Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Hysterical Reader

What I don't understand is how riled up everyone is over a handful of people's comments – because when it comes down to it, that's all we are, a handful of writers and readers in a huge population of writers and readers. And yet somehow this single post with its associated comments achieved mammoth stature by all the ensuing moaning from romance writers.
Dear Author

“Hit a nerve, has this subject? :)”
"Oh dear, am I being a hysterical young lady? Do forgive me. *eyeroll*"

Most of the published authors who've commented on the post and who've e-mailed me off-loop are pretty much laughing their butts off at X's response, and I'm wondering if in part it isn't because the response was intended to frustrate, and we've all been so frustrated for so long with receiving this kind of criticism and doing the smart thing and ignoring it, that maybe the frustration is what's fueling at least in part the anti-letter-writer reaction. Whatever it is, it's real and it's widespread, so there's something there that's hitting a nerve in writers, and in me particularly.
Argh Ink

Our human-ness is seen to lie not so much in what we are individually, as in our relations to one another; and even that individuality is but the result of our relations to one another. It is in what we do and how we do it, rather than in what we are. Some, philosophically inclined, exalt “being” over “doing.” To them this question may be put: “Can you mention any form of life that merely ‘is,’ without doing anything?” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was one of the most vociferous feminist writers of the 19th century. Niece to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the classic The Yellow Wallpaper and Herland (which I always think of whenever someone mentions Dara Joy's Ritual of Proof), Gilman was a harsh critic of the way society at large and in particular the medical profession viewed women — as hysterics. Greek for womb, "hyster" and its suffix were not attributed to women by accident; in fact, one of the predominant Victorian theories about women and "nervous disorders" was that they derived from a traveling womb, and many an autopsy was performed in women diagnosed with hysteria to determine the condition of the uterus. Women diagnosed with the disorder were subject to all sorts of "treatments," from being masturbated to orgasm to having the lower pelvis pummeled with water (an external douche of sorts). One of the identified causes of female "nervous disorders" was work beyond the domestic sphere.

The feminine connotations of hysteria continue today, even though we no longer recognize the term as medically valid, the emotional baggage of that diagnosis remains embedded in the word. Because to be hysterical is to go beyond the bounds of emotional reason; it is, in fact, to be unreasonable in the sense of being unable to control one's emotions and to be illogical, both of which are still associated more with women than men. So is it any surprise that the word or its synonyms are invoked during debates among women over Romance, an overwhelmingly female genre? Whether it's that Romance readers or authors (who are also readers) are "riled up" or "moaning" or, even more pointed, crazy, the stereotype of the irrational woman seems to be alive and well in the genre.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century, because it's not just men who are resorting to such an informal diagnosis ("Don't get hysterical, now, dear– ), but as women we're inflicting it on each other, in relation to books of all things. I think we all remember the back and forth that went on here and over at Fangs, Fur, and Fey more than a week ago. But just this weekend, there was another small skirmish at Jennifer Crusie's blog when Crusie posted both the text of a reader letter sent to fellow author Lani Diane Rich and Rich’s response to the letter, of which Crusie which was enthusiastically supportive. What followed was two days of discussion over a number of issues, including the question of whether and how an author should respond to a hostile reader letter, whether it's okay to publish private correspondence without permission of the sender, whether such a reader letter should be held up to public mocking (whether, indeed, it's a virtue), and where the lines are to be drawn in the relationship between reader and author. Jane and I were definitely in the minority of posters who were extremely uncomfortable with the publication and public mocking of a private reader note, and I have to say, I'm still feeling the effects of the whole situation — thus this little essay.

There really are very few issues on which I'm not ambivalent, outside of things like support for a broad interpretation of the First Amendment and my opposition to the death penalty, torture, animal cruelty, and raisins in my bread pudding. So I was surprised I had such a strong reaction to the Crusie – Rich incident. I know that most of it has to do with the fact that the reader letter was sent privately. But as for the leftover feelings, maybe it's because I associate both authors with a strong, articulate, thoughtful, and civil online presence. Maybe it's because it reminds me a little of that whole J.Wallace scandal revealed on the Smart Bitches blog last year. Or maybe it's related to the word "crazy" and the diagnosis and public mocking of the hysterical reader.

First let me say that I don’t think that we should avoid discussing these issues, and indeed, there was some wonderful discussion on Crusie’s blog over this issue. I am not uncomfortable with talking about uncivil reader letters (albeit the private – public thing is a problem for me). Also, as far as I'm concerned, there is no justification for the kind of letter that reader sent to Lani Diane Rich. None. A letter like that cannot be called civil conversation by any stretch. Is the letter a personal attack on Rich? I don't see it that way, although I could see any recipient reading it that way. It was sent and addressed to the person of the author, even though it concerns the book. Is the letter "crazy– ? Now here we get into even murkier waters as far as I'm concerned, because once a letter, or its writer, is deemed "crazy," what are the implications of such a diagnosis? One seems to be to have a "good healthy laugh abut it." "Healthy," as in, therapeutic, perhaps? As in a way to ward off the "crazy– ? Another is to respond in a way that aims to "neutralize the Crazy," which, again, sounds to me almost like an inoculation, preventative care to keep from going crazy oneself (which I think is what Crusie is getting at in her comments I quoted at the beginning of the piece). And the public nature of the share seems to make it a sort of group healing effort, with the "healthy" readers joined in laughter with the "healthy" authors at a "crazy" letter, and by extension, a hysterical reader.

If the hysterical reader is bad for her "excessive or uncontrollable emotion," then what do we do with the flip side of that image, the fan, derived from fanaticism, which is characterized by "excessive, irrational zeal." In both cases, there is a loss of reason and a tendency toward excess emotion. But as we know, the Romance genre and culture cultivates the fan reader, tolerating and even welcoming quite a high level of enthusiasm, in my opinion. But turn that enthusiasm against a book or an author, and it becomes a very different situation and a very different response. In some ways, I think the genre is built on a level of reader loyalty that is extremely emotional in nature, in part because Romance is built on passion, which is itself a sort of excess of emotion. So there seems to be an irony here that I can't quite resolve.

I am not one of those readers who believes that an author should refrain at all costs from responding to a critical or hostile reader; I don't think that just because an author puts her books out into the public that she has to sit on her hands when arrows come slinging at her. And I very much understand the impulse of wanting to strike back, especially in such a clever way. But, I have to admit that I'm extremely uncomfortable with author-sponsored public flogging of a letter received privately from a reader, especially if the justification for such community activity is either a) that the reader started it, or that b) she or her letter is "crazy" and "abusive." As I said, I'm not even going to argue in defense of that reader letter, because there is no defense. But I am also not convinced of the defense provided for publicly giving the author a high five for a response aimed at "tak[ing the reader] down a notch," if the entire justification for the flogging is that it was an uncivil letter and a first strike. Does an uncivil comment mean all bets are off, then?

