The Writer-Reader Relationship Beyond the Book

Boy, you go out to get a haircut and when you come back, your funny spur-of-the-moment blog turns into serious action. Lots of good stuff there, emphasis on “lots.” I went through all the comments from the beginning, trying to synthesize the various positions and by the time I finished five more people had posted. So I may not be up to date on the responses here.

First, I’m the one who posted the e-mail not X. So all flack should be directed at me; she’d just have let it go. So now I’m asking myself why I posted it. It was a spur of the moment thing: she sent me the e-mail, I spit my Diet Coke across the keyboard, I said, “Can I have this for the blog?”, she said yes, and I posted it.

So why? I mean, obviously I thought it was funny, but clearly there was more going on than that. I’ve gotten other funny e-mails from readers and never posted them, gotten weird responses on Amazon and never called attention to them, had people say incredibly strange things to me in person and never blogged about it. Why this one?

Most of the published authors who’ve commented on the post and who’ve e-mailed me off-loop are pretty much laughing their butts off at X’s response, and I’m wondering if in part it isn’t because the response was intended to frustrate, and we’ve all been so frustrated for so long with receiving this kind of criticism and doing the smart thing and ignoring it, that maybe the frustration is what’s fueling at least in part the anti-letter-writer reaction. Whatever it is, it’s real and it’s widespread, so there’s something there that’s hitting a nerve in writers, and in me particularly.

But just as real is the opposition. I’m not going to quote comments or use names here because I may be synthesizing the arguments incorrectly, but looking at my notes they seem to be these:

Everybody’s slamming the letter writer and congratulating X, and that seems unfair, “pummeling a gnat,” a Mean Girls’ action since the letter-writer doesn’t have the forum or the power that I do (leaving X out of this since she didn’t post the letter, I did).

If I had posted the letter writer’s full name and e-mail address (and I do regret posting her first name now), I think this would be more valid. My knee-jerk reason for posting it was not to say, “Go stone this letter writer,” it was because I thought it was ludicrous, so yep, it was put up there to provoke laughter, especially the laughter of recognition. That one I’ll give you and I don’t feel guilty about that, although I could probably have left off the paragraph that followed it; that was me chortling.

The letter writer sent a personal attack in an e-mail, and now I’m doing the same thing by posting the letter for public mockery, the posting itself and the comment I made after the letter constituting a personal attack.

I don’t think posting the letter was a personal attack. The gloss on it afterward was definitely uncomplimentary.

The letter writer is obviously writing out her hurt, disappointment, and frustration, and we should have been kinder to her.

Nope. You don’t get a free ride because you’re feeling ouchy.

My post was bashing fundamentalist red-staters.

Nope. I come from conservative red-staters. It’s probably fair to say that my post was bashing people who try to censor writers. I’ll go with that.

The letter writer has a point in trying to stop X from writing what upset her; it’s not enough to say, “If you don’t like it, don’t read it,” because other people will have access to what she sees is a slander on her community.

Nope. That’s censorship.

Any public response a writer makes to a personal attack from a reader is probably a bad idea from a PR point of view.

Good point. I am not known for my tact and discretion. You can take it as a guarantee that many authors have gotten much worse from many other readers and not published the letter or the response for that reason. On the other hand, I don’t think anybody reads this blog because I’m tactful or politically correct, so is this really a surprise?

You can’t share anything with me because you have no expectation of privacy; the letter writer’s was violated by my post, which means I am not on a higher moral ground.

This is so true, although I never claim the higher moral ground on anything or anybody except maybe Bob. But you’re absolutely right that you can’t share anything with me and expect it to remain private. As Bob always says, I’d last about two seconds in Special Ops; they wouldn’t even have to torture me to get the information, I’d give it to them chatting over a Diet Coke. So let this be a warning to anybody who e-mails me and tells me what I can and can’t write: You can’t trust me any farther than you can throw me. I know that’s terrible; what’s the world coming to when you can’t write a personal attack to a complete stranger and not feel secure that she’ll keep it to herself?

And then a lot of discussion over who has power in the writer-reader relationship which is what I’m really interested in.

What I think I’m getting here is that there’s an assumption that the power structure is so unequal that it was somehow bullying of me to post the letter here (I’m not going to bring X into this since most of the hoo-ra is about posting it on the blog, not her answer). It’s okay for the letter writer to write a bullying, condescending letter to X but it’s not all right for me to print the letter here and condescend back because she doesn’t have the resources and the audience I do. And I’m thinking that the mistake I made wasn’t in the paragraph following the letter, it’s that i didn’t use the letter to make a point. It really was just a “look at this ridiculous letter” instead of “here’s a letter and here’s why it’s important for me to show it to you.” It was not a thoughtful post and it didn’t give people anything to say except, “Boy, what a maroon.” Except of course that Argh commenters always have plenty to say; I could put up a blank post and you’d all run with it. So it turned into a good discussion anyway, just one without direction because I didn’t give it a context.

So here’s a context:

I’ll agree that this isn’t about “rights” as such. But it is about the writer-reader relationship. And in any relationship, people make assumptions that sometimes aren’t met, which I think is what happens when any of us get this kind of letter. Readers write personal attacks because they’re angry, and I’d be willing to bet that they’re angry because they feel betrayed, they bought the book or took it out of the library, curled up for a good read, and got THIS. I’ve been there so I can sympathize.

So then most readers throw the book against the wall, never buy that author again, and tell all their friends it was terrible. If it’s my book we’re talking about, I understand that. Not thrilled about it, but understand it. But for some readers the disappointment goes so deep, or their anger about other things in their life attaches itself to that disappointment, and they turn on the author and vilify her.

Which brings us to the writer, who half-killed herself writing that book. I’ve never heard a writer say, “Boy, that book was easy,” we all go through hell at some point with our books. And some people don’t like them, and that’s hard to take even though it’s reasonable since nobody can write a book everybody likes. So you take the criticism and you eat a box of Hostess Cupcakes and you move on. And then you get the one that tells you you’re vile and you shouldn’t be allowed to write X again, and that’s not all right. You put your book out there for criticism, you did not say, “And then come kick me.” But because you’re the public figure, you’re expected not to respond because you’ve got all the power, you should be on the higher moral ground while the people on lower ground throw stones. After all, you’ve got it all. And most writers do exactly that because it’s the smart thing to do, they do it for years, as the crazies come at them and the abuse keeps coming, and they find out that the more successful they get, the faster the abuse comes and the harsher it gets because people are angry about their success. So the assumption grows: if you’ve got that much success, then it’s okay for people to attack you.

So you handle it by looking at the whatever the attack was and telling yourself, “Deep breath, she’s her and obviously miserable or she wouldn’t be wasting her time spreading bile, and you’re you and you’re happy. Let it go. You win.” And then one day, you don’t let it go. Because it’s not okay. You cannot insult me (or in this case, my friend) and feel betrayed when I respond; you can not take the low road and then be outraged when I come down to join you, you cannot call me names and then say, “Not fair!” when I tell people that you called me names. Of course, the letter writer didn’t do any of this since she doesn’t know about the blog or at least isn’t responding to it, but she has many proxies here so I’ll make that argument for them.

This is not Mother Teresa’s blog. But it’s not Dick Cheney’s blog, either, so come on in and tell me how wrong I am:

Is the assumed inequality of power enough to excuse a reader from personally attacking a writer? Or to put it another way, how much does the fact that both parties in the relationship are strangers and one party is a successful public figure negate or excuse the need for civilized discourse? Is the inequality of power based on the fact that one partner has a public venue and the other doesn’t, or on the assumption that one party can say anything he or she wants without fear of reply because it would be disadvantageous for the other party to respond? And if the abused party responds to the insult, is that a violation of the relationship or a logical outcome of it?

Or whatever question you want to ask that I missed somehow.

134 thoughts on “The Writer-Reader Relationship Beyond the Book

  1. I think the first people who were for Reader D were simply exploring the ramifications, not saying “ooooh, you did a bad, bad thing, powerful writer.”

    Personally, as a writer-wanna-be, I find this discussion immensely educational. How will I handle this kind of mail? (Because if I get any mail at all, some of it is sure to be like this.) Seeing Author X and your response, as well as everyone else’s comments have helped me think about this. So I’m glad you posted it.

    Also, Y, while unusual, is probably not a one-of-a-kind name. It seems like there should be a whole lotta quilters named Y, and I’m sure there are hundreds who spell their names like that. It may be unfair to the non-crazy Ys, but what can you do? Addresses and full names would be verging on unfair for real.

    Author X’s first name is also a popular name for writers, so maybe you could reveal *her* first name, if you feel things are very unfair (-:.

  2. I saw your post but not all the responses so I didn’t realize there was a “problem”. I didn’t see a problem with it. You didn’t post the author’s name – it could’ve been anyone. And posting the letter writer’s first name didn’t really identify her…maybe just narrow it down to a few million people, right (as opposed to billions of possibilities)? That you may have a larger audience than the letter writer means nothing to me. Who knows what she may be posting about the author in her own forum? Maybe it’s just a “blonde” “late-Friday-after-a-long-week” thing on my part but I just don’t see the problem with the post.

  3. I wonder…
    If Y had requested rather than demanded that X never write about quilting again, and had stated her thoughts in a somewhat nicer tone (with still saying what she meant), would we even be having this discussion?

    I know that doesn’t answer any of your questions, Jenny, but I’m with you – I thought the answer was funny and relatively innocuous and didn’t insult Y.

    I am, however, anazed at the discourse it has generated! Other viewpoints are always fascinating!

    TGIF everyone…

  4. I am convinced that it was bad idea not to delete the name so I changed it to Y. And, with my skin crawling, I changed it to Y in the comments, too. I have no business in anybody’s comment, but I’m trying to rectify a bad decision with what I’m hoping isn’t a worse one.

  5. Jenny, there is never an excuse for non-civil discourse, unless it concerns Bob.

    You- the writer- may have a public forum for your ideas(published book), but readers have a public forum in several places: the pocketbook, word of mouth, reviews online, etc. The Internet has brought MANY things public, many that should have stayed private!

    I thought the whole thing about indignant quilters was pretty funny myself. And I would like to be quick enough to answer as “X” did.

    The only reason that the abused party should not answer back if he or she wants,is if it would start a nuclear war. 🙂
    I am an answer-backer person. Don’t poke the bear with a stick and then get surprised when said bear gets angry.

  6. X had proxies? I didn’t see that, though you are probably meaning me. What I would love to see is people treating each other like humans, even if we have to put ourselves out a little to recognize each others’ humanity. That feeding frenzy left me feeling not angry, but disgusted and a little afraid.

    Didn’t mind that you posted the original email, and X’s reply was funny and cute and sufficient.

    The jump from Y’s email to a wholesale screamfest about book banning, and the facile, vicious flinging of the word “crazy”–very troublesome. This is the kind of verbal punishment often meted out to women by abusive men. My guess is that if X were to murder someone, she would fail at an insanity defense. Disagreeing with you, or even with me, is not proof of insanity. And considering the verbal firepower available on this blog, why waste space on cheap shots?

    And, FWIW, I did not advocate banning anything, and neither did anyone else, except maybe Y. I simply stated that the old, “you don’t like it, turn it off” argument is inadequate, as simplistic sloganeering usually is.

    Cheney has a blog? Cool. Maybe I should check it out. I’d love being hated by a whole new group.

  7. Not a problem, L, I got it.

    Proxy was the wrong word because we’re not arguing Y’s point here. We’re arguing the appropriateness of Y’s approach in voicing her displeasure and the appropriateness of my response to Y’s e-mail, and beyond that what happens when the relationship between the writer and reader breaks down and the appropriate way to handle that.

    Which is a really interesting argument, so go to it.

  8. In my ideal world, if a reader really feels compelled to write an author to say something negative about her book, I’d love to see it phrased in terms like “Your book really upset/offended me and here’s why . . . .” And similarly, if an author feels compelled to answer said reader, that she could be similarly direct, as in, “I’m sorry you didn’t like my book, but I found your letter offensive because . . . .” I realize that these expectations are unfair, but they stem in part from my ongoing anxiety around the way women seem to talk — or not talk — to each other, and how those dynamics (avoid confrontation but not necessarily conflict) affect the dynamics of various author/reader communities.

    Directness, IMO, can be so much kinder than snark, or that old “if you can’t say something nice” view, or festering silence, because, IMO, it shifts away from the idea that so and so is such an idiot and centers on the speaker’s need to say something, whether in self-defense or general rebuttal or whatever. Which strikes me as so much more empowering than all the weird acrobatics we do in the name of politeness or of being ‘good girls’ or whatever — so much of which ends up frustrating the original purpose, either because it encourages horrible passive-aggressive suffering, or because a sideswipe almost always ends up creating more conflict and hard feelings than a direct but respectful hit.

  9. I liked the post and, also, see no problem with it. The X email reply was perfect and funny. Besides, if I was a quilter, I would be very ticked if someone thought they could speak for me (as in ALL) even if I totally agreed with what they said. By the by, I am not a quilter and I don’t agree with her at all. Telling someone what they can write goes against our whole freedom of speech thing. Hey, watch me. I’ll write it and I’ll put in MORE foul language. 🙂

  10. I wonder if the woman in question regrets sending the email in the first place? Not because of any repercussions or ramifications being discussed here, but because email is an immediate form of communiation; once you hit the send button, there is no return. It’s gone. A half hour later it’s still gone. There is something oddly seductive about being able to reach out that quickly.

