I thought when I grew up I might become a thought leader.
You know, put on some eu-de-thought and take folk’s eagerly following thought on leads in a bunch for nice little drag around the park, before returning them to the owners’ heads, all relieved, exercised, happy, tired and ready for din-dins.
The only flaw in my plan seems to be getting the leashes to stay on. People’s thoughts seem to go where they will, despite my best efforts to drag them off to poop on the grass outside Councilor Onswud’s office.
This particular bit of inane insanity was brought to you courtesy of a young writer, who I asked why they were doing this? (Having in a fit of gullibility agreed to read some of their magnum opus.)
They told me they wanted to be ‘A thought leader’.
I smiled, wished them the best of luck, waved and walked the other way as quickly as I possibly could, heaved a deep sigh of relief and wiped my furry brow once I was safe around the corner.
It was of course a question asked because the ‘story’ in question was… a rather tedious recital of all the obligatory politically correct points, parroted by suitably politically correct characters chosen from the checklist and absolutely nothing else to commend them. There is of course an audience who want thoughts ‘lead’ (It’s a heavy toxic metal) in this fashion. And absolutely, the author should publish, and should be free to. I encouraged the author to do just that. They will probably nominate it for Hugo.
But for me it’s like cabbage.
It needs to quite well disguised before I eat it, and preferably in small quantities. It is, for me, anyway, unlikely to be the hero of the dish.
Which brings me around to yet another one of my silly stories. It’s what I do best, and I like to keep in practice. (Yes, one of my other games is obscure references to sf. It pleases me, delights a few readers and isn’t noticed by most.)
Once upon a time, not that long ago or far away, lived a few cooks who believed to the innermost core in the benefits of cabbage (there are indeed, some benefits. Many of which do not include being downwind.) In their busy little seaside town, where folk came to take a holiday, there were many eateries of various types. Indeed the food was very much a part of why people came.
The cooks inserted themselves into some of the eateries, and of course into the local town council, and cooked… and counciled (which is often rather like the aftermath of serving cooking but without any of the intermediate phases. Go straight to toilet paper, do no digesting or enjoyment.)
Now of course, their dishes all had an element of cabbage. Not everyone liked the cabbage, and some steered away from those dishes. But nothing loath, our brave cabbagers soldiered on, some moving into running restaurants, and needless to say, hiring more cabbage cooks. Of course some people just love cabbage. And a skilled cook can use a small amount of it in any number of ways, inoffensive to almost all, but the most sensitive super-tasters.
The town council made things… gradually more difficult for those restaurants did not have cabbage-obsessed cooks. It gradually got to the stage that if you wanted a job, cooking, you needed to profess a love of cabbage, and of course add it into any dish you prepared. This worked well in some dishes like Caldo verde – green soup, but alas, cabbage melba was not a success.
And as time went on, the town council, now entirely run by cabbagers refused entry and put out of business non-cabbage eateries. And gradually the restaurants stopped bothering with small amounts or disguise. Cabbage soup, without other ingredients, Stuffed cabbage was stuffed with cabbage, and any criticism of the cabbage flan or cabbage with cabbage ice-cream became punishable with a fine.
Needless to say, eating out in the town became something only hardened cabbage lovers enjoyed.
Other visitors didn’t. They didn’t even like being in the same town. They took their holidays in a neighboring seaside town, which flourished, just as the re-named town of Cabbage-On-Sea, wilted.
It was a pretty place and some well-disposed visitors suggested that a return to a menu at restaurants that wasn’t just cabbage (boiled, fried, steamed, pickled and raw) might bring the tourists back, and make the place smell less.
They were driven forth with hard words and harder sticks and stones.
Instead the cabbagers settled on trying to destroy the neighboring town, and, if that failed, repeat their takeover of Cabbage-On-Sea.
Because they believe cabbage is good for everyone, especially them.
And they never seem to learn about all things being good in moderation, and not in dessert.
If the story sounds familiar, it’s because it keeps happening. Books, news, countries, awards – always the same story. Only rather than cabbage, it is thoughts (you remember –those things which are led. Or lead (if they are heavy enough).
Writers are not thought leaders. They’re not even good thought-sheepdogs.
Yes, yes, occasional books do and will have a huge impact on the world. But really most people don’t pay to have their thoughts led, any more than pay to eat un-requited cabbage. Yes, of course there are a handful of people who will say that any book led them to think about xyz in such a way, and love the author for this (And as often as not, that wasn’t what the author meant). But mostly books are like the seaside town. We go there for a good time, to be comforted or relieved of stress or boredom of our lives. Occasionally we may come across a new idea (at least new to us) that says ‘shiny’ and we embrace it. But seriously, if your reason for writing is to lead my thoughts to a ‘better’ place… Work out what you’re saying about me, and why I don’t like it.
Who the hell are you to think I can, or should be, led?
Why should I follow you or your philosophy, you vain little pimple on the backside of irrelevance?
The willingness of the reader to be led, to admit they want to be led has to be major factor in whether people buy your book. Of course there are people who fit into the lost and needing leading. Or into reassuring ‘we are going the right way’ bracket. But for the rest of us… you need to disguise that cabbage.
And stop repeating the same mistake.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, with somewhat less cabbage, and almost no rat CHANGELING’S ISLAND is available for pre-order (which pushes my sales ranking up). The picture is a link that makes me few more pence. Yes. It is ‘YA’. The day I write something for a younger audience that I think isn’t worth reading with older eyes, is the day I quit. (So you can spend $6.74 and tell me it’s time)