At some level, I can't help but feel that the antidote to the hysterical reader ends up ironically endorsing the very thing it’s mocking. Because the example of the hysterical reader’s letter, combined with the authors’ responses, creates another sort of hysterical reader — the reader who can only laugh hysterically at both letters. So we end up with an attempt to convert one form of hysteria to another. But is the conversion successful? For me it wasn’t. Because while Rich’s response may be funny, and while the reader whose private email was revealed may never see the exchange, and while the reader might be completely out of bounds in the letter she sent, I don't feel particularly cleansed by the revelation and mocking of a private exchange as a moment of communal bonding.

In fact, in that collective diagnosis of the hysterical reader, and the subsequent mocking, I feel a little unbalanced myself, because I can't help but believe that at some level we can all, at one point or another, be the hysterical reader, not necessarily by sending an uncivil letter, but perhaps by writing a less than glowing review, or making a comment about a book to which an author takes personal offense, or by having a really bad day on the blogs and boards, or by saying something against which readers or authors feel they must passionately defend themselves (like the exchange from the Fangs, Fur, and Fey conversation about Romance I quoted at the beginning of this piece). And I wonder if the effect of these public diagnoses and “treatments” of the hysterical reader aren't just as ineffective and degrading to our general community health as those water douches were to the women of years past. That does, of course, leave the question of how to handle uncivil discourse, and I don't think there's one answer to that. Obviously keeping quiet about it is an untenable solution, because that “if you can’t say anything nice” philosophy just seems to lead to a lot of hurt feelings and snide digs (and tracking folks down through local RWA chapters, lol).

But tell me, what do you all think of this? What am I missing here in refusing to join other readers at this particular author-sponsored party? Should we simply knock down the private — public boundary and fight it all out, or are we struggling to define a new set of rules? Do I just need a tougher skin and a way to better encrypt my own personal data?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. ilona andrews
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 08:09:20

    It’s the absurdity of it. The false grandiosity of an extremely narrow mind that presumes to speak for thousands of individuals and believes into her right to impose her will on another individual. An individual she belittles and obviously despises simply because this person happens to live in New York and her speech patterns differ from her own.

    Imagine the writer of that letter in a position of civil power. Imagine her deciding whether or not your children get to attend school, for example, or whether or not you will be hired to a job you always wanted. Imagine her as a judge. What will she not like about you, Janet? Perhaps it will be the color of your hair? The way you smile? It is a frightening thought, isn’t it?

    That sort of unfaltering faith into being always right coupled with absence of rational thought is dangerous and it should be dragged into the light and mocked. She is not being hysterical. She is just dead-certain that Ms. X. is an evil, vile human being. She is dead certain that every single one of the thousands of women who have ever tried to stab a needle into fabric share her views. It would not occur to her to stop and realize how truly, mind-bogglingly absurd it is to make this sort of claim.

    Think of it as a lesson in civil liberty. People like the author of the letter are the reason our civil rights have to be spelled out. If I had a chance to speak to her, I would ask her, what makes her think that she has a right to speak for me? I have lived in a country ran into the ground by people just like her. I don’t care to repeat the experience.

  2. Bev(BB)
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 08:48:56

    Want us to throw in the secrets to the universe and world peace, too, while we’re at it? Because frankly, I think they’d be easier to come up with. I’ve been observing the reader/author dynamic for close to fifteen years now online and I have no idea how it works. Every time I think I have a handle on it, it slips out of my grasp.

    These are the things I do know.

    Readers are more than fans and yet are fans at the same time. Are they fans of the books or the authors, though? Depends on the individual reader and author. Distinguishing between the two is sometimes extremely subtle but significant.

    Authors are more than readers and yet readers at the same time. The problem is that they can’t be a reader at same time that they’re being an author. When being the person who wants to sell the book, they need to have some distance from the “reader” in themself and particularly other readers. That can be and sometimes is a major problem at least for some of them.

    If it wasn’t a problem, we could have an incident like this and everyone, authors AND readers, could react appropriately and no one would say the “wrong” thing. Problem is, how does one define the wrong thing?

    Like I said, defining world peace would be easier.

  3. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 08:57:59

    I understand what you are saying about the rights of civil liberties but that wasn’t the reason for the post nor the response. I.e., if you were truly about civil liberties then the response wouldn’t have been “I’m so glad that you loved my book.” It would have been “Freedom of speech is important and that is why I am responding to your email.”

    The civil liberties defense is the best one I’ve seen yet to the posting of the email and maybe one that I could have supported but the way that Crusie and Rich did it had more to do with “I’m so clever and this reader is so dumb” and she started it to I’m a third grader to I’m sick and tired of this type of email so let this be a warning to all the other dumbass readers out there.

    The major problem I had was this idea that emails are so valueless that anything can be done to them, including sharing them publicly. Crusie admits to being indiscreet and that no one should share anything with her that they wouldn’t want to be known from one end of the earth to the other. I really wonder whether that is true because it would be hard to be intimate with someone who had no discretion; who couldn’t be trusted. I felt like the justifications were offered to excuse a deed that would otherwise be deemed inexcusable.

    I don’t really care for the idea that emails are not considered private correspondence. Crusie claims that emails that are non solicited have no personal expectation of privacy (as opposed to legal ones). The fact is though that in many books, including Lani Diane Rich’s, there are invitations to email the author. That makes responses to that invitation solicited v. non solicited.

    I would not have written such an email.

    But what I think is interesting is this double standard and I saw it way back with Cindy Cruciger. She constantly made personal attacks on several bloggers including posting our pictures and mocking our appearance and our race. This seemed acceptable to many people. It’s acceptable for authors to call readers and reviewers mean girls, to speculate on the motivation for reviewing; calling into our parentage (ie. weren’t we raised better); saying our love lives are lacking and so forth.

    But if a reviewer or reader would say the same, if I were to include speculation as to an author’s religion, personal motivation, discussing her mental health, then I would be excoriated. I just want authors and readers to abide by the same rules of conduct. I.e., what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

  4. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:01:31

    And, I want to be able to discuss the topic without being accused of being a hysterical reader because nothing is more insulting that to dismiss a person’s concerns on the basis of the person being “too emotional.”

