Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Take a stand. You’ll feel so much better.  

 By Tim Smith

 I was a very shy quiet kid when I was growing up. I won’t get into the family dynamic that made me that way, except to say that I was the youngest and my father was what you’d now call a micro-manager. I used to get picked on a lot at school, and when I went away to college, the first class I took was Self-esteem 101.

It took me getting out on my own and being fully responsible before I learned to open my mouth and stand up for myself. Then I had to learn to do it with restraint when I realized that the wrong words can hurt as much as a hard right to the kisser.

By the time I became a professional writer years ago, I had become more at ease with speaking to crowds and handling criticism. Good thing, too, because I quickly discovered that in the world of romance writing, a guy who tried to make that scene wasn’t entirely welcome. The fact that I chose to write under my own name, instead of hiding behind something like, say, T.M. Smith, didn’t help.

The first time I attended a romance reader/author event, I was in for a shock. I knew that my presence wouldn’t be greeted with a bouquet of roses, but some of the reactions I got were downright hostile. Many of the attendees—readers and authors alike—treated me like a lecherous uncle who snuck into a slumber party. I quickly decided to change tactics and turned on all the charm I could muster.

One of the sponsors was a friend whose online site was handling the PR for my latest book. On the list of attending authors, I noticed the name of a woman whose book I had recently read and favorably reviewed. I told my friend that I wanted to meet her to tell her how much I liked her book, and she arranged it.

When my friend made the introduction, she noted that I was a writer of contemporary romance, too. The author looked at me like I was a homeless guy who had shown up at her front door at dinner time, then stumbled “But—but…you’re a man!”

I smiled and said “Thank you for noticing. I’ll try to do better next time.”  

My early streak of outspokenness eventually developed into a need to stand up for others, especially those who were at a disadvantage. This is probably why I spent most of my career as an advocate for the developmentally disabled. After I retired last year, I had time to think about why I had made it my life’s work. Perhaps it was my way of making up for all the times when I was a scared little kid who didn’t have the courage to stand up to those playground bullies.

It also produced one of the character traits that I really felt comfortable with, one that definitely goes against the grain in today’s culture. I decided that if I had made a mistake or done something wrong, the best recourse was total honesty and taking responsibility. I get in front of situations like that, especially when I realize that I’m wrong. Rather than make up a lame excuse or try to pin the blame on someone else, I freely admit when I make a bad decision. It may have cost me a promotion or a few friendships over the years, but man, did I start feeling better about myself!

 As a postscript, I’m still reaping the rewards of being assertive, but in a positive way. My post-retirement job is Managing Editor for a weekly arts and entertainment publication. To say that my boss, the owner/publisher, is difficult to work for is an understatement. Attila the Hun had better people skills. At least several times a week, he instigates a shouting match, and when he lobs a grenade at me, I toss one back at him. Lately, he’s been doing less of it.

 Maybe he’s finally figured out that he isn’t going to push me around. Or it’s because I’m several inches taller, twenty pounds heavier and a helluva meaner than he is. Whatever works.


  1. Men have to walk a fine line in public. On the one hand, you want to stand up for yourself, so you don't get mistreated or viewed as a wimp who can be taken advantage of. On the other hand, if you come on too strong, you risk a punch in the eye, or worse, since these days you never know who is "packing."

    I was terrified when all 3 of our boys were in high school. I used to worry that they would be taken advantage of. My daughter is just like me, so if she wasn't a girl, she'd probably get hit a lot. Now that they're all adults, and the oldest is even 30, I try not to worry so much. They've all developed a public personna, and it seems to work for them.

    And I've read your writing, Tim. You write good erotica with a male viewpoint. Nothing wrong with that. I'd welcome you to any convention I was at, if I could ever afford to go to one! I'd even sit by you. I think your sense of humor would blend with mine, and we'd have lots of fun.

  2. Thank you, Fiona. If I ever attend another rom-con, I'll be sure to let you know so you can come, too. And you're right about not being too assertive in public. So many nuts with guns these days, I don't even honk the horn when someone cuts me off in traffic.

  3. Your post reminds me that we are all the sum of our past experiences -- especially the ones in childhood -- but we can always turn even negative programming into positive growth.

    I was incredibly shy when I was a kid. My dad joked that "I was afraid to ask for a Tootsie Roll", and he was right. I had to push myself to be outgoing; it really didn't feel natural. Now, though, I tend to come across as incredibly outgoing and assertive. And sometimes, at least, it's almost easy.

  4. What allowed me to get over my shyness as a kid, was the realization that everyone around me felt as uncomfortable as I did, being in public. If I concentrated on making them feel more comfortable, like by starting a conversation, or even babbling about anything at all, it made the whole vibe of the group relax...kind of like being at a function where the band/DJ starts music, and until someone is brave enough to be the first one out there, no one else will dance. So making others feel comfortable became my ticket out of being shy. Others just naturally assumed I wasn't, but inside I was often terrified. Funny how appearances can be so deceiving.

  5. Cliqueyness at literary cons could be a whole other topic for us here at the Grip. I feel lucky that I've never been directly targeted, but I've heard stories. :( As you mentioned, Tim, all the "genres" (mysteries, romances, sci-fi, YA, children's lit, and especially "smut") used to be sneered at, and sometimes still are. And then you have to be the right kind of person to write in Genre X. I had a conversation recently with a female romance writer who had been told by various academics that she wasn't a "real" writer as long as she was stuck in that field. I like to think we're marvelously diverse here on this blog. :)

  6. Really interesting to get to know hints of your life and back story! And I'm glad you stand up for yourself as a man who writes romance. I think it's a screwed up thing about our culture that people want to raise an eyebrow at that at all. IMO lots of people, regardless of gender, are interested in romance and want it in their lives. Why is it weird for a man to write about it?


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