Those of you who have somehow managed to find me know I’m really not very active online. I’m an outsider because it’s a place where I feel the most comfortable. But in light of recent events in, but not limited to, the M/M romance genre, I hope something I say here (and I have a lot to say) might be helpful for somebody, anyway. 🙂
As authors, we get our inspiration from the strangest places: a picture, an out-of-context snippet of a stranger’s conversation, the way the clouds form with a sunrise… We even put pieces of ourselves into our stories; it’s difficult not to when writing is such an intimate act.
We want readers to know us through our books and the characters who populate our worlds. But when an author gets close to someone and steals their very personal story for their own benefit, it goes beyond inspiration and into something a lot more sinister.
There’s that old adage: write what you know. Unfortunately—and it’s come up a few times in different genres more than once—there are some authors that will write “who they know”.
Have you ever read something so resonating that you wonder if you wrote it? Or if the person who did is someone you know? Sometimes it’s coincidence. It’s a sign that you have found somebody who’s a lot like you and friendships are made. But when you read about specific events in a book written by an author you’ve come to know as a friend, and recognize situations word-for-word that resemble details of intimate discussions, that’s more than coincidence, and it should be a crime.
Imagine now that your most vulnerable moments are being made available to millions of people; it’s being discussed in reading groups, being praised or ravaged in reviews…maybe even by people you know. It feels like a violation, because it is, and speaking up—owning it—is not an option. Someone you trusted has taken the deepest, darkest parts of you and made a profit. Someone you thought of as a friend has betrayed you in ways that your worst enemy couldn’t dream up, and now they’re done with you and moving onto the next bestseller about someone else’s life.
I’ve seen authors ask in forums if it’s okay to use real-life situations from people they know in their fiction. I’ve had people ask me if I write about anyone I know, and I’ve jokingly responded with things like: “Yeah, you remember that no-name dude who got killed in the opening scene? That was totally you.” I even have an author friend who (sheepishly) admitted I was the inspiration for one of his brash, hard-ass female characters. But there is a distinction: he is not taking pieces of my life and publishing them in a book.
Inspiration and infiltration are completely different animals.
Is it okay to base a character on someone you know? Sure, as long as it’s something arbitrary like little personality traits, an attitude, maybe quirky habits that can’t be traced back to an individual—and it’s also a good idea to ask the person if it’s okay when they are someone in your world. People who read my friend’s stuff and know me ask if I was the model for this particular character of his. In that case, it’s kind of cool. The character isn’t so much like me that it’s me, but people can see the rough outlines.
That is completely different from taking the life of a person you know, changing the name, rearranging a few random details, and publicly sharing the stories they shared with you in private. An author with such a limited imagination and empty life is not an artist. They aren’t crafting, they’re tracing someone else’s hard work on a light table. They’re using someone else’s photograph, applying a filter, and selling it as their own. It’s wrong and it’s hurtful, and the worst thing is the guilty party will never feel guilty.
Being an author has given me a lot thicker skin than I would’ve ever thought possible. Still, I’m a master at slipping into my shell and hiding from the world. I do so because I’m an introvert by nature, not because someone has forced me through fear. I use a pen name, by the way, not to hide, but because any of the last names I’ve had are hard to spell, easy to forget, and ridiculous to pronounce.
But this isn’t about me.
It takes a lot of courage to create that deep of a bond with another human being. Finding out that someone you trusted is a manipulator is really hard to process. The same goes for people who have been victimized by crime, especially in an environment where they once felt safe. Often, people who have been hurt by someone they thought was a friend will stop trusting anyone enough to ever open themselves up again. It’s important not to shut down and lock yourself away from ever feeling close to anyone again… it’s also a lot more difficult.
So, for what it’s worth, if you have been a victim of a manipulator of any kind, here are some thoughts that I hope will be helpful, if even in a small way:
- Don’t diminish what happened to you. Accept that it was and is a crime and that you did nothing wrong. You were a victim of circumstance—in the wrong place at the wrong time with a predator lurking in the shadows.
- You have scars now, remember how they got there, but don’t view them as defeat. They’re battle-scars that prove you’re a survivor.
- Find true allies, find a professional, find a place you feel safe with people who make you feel that way.
- Don’t let anyone tell you to “get over it”. This is grief; you have lost a piece of yourself, you have lost your ability to trust, and you have lost someone you valued as a friend.
- Learn how to trust again, but DO IT SLOWLY.
I am saying this as a person who is far too wise (old) and experienced with unstable sociopaths and narcissists (far, far too experienced). I used to think I had a flashing “sucker” sign on my head that drew them to me. Sometimes, I still feel that they can see me; what’s important is now I can see them too. But again, this isn’t about me.
While I’ve seen several people reaching out for support via the friendships they have made through social media, for what it’s worth, I also want to offer some things to think about, especially when re-connecting with those who were part of the group that hurt you:
- One person had the power to turn someone you thought was a friend against you—to the point where that friend joined the fray and kicked you when you were down. If it’s that easy to change a friend’s opinion of you, then you might want to reconsider letting this person back in.
- If you want to forgive, mend those bridges carefully and reinforce them with barriers.
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. If it’s happened once with this person, it can happen again.
- People who hurt you need to do a lot more than offer empty apologies. If they are true friends, they will be patient and remorseful. They will be willing to let you be angry for as long as you need to be. They will be silent and listen to you when you tell them about how much they hurt you, and when they apologize, they will say they are sorry without any “buts”.
- It’s okay not to forgive, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Knowing when and where to draw the line means you’re taking care of you.
For anyone who has unwittingly rallied around an abuser that cried victim (and encouraged you to fight their battles):
- Take a step back and examine your motives.
- Were you protecting a friend whom you knew so well that you trusted they would do the same for you?
- Was it the fear of becoming a victim yourself that made you an attacker?
- Why would a friend demand such allegiance?
- Why would a friend demand anything at all?
- You also need to learn how to recognize manipulators and mob-mentality. I know, easier said than done, but once you spot the behavior, it’s easier to see unless you choose to ignore it.
- If you know what it’s like to be a victim–remember that feeling.
- Siding with a manipulator doesn’t protect you from becoming their victim.
- If you’re unsure which side to take, take a step back and try to examine the evidence on all sides.
- If you can’t discern the facts from the lies, don’t pick a side. There is a difference between cowardice and being a “conscientious objector”.
For me, at least, it’s much easier to trust someone who asks forgiveness for not being able to get involved because they were uncertain, than it is to forgive someone who fought against me for someone else’s cause.
For everybody, and in general:
- Question negativity directed at other people when it asks you to form an opinion of someone without really knowing them, or worse yet–when it is directed at someone you know.
- Look for clues, don’t dismiss anything that even raises an eyebrow.
- If you feel something isn’t right, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re imagining things or that you have a faulty perception. We’ve retained our lizard-brains and have memories for a very good reason: because human beings have no natural predators except other human beings.
- Trust your instincts over intellect and emotion, and offer your vulnerability to those who have, over time, proven themselves worthy of that gift. To do any less, does you a disservice and puts you at greater risk.
Just my thoughts, and now I’ll go crawl back under my rock and try to make some (fictional) words happen. 🙂