Tag Archives: laurell k. hamilton

How writing can warp your perspective on life

It is so. It can. Take that from someone who spends a lot of time in the locker room with authors, and hears what they say when the public is not listening.

The locker room analogy isn’t accidental. Please consider this: being an author is much like being a professional or collegiate athlete. For the author, hours, days, months, years go into a public performance: a book, which will tend to cause people to read and react.

The read might take a few hours to a few days of the reader’s time, then she’s on to the next book. If the reader feels compelled to comment, she does. She might be knowledgeable; she might not. She might be fair; she might not. She might have understood what the author was trying to do; she might not have. But she did the equivalent of buying her ticket. She gets a seat in the stadium, from which she can watch the game. As long as she doesn’t make death threats or throw bottles or urinate in the aisle, she can react as she wishes. She can yell “you’re a bum!” She can stomp her feet, clap, gush approval, boo her lungs out. She can sit there and eat her nachos in silence. Fairness, kindness, patience are all choices she can make or not, without penalty. She’s the reader, the audience, the customer.

So imagine the author as a college football tailback. In order to perform for a total of thirty minutes before the public, 12-14 times in a year, she worked nearly every day for nine months. She lifted weights until she sagged in exhaustion. She ran sprints, miles, agility drills. Her coach tried to teach her techniques, and she tried to learn them. Some she resisted, some she embraced, and some she didn’t understand worth a damn. She studied thick playbooks with pages of diagrams that looked like a drunk, amnesiac tic tac toe game covered in cold cooked spaghetti. She watched endless hours of game film, with a high concentration on her own past errors. If she invested four hours per day for nine months, we might guess that she strained, sweated, grunted, cursed, wept, self-criticized, self-pushed, self-doubted, for something like a thousand hours of her life. That was in addition to the basics of normal life, for which she was also responsible. Whether she felt like it or not, she had to keep at it. And that’s just the summary of the off-season; in season, it might be more. This enabled her to compete with others (who did everything she did) for the right to compete against others (most of whom worked just as hard, some harder) for, at most, thirty minutes 12-14 times a year, with an audience of thousands or millions.

If she gets hit by three Neanderthals and fumbles inside her own 20-yardline, that one bit of her life might be all that millions of people remember of her thirty minutes of performance that day, into which a thousand hours of preparation poured. And if she makes one great, prescient cut and juke that busts loose a seventy-yard run, that will be the snapshot of her life the audience will retain.

And if, when booed or insufficiently applauded, she feels the urge to stand before the public and yell: “You goddamn idiots! You don’t even know what play we had on! I didn’t call that play! I had only an instant to react! The linebacker made a superhuman effort! On top of it, I was still a little rung up from the defensive tackles that landed on me forty seconds ago! Someone else blew an assignment! You don’t even know what the hell’s going on out here, or what it took me to be here and perform for you! All of y’all can go to hell!” can we blame her?

We can and we will, unfair though it is to her. Not for having the feelings, but for doing the one thing capable of making her situation worse. The performer has no say in the composition of the public, and that’s one reason not everyone is cut out to perform. The public is also the customer. The customer isn’t always right; for the most part, the customer is wrong. Unfortunately, the customer nearly always gets away with being wrong, and it’s bad form to come out and prove her wrong.

Welcome to the author’s world: a place where the best way to make a bad situation worse is to speak your mind.

Case in point: Ayelet (free pronunciation help: ah-YELL-ett) Waldman. She is a successful novelist, and this isn’t her first controversy, but it’s a lulu. If you want to read the short version with examples, go here. We should realize that this isn’t “why doesn’t anyone buy my book.” This is “how could my already successful book be left off this very select, prestigious list?” Going back to the athlete analogy, this isn’t “why am I still stuck covering kickoffs and playing target on the scout team.” This is “how can I not be first team All-Conference?”

And in that situation, Waldman did the one thing that could creatively make an unsatisfactory situation worse for herself. She took to the media to call out the people who make up the All-Novelist team for not making her a first-team pick. This isn’t going to get her what she wants. Once she did that, even the knowledgeable minority–those who were prone to factor in the thousand hours of suffering and stress that created her book–shook their heads. Tsk, tsk. Shouldn’t have done it, Ms. Waldman. And that’s those who know. The vast majority, who do not, react even less to her advantage.

Because when an author has a public tantrum, it ceases to be about her work, and becomes about the tantrum.

