Saturday, January 03, 2009

A very slight diversion into the weird

In the commentary on last week's Friday Challenge, and specifically on Arthur C. Clarke's story, "The Star," Arisia writes:
I once met a guy who claimed he wrote "The Star" and sold it to Arthur Clarke. His wife was related to Clarke or something, so he knew him. I didn't know what to think of that, but I do think that story has a different view of life and God than Clarke's usual one.
Hmm. And I once met a woman who claimed to have ghost-written all of Piers Anthony's novels, and I once met a guy who claimed he was the real creator of "Dungeons & Dragons," and I once had a neighbor who could talk for hours about growing up with her cousin, Lois McMaster Bujold, and I once got a phone call from an editor I knew who'd received a manuscript submission from someone who'd claimed in his cover letter that "Bruce Bethke" was merely his better-known pen name.

This is one of those things that just goes along with becoming a public figure; even as insignificant a public figure as a modestly successful fiction writer. There are a lot of weirdos out there, and as a public figure, you'll get to meet and greet more of them than you ever imagined existed.

Some are just plain nuts, like that woman who claimed to be Piers Anthony. Most have some terribly sad sob-story to tell of how they were swindled out of their rightful fame and fortune, like that guy who claimed to have invented Dungeons & Dragons. Some are just trying to make their own lives seem more interesting, like my former neighbor, who it turned out actually was a distant relative of Bujold's, although Lois had to scratch her head a bit and strain to remember her. And some are simply downright dirty and dishonest b.s. artists, who are trying to lie their way into or out of something and counting on most people's basic impulse to trust and not ask too many questions.

How do you deal them? Beyond being aware that they exist and always heeding the tingling of your spider-sense whenever someone starts telling a story that's just too good to be true, I'm afraid there's not much you can do, except to accept that they come along with the territory. Oh, and never sign a blank piece of paper, no matter how eagerly and earnestly that fan seems to want your autograph.

While you're at it, you might want to consider taking the time to develop a second signature, too. I have a "public" signature I use for signing books and autographs and a distinctly different one that I use for signing contracts and checks. Only the latter one is my legal signature. It never hurts to be careful.

As for the Clarke story: I seriously doubt the veracity of it. Sir Arthur was a pro's pro and the odds of his ever needing to buy an idea from someone else are vanishingly small. True, the story does have a different view of life and God than Clarke usually expressed, but then over the course of a sixty-year career he stretched out in a lot of different directions, and no doubt changed his views of life and God more than once, and no doubt wrote at least some stories that did not reflect his personal beliefs. If someone (other than Gentry Lee) were to tell me that he was the actual author of one of Clarke's most famous stories, I believe I would just smile and nod politely.

And then spot someone across the room I simply had to talk to, so sorry, must dash, it's been lovely, talk to you again sometime, good luck on your writing and all that...

Sometimes the only appropriate way to answer a lie is with an ever bigger lie.