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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

integrity vs. success

An abbreviated writing morning since I was driving Kimmie up to another ultrasound appointment at 11:00. I skipped research notes and went straight to story notes over my coffee.

When I got back I checked Agent 007's blog-post of yesterday. In it, she tells a story of two assistant editors faced with the same problem: that their further advance up the corporate ladder depends on sucking up to department heads in the company. One assistant could not swallow this, and left the industry altogether. The other (007 herself--or her narrator) immediately decided to embark on the "Great Sucking-Up Campaign", "put 110% into it", and went on to publishing-industry success.

The title of the post is "A Word About Advice for People Who Don't Want to Take It". I was glad that 007 posted on this topic, for it is close to my heart. She closes the tale with this moral: "You may not like the truth, but that doesn't make it untrue".

After reading the post, I did not feel that this was the true moral of the story. The moral I would have drawn would be more like: "Integrity is the price of success in publishing".

Of course, it's not just about publishing. Any time there are worldly prizes being striven for, competed for, the question arises: what are we are prepared to do to attain them? I arrived in television at a similar situation: I was told that I must not question the creative decisions of certain network executives, but simply do as instructed. My fate was more like that of assistant editor 1: I was cashiered from a hit show that I had created and written.

Was I outraged? Yes. Did I regret my decision? No. Not then (1993), not now. I regret not fighting harder to make the show even better than it was; I regret whatever ground I may have given that I didn't need to.

No one can corrupt us; the decision is ours alone to make. They can show me the buttocks, they can tell me to kiss them, they can tell me what they'll do to me if I don't kiss them, but the decision to kiss is mine. Industries become corrupt because people who sacrifice their integrity for career success do not like to see people rise who have not made the same sacrifice. Would you? The ego-defense mechanism called rationalization kicks in and you develop a myth to justify your decision and the subsequent ones which are easier to make. Now, for the sake of your own self-esteem, you serve the myth of Necessity: the myth that checking your integrity at the door--kissing ass--is the price of doing business. Someone who doesn't do that isn't One Of Us and has to go. They're guilty of "pride"--the first Deadly Sin.

Of course, kissing ass might be the price of doing business. It was on my show. If so, it's not a business I want to be in. I'd rather be a voice in the wilderness than have success on those terms. In television my allegiance was to my audience, not to power-drunk honchos, not even to my own "career". My allegiance is still to my audience. I'm placing my trust in, betting all my chips on, the conviction that the power of whatever I can create will arc through the insulating wall of ass-kissing careerists to find its audience. I might even find like-minded people who live by the creed that quality really is job one. If I fail, I will have failed by putting my best effort into something I believe in. If I must fail for any reason, let it be that.

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  • Amen.

    By Anonymous AnneM, at October 04, 2005 4:53 PM  

  • Thank you so much; I like what you said. We seem to be on the same wavelength on this issue. I agree with that said-goodbye-to-publishing editor's behavior too. And all I can say is: that thread made me sick.

    I'm not surprised at your response because you're a screenwriter. In my limited attempts at screenwriting and hanging around with screenwriters, I learned really fast that, in screenwriting in particular, kissing ass is often one of the worst things a writer can do, yet many new screenwriters seem to do so anyway. How often are screenwriters visible in films, both literally and metaphorically? How often are their words chopped up into something unrecognizable, by other writers, producers, directors, their family members, their assistants, and whoever happens to somehow have a say in making a particular film/show? Do the suck-up screenwriters ever stop to wonder why so many of their kind and their works are often treated like disposable third-class citizens? IMO, they should look to their own serf-like no-self-respect behavior for some answers.

    By Blogger Fran, at October 04, 2005 5:20 PM  

  • I agree wholeheartedly. I'm not sure what I would have done--I've wanted to work in publishing my whole life (it's true. In first grade all the other little girls said they wanted to be teachers and nurses; I stood up and said I was going to be an editor), but I do know that in similar circumstances I've chosen my pride. I think the difference would be whether it was just keeping my mouth shut and paying a compliment every once in a while, or actually having to take abuse and THEN suck-up to the person who was dishing it out. One is normal business etiquette, the other unbearable.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 04, 2005 6:14 PM  

  • Hey, Paul. I've always had a lot of respect for your beliefs and how you express them. In fact, I was curious how you, in particular, would weigh in on this issue.

    There are a lot of little things we do in this world because the end result -- the payoff -- is worth the small sacrifices. You don't know who I am, but I can assure you that I am no wallflower. I am not someone who nods and smiles and lets people walk all over me. If you knew me, you would laugh at the idea. At the time I was an assistant, I learned that in order to move from assistant editor to associate editor, I was going to need to play the game a bit. That's just a fact of how it works in publishing. I never saw it as compromising my integrity because I was always strategic about what I was doing. And there are few people who love this crazy business more than I do. When I was promoted, I was able to effect a lot more change. It was the right move. The assistant who left actually did so because she didn't have a thick skin. She shriveled when people yelled at her. You don't want an editor who can't stand up to the publicity, marketing, and sales directors. It's all part of the process.

    By Blogger Agent 007, at October 04, 2005 6:53 PM  

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