That’s why you never do that. Never respond to a negative review. Especially never throw a hissy fit because you are left off a high-profile list. Keep that locker-room talk in the locker room, where those around you understand. Kick a locker. Throw your gear. If you must, avoid the media. But don’t lose it in public.

The public will crucify you and desecrate your corpse. And then they will be disrespectful, and you’ll become a meme, like Laurell K. Hamilton’s infamous Dear Negative Reader blog post.

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Fetishism in writing

Here’s an area for improvement by literary critics as well as authors: fetishism. Not only do authors need to rein it in, but reviewers need to start calling it out.

Fetishism occurs when the author displays a pattern of preoccupation with some otherwise normally hidden or forbidden aspect of life. There are reasons the author would not want to do that:

Privacy. Maybe W.E.B. Griffin really shouldn’t have so openly advertised his fascination with the young, virtuous, occupied-with-life virgin who suddenly presents the story’s rake with her ‘pearl of great price’ (WEB’s favorite term), then immediately drops everything else in life and now desires to play house and begin spawning infants. What does that say about him? His perception of women? I wouldn’t wish to speculate too much. However, if that were my kink, I’d sure as hell be unwilling to broadcast it on the endcaps. To give Griffin credit, he has seemingly heard the critics and taken action. (To give him discredit, he’s now mostly letting his son ride his coattails, and the son is not the author the father is. Brian Herbert, take note.)

Predictability. When I pick up a J.T. Edson western, I know for sure that I’ll get some British culture superimposed on the old American West, and that’s one thing. It’s minor, but it’s part of his approach, and kind of novel to be on the receiving side of cultural ignorance. I also know that, before a certain point in the book, two women will start a physical fight. And yes, bodices/blouses/etc. will be ripped. His women will care more for baring each others’ bouncy dairy tackle than for kicking their adversaries’ butts. Not only does it give us a not-necessarily-wanted view into what sharpens J.T.’s pencil, it’s predictable. Thus, when you come to it, unless that’s your own personal kink and the whole reason you bought the book, perhaps you just roll your eyes and scan through it, eager to get back to the story. Or, if it offends you–and I can think of women who would get real tired of reading a man’s descriptions of relatively uncommon and unrealistic female behavior–you might just stop buying the books. Once you are onto an author’s pet themes, and you can tell in advance a certain amount of what you are going to get, some of the discovery is certainly pre-done.

Boredom. The trouble with any fetish, in writing or acted out for real, is keeping it fresh. Suppose you continue writing. You’ve decided you don’t need editors. Your friend’s critique just didn’t grasp what was cool about your style, so what does she know anyway? And throughout all your writing, you keep coming back to the trope of restraint. Your reader knows, because you write your most evocative wording when you take her into the mind of someone who cannot move. The problem is not just that every reader with a sixth grade diploma knows that you’re drawing deep upon your own fantasies. The problem is: how do you keep tying them up tighter, more elaborately, to keep it interesting for the fans? There is a creeping human tendency to freshen by intensity. Your reader expects some new kink every time, and is bored with the old tired ones. If you keep going this direction, you’ll contract what I call Hamilton’s Syndrome. It may bring you wealth, but it won’t create good books.

Hamilton’s Syndrome is my newly coined term for fetishism ratcheted up to the point where it overshadows the story. When Hamilton first began the Anita Blake series, she was brilliant. An appealing heroine, edgy motif, interesting and credible internal conflict for the protagonist–a heel-wearing, Schnauzerlike tough gal seeking to hold onto her humanity and beliefs. The fetishism was always around the edges of the story, but was sustainable; at least, I thought so. Then, some seven books in, Hamilton cut her heroine loose from humanity, slipped all those anchor cables. Eventually the story became secondary; the main focus was on monster hurts and wounds and problems, all of which could only be remedied by increasingly kinky and elaborate forms of sex with Anita. I recall one book in which the initial monster sex crisis took up the first third of the volume. Oh, and lust became a physical hunger for her, the fifth food group. The story is no longer even the point; the question posed by Hamilton’s Syndrome is, how can the kink-o-meter continue to ratchet up? How long can Hamilton top herself?

