Monday, September 12, 2016

Cutting the Cord-(When and how to end professional relationships.)

The first word that comes to mind in this sentence is RELATIONSHIPS. It's a very important word.

We are, all of us, basically nothing without them. You have friends? Relationship. Lovers? Relationship. Editors? Relationship. Readers? Often times a relationship.

Sometimes, however little we might like the idea, relationships change or end. The problem is, as I suspect most of you already know, sometimes those long-term connections tend to go out in a blaze of glory.

A while back I had a friend of mine whom I had not seen much come up to me and at a convention and casually ask if I might be available to do lunch sometime. we got together a little over a week later and we chatted but there was a tension between us. Finally my friend looked at me and said, "Honestly, Jim, I thought I'd done something to offend you."

He had not. But I was dealing with my writing career, my full-time job and at that time, my wife who was dying by inches and needed my support. Here's the thing: I did not tell anyone that my wife was ill. It was not their business. She did not want it advertised and I therefore did not push it. People who saw us together could tell there wee issues. (the wheelchair was a dead giveaway.) I'm not saying any of  this to be contrary. I'm pointing out that he did not KNOW what i was going through anymore than I knew what he was going through. We parted ways out of a lack of communication. We were never business partners or professionally connected though we both work in the same industry.

We fell to the wayside and eventually we repaired our differences. The fact that we fell away was an unfortunate side effect of life.

Another example from more recently. I saw a gentleman I have seen exactly once in the last 5 years last week at Dragon-Con. He made a point to hunt me down. I'm not hard to find when I'm at a convention like DC, but as I had a dozen panels and lots of people to catch up with (We're writers. we're ridiculously solitary a lot of the time. Conventions make up for it. In my case, so does working at Starbucks. You think I jest, but without that job I'd likely be a hermit. )

This particular gentleman was a good friend for years. We met up for movies, we talked books, we did a lot of things as part of the same group. Over time I got busy (you'll note a patten here. It happens a lot, which saddens me but is inevitable when I have deadlines) and he stopped hanging around with our group as much. From time to time I would basically look up from my writing, notice he was no longer around, and feel a little bad about that, but life moves on when you aren't paying attention and for all of the reasons already mentioned, I was not often paying attention.

He asked for ten minutes of my time at Dragon-Con. Seriously, ten minutes is nothing, but that particular day? I had 6 panels and a few meetings set up (remember that professional part? We're getting there).

Long story short, he first apologized for not knowing, when we'd seen each other the previous time, that my wife had passed. Again, I seldom make mention of that fact. You want details? Here they are. When Bonnie passed I told a handful of people. I did not post on social media. I took a week to recover and did my best to move on. It's just the way I'm programmed. So I was not at all surprised that he had not heard. he was horrified. He apologized profusely and I explained that it was;t necessary.

And I was glad to look into the face of a man I'd missed for a long time without realizing that I missed him.

He also told me that a mutual friend of ours (whom I have long since stopped speaking with because he is borderline toxic) told him that I no longer wanted to see him, because he and my wife were not famous friends. It happens. My friend and my then wife tolerated each other. They were never going to be close. Until that conversation--which I know nothing of--occurred, we had continued in the same circles. After a jackass who shared an opinion that had no foundation in truth had made that comment, we had been friends and then, pow. Separation. It was silent and it was complete and from time to time I looked up at the world around me and was sad that my friend was no longer there.

That's two examples of relationships falling apart. Neither of them were intentional. They have, thankfully, been mended.

The first one was miscommunication and busy lives. the second was the assumption of truth from a third party, and busy lives. We are, all of us, busy, aren't we? God knows most of my friends have to actively find the time for leisure.

Now that I've told you all of that, I'll explain a few simple facts from my perspective: Relationships end. Professional relationships often end badly, whether you want them to or not.

Once upon a time I was dealing with Publisher A, A small press that did limited editions of all of my books. Per contract (and I knew this going in, folks, but I'll always caution you again KNOW WHAT YOUR CONTRACT SAYS) half of whatever I made from reselling to a mass-market went to Publisher A. When one of my biggest novels to date (And by big I mean length here at 300,000 words) went into mass-market release, it became three books and the money was good. And half of that was going to Publisher A. Except it down;t work out that way. I had to overhaul books 1 and 2 in order for the books to make sense as a trilogy. I did a lot of extra work. And because I was doing a lot of extra work, I felt (and I still feel) that I should get a bit more of the money for literally adding 40,000 words to the effort. especially because the entire format of the novels had to be changed in order to make it a trilogy instead of one mammoth book.