  5. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:08:28

    I’m afraid to go see the original post. I’ll probably get caught up on in the drama, but if a reader sends an email to me, then I assume there’s a level of privacy to the communication and I wouldn’t dream of posting it publicly without permission. Even if it was an annoying one. I do have, after all a delete key. Actually, I have a virtual paper shredder that makes a very satisfying shredding sound. *G*

    However, flipside, I always assume when I send an email someone might make it public.

  6. Bonnie Dee
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:08:33

    Private is private. There is no excuse for sharing a message from a fan, however disagreeable, on an open forum. There are ways to dsicuss the topic of overly zealous fan letters without getting specific. But I can’t condone making a mockery of a fan in a public way.

    If I received such a letter, I’d probably rant to a friend privately and then blow it off as not worth my notice. i’d send a carefully worded response to the reader and then forget about it.

  7. Jennifer McKenzie
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:26:26

    I commented on this when Jennie posted the second day. It is interesting. And I’m not sure I agree with the “private” part. If an author (especially a best selling author) posts an email for use by fans, I don’t assume that email I send will be private.
    But perhaps I’m wrong.
    I understand both sides of this. A disappointed fan can be as enthusiastic in their rejection of an author as their acceptance.
    I thought the original response of the author was appropriate. The ensuing discussion? I don’t know.
    Originally, the author wrote a calm, unruffled response to a very angry, bitter letter. Maybe it wasn’t appropriate for Jennie to post it, but I’m sure this represents a fraction of the weird stuff they both receive.
    It did open discussion.

  8. Angela James
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:26:46

    Hmm, interesting topic considering my post of Sunday where I rather mocked someone who sent me a private email. I didn’t post because as I said in an email to you, Jane, and in my post, I didn’t have permission and I wasn’t going to encourage her by emailing to ask (as if she’d have said yes, regardless!).

    But having been the recipient of a thoroughly obnoxious and completely unsolicited email (except for the fact that my email is available on my blog, so perhaps that could be construed as an invitation?), I can certainly see the temptation in making it public. I chose to do so in a more round-about manner, since the sender had also left several comments on my blog. But I chose not to post it publicly because the sheer truth is–I wouldn’t want anyone to feel it was okay to post emails I sent them, on a public forum.

    At the same time, I don’t think it was okay for her to send me that letter. In a way, I can see Ilona’s point about needing to let the person know that their way of thinking isn’t how everyone thinks. But on the other hand I wonder, when someone is so firm in the foundation of their beliefs, are you really going to crack them, no matter what you do or how you pose a rebuttal, response or ask questions?

    In the end, I freely admit that I wrote my own post out of my own bit of mean-girl spirit (I even thought “mean girl” as I wrote it) but I don’t think anyone can take the high road every time or should have to. We’re only human ;)

    I think perhaps there’s no easy answer to this question. Should Crusie have posted that letter? Probably not. But I don’t agree that the letter should never have been publicly discussed at all. It could have been done without posting the letter, but at the same time sending a message to readers saying “this isn’t okay, for you to send letters like this to authors”.

  9. kardis
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:27:54

    I can’t comment too much on the Crusie blog, because I just read the piece and not the comments. What I wanted to say is more a general comment than a specific. Whenever someone (generally a man) wants to invalidate a woman’s argument and silence her it is using some sort of attack about her being “over-emotional”. Janet, I think I would have been equally uncomfortable with that situation. The “hysterical woman” accusation just sticks in my craw no matter who is doing the accusing.

    As to the privacy of that woman, I doubt it occurred to her that her email would wind up published online. I’ll probably have to put more thought into it before having a solid opinion on her privacy being violated (her name isn’t revealed later on in the comments, is it?). The letter itself was absurd and incredibly rude, and I thought the response from Ms Rich was a good way to handle it.

  10. TeddyPig
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:41:29

    If someone sends me something in email it’s considered private.
    No matter what my reaction to it might be.

    Making the contents of a private conversation entertainment for a blog post seems exactly like gossip no matter how justified.

    Then justifying using it for some public announcement saying you do not want to ever have to deal with a fan email like that again is just a silly and futile gesture. Seems you would be better off shutting down your blog, disconnecting your email account, and stop writing books while you are at it.

  11. ilona andrews
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:41:29

    Ah! Oh!

    Apologies, Janet, having read Jane’s response, I may have misunderstood the question you were asking. I read your post as asking, “Do we have a right to mock this sort of thing?” Which I firmly believe I do.

    It appears the question that is being asked, “Is it ethical for an author to share fan email in a public forum?”

    Well, now I look like a dufus. :goes hysterical: In my defense, your original post is a bit long and confusing.

    Cards on the table: I only read the letter itself and the initial response and not the comments, so I don’t know what they say.

    Is it ethical to share an email from a fan? No. It’s probably legal, because as far as I know correspondence sent to a person becomes the property of that person unless other restrictions apply and are specifically stated. Jane would have to correct me on that one, if I’m spouting nonsense.

    But no, under ordinary circumstances, I would not share correspondence from a reader without expressed permission. To my knowledge, I have never done so, because of the trust issues involved. And I had some really odd ones. O_o I wouldn’t share it for the same reasons I don’t typically share emails from my friends. They might not have a legal expectation of privacy, but they have a moral one.

    In this case, I would have made an exception. I will own up to that. This sort of thing really gets under my fur. I would’ve emailed her back with an extremely long diatribe full of fist shaking and demands to know constitutional and moral basis for this type of view and warned her that I intended to post the email and the reply. In this case I would have to say the value of civil lesson would’ve clubbed my ethics over the head and had its way with them in a dark alley. Don’t get me wrong, I will fight to the death for her right to express her views, but I would fight equally well for my right to ridicule her position from a civil standpoint.

    The interesting question is, if she responded and told me, “Please, don’t post it,” would I have felt bad and dropped the whole thing? Yeah. I would. There you go, steadfast R us. :rolls eyes:

    Do I like the response of the author X? No. I wouldn’t have written one like that, because my natural instinct is to fight. But I’m not going to tell Ms. X how to treat her fans and her email.

    Once again, apologies for misunderstanding.

    :picks up shield and plants feet:

  12. Kat
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:44:42

    Jane, I’m curious to know if you would still have found Crusie’s post objectionable if she’d only posted the reply and not the reader’s e-mail which provoked it.

