It’s the lying, but that’s only the beginning of the problem
We’ve all had a couple months to consider the false reviews posted by thriller author RJ Ellory and Pan MacMillan leader Jeremy Trevathan (among others). Sometimes with time, perspective changes. Sometimes it doesn’t.
For a friend of mine, it’s the lying that’s upsetting. That’s understandable. In a world where sports records are routinely tarnished by performance-enhancing drugs, in which well-known, published journalists are found to fabricate work, and when you can’t watch the news without wondering who to believe–in that world, honesty is important.
For me, it’s not the lying. It’s the damage to our craft.
The real cost of the lie is that it reduces the community’s ability to fortify. Anything that reduces writers helping writers runs against that FWA stands for, and weakens our craft.
Becoming a good writer is hard work. Getting published is harder. Making something of your published work is even harder. Not a single successful writer has done it alone.Some of the most generous, understanding people I’ve met professionally are writers. I am fortunate that several have allowed me to go to school on their experience and their mistakes. You probably have, too.
When one of us succeeds, to some degree, the overall community succeeds. No one makes it alone.
The sins of Ellory, Trevathan, and others, aren’t as much the lying as the tarnishing of the overall community. Ellory’s damage was direct–trashing the work of people he considered as competitors. But all the damage counts.
When Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, and others were proven to have taken steroids, it’s not just their accomplishments that were tarnished. Just Google Jeff Bagwell and steroids or Mike Piazza and steroids. Although neither of them has ever tested positive and no one has come forward to directly accuse them of taking steroids, their accomplishments come with whispers. Bagwell should be in the Hall of Fame now, and probably would be, if not for the whispers. I’d almost bet my house Piazza won’t make it next year.
Similarly, if someone comes out of the woodwork with sudden publishing success, they may pay for the sins of John Locke. And if someone gets a review that seems lofty and exceptionally well-written, the whispers may follow.
Any community needs to keep its members accountable. Accountability means different things in different circumstances. For Ellory, Trevathan, and others, the community is far less open than previously. Accountability will make them pay for their transgressions.
But accountability is also a tool. If you’re tempted to cheat, and if you have a strong community around you, you can get the support you need to walk away from the wrong thing.
But accountability also works in whispers and might-be truths. It will for some writer someplace, just as it has for Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.
The community is harmed by the dishonesty. The real cost of the lie is that it reduces the community’s ability to fortify its members, especially the falsely accused. Anything that reduces writers helping writers runs against that FWA stands for, and weakens our craft.
As someone once said to John Locke–another John Locke–we can either live together, or die alone. That’s a little melodramatic for this particular problem, but the general template applies.