I recently came to a very unpleasant parting of the ways with someone I had considered a friend. The separation came not as a result of a disagreement over politics or anything normal like that. The cause was our individual and very different concepts of what friendship itself entailed, what it meant to be a friend and what one should be able to expect from a friend.
We're not talking BFF here, nor someone who friended me on Facebook, since I'm not on Facebook anyway. No, this was a face to face friendship, and the collapse of it has left me not only hurt but wary. Some have said I expected too much of the friendship, but others have said I didn't and that my friend was wrong to have betrayed the friendship the way she did.
But however you slice it, the end result is the same: a sense of irretrievable loss.
It's not like loss is anything new to me. I am, after all, 62 years old and widowed. My husband's death came after a short but devastating illness; my father passed away three years ago. I still mourn many faithful canine companions, to some of whom I dedicated one of my novels. And I don't mean to suggest that losing a friend or loved one to death is any easier to bear than just -- "just" -- the collapse of a friendship, because it's not. But death is inevitable and ultimately unavoidable. The destruction of a friendship is not.
The emotional distress comes at a particularly awkward time for me, as I'm trying to reassemble the scattered components of my authorly self-confidence. In a way, however, it reinforces an awareness of the isolation that a writer often needs.
I never had a lot of friends as a child, and I most certainly was not popular in high school. Guys always broke up with me, never the other way around, and I was invariably devastated. My husband's job prevented us from socializing very much, and I never developed close relationships with other women via my jobs or through neighborhood contacts. The one venue I had for establishing friendship was through my writing, especially through the auspices of RWA, which I joined in early 1984 just after signing my first contract.
Over the years, however, I learned that there was much more of a spirit of competition, and not always friendly competition, in RWA than any camaraderie. There could be respect sometimes and admiration sometimes, but I found that too often the women I found myself in company with either didn't want me for a friend --- or I didn't want them.
Several specific instances come to mind, but I won't bore anyone with the details, at least not tonight. One instance, however, is especially applicable to this post.
One of the RWA chapters to which I belonged in the early 90s was sponsoring an event for Valentine's Day. A number of the published authors were going to be interviewed by a reporter from one of the suburban Phoenix newspapers and then we were all going out to lunch together. I lived on the other side of Phoenix from where the lunch was going to be, so I took the entire day off work and drove across town. I was looking forward to an afternoon with women who at least spoke the same language I did -- romance writing.
As we were sitting at lunch after the interview, we began indulging in some friendly gossip, and someone mentioned one of the chapter members who happened not to be present. This extremely successful woman had, on a couple of occasions, treated me just horribly at chapter meetings, to the point that I rarely spoke up at all on any subject. And so, while we were enjoying our little gab-fest, I asked quite bluntly, "Okay, can someone tell me what I ever did to So-and-So to make her treat me so rudely?"
To my shock, everyone started to laugh.
Obviously I wasn't in on the joke, so I asked for an explanation.
And one of the other writers, someone far more successful than I, controlled her laughter long enough to say, "Oh, Linda, don't you know? So-and-So is like that because she's intimidated by you."
"Intimidated by me?" I was incredulous. I had at that time I think sold three books, all to minor publishers, while the woman in question had at least a dozen novels in print, including single-title contemporary romances with Harlequin that were gaining her significant acclaim. "What can there possibly be about me that would intimidate her?"
More laughter, until finally another woman said, "Linda, you intimidate just by walking in the room."
I am barely five feet tall. I am overweight. My fashion sense is non-existent, and even if I had one, I've never had the money to indulge it. In other words, there is nothing intimidating about me at all.
But I guess there is.
It's true that I'm outspoken, and it's true that I don't play games very well. If I think Harlequin is screwing over its authors, I will say so. I said it often enough when I was in RWA, when I was PAN's "rabble rouser" and when I was founding and leading PASIC.
I've said a lot of things that have made a lot of people very uncomfortable. Whether that's a cause of my not having friends or a result of never having very many, I don't know for sure. Maybe it's both.
A couple days ago a post on another website quoted something I'd written many many years ago, something I'd completely forgotten about. It got me in trouble the first time I wrote it, and it apparently has not endeared me to people now either. I was calling Harlequin to task for treating their authors unfairly. Yes, they were doing it back in 1995, just like they were doing it in 1985. Harlequin is all about merchandising, quick turnover and quick profit. What it's not about, and never has been about, is treating authors fairly.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. There are authors right now over at www.DearAuthor.com singing the praises of Harlequin and defending their publisher with admirable loyalty. After all, what else are they going to do? Harlequin is the only game in town for category contemporary romance. And they've been the only game in town since 1998 when Bantam's Loveswept ceased publication.
And so the authors lament that Harlequin is the only game in town, but the fact that they settle for minuscule royalties is what allows Harlequin to dominate the market so completely and keep competition out! Can you say catch-44 -- which is just like catch-22 only twice as bad? BOHICA.
One good thing about not having any friends is there's no one left to piss off. I can pretty much say what I like, and I still say Harlequin is bad for romance, bad for genre fiction, bad for fiction, and bad for publishing. And RWA is bad for not standing up to them in 1992, in 1995, or in 2011. Yes, I read on some blog or other that RWA is "looking into" the claims that Harlequin is screwing authors, but when has RWA ever bitten the hand that dangles the carrot to all those dues-paying desperate unpublished writers?
There, I said it.