    I thought that Rich’s response was amusing. But I think I also get what bothered you and Robin. It was interesting to hear the responses as to why posting the e-mail was justified, most of which amounted to “Because I think it was funny and she (the reader) deserved it.” Which is fair enough to feel–hey, that’s how I felt, too–but whether or not it was appropriate to post on a blog is something else.

    In a very interesting coincidence, I was chatting to someone who works for a (satirical) comedy show on TV who said that there are certain people they can film without requiring them to agree to be on the show, but for the ordinary person on the street, the show is required to get their approval before they can use whatever that person said. And it’s context dependent; for example, they don’t need a release from, say, the receptionist of a company, but they would need a release from the same person if she were approached as an “ordinary” person on the street.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that yes, I think there are some contexts in which I think people might have an expectation of privacy when using e-mail, and other contexts in which there is less so. Personally, I agree with Sarah. I’m overly careful about e-mail I receive, and yet I assume that any e-mail I send can be used against me.

  13. Jenyfer Matthews
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:55:44

    I assume the reason that Jennifer felt ok about posting the email was because the original letter was so ridiculous – she forbids the author to write about quilters again??? – and I read the original post in the manner in which she *probably* meant it to be taken, which was humorously.

    Would it have made it more palatable if she had removed the letter-writer’s name and put “reader” instead? Perhaps it would have given it a layer of anonymity it didn’t have as it was presented.

    Would I have posted such a letter on my own blog? Probably not. I probably would have laughed / ranted privately and tried very hard not to respond in a more personal way (being a quilter myself!!) Blog aside, I thought the response to the message was wonderful.

    As for email, yes, it should be private but I guess you have to assume that anything you put on the internet is never really private given how easy cut, paste and forward are to do.

  14. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 09:56:53

    A general statement in that I do think email should be private (in theory) but not everybody sees it that way. The author/reader dynamic is further strained by this type of behavior, if you ask me. Personally, I feel that people are becoming way too comfortable posting info that should only be discussed at home with family and friends rather than publicly posted for millions to read and dissect. Is it worth the risk proving a point to one reader while alienating many other potential readers?

  15. RfP
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:01:14

    There is no excuse for sharing a message from a fan, however disagreeable, on an open forum. There are ways to dsicuss the topic of overly zealous fan letters without getting specific.

    So the topic can’t be discussed with specificity? That would be unfortunate. In this case, the “fan” letter has the identifying information stripped off. Which makes this all about the appropriate degree of “getting specific”.

    why posting the e-mail was justified, most of which amounted to “Because I think it was funny and she (the reader) deserved it.”

    There was a fair amount of “This is worth discussing”, too. But I do think the content of the original letter makes a difference to whether it should be posted. This has been the perfect illustration that a vague post like “Sometimes I get mean emails” doesn’t create discussion the same way as posting the specifics.

    I want to be able to discuss the topic without being accused of being a hysterical reader because nothing is more insulting that to dismiss a person's concerns on the basis of the person being “too emotional.”

    “Hysteria” didn’t come up on ArghInk. I thought people over there were pretty good about not saying “Oh get over it”. In fact this post is the first place I’ve seen the “over-emotional” argument associated with that debate. I see something closer to the old definition of hysteria in

    (a) assuming this is a “woman” issue

    (b) sweeping pronouncements like

    IMO, any argument in favor of the public mocking that rests on Y's note creates an illusory sense of superiority, safety, and distance from having your expectation of privacy violated, from being publicly mocked, from being judged as ignorant, and from an environment in which trust between people is non-existent

    I’d been interested up to that point, but that judgmental approach pretty much shut down my desire to discuss this topic with Robin/Janet.

  16. Jody W.
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:11:28

    My cat (Meankitty) has a website where she has been known to have at her hate mail, albeit with any identifying information removed. As an author, I might refer to hate mail indirectly (maybe a tongue in cheek list of reasons why I ought to quit writing?) but I would not share it in a public forum verbatim, even if it hurt my feelings, amused me, bothered me, infuriated me, or what have you. If it scared me I would share it with the cops :).

    That being said, do the rules change when we receive love mail? Is posting any private correspondence ethical without direct permission? The action would be the same — sharing private correspondence in a public forum — but the intent would be different. Is the intent the issue here?

  17. Kat
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:13:23

    There was a fair amount of “This is worth discussing”, too.
    Maybe later, after a few commenters expressed some reservations. But initially, it was really just pointing and laughing. Which, you know, most of us do in real life. The question is whether or not it was appropriate on that blog. And the original blog post really wasn’t asking any deep questions; it was making an example out of one reader.

    I confess, I’m the worst person to ask about this because I’m eternally nosy, and I derive too much amusement out of outed private correspondence. Which might be why I’m paranoid about sending any of my own.

  18. Bev(BB)
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:20:21

    I’ve thought about it some more and realized I have no idea what the central question is here. What exactly is being asked here?

    No, I’m being serious. It just occured to me that I really don’t understand what burr is under Jane and Robin’s skins the most. I mean you two are dancing around terms like hysteria and emotionalism and privacy when what you’re really talking about is the perception of professional behavior on the part of authors. And, let’s face it, others.

    Basic ethics, maybe?

    The only thing is, like I said earlier, that’s like defining world peace. Someone has to decide what those are and I don’t see this group coming to any sort of concensus on what’s appropriate or applicable to their situation.

    Hey, we can’t even agree on what the definition of romance is . . .

    Oh, and speaking of emotionalism, why does this blog hate me, Jane? :D

  19. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:28:21

    Jody wrote: “do the rules change when we receive love mail? Is posting any private correspondence ethical without direct permission?”

    There’s a post today at Romancing the Blog in which an author quotes an entire piece of fanmail. In this instance the author is saying how much the email helped her.

  20. vanessa jaye
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:41:15

    A couple of days ago, I blogged about the letter on Jenny's blog, as well as a review Gennita Low linked to of her own book, and post a Tess Gerritsen (sp?) had up about a disturbing email she received (post has since been taken down and replace with another one where she has examples of hostile correspondences other authors have received.
    My take wasn't about ‘hysterical readers', but more about readers that needed to take a chill pill. It's just a book, there's no need to go on a personal attack of the author (which I think, to a degree, the letter writer to Ms. Rich was. If not attack, then certainly it sits in judgement of her character based on where she lived, etc.) I didn't read the comment, so had no clue things had heated up.
    As for the personal made public without permission, that's not so cool. But I had the feeling that the letter had been sufficiently altered (and not just the writer's name) that issue never really occurred to me. Plus, someone who takes the time to write such a letter, is quite possible wrapped in flag of self-righteousness and inured to any mocking. Thinking about it now, though, there is an element of trust mishandled.
    Ms. Rich's reply was dead on as far as I was concerned, and I didn't see it as ‘striking back', or ‘taking the reader down notch' (again, I didn't read the comments, so missed all of the ‘hysterical crazy reader' thing). Her oh-so-polite, big-plastic-smile-pasted-on, kill ’em-with-kindness reply was the next best thing to no response at all.

