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December 11, 2011

When I was fifteen, I got in a fight with an internationally best-selling author on myspace.


Who is Kevin J. Anderson? If you’ve heard of him at all, it’s probably because of the Dune series. For reasons that don’t exist, Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, chose Anderson to help him co-author unnecessary (opinion) sequels, prequels, and companion novels to the wildly best-selling book Dune. Before that, Anderson was rather successful on his own, penning Star Wars tie-ins and a rather droll (opinion) space opera. For this task, he bragged to me that he had been paid in six figures (fact).

I rather enjoyed his Star Wars novels and a few of the books from his space opera, because like most confused teenagers, space seemed cooler than coming to terms with myself. I enjoyed the semi-literate escapism of pulp science fiction.

I also had a tendency—and still have said tendency—to care far too much about things that I enjoy. These days, I’m an opinionated asshole about improv comedy and chili recipes. Back in my teenage years, I was an opinionated asshole about science fiction and using firefox instead of internet explorer.

So, being a fan, I read his myspace blog. And when he announced that he was cowriting Dune bullshit, I became enraged.

See, any passionate nerd can tell you that Dune, by Frank Herbert, is historically important to the scifi genre. Critically, the novel was one of the first to be accepted as legitimate literature. Economically, the novel was the first massively best-selling scifi novel; it also changed publishing strategies in the genre, with effects lasting to this day. I could go on, point being: it was important.

Another point being: I had never read it. I still haven’t read it. I don’t think I ever will. I was just being irrationally angry.

Then again, when Kevin J. Anderson, famous for fucking Star Wars tie-ins, announces that he’s writing Dune stuff, the only appropriate response is to hate the world.

See, it’s like Ke$ha announcing she’s teaming up with John Lennon’s son to produce Abbey Road 2. Ke$ha makes dumb, goofy music that you listen to when you’re drunk. It’s not art. And John Lennon’s son is not John Lennon. So the idea of the two of them making an album is (a) stupid and (b) clearly a ploy to make money.

Similarly, the whole Dune shenanigan was (a) stupid, since neither Kevin nor Frank’s son Brian can put a fucking sentence together, and (b) an obvious ploy for money, which is something he admitted to me during our year-long myspace argument.

We got into it when, about a month into plugging Dune stuff on his blog, I commented the following:

“You should really stop feeding your audience refried Herbert.”

He responded personally. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was to the tune of ‘Screw off, people like it.’

Now, I’m an arrogant piece of shit, and the internet is a great place to be a hater. So I hated. I told him that it was obvious that he was working for money, not art, and that that made him a bad person. I’m still generally of that opinion.

Not a whole lot of exciting things happened in the time that we fought. It was just weird that it happened. I can tell you a few things for certain, though, that I found kind of upsetting:

  • He could barely pull an argument together. 
  • At 15, I managed to get him to concede nearly every point that I made, including but not limited to: that he was in it for the money; that art is not art because of its popularity; that the Dune projects were money grubbing attempts to cash in on a dead man’s name; that he would only make them if people bought them.
  • He was amazingly emotional about the whole thing. He might have even been angrier than I was, and I was rocking some pretty intense hormones/teenaged confusion.
  • He can’t type (he speaks all his novels into a tape recorder and has them transcribed. I KNOW.), but I managed to get him to type each response personally. Which means that, on average, I got him to spend about 4 hours a week just responding to my asinine prodding.
  • At no point were my parents concerned that I was talking to an older man on the internet.
  • This man, who was married, had a kid, was a millionaire off of writing of all professions, despite not being able to type/line-edit his manuscripts; who was a hero at conventions, who was generally beloved—could be taken down by some dork kid in suburban Philly.
  • His wife and I would talk occasionally, too, mostly when I was getting him too riled up and she wanted me to cool my jets. But no one thought of just not talking to me anymore, for some reason.

I think the most fascinating thing I learned from the whole experience is how low self-confidence is in your head. I think a lot of people who hate themselves try and fix what they perceive as ‘wrong’ to get over it. They try to seek recognition from their peers. They try to inflate those things that our culture equates to worth, things like making a lot of money (he always talked about his paycheck whenever I told him his novels weren’t art), or being well-liked (he asked me, more than once, if I could say that I was the keynote speaker at a convention. You know, because fifteen-year-olds get invited to speak at conventions all the time).

The truth is, my opinion never mattered. What mattered is that he hated himself, and—without entirely meaning to—I reminded him of that. I told him all the things he didn’t want to believe, because knowing that he wasn’t an artist, that his commercial success had nothing to do with his talent but with the brand recognition of his products—it was all too much. I picked the scab of a wound that wouldn’t heal.

Which, I guess, makes both of us assholes. I didn’t need to tell him all those things, and he didn’t need to respond to them. But I took something invaluable away—that only you can cure your self-hatred. No status symbol, no scores of friends, not even someone who loves you can make you stop hating yourself. Only you can come to terms with who you are. Everything else is escapism.

The other thing I learned is: weird fucking shit happens on the internet.