude.

Me: No worries. Go on and send me your book if you want. By the way I noticed you’re from Florida. I went to school in Tallahassee. Small world!

GIG: It doesn’t matter because I have my own publishing company. You're really sexy.

It was only at THIS point that I realized what he was trying to do here. Just because I can handle “hardcore” poetry doesn’t mean I’m not a little slow on the uptake.

Me: I'm married. If you continue to say stuff like that, I'll block you. You get this one warning.

Phone rings 2 minutes later; GIG is trying to video chat now.

Me: Blocks from group and unfriends.

So from this conversation, I learned nothing; it did reinforce lessons I seem to habitually ignore:

  • Even intense, hard core writers apparently can have reading comprehension deficits.
  • I take people at their word way too easily (a friend warned me that whenever I see a guy I don’t know constantly use “hard core” or “deep” in a conversation, just block without further ado).
  • I take the mansplaining bait WAY too readily.

The second conversation was on another person’s thread. She’d asserted that unless a story has a happily ever after (HEA) ending, it cannot be a romance, doesn’t belong in the romance section of a store, and that she’d be pissed off (her words) if she read a book thinking it was a romance, but it ended unhappily or vaguely. That was against the rules. Apparently, an author she’d been speaking with complained their non-HEA books were being excluded from the genre (by whom, I don’t know).

I said, “I’m actually on that writer’s side on this one,” and explained that if the book focuses on the love story, well, sometimes the hottest of romances end up in ashes. I went on to say that there were no “rules” for a genre, just guidelines and tropes, and at that, those guidelines were set by marketers, not writers. I also said that technically, the classic guidelines are “Comedy” (as in, HEA, like Midsummer Night’s Dream and “Tragedy” (like Romeo and Juliet). Romance/love stories can fall under either category. I suggested that to limit a subgenre of the two that narrowly was a disservice to writers, and that I was all for pushing the envelope. I also said that I happen to like HEA’s, I write (and often read) for closure, and there was nothing wrong with that formula. However, it is a formula, and maintaining that was the only path to romance writing made for, with a few exceptions, predictable, often uninteresting stories.

She jumped down my virtual throat, accused me of attacking “her” genre, claimed that romance was always being bashed, and went on to say some other angry things along those lines. My reply was to say I hadn’t meant to hit a nerve, and again, hey, whatever works for your readers. There’s plenty out there for everyone. And, all genres are subject to formulaic narratives, not just romance, although those are often the most easily recognizable. I don’t dislike genre fiction. I write genre fiction. I don’t like predictable fare unless I really feel like I need a sure thing for closure though, and some HEA’s are absolutely wonderful. I figured, no harm, no foul—just a difference of opinion.

The conversation ended in her asking, “Why are you still talking,” and a few more defensive statements. I think we unfriended each other simultaneously. I’m not entirely sure how things went downhill that quickly. I didn’t know her very well at all but still...a lot of indie writers exist in a closed community, and I hate to cut off ties with someone unless something really egregious is happening. I never attacked her (or even the genre, actually). As far as I was concerned it was all an intellectual exploration of perspective. I think that’s usually preferable to speaking into an echo chamber. There are more important issues in the world than to get emotionally caught up in something like, “what belongs in a genre.”

 

At any rate, that’s my side of the story. She obviously has a different take on things. Since I no longer can see her posts or contact her, I’ll never know.

 

What have I learned this month then? 2 things:

  1. Like the guy in the first conversation, I need to read between the lines more readily. There must have been clues in the woman’s post that it wasn’t a subject for open debate, and I blithely wandered in without noticing the signposts, and it didn’t end well.
  2. I need to recognize when I’m being baited.

2a. I need to not take the bait every time it’s dangled in front of me.

  1. Evidently, lessons 1 and 2 are indeed, challenging for me.

 

And I lived HEAFN (Happily Ever After for Now).