  21. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 10:49:06

    I don't think anyone can take the high road every time or should have to.

    I can agree on this point, Angie. I think that we are all human and have human frailities. I think I would have found the original post by Crusie and her and Rich’s subsequent posts to be less offensive if they were to take that tack. Maybe it was the justifications for the actions. The “reader started it” or “taking the reader down a notch” that I found disturbing. But the posting of an email . . . that makes me the most uncomfortable.

    Kat. I don’t think I would have the post as objectionable. It certainly would have removed the issue of privacy as a point of debate. I think what made me uncomfortable is the gleeful mocking of the reader who really hadn’t asked for it, in my opinion. I know that the reader’s email was totally out there but did she ask to be pounded upon by Crusie, Rich and their followers? If the reader was a blogger and had posted it on her blog, I think she was asking for it and any criticisms would have been a free for all. So I think that my issues relate to the nature of the communication.

    Jody, I do think that the rules shouldn’t be changed for a “love mail” because if I share something with an author regarding her book privately, whether it is positive or negative, I really don’t want that exposed on a blog. If I did, I would have posted an amazon review; posted on a message board; at a blog in the comments or on my own blog. The public sharing of a private communication is disturbing to me. I don’t think that technology should change the nature of one on one communications. That just because it is easier to communicate we lose our moral rights to privacy. Let’s assume that I wrote an email to an author about how deeply her book touched me during a troubled time I had with my husband and how I will be forever grateful for the escape that she provided. I don’t really care how much that helped her, I would hope that communication of a personal nature would be kept private and not for something like blog fodder which for authors seems nothing more than a promotional effort. Using my emotional response as part of an effort to publicly boost one’s self esteem leaves me with a very negative taste in my mouth.

  22. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:12:24

    In my defense, your original post is a bit long and confusing.

    I know it is, Ilona, and I apologize for that. Unfortunately, my response to the whole thing is sort of long and confusing, too, internally, that is. And I am extremely uncomfortable BEING uncomfortable with the whole thing, because it makes me feel so un-hip somehow.

    I’m glad, though, that you brought up the civil liberty issue the way you did, because IMO the “public interest” defense for bringing the email to the public is the strongest I could imagine. Even if the original email had been posted without the sender’s name, and the original aim of Crusie’s blog post hadn’t been “isn’t my friend clever,” it may not have hit me the way it did. If the whole point had been to say, hey, this kind of mail is disturbing and it’s tough to figure out how to handle it, then I wouldn’t have felt like the whole thing was at the expense of Y, and, perhaps even more importantly, a WARNING to readers that at any point they might be mocked publicly, too, for what they say privately. And I may also be more sensitive to this because I work in a public environment and have to respond to correspondence that makes that reader letter look like a love pat. So I know that skews my opinion.

    Bev: I feel more confused than ever right now about what’s what and who’s who, that’s for sure.

    Sarah: I don’t really think authors should have to ignore rude readers all the time. But I sure could have gone my whole life without knowing all that went on among those authors — like that they kept the mocking to a semi-private authors loop. None of us, I don’t think, is above feeling the need to mock; in this case, it was the collection of circumstances, the private – public thing, the author – reader thing, that really hit me a certain way. Because in a sense, I think the reader was an easy target, and that added to it for me, as well.

    Bonnie: as I said to Sarah, I think it’s unreasonable to expect that there won’t be behind the scenes mocking. After all, we readers do it, certainly. I think it was the digging in, the talk of “I would do it all again” that bumped it up for me, too.

    Angie: ITA about not always being able to take the high road. We all have a-hole moments online. I was getting more and more upset as I responded, too, and it was harder and harder for me not to start yelling online. Which maybe is also what’s bothering me — that I don’t feel the whole incident brought out the best in me, either, and so it seemed even more like how can this be a positive thing for authors and readers? I mean, did it bring out the best in anyone over there?

    Kardis: Crusie initially included the woman’s first name, but by the next day, removed it and replaced it with “Y”. Both RIch and Crusie expressed discomfort with having put the woman’s first name on the note, especially because Rich was introduced with the acronym “X” from the beginning.

    Teddy: as Ilona said, I think you can make a strong argument for a sort of “public interest” defense to making private correspondence public, but no one was claiming that here, at least not until day 2 when Crusie wrote her second blog post and the whole thing became more of a discussion.

    Kat: That TV release thing is interesting, because I think it sort of goes along that public-private faultline. The receptionist at a company is acting in a public professional capacity, but someone just walking down the street isn’t. In this case, I saw the author as in a professional capacity but not the reader. Had the reader posted that note anywhere even moderately public, then I would probably wince at the mocking, but I would see it as more or less fair game from a privacy standpoint.

    Jenyfer: It’s funny because the “ridiculous” nature of the reader email makes the whole thing a bit harder for me to swallow, as she seems like kind of an easy target. Not that the letter wasn’t rude, but would the mocking have been so quick if the letter had really posed what people saw as a viable threat to Rich’s writing or to New Yorkers or anything else?

  23. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:28:44

    RfP: You clearly saw in my comments what I saw in others’ and it’s as fair for you to say that to me as it is for me to say anything I’ve said about the situation. I understood the hazard of that going in, and as I said above, I doubt that blog brought out the best in any of us (which is part of my uncomfortableness with it). But in the interest of context, I’ll just post my whole comment from the snippet you did (which stops in the middle of the sentence, actually):

    J creates a safe place here

    Assuming, of course, you're never in the position of Y.

    Look, I'm not going to defend Y's letter, because I don't think it's defensible. Neither, though, do I see it as license to publicly mock. Chances are that none of us here would have written Y's letter. But who's to say that any of us haven't written SOMETHING that someone else couldn't publicly mock and try to shame us with. Is the justification in insulting or publicly mocking a private email -‘ and I'll point attention back to Jane's comment that any author who says she welcomes reader response could be said to be soliciting reader letters -‘ in the content of Y's note? Are the rules of what's acceptable and what's not the same for everyone?

