Life in the Writer’s Clubhouse

I have always had a fascination for what goes on behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter if it is actors on a TV show or movie, or baseball players chatting with one another at first base or in the clubhouse. It seemed to me that those were the moments when you saw the real people, the ones behind the superstars, the ones that were always slightly hidden from view.

I’ve wondered the same thing about writers, too. And I had a kind of revelation earlier this week. I was in New York for the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America reception. I had to be in the city early because I was also being interviewed for a feature on productivity that Forbes is doing. After that interview, I headed up to Port Authority to meet one of my writer-friends coming into town for the reception. We headed to a place nearby for lunch.

Sitting at that lunch, I realized that this was what goes on behind the scenes for writers. It’s probably also very similar to what goes on behind the scenes for actors, and baseball players. We sat in the restaurant, and we talked. We talked about baseball and football, but we also talked shop. In talking shop, I noticed something interesting. Before I was published, talking shop generally centered around things like telling each other all about the stories we were writing. In great detail. Or it centered around what is euphemistically known as “rejectomancy”: that is, trying to parse out meaning from form letter rejection slips. Occasionally, it went into wild day-dreams, like what it would be like to have a story in Analog!

But at that lunch, we didn’t talk about any of those things. We didn’t go into elaborate detail describing our latest stories to one another. Instead, we said things like, “I’m working on another baseball alternate history.” We didn’t really talk about rejections at all, in part because they are a much more infrequent thing than they used to be. And when they come these days, we just accept them as a story not working for a particular editor. And as we’ve both been published in Analog (and other places) numerous times, the discussion tended to go more toward how far behind we were in keeping up with the stories in the magazine1, or what things the editor has commissioned us to write for him.

I had dinner with the editor of Analog and the editorial assistant for the magazine that evening at the Union Square Cafe, and that was another example of being behind the scenes, instead of wondering what it was like to be there. It doesn’t seem much different than any other dinner–except every once-in-a-while, when I realize that I day-dreamed about such things when I was starting out 20 years ago. Probably half of the table discussion centered around writing, and the other half around food, or drinks, or other subjects entirely.

I sometimes get to hear stories that I might not hear if I wasn’t a writer. At the SFWA reception, I talked with a few people who told some pretty hilarious stories about the early years of the reception. On the other hand, Steven Silver and I swapped a subgenre of travel stories–namely, airport stories. I talked to Myke Cole about his day job. And my brother-in-law, who came to the event with me, discovered that his former neighbors were in attendance.

Probably the best part of events like this–and perhaps the best part of what happens behind the scenes–is the introductions. When I was starting out, a lot of people–Michael Burstein, Allen Steele, Bill Lawhorn, Bud Sparhawk to name just a few–went out of their way to introduce me to people. I try to do the same and an event like the SFWA reception is a good place to do it. I was particularly pleased to be able to introduce my Launch Pad pal, Jenn Brissett (whose debut novel, Elysium, comes out next month) to SFWA president Steven Gould.

I’ve been to enough of these kind of events and chatted with enough writers over the years (some of them heroes of mine since I was half my current age) to know that this is pretty much what it is like behind the scenes. I imagine it’s not much different in baseball, or the acting world. You hang out with other ball player, or actors, because that is the world you know. When you’re on first base, the first baseman might say something to you like, “A bunch of us are going to Gus’s Steakhouse after the game, if you want to come.” No different than when the moderator of a panel you were just on turns to you after the panel and said, “There’s a party going on tonight in room so-and-so for a book release. You should stop by.”

What was most revealing to me about this revelation was that I’d been in the middle of it for some time, I’d been behind the scenes, and it was only now that I started to recognize it.

  1. I think I am close to 2 years behind.