In my own writing, I watch for fetishism with great care. For one thing, I am intensely private. Consider that since this blog began, I have experienced serious life and health problems involving crippling pain, trauma and serious psychological shock and distress from which it may take me years, even the rest of my life, to recover. I never shared them here. Some may have leaked through, but not on purpose. It’s not that I’m ashamed; it’s that I believe I’m here to entertain, provoke thought, educate, and otherwise be fun to read. I am not here to back up the personal issues dump truck on you, fishing for support. Were I diagnosed with terminal cancer (for the record, I am not), I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t blog about it. This blog is part of my work (which is why, with regret, I can’t post the video of some Texans eating surströmming–too crude for work). I go other places to pour out my real troubles. Even alluding to them in this paragraph is an uncommon show of vulnerability for me. Well, I don’t think many writers compartmentalize as well, and some I believe lack compartments to begin with: a filing cabinet consisting of a large heap of papers.

So I guess the question the writer faces with fetishism is at least twofold: just how far are you willing to invite random people to analyze your mind (as I have done to Hamilton…she asked for it), and how are you going to keep people from either being bored with you, or poking fun at your blatant fetish? The ‘I’m a badass bitch, screw everyone, I do it my way, if you don’t like me and my writing, go to hell’ reflex answer is, of course: “Who cares what they think? I am after all a complete badass! And I post at least three times a day on Facebook trying to convince myself of it!” Well, here’s the problem: if you are writing to get paid, people have to want to buy your book. Thus, while you can’t let yourself obsess about what everyone thinks, you cannot ignore and dismiss your reader’s preference. Yeah, if you get paid, you do care what your reader thinks–and you aren’t such a badass.

Such are the paths down which fetishism leads in writing. Have I convinced you that you really would rather not be there? I would be especially glad for commentary on this topic. Am I treating fetishism too harshly? Is there an effective, sustainable way to work it in? We’re always told to ‘be ourselves,’ and here I am challenging that to a degree. Can you counter my stance?

Should authors respond to negative reviews?

In my opinion, the answer is a universal and thundrous ‘never!’ Don’t apologize because they say they wasted their money, don’t gripe that they weren’t fair, don’t bitch that they were mean. Don’t do anything. Say nothing. Shut up. I think it’s fine to respond to an exceptionally positive review, or respond to a question, but when they are critical, say not one word. You cannot win. You can only look worse.

You will look hypersensitive, thus showing other detractors that your goat is available for the getting. You will look like your work hasn’t been very successful, because you feel a negative review is impacting you. You will look petty, because you are bickering. And if you’re not careful, you may look stupid, because you fail to get the point everyone else got.

While new authors are usually the most sensitive about reviews, some damned famous ones can get very worked up about an adverse review. One may remember Laurell K. Hamilton finally breaking down and venting Dear Negative Reader, which came to define a trope. She’s never heard the end of that piece, because it conveyed to the public where she was sensitive.

The reasons not to crab back at critical reviews divide into two groups:

Professional:

  • Maybe they were actually being merciful, and you’ll convince them to stop that and say what they really thought.
  • You look petty and small-time, with so little real work to do that you have time to argue with reviewers.
  • Your book must not be selling very well if you’re afraid of a bad review.

Personal:

  • It shows the weak spot in your armor of public presence.
  • It then gives more people a good reason to want to find that weak spot and use it to torment you.
  • It opens you up to a debate you cannot win even if you’re right, stepping onto a level playing field where people won’t hesitate to gang up on you.

As you might guess, this came up due to an author’s mistake. A little over seven years ago, I wrote the following review of Joann Kuzma Deveny’s 99 Ways to Make a Flight Attendant Fly–Off the Handle: A Guide for the Novice or Oblivious Air Traveler.

Before I paid $13 for this I should have looked at the length. My mistake. There isn’t a whole heck of a lot of content here compared to other recent flight attendant books out there, and that content can be boiled down to a few salient points of guidance for travelers:

1) Have no emotions except gratitude to your sainted flight attendants for choosing to serve you. Strive for your own form of sainthood, which amounts to never having needs or feelings except the foregoing.

2) You are not here to get from point A to point B. You are here to monitor your every action to improve the flight attendants’ convenience. Now you know.

3) Flight attendants basically do not like you, so watch it, lest you receive the Dreaded Eye Roll and the Stony Ignore.

There. I saved you $13. Too bad the author doesn’t give us any real reason to want to make her life easier, as she doesn’t seem to like us much to begin with. Well, I didn’t like her co-workers much either to begin with, based on experience, but I’ve always tried to keep an open mind. I still will, but no thanks to Deveny.