    Email? Not a form of secure communication in any way, just ask anyone who has been fired because of misuse of company email. It’s out there in cyberspace and big brother is not only watching, but laughing his behind off when people think it is private. Email belongs to me until I hit send, then all bets are off (kind of like blog comments).

    I think the reader had a right to her displeasure, but crossed a line with her email making it personal as opposed to comments about the book in question. Becoming available to fans through blogs, forums, email, and other technology is a risky venture for authors. Certainly not for the faint of heart.

  11. Jenny wrote: “…how much does the fact that both parties in relationship are strangers and one party is a successful public figure negate or excuse the need for civilized discourse?”

    In this case, because reader does not know know writer, but took it upon herself to express herself in such a negative tone, well said tone back works for me. X used a nicer tone, but sent the same message. I stick by my original point, if you don’t like the book, set it down and walk away. If someone asks you for a recommendation, don’t recommend it. Although, I recently recommended a book to someone that I didn’t like, but I knew she would like it. Different tastes make the world a brighter place.

    Jenny wrote: “Is the inequality of power based on the fact that one partner has a public venue and the other doesn’t, or on the assumption that one party can say anything he or she wants without fear of reply because it would be disadvantageous for the other party to respond?”

    I’m not sure I understand the inequality of power, other than you and X are published and are “famous”. Anyone can have a pulic venue and lots of “not so famous” people have followings. Anyone can have an opinion and express it, and like myself, do so at will.

    on the second half that the above question/statement – yes, I do believe that when it would be disaadvantageous for others to respond to something, it gives those who want to say whatever they want without any regard to the other person a lot of power. Or should I say, assumed power. But it does pack some punch.

    Jenny wrote: “And if the abused party responds to the insult, is that a violation of the relationship or a logical outcome of it?”

    Neither. If one is attacked either personally or professionally the person who is attacked has three choices. Try to shrug it off and ignore the insult. Confront the insult head on and probably cause yourself way too much grief in the process. Or, do what X did. X didn’t really respond to the insult, but X didn’t ignore it either. X dealt with it with a little humor and a little in your face right back at ya.

    I have to say I am glad you removed Y’s name. I really didn’t think that was necessary and the issue doesn’t have anything to do with who sent the e-mail, but what was said and how it was said.

  12. I agree, Robin. When somebody writes me and says, “This really upset me,” that’s something that’s actually respectful of my work, it BOTHERED somebody instead of boring her. And that’s the kind of letter, when framed with respect that deserves a respectful answer; that’s how dialogues start.

    There are other times when it’s obvious that the letter writer has attached a much deeper meaning to the text because of her own life. I had one reader post on a review site that one of my books was horrible because I made gossip funny and gossip is never funny, it’s vicious. She went on at length, repeating “vicious” several times, and she was clearly in pain. She did not say I was an ignorant slut, she said my book was bad because it didn’t treat gossip as the vile thing it was. The book in question didn’t say gossip was funny, in fact, gossip pretty nearly ruined the heroine’s life. But that was so beside the point which was that this story had raised such painful issues in this reader’s life that it didn’t matter anymore what the story was really about, all she could see was her pain. Trying to discuss that with her would only have deepened it. Those you have to let go.

    I’m not sure how much of the discussion goes back to women’s discourse, although it’s a really good question. I think if the person who was upset about the gossip had been a man, my sympathy would have been the same. I think if Y had been a man, my outrage would have been even greater, but that’s my own baggage. I do think that women writers and readers, especially the romance community, do tend to communicate more and establish relationships more, and that may have an impact here, the implied intimacy between complete strangers giving the reader permission to make personal comments, but given some of the letters male writers who are friends have gotten, I think it just goes back to the implied intimacy of the writer/reader relationship. Because the reader shares and shapes a fantasy with the writer, they have a relationship within the book. So the betrayal when a book is not what a reader wanted is very real. Add to that a perceived slight on the reader’s family/community/experience, and it becomes a powder keg. I don’t really see Y entering into a dialogue with X, any more than I see the reader upset about gossip entering into a dialogue with me: the emotional stress and the perception of betrayal is just too great.

  13. I had second thoughts about using the term “crazy” in my post. But OTOH, “severely limited in outlook and tending to self-aggrandization” is a lot more letters.

    Besides, there are a lot of brands of crazy out there. (-: I’m at least four or five, myself. Ask my kids — they’d probably put me up to about 300.

  14. Oh, crap, and I forgot to add, the post-editing of Y’s name is fine with me. And it limits any damages, if any, without destroying the coherency of the argument.

  15. I chose not to say anything this morning, but …

    Y was perfectly within her rights to make a comment about X’s book, and up until the end of the first paragraph it was all okay. It was just another reader’s opinion. I understood by her words that she felt insulted as a quilter, and as a religious person who gives back to her society. She was defending the good name of her sisterhood. To that I say, “Good on you, Y.”
    We need more women bold enough to stand up for what they feel is right and protect each other and I am neither a religious person nor a frequenter of girl posse’s.

    Where she went wrong was by taking her comments into the personal. When she insulted X she crossed the line and forgot to be a good religious person. She became petty, judgmental, and acted from an ego based position being “I am right and good and holy” and “You are wrong and crass and vulgar.” She was giving X a slap on the hand for being such a bad girl. And she was expecting either an apology, or some kind of validation.

    However, when X responded it was out of defensiveness and she was also working from an ego based position. If she hadn’t been defensive she would have laughed and ignored it, or seen the other woman’s point of view and responded with understanding. Do I blame her? No. She reacted as the majority of us would have reacted, nobody needs to receive a flaming letter about anything. And insults hurt. At least her response did show some restraint and sort of a tongue in cheek humor, but it was, if we’re being perfectly honest here, also an intentional insult to the reader.

    I think to publicly display and discuss the woman’s email, which was meant to be an interaction between one writer and one reader, is the thing many are having a problem with. So Y messed up, big deal, she doesn’t need to be ridiculed for it. And in flaming the whole thing it just perpetuates hurt and there’s enough of that in the world already. It should have stayed as a personal interaction between close friends, perhaps you and X and a couple of other trusted writers who have also felt the sting of insulting emails.

    As a writer I would never apologize to a reader for what I wrote. In this case, I would think about saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you felt offended by my work and want you to know I have great admiration for the good work quilters like you do for our world.” When you embrace your enemies you can often turn them into friends. To send an insulting email back just shoots a giant hole through your own foot.

  16. X used a nicer tone, but sent the same message.

    Why do you think it was nicer? Seriously — this point has been made numerous times, and I’m not sure I see it. It was indirect, certainly, and cheerful, and contained no obscene language. But kinder, nicer, more than she deserved — don’t quite see it. Of course most of my observation of X has left me with the impression of someone thoughtful, insightful, and strongly opinionated, and I know nothing of Y besides that short email. So I know that skews my perception here, and my expectations. And I am also factoring in this perception that no one really expects Y to realize she’s being mocked, because she’s too dumb or too crazy or whatever, which shapes the issue in a particular way for me, as well. And I can’t remember whether or not that perception was expressed by X or by others, so I may be importing that.

  17. There would be more disparity if the author were a journalist, someone who could flip a public smackdown across America the next day. Here, not so much. I don’t know how many lurkers there are, but we none of us will be tracking down Y and bombing her quilt stash.

    The disparity comes from:
    unequal distribution of writing ability.
    unequal ability to let the idea settle.

    IOW, Y isn’t as good a writer as X or C, and she hit send in the heat of passion. Neither of those inequalities is X’s fault, or even Y’s fault. It just is. Everybody has “hot buttons” and some folks are better able to control themselves than others. I would never have reacted to that email with much more than a “Hmph. Loot at that.” DELETE. But for J and X, Y’s email hit a sore spot. My sore spots are different.

    If I don’t like an author, I don’t bother with her/him. Just like relatives. If I like an author, I’ll say “howdy” or some such, though I’m not a fawner. If something has bugged me, I’ll ask a question, as you know. If something REALLY bugs me, I take it to my own blog, where I can be alone with my thoughts. Mostly, I don’t like to take negative comments to a writer, so as not to torque her mojo for the day.

    And yes, anyone can create a blog, which is not the same thing as having a public forum. We somehow failed to protect internet neutrality, so whatever inequalities there are will only be getting worse in the future.

  18. Because the reader shares and shapes a fantasy with the writer, they have a relationship within the book. So the betrayal when a book is not what a reader wanted is very real. Add to that a perceived slight on the reader’s family/community/experience, and it becomes a powder keg.

    Oh, yes, absolutely! It feels to me that so much — at least in genre fiction — is built on this concept of reader loyalty, of having the reader really personally connected to the books (I express this as somewhat of a complaint in Romance because of my belief that authors have been overpersonalized). The relationship, then, between books and readers can be so solid one moment, and so fragile the next, I think.

    But when you look at genre Romance, for example, and you see so much resistance to critical reviewing, I wonder how much of that has to do with a woman-thing, and how much of it is simply a genre-culture thing (and how much of that genre-culture thing is a woman-thing). Because it still kind of baffles me, even though I intellectually can grasp it. And fair or not I tie it to the “cult of nice,” which to me so often degenerates into a lot of backhanded slaps and indirect insults and undercover reputation assassinations. I don’t know if the link is solidified by gender, but I do wonder. Not that men can’t be conflict-avoidant, but is their group behavior comparable?

  19. No, I don’t think X’s reply will go over Y’s head because Y is dumb or crazy. It will go over her head because she is (I hope) not accustomed to this kind of communication AKA “snark.” It’s a language she doesn’t understand.

    Like me at the mechanic’s shop.

  20. Robin, could you explain more about the resistance to critical reviewing? Obviously nobody likes bad reviews, but do you think romance is more sensitive to them than say literary fiction or SF?

    Not arguing here, just not sure where you’re coming from.

  21. I don’t get online for a few days and all hell breaks loose on the blogs! I read your post and I personally didn’t have a problem with it. It was funny and I thought it made a good point.

    For some reason people feel that they have the right to criticize and chastise public figures as if they personally know this person. Why is this? Just because you have your name on a book doesn’t mean that the people who read that book have the right to bash you or take you to task for what you wrote. You have the right to write what you want. If they don’t want to read it then don’t read it. Simple, really. And just because someone has a problem with what was written doesn’t give them the right to speak for the rest of the community.

    Were you wrong for posting the email? No. Was the author’s response appropriate? I think so. Was there a HUGE over reaction to your little blog? I think maybe that’s a yes also.

    Come on folks. Freedom of speech and all that jazz. The letter writer had the right to express her displeasure over the contents of the book. However, she didn’t have the right to tell the author to NEVEr write about the subject again and she didn’t have the right to speak for an entire profession. It was her opinion alone. And it was a good example of the kinds of stuff authors put up with every day because their profession puts them in the public eye.

    As someone who deals with the public every day, I know full well how people act and how they think they can speak to me because they view me as nothing more than a public servant. Let me tell you–if I walked into THEIR place of business and spewed the vile words and epithets that they spit at ME at my job I would be leaving there in handcuffs, not getting a ride to the mall! (I drive a city bus)

    The point is this: having an opinion is okay. Making your opinion known is okay. Stating your opinion and then expecting everyone to agree with your opinion or else risk being called a moronic imbecile is NOT okay. thinking that your opinion is the only one that matters, to hell with other people’s thoughts or feelings, is just wrong. Having your opinion discussed on Argh Ink: priceless.

    We have a catch phrase at work for when customers are getting on our last nerve and we just want to go transit on them. “Let It Go”–whatever it is, just let it go. It’s just not worth it. So my advice is just to let it go. It wasn’t that big a deal to begin with! Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill…!! *grin*

  22. Robin – Why do I think it was nicer? Because in Y’s e-mail she said she was “quickly disgusted” and “disrespect for the quilting sisterhood” and “should not be sullied by people like you” and “I should have know better to think this would be a good book when I read that you were from NY.”

    I can’t find a single nice tone in this e-mail, anywhere. And frankly, it’s no longer about the book. Whether or not it was good fiction. Good writing. Y took something fictional and made it something personal and attacked the author for writing it.

    All X said was, to paraphrase: thanks for writing – I can’t resond to every fan mail, but I do read them and I’m so glad you enjoyed my book.

    Y, unless reading all of this, really has no idea that X even read the e-mail, much less thought anything of it. If I were Y and got this response back I would simply think “well now, obviouisly she didn’t read my e-mail.”

    FTR – I’m not mocking or ridiculing Y. It’s the idea behind the e-mail that bothers me, not that Y said it. It bothers me because I’v gotten a few e-mails of similiar taste. Not about books, since I have none publsihed, but I’m amazed at what people will say in an e-mail to a complete stranger. I wish I had the sensabilites and humor to have responded the way X did. I chose to ignore all but one. The one I did respond to, well, lets just say it wasn’t pretty.

    Jenny wrote: “…the implied intimacy between complete strangers giving the reader permission to make personal comments.”

    This is something blogging/websites/internet has helped create in a way. As readers, we feel a connection to the writer on a different level than the writer feels towards us. It’s not just in the books, but in forums like this. We’re chatting, sort of. Many of us feel as though we “know” you, when in reality, we don’t. I think our expections then become higher in some ways and this in turn effects the reader/writer relationship not just on a book level and if the writer fullfills our expectations that way, but on other levels too.

