Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sworn enemies are good for you

Did you all know that, in Greek mythology, Nemesis was a remorseless goddess who meted out divine and vengeful retribution upon those who succumbed to hubris? (Or, as my dear friend Al would say, upon those who "committed hubricide.")

Now, of course, nemesis means one's sworn enemy: "normally someone or something that is the exact opposite of oneself but is also somehow similar." (thank you for that choice phrasing, Wikipedia).

As my blog readers probably know -- and as my Twitter followers definitely know -- I now have a literary nemesis. So why do I like the idea of having a literary nemesis in the first place? Betsy Lerner recently blogged about the bête noire, but the nemesis concept as I see it is not merely about having a single target onto whom we can focus our creative envies. (Although I see the point of that as well. I have a legal bête noire, and that certainly helps me vent those career frustrations once in a while.)

My nemesis concept is about the next generation of writers. Look around, fellow author-bloggers. We're it. Some of us will be the hotshots, some will be the midlists, some will struggle, but we are in it.We're building a community, we're critiquing each other, we're commiserating together... and we're going to challenge each other as well. Sometimes we're going to compete. Sometimes we're going to get the short end of the publishing stick. We're going to have to keep it together through all that if we're taking the vocation seriously.

So, a nemesis is a partner-in-crime. Someone who will push you because his writing is so dang good that it drives you a little crazy (because deep in your writer's heart you secretly believe that he probably didn't have to edit at all, that his stories just sprang from his head fully-formed like Athena) and there it is, you have something specific to strive for, and then you banter a little online and oh joy it turns out you have a similar sense of humor, and if we make each other laugh then that must mean that if I work hard and edit well, then one day he'll be just a little bit jealous of something I wrote (and what a compliment that would be) because we sometimes think the same way and we both kind of get it, and because we're all insecure and crazy in this together anyway, but someday some of us are going to be somebodies and so we should all make friends now because if we get isolated and jealous for real it will just eat us up when we should be having fun and writing, dammit, and if you're not laughing along the way, then it's really not worth doing and yes, you're meant to read this as though it was all one breath.

So bring it. And pick someone who is "somehow similar" who will bring it right back.


  1. Here are nine comments that I was able to recover from Google's cache after this post was temporarily deleted:

    Sierra Godfrey said...
    In lieu of knowing your nemesis' writing quality, you can hate him or her for other reasons. I hate my nemesis for having way more blog followers and comments on every post than I do on mine. In fact, I don't believe my nemesis and I write in similar genres, so there's not much to hate (although I shall find something).

    I'd hate you, Carrie, but we're having a torrid affair.

    But seriously you are so right about us all being in it together. I enjoy my bloggy writer community so much.
    March 9, 2010 12:28 PM

    arlee bird said...
    I'm not feeling what you're talking about in relation to a nemesis other than in relation to blogging. That's possibly a bad thing that means maybe I'm not reading or writing enough non-blog things.
    March 9, 2010 12:38 PM

    CKHB said...
    Sierra, abso-freakin-lutely.

    Lee, check out Jody Hedlund's blog today. She talks about the communities we build as author-bloggers. This is just taking the concepts of support and encouragement and adding a dark little twist to them. Finding the humor and joy in competition, especially alongside people you actually admire.
    March 9, 2010 12:58 PM

    Simon C. Larter said...
    Hmm... I confess I didn't read any of Sierra's writing before I took her on as my nemesis. Perhaps I should have. Ah, never mind. I guess I'll just plot her destruction for my own entertainment.

    But I completely agree with you on the finding someone whose writing is just stupid amazing and makes you weep a tiny bit with jealousy and then busting your ass to make your work that much better so perhaps someday you can publish in the same journal as they did and feel validated and like you've kind of made it just a little bit, and so much the better if you can have a public rivalry that entertains people because we're all in the entertainment business and nowadays people want their writers to be out there and doing stuff and not hermitting themselves away and dammit, I intend to entertain people (and occasionally frighten them and make them squirm and hurt and weep and laugh and shiver). So there we go.

    Plus, Sierra? I'm still wondering what to hate about you. Give me time... I'll figure it out, of that you need to have no doubt. (Maybe you can hate me for my rhyming? Or maybe for my comedic timing?)
    March 9, 2010 12:59 PM

    CKHB said...
    Simon, let me state for the record that these elements can be mixed & matched as needed. Think of the epic drama that would result if you and Sierra both found ANOTHER admirable writer and you briefly had to join forces to defeat that person!

    Finding writing you admire (for nemesis purposes) includes: similar blogging efforts, Tweets that make you laugh, meeting someone over and over again in the comments of someone ELSE'S blog, and/or mutually getting the idea that if you pick a fun battle to fight, maybe you'll be less likely to suffer from some genuinely destructive writer-jealousy elsewhere.
    March 9, 2010 1:16 PM

    Sierra Godfrey said...
    Right, well based on your list, Carrie, I think Simon and I are hitting those marks.

    Plus, I am not worried -- I'm confident he would shrivel with frustration and envy if he read my stories. :)

    Anyway, this nemesis business is highly entertaining to me, so here's hoping others find it amusing as well.
    March 9, 2010 1:23 PM

  2. atsiko said...
    If you weren’t already spoken for, Carrie, I’d snatch you up in a minute to be my nemesis. On the basis of this post alone.

    I’m glad I’ve moved out of just the spec fic blogging community, because it really is incredible how much fascinating material there is in the wider authosphere. (I think we’ve reached the point where we deserve our own sphere, don’t you?)

    A lot of writer’s I know like to stick to blogs/communities of just their own genre, and I really don’t think it’s healthy. Just like readers should be encouraged to stretch themselves in terms of reading horizons, exploring the blogs/communities of people in women’s fiction, or mystery/thrillers, is a great way for--someone who writes fantasy or horror to get uncomfortable.

    More on topic, I think an interesting aspect of the nemesis concept is the issue of finding someone who is on a similar enough level. Rivalries are much more constructive when there’s a legitimate chance to trade of the top spot.
    March 9, 2010 1:40 PM

    Lisa said...
    Nemesis, plural nemeses, not to be confused with "nemesissies": those who are devoted to annoying you a little bit.

    **I stole that from Avery, so I can't take full credit for that belly laugh you just had.
    March 9, 2010 5:07 PM

    CKHB said...
    atsiko, getting someone the right level is definitely why I emphasized picking someone from "our generation" of writers... I meant that in the sense of the next wave of those being published, rather than in the sense of chronological age. If one of us were to choose, say, Stephen King, it would surely not be reciprocal, and we'd get little out of the effort. (Sean's novel comes out soon, so he's ahead of me, but he's doing me the favor of slumming until I can catch up.)

    Lisa... HA!
    March 9, 2010 5:50 PM