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Howling at the moon

October 5, 2010
Posted at 10:30 am

I have no idea why I'm writing this blog entry.

No, it's not Alzheimer's. Though, come to think of it, I'm at the prime age for early onset.

I just have this unsettled feeling, and whenever that happens I generally talk a lot. I think it might have something to do with this anonymous mail thing, which has always been a burr under my saddle.

It's not that I don't think you should be able to say things anonymously. After all, all of my own writing is done under a pen name that makes me anonymous, for all intents and purposes. And it's not what they say that gets my goat. Lots of people write to me and criticize my writing. And I'm all about free speech, which includes criticism.

I'm an old soldier, so let me explain it in military terms. When you join the military, you know you're putting yourself in harm's way. It goes with the territory. You know you may face an enemy one day who will try to kill you. So you train for that, and you try to be smart enough, and good enough, and tough enough to beat the other guy at his game. And when the time comes, you step forward and do what has to be done.

Or, you're walking along on patrol one day, and a sniper tries to put a bullet into you from hiding. You can't shoot back, because you can't see him.

Of course the analogy breaks down right about there. That's because I'm not at war with my readers, and I don't want to kill them. Capture ... perhaps ... but not kill.

Just imagine, though, walking down the street, and somebody yells out from a window "You suck!"

What has just happened? Has there been communication? I don't think so. Has meaningful information been exchanged, in the spirit of making the world a better place? Not hardly. Is anything likely to get better? Unlikely. In short, has anything worth while taken place?

And that's the feeling I'm left with when I get anonymous mail that complains about something, and I can't have a dialogue with that person about it.

I'll give you an example. Take a look at the blog entry just previous to this one. Actually, don't. I'll reprint the salient part of it here so you don't have to jump around.

For the first time in a long time she felt everything was fine in her life, and that now that she had Bob with her, nothing else could go wrong.

She was, of course, mistaken.

The anonymous message pertained to chapter seven of Any Soldier. It complained about the cliffhanger, or tease that was the last line. Now, cover up that last line and imagine coming to the end of a chapter. Does it look like the story could be over?

I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten mail in the middle of a story, from people who thought the story was finished. Many of them are unhappy, because of unresolved issues. Well duh!

Yes, I know it says "TO BE CONTINUED" in huge letters below that, but the fact is that people miss that sometimes. And I am placed in the position of having to write back to nice people who didn't happen to scroll down far enough, and say things like "Actually, the story is not finished yet." Which is the politically correct way of saying "Are you fucking blind?!"

Sorry. I had a burst of emotion.

All right. So how does an author deal with a chapter that has a rather mundane ending like that?

Enter the tease.

It's really that simple. I added a line so that nobody in the world would think the story was over. In fact, that line wasn't even in the original manuscript. I only added it after the story was broken down into chapters and I saw the potential for people to be misdirected at the end of chapter seven. Not only that, but the line was added only the night before that chapter was posted. That's because I started the posting with chapters one through three (admittedly to give the readers enough to hook them, but not enough to satisfy them), and then continued with chapters four and five the next posting day, which meant six and seven were up for the third posting day.

That meant chapter seven was it for the week. It came out on a Friday. Fridays are when I traditionally end stories. The last chapters of this story were, in fact, posted on a Friday.

So thatis why that line ended up in this story.

But could I explain that to this anonymous person?

No. Because he is a sniper. And how do you deal with snipers? You call in artillery and destroy the entire building you think he might be in, because he won't come out and fight like a man.

Okay, the analogy just broke down again, but you get my meaning.

I like talking to my readers, even when they complain about something. Sometimes I defend myself, or explain something, and sometimes I don't. But I like being able to respond.

And I hardly ever respond with artillery. Honest!

I get it that some people feel that giving me an email address opens them up to "exposure" of some kind. But let's put this in perspective. I have a base of about three thousand readers, in a world of nine billion people. This is a tiny, tiny village in a big, big world. If I announced that I have a Lubrican Facebook account, I might end up with a couple of hundred "friends."

I'm a very small fish, folks. And I have killer spam and virus protection. I haven't had a single hacker or virus problem in over ten years. You're much more likely to suffer at the hands of your local politicians than from getting an email response from me.

And by the way, those emails aren't anonymous at all to the internet provider you use. Anybody in authority can get a warrant to trace back from my account to yours. Not that anybody would want to. And even if they did, what would they find? Someone saying "I didn't like this!" and someone else saying "Well, try harder!"

But I know some of you will continue to write anonymously. Just please remember this: An anonymous compliment is like Santa left something under the tree. Some anonymous criticisms can give an author usable information. Just don't be the kind of anonymous person who sets a bag of dog shit on fire, presses the bell and then runs.

Nobody respects that.

And old soldiers tend to call for artillery when that happens.

At least I think I figured out why I wrote this blog entry.

Sometimes you just have to howl at the moon.