    However, in the case of Y – I highly doubt Y has ever read an X’s books before, therefore I don’t believe that sense of family/community was established and the betrayal had nothing to do with reader/writer relationship but reader/content relationship. It’s not like she said, “you know, X, I have really loved your books in the past, but this one just pissed me off because… and I feel betrayed by you.” No, she felt betrayed by content and took it out on X. Somehow, I think that is different in the sceme of things. Or not.

  23. Directness, IMO, can be so much kinder than snark, or that old “if you can’t say something nice” view, or festering silence…. a sideswipe almost always ends up creating more conflict and hard feelings than a direct but respectful hit.

    Directness is frequently the wrong approach and will have the opposite effect you describe. When someone sounds hostile, a point-by-point reasoned response is the most likely to escalate things. If you aren’t interested in escalation, the first approach often is to deflect–
    1) ignore,
    2) address only part of it (say “Thanks for reading”), or
    3) deliberately misunderstand in a positive light (X’s approach).
    Maybe, if necessary,
    4) ask to clarify. But that’s dicey and requires followup.
    If you choose to be “direct”, you’re signaling your participation, letting her set the tone, and triggering her need to demonstrate she’s right.

    If you want or need to interact with that person in the future, directness will probably be required at some point. But it’s still the wrong response immediately in the heat of things.

    BTW, this isn’t specific to women. Any good negotiation class should talk about the drawbacks of directness and the key roles of timing and de-escalation.

  24. RfP, is there a particular book that’s good on that? I’m not going to be taking any negotiation classes any time soon, but I’ve got plenty of charged conversations coming up. I know there are a lot of books on negotiation, but is there a classic in the field or just one that’s really good?

    It’s too late for tact, but I might be able to learn strategy before I end up in an ignorant slut moment in some meeting.

  25. “mean girls” … i.e. women who specialize in relational aggression count on the silence of those they attack. They need it to thrive, like e.coli on an agar gel (lab nerds will get that). So if the Y’s who attack others (and her letter was an attack, not a critism) don’t like getting ‘outed’ they should write letters that won’t humiliate them if they are published. No complicit silence for mean girls (and mean boys although male social aggression is usually in a different form). You don’t get a carte blanche to attack people just because you aren’t famous and they are. They are allowed to fight back.

  26. I know there are a lot of books on negotiation, but is there a classic in the field or just one that’s really good?

    Yes, there’s this book called Welcome to Temptation that outlines a really good technique 😉

  27. In addition, I don’t think Y “messed up”. I think she attacked … why should you expect privacy in an attack? If you are that certain you are right you shouldn’t care if your letter was printed. Unless you know you were being a flaming twit and don’t want ‘others’ to know you feel free to express your opinion as a personal attack on someone. If she had wrote “I think your book did a disservice to quilters and did not represent us fairly. Since others will read your books please consider the fact you may be damaging the reputation of our community”. That would make it an opinion and a critism. There is a big difference between “I disagree with you” and “you suck, Yankee”.

  28. Will you please stop using that word “slut.”

    I don’t know where that comes from, but it’s just one step up from nappy-headed ho. You’ve indicated that you’ve received some harsh words because of your writing, and you wouldn’t lie. But you don’t need to hold it so close to your heart, either. For some reason, it hurts to hear you use it about yourself. Humor. Humbug.

    And yes, this is a false intimacy, I know, but I’m cheeky. I care about you, Joan.

    I grew up with
    sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
    I grew up with a poster that said,
    No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt

    Eleanor Roosevelt, no less.

    As for negotiation, see: Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher. It’s about win-win negotiation, which is sustainable, like wind power. Teehee.

  29. First of all, I really respect the people here who are putting themselves in Ys shoes and making the effort to see things from her side. However, I guess where I see it differently is that this letter was never intended by the writer to be an expression of disappointment. From the very first line it was intended to display moral superiority and to inhibit X’s future actions. It wasn’t a form of communication it was a bigoted diatribe. (And yes, the minute you say things “sullied by people like you” you’ve stepped pretty firmly into the bigoted camp.)

    One of the things I’m beginning to discover is that bigotry like Y displays in her letter thrives and grows when nobody calls them on their intolerance or prejudices. They are being psychic bullies and have gotten used to being able to throw their moral weight around with the assumption that no one will dare question them. And people don’t question them because of fear or a desire to take the moral high ground or wanting to keep things nice. But every time bigots get by with that, they win a small victory. Every time someone says, you’re godless b/c you don’t do this or you use these words, and we don’t push back or say, “I don’t think so,” we allow their prejudices to encroach on our lives just a little bit further. So while I’m all for being nice and respectful of people’s pain, I’m not at all interested in letting bigotry stand.

    And sometimes the easiest way to deflate bigotry is to chortle.

  30. But Robin L, you know that what a character intends to communicate and what he actually does communicate can–should–be different. The truth lies between and underneath the lines.

    NICE? For me, nice is never the issue. The issue is that when I understand a character, I own that character. It’s about a drive to complete ME, not a need to be nice. It’s like learning about lift, drag, thrust and gravity before you write a sex scene–oh, okay, before you learn to fly a plane.

    And sorry, Y has no power, therefore she is not able to be a bully. She is able to be an irritant, but even there, she has only the power you give her. She has no influence over publishing or anything else. Why get so fizzed over a nothing?

    And why is her opinion “prejudice” and “bigotry” and your/my opinion NOT prejudice or bigotry? What do we always say? De gustibus non disputandem est? You have to let others form their own opinions.
    Voltaire swings both ways. Everybody forgets that.

  31. This whole discussion highlights the expectation of intimacy that reading a work of fiction engenders. The reader feels as though mind to mind communication is going on with the writer while reading the book. The writer feels while writing the book as though she is communicating with her computer monitor, a cup of coffee and perhaps, a collage. And in any situation involving intimacy, even false intimacy, good manners are essential. The reader was rude, the writer responding was not. And frankly the whole question of intimacy with a stranger, whether admiring or not has got to be sticky.

    In the foreward to GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, they felt it necessary to give an etiquette tip to their fans: “It’s okay, more or less, to ask an author to sign your arm, but not good manners to then nip around to the tattoo parlor next door and return half and hour later to show them the inflamed result.”

    Although after reading this blog, maybe all results are inflamed.

  32. Jenny, in most situations your forthrightness is an asset–it builds trust. And anyone who thinks you’re ignorant is just letting you creep up on his blind side. ‘Ware frying pan!

    What kind of negotiation you want to do depends on your personal style and on the situation. If you know or trust the people you’re negotiating with, if you want to build a relationship or just grab and run, if you care what they think about you at the end. If you tend to fight better for other people than for yourself, if you’ll strive for win-win no matter what, if dealing with someone who likes to “win” gets your back up, if you’re more aggressive or persuasive, if you analyze each option or go with your gut, if you know exactly what you want.

    I would say since you’re negotiating for yourself, focus on figuring out what type of negotiator you are naturally–flip through a few books and find one with a self-assessment. That’ll help you think about what mistakes you tend to make, or how you tend to react. (Note: some self-assessments require a partner and a practice negotiation.)

    Getting to Yes is a classic, but Ury’s Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People deals specifically with sticky or charged situations.

    The discussion here reminds me of this book, which strikes an unusual balance of academic/cultural and prescriptive:

    Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

    Much of what they describe rings true for me. I find their more prescriptive “How to” chapters go too far in the direction of “Men Are from Mars” (i.e. women should act differently), but you would see through that. Or use it. Whatever you can sustain, without violating your personality–that’s the key.

  33. Louisa, the “ignorant slut” is an old joke from Saturday Night Live, back when Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd were doing a Point/Counterpoint satire. Jane expressed her opinion, and Dan turned to her and said, politely, “Jane, you ignorant slut.” If you saw it, you’d laugh, too, it’s a classic. I’m not cutting myself down; it’s just one of those jokes I forget everybody doesn’t know. If you Google for it, there are many references to it and one of Ackroyd’s diatribes is on YouTube at

    Thank you, RfP, that’s what I needed.

    As for the Dempsey con, just because I can write it, that doesn’t mean I have the presence of mind to pull it off. My characters are often more adept than I am.

  34. X, I enjoyed your letter. I could give a rat’s ass about the perceived imbalance of power some are mentioning. Y should have known better than to send a poison pen letter to somebody who makes their living through words. I’m surprised that anybody is defending what she did because she’s the ‘weaker’ party. If I walked up into the ring and punched a boxer in the face would you think it unfair if I were knocked out? Same principle.

    I work at a job where I get nasty phone calls and letters of complaint over ridiculous things all the time. I wish I could put people in their place in the same tone they use with me and still retain my position. Alas, this is not a perfect world, so I have resorted to deployment of the civil snark.

    I have never read one of your books before but when I go to the bookstore this weekend I’m going to check out one of your vulgar profanity filled works. I’ll put it to the Deadwood test. I’ll even buy one for my mother (a New Yorker,) she doesn’t get nearly enough swearing up in Canada as she is used to.

    Jenny, I love your work. This was an interesting conversation to read, I’m glad you posted X’ letter. Maybe I’m just horribly mean-spirited, but I had a good laugh.

  35. I am stunned at how seriously this exchange was taken! It was funny. Non-fan writes a hostile, demanding letter, author replies in extremely humorous way without saying anything nasty to non-fan. The author isn’t going to have to look at this woman at her breakfast table every morning, or salute her as she comes to work. They aren’t in a relationship. The woman took a swipe at the author. The author shouldn’t have be UNDERSTANDING or CONSIDERATE, etc. What do people expect when they say something rude or spiteful or

  36. This may not seem related, but I’m going to add a little to the mix.
    I picked up a book because it had a premise that included 12 step programs. (It was a mystery). Now, I happen to belong to a 12 step program, so I bought the book.
    What the book did to 12 Step programs didn’t make members that belong to them look very appealing.
    I wasn’t thrilled. I wanted to write the author and point out all the places she “got it wrong”.
    But then, I realized that may have been HER experience in 12 Step programs.
    I’m not going to email a romance author and tell her she’s “got the sex parts” wrong because my perspective on sex is different.
    I’ve taken a long time to say it but when a person writes a letter implying that their perspective is the only one, then they’re up for criticism.
    Restraint of tongue and pen is a valuable habit to get into.

  37. Ah, SNL. I loved that show, many years ago. Then I got old, and quit laughing at it.

    Good to know. Love Ackroyd & Curtin. Thanks for the link.

  38. Louisa,

    Of course she’s entitled to her opinion, but when she starts trying to dictate another person’s behavior (Please do not put your name on anything with the word, “Quilt” ever again.) and claiming she can speak for an entire group of people but the author can’t (Quilting is a fine art and should not be sullied by people like you. You have not got a clue how other people in the USA live and feel and think. ) she moves from opinionated to intolerant and bigoted.

    But that’s just how I see it. Like I said, I admire all of you all who see it differently. I’ve just seen similar bigotries do too much damage to people to feel inclined to call it powerless. YMMV.

  39. Well, what I like about this is where the discussion led. I’m really interested in the writer/reader relationship–collaboration, if you will–so don’t be surprised if I come back to this again. The people here always make me think.

    Mary Stella, I found you in the spam folder again. Who have you been hanging out with, girl? Your rep is shot with Akismet.

  40. “Boy, you go out to get a haircut and when you come back, your funny spur-of-the-moment blog turns into serious action.”

    But in a good way. I haven’t read through the new comments since you posted this, but, so far, no flame wars or name calling. ;+)))

    I think a lot of what people are curious or upset about – that readers feel they have the right to tell writers what to do, the loss of privacy or anonymity – has to do more with the Internet than most of the other things mentioned. Yes, women do tend to assume closer relationships with other women quickly, and the romance genre is more warm and fuzzy that way than a lot of others, but the Internet has increased that feeling exponentially.

    I also agree with Robin (IIRC, if not, sorry Robin) that women do have a more passive-aggressive way of dealing with the things they don’t like than men do – a result of centuries of having very little, if any, overt power. It’s a reason that I tend not to do the “girl posse” thing, as Roben so succinctly put it. That subject is a huge issue, though, that’s not under discussion here, but I did want to say I knew where Robin was coming from. I have to make a disclaimer here, though, because the CherryBombs are pretty much that, and I do enjoy that “posse” a lot. ;+)

    Anyway, in many ways I like the feeling of intimacy the Internet gives, but as a person who likes to sit in their nest and work alone, it also disturbs me. The work I’ve had published has been in anthologies or very low level freelance work, i.e., no byline, so I’ve never had to deal with my “reading public.” I’m pushing myself to get published in novella and novel length (not just write the books but to actually send them out into the world) and, always, at the back of my mind, is the spectre of “going public.” I’ve had lots of high profile jobs, where I had to be “on” all the time, but it’s not my preferred mode of operating. I can understand a lot of the angst surrounding this topic on that basis alone.

    There are only a few blogs I read with any regularity. And those are the ones where the author (of the blog, not necessarily an author by occupation) writes with openness and candor. They’re also almost always humorous. Do I feel like I know the author personally? Yes, as much as I know anyone I have only a virtual relationship with. Do I feel like I can, as a real-world friend might, remark on how they live their lives, as portrayed in their blogs? No, but I’m not a person who would do that in the real world either.

