Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hate Mail: A Snake Waiting in My Mailbox

UPDATE: I just had an e-mail from one of my publishers, who said they had forwarded the letter in question, which had been sent to their corporate office--and not my home address. So that does releive the creepiness of this whole experience a bit. A bit.

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.

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41 comments:

  1. The circumstance is quite strange, and reads like something that would happen in one of your books. Perhaps the letter writer has set a future scene for you to embellish, in turn, making me shudder on my couch. Meanwhile, I'd cast my vision wide as Musashi teaches us.

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  2. That's just downright scary.

    I don't like the fact that they went to the trouble to seek out your home address. They could have emailed you and be done with it.

    This makes me think the person is less than stable. Creepy!

    Stay safe. And if it happens again, inform the police about what's going on.

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  3. Yes, it does have that vague sense of stalkerish dread that I would love to use to build suspense. But when it hits so close to home, as it were, its a bit more unnerving than imagined happenings.

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  4. I would do just what you did. Toss it and forget it. Some people are just weird. You definitely do not want to engage someone like that. It is disturbing that he knows your address but it seems like he was just disappointed with one of your books, perhaps is older and sends snail mail all the time. I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about it. It was rude, for sure.

    Alison Elizabeth Lister

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  5. Once you are a property owner and your real name is "out", then anyone can find you sad to say. Some sites, like where I live, even have a picture of the home.

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  6. Very scary, not to mention creepy as hell.

    I'm with you Rick, my Mom taught me if I couldn't say something nice, not to say anything at all. Unfortunately many people didn't get that same lesson!!

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  7. Writing an author to say you were disappointed, perhaps. Invading your personal space like that with the clear message "I know where you live"? It borders on threatening.

    I agree with your very wise partner re not engaging this, er, person, but I would have kept the letter. Just in case. If this person does become more than a one-time nuisance, it might be good to save tghe correspondecne.

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  8. Your partner is very wise. The last thing you want to do is engage him. He may just be someone with enough time to track authors down but his behaviour is not appropriate.

    If it happens again I would consider advising the police.

    In the meantime, forget about him, settle into your new home and continue what you do so well. xx

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  9. Rick, indeed unsettling. To have used your new address makes me wonder if this creepy character knows you because public records don't typically become "public" as soon as this.
    But,as someone else suggested, I think you could indeed have the last laugh because it really does seem like a premise for one of your books. And, being personally attached to it, with your talent it could be a really spellbinding one.
    My only (unsolicited) advice (albeit rude) is to save any future letters as evidence.
    Best,
    Bill

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  10. You said you thought about sending him his money back. Does that mean there was a return address on the envelope? If so, it would make me lean more towards simply being someone who is older and accustomed to snail mail. (I still write letters by hand even to businesses on occasion.) I agree that you shouldn't engage him (nice to have a smart guy around to help us think straight), but a really creepy stalker is unlikely to put his name on things. Interesting that your book struck such a chord with him that he went to all the trouble, and plans to buy another. Maybe his reaction to your writing was more mixed than he's making it appear. It is a little scary how much of our privacy is being lost in these interconnected days.

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  11. It is rather threatening. Try to forget it, but in the future, SAVE them in some safe place. If this person contacts you again or escalates, you want to be able to show a pattern of aberrant and threatening behavior.

    Brenna

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  12. There was a return address on the envelope and I did pull the letter out of the trash for safekeeping. He did sign his (or a) name. Yeah, Bill, it did occur to me that it was awfully quick for property records to be public, but I don't know how that works...we did close mid-April, but waiting until last Friday to actually move in.

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  13. Your partner was wise. Reply to the kind letter, ignore the hurtful. However, for someone to look up your new address and send you a letter that arrives just as you're moving in, is dangerous. I wouldn't have responded, but I would kept the letter in case this turns into a stalking issue.

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  14. That is more than a little scary. I can't imagine why someone would secretly seek out an author's home address. You have an email address published all over where such a letter could have been sent, and if a reader wanted to send something else, the right way to go would've been to contact you for the appropriate address. I agree with not engaging, but I would've kept the letter in case he shows up again.

    As for writing to authors with criticism, I'd stick to factually incorrect information and actively offensive content, and I'd use publicly available contact methods. I don't see the point in telling an author you just didn't like a book. Even a reviewer should give concrete examples and reasons, not just "I didn't like it."

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  15. Ahhhh, Rick...

    Seemed genuinely scary until learning the person left his name and return dress which turned me to suspecting it was merely someone thoroughly disappointed who wanted to "vent". However, his use of snail mail, at all, seems a tad strange, in that he seems to have had the computer expertise, from the get-go to track down your snail-mail address. Then, again, he might be as computer illiterate as some of the rest of us who call upon the "kindness of a friend". At least he's planning on buying another book; so, really how pissed off could he be in the end?

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  16. I agree - he sounds like a stalker! You probably should have saved the letter for the police - just in case. I hope this was a one-time thing. Enjoy your new home!

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  17. You did the correct thing by ripping it out and forgetting it. A similar thing happened to me. I write movie reviews online and don't hide the fact that I'm gay (if it's needed for the review). One guy emailed me back a message full of homophobic slurs and bashing my review to pieces. I was shaking like a leaf when I finished it. I typed up a vicious response to him...and then deleted it without sending it. As your partner said engaging with a person like that is not a good idea. Some sickos get a kind of pleasure out of getting people angry. So--forget it. BTW they probably sent u a letter because that's harder to trace than an email. This guy is basically a coward. How he got your home address I don't know. That is kind of scary.

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  18. The frightening thing is him tracking down your new address. If it was only a bad review without threats to your well being makes it a little unsettling but not to frightening.

    Your partner was right not to respond, I am assuming it had return address. Mistake was in tearing up and throwing in trash, if writer does turn into stalker, you tossed proof away. If you keep good reviews by email or mail a folder for bad reviews not a bad ides.

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  19. Rick - I want to share my experience with you pertaining to a stalker. (For fear of alerting said stalker again, I will not use dates or gender)...

    A couple years ago, I began receiving glowing emails from a "fan" about my writing; they were encouraging and flattering. Slowing the emails turned more critical, to nasty to downright scary! I was responding to all the stalker's emails unaware that I was actually encouraging said stalker's attraction to me...mind you, at this point, I didn't realize I HAD a stalker!

    Then one day at a booksigning/reading - the stalker showed up, got autograph from me, chatted with me for a period of time and remained for much of the sesssion near or around me. Never was I aware said stalker was there! It was only after the signing that I learned the stalker was in attendance when this person began posting about attending the signing and meeting me on the web in blogs etc, speaking about me as though we spent a great deal of time together and this person knew me very well. The stalker had driven several hours to come to the signing/reading. Scary, but things only ot worse.

    About the same time, I received a warning from an author friend of mine who was noticing postings on blogs/yahoo groups targeting me that I'd likely attracted a stalker that had been hounding him/her for years. When he/she told me all the things that had happened to him/her - I realized the pattern so clearly as to what was happening in my case. I advised my publisher, who immediately began documenting everything/anything that happened and offered great advice in dealing with the stalker - in short, ignore the stalker until said stalker moves on to someone else.

    Sad, but true. Police can't do much about a stalker unless they physically hurt/harm you. I grew concerned this stalker (who know knew the town I lived) would find my address; luckily, I use a pen name.

    Ignoring the stalker made things worse at first (not answering emails, not friending on FB, ignoring requests for chat, etc... This stalker began targeting my writer friends, most with the same publisher being very cruel and hateful with reviews, personal attacks posted online ,etc.

    I had to stop posting online, marketing my material to yahoo groups, blogs etc - basically, become virtually invisible for a while until the stalker found another interest and moved on....

