I’m writing you today from Toronto, where I am because a bunch of very nice Canadians decided it would be a groovy thing to pay for my plane ticket, put me up in a hotel, and fete me for a weekend as one of their guests of honor at the SFContario science fiction convention. Tonight, I’ll do a reading, and people who like my books will show up and listen to me preview an upcoming book and then blather on about my life. Over the next few days, while I’m at the convention, I’ll get to do even more of that. Usually when you go on and on about yourself for days, you’re labeled — not without reason — as an insufferable jackass blowhard. But not only am I encouraged to do this, indeed, this is part of why I’m here.
Having fans is awesome.
It’s also dangerous, of course, for the sort of attention-seeking monkey I and many other creative types are. Jamming this sort of appreciation into our brains is likely to encourage a positive feedback loop of personal entitlement and self-regard wildly out of proportion to our actual worth as human beings. And then we become assholes. That is in fact the precise, technical term. You can look it up. But that’s very definitely more about that person than it is about the people who appreciate his or her work. Fans don’t make people assholes, people become assholes when they misinterpret enthusiasm for them and their work to mean that the normal strictures of being a decent human being don’t apply to them anymore. All fans do is say “That thing? That you do? I like it.”
This is nice, and can lead to nice things. When people like the things you do, they very often support them, often by buying the things you create (or otherwise putting money into things involving you), and encouraging others to do the same. This can lead to bills being paid, a mortgage being topped off, groceries being put in the pantry, and children getting things like shoes and a college education. It can also lead to you being able to keep doing that thing that makes the fans happy, whether it be books or music or TV shows or whatever it is they like. And since you were probably originally doing that thing because it made you happy to do it, this is typically not a bad thing at all. If in life people want to pay you to do the thing you always wanted to do, and want you to keep doing it, you should probably be appreciative of that.
But wait, I hear you say, you’re the same person who’s thumped on fans for being out of line with writers. Doesn’t this make you a hypocrite, or at least not able to keep track of you’ve said before? I don’t think so. Like authors, fans are people too, and just as the objects of fans’ affections can get sucked up into their own sphincters regarding their importance to the world, so may some fans occasionally transmute their enthusiasm into “I made you; you owe me.” Some people, creators and consumers alike, struggle with being jerks. It doesn’t mean that as a class, fans are not important to a creative person’s career, or that they shouldn’t be thankful for them.
Personally speaking I think I’ve been very lucky. My fans don’t typically seem to be the problematic sort. In meeting them, here and out in the real world, they usually seem like what they are: People who like my work and appreciate what I do and hope I keep doing it. I make an active attempt to return the favor by not letting my own personal ego monster out of the box too often. I’m genuinely happy and honored that people like my work and that in one way or another it has meant something to them, and I don’t want them to think that I take that lightly. It helps that I’m a fan too — I have my own list of writers, musicians, actors and other creative folk whose work has made my life better. I’ve even gotten to meet some of them and say “thanks.” It made me happy to see that they were happy I liked what they did. I want to be able to express that too, to the people who like what I do.
(It also helps a lot that in science fiction and fantasy, the fan-creator line is highly permeable and always has been. So many fans have become friends, and some of my fans have become pros who I in turn have become fans of, and some of the pros who I have admired for years have become friends and even fans as well (at least, that’s what they tell me). This community has been one of the great joys for me in becoming a science fiction writer; I hope writers in other genres get the same sort of dynamic, and if they don’t, well, that’s a shame.)
I’m fortunate to get fan letters from time to time, so consider this me returning the appreciation. Dear fans: Most sincerely, I thank you and am thankful for you. Thank you for reading, and thank you for letting me and my work be a part of your life. I hope I get to keep doing it. It’s my plan, in any event.
(P.S.: Did I mention I’m in Toronto for the SFContario science fiction convention? It starts tomorrow! You should totally come out.)