Friday, July 19, 2013

The Secret Lives of Writers

It's a little-known fact that many writers are members of various guilds, leagues, and secret societies, organizations that have existed for many decades, if not centuries.

The groups aren't secret because they have tried to hide from the world's eyes all these years. Rather, it's because writers are so reclusive and lonely, they don't actually have anyone to tell.

Each writers guild is based on a different genre and literary style, and they can be found all over the world. The World Philosophers Guild was created by Rene Descartes in 1632, making it one of the oldest — and most boring — guilds of its kind.

There's the International Society of Novelists (ISN), the League of Poets, the Free Society of Dramatists and Playwrights, and of course, the Coterie of French Poets (based in Paris), which looks down their noses at the League of Poets for being too bourgeois.

The Science Fiction Writers Society was created in London by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in 1891 when the two met for aperitifs one evening, and learned they had both been denied entrance into the ISN. At the time, they were the only two science fiction writers in the country, but their ranks swelled as more and more young male writers found it difficult to talk to women and continued living at home with their parents. As a result, they were one of many male-only writers guilds, as women were not allowed to publish, or were forced to publish under male pseudonyms.

In fact, the group's tradition of not allowing women in their ranks lasted until 1973, when one particularly brave and outgoing member announced that he had met a woman who enjoyed scifi almost as much as they did. The members were moved by the woman's love of science fiction, but were even more impressed by the member's ability to talk to women that he was immediately elected Master of Letters, a position he held until he died in 2009. Under his leadership, the SFWS admitted women into their ranks six months later, but the members were still too frightened to speak to any of them until 1978.

Speaking of male writers, American novelist Ernest Hemingway was one of the few writers in history to split his loyalties between two guilds, given the hatred many guilds had for each other throughout history. Hemingway was a member of both the Brotherhood of Male Authors and the International Society of Novelists (which was co-ed), until the time of his death.

Other noted members of the ISN included William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, the ISN included many of the who's who of the drunk and/or stoned literary set. In the first half of the 20th century alone, nearly all members were either raging alcoholics or drug addicts (or both, in the case of Thompson), and the guild nearly expired after more than 250 years of existence.

And while the societies and guilds typically get along — they're writers, after all, generally not prone to violent outbursts — there are still some deep-seated resentments among many of the groups. The World Philosophers Guild mistrusts the Society of Science Scribes, the Alliance of Historical Fictionalists hates the Mystery Writers Alliance, and everyone hates the Coterie of French Poets.

With a little practice, you can spot the different members of these guilds by their various markings, talismans, and badges they wear to be more easily spotted by their fellow members. After all, many of these societies have memberships that number in the thousands, so it's not possible to know everyone who's a member.

For the World Philosophers Guild, they have the infinity symbol tattooed on the inside of their right wrists. The Science Fiction Writers Society members all wear short-sleeve dress shirts with two pockets, while members of the International Society of Novelists are easily identified by a ring worn on their right hand, made from a letter 'L' typewriter key. And journeymen from the Guild of Poets all wear a gold oak leaf pin over their heart, whether they are in their regular clothes, or in their barista uniforms.

Personally, I'm not interested in this silly secret society stuff. It all seems a little too cliqueish and exclusive, like some prep school club whose members never quite grew up. Many of the members are pretentious, snobby, and not as nearly talented as they would like you to believe.

Also, my nomination to the Nonfiction Writers and Journalists Guild of North America was rejected for the second time. They said I continued to add too many fictional elements to my stories, and could not be trusted.



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