Monday, October 20, 2014

Yes, I Am Afraid

Daily, I do certain things that in the book reviewing world are acts of courage.

I use my own name.

While I omit specifics about my work and family and home, I don't make up alternate facts to create a public persona that will offer me more protection.

I use my own photograph, which means I am recognized in public.

I use my own mailing address with publishers and agents and other professional contacts.

Part of this is because I wanted to use what I do here, online, professionally, for writing and professional activities and programs and workshops.

Part of this is because of cost: being on a tight budget means that I don't want to add the cost of a PO box, plus depending on how something is sent means that a PO box isn't always the answer.

But it means, of course, I'm exposed. My own "it happened to me!" stories are much less than what others have experienced. I'll say it wasn't an author or publisher; it was people who, basically, didn't like what I had to say online and then -- . Well. I'm sitting here, still worried, trying to figure out how to phrase what happened and share it in a way where I feel safe. And, I can't. Trust me: on a scale of 1 to 10, it was probably a 2 at most. No threats; nothing like that. Rather, it was about making me aware that a person could reach through my public online persona to my real life world. That I was vulnerable. Even for something that low on the scale, knowing it's that low on the scale of what happens to others, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that it will start up again, from writing this post.

But those things didn't stop me from writing. Or posting. Or presenting.

And when I read Kathleen Hale writing about tracking down the real-life world and home of a book blogger, of stepping over that line of reviewer/author -- the line of reviewer/reader, even, crossing the line of "this is something you're doing on the internet" to "here I am at your house, calling your work, SHARING YOUR PUBLIC INFORMATION ON AN INTERNATIONAL NEWSPAPER WITH NO CHANGES TO YOUR INFORMATION SO ANYONE CAN DO WHAT I JUST DID" --


I felt sick to my stomach, for the person who is now being doubly victimized, first by what Hale did, and now by a newspaper upping that exposure by 1000. I feel sick to my stomach for myself and other bloggers who are being told by this, by the people embracing or championing what Hale did, that "hey, we can find out where you live and where you work and anything else we want and intimidate the hell out of you and try to use your personal hobby as something that will have consequences other than online disagreement."

Even for someone like me -- who has leveraged blogging for some professional benefits, doing presentations and programs and workshops and writing -- the blogging remains personal. Done at my home, on my own time. Unlike, say, an author like Hale who is getting paid for her writing. And while I have friends and blogging colleagues, I am much more alone than someone who has publicists, agents, editors, etc. like Hale. There are no layers of protection for bloggers.

Reviewing, whether it's on a blog or GoodReads or whatever, is very much about an individual and the book. It can run the gamut from pure reader response to deep, footnoted criticism. One thing I love about reading bloggers and book blogs is that one blogger can encompass that whole range -- sometimes in the same review, but other times it changes depending on the book. Reading these posts and reviews requires the reader to understand that "review" covers a lot of different things -- and that people read and use those reviews for a bunch of different reasons. I read them to see different opinions of books I've read; to find what to read next; to enjoy a blogger's writing style; to have a laugh.

And, of course, what's going on at blogs and websites and social media is beyond reviews. It's discussing other things that are book and publishing related, from what is happening with Amazon to self-publishing to book banning to advances to diversity and on and on and on. All of those are areas that, well, can lead to disagreements of opinions. And that's fine. I love having good conversations online about things.

But here's the thing: no one is making you read anything. You don't like a style, format, tone? Don't read that person. The answer is not to track them down in their real life to tell them that.

You disagree with what was said? As an author, that's what your real-life friends and non-public avenues of communication are for. The answer is not to track them down in real life to tell them you think they're wrong.

Even as another reader -- there's a level of conversation that can be had online. But even then? No one owes you a conversation; no one owes you to "listen" to you, especially if you are talking under the belief that "if someone listens to me, that means they will end up agreeing with me." They especially don't owe that to you in real life so again: the answer is not to track them down in real life.

For anyone -- authors or just general readers -- to go from disagreement in comments or tweets to reaching into the blogger's life is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. As I said, what happened to me was so much less than what Hale has done -- hell, now I'm going to mark it down to a 1 when I think of what Hale did and continued to do, with this article using real names -- and yet it left a mark. I can't imagine how bad it is for that person Hale went after, for daring to not like Hale's book.


If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, I'm not giving her any more clicks. Google Kathleen Hale, you'll find it soon enough.

That said, I will link to two responses and one roundup I find very valuable:

Dear Author: On the Importance of Pseudonymous Activity - because part of Hale's justification for what she did is that the reviewer in question chose not to use her real name online.

Smart Bitches, On the Choices of Kathleen Hale - because everything Hale did was her choice.

Kathleen Hale has written other essays. It's a bit interesting to see how much she does or doesn't share online, yet it still doesn't justify what she did to that blogger, both by stalking her and by then sharing all that via a newspaper article.

So, what about you? Have you had a negative experience with someone reading your blog? Do you think Hale sharing her story is going to change how people write or how much they share online?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...

I cannot believe this support for Hale from Bustle.

Liz B said...

Oh dear. First, I think the term "catfishing" is being misused. Second, nothing I read, even with it being Hale's biased POV (with no ability for the blogger to respond or give a different POV) is as that article portrays it: the blogger wrote about a book she didn't like. She didn't target Hale; Hale felt targeted. A big difference.

Jess said...

The author of the Bustle article made it clear early on that she was "Team Kathleen Hale" - a tweet that she later deleted, so I think there's probably some bias there.

Debbie Reese said...

With one exception, the back-and-forth I've had with an author who does not like a review I've done has been ok.

In that one exception, the author emailed me several times, and I received snail mail from a person who stated he is a friend of the author. The latter didn't bother me, then, but it does give me pause now.

Unknown said...

This may be a situation of she said/she said, but I believe it has both authors and book bloggers scared. Authors are afraid of the drama-causing, career-ruining activities of a select few bloggers; bloggers are afraid of passionate, yet unbalanced fans or authors whose work we critique. Let me clarify that these things happen to both sides, and Hale's piece finally brought it into the light. Luckily, it does not happen often, but When it does, it is scary. And this might be the thing that shuts down good book bloggers, even those who may not have experienced backlash. For some, the risk might just be too much.

Colleen said...

I just can't believe the Guardian ran this piece or that Frank Rich is her father-in-law (or her fiance's father). Maybe he didn't know about it but someone in her family must have, right?

Heck, someone who actually cares about her in real life (and not all the weirdness she writes about) must have known what she was doing, going after this blogger, keeping notes, writing about it.

Not only what was she thinking but what was everyone in each step of the writing & publication process thinking? Why isn't anyone who cares about Hale getting her off the damn computer now? (I hope they do - I hope they get her into counseling immediately.)

This whole thing...on every level it is just insane.

And if anyone gets a book deal out of it then my cynic meter is going to go through the roof.

Gail Gauthier said...

Every couple of years a newish/youngish/inexperienced writer will write an essay about their trials as a writer. Their first book didn't become a bestseller. They didn't know that self-publishing a book meant the New York Times wouldn't consider reviewing it. Nothing is working out the way they thought it would.

And they always get blasted for it. I'm guessing the people in the writing/publication process have a pretty good idea what's coming, but it's good for the publication. Readers come to read the writer's embarrassing revelation.

I'm predicting a movie, not a book.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time I was a commentator on NPR with 10 million listeners. My real name and city of residence were given, and, after one essay, my place of employment was revealed. I also appeared on a national TV show, so my face was seen.

I'm lucky that what negative reactions I had were limited to emails. This was years ago, and vitriol wasn't as vicious as it is nowadays. But one or two listeners expressed wishes to find me and "give you a piece of my mind." One said he'd visited my workplace. Thank god I wasn't there.

I used to think that putting one's real name to one's opinion was the honorable thing to do. It's the way my parents raised me. But now I only go by a pseudonym, because simply agreeing to disagree is apparently no longer the norm. I find how people feel entitled to attack those whose opinions don't jibe with theirs to be extremely alarming. It's not limited to the Internet. How did we get to this point?

Thanks for your post. It's reassuring to think I'm not alone in saying that Hale's behavior is WRONG.

Anonymous said...

Colleen said: "Maybe he didn't know about it but someone in her family must have, right?"

To me, one of the more disturbing aspects of the Guardian article was that, if Hale's account is accurate, her mother and at least one close friend not only failed to talk some sense into her, but enabled and encouraged her deplorable behavior. They ALL need some counseling, it sounds like.

Anonymous said...

Have you read anything about Benjanun Sridaongkeaw, an up and coming SF writer who it turns out is also the rage blogger and community wrecking Requires Hate? There is a person who was everything Hale accused Blythe of being -- someone who used reviews to hurt people and was in it for the LULZ. I can't support Hale, but I think we have to judge these things on a case by case basis.