27 January 2013

Authors Wanted: Must Like People

by Carrie Bailey

Librarians and certain bookstore workers frighten me. Try suspend belief here just briefly as I explain. I've worked as a librarian and in a bookstore, I have a Masters in library science and I love books. Naturally, I shouldn't be afraid of librarians or booksellers, but I am, because the precise people who are attracted to books are often the people who just don't like other people. They're the type of individuals who will dip your toothbrush in the toilet when you're not looking. They'll stick gum on your seat when you go to get your third cup of coffee.

A Mobile Curmudgeon Wagon Where I Once Worked
You're flesh and blood and that irks them on the deepest level. Okay, I exaggerate. I've met some friendly and dedicated librarians, but I've also dealt with individuals who purposefully place barcodes across the faces of the characters on your favorite books, because they don't just hate you, they also hate your books. They only love their books.

Behind that nasty glare, these, the bad librarians are often thinking to themselves, "Books understand me." I can relate to this feeling. I've read a book and though it was like entering the walk in closet of another person's mind, it was also like being welcomed home into that tiny closet and served tea. I was wanted. As a reader, I felt important or somehow privileged to be part of reading experience.

This sort of reading experience is only possible, because at some point in time, there was an author who wrote those books and that person liked people. That author had a general, fundamental, inherent and inalienable love of humanity and individual human beings regardless of how bitter or how smelly they could become. A book is not a pile of loosely bound paper understanding that understands us better than our coworkers or family. It is the blood, sweat, laughter and the love of a great writer.

I don't want to go personally library to library to find the world's curmudgeons and force a hug on each of them (well, I do, but the time involved...). Instead, I can watch Black Books and be enjoy the cantankerous bookstore owner and love him without wanting to change him just as the writers who created the character did. They didn't want Bernard Black to stop hating people or drinking or smoking or frightening the public with his personal hygiene. Why should they?
We love to read authors who love people. We love to read those most who can find something about everyone agreeable and accept imperfections, maybe even ours.
As authors, I think it helps to remember this. It doesn't mean we have to write sappy, drippy, runny love notes instead of books. Rather, we can consider the difference between the last book we read that felt as though the author was indifferent, condescending or even patronizing of our perfectly functional brains,  and the one we enjoyed. Oddly, some horror authors are the most cuddly individuals you could want to meet. Naturally, we want to read their gore, because there is something in it, something special. Whatever it is, put it in your writing and send that special feeling of being understood to all the librarians and bookstore owners the world over, because that's what a great writer does.

Carrie Bailey is the author of The 3 Indispensable Rules for Taking Charge: A Reptilian Guide to Personal Finance and World Domination and blogs on Tumblr. She recently moved from New Zealand to North Carolina and is currently moonlighting in a giant gummy bear factory while working on an Oz book about the glass cat, Bungle.


  1. It's vastly different set of skills, selling your work to writing it. I think being a good listener helps. But you do have to get out there and speak to people. Interesting post.

    1. Thanks Paul. I had just read one about entrepreneurship where the author was all me, me, me and look how important I am. It was a dull read and even put me in a fool mood. I prefer books that do the opposite.

  2. OH, THE BOOKMOBILE! One of my earliest memories was walking into the cramped and poorly lit truck that carried shelves of children's books through my neighborhood. I loved the Bookmobile! Thank you so much for bringing back some amazing memories, Carrie!

    Ahem, now to your actual post. The best writers are probably qualified to be psychologists too, and that's because psychologists have to be able to examine the most twisted, dysfunctional personalities and justify their existence one way or another. In essence, psychology is all about finding ways to like people, no matter what. In a weird way, both writers and psychologists have to embrace strange and/or borderline evil people so that we can untangle their stories for our respective crafts. Great post!

  3. It's funny you should mention it, but I think psychologists are borderline evil and are usually so burnt out by people's drama that they go 100% amoral. Actually, I should write a short story about that...

    But, I love the bookmobile, too. It is amazing how many people will tell you that it saved their life or was the joy of their childhood.

    Yet, on another note, does anyone every say, I had to see a psychologist when I was a child and I loved it? Nope.

    I should mention though, while I am anti-psychologist, I like them as individuals and by disliking psychologists as the people who identify others as having issues, I have determined that without them everyone is more or less okay. This means I get to like everyone if and only if I maintain my dislike for the psychologists.

  4. I like people half the time. I like privacy the other half the time and then I like. ... wait, that's three halves. I find that if I don't watch people, if I don't get in them, if I don't attempt a little armchair psychology, to Rob's point, then I'm not putting my $5k or so that I threw at therapy to good use. Would that I could write that off one day as a business / education expense. I digress (shocker, I know): if we don't get out of our towers and into the world, then we don't know about people, do we? We mightn't have to loooove people, but we have to accept them. When we write about them, we can make them our own and that's the fun. Problem for me though is my underlying misanthropy: I like to turn people I don't like into characters and inflict all sorts of humiliation on to them. So yeah, I guess: be nice to writers.

    I liked this post. More to think about, thanks, Carrie! :)

    1. The great part of what we do as opposed to psychologists is that we don't have to be right. A psychologist runs the risk of making the wrong diagnosis or leading the therapy down the wrong path. The writer gets to decide what the character's ultimate story is, so there's no wrong answer as long as there's an answer.

    2. I will maintain that psychology is an art form and they are never right or wrong any more than our writing is right or wrong (all I've spoken with tell me I'm totally sane! Can't be right, can it?)

      So, therefore, I will also claim that we, as writers, are just as right as psychologist, although less constrained in our observations and mode of expression of these observations.

    3. Very true, although I guess it depends on what your definition of "right" is. I probably should have put that in quotes since I'm a big believer in "Perception is Reality." After all, I am a writer.

      In psychology, as in writing, sometimes the size of your paycheck determines just how "right" you were, eh?

    4. I sort of go with reality and perception don't mix and that liberates my perception from even bothering with reality as it were...

      Alrighty. I'm going to write myself out a big fat pay check... that counts right?