Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thank You, Maggie xxx

By Ashley Lister

The first time I realised that my fiction might not be to everyone’s taste was back when I was working for a living. Please don’t misunderstand me. I consider writing to be work – hard work too – but I’m talking here about sitting in a grey office, tapping dully at a computer, and endeavouring to process invoices, sales reports and other mind-numbing minutiae.

I’d received cover proofs for one of my novels. I can’t remember which novel it was now but I do remember that the cover proofs had found there way into my briefcase and I’d shown them to my line-manager, Maggie.

“This will be the cover of my next book,” I explained, with justifiable pride.

“Oh yes. You write that sort of book, don’t you?”

The way she sneered this accusation made it sound as though I go around shitting in people’s mouths. I got defensive.

“That sort of book? I write erotic fiction, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s what I meant.”

“Have you ever read any?”

“It’s all disgusting. I don’t need to read any of it.”

“No,” I agreed. “Of course you don’t need to read any of it. We wouldn’t want to run the risk of cracking open that narrow little mind of yours, would we?”

(I should caution here: comments like that do not help with successful performance reviews or requests for pay rises).

The conversation annoyed me. I’ve always been proud of my writing and for someone to dismiss my work without reading it is a little like dismissing a symphony they’ve never heard or a meal they’ve never tasted. It’s the impossible imposition of an arbitrary opinion based solely on an unfounded subjective response. Or, as I said at the time, it’s bullshit.

But it was a conversation that opened doors for me.

I already knew there was something amiss with Maggie. The woman had halitosis so bad I looked forward to her farts. She had fixed and rather limited views on people of different ethnicities, women and credit controllers. And she didn’t keep her small-minded opinions to herself, even if they weren’t original or based on logical thought.

But, if not for that conversation, I would possibly have continued my existence dully processing invoices by day, and continuing to write my fiction at night. Because of that conversation, I vowed to work harder at my writing so I wouldn’t have to continue working alongside a narrow-minded brain-dead bigot.

Naturally, it didn’t happen overnight. I spent five more years working in that office with my teeth slowly deteriorating. This dental problem came about because I was constantly having to fix my face into a forced grin, whilst grinding my molars together to force some release for the pent up frustration.

But it meant I had a goal to be working towards.

Has writing erotic fiction opened doors for me? A couple. Are there any other doors to open? Quite possibly, but I’m not so political as to try and change people’s minds, especially when those people refuse to have their minds changed. Trying to change the mind of a determined god-botherer or a simple hater is like trying to change the colours of the flowers: it’s never going to happen and, if it could, there would be no point. If closed-minded bigots want to dismiss my work as “that sort of writing” I’m not going to change their opinions without either a shotgun or a bloody big hammer.

We live in a comparatively free society where I’m allowed to write my fiction in a way that suits me, and blinkered idiots are allowed to have opinions that their tiny little minds can’t support or comprehend. Compared to societies where people aren’t allowed to do either of those things, I think it’s a damned good place to be. Which is why I’ve called my post this week, Thank you Maggie. If not for the painful reminder given to me by that foul-breathed old bigoted battleaxe, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And, now I think about it, I might just dedicate my next novel to her.

13 comments:

  1. I'll chime in, too: Thank you, Maggie!

    I wonder if, deep down, she had an unacknowledged envy of you.

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  2. OMG Ash, you had me snorting a couple times, here. Your vivid descriptions are wonderful. Great post and thanks, Maggie, for helping give us the Ash we know today!

    ~ Jenna

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  3. Jeremy,

    I always used to describe her as a gallon of nastiness in a half pint pot. I think she might have been jealous of lots of things but I'd never previously thought she might be jealous of little ol' me. However, it would explain a lot.

    Maybe I should look her up and tell her about the couple of dozen novels I've had published since we last spoke :-)

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  4. Jenna,

    I'm glad I had you snorting. I'll send your love to Maggie the next time I see her, although I doubt she'll give a civil response.

    Thanks for reading & responding.

    Ash

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  5. Ashley, so at least bigots have some positive uses, thank you for that.
    Paul.

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  6. Ash, if you do dedicate the book to her, send her a copy. I'd pay to see her face for sure. LOL

    I really enjoyed your post and I'm very glad this Maggie woman opened the door for you to get off your skinny butt and move on. Not sure your students would agree, but I hope so.

    Thanks for the chuckle!

    Hugs

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  7. Paul,

    If I'm being honest, Maggie didn't just inspire me to get out of the office. Every time I was writing a nasty, dark and twisted villain, I'd think to myself, "What would Maggie do...?"

    Thanks for reading & responding,

    Ash

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  8. Jude,

    I know I owe Maggie a debt of gratitude and I think it would only be fitting to dedicate a book to her because of that. I'll keep you updated if it ever happens.

    Thanks for reading and responding,

    Ash

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  9. Hi Ashley.

    I love this post. Better yet, dedicate your next villian to Maggie. I've never checked it out but I heard that when Michaelangelo was painting the sistine chapel, there was a certain priest who kep harassing him and preassuring him to hurry up. When it came time to paint the devil, the devil up there on the ceiling has that priests face.

    I'm amazed that you had the guts to show your book bravely to such a person. Hell, I'm amazed that you had galley proofs. I can;t imagine what that's like.

    Garce

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  10. Garce,

    Galley proofs are a mixed blessing. One part of you is thinking "OMG! I get galley proofs! I must be a real writer!" and another part of you is thinking, "OMG! I've got 80,000 words to plough through, one at a time, doing a final (and irreversible) painstaking check for typos, continuity and flow etc."

    Thanks for reading & responding,

    Ash

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  11. Hi, Ash,

    Chiming in late - got home last night and I'm still very jet-lagged, with my ears still stuffed from the pressure difference on the plane... Anyway, thanks for a great post. You've demonstrated how even negative people and experiences can be motivators.

    I love the idea of dedicating a book to her. She might never crack it open to know, of course. But then again, she might be one of the many hypocrites who publicly condemn anything to do with sex while privately acting out perversions that would make even us Grippers cringe... (or maybe those don't exist...!)

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  12. Hi Lisabet,

    I don't think she would willingly crack open the book. However, Post-It notes are ideal for drawing attention from even the most reluctant reader.

    I'm now going to try and get my head around the idea of a perversion that makes us Grippers cringe :-)

    Thanks for reading & responding,

    Ash

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  13. What's the Biggest Secret about erotic fiction?

    It's not fiction at all!

    Secretia

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