    Those people who would do that in the real world will, of course, be not at all deterred by the fact that they’ve never actually met the other person. It’s how they deal with things, how they feel in control, I believe. I joked about X locking her doors, but it wasn’t totally a joke. It’s almost impossible to “hide” these days. The Internet has made it too easy to find people. So, when someone with a questionable grasp of what constitutes a boundary makes that first move, in this case an email, it’s cause, IMO, to become more aware.

    Perhaps Y is not that “out there,” but she has the potential to be. It seems to me that she’s an unhappy woman, or at least insecure, to feel so attacked by a work of fiction that she’s not just going into defense mode, but on the offensive, if only virtually.

    I thought X’s response sounded like an autoresponse, althought it might be a little silly to make the assumption that all emailers are lovers of X’s books. (That sounded like a slap but wasn’t. /;+) But there is that doubt that would annoy me but maybe not make me question its authenticity. Best case, Y will feel no more than that level of annoyance. Not so good, she’ll feel the need to set X straight, and I’m not thinking with a flamethrower and grenades, I’m just meaning further angry emails. But let’s hope not. /;+)

  41. >

    The need for civilized discourse is never negated, unless someone’s life or physical well-being is at stake (although some would say diplomacy is called for even more at those times).

    What you go through as a writer with rude readers sounds an awful lot like Hollywood stars and the paparazzi. Everyone has a right to be outside the same Hollywood hot spot, but everyone also has the right to move about without fear and intimidation. Just because you are a celebrity doesn’t mean rules of etiquettes don’t apply to you. Etiquette is all about treating everyone–whether pauper or prince–with dignity.

  42. Wow! What a great discussion. I’m glad something so positive came out of all this, and I’m really impressed with the level of discourse here. Very cool.

    Jenny, thank you so much for doing the switch to Y. That was my big misgiving here, and I feel so much better. And thank you to everyone who granted support for her editing your posts on that. I really appreciate it.

    And while Jenny magnanimously wants to take all the heat for posting Y’s letter, I sent it to her and gave her permission, so it’s my responsibility, too. Even more, because it started with me. So while this discussion is about so much more than me and Y, I just want it clear that I shirk no responsibility for the publicness of the exchange, I don’t regret it and I’d do it again. I’m not going to argue my reasons why because, like I said, this is a bigger and better discussion, but anyone who wants to talk to me about it privately is welcome to. Just click the X. And chances are pretty good I won’t post anything you send me publicly. I’ve gotten thousands of e-mails, and this is the first one posted without permission. That’s a pretty good track record.

  43. I don’t have anything intelligent to add to this conversation.
    Just wanted to say, it always amazes me what gets people’s panties in a twist.
    But I’m easily amused. LOL …

    For the record, I thought the response email was classic. Something I probably would’ve done myself, and then laughed my ass off. 😀

  44. What I’m finding most interesting about the X/Y exchange is that Y seems to perceive the writer’s job as some sort of customer service role, or as a spokesperson for any group (say, quilters) who show up in the novel.

    Now, books are of course a bit of a gamble as a purchase, especially when you’re buying a new-to-you writer, and I think Y is struggling with the idea of book-as-art rather than book-as-product. Also: Writer-as-artist rather than writer-as-reporter.

    In other words: You see a painting, you like it, you buy it (or a print). But a book … it’s tricky to stand in the store and read all the way through without getting the hairy eyeball from sales staff. So it’s a different art experience, art on spec.

    And many of us (I’m guilty) buy books with the idea that we know the broad outline of the project. I like romance novels because there’s usually a happy ending (and I feel cheated if there’s not).

    Where I think Y went wrong (in addition to the personal attack on X, which was ridiculous) was in expecting the book to reflect back exactly what she wanted to see.

    I think X’s response was not just funny, but appropriate, because she was responding to Y’s customer service complaint (“You disappointed me! You didn’t deliver good service! I’m calling the Better Business Bureau of Quilters on you!”) with a customer service response.

    As readers, sure, we want to have a relationship with the writers we like, or feel that we do. But Y didn’t seek a relationship; she basically sent a cease-and-desist letter, which doesn’t merit any sort of personal response.

    And as for whether J. should have posted it on the blog: Of course. It was funny, it’s true, and it’s not causing harm to Y. And I strongly suspect that if Y ever comes to find the e-mail posted here, she would be more than welcome to present her perspective.

  45. I just wanted to make sure that we know where we stand with people who receive emails. I know from this that I can’t share anything with Crusie or Rich because emails sent to them don’t have any expectation of privacy. That is the first issue that I see.

    If you operate anywhere within the vicinity of any writer, you should not expect privacy. I write and everything that happens in my life eventually becomes fodder for the mill.

    If you want privacy, do not befriend and/or fall in love with a writer, or heaven forbid have the bad fortune of being the child of a writer. For confirmation, you can ask my husband, children, the lady at the bank who was rude…. the list grows daily.

  46. Argh. The first paragraph in my last post should have been italicized, and it was when I posted it on the last blog post, but then I saw the discussion had moved, and so I reposted, and the italics failed to copy and paste. Go figure.

    One more thing regarding the what does posting the letter do?

    As someone who has received a lot of lobs from a crazy person this week, it gave me an opportunity to laugh and realize I am not the only one dealing with crazy.

    My husband is constantly telling me what amounts to “Don’t poke the bear.” But he actually says, Ignore the crazy kid in the woods, which is a reference to an actual incident.

  47. One thing that I think people are missing in the discussion of the writer/reader relationship is that X and Y don’t have any more relationship than I do with the girl I thought looked like my ex-girlfriend’s sister, but wasn’t. It was a case of mistaken identity. Y thought she knew X and what X would write about based on how the cover looked. She was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that X would use profanity while making an Afghan. So how well did she know X?

    If you don’t like the way someone writes, you’re not her audience. So what gives Y the right to tell X what to do? “I’m a loyal reader because I borrowed one of your books from the library…” Give me a break… if X had developed a fanbase because of a half-dozen inspirational romances and then written a book with sex and profanity, I could understand a reader feeling slighted or misled. But a first time reader? You want X to change what she writes to please you? What about all her fans who have certain expectations? Does X then write back to them to say “Sorry guys, I had to change the way I write because Y was offended last time…” Even though Y will probably never pick up another X book anyway? Jeez, if Henry James changed his style completely and wrote about things I actually cared about and was perhaps not so friggin’ boring I might be a bigger fan of his too. Still wouldn’t read another book of his unless my grade depended upon it….

    I’m looking forward to the Stephen King novel that portrays the quilting sisterhood in a positive light. Can’t wait.

  48. it was put up there to provoke laughter, especially the laughter of recognition.

    I think reader’s email is indefensible, but the public mocking of her is also indefensible. Essentially the motive was then to make sure that everyone laughs at how ridiculous and crazy the reader was. The underlying emotion behind the motivation seems as commenter Grant was suggesting and that is defensiveness.

    I am completely disturbed by the idea that email correspondence is considered to be a free for all by many. In my business, emails are treated with the same modicum of confidentiality as a closed door conference, mail and telephone and afforded the same legal protection. I’m glad I’m not befriending authors because I like my privacy.

    So let this be a warning to anybody who e-mails me and tells me what I can and can’t write: You can’t trust me any farther than you can throw me. I know that’s terrible; what’s the world coming to when you can’t write a personal attack to a complete stranger and not feel secure that she’ll keep it to herself?

    It’s interesting where the line is drawn here. In the sentences preceding the above quoted paragraph, Crusie indicates she is indiscreet in all things but then draws the line at personal attacks. It’s self contradictory.

    I see Crusie’s post as a warning. Beware all readers who attempt to make criticisms of an author. If you aren’t as clever as us, it will go badly for you. I definitely see X’s response to the reader as “I’m so much smarter, cleverer and wittier than you that you won’t even get that I am mocking you. Instead you’ll be totally upset that I thought you loved my book.”

    Obviously these things bother the author and that is certainly understandable. No one wants their creative efforts to be trivialized or minimized. If the author wants to put out their defensiveness for the world to see, though, that opens her actions up to criticism and requires even further defensiveness. I read every subsequent comment by Y as creating more and more contradictions of her originally stated positions. I also say the original post as opening up doorways for examination of an author which certainly can’t be positive.

    As for negotiations, I would disagree with RfP’s points. The first thing is not to ignore. Never, never ignore or deflect.

    The first thing to do is always affirm the person’s feelings if you want to reach a satisfying conclusion. Belittling or in any way diminishing a person’s emotional response will only result in further charged. If you validate a person’s emotional stance, that person will immediately begin feeling more warmly to you.

    You’d be surprised how many negotiations are made from an emotional point of view regardless of gender.

  49. I don’t see what balance of power has to do with the presumed right to launch a personal attack. Y didn’t criticize X’s writing; in fact, she didn’t “criticize,” she attacked. It was personal and had nothing to do with the quality of X’s writing or accuracy of the subject matter. It would be like my attacking a politician I disagree with by saying his dog is ugly.

    As Jenny said, Y doesn’t get a free pass because she’s feeling ouchie. It is not possible to go through life without offending anyone. The best you can do is avoid, or at least tiptoe around, known hot buttons. Y got touchie because X portrayed quilters as being human beings who might have faults and foibles just like the rest of us. There is nothing X can do about that. Her next book will like provoke something similar in another person. Jenny’s WELCOME TO TEMPTATION probably provoked a response because she didn’t portray pool as the tool of the devil that we all know it really is (and notice that my tongue is firmly in my cheek here, people).

    As to equality, Y does not have the right to expect that X wouldn’t share the contents of the email, any more than X has the right to expect Y not to share the contents with her apparently perfect quilting circle. We don’t know that she didn’t do just that. We don’t know that she isn’t planning to include it in a letter to the editor of Quilter’s Monthly. She would certainly have the right to do that, just as X had the right to share it with Jenny. Because once Y sent the email it became X’s property to do with as she wanted to. And X agreed to let Jenny share the contents.

    And Louisa, I’m sorry but I don’t agree with your argument about turning off the tv. There will always be things out there that offends someone somewhere. If it is just me, as is the case with reality tv, I don’t have the right to expect the networks to stop airing them. It’s a case of majority rule. The majority of people don’t have a problem with reality tv; I do. It’s my problem, not society’s. It’s up to me to avoid watching them. It’s not society’s responsibility to ensure I am not accidentally exposed to them.

  50. Jane said … The first thing to do is always affirm the person’s feelings if you want to reach a satisfying conclusion. Belittling or in any way diminishing a person’s emotional response will only result in further charged.

    You know, if Y had done as you suggest, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  51. Not sure if I’ve missed a mention in the comments, but there’s a very interesting essay on the writer/reader collaboration by Lois McMaster Bujold in Dreamweaver’s Dilemma (collected essays and short stories). On the positive side of things, it’s about how readers bring the story to life by active participation.

    The power balance, um, I don’t see it as a power issue. All men are created equal, etc. Readers have power to buy or not buy, read or not read. Writers have power to write and publish or not write or not publish. Really don’t see how this letter exchange example has anything to do with power.

  52. Haven’t read through all of the comment’s on this post yet but wanted to register an opinion.

    I love X’s answer. IMO there is no point responding to such a letter as Y’s with a reasoned epistle addressing her points because she wrote in a judgemental rabid manner and when people are in a rabid frame of mind (it happens to us all) they are not open to reason. People who claim to speak for ‘all’ of any group push one of my hot buttons.

    Who has the most power in the writer/reader relationship? The readers. They buy or don’t buy the book. They spread the word of whether they enjoyed or did not enjoy a book. They can close the covers of a book at any point just as readers on a website or blog can exit click their mouse and leave the site. The readers decide if they want to buy another of the author’s books. Often readers are the ones who request their libraries buy a book or an author.

    I admire X and Jenny and how open they both are to differing opinions stated in the comments on both of these posts.

  53. Jane, you seem to be applying well thought out theories of customer service to the relationships between X, Y, and J. The problem with that is that Y is not a customer of X (or J, for that matter), and never will be a customer of X. Y thought she was picking up a modest pair of librarian shoes because the box had daisies on it. What she got instead was a killer pair of slut-puppy heels. She never bothered to find out that the manufacturer doesn’t make librarian shoes, nor did she bother to look in the box. She didn’t even buy the shoes, she borrowed them. Then she writes a letter to the manufacturer to complain and to suggest changing the line. I’m sorry, but if I was the manufacturer, I’d send a sweet but sarcastic response and make fun of her behind her back too, because it’s a ridiculous expectation. A manufacturers responsibility is to make their customer happy, not someone who is not a customer. If she’d actually bought the shoes I’d be more inclined to cut her a little slack.

    My day job is customer service related. It is quite frequent that one would be kind and helpful on the face of things and the minute you hit the breakroom it’s all “can you believe that guy!”

    Y: “You know, I came in here looking for vodka and you don’t carry it. I’m very disappointed.”
    X: “Right. We sell bridal gowns.”
    Y: “But I don’t want to get married. I want to get drunk. The sign outside said ‘Yes, we’re open.'”
    X: “Well, thanks for coming. I hope you’ve enjoyed shopping with us.”