That’s where the book fails those it purports to help: it fails to create any sense of community between flight attendant and passenger. Both are victims: the victims of airline deregulation, cramped planes, crappy food and miserable overall conditions. The two most aggrieved groups involved in the airline industry are natural allies. A balanced book that promoted improved relations between the two would be a real service. Instead, into the hands of already angry and frustrated passengers is dropped a treatise on how to spread that annoyance around to the nearest targets–with no incentive offered as to why they should not. So I’ll pick up some slack here.

Fellow fliers, please try and treat your flight crew with courteous respect, for everyone’s benefit, in spite of the fact that they rate you slightly above a used diaper. In so doing, you’ll rise above the mean-spirited ranting that fills this book. Focus your anger where it is deserved: the airline industry executives and the immense bonuses they get, all because flight attendants and passengers are the ones jointly taking a hosing.

As for me, I want to fly even less now than I did before I read it. I wonder if it’s occurred to the author that this sentiment isn’t really going to promote greater job security in her field.

As cold as that seems, the truth was colder. If I’d meant to hurt her, I’d have estimated the word count, to show people how little actual content they were buying. I’d have pointed out how many copies were for sale for $0.01 on the secondary market. I’d have given her one star (Amazon’s lowest rating) instead of two. I’d have used much harsher verbiage. It needed a critical review, but I had no reason to want to make sure it stung. Had I lacked all empathy for flight attendants, I wouldn’t have pleaded with the public to treat them decently in spite of the book.

Today, a mere seven years later, she commented on the review to complain:

Please look further to 99 Ways… eleven 4 & 5 star reviews. The overall rating is 4 out of 5, with only 2 people, with no sense of humor, in the minority. (2 to 11)

She left a similar gripe on the other critical review today. Here’s what’s comical there: she’d left a similar gripe on that one two years ago. Evidently she didn’t even read her own comment. The best argument she could come up with was, in digested form: ‘ignore this humorless minority opinion, other people love it.’

Salient point: before she griped, she looked okay. She had a couple of negative reviews, a much greater number of positive ones, and the reader was left to judge who to believe–the majority or the minority. (As I see it, I did my part. If they still want to buy it, it’s not my money, so I am not invested and don’t care.) Now she looks bad. Now every reader knows that she will be easily stung. If some real jerk wants to, he or she can use that to make the author’s life very unhappy. Not the sort of thing I (or any person with a life) would do, but the Internet has every kind of person, including obsessive psychotic bullies.

Will I do as I told her, and go back to re-read and edit the review so as to do a more thorough job of shooting the book full of holes? Nah, I doubt it. I was mainly warning her what a dumb thing she’d done. I’m not as sensitive about such things. She doesn’t like my review, well, fine; if I had cobbled together a minimal amount of mediocre content into a $13 book, and someone called me on it, that’s not what I’d want to hear either because that speaks to the book being a bad value. If it really is a bad value, of course that’s the last thing she wants people to grasp, because they will buy one of the 33 used copies available from $0.01 (at which price point it’s an okay value). I responded mainly out of kindness, to teach her a bit of a lesson, which she really does not deserve of me.

Then that thought morphed, and I realized that the entire subject might make an interesting blog entry. There is a perspective from the author’s side, but the great majority of talking about writing is done purely from a reader’s perspective; maybe readers are interested in the author’s side. One of the first things an author needs is to learn how to behave. If Deveny now pulls up this post on search, and leaves a snide comment, that’ll be proof she didn’t get what I was trying to convey to her, but I won’t stop her from compounding the mistake. Nor will I be angry. This is writing for public consumption, and not everyone will like or value it, and some of them will say so. I’ll deal with it and move on.

Current non-read: The Land of the Painful Shame

Okay, the real title is The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. I am going to link you straight to the reviews, just so that I’ll never stand accused of encouraging anyone to buy this.

Like many of you, I loved Clan of the Cave Bear. For its flaws, it presented prehistoric people as…people. Good, bad and somewhere in between. It painted credible cultures based upon significant archaeological research. It took some liberties with SoD (that’s a cool kids’ acronym I learned at a Radcon panel about Suspension of Disbelief), but none so grotesque as to detract from a fun story. Over the years, it turned into Cro-Magnoporn, getting progressively worse. Lots of tasting her ‘tangy salt’ (I always wondered if Jondalar actually brought a primitive herbal salt shaker to his oral sex sessions) and homing in on her ‘nodule.’ (Anyone ever heard a woman scream for some hot nodule attention?) Nodules and prehistoric condiments aside, it was never this bad.