    IMO, any argument in favor of the public mocking that rests on Y's note creates an illusory sense of superiority, safety, and distance from having your expectation of privacy violated, from being publicly mocked, from being judged as ignorant, and from an environment in which trust between people is non-existent because every communication you may have is subject to public revelation. Further, the “she started it” and “she deserved it” and “do unto others” arguments merely add to that illusion, IMO. For example, “do unto others” isn't based on what someone else does, it's based on what you WOULD HAVE others do. So if Y's letter is the handbook standard by which one judge's the appropriateness of insulting and publicly mocking a reader, it seems to me like there's going to be a lot of parsing when one changes the circumstances (the authors in question, the book in question, the reader in question).

    If by “sweeping pronouncement” you mean my “any argument,” then I agree with you that it’s too unqualified. But I still believe that using Y’s letter as the sole rationale for a public mocking rests on a false sense of security from ever being in the same position as Y. And if that’s judgmental, then I’m okay with that judgment. Because the possibility seems so ugly to me that we would ever get to a point where the private correspondence of private individuals is open for public mocking just because it’s rude or, as Rich and others called it “crazy” (thus my hysteria analogy).

  24. Ann Bruce
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:41:52

    Want us to throw in the secrets to the universe


    Okay, absurdity out of the way now.

    As amused as I am by the letter and response posted at Crusie’s site, that letter fan should have been kept private unless the sender gave permission for it to be posted. It saddens me to say that the entire episode felt very junior high-ish. Let’s expose person Y and make everyone laugh at her and show how superior we are in comparison!

    Good thing Crusie is a damned fine writer and she’ll have to do a lot worse to be punted off my auto-buy list.

  25. Emily
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:46:17

    Authors should sit on their hands for the simple reasons that not matter how it might seem readers are criticising the book, not the author. They have not met the author, the do not know the author, any pretensions they might have to the contrary really are best ignored until or unless they excallate to the level of actionable stalking.

  26. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:53:01

    That being said, do the rules change when we receive love mail? Is posting any private correspondence ethical without direct permission? The action would be the same -‘ sharing private correspondence in a public forum -‘ but the intent would be different. Is the intent the issue here?

    Great question. I actually think private should be private, if only because a reader might be as embarrassed about having a “fan” letter posted publicly as a rant. But I have to admit that intent played into my reaction, absolutely. And both Crusie and Rich made statements of intent. Crusie posted as a ‘here’s why I love my clever friend’ and Rich admitted that she felt Y ‘deserved to be taken down a notch.”

    Laura: thanks for the link. I wonder if she asked the fan about posting the note. After I’m done here, I’ll go check it out.

    Vanessa: The comments were what made the whole thing a little darker for me. Crusie’s comment for example: Actually, X is cackling because somewhere Y is screaming, “I didn't love your book, you bitch!” and then realizing, horrified, that she just used Bad Language and has thus become a Non-Quilter, cast into outer darkness. With the knitters. Funny, but as Kat said, the whole thing didn’t at all start out as a conversation about where the reader – author line is; it started out as an opportunity to appreciate Rich’s cleverness. And perhaps Crusie’s, too? And believe me, I DO appreciate their cleverness. But maybe not so much at that point. Rich said repeatedly that she’s do the whole thing over again, as well as expressing her “love” for Y, as well as her belief that Y “deserved to be taken down a notch.” Which is probably why I didn’t see the whole thing as a kill ’em with kindness approach. Ah, like I said, had the reader posted that letter in a semi-public space, then it would have been quite different for me, I think. Or if the context of the conversation had been different. Or even if it hadn’t been author to reader, when, as Jane said, authors often solicit letters. I don’t know; as I said before, I know that whole thing didn’t bring out the best in me, or anyone as far as I could tell, so I kept wondering what the point of the whole thing really was.

  27. Bonnie Dee
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:56:07

    That being said, do the rules change when we receive love mail? Is posting any private correspondence ethical without direct permission?

    Very good point! You caught me. I have sometimes quoted from an enthusiastically positive email on a public forum without express permission from the writer. So that’s a double-standard. If I’m going to stick with my original premise there should be no publishing of any email received without consent.

    Doesn’t mean you couldn’t say, “I received an email and the gist of it was…” then use that as your launching point for discussion. Still, it’s probably better to just keep quiet about the whole thing. But then, I come from a family where keeping your nose clean and out of other peoples’ business was elevated to an art form.

  28. TeddyPig
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 11:58:28

    Teddy: as Ilona said, I think you can make a strong argument for a sort of “public interest” defense to making private correspondence public, but no one was claiming that here, at least not until day 2 when Crusie wrote her second blog post and the whole thing became more of a discussion.

    I don’t know Robin it is such a “two wrongs make a right” deal.
    Even someone crazy like myself gets the occasional nasty note or even questions about things I have said from persons who are known publicly.

    I treat both naughty or nice, whatever the source, with the same respect and care to their privacy. People not doing that, no matter what the justification, always come off like the moral equivalent of Nelly Olsen.

    Not the type of shit pile I think is a smooth move to step in for anyone wanting to be seen as a professional anything. OK, maybe professional gossip columnist but then you are on your own.

  29. Kerry Allen
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 12:04:59

    Let's assume that I wrote an email to an author about how deeply her book touched me during a troubled time I had with my husband and how I will be forever grateful for the escape that she provided.

    Why would you share such personal information with a stranger? Legalities of privacy aside, that seems personally irresponsible to me. It’s like saying, “Okay, stranger, here’s my privacy. It’s your job to protect it now.” You couldn’t hand your purse to a stranger for safekeeping and have any reasonable expectation of getting it back unpilfered, though stealing is clearly against the law, so how can you hand over pieces of yourself that are even more valuable and trust this stranger to handle them in what you consider an appropriate manner?

    The Crusie/Rich incident, whether or not it was in poor taste, demonstrates the pitfall of free speech that a lot of people overlook. You can speak your mind anytime you want, but others can and will speak back and will not always be flattering toward you. It’s always a good idea to look at the statement you’re making and ask yourself “Does anything here make me appear stupid/vicious/insane/something other than the way I want to be perceived?” and if so, either hit the delete key or more carefully choose your words, whether you’re the writer of the email or the blog entry. If you neglect to self-edit and as a result end up the object of ridicule, you’re hardly blameless.

  30. Donna
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 12:37:55

    I freely admit that I have just scanned through this post. (I'm at work and cannot spend much time reading the blogs… lol) I do want to make a comment, when I write a letter or email or post, I let it go. It is not mine anymore. Once you put pin to paper or keyboard to email, place a stamp on it or hit the send button… you have now released your ownership and given it to someone else.