  54. Jane, I think I understand what you’re saying. You feel that e-mail is always a private matter regardless of the content or origin; I don’t think that an unsolicited letter that flames the recipient deserves any sort of privacy. I think trying to explain my position again or clarify some of the things you misinterpreted would be fruitless since our disagreement is based on that fundamental difference and that is not misinterpreted. I understand that you feel the post reveals a lot of unflattering things about me; they’re all true.

  55. Too many words for me. I’d need to diagram/categorize/rearrange to see who’s saying what to whom and why.

    The important thing for me is that Jenny is taking the time to explain her position, to acknowledge a possible shortsightedness (In public? Wow!) in what she did (using a name), and to ask for discussion on the whole thing.

    Thank you, Jenny.

  56. I am listening to Yeats, so nothing can bother me.

    It’s about the mojo. The writer, a public person, has lots more power than the reader, a pale nobody. But the writer also has that terrible vulnerability: the pale nobody can mess with the writer’s mojo. Not Y. She got blown off as less than human. The danger to the mojo would have been far greater from a reasoned criticism of the writer’s work, especially if that criticism merged with some inner doubts the writer already had. Something bad is happening to my computer. Got to restart & hope for the best.

  57. Louisa,

    I couldn’t disagree more. Nobody is a nobody unless they allow themselves to be such. Y has choices. To read or not to read. To buy or to borrow. To write an attack or to write a criticism or to write expressing disappointment.

    X has no power over Y, a reader who has never read X before and was disappointed in her first experience.

    Henry James has no power over me. In fact, I have power over him (even without him being dead) because I can talk bad about him to all my friends, and to petition the schools to remove him from the curriculum, and to try to get him banned for being boring, and to post comments on other writers’ blogs. If I didn’t like X, I could do the same thing to her.

    For a writer of X’s calibre, a reasoned criticism would be far more useful to her than a rant about the injustice of cursing quilters.

  58. In my earlier comment the ‘it happens to all of us’ means that many of us (I should not have assumed that I speak for all) get rabid about something sometimes) The problem occurs when you attack someone else. McB is correct. When a letter or email is sent it becomes the property of the one who recieves it and they can do with it whatever they want. Everyone needs to remember that before they drop a letter in the mailbox or hit send.

    I think that when some one writes or speaks in an abusive or denigrating manner to someone else they deserve whatever they get. Y was abusive and denigrating. X was not.

    I have been a voracious reader from the moment I learned to read. I have authors I love and those I don’t and some I’m lukewarm about. Since I’ve begun writing and know what is involved in writing a book, if I love a book I send a brief email to let the author know. If I don’t like a book, I don’t comment because as Jen T said earlier tastes differ. If I hate a book, I stop reading it. If I don’t like the language used in a book, I stop reading it. I do not attack the author for writing it. It is their right to write what they want, it’s the publisher’s right to publish it if they think it will sell, it is the reader’s right not to buy or read it.

    Y has the right to her opinion and she had the right to send an email though IMO attacking X and the way she did it demonstrated ignorance and predjudice. Once she sent it, she lost ownership and opened herself to any response X wanted to make publically or privately. Again IMO, X showed class and humor in her response.

    I find the idea that vicious attacks should be ignored because of the attacker’s rights or feelings disturbing. What about the rights and feelings of the person or group being attacked?

    I’m going to stop now before climbing up any higher on my soap box.

  59. My issue isn’t with Y’s email or X’s response. It’s the public nature of the shared ridicule. If a reviewer did this to an author, the hue and cry that would be raised against it would be phenomenal.

  60. And by the way, she didn’t get blown off as less than human, she got blown off as an unreasonable human. We have freedom of speech in this country. It doesn’t mean that everyone deserves to be listened to.

  61. Jenny, X, should I ever e-mail either of you, no matter WHAT I say, and you think it might be entertaining and/or useful to publish it, it’s all yours.

    I recently mailed something that I didn’t read over before sending. I later discovered it makes me look like a total idiot, but correcting it would just compound the problem. Although improbable, it could potentially end up being quoted on a fairly prominent blog.

    Fine by me. If I’m willing to say it, if I’m idiot enough not to check over what I wrote, I stand behind it.

    I *really* don’t get where the problem is.

  62. “My issue isn’t with Y’s email or X’s response. It’s the public nature of the shared ridicule. If a reviewer did this to an author, the hue and cry that would be raised against it would be phenomenal.”

    Just to clarify, do you mean if a writer e-mailed a reviewer to complain about a review, and the reviewer published the author’s e-mail, there’d be an outcry?

    Why? The reviewer would be giving the writer a public forum for her objections. I know, you’re saying there’s an expectation of privacy. I see that, I do. I just don’t think it stands for all e-mails. I don’t see why public figures (like a reviewer) should be expected to treat unsolicited e-mails as privileged communication.

  63. When someone sounds hostile, a point-by-point reasoned response is the most likely to escalate things.

    Well, part of the problem may be that directness is being equated with hostility. But still, while I tend to agree more with Jane’s position on the negotiation, in a sense isn’t it moot, since X made it very clear that she had no interest in negotiation? X said straight out that “Y deserved to be taken down a notch” — no interest in negotiation. Dismissal, certainly, but not any intention of cultivating a conversation, IMO. And if insulting Y was the intention of X’s response, how can it be any “nicer” than what Y did?

    So when Bryan talks about how Y didn’t know X, my response is that NONE of us know Y, and yet much of the pro-X comments seem to rest on lots of speculation about Y — her motives, her mental stability, her intelligence, her expectations, etc. X has made several statements about why she sent her note and why she collaborated in making it public, but Y hasn’t said anything beyond that email she did not submit as a public statement. S how is all that speculation about Y less of a violation than what the pro-X camp is arguing Y did to X?

  64. I just think we should all remember how lucky we are to have this forum to discuss these issues in…Jenny doesn’t have to have Arghink. Yes, it provides her a certain level of exposure, but I know an awful lot of blog writers who don’t put nearly the time or energy or creativity she puts into hers. She is a gracious hostess to all of us–even, and often, especially, to those who disagree with her.

    So hats off to Jenny!!

  65. The first thing to do is always affirm the person’s feelings if you want to reach a satisfying conclusion.

    The very first thing is to assess whether a satisfying conclusion is possible, or worth the effort. Don’t bother if it’s a dead end. I think ignoring was a reasonable option for Y’s email. But I’m comfortable walking away; not everyone agrees with that.

    if a writer e-mailed a reviewer to complain about a review, and the reviewer published the author’s e-mail, there’d be an outcry?

    This happens all the time. No outcry against the reviewer; much laughter at the writer. Though my favorite example is actually from music–a critic wrote a really nasty review, and Ryan Adams left him a hilariously nasty voice-mail. The critic kept the voice-mail:

  66. Here’s my issue with the sharing of emails. First, I think that they are solicited. If an author has a “I love to be contacted by my readers” at the back of the book, the email is solicited. Would I send an unhappy email in the tone and with the words of Y? No and but the invitation is there. If you only want reader emails that are positive, then the wording of the invitation should be changed.

    Second, there are many personal things that I share via email that before I may have done over the telephone or in a letter. Simply because technology has made communication easier has not changed my view of the private nature of those communications. There is a certain emotional vulnerability in one on one interaction, a certain level of trust, regardless of the method. There are people I would like to email personally and open a dialogue with them, but the seeming pervasive attitude that nothing is private is disconcerting.

    As for the review issue, I am certain that if I published an email sent to me by an author and then proceeded to speculate on the author’s mental health, political affiliation, religion, mocking her ability to compose emails, I would get dozens of “You’ve gone too far” comments. I don’t think personal attacks on an author are appropriate and neither do I think speculation on an author’s motivation (ie I bet the author did x,y, z because she is in an emotionally negative place) is appropriate and I think what was done in the previous post and in the comments opens that door which shouldn’t be opened.

    As for my personal opinion of Ms. Crusie, I don’t know you personally. I’ve been a long time fan of your work and Welcome to Temptation has been one of my favorite contemporaries of all time. I was a member of the yahoo group from its very inception. From that group and the your own interaction, I learned more about the process of writing and the dissection of a book than I had ever been exposed to in the past. I own every book written by you, even Sizzle. I guess I want to say that I wouldn’t be reading and commenting on this blog if I didn’t care about the blog, the writer of the blog, or the topic.

    I am sure that there are many things that I have said yesterday and today that are mockable. That’s what happens in dialogue, though because I believe true dialogue comes from an emotional vulnerable position wherein you expose yourself to be challenged but you hope that the challenge is made with respect. To me, Y’s email wasn’t an invitation to open dialogue but it’s possible that a response could have been made to create a positive outcome.

    This incident doesn’t tarnish how I feel about either authors’ books and neither will it deter me from reading or enjoying them in the future. It does, however, make me disappointed, as I am sure I have disappointed others with comments I’ve made here and other places. That’s about as emotionally true I feel comfortable being in a public realm.

  67. if insulting Y was the intention of X’s response, how can it be any “nicer” than what Y did? … much of the pro-X comments seem to rest on lots of speculation about Y — her motives

    Same goes twice. It doesn’t matter what X intended–you’re interpreting based on speculations that go beyond the text. Someone who saw only the two emails would say that the text of what Y sent was more insulting than the text of X’s reply.

  68. Robin wrote: “…my response is that NONE of us know Y, and yet much of the pro-X comments seem to rest on lots of speculation about Y — her motives, her mental stability, her intelligence, her expectations, etc…”

    The same can be said if Y had sent a “postive” e-mail telling X how wonderful she is and what a great book she wrote and that she just loved it and was going to recommend it to everyone she meets. And JC still posted it and we all commented on it and how “right” Y is, or not. And how smart Y must be, whatever. We would still be making assumptions based on the language used in the e-mail. Our assumptions would be different, but they’d still be there. For me, Y is not the issue. The content of the e-mail is. And, Y started it.

    Do unto others and you would have them do unto you.

    I find negotiation interesting because when you enter into negotiation you know you are going to have to give up something in order to gain something else.

  69. Same goes twice. It doesn’t matter what X intended–you’re interpreting based on speculations that go beyond the text.

    No, I’m using X’s own statements about why she did what she did. I don’t need to speculate because she said it — multiple times, in fact. And folks aren’t saying, “wow, Y’s *note* *sounds* crazy to me,” they’re saying, “Y is crazy.” — it’s the same distinction I drew on Reader’s Gab in response to your comment that reviewers shouldn’t speculate about authorial intent.

  70. The same can be said if Y had sent a “postive” e-mail telling X how wonderful she is and what a great book she wrote and that she just loved it and was going to recommend it to everyone she meets. And JC still posted it and we all commented on it and how “right” Y is, or not. And how smart Y must be, whatever. We would still be making assumptions based on the language used in the e-mail. Our assumptions would be different, but they’d still be there.

    See, I think your example goes the other direction. If the note was nice, it wouldn’t have been posted for the purpose of public mocking.

    Here’s the bottom line for me: X felt Y deserved to be taken down a notch (he own words). She did it (her own words). Articulated intent to take Y down a notch. Execution of said intent. I can’t remember if it was X or others who speculated on whether Y would “get it,” but if it was X, there’s another layer of the insult. Then there’s the admission of wanting to make it public and of “”chortling” and public mocking. I just don’t see how this can be prettied up — or how it’s Y who is cast as the bully in this scenario. Boggles my noddle, to take another of X’s direct quotes.

  71. you’re interpreting based on speculations that go beyond the text

    Robin, I didn’t make clear why I said that. I thought you were speculating about X’s intent back when all she had posted was “Tee hee” and “Chortle”. (Ironically, as I said above, I know it’s a bad idea to get specific–it could just escalate this into point-by-point argument and personalities.)

  72. Robin, could you explain more about the resistance to critical reviewing? Obviously nobody likes bad reviews, but do you think romance is more sensitive to them than say literary fiction or SF?

    Oh, I think it’s much, much worse. I grew up in lit fic, so that’s where I was trained to critically review. As a grad student, I TAd for a Science Fiction course and critical examination — respectful critical examination — seemed very much the norm. In fact, my profesor, one of the leading scholars on SF, counted a number of well-known SF authors as friends — even colleagues on occasion.

    As for the Romance situation, I could — and have — go on for pages with anecdotes, but I will merely give on, and then follow with links to other places this conversation has occurred. Last year, an aspiring author wrote a negative review of a Romance novel on Amazon. A group of authors (I don’t know if the author participated or not) were so incensed at what happened to their friend that they dug up this person’s real name via an RWA chapter she belonged to, and proceeded to “out” her and mock her in what was, IMO, a vicious manner. Then they kept arguing — in the face of criticism — that they were justified in what they did because a prospective author should never diss a published author. We debated the issue on the Smart Bitches here:

    As for various convos on the topic, try these (one of which is my own on Dear Author):

    This is just the tip of the iceberg, mind you. I have hard comment — private, sorry — from authors who dislike and who know others who dislike critical reviewing/commentary of Romance. And unfortunately, that attitude doesn’t seem to be occupying the margins, either.

  73. I’m with Sheri who said ‘you go away for a few days and …’

    I have so enjoyed this discourse. As always, it made me think harder to try to figure out what I think. The original post made me laugh and this discussion made me struggle to think why I thought it was funny. I eventually decided it was the mis-match of complaint/response, the unexpectedness of it, that I found amusing.

