Last week I got my first true hate letter.It was anonymous and opened with: “You are a self-involved ass fuck.”The writer loathed my new book Point Dume.Hated my characters.Mocked my writing and intelligence.Despised me, really despised me. It was bad.Of course I know that one shouldn’t take these kinds of attacks seriously—this person is clearly deranged.But I found it very hard to ignore the enormity of his/her venomous rage.
I’ve published three novels and have, for the most part, received courteous response. Of course there are negative reviews but most are fairly respectful and my feeling is that if you put a book out into the world, you have to assume that people are going to react—both positively and negatively. I don’t love it when someone says: “This books is a total disappointment” or “The dialogue, as a whole, is stale and predictable” or even “…the ending is so ludicrous that it wipes out any residual good will still standing.” No man, that doesn’t make my day.But I respect these people’s right to express their opinion about the WORK.My favorite bad review opened with “This is a book you can’t put down because it sticks to your hands.”The reviewer hated Chemical Pink but I will never forget that great opening line.
I’ve received direct feedback from readers.There have been strange correspondences.Bodybuilders have sent me pictures of them and asked me to comment on their various parts or particular poses. More than once, I’ve been encouraged to discuss my favorite muscle group.One man invited me to his house and specified that I come sometime between the hours of nine and two because that was when his wife would be at work.He insisted that we would enjoy each other’s company and promised to have the cupboards full of baby food.Baby food?(There is no reference to baby food in any of my novels.I double-checked.)People send me startling suggestions for stories.Occasionally someone will share an intimate secret because they KNOW I will understand them based on something one of my characters did or said.Okay, it’s weird but it’s respectful.These people reach out to me because something in my writing speaks to them.Fair enough.
I too have been guilty of misdirected rage.Ride with me once through rush hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles.Listen to my comments on the woman next to me who is applying mascara while navigating the transition between the 10 and the 110 freeways.Hear my wrath at the texting teenager in the Audi S5 or the phone-blabbing SUV drivers that clog fast lane.I am quite vocal and articulate when I’m alone in my car.But that’s the thing.I’m alone.I keep my nasty thoughts to myself.No one actually hears my long and repetitive string of obscenities because I would never, ever, think of subjecting another person to my free-floating frustration.I have too much respect for my fellow human beings.I don’t want to needlessly hurt someone.I’m a nice person.
What does my hate-mailer hope will happen?Does s/he envision me shriveling up like the water-doused wicked witch?Would s/he like me to check into the lockdown section of the psychiatric ward and spend my days curled in the fetal position, rocking with remorse?Head banging, nail biting self-loathing because I’ve finally been made to see what a terrible person I really am?What?What do these kinds of people want?It’s just a fricking novel.If you don’t like it, put it down.Walk away.
So yes, the hate mail got to me.He/she won.My question is this: how do other writers deal with this kind of an attack?