Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fandom Fluff: Hate Mail

Hate Mail

Hoosier Mama

I once spent about a week of my life kicking and screaming at author Katherine Kurtz.

Of course I’m speaking figuratively; I’ve never met her. She wasn’t kept prisoner in my house ala Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery. After all, I’m not psychotic; although now that I think back on it, my behavior was just a tad bit maniacal. At the time, my husband and I were newlyweds. When I began punching pillows and yelling phrases out of the blue like, “how could she?” and “Oh, that damn book!” he must have wondered if he’d had a lapse in judgment and married a lunatic.

The ending of this particular book KK had written (it was one of the Histories of King Kelson), quite simply, made my blood boil. Putting it in Twific terms, here’s what happened: Imagine Edward is assumed dead, but we readers know he is alive and will return. Bella, believing her secret fiancé Edward is dead, is tricked into marrying James (a murderer who also had tried to kill Edward so he could get to Bella). She becomes pregnant with James’ child. Edward returns, kills James, tells Bella he still wants to marry her, they both pledge their undying love for each other, but Bella refuses him as she feels herself unworthy and winds up spending all her days in a nunnery raising the miscreant’s son.

Surely my agonized state of mind was understandable.

I felt such unbridled anger at the unexpected twists in the story that for a while I couldn’t think rationally. You and I both know if that had been a fanfic, we would have been merciless in our reviews; our ire would have known no bounds. As a fanfic author, KK surely would have gotten her share of angry PMs and hate mail.

Ah… hate mail. A passion-filled response to an author’s blood, sweat and tears. I suppose everyone has their own special way of dealing with vitriol directed at themselves and their works. Those authors filled with that sweet, sweet nectar called self-esteem are probably able to casually shrug them off. My writing may be brash and opinionated, but in real life I am the polar opposite: quiet and overly sensitive. I am a marshmallow, effortlessly squashed, and easily burned.

My first response to hate mail is always the same. I close my laptop; I metaphorically turn my back on Twilight and fanfiction and return myself to my regularly scheduled programming. (Now let’s see…where was I and what was I doing two years ago before I picked up my daughter’s black book with two hands and an apple on the cover…) I am momentarily overwhelmed with gratitude and wonder at the sender of the hate mail for succeeding where my family and I have failed: she has cured me of my Twific addition – cold turkey! Well done Person-who-doesn’t-get-my-humor-and-hates-the-ground-I-walk-on! Well done!

The World Wide Web is a gift we can either accept or refuse. We can choose to stay connected, continue to read and share our writing, to be involved with on-line communities, or if we’d rather, we can easily disconnect, disappear, never to be heard from again. I find it tempting after being hurt, to revert to childhood: to refuse to play anymore, to stick out my tongue, take my ball and go home.

This feeling generally lasts for about ten minutes.

Then I start thinking…

  • Can I really exist in a world knowing chapter updates to “A Rough Start,”“University of Edward Masen,” “Master of the Universe” and several other favorite stories are going unread by me?

  • Even the columnists I admire and idolize like Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, and the great Mike Royko got hate mail from readers. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

  • Haven’t I written a few sharply worded reviews to chapter updates myself? I may euphemistically call them “sharply worded reviews” but did the author I was writing to take it the same way? I cringe now when I think about a review I sent to hopeful wager about her excellent fic, “Will you be ready when it comes?” I had stupidly fallen in love with a character of her own creation, Matthias, and couldn’t continue reading knowing that canon couplings were inevitable. (BTW, I prefer the alternate ending…)

  • As reviewers we need to be careful what we write; we don’t know how our words will be received. One person’s sharply worded review could easily be interpreted by the author as hateful. It all depends on the sensitivity of the recipient.

    If Katherine Kurtz had written her book as a Twific (and if there were such things as PC’s and internet back in the dark ages of the 1980’s) I’m sure I would have worded a scathingly brilliant rebuke to her story. I would have been brutal, no doubt. But the bottom line is this: I had a deep emotional connection to her writing. It was visceral and raw and even twenty years later, I remember the feelings of anguish generated by her words. I have read countless books since I read that particular book; some I remember, some I don’t, but the emotional impact of KK’s story has stayed with me all these years.

    Isn’t that connection why writers write? And isn’t that why readers read?


    1. It's funny that your post is about this. I got my first 'sharp review' yesterday and I was kind of baffled by it. But, like you said. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

      Second, my husband just finished an 8 book series, the Dark Tower by Stephen King and he was pissed at the ending. I guess the books are sometimes like 1000 pages, so you can imagine the time he invested in this character to find out at the very end, the character is doomed to repeat his history, never finding salvation.

      Oh those tricky endings. To be inside a writer's mind. But as you said, the impact they have on you, stays with you, and there lies any writer's greatest wish.

    2. Well, there also comes a point where either as a constant over time or with intensity, it gets to be far too much for anyone to handle. It isn't about sensitivity of the person.