One might also consider what it means for me to write this. I may be only the bathroom attendant in the writers’ club (‘here’s your towel, sir…ah, very generous, sir, thank you kindly’), but my badge at least gets me in the servants’ entrance. Consider, please: what if I were to one day meet Jean Auel, whose latest book I’m impaling with one of Ayla’s atlatls? I once came close to that painful experience, sitting in a panel where one of the panelists seemed familiar. Finally remembered that, on Amazon, I’d given her book meh out of five stars. Squirm, squirm, squirm. No one, therefore, can imagine me fundamentally eager to alienate Ms. Auel without good reason; that would be insane. If I thought I could do the book justice with kindness and tact, I would.

Can’t. This is just bad. It’s so bad, I don’t think it’s Jean Auel. I could not force myself past page 73.

It is mostly tell rather than show, one of the most amateurish bugaboos that editors have to beat out of writers. We get paragraphs of “Ayla felt….” No, no, no. Don’t tell me “Ayla felt…”! Don’t! Show me how she feels and what’s on her mind through her actions, her dialogue, others’ reactions to her. I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care if you establish that when Ayla is nervous, she has a bad habit of inserting a finger up each nostril. “She eased two fingers into her nostrils” beats “Ayla felt nervous” every time.

Then there’s the dullness problem. Now, I grant that if you love herbalism and scenes about making tea, this might not be so dull. If you like long rehashes of past events, maybe it’s not that dull. And I recognize that after waiting ten years between books, some backstory is needed because we’ve forgotten some of it (or perhaps never read those books, never slurped on their tangy salt). We don’t need this much. The dialogue is wordy and uninspiring, with everyone spelling out everything, leaving nothing for the reader to infer/discover. It often feels like expository or technical writing.

There, that’s the big problem. It doesn’t feel like fiction. It feels like expository writing. It sometimes feels like a software manual. I can take some guesses as to what might have happened:

Guess #1: Auel, being contractually shackled to the publisher for X number of books, was required to write another one before she could be manumitted. No one said it had to be a good book, and she realized full well that her name guaranteed a certain number of sales, thus automatic profit, and that’s why the publisher insisted on it. That’s what publishers do with big names: once it’s clear that the Name guarantees a profitable release, they get it locked in for a series of books. You owe us one more, bucko, or you can retire, but you can’t write anything else until we get it. So she phoned it in, getting it over with, and trying her best to make sure they wouldn’t want any more.

Guess #2: she somehow ran out of money and had to do something. I find that highly unlikely, as Auel has made enough money on the series to buy me and sell me into slavery, but folk have written books for stranger reasons.

Guess #3: she got real offended by all the readers who threw tomatoes at her Cro-Magnoporn, and decided to torture them. (Laurell K. Hamilton seems to be doing it. You no likey my porn? Okay, you get twice as much, that’ll learn ya.)

Guess #4: she forgot how to write good fiction. Kind of hard to imagine, because we don’t really start going backwards until our minds start to turn to muesli, and even then, usually that shows up in other ways. Very rarely does a capable writer suddenly revert to second-year college English student.

Guess #5: it got farmed out to ‘lancers. I am sure that’s what happened with Herbert and Anderson’s latest Dune monsterpiece and it wouldn’t surprise me if several other big names/franchises were also doing it. A lot of stuff gets hired out to freelancers. We work cheap, and a lot of us make real livings as tech writers, which makes our writing sound like vacuum cleaner manuals. It is not inconceivable that they just paid someone, or someones, several grand (no royalties, bucko) to write this. I suspect this because the writing is too amateurish to reconcile with what we know Auel is capable of. Well, maybe it ain’t her at all. I can just see it: “Look, you owe us another book. You don’t want to write it. Fine, so don’t write most of it. Write the parts you like, sketch a storyline, and we’ll hire some literary mercenaries for flat fees. We’ll sign them to NDAs that will allow us and you to confiscate their duodenums if they talk. Win/win/win. Oh, sure, the readers will be hosed, but they have no taste anyway.”

You don’t think the publishing industry would do that? If so, you do not know them. Some publishers would not, and those I respect. Some would, faster than you can say ‘slurp her nodule.’ Never underestimate what someone will do for a guaranteed income stream.

