Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Hate Mail: A Snake Waiting in My Mailbox
A couple days ago, I received a disturbing letter in the mail. I was unnerved for a few reasons:
1. Who gets hand-addressed letters in the mail anymore, anyway? What used to be a delight has become odd in the era of e-mail, texting, and instant messages.
2. The letter was addressed to me at my new home in Seattle, a home I had moved to only three days ago.
3. The letter had no other purpose than to tell me how much this reader despised one of my books.
It was this last reason that really bugged me. Now, I have written and published enough material to understand that not everyone will love what I'm doing, nor even like it. I expect and accept the occasional bad review along the way. I comfort myself with knowing that even the best authors, classic ones, can and do get bad reviews.
And I certainly know that, for an artist of any stripe, having the expectation that he or she will please everyone, all the time, is folly.
But reviews are something else entirely. They are not ostensibly written expressly for the author. They're for publications, online or print, and for readers, who may be looking for guidance in their reading selections.
But a personal letter to an author at his home? I don't know; to me that's crossing a line. And yes, I do believe it's a different matter from writing to an author to tell him or her you loved something he or she wrote. That's just good manners and an act of kindness.
What puzzles me most is why someone would take time out of a their day to sit down and write a hateful and mean-spirited letter to an author, track his address down (I assume via the Internet through property logs or something). The author of the letter was not about correcting errors I made, but simply to inform me what a terrible book I had written. Curiously, he ended his letter by saying he was getting another one of my books and hoped that next time, he'd be writing a "rave review."
My response? At first, I suggested to my partner that I write a check out for the cost of the book and mail it back to the disgruntled reader. Wisely--and this is part of the reason he's my partner--he counseled me to not "engage" this person, to just forget it.
Which is what I did. I tore up the letter and threw it in the garbage. Life is too short to dwell on unkindness. Writing this now will also help me expel the bad feelings I got from this experience. Still, I am a little creeped out that this character knows exactly where I live...
What would you have done had you received the same letter? Do you think readers should write to authors personally, telling them they despised their work? And if so, what's the point in that? To teach them? To counsel them? To ensure they never do the perceived wrongs again? I don't know. My mother taught me that giving advice, good or bad, unsolicited, is just rude.
And I agree with Mom. God rest her soul.