    I think the customer service request and response points were particularly well made. In the first place, Y was clearly not the target market for X’s book. I frequently find myself not the target market and I ‘Let it go’ — or I try to. But so far I haven’t written to the producer and complained. Perhaps I should rethink that strategy 🙂 Many years ago, my younger son chose a book by Judith Viorst from the library. Now we had had many pleasant experiences with Ms. Viorst’s work (see “Alexander and the Horrible, no Good, very bad day”) and this one looked good. This book was called “Rosie and Michael” and it had a lovely cover showing Rosie and Michael sharing a gorgeous ice cream sundae. We read the book and my son was moved to comment that he liked the book but it hadn’t been about ice cream. I asked if he wished to write the author. He did, so I scribed a letter that said something like ‘This was a good book but it is not good to have pictures of ice cream on the cover if the book is not about ice cream — Brian,age 4 by his mom’. We mailed it care of the publisher and about 4 months later, Brian received a post card from Ms. Viorst that said ‘Right on’. A lovely interaction, don’t you think?

    Among the comments, I find this post particularly interesting: “If you operate anywhere within the vicinity of any writer, you should not expect privacy.”
    My late dh was a poet and he frequently used incidents from our life in his work. I was once asked by a colleague if that bothered me and I was surprised by both the question and my reaction. No, it didn’t bother me because the poem was a thing in and of itself — it may have started from a very real and intimate moment in my life but as it became Art (yes, with a capital A) it was no longer about my life and me and was a separate object to be admired and discussed (or not) for itself. Since we do have this intimate congress with what we read (and I must say I think the congress is with the work not with the author unless in a discussion such as we are having here) it may be that we don’t all separate the work from our own life and grant the work it’s own “life”. One difference between published work and ordinary speech is that once you’ve published it, it’s hard to take it back. It’s scary seeing your thoughts (in my case as I write non-fiction) or your story (in the case of those who write fiction) in print, knowing that they will be judged. To receive a complaint letter (or a published review) from someone who completely missed what you were trying to say is very difficult. To have it be an attack on you rather than on your work is very bad, indeed. To try to restrict your future work is beyond the pale. The male-female/mars-venus thing may well be at play here. I believe that as a woman I am more likely than a man to take criticism personally or to think that a remark about something was a remark about me. It does seem that Y felt that way about the story in question — that it impugned her in a way that X most likely did not mean and that others would not have seen as a reflection on her. Expressing her feelings at X the person rather than the book seems to be an extension of that. I think it sad and will try not to feel morally superior.

    Finally (ah, yes, eventually she will shut up), I want to comment a bit about privacy and expectation. I am glad, Jenny, that you hid Y’s name. Illustrating the interaction between author (or the work) and reader is good. Outing someone in order to do that probably isn’t so good because Y had no expectation that she would become part of your work. She expected a private interaction. Privacy is about control — each of us should get to choose.

    Thanks. /glee

  74. I thought you were speculating about X’s intent back when all she had posted was “Tee hee” and “Chortle”.

    Ah, where? I went back and read the two comments I made before X weighed in substantively, and I see not speculation of motive. I do response to Crusie’s assertions in her capacity as X’s spokesperson, but even there I don’t see any speculation of X as a person. And FWIW, I think Tee Hee and Chortle do count as loaded comments. Then there’s this comment by Crusie, which uses “is cackling” and not “is probably cackling”: Actually, X is cackling because somewhere Y is screaming, “I didn’t love your book, you bitch!” and then realizing, horrified, that she just used Bad Language and has thus become a Non-Quilter, cast into outer darkness. With the knitters.

  75. Tell me, what harm has been done to Y in all of this? Nobody knows who she is, and even if she herself is reading these posts and comments, she won’t view it as US denegrading HER… she’s in the right after all… instead, she will view it as US being a bunch of heathens from New York.

    Read her e-mail again.

    Hi, X, I picked up your book at the library and started to read it but was quickly disgusted by two things, your use of foul, vulgar language and disrespect for the quilting sisterhood that remains very strong today. We are a group of women who care about each other and would do anything for each other. And, we do not take the Lord’s name in vain as you do. Please do not put your name on anything with the word, “Quilt” ever again.

    Quilting is a fine art and should not be sullied by people like you. And, of course, I should have know better than to think this would be a good book when I read that you are from New York. You have not got a clue how other people in the USA live and feel and think. Thanks, Y

    Explain to me how that e-mail can be viewed as anything but judgemental and condesending? Not to mention the fact that she orders X not to even use the word “quilt” in a title ever again. But she still thinks she’s in the right.

    You can’t hurt this woman.

    What she wrote is funny in it’s own right and blog-worthy.

    Her expectation of privacy is gone the moment she sent something outside her own personal space. From that moment, it was in the public domain.

    And she didn’t even have an expectation of civil discourse since she opened negotiations with a full broadside.

    I think given the tone of the beginning of the conversation, X was remarkably restrained. So what if fun was had in the aftermath?

    Jeez, a bunch of little Bobbies running around crying because the girl hit him back.

  76. Well, it’s Saturday and I’m feeling pretty relaxed so here’s what I think …

    Someone acted out of hurt feelings. More feelings were hurt. A response was made. A support structure was put into place, and the only error was perhaps in taking it public. It’s that simple.

    J took the high road, she has shown incredible humility and put her ego aside by publicly admitting she acted spontaneously. She came back, removed the woman’s name from the blog, and made reparation. Yet, she hasn’t backed down in her defense of the insults heaped on a fellow writer and friend, and has shown concern and support for writers everywhere. And that’s why most of us keep returning to her community.
    J creates a safe place here, a place we can all feel good about, we can ask questions, we can discuss anything. If she goofs up she fixes it. I love that about her. She’s loyal and supportive. And she’s turned this “situation” into thought provoking dialogue, and that’s why she gets my support, why I love this blog.

  77. I’ve been reading all of the comments here intently. Very well thought out and sincere, written from the heart.

    It is interesting how many feelings this topic has stirred up in so many people. But I don’t think there’s going to be any meeting of minds on this, however much everyone might wish there could be. Perhaps it’s one of those topics that end up filed under “Agree to disagree.”

    Geez, Crusie, is your next blog going to be about gay illegal immigrants’ abortion rights? 😉

  78. Robin said … X felt Y deserved to be taken down a notch

    Apparently Y felt X deserved to be attacked. Is that defensible? Does X have any obligation to let the intended insult go unremarked? I don’t think so. Y is the one who picked the fight by throwing the first punch.

    And yes, I do think Y is the bully here. Her email was spiteful with a clear intent to hurt.

  79. I was once told never to write anything in an email you wouldn’t be happy to put on the back of a postcard. There is no expectation of privacy.

    For what it’s worth, I think X has behaved with grace, humour and style, and I’m going to go and buy her books as a result. If more people responded to provocation in such a measured way, the world would be a far less scary place.

  80. OMG, I love it when other people analyze my intent. I had no idea I had so many motives.

    My intent in responding to Y was to make it clear that her nastiness was going unacknowledged. As a matter of fact, it amused me. I never insulted her, nor was that my intent. I chortled at the whole interaction, because the whole interaction was damned funny. If you send a nasty note to someone, you get what you get. Punishment fit the crime as far as I’m concerned. I did say that Y came at me with swinging fists of crazy, but I don’t know if I ever said she was crazy. Just her fists, which was a metaphor for her letter, and I stand by it. Y may very well be the picture of sanity and discretion, but that letter was nutty. And I loved it.

    Y didn’t upset me or hurt my feelings, at all. I adore Y. I love the flaws in people, the things that make them imperfect. I don’t think Y and I will be knitting booties together any time soon (by the way, I am a knitter, and took every anti-knitting slam here personally, you all will be getting nutty letters from me you can post on your own blogs), but I honestly have great affection for her. She let out her crazy in the form of that letter, and I let out mine in my almost obsessive need to make a joke out of everything. My tee hee’s and chortles were my attempt to deal with this with a sense of humor, because really… it’s not a big deal. No one’s dog got shot at. It was just a letter, and it was just a response, and everyone gets publicly mocked sometimes. Cowboy up, people. You send a nasty e-mail to someone, you deserve what you get.

    Robin, Jane, and those of you who felt that I was insulting and denigrating my readers, you’re over-extrapolating. This isn’t about readers and writers. My readers get all my kindness and respect. This woman was not my reader. She didn’t even buy the book. The fact that the swinging fists of crazy were about the book is really just clouding the issue. I got a crazy letter, and I published it. I’d do it again. Be careful what you send me.

    Would it have been more adult, more responsible, more respectful to just turn the other cheek and ignore it? Oh, sure. And most of the time, honestly, that’s what I do. But this was too perfect, and I’m only human. So, now you know. If you don’t want to buy my books, I understand. I’ll really understand if you don’t want to e-mail me nasty missives. You’ll be missed, but I’ll understand.

    This is who I am. Imperfect, highly flawed, and chortling. That’s the package.

    If the note was nice, it wouldn’t have been posted for the purpose of public mocking.


  81. My issue isn’t with Y’s email or X’s response. It’s the public nature of the shared ridicule.

    Jane, I see your points about email privacy and public ridicule. Those are my queasy areas too. I also think you and Robin are right to connect this discussion with defensiveness and resistance to criticism–but I think the defensiveness is coming as strongly from readers as from authors.

    On the reader side, why do we care whether someone is judged and commented on? In part because it might happen to us. Without the fear of “What if I send J a dumb email?”, couldn’t we agree that, objectively, Y’s letter was wrongheaded and commentary on wrongheaded stuff is reasonable and desirable? Reader blogs point out dumb stuff all the time; it’s a good thing. Why shouldn’t authors do the same?

    Since J removed the name, I see value in the post as critical commentary. Just as I feel free to review a book and say it’s terrible, an author should be free to read a fan letter and say it’s wrongheaded. Publicly, in either case. (Though the name needed to be excised. There’s commentary and there’s human decency.)

    Could J have said it less attitudinally? Yes; she’s said so. But the bar is being set higher for her than for reader blogs, and that makes me uncomfortable. (Remember the 600 comments dissing Mancusi/Maverick’s clothing and professionalism, but that was acceptable because the “issue” was the real target, and M/M were just collateral damage? And how about the “Authors Behaving Badly” series? Reader blogs are full of commentary on people behaving… badly or not.)

    I think it’s a cop-out to say the bar should be higher because authors have THE POWER and THE POWER renders them ineligible to participate in discourse. I think the real issue is that authors are articulate, and authors have viewpoints, and dadgummit they might say something about me next! oooh, the power!

    Grow, molehill, grow. Me, I have a book to read.

  82. Robin Wrote: “See, I think your example goes the other direction. If the note was nice, it wouldn’t have been posted for the purpose of public mocking.”

    I have no idea what the “intent” was of posting the negative note. I did not post it, I’m just responding to it. I did however, go back and re-read the orginal post and got the impression the intent was “this is why I adore X”, but that is my take on it. And seriously, I am not trying to ridicule or mock Y. It doesn’t matter to me who wrote the e-mail. I find the tone to be mean and rude.

    Bryan wrote: “Her expectation of privacy is gone the moment she sent something outside her own personal space. From that moment, it was in the public domain.”

    Sorry, this is where I do have a big issue. And Bryan, since I know you, I’m going to use you as an example. So, this means, when I send you an e-mail and it leaves my personal space and enters yours – it’s up for public domain? Gee, thanks Bryan.

  83. I was shocked, shocked !! by both the letter from Reader Y and response from Author X.

    Reader didn’t like the book so she issued a simple command to Author to stop writing like that.

    What’s so hard to understand? Why can’t Author just shut up and do as she’s told? But no, Author tells a friend and then they discuss all points of view in an open forum. Even to the point of trying to understand the Reader’s position!

    Anyway, if I were the Author, here’s what my response would have been:

    Dear Reader, You’re the best! Thanks to your letter, I’m now #3 on Amazon! My publisher wants at least 6 more books with my name and ‘Quilt’ in the title! So you’ll be seeing them for years to come!

    In thanks, I plan to dedicate my next book to you. I’m still outlining, but here’s an advance peek:

    -“A Quilting We Will Ho !! ” A group of warm-hearted Hollywood Hookers who happen to also be Quilters, host a holiday raffle. Complications ensue.

    Thanks for reading!

  84. Jen-t,

    Well, yeah, but you know me, so you know that won’t happen. If I got a crazy letter from you before I even ever knew you… well, now we’re in a different basket of eggs, ain’t we?

  85. JenT wrote:
    So, this means, when I send you an e-mail and it leaves my personal space and enters yours – it’s up for public domain? Gee, thanks Bryan.

    Sorry, babe. Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Be very, very careful what you send in e-mail. Now, Bryan’s way too cool to share your personal e-mails, but yeah… if you send it, it’s his, he can do what he wants with it. It’s not nice, but it’s the reality. Once sent, you’ve lost control of that e-mail, and if you don’t know the person well enough to know what they’ll do with it, don’t send anything that you wouldn’t publish in the New York Times. Handy rule of thumb, that.

    And it wasn’t nice for me to allow this to go public. That I acknowledge. Sometimes, I’m not nice. Although, if you start out being nice – and by nice, I only mean respectful, I’ve got a real low bar on “nice” – changes are really good I’ll be nice back.

    You reap what you sow, people. If I accomplish nothing but serving as a cautionary tale to would-be nasty e-mailers, then maybe I’ve actually served a purpose here.

  86. J creates a safe place here

    Assuming, of course, you’re never in the position of Y.

    Look, I’m not going to defend Y’s letter, because I don’t think it’s defensible. Neither, though, do I see it as license to publicly mock. Chances are that none of us here would have written Y’s letter. But who’s to say that any of us haven’t written SOMETHING that someone else couldn’t publicly mock and try to shame us with. Is the justification in insulting or publicly mocking a private email — and I’ll point attention back to Jane’s comment that any author who says she welcomes reader response could be said to be soliciting reader letters — in the content of Y’s note? Are the rules of what’s acceptable and what’s not the same for everyone?

    IMO, any argument in favor of the public mocking that rests on Y’s note creates an illusory sense of superiority, safety, and distance from having your expectation of privacy violated, from being publicly mocked, from being judged as ignorant, and from an environment in which trust between people is non-existent because every communication you may have is subject to public revelation. Further, the “she started it” and “she deserved it” and “do unto others” arguments merely add to that illusion, IMO. For example, “do unto others” isn’t based on what someone else does, it’s based on what you WOULD HAVE others do. So if Y’s letter is the handbook standard by which one judge’s the appropriateness of insulting and publicly mocking a reader, it seems to me like there’s going to be a lot of parsing when one changes the circumstances (the authors in question, the book in question, the reader in question).

  87. Holy crap, people.
    I quilt, I knit, and with the least provocation I have been known to flay the skin off people with my salty language. So what group should I be in?

    I have also been on the receiving end of “criticism” like the reader’s letter as well as deep cultural “criticism” of my job as a newspaper reporter. Some of it came via my home phone at odd hours from some very angry people. Did I want to fire back? You bet. Did I? Not nearly often enough. And when I did, it was of the “Thanks for playing!” variety.

    It’s very easy to strike out with relative anonymity at people are not so relatively anonymous. That seems like a pretty unequal relationship to me.

    Here’s the thing about sending letters/e-mails. You send me a letter and I get to do what I want with it. You didn’t want me to know your opinion? Don’t share it with me.

  88. “It does, however, make me disappointed, as I am sure I have disappointed others with comments I’ve made here and other places.”

    You know, I think this is the price we pay for interesting discourse. Strong opinions stated in a civil manner, which is how I would characterize all of this, lead to real illumination. I’m looking at some things in a new way because of this. I think that’s what this kind of blog is about, people discussing/arguing points of view. And when you do that, some people aren’t going to like you. But the alternative is to be so careful not to offend anybody that nothing of real interest happens around you. And if you believe in what you’re saying, as I think the people posting here do, then for me, the trade-off is worth it.

  89. I was once told never to write anything in an email you wouldn’t be happy to put on the back of a postcard. There is no expectation of privacy.

    Is that really the world you think you’re living in or want to live in? Taking this back to the professional thing, I see an author who respond to a reader acting in a professional capacity. She may not be bound by professional ethics — like lawyers or doctors are, for example — but isn’t there a baseline social contract we all ideally hold in order to preserve the idea of trust as a viable concept? It’s difficult for me, because I have a job that requires incredibly high levels of confidentiality, so I weigh these issues differently, I suppose.

  90. I don’t think there’s a baseline social contract with anybody who’s abusing you.

    In other news, this discussion is now being discussed elsewhere as an anti-Christian rant:

    “Supporters of the Famous Author whose blog it is, took gleeful flight into really vicious anti-Christian “comments.” Just, boom–let’s trash Christians. Let’s do it in an unlimited and really ugly way . . . . I do wonder how great the distance is between the virulent anti-Christian ranting on blogs such as the one I mention, and the rounding up of Christians for labor camps? Just wondering when the hate gets its legs under it and starts killing people. I mean, it looks to me as if some of the readers/commenters on that blog wouldn’t mind at all setting fire to a church full of Christians–well, white Christians. Wouldn’t want to be racist.”

    I did a search for “Christian” of both Argh posts and the comments. Nothing. Then I did one for “God,” and after adjusting for swearing, there were a couple of references to “god-fearing,” playing off my comment. So I thought you all should know I’ve brought you down with me.

    For the record, I’m Lutheran.

    Isn’t it fun being a published writer?

  91. I’m confused- if the original note had been addressed to Dear Major Motion Picture Company and the sender received essentialy the same reply would we be having this conversation?

    The original email would be available to the public as part of their corporate correspondence file- available for the company to put on their website, in their annual report, or to use in publicity. Is it because reading is more intimate than watching a movie that we have this reaction? Is it because a book, while the combined work of the author, editor, publisher, cover artist etc in the end only has one name on it that we think of it as a handcrafted piece and a movie as a corporate product because we see the names in the credits?

    Customer service is a description that has been used. I feel this is a correct description. I would add that it is a corporate correspondence and while a reasonable expectatin of privacy exists in correspondence between two friends there is no expectation of privacy between an indiviual and a corporate entity.

    Feel free to ignore these rambles- I’m running low on coffee.

  92. Reader blogs point out dumb stuff all the time; it’s a good thing. Why shouldn’t authors do the same?

    I have no problem with authors pointing out dumb stuff. It’s the PRIVATE stuff I have a problem with. M&M were public AND in a professional space/capacity with their promotional strategy. When the Gail Northman letter went public on the SB’s, that created a HUGE debate — and deservedly so, IMO. I’m still not sure how I feel about that going public — and at the very least I think it was over the line to include Northman’s family stuff.

    What’s so weird about this whole thing is that when Anne Stuart commented on her publishers in public, that created a firestorm, with people calling her unprofessional and accusing her of revealing private stuff. PRIVATE? HUH? That, to me, was hardly telling secrets. But this, to me this is a violation — albeit small in the large scheme of things — of Y’s privacy, all for the sake of, what, exactly? Fun?

    And X, you actually talked quiet extensively about “the Crazy” in your comments in the other post. You were by no means the only one, though, and perhaps not even the most personal with the label.

  93. I don’t think there’s a baseline social contract with anybody who’s abusing you.

    But X just said she didn’t feel insulted or offended. “I adore Y” is what she said. But if we’re talking about other people feeling insulted on X’s behalf, then the calculus changes a little, to one of whether you believe more in “eye for an eye” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And I have to say, it’s hard for me to imagine that some of the folks who have claimed the first philosophy seriously believe that in their daily lives. Which brings me back to the question of whether if this weren’t Crusie and X v. Y, would all of us be in our same positions?

  94. I think this is definitely a privacy issue; we’re just debating what’s private, if Y had a right (hot button word, I know, but I can’t think of another) to privacy when she sent the e-mail. Not a legal right, but within the codes of decent human behavior.

  95. And X, you actually talked quiet extensively about “the Crazy” in your comments in the other post. You were by no means the only one, though, and perhaps not even the most personal with the label.

    I talked about the letter being laced with Crazy. Swinging fists of Crazy, etc. And I think I’ve got some pretty solid evidence on my side for that argument. Did I ever say, “Y is crazy?” I might’ve, but I don’t recall it.

    I also don’t recall saying anything about Christians, but then, I’m Quaker. We don’t say anything.

  96. But X just said she didn’t feel insulted or offended. “I adore Y” is what she said.

    I did, and I do. But that doesn’t mean Y wasn’t abusive, just because it didn’t bother me. She was totally abusive. Swinging Fists of Crazy, etc. I chose not to be upset by it; that doesn’t mitigate how she came at me. Although I have to admit, if Y came at Jenny that way, I’d want to take her damn head off. Abuse is abuse; it’s my choice not to be bothered by it, but a duck’s a duck whether I’m bothered or not.

  97. What I find astonishing about this entire dialog is the assumption many have made that this is about readers and writers. And the extrapolation by many that this is how these two particular writers treat their readers and their email. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any writer who treats her readers with more respect and appreciation, even affection, than does Jenny Crusie. I assume her good friend X, with whom I am not as familiar, is no different in that regard.

    Had Jenny phrased her first post just a bit differently, these comments would have been drastically different. If she had said something like, “You know how sometimes you run into people who are just wing nuts? You know who I mean, people who blame others for their misconceptions and insecurities and are downright mean about it. You find them everywhere – the grocery store, the mall, the library. Sometimes they even show up as readers, as a friend of mine recently experienced. I just love how she handled it. . .”

    Of course, she would have said it better because, you know, she’s a talented writer. But had she phrased it along those lines, you had better believe that all these comments would have been people coming over here and sympathizing with X and telling their own stories of “private” conversations and run-ins with rude, bigoted, bile-spewing wing nuts and how they wish they had been as charmingly funny and good-natured about it as X was. And they would have been delighted, delighted I tell you, to hold those people up to ridicule. And I do not believe even one of you would have chastised them for it.

    I’m not sure, but I suspect that is more along the lines of what Jenny was expecting. You all might spend a few minutes thinking about why this turned out differently. The conclusions I’ve drawn are not necessarily very complimentary to us, a community of readers.

    This has been a fascinating lesson. Thanks, Jenny.

  98. Jenny said: “… we’re just debating what’s private…”

    I agree. And truthfully, not much has been revealed that can be considered a violation of her privacy. She’s a member of a sect of quilters who do not blaspheme. Some of us remember her first name. That’s it.

    Well, and the specific contents of this particular e-mail which could put her in a poor light if she were embarrassed by what she has written. I don’t think she would be. People tend not to be embarrassed by strongly held convictions.

    As to having fun with it, unless you’re one to ignore such e-mail, having fun with it is probably the healthiest response. I suppose one could let it eat at them until they were unable to write any longer. Or attempt to redefine who they are as a writer regardless the cost to their relationship with established readers. Or limit ones shortles to the privacy of Jenny’s living room. But, so long as Y is not being harmed, what is the harm in having fun with a funny (or hateful) e-mail?

    It’s a way to relieve pressure without lashing out directly at the source.

    Now as to the Christian bashing… I suppose that means I’m bashing myself since I am the epitomy of right wing Christian conservative (except I’m Catholic instead of Protestant). But even I thought Y was coming out with Kung Fu Crazy Fists of Fury. And it had nothing to do with taking the Lord’s name in vain.

  99. After all this talk, I still can’t believe that the reader didn’t read the back blurb and the start of the book to get a sense of what the book was about and the writer’s style. I always do this when I come across a new-to-me writer.

  100. Lily C wrote: I was once told never to write anything in an email you wouldn’t be happy to put on the back of a postcard. There is no expectation of privacy.

    And then Robin wrote: Is that really the world you think you’re living in or want to live in? Taking this back to the professional thing, I see an author who respond to a reader acting in a professional capacity. She may not be bound by professional ethics — like lawyers or doctors are, for example — but isn’t there a baseline social contract we all ideally hold in order to preserve the idea of trust as a viable concept?

    I’m with Lily. Email is not the same other methods of social communication. It’s not particularly private, regardless of sender or recipient’s intent, and it is all too easy for writers and readers who only know each other through the internet to take something the wrong way as the recipient has no idea of the body language and voice tone the author would be using with certain statements.

    This topic seems to be going round and round in circles – can we go back to 12 days of cleaning? Jenny, where else in your house is a mess?

  101. I’m actually impressed that this discussion did not degenerate into bashing Y’s community, because she is clearly not alone in her attitude.

    What’s frightening about Y’s letter is her starting assumption that there is a cultural war, and that she has to defend all she holds dear against those that profane it. Defend by attacking, and defend by protesting.

    People can say they’re against censorship all they want, but could you not imagine a book whose premise was so vile that not buying it would not be enough – you would not want it to ever be published? So then it’s only a matter of where exactly you draw the line. The line is there.

    It’s not about customer service, it’s about social standards.

    And this is why it hit a chord with both X and J, and the rest of us. Not because it was an absurd criticism, but because it was an extreme version of something real. She wasn’t attacking X’s writing, she was attacking X’s morals and the morals of the society that X represents.

    The more I think about it, the more it seems that part of the contract between a reader and a writer is that the writer will not cross certain lines in insulting the reader, her family, or her community.

    Those lines are not very clear in the first place, and they’re shifting.

    Can a reader attack a writer for perceived insult? Well, not over quilting, but yes over … [fill in whatever is holy to you].. And then the writer is on the defensive because they crossed a line they didn’t know existed?

  102. Oh, god, everything. But there’s a limit to my willingness to showcase my disorganization.

    I am reading an amazing book I want to blog about. I knew it was going to be good, but the places it went . . .

    It’s a non-fiction book. Let me cogitate.

  103. I think we’re all desperate to be heard and desperate for community. That’s the crux of it, why this letter was written to X in the first place–she felt her “community” was insulted somehow and she wanted to be heard; X, I imagine, might have written her book for the same reasons…to be heard and to reach out to a community of readers; and why this discussion has gone on and on for so long.

    Has everyone been heard? Could anyone deny that arghink is a community?

    I’ve learned a lot from this discussion, but most of all, I recognize how we’re all alike. Whatever “side” we’re on.


  104. Wayyyyyy back there, Lynn wrote:

    “email is an immediate form of communication; once you hit the send button, there is no return. It’s gone. A half hour later it’s still gone. There is something oddly seductive about being able to reach out that quickly.”

    I’ve seen a lot of statements like this about email or the Internet over the years, and I must say they baffle me. Everything Lynn said here is also true of snail mail. Has no one here ever dropped a letter into a mailbox and then panicked at the irrevocability of it all? I doubt it very much; I’ve seen enough scenes in comedies about people trying to get sent mail back to feel sure that it’s a common experience, or at least something easy to relate to.

    Sure, a lot of people seem to believe on a deep level that e-mail is some kind of magic. But as a child, I felt the same way about the US mail, and to some extent I still do. (Similarly, a lot of people are shocked to discover that e-mail is not private by law in the same way that postal mail is.)

    I thought that X’s reply to Y was clever, and it reminded me of the the tactics that Miss Manners comes up with (though I don’t know that MM would approve of this particular move). I think, however, that if X had felt like writing a scorching, hatefilled, invective-laden reply to Y, giving her the same coin in return that Y had sent to her, that would have been just fine. Yes, published writers have “power” that their readers don’t — but published writers are also sitting ducks in ways that readers aren’t. I don’t see how readers (and I, as my handle suggests, am a reader) can excuse treating writers (or anyone else) as punching bags for whatever reason. Maybe Y *is* in pain, as some people here have suggested; but it seems to me that one thing an adult need to know, even an adult in a dominant-submissive relationship with The Lord, is how to direct his or her anger at the person who has aroused it, rather than at random strangers.

    On my blog, under the posting title “Harumph!” if anyone wants to see, I have not enabled comments, though I accept e-mail — but I also warn my readers (both of them?) that if they send me something abusive, I may very well post it. I think adults know what “abusive” means in this context. (Tom Tomorrow did something like that on his blog once. Some geekboy sent him a typical geekboy abusive e-mail, full of the usual homophobic insults, and TT posted it, though without IDing the writer as I recall. The geekboy had written back to him, urging him not to take the message personally, he didn’t mean any harm, etc.)

    As Jenny says, most writers and other public figures exercise considerable restraint about such things. A lot of people would consider them bullies if they didn’t. But as I said, public figures are sitting ducks, who can be ganged up on easily by anonymous embezzles and maroons. (Jenny, are you a Bugs Bunny fan too?) Let’s not exaggerate their power unduly.

  105. I’ve enjoyed this discussion so much. It’s amazing to find a large group of people discussing opposing points of view while still remaining civil. Everyone here give yourselves a pat on the back.

    I don’t know Y, of course, but I can say that Y is very famliar to me. There’s a woman I work with who was greatly offended, to the point of literally turning her back on me, because one day I altered my routine by lunching with someone else. Another person stopped speaking to me because I closed the door when I stepped into the bathroom for a moment. No, I’m not kidding, she took my closing the bathroom door as an insult.

    Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is fond of saying that people are the same wherever you go. Part of getting through life is learning from past experiences, and people are part of those. The world is full of variations on Y and once you meet her you will always recognize her again. You know how she will react to a given situation because you’ve witness that reaction before. And in case you are wondering, yes I have a point.

    The Y’s of the world lash out at perceived offenses whether they are valid or not. You can’t talk them around because they aren’t interested in logic. So what can you do when they lash out? Well most often we do nothing because we’re too confused by their outbursts to make a coherent response. And sadly they often take the lack of response as validation; you aren’t arguing or defending yourself so they must be right.

    Bryan said … “As to having fun with it, unless you’re one to ignore such e-mail, having fun with it is probably the healthiest response.”

    Bryan is right on target here, and believe me I don’t agree with him all that often, being a Protestant of the Independent category. We can let the Y’s of the world (and possibly the why’s as well) make us crazy or we can laugh about it.

  106. I have come late to the discussion, but for those who have been watching “The War,” you may recognize the phrases “you people” and “people like you.” The show had just reminded me of how abusive and bigoted these phrases are, so I was particularly saddened to see one of them in an e-mail to X.

    I have to agree with Bryan – Y is not going to be bothered by our discussions. The discussion has already been interpreted as being about burning churches full of Christians. Huh?

    Also, Bryan, we know Y is not from NY. This algebra is really getting confusing.

  107. Good heavens. People got that upset over your post?? And now they’re STILL hashing it out?? Amazing. I thought it was funny, and understood why you posted it, Jenny. And I loved X’s response. ‘Nuff said.

  108. Just a couple of quick comments:

    1. I don’t think it’s making mock of Y at all. It’s mostly a case of exploring how to handle the Ys of the world.

    2. If Eleanor Roosevelt is right, then Y isn’t being hurt by any of this at all. The only power we have of hurting her, is what she allows us to have. So, she can simple turn off the “indignation” switch and feel all better.

    3. I had to smile when I heard that it’s turned into a discussion of anti-Christianity according to another blog. They are riffing off a side-point, and having a great time figuring out how to deal with authors like X and J, so let them have their good time. (-: And please, please, post the particularly choice bits over here, if you feel up to the storm and thunder! (But if it’s all getting a little old, don’t bother — I don’t mind moving on, either.)

  109. Sorry for the late comment. I’m just a reader, so very not a writer. I feel for you and X for having to deal with letters/emails like Y’s. This could be very scary. Is this person unstable or not? Do you antaganize them or ignore them or give a pat thank you for your response to my book? Very, very worrisome on how they respond to your response.

    X and J, I’m so sorry this has happened. I wish you both lots of inner peach (peace) and that fans/not fans do not stop or hinder you from your truly amazing work.

    Dr. Smith? What is your conclusion to this project? (grin)

  110. Wow. First of all, I must say that, as a college student I have not had time to read all of the comments so if any of this has already been said please disregard it.

    This conversation has been more interesting than some of my senior philosophy classe’s arguments. The range of positions and arguments while some I completely agree with (X: I don’t care who you are, reader or writer, there are certain ways you are simply not justified in talking to people, and Y deserved to be taken down a notch), some I would argue against until I turn blue in the face (being upset with the filthy kids of the world that, god forbid, get to watch whatever they want on TV and expose it to other more ‘refined’ children), and some I just had to laugh at until I turned blue in the face (the christanity blog that is debating this now), they were all eye opening.

    There are a lot of thoughtless things that are put out into the world and very few people that are on the receiving end of them get to have their say back. There is a certain comfort in the anonimity of sending an e-mail to public figure because you never expect to have to deal with them face to face and be held accountable for what you say, but that doesn’t give the right to be deliberatley hurtful. I think that the letter writer deserved what she got and I’m glad that all of the above people got some food for thought out of it. Way to be X, for not taking this one on the chin and turning the other cheek.

    Anyways, all that I really want to say is way to go Jenny, for posting both the first letter and this new entry on the blog and for not taking life too seriously.

  111. Email vs snail mail: There are many more points when sending snail mail where you can stop and think.

    1. If you’re writing it, as opposed to typing it, that’s slower, so therefore more time to pause.

    2. You write it, you look at it, you rephrase it to really get your point across.

    3. You want the the handwritten/ printed sheet to look tidy so you rewrite.

    4. You fold the sheet and put it in an envelope. You think again.

    5. You walk to the postbox – another think.

    In contrast, email – you’re in a snit, you hammer away at your keyboard and press send. The snit is on its way around the world.

    Fair enough, if your fury is strong you can still hammer out a handwritten letter and sprint to the postbox. But it has to be really hot and sustained anger, and you have to think it’s really worth it.

  112. Strop, I really have to disagree that snail mail is so much more of a barrier, if only because so many writers before the advent of e-mail got piles of letters exactly like the one Jenny quoted here. “You want the handwritten/printed sheet to look tidy so you rewrite” gives way too much credit to such people; do they really want the sheet to look tidy?

    In the good old days, of course, you had your servant carry the sealed message by hand, and wait for a reply. Thus one of the most famous examples of hate mail in literary history, sent by the Marquess of Queensbury to Oscar Wilde: “To Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite,” scrawled on Queensbury’s personal card, with “Sodomite” misspelled and the handwriting so sloppy that generations of biographers had trouble deciphering exactly what he wrote.

  113. Oh yes, definitely, people were still vile when we only had snail mail. But then you definitely knew they intended to be vile because it took more effort. Seems to me that with email (and egroups, especially) there’s much more of ‘taking things the way they weren’t intended’, plus more unintentional sharing.

    In fact, now I’ve typed that, I’m wondering if that isn’t the key. Egroups, or shared mails, seem particularly problematic to me as what is written to one will not be read the same by all who are party to it. After seeing several fiery exchanges (and on lists which are composed of fellow professionals all from the same nation, so fewer opportunities for misunderstandings you would think) I am extremely careful what I put in emails. Some stuff I would never put in an email, as it is too easy for it to be shared, intentionally or not, with a wider audience.

  114. Good lord this has gone on forever!

    At a tangent, I saw a show based entirely on private correspondence sent to glamour models called “Dirty Fan Mail”. Very funny. I wonder what the writers would have thought if they had known they would end up being read out in funny voices on stage?

  115. Wow….step away from your computer for a couple days, and all heck can break loose! I read the original post, laughed at the ridiculousness of Y, admired and laughed at X’s response, and laughed some more at Jenny’s post in general.

    The only purpose of Y’s letter that I could see, was to insult X (as a person, not a writer), and assert Y’s own rightness. You send that to ANYONE, by email, snail mail, smoke signal, or pony express, you deserve whatever you get in response.

    And, as far as anyone being a bully in this situation, let’s review, shall we?

    Pronunciation: ‘bu-lE
    Function: noun
    1. archaic a : sweetheart b : a fine chap 2. a : a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker b : pimp
    3. : a hired ruffian”

    Well, personally, I think Jenny is a sweetheart (as well as, yes, an ignorant slut-she’s multi-faceted), and, if she were a chap, she’d probably be fine, too. I’ll even give her blustering and browbeating, but only because she’d probably like it. And, in this case, you could actually make a case for her being X’s “hired ruffian,” even though X didn’t really hire her. But it’s that middle part that I just don’t see: “habitually cruel to others who are weaker.” Jenny? Nah.

    But I’ll betcha that Y probably fits that bill. ‘Cuz there really was no purpose to Y’s letter to X other than to be cruel. And I firmly believe that one should always confront a bully. Preferably with Swinging Fists of Crazy. (Which, incidentally, may be Indian name.)

  116. As another tangent, I went to snail mail a letter today and could not remember how much the most recent US first class stamp was. I have so many stamps of various denominations. This is a barrier to snail mail. Ha!

  117. “and the rounding up of Christians for labor camps? ”

    And I suppose we are going to be quilting in those labor camps ? Which are in upstate NY.

    That whole Chrsitian rant ? Hogwash.

    Y has issues that we know nothing about. So X ‘s response is within reason and appropriate and tongue in cheek. The rest of this has been fascinating and illuminating. And deep. And over my head.

  118. Forty-one cents.
    Which I know because I piled all my thirty-seven and thirty-nine centers on a package just to get rid of them. Looked like confetti.

  119. Lately any time someone from the Right side of the arguement is upset, they say Christians are being attacked and I’m tired of it. Y’s Christianity was never mentioned or mocked in either posts’ comment sections. I used “God-fearing” as an example, but there was nothing negative about it.

    If Y had written X a letter that said, “I’m disappointed in your book because all the ladies in my quilting circle are God-fearing women who don’t cuss and you used the name of the Lord in vain” that would have been a valid comment. But no. Y told X not to put her name on anything with the word “quilt” again. She has no right to do that.

    Then, she insulted X and the entire state of NY, while placing herself on a moral highground because of where she lives.

    I was raised Catholic, BTW.

  120. But still, while I tend to agree more with Jane’s position on the negotiation, in a sense isn’t it moot, since X made it very clear that she had no interest in negotiation?

    Are you saying Y did show interest in negotiating? I don’t think so. As much as I’d like to live in an ideal world where negotiation is always possible, I live in one where it isn’t.

    Two people are required to negotiate, and Y made it clear from the first that she wasn’t interested. I doubt X could have said anything that would have changed her mind.

  121. It seems to me that Y’s letter was either an irrational spur-of-the-moment reaction or she has serious issues, as some commenters mentioned before. I sure hope I’ll never write something like that. (I tend to check what I write before I send it off – not only for spelling.) But if I got a reply like the one X wrote, I’d either think

    a) that she is so careless she doesn’t read her mail properly
    b) that she doesn’t really care about her readers
    c) that she’s got a weird sense of humor
    d) that she’s a rather arrogant person to treat me like that.

    (Maybe this is due to cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe.)

    In my opinion, a mail like that should not be answered but treated like anonymous letters or spam or people who spit on the street or the occasional finger flip you get when you don’t pay enough attention while driving – just ignore them, you won’t change things for the better anyway.

  122. Just a reader here. I think, as a general rule, best not to mock us, even if we are being retarded. Cuz we need you to write for us, but you need us to buy your books and read them. (Well, at least, buy them.) As a reader, I can’t remember ever threatening an author, however. Can’t think why I ever would.

    However, if you must mock us, then you must be funny. My husband makes fat jokes all the time and he still lives because they are funny. I asked him how a person could lose 80 pounds and still be fat. And he said, “I don’t know, dear, but you’ve done it.”

    X’s reply was very funny and made me laugh out loud. As I was having a very bad day, this was great. And really, when people say stuff that’s totally off the wall, that’s the best kind of reply.

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