      I think you actually hit the nail on the head when you said "if there had been the internet I would have...". Well, through the magic of the internet we can tell some nameless faceless stranger what we think without fear of ever having to look them in the eye and see the hurt we put there. We can be cruel and mocking because we don't see them as real people, but just see them as a way to vent our own personal frustrations. People are FAR more cruel online than they would ever be when looking at someone and giving them similar criticism.

      Even the strongest person can only deal with derision for so long. Emotional connection or no, being told things such as your story sucks or you are a raging bitch or whatever is going to take its toll sooner or later.

      "If you can't take the heat..." I think it is almost - how do I say this the right way - backwards to basically say that if you have been on the receiving end of constant negativity and can't take the heat to just GTFO of the fandom. There are two parties involved here and I generally try (mind you I said try, because I myself have failed on this front on occasion) to take the line of treat people online with the same respect you would someone when looking them in the eyes.

      If you truly think you would have gone up to that writer and told her the same thing to her face as you would have if there had been the ability to shoot her an online review, good on you. My guess would be the answer would be no as in person most people have the sense to be courteous to the face of another, well I would at least hope so by the time people get to be my age at least.

      At some point people cross a line and it goes from being criticsm about a story to disparaging remarks about them as a human being, about their life, about their person. Someone you don't even know the first thing about. I think it is wildly unfair to sort of intimate that since these people have connected with our story that we should appreaciate it in some fashion.

      Well, that and because I think sometimes the negativity comes from a place NOT born of connection, but of jealousy, rebellion, mob mentality, etc. Once you get into that territory, the passion behind the words changes entirely and the words are far more hurtful and disrespectful.

      Sorry so wordy...

    3. Really interesting discussion. You're a big person to come to this conclusion! That the important thing is that the story impacted your life and you remember it.

      I've definitely been on the receiving end of a flame or two, but I hope I've never done it. I've certainly let authors know I was displeased/shocked/hurt etc... Though I often feel guilty about that and know it isn't my right. I can feel however I want, but I don't need to hint to the author I would have done things differently. Let's face it, we all would have! That makes it neat!

    4. I know the exact book you are talking about! Trust me, you are not alone with your reaction. I actually think that was the last book I read by her because that is how offputting it was, especially reading every single book before that which led up to that point.

      If I were to write something to that effect, I would definitely expect the flames. But some people are just nasty for the sake of it, and I understand when sometimes it can be hard to bear. I'm sure KK received plenty of flack for that ridiculous ending though, even though there was no internet at the time.

    5. I don't really understand the concept of Hate Mail. I know that people do write terrible, mean things to each other in the name of "criticism" - but I can't comprehend why they do it.

      It is not okay to be rude and hurtful.

      There are plenty of outlets where anyone is free to voice their ire: post on forums, comment on blogs, write a post on your own blog. But there is no need to vent frustrations in a direct message to the author.

      So, to whoever is sending hate mail:
      Don't be a coward. If you have something to say, why don't you share it with the rest of the class. Or better yet, keep it to yourself!

    6. I have always been strangely satisfied with such doomed endings.

      I guess I'm just a masochist at heart, but sometimes, those heartwrenching conclusions are preferred to the sweet HEAs.

      I guess it has to do, as you said, by the emotions such endings evoke in the reader, to feel so strongly for something, even if the feelings aren't happy, is so powerful.

      Maybe that's why I hated Breaking Dawn?

    7. As always, you hit on a nasty little trend in our fandom and brought it to light. Brava! I believe the anonymity of the internet seems to eliminate the need for tact, and even humanity in the minds of certain people. And yes, I say PEOPLE -- not avatars or pennames. I can't count how many times I've come within two sentences and a "post" of putting HL5 on hold and just finishing it up outside the eyes of the fandom instead of posting as I write and opening myself up to bullying and anger. I think the only thing that often keeps writers from doing this is the guilt of letting down readers who've shown appreciation and leniency toward fanfic writers.

      I think I probably reached my breaking point a few weeks ago when I stumbled across a public discussion on a forum of how my writing wasn't up-to-snuff since my "hiatus" (when my son was stillborn), and they were flouncing the fic. It completely baffled me how, instead of a simple thank you for continuing to write and share a free story during the darkest moments of my life, I was getting vitriol because said free story wasn't meeting ridiculously high standards for fanfiction. The only reason I didn’t say “screw it” and slap a hiatus on HL5 until I could finish it quietly and hassle-free was an aptly-timed week in Mexico to regroup and focus on the important stuff in life. Needless to say, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever visit this forum again.

      I wish I could just inject a shot of consideration into thoughtless posters, or at least snap my fingers in a few faces to remind them there are people behind the usernames--and those people are sharing their stories for others to freely consume and enjoy…or not. And if not, no one is out a ten-dollar paperback. Alas, in a perfect world... ;).

      But by and large, most readers and writers are awesome possum and even if we're not the most literary bunch, we appreciate a fun and thrilling fanfic for an equally mediocre and fun book series.

    8. Gondolier,

      That is deplorable. That is exactly the type of behavior that makes me physically ill to hear about. I'm so sorry you had to come across such insensitivity and lack of human empathy in general.


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