I can’t say with certainty what happened here. All that is mere speculation. What I can say is that 73 pages left me wanting less. Life is too short to finish this book, but it’s not too short to warn others away. The kindest, tactfulest, mercifulest thing I can say is that I don’t think Jean Auel really wrote this.

Gods, I hope not.

Dear every reader

It always surprises me when I read something by a writer angry with his or her readership. There’s been some buzz about Laurell K. Hamilton’s post ‘Dear Negative Reader,’ which she put up several years back. It has become a trope. Thus, I address this post not to negative readers (I know I have some, based on Amazon reviews), and not to positive readers, but to all readers, because I value and respect you all.

(Digression: how many times have you heard author types use the term ‘trope’ and you still can’t figure out what it means? You’ve looked it up three times and the definitions still don’t make sense? (Guess who else did that.) Because I believe in liking my reader, in no wise do I plan to fail you. A trope is a figure of speech, essentially, such as a common phrase that has become a metaphor in its own right–something not necessarily taken literally. The idea is that you are familiar with it, it means something to you.  For example, talking about women and society, when we refer to the Madonna/whore trope, the meaning is clear: it speaks of the mentality that admits of only two roles for a woman, the virgin–>virtuous matron or the promiscuous tramp. Most of you probably agree with me that this trope is a plague, but you understand it.  That’s why it’s a trope.)

Thus, when I heard of the trope, I looked up Hamilton’s post and asked myself what wasn’t right with it. She isn’t the first author to write an annoyed letter to her readership. The fact that she wrote it tells us she was annoyed, and she annoyed her public in turn. There’s some irony in the fact that many of Hamilton’s characters seem to dislike one another, but seem to need each other. The readers have a point: Hamilton has taken the Anita Blake vampire series to a strange place, and they lament this. Hamilton also has a reasonable point: “if you don’t like it, stop reading. My sales figures tell me someone does.” Of course, not all reasonable points ought to be made. Suppose you have a control freak boss. You catch him in a complete contradiction where he cannot admit error. His hubris will permit no reaction except to sit there in humiliated rage, while plotting to get you for it. I hope it makes you feel better that you got to wear the mantle of rightness and score a point, because he’s about to make you regret it. Maybe it would have been smarter to shut up. Tact is knowing when to shut up.

Tact is good for public figures.

I understand Hamilton finally reaching the point where she cut loose about it. I do not understand the way she did it. Everyone who says they no longer like the series, almost surely once did. I have never walked a literary mile in Hamilton’s heels; I have no way to know what it feels like to write books that are guaranteed sales, nor to read screenfuls of vituperation against those books. But I’m pretty sure that it’s much better to have a lot of happy readers and some haters than to lack a readership. If no one is slamming your book, it’s because no one cares. Slamming the book is buzz. Buzz helps put your book on the endcap. The endcap is the only place you make any money working with New York’s big houses.

All that said, there’s a basic problem with the mentality. I think that how writers feel about their readership truly affects the quality and value of how they write. I know it’s true of me here on the blog. If you’re annoyed at your readers (those would also be your customers and free advertisers, just to put this in perspective), then your writing may show it. Perhaps you won’t be able to notice; they may not spot it outright, but they will feel it. Ask any women about guys who gave them a creepy feeling; couldn’t place why, couldn’t say how, just something about the guys made them want to take a shower.

The remedy is for the writer to like his or her readership.

You can tend to disagree with your readers and still like them. I worked on a Bible book. We all know I’m not a Christian, and mostly we all know how strong are my feelings about some of the church/state separation issues in US society today. Did that mean I was writing for readers I didn’t like? Quite the contrary. The reader comes to such a book seeking to learn, to grow, to expand understanding. I respect those goals no matter what the subject is. He or she may come bearing a friendly challenge: “I already know a lot about this. What can you tell me that will be new and fresh?” I like that challenge. If I didn’t, I’d have had no business writing about it. Part of liking your reader is to presume the positive, which is fair; by taking time to read your material, the reader may be said to have done the writer that courtesy. The writer owes its return.

I didn’t presume that my readers would loathe me if they knew about my own religious beliefs. I presumed they, as literate people seeking to learn by reading, might find a far kinder interpretation (pick one of many). They and I might have been different, but what united us was a love of reading and a wish that writing be well researched and competently executed.

Were I to give aspiring writers any guidance, it would first be three words: like your reader.