    This is a big reason why I try not to write what I don't want the whole world to read. Or write it in a way I wouldn't mind the whole world reading what I wrote. Maybe my view is a little simplistic but once you send the letter, it's not yours anymore. How can you expect someone, who you don't really know and you are attacking, not to go to war with you? I don't care what their profession, if you attack then expect tit for tat.

    Someone just pointed out to me that if you keep swallowing someone's insults that eventually you are going to blow. So why not speak out, let that person know that what he or she said is inappropriate. Yes, you might start a flame war but then that is your decision. Take responsibility for that decision as the person who wrote the email should take responsibility for what they wrote.

    I agree with Kerry Allen, you wouldn't ask a stranger to watch your purse for you… so why would you expect privacy in a letter you wrote a stranger? Is there some rule here I am missing? In High School I learned passing notes can be dangerous… they might end up in the wrong hands or the attended person might share your note with whomever they wanted to. When you write it down and send it out… it's no longer private.

    Now if someone came into my house and stole my journal or private writings… that is another matter.

  31. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 12:38:05

    Kerry – I personally would not share anything that personal but I know of many occurrences of people who have. As evidenced by the Romancing the Blog post, authors even feed off that type of “I have had a personal connection with your book and here’s why” sort of thing. The whole culture of at least romance fiction (I am just not well enough indoctrinated into other genres to know if it is the same) seems to foster that personal sharing.

    Author X loves to hear from her readers. You can visit her myspace, website, facebook, text message or email her at blah blah blah. There’s an invitation to share.

  32. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 12:48:51

    As an aside, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 treats emails as having the same legal constraints as telephone and mail communications. The ECPA prohibits “intentionally intercept[ing], endeavor[ing] to intercept, or procur[ing] any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”and “no otherwise privileged wire, oral, or electronic communication intercepted . . . shall lose its privileged character.”

    The clause obviously doesn’t apply to the situation at bar, but the courts have been recognizing that there is the same expectation of privacy attached to emails as to any other conversation such as telephone, cell phone or mail communications.

  33. TeddyPig
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 13:36:01

    but the courts have been recognizing that there is the same expectation of privacy attached to emails as to any other conversation such as telephone, cell phone or mail communications.

    Right, at work I am expected to keep emails and contents of such emails private.
    I apply that same principle to outside correspondence. I think it is prudent, professional and good manners no matter what the email contains.

  34. Angela
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 13:37:23

    IMO, this just seems like a writer-fan pat-on-the-back—as I find most author-fan interactions online to be. I don’t think it was right to share the email because based on Rich’s response, the very posting of it was intended to mock the emailer and make everyone who just lurves Crusie congratulate themselves on how “liberal” and “superior” they are. It’s less of an ethics thing to me than a result of the fangirl revolution. I don’t think Crusie would have posted the email if there were to be a slew of readers commenting that she shouldn’t have done it. JMO though. :rolls eyes:

  35. vanessa jaye
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 13:52:34

    But ““intentionally intercept[ing], endeavor[ing] to intercept, or procur[ing] ” is not quite applicable here, is it? That sounds more like wire tapping, spying, accessing an email that doesn't belong to you, etc.

    No, I certainly wouldn't want a *personal* email I sent bandied about in public, particularly if it had a lot of sensitive info or might not be me at my best. On the other hand I also can see and agree with every single point Donna made.

    This is one of those things where you depend on the decency and discretion of the other person, while being cognizant that: life's a bitch.

  36. Anji
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 13:59:33

    For me, there’s two parts:

    1) The e-mail privacy issue – an e-mail is a private communication, from the writer to the recipient. If the communication is in a public sphere, like a blog, or a website or Amazon reviews, then the writer intends to share the communication with his/her audience but makes it available to the general public. The communication may be addressed to the author, and the author may see it, but it’s different compared to a direct communication between the writer and the author as the recipient. So I’m really uncomfortable with the posting of a e-mail, without the approval of the writer. I think you could talk about the issue of reader reactions, including extreme reader reactions by talking about content and context, rather than posting the e-mail.

    2) I’m a reader, not an author, and so I’m sure I don’t see the wide range of letters, e-mails etc. that authors get from readers, and I’m sure that there are times when it’s much harder to shrug these things off and ignore them. But there’s also something about this kind of posting that makes me really uncomfortable. There may be feedback ranging from readers who loved a book to those who hated it. And I can totally see that sometimes you just can’t help yourself but react in a certain way. But what I think what I’m uncomfortable with is the automatic labeling of a reader’s more extreme response, in particular one that most people don’t agree with, as crazy. I don’t agree with what the letter writer had to say, not at all, and I’m not justifying or excusing that kind of behavior. But when posts like this are made, it kind of invites everyone who agrees with the author to, well, point and laugh at the letter writer, make fun of them, and dismiss them by labeling them as crazy.

    Btw, Jane, what’s the legal view of taking the content of the e-mail and paraphrasing/referencing it, but without quoting it verbatim? I think I would have been ok with a reference to the content, without the actual posting of the entire thing.

  37. Donna
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 14:24:05

    I guess my point is… don't expect the written word to remain private. I work in the computer world; to me emails are not private. Emails can be intercepted, online chats can be “seen”. I'm not saying that posting an email was a good thing; I am just saying if you write it and send it… it's out of your control. The receiver is now in control, at least you hope it is the receiver. Emails can land anywhere in cyber space. We had someone at work who, more than once, sent an email to EVERYONE in the company.

  38. Meriam
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 14:31:28

    For me, pretty much what Angela said. It seemed like a mass exercise in pointing and laughing and aren’t-we-clever? And until Robin and Jane spoke up, everyone seemed happy to go along with it (no talk of civil liberties or freedom of speech at that point). The whole thing made me vaguely uneasy because, for me, I think it was a case of using the world’s biggest hammer to crack a tiny nut. (If that analogy works?) I think Crusie and Rich had all the power in that interaction and they exercised it disproportionately.

    I can't seriously believe either writer was deeply, or personally, affronted by the content of the letter. It was ripe for the picking – which they did.

  39. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 14:37:44

    Good thing Crusie is a damned fine writer and she'll have to do a lot worse to be punted off my auto-buy list.

    I think there’s only one author whose work I have decided I’ll never read based on her out of book public behavior. For the most part, I can separate the two, even if an author’s online persona makes it necessary for me to have a “cool off” period before I pick up one of their books. I have, however, been moved to try a book from a new to me author based on something that catches my attention in online interactions.