    My advise: keep the letter, any emails that are shocking, threatening, scary etc. The stalker will change their email address even so you can't track them or don't realize you're dealing with the same person. Be wary, vigilant and mindful of your surroundings and DO NOT engage this person. Don't write back, don't accept their friend request, etc...eventually, they will move on to someone else..it's sad, but true.

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  20. Rick - please excuse all the grammer errors and mis-spellings in my post; as you can see, just being reminded of such a horrible experience is upsetting..

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  21. Sorry you got such a letter. You're right, not everyone will like our writing. It's the nature of the beast. So wrong to target you at your home, the one place all peeps should feel safe and secure in our sometimes crazy world. Thanks to the Internet, everything about is available now.

    I'm glad you kept his return envelope and address. Rationally, he wouldn't send his address and sign his name if he meant harm in the physical sense, right?

    Just be on the alert for anything further from this person and if you get more, perhaps you should at least report it to the authorities.

    Otherwise, let it roll off your shoulders and write the next book. You're a great writer, Rick. Don't lose sight of that from one or two disgruntled readers.

    Best, Keta

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  22. Thanks, Jon, for sharing your experience. I've been through a stalker experience myself (another blog, another day) so I hope I keep the same kind of wits about me as you do and did.

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  23. Rick, that is beyond creepy. I am not even an author and still have had an instance of an online stalker. I gave this person my address (a box at a box 'n mail sort of place) before I realized. Later on, she told me she was coming to my town and wanted to meet but, my partner (also wise), told me no. While she was in town, the owner of the box 'n mail place called Ethan and told him that a woman had come in and asked when we usually came to pick up our mail and then waited outside for over an hour. Needless to say, we didn't pick up our mail for a while and I broke all contact with the woman.

    Keep yourself safe. ~smooches~

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  24. That's an awful shock, whatever the reason. And just after you'd moved in, too. Maybe, as people have suggested and because the person left a return address and name, it's not as sinister as it might be. It's still damned rude! but the writer is someone who still uses handwritten letters as correspondence.

    I work in a company that has a mail order department, and we often get strange and rather aggressive letters from more elderly "customers" about our product (which is actually a very good one lOL), but in most cases it's because they just want to vent and this is their method.

    I've also had a fierce comment from a reader that one of my stories was "the most horrible and disturbing thing she'd ever read" (it was my only published horror story LOL) - but if I could assure her it was a one-off theme, she'd like to try another one of mine, which would I recommend? :):) In that case, the "disgusted" sentiment sounds a little similar to yours, but she used email. And over the course of a month or so, she actually posted me a follow-up compliment on another, milder story. It was just her approach that was so shocking. God knows if people have problems expressing themselves, or get caught on a bad day, or just don't think twice before committing something to paper.

    But there's no excuse, I know, and I send my sympathy.

    (it wouldn't be anyone connected with any of the moving firms you used, would it? Just thinking aloud...)

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  25. Clare...no, we used a local moving company and this guy was from nowhere near me.

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  26. Sounds like the stuff of scary suspense thrillers....but you would know that. I hope it was a one off, Rick.

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  27. Oh Rick people just don't have enough to do. But this is so scary if he knew your address he or she knows where you are please be very careful as I LOVE your writing and I cannot say I have read anything either by you or anyone else that would cause me to act as this person did.

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  28. I'm sorry that this happened to you especially at home which is your sanctuary. When I think of things coming and going in the mail these days my mind goes to signed copies of paperbacks and that's about it. So now you just need to be aware without worrying, sit, listen to some Nina Simone and have a drink. And remember to feed your watchdogs.
    :) Mare

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  29. Rick, the same happened to me from a magazine article I wrote. Someone did not like the person interviewed in the article and sent 18 pages of handwrittern rage, plus printouts of my home address and of the article subject's address. It's chilling to know a stranger has spent so much time on you.

    My partner said the same -- do not engage this person. Although I went through the rage stage myself and wanted to track down the guy and kick his ass. Best to not engage.

