“George RR Martin is not your bitch.” ~ Neil Gaiman
A while back, Neil Gaiman wrote a terrific, evergreen blog post about entitlement issues. What is true for GRRM is also true for me. It is true for every artist and writer. If you haven’t yet read it, you can do so here: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html
Okay, guys. I’m going to post about something I have never posted before, and something I never thought I would have to post.
I’m going to post about an email I got from a reader. I’m fifty-seven years old. I’ve been in this business a long time, and this was the nastiest email I have ever received. The nastiest and the angriest.
Please keep in mind that 99.99% of readers are amazing and awesome, so I considered staying silent. As authors we are often told to be silent when people are rude, boundaries are crossed, and things happen that make us uncomfortable. The two acceptable approaches, I have been told, are to either be silent or take the “kill them with kindness” approach.
But I don’t believe in that wholesale. I certainly believe in acting with kindness, politeness and professionalism, but I also believe that someone can cross so far over a line it is entirely appropriate to call out that behavior. Sometimes it’s even necessary.
And please read this next paragraph carefully. This blog post is not a call to a witch hunt or a call to action in any way. This is simply a request to the reader that you consider your own actions and how you might do better the next time.
So for that reason, the reader’s name is removed from the following email to protect their privacy. I’ve censored the email by adding the asterisks, the original email was uncensored.
Subject: stop swearing
F**king stop f**king swearing so f**king much in f**king your f**king books. Just f**king read the f**king american f**king witch and was f**king tired of f**king the word f**king. F**king bad enough f**king sex scenes go for f**king chapters; your f**king characters f**king say it’s f**king okay to f**king swear. Treat the public like you want them to be; treat them like polite folk, not f**king f**kers who can’t f**king read.
This is exactly the kind of email you should never send to an author, ever, for any reason.
Not everything is going to be your cup of tea. If you don’t like someone’s books, stop reading and walk away. There’s a whole wide world of books out there for you to explore.
Readers get to make that choice all the time. If you don’t like someone’s books, vent to your friends. Write a review. Vote with your wallet. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and I have done the same thing myself, many times.
Also, I would like to point out, cursing in the dialog of a book is FAR different from actively cursing at someone in an email. Thinking that this could be an appropriate message in any way is the height of entitlement.
Currently, there seems to be a grand delusion in our society that all opinions are equal and valid, and that is simply not the truth. Especially when the people spewing this rhetoric usually confuse “opinion” with fact-less, tasteless, bigoted vitriol.
Someone doesn’t write this kind of email unless they feel they have the indisputable right to everything they want, the exact way they want it. Even art and entertainment. And if it isn’t exactly as they want it? Well then, that’s the fault of the person creating the art. Because to these people, self-monitoring so as not to offend and political correctness are buzzwords that have nothing to do with them.
That’s the only way I can explain why something as innocuous as the language in a book–a book you do not have to read–could lead you to write and send an email like this.
It’s beyond overreaction. It’s beyond finding a book in poor-taste and abandoning it. It’s a demand that because “I caused” your emotional unhappiness, now you get to lash out and put all that ugliness on me, because you don’t possess the ability to monitor your own behavior and deal with mild unhappiness and discontentment.
In this reality, you’re not in charge of your emotions, I am, so the person who has to change is me. You’re not offended by the plot or characters. You’re pearl-clutchingly horrified by sex scenes and the f-word…which is why you then proceed to hurl it at me more times than I have ever seen in email form before.
Because after all, you’re the customer and the customer is always right, so what am I going to do to make YOU happy? There’s no real understanding here that this is a book and not an overcooked T-bone.
There is satisfaction to be had in refusing to acknowledge and engage. For a few days I decided to take the high road and not respond in any way. But I also think there’s merit in (anonymously) calling out this behavior too. So much bad behavior slips through because people like you have learned that throwing a tantrum is valid, and it makes your emotions someone else’s problem.
But it isn’t valid, I do not have to accept it, and neither does anyone else who has this kind of rage tsunami launched in their direction. You are the keeper of your emotions and responsible for your behavior, and I do not forfeit the high ground by pointing this out.
Authors are not public property. We are not a meal cooked incorrectly in a restaurant that may lead you to “demand to speak to the management.” We are not commodities. We are people. We create art with our voices that is personal, and what we create is not meant for everybody. It can’t be. Not every story is going to resonate with everybody. That, my rage tsunami friend, is the definition of impossibility.
So, my advice to you is this: treat people the way you want them to be. Treat them like polite folk.
In the meantime, I will continue to write at a time of my choosing. I will not make myself sick to produce content no matter what. I will write stories wherever I have my voice, wherever that may take me, and with whatever language I deem is right and valid for that particular story.
Because, to paraphrase what Mr. Gaiman said, the simple and unanswerable truth is, I don’t work for you.
And I’m not your bitch.