    Authors should sit on their hands for the simple reasons that not matter how it might seem readers are criticising the book, not the author.

    I totally understand how it’s difficult for anyone to make this distinction so cleanly when they receive a comment or letter that feels personal. I wonder how many authors share your position, though? With the online community so vocal, it’s hard to know what the standard is for most authors.

    Doesn't mean you couldn't say, “I received an email and the gist of it was…” then use that as your launching point for discussion.

    I just went and read the Romancing the Blog post by Ferrer, and I have to say that I felt just as uncomfortable reading that letter as I did reading the one posted on Crusie’s blog. I really wonder whether Ferrer asked for permission from the reader, or even thought about doing so. Although the blog posts seem quite opposite, in both cases, the reader letter is being used, ultimately, to reinforce something in the author, whether it’s confidence or cleverness. And that letter Ferrer quoted is, IMO, VERY personal in the things it reveals. So I definitely agree with you that there’s a big difference between an author talking about something they received and actually publishing something sent privately.

    I don't know Robin it is such a “two wrongs make a right” deal.

    Yeah, it definitely came across to me like that, which is why I was so bothered by basing a public mocking on the “she was mean first” argument (or the “I was so much nicer argument). Because then we find ourselves parsing every circumstance for some kind of trigger word or phrase or tone, when that trigger is likely to be different for everyone. Ultimately, two things bothered me, and they’re interrelated:
    1. publishing a private email
    2. for the purpose of public mocking

    Because in the end, it felt to me a little like saying that reader Y was so “crazy” (i.e. hysterical) that we don’t have to worry about her — she’s not worth our civility or the recognition of her privacy. Which, in a more general sense, makes it near impossible, IMO, to have any real DISCUSSION of the issues in the genre and the community in any kind of open or honest way. Because how can we trust one another at the most basic level if we can’t count on a private communication being kept private. Yeah, we can all talk about how we don’t expect privacy, but really, do we all operate like that on a daily basis? Now, of course, if the goal is NOT to have any sort of community, then, hey, posting private correspondence is a step in that direction, IMO. IMO it takes TWO PEOPLE to break a social contract.

    Why would you share such personal information with a stranger?

    Because a book moved you so much and the author has indicated that she welcomes hearing from her readers? I don’t think I would share all that, but I’ve seen many authors say they thrive on knowing how much their books move readers, so I feel there’s a tacit invitation for such sharing. Just like some of the Harlequin authors are still required to write a “Dear Reader” letter with a personal connection between the author and the book. I think it’s all in the realm of overpersonalization, but IMO busting out with publication of privately intended correspondence doesn’t seem like the best way to move beyond that, IMO.

    Someone just pointed out to me that if you keep swallowing someone's insults that eventually you are going to blow. So why not speak out, let that person know that what he or she said is inappropriate.

    I personally have no problem with this, even if it is from author to reader. But in the Crusie – Rich case, the correspondence wasn’t just between author and reader, but between authors and other readers. And the original post was offered with only the comment that Rich’s response was “clever” and that Crusie “adored” Rich. So to me, it was a very different situation than the one you note here.

    Angela: Yup. That’s how it all felt to me, too. And it was interesting, because there was mention (including by Rich, IIRC) that those of us not on board were making mountains out of molehills. That is, we were overreacting (i.e. acting the hysterical reader, perhaps?). And seriously, after two days of all the justifications, I was feeling pretty frustrated, having to sort of shut the thing out before I let myself get any more worked up. I kept thinking about how the whole situation would play if it didn’t originate on such a well-liked, well-known author’s blog. And no way do I think it would have been the same.

  40. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 14:49:45

    This is one of those things where you depend on the decency and discretion of the other person, while being cognizant that: life's a bitch.

    This is one of the things I’ve been struggling with, especially when a high profile author says that it’s okay to post a private email if it’s “abusive” (never mind that Rich talked about her “love” for the letter writer). OTOH, I know I can’t expect any author to a) be an example b) of what I think is a civil standard. But OTOH, it’s a disappointment, it really is.

    Anji: You got at some of my main points so much more clearly and succinctly than I did — thank you!

    Meriam: Yes, I couldn’t get past what I saw as a very disproportionate power relationship, either, especially because of the blog’s public platform combined with Crusie’s public firepower. And especially because the whole interaction occurred within the realm of the authors’ professional activity and relative to the author – reader relationship. So even thought I don’t think she intended it that way, it felt like an endorsement of the free for all approach to reader correspondence. And that made me feel icky.

  41. Roslyn
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 14:56:03

    I have no dog in this fight, but thought I’d caution Ms. Crusie that she really doesn’t want to mess with quilters. For sheer fucknuttery Romancelandia’s got nothing on Quiltlandia. Those women are stone cold gangsta, and I should know, I’ve been one for decades.

    If you don’t believe me, check with whoever makes Northern tissue. They crashed their server with complaints because the ‘Northern tissue quilters’ used needles that were far too large and looked like knitting needles. You will note, they changed the commercial.

  42. Laura Florand
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 15:07:23

    I think it’s a blog/internet thing. It would be perfectly acceptable (I think) to most people if the authors vented about this to friends, family, with a group of colleagues at a conference where they share stories of the crazy emails they’ve received, etc. The problem is, writing a blog often feels *exactly like that* (sharing with friends, etc) except that it’s very, very public. People get into trouble all the time trying to maintain this public/private line. It’s very tricky. It’s part of our times and our world now, but I don’t think anyone has really mastered the ethics and the etiquette of it.

  43. Bev(BB)
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 15:10:13

    I kept thinking about how the whole situation would play if it didn't originate on such a well-liked, well-known author's blog. And no way do I think it would have been the same.

    Turn it around and let the “private” letter that was posted and then mocked have come from an author to a reviewer on a blog about a review that wasn’t appreciated–

    The outrage and condemnation would’ve hit the stratosphere. On all sides.

    I think a large part of the frustration comes from the confusion over whether readers are seen as fans or not. Yes, I said confusion. Do I see myself as a fan? Sometimes. And sometimes it annoys me when readers are called that. Why? Because I’m not a fan of a particular author and have never EVER claimed to be. I doubt I will ever claim to be. I’m not even all that big a fan of any particular book. What I am is a fan of reading and my all-time favorite type of reading material happens to be the romance novel. I have favorite books and favorite authors. Sometimes I even gush about a couple of them, but I only obsess about the genre itself.

    Big difference.

    That does not make romance authors, or any authors, celebrities to me. In fact, quite the contrary.

    There are many readers, however, that don’t feel that way. They do “attