There is a scene at the end of the movie The Bridge at Remagen where Major Kruger (played by Robert Vaughn) is being escorted to the firing squad. In the distance he hears planes and he looks up and asks "Ours or theirs?" His escort, who has already apologized for what is about to happen, responds, "The enemy's, sir!" Kruger continues looking skyward for a moment and then looks at the SS officer before saying, "But who is the enemy?"
That's a question we, as writers, need to ask ourselves on a number of different levels and in several different contexts on a regular basis. The most obvious reason to ask the question is to determine who the enemies are in what we write. We need to know who the protagonist and antagonist are, their motivations and what the resolution -- if any -- to their antagonism will be. That truly is the simplest application of the question and the easiest to resolve. (I'll admit right here that I'm going to expand on this next week but that, having spent the weekend at a local con, the topic has gotten sidetracked.)
But there are other applications of the question as well that we have to consider. We have to look at it with regard to the business aspect of our careers. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not telling you to go out and draw a line in the sand and make enemies in the publishing world. Far from it, in fact. What I am saying is that we have to recognize that no one has our best interests as much at heart as we do. Our agents -- for those of us lucky enough to have one -- will come second. Why? Because if they don't have the best interest of their authors at heart, they don't make money. At least not in the long run. But editors and publishers have to look more at what their bottom line will be. They might like you as a person, they might even love you as a writer, but if you aren't making money for them and making money quickly, the bean counters are going to say to cut you loose.
Then there is the enemy in the mirror. Yes, that person whose reflection you see every morning when you stumble into the bathroom. We can be our own worst enemy in so many ways. As I mentioned earlier, I've spent the weekend at a local con and, while this con has been pretty good and those in attendance far from the, er, more colorful I've seen, it did bring to mind how we do tend to shoot ourselves in the foot from time to time and usually at the worst possible time.
There is something about a con that makes normally sane people forget they are in public. Mouths run wild without a thought about who might overhear you. Authors critique and condemn editors with abandon...often when that editor or someone from his house is within earshot. Editors bitch about authors or agents. Authors backbite other authors. It can be like a scrum in the middle of a muddy rugby field. While entertaining and informative for those standing out the outside, it can be career suicide if you aren't careful.
I'm not even going to get into the authors who think they are sooooo much better than anyone else or the fans who stalk their favorite author just so they can tell the author this really great idea they have for the authors next book.
I guess what I'd like to do is present you with the premise that this is a cautionary tale, much as that last scene in The Bridge at Remagen is. We need to be aware at all times of where we are and who is around unless we want to commit professional suicide. That includes taking care with what we write in blogs, on facebook, twitter, etc. Not only should we think about how we comment on the business -- and this goes for me as much as anyone. I am often negative about how the major publishers approach e-books and e-book pricing and royalties, but I try to have facts and figures to back me up -- and on how much of ourselves we open up to the public at large. Remember, when you submit something to an agent or editor, one of the first things they do if they think they might be interested in your work is google you. Is there anything out there you wouldn't want them to see? And fans will do the same...so do you really want to put out your political views, pictures of your kids, etc?
I have certain lines I don't cross -- or at least lines I try not to cross -- when putting something on facebook or my blogs or twitter. What about you? Do you have lines you won't cross and why?