The Memory Project
Off the top of my head, natural (Johnny Ketchum)

"Liberal Minded"
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I was working the Times Sunday crossword puzzle last night and was surprised to see that these two words, Liberal Minded, were -- spoiler alert! -- the answer to 29 Down: Tolerant of other opinions. The word "liberal" has been twisted so in modern rhetoric that I actually wondered if Fox News would complain, or at least cite 29 Down as proof of the paper's lefty bias.

The clue struck me because I've been working, off and on for several days, on a piece about the MWA and Harlequin. Here's the story in a nutshell.

As the incoming MWA president, I have no voting rights, no role in policy-making. I am the happiest little figurehead you ever did see. But I served two terms on the board and I know how much work board members put into the organization. I also feel genuinely sad that so many self-published writers feel slighted by MWA's policies.No, it's not about merit. It's about professionalism. And while being paid for one's work isn't the only way to be professional, it's an awfully good way to start.

But as I tried to put that into words, I decided it was moot. Because the fact is, most people don't want to change their minds, about anything. Including me. Or, to quote THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO* -- don't snicker, it is a very good movie and I would love to own the Criterion Collection edition, if you're listening, Santa -- no one likes to be criticized, they just don't. Furthermore, when you disagree with someone's opinion, it often lands like criticism.

This same idea occurred to me this week when I read a piece by a wonderful journalist, a friend of a friend, in which she said some pretty horrible things about a woman I know. I thought: "Oh, I should write so-and-so and tell her that this person she's excoriated is actually a pretty nice person and that this was a low blow verging on a cheap shot." But who wants to hear that, unsolicited? I know it would put me on the defensive if I received such a note. And being on the defensive doesn't make one inclined to rethink anything.

I mentioned once that an imaginary sign hangs above my desk: Nobody Needs to Know What You Think About Anything. In the flesh, where I feel people can engage one another, I'm still pretty free with my opinions. And capable of tolerating others' opinions. At the Murder and Mayhem in Muskego conference, I had a chance to speak at length with Brian Azzarello. We happened to have very different takes on MAD MEN and while his take didn't make me warm to the show -- I fall into that strange group of people who hate it so much we can't stop watching it** -- it did make me think about the show differently.

But I don't see many people online who are interested in true debate, or even being better informed. I can't persuade people that MWA's policies are not the equivalent of censorship, that MWA isn't trying to prevent anyone from publishing, much less trying to block their right to self-expression. I'm not sure I can even persuade folks inclined to think differently that self-publishing is not synonymous with vanity publishing. No matter what I say, there are going to be some self-published writers -- differently published? -- who insist that I belong to MWA because I'm scared of a true free market, in which I would have to compete with all writers, not just those chosen by the -- take your pick of adjectives -- insular, out-of-touch, arrogant mainstream publishing industry.

This much I can say: MWA didn't change the game. Harlequin did. All the organization did was apply its existing policies to Harlequin's changing business model. And if you can't see how Harlequin's pay-to-publish program is designed to prey on writers and their dreams -- well, then I'm not really sure that you're cynical enough to write crime fiction.

*This being The Memory Project, I'm nowhere near getting that quote right, but I'm pretty sure Kate Beckinsale said it to Chloe Sevigny.

**John Powers of Vogue wrote the definitive article on those of us who can't stop watching Mad Men, even though we don't like it.

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