Long story short, the new publisher and I worked out deal where one of the three books was essentially considered a new book. Publisher A got a nice chance of change, but it was 2/3 of what the publisher felt it should be.

We did not part on good terms. Publisher A felt cheated.

Some of you might agree. I did not and do not. Publisher A threw  deeply nasty meal my way and that was the end of it in my eyes.

Later, Publisher A actually sent me a note of apology. Listen I get it. We all want our fair share. But I still stand by not wanting to give away half of the money for what amounted to a completely different novel when you added in the extra 40K.

That same situation also involved Publisher B. 

It was a a rare and precious moment in my career. I had two publishers that wanted a book of mine. I was unaccented at the time I spent most of my career unaccented. Anyone that says you can't make a living without an agent is possibly incorrect, but its IS a lot more work. In any event, I would up with a bidding war. Publisher B. was doing several of my paperback reprints around that time and had WONDERFUL distribution. They paid squat, but you got into airports, etc.

Enter Publisher C. Not as aggressive, but definitely just as good for distribution and also one of the bigger companies.

Bidding war. Publisher C. won. By a lot. I made enough money to think there was a chance to survive as a writer. (My opinion on that changes daily, by the way).

Publisher B. was not pleased. On my next few books, they low-balled me on options and that was that. We parted company. There was no negotiation beyond that point. We had done a few originals together and they'd sold well enough but after the bidding war the honeymoon was decidedly over. I have since seen the representatives of Publisher B. on several occasions. We are civil and even friendly to each other, but there's almost always that awkward silence where we realize we no longer have much in common. Publisher B. has gone the way of the Dodo bird, by the way, and dragged a few careers into the muck in the process. I managed to avoid that, because we'd cut all ties by the time the publisher collapsed in ruination.

Publisher C. is still going strong and though we haven't done anything new together for a while I still get the occasional royalty check.

I still see the editor from Publisher C regularly. We often have a meal together at conventions, or at least a drink. There are other publishers I have NEVER worked with that I have meals or drinks with. Why? Because they're fun people, and because this is a small industry in many ways. In all cases, we are friendly and we can get along very well and have had several deeply passionate conversations of thew sort you can only have with friends. But do you want to know something? If I ever DO sell to them, and the time comes to negotiate? That friendship goes to the wayside until the talks are done. I'll do you one better, my agent will handle the negotiations, because that way the friendships are unaffected.

In any event, I will do everything I can to avoid ending the relationships I have with people in the industry. We may not work together, but there's nothing that says we can't remain civil.

I mentioned this article to Author E.J. Stevens.

She suggested telling the entire affair from Jonathan Crowley's perspective. I can't do that. The story would end in flames. Seriously, there was never a character more willing to end every relationship with carnage. So instead of making suggestions from Crowley's perspective, here: have a short story about Crowley and relationships. (Art by Alan M. Clark, who is awesome.)

Where Did We Go Wrong?

By James A. Moore

"Why won't you even speak to me, Jonathan?" Her voice rang in his ears and Crowley did his best to ignore her. It wasn't easy. She was persistent. 

The cold air bit at his exposed skin and Crowley looked from his perspective atop a four-story apartment building toward the home of his target. The woman inside that building had, according to the people he'd persuaded to talk to him, been dabbling in the sort of sorcery that never went right. 

Joan's voice came from every closer, the whining note buzzing like a fly next to his left ear. "Jonathan, I know we were never married or anything, but we had fun, didn't we?" He closed his eyes. Yes, they'd had fun. 

"Joanie, honey, you should just stop while you're ahead, okay? This isn't going to go the way you want it to, and I'm a little busy right now."

"You know I hate it when you call me Joanie. Makes me sound like I'm twelve." That petulant tone again. Pouty and annoyed and at the same time playful. One night together. It had been a long time ago. Still, she thought that meant something.

"At least you're not ignoring me any more." He felt the pressure of her fingers on his left shoulder. Jonathan Crowley opened his eyes just in time to see his target across the street opening the leather satchel that contained the book she'd managed to steal from Boston Occult Archives, which sounded so formal but was little more than a used and new bookstore specializing in tarot readings, Wiccan books and printed paranormal accounts of every type. 