    What we used to say in Sedona is that these attacks on an artist's works usually come from a "blocked creative."

    The cute part was that he was going to buy another one of your books to give you another try. ☺

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  30. Rick,

    I am so sorry you had this experience. As writers, we all know that there are people out there who take great zeal in taking stabs at our work. Merited or not, a perverse pleasure none the less. Of course, I am not talking about actual reviewers who are entitled to their own opinion.

    But this is in a category all it's own. The work it took to find out where you live, sit down and write a letter, taking time and effort to think about what he will write, and then sending it off to the post office.

    I had a similar experience where a reader took a stab at a book I had written, it was done in a round about way and sent out to a large group. I went back and notice they had purchased it through the website. I refunded the money for the book and sent a note acknowledging the dissatisfaction in the email. I never heard back, and never had an acknowledgment for the returned payment. Perhaps they were embarrassed, perhaps not, but regardless, I felt that I needed to acknowledge the veiled stab.

    Take comfort in those readers and authors who love your work. Please count me among them.

    Warmest Regards
    Isabella

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  31. Thanks for alll the concerned comments so far. I really appreciate them...and you. You reinforce my faith that people are basically kind.

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  32. I think your partner is wise. It's best not to engage the person. I think you took the right approach. On the other hand keep an eye out, it has a great deal of stalkerish quality to it especially having it delivered to your home.

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  33. I am astounded that someone in tis day and age would do that... I think it is jealousy: pure and simple as you have achieved something that they never will... on the silverlining side... it does make for a damn intriguing story.

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  34. My mom taught me that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all (I wish she'd stick to her own advice from time to time, but that's another story)
    I totally understand it creeps you out to get hate mail sent to your own address. I also appreciate that it's hard to creep a horror writer out. Maybe all the romance is making you soft, Rick? (just kidding)

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  35. Truly creepy. It's almost a feeling of being violated when someone attacks in your personal space. I think you did the right thing by ignoring the letter and then keeping it. We had some problems with ongoing threatening emails recently and we went to the police. (not about my books) It's an open case and we were told to save everything. BTW, I love your books.

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  36. Looks like you've received lots of great advice, so just sending my sympathies for the creep that tarnished your happy time. Gives me shivers!

    And big congrats on your new digs. Wishing you much happiness there!

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  37. Everything I wanted to say has been said. So I'll just say I'm sorry this happened to you. Jean

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  38. Hey, Rick, what a scary downer. Since I've read a book of yours, I can't see why anyone would really feel so upset they'd want to "get back" at you in some way. So it certainly isn't about the book, it's about his or her state of mind. I truly hope you never again hear from this person, but fear you might since he/she intends to buy another book of yours. You're a good person and a good writer--please be careful and watchful. But focus on the good books ahead of you that you still will write. Jane

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  39. Rick this is very creepy. This is one of the reasons I use a pen name. I don't want anyone to be able to track me down. And I think that unless it's constructive criticism I like the adage that if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything.

    About 10 years ago I was writing fiction for a fan fiction site I belonged to. I was accused of plagerism, something I have never done in my entire life. I received one of the most ugliest e mail letters from the writer whose work I supposedly stole from. I showed the letter to a friend of mine who immediately told me to deleted it. And I did.

    you don't match wits with an unarmed opponent and this person is obviously one of those.

    I hope this is the last time you'll hear from this person, but if they do contact you again I'd make the police aware of it. I hope they don't show up at your door.

    stay safe

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  40. It is just scary that the person has your address at your new home, let alone writing a letter to let you know they didn't like A book of yours.

    The flip side? The person is going out to buy yet another book of yours so I guess you must have made some impact.

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  41. Hello, Rick,

    I'm a bit late dropping in, so I'm glad to see that the writer of the letter didn't actually have your new address...

    A letter like that says a great deal more about the person who sent it than it does about your books. I definitely agree with everyone who told you to not engage the writer.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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