He'd actually gone to the store because they had a copy of his Crowley’s Compendium of Exotic Botanicals, 1819 Edition, a book that was absent from his library. He intended to buy it. They had it on hold. 

The damned fools held that one in a lock box. The manuscript that Lianna Potter had in her apartment? That shouldn't have ever made it to their store. Books like that were best destroyed, or if that was not possible, held in a place where no one would ever find them. Like his library.

The Potter woman was carefully laying out the summoning ring that would allow her to summon a demon. 

"Jonathan, you're making me angry now.  Look at me!" 

He looked, and sighed. 

She'd been so beautiful once. Bright eyes, a lovely face, and hair he still remembered holding in his hands and smelling as they made love. It was a rare thing for him to be with anyone. A long life means endless chances for regret. 

They had not parted company on good terms. She wanted more than he could offer and the names she called him would have ended with him beating someone severely (Not her, just the next person who ticked him off.) if she had been someone he felt close enough to for the words to actually hurt.

That was the thing with casual sex. No hard feelings and no looking back.

Now and the past came to haunt a foolish man despite that philosophy.

So beautiful once, but death was not kind. Her body was long gone. Buried or cremated he had no idea, but her spirit remained, rotting and furious. Her once voluptuous form was desiccated. Her hair had fallen out in heavy patches, leaving bald, rotted bone to remind him of the temple and scalp he'd kissed feverishly. Her breasts, along with most of he internal organs, were gone, lost in a cavernous shadow. 

Her eyes wee glimmering lights in the sockets of her mildewed face. 

"How did you die, Joanie?"

"I-I can't remember."

"Why are you still here, Joanie?"

"Because I love you, baby?" her voice was a simpering mess and he hated it. Hated the memory of her baby talk after their romp in the dump of a hotel that she and her brother had managed. He remembered her brother, too. How angry he'd been when he called to make accusations. 

Hard to remember, it had been along time ago, but it was possible Crowley and laughed at the man before he killed the phone call. 

Really, it was best not to get involved with people. It always went wrong. 

"Joanie, honey, if you leave now I can pretend this never happened. For old times' sake."

"Jonathan, baby, come with me. Be with me. We could have so much fun."

Across the street the Potter woman was standing up now, naked and dancing. Her windows were open. How was it that she didn't think to pull the drapes or do anything at all to protect the summoning circle she had made out of little more than salt and a few herbs?

If the twerp who'd owned the bookstore hadn't asked for help, Crowley could have done nothing from where he was. He'd been invited. That made all the difference. 

30 yards away, across the street and a story higher than the Potter woman, Crowley saw the air shimmer and distort where the demon was starting to manifest. Did the lady want riches? Revenge? True love to notice her? Did she want to bring back a loved one or, god forbid, a favorite pet? Crowley did not know and did not care. 


Okay, that did it. No one called him Johnny. 

"Remember what I do for a living, Joanie?"

The ruin of Joan's face twisted into a frown of concentration. "Something to do with monsters?"

"Yep. I hunt them. That includes ghosts."

"What's that got to do with me?"

More the pity. She wasn't even aware she was dead.

"Everything." His hand reached out and grabbed at her spectral flesh. He should have slipped right through, but there were dozens of incantations to let him touch a ghost and hundreds that involved exorcising them. This time around, a little something different. 

He folded the energies of the dead thing that had once been his lover into a knot of fury. What had been was in the past, but what remained had its uses. If he were a kind man he would have sent her to her final rewards. Sometimes that might mean heaven, he had no real idea. He had never been allowed to see the joys of the afterlife except as an unwanted visitor. Heaven? No idea. Hell? Oh yes, several of them and on numerous occasions.

His pitching arm was just fine. The essence of Joanie shot across the street like a hardball aimed at the batter's face. 

She screamed as she ripped through the air and screamed louder still when her spectral energies blew through the lines of salt meant to protect the Potter woman from what she was trying to haul into this world. 

The salt line broke. 

Joanie shrieked in agony. 

The half-formed demon roared out laughter as it drew Joanie to it and then reached out with black, burning hands to pull Lianna Potter to its distorted, half-shaped chest. 

The air echoed with screams and laughter alike as the shapes all collapsed in on themselves and were pulled into whatever Hell Potter and been dealing with. 

Crowley took the stairs on the way down. He had a book to collect. For a moment he felt bad about Joanie (Not Lianna Potter. She had done that to herself) and he sighed, remembering what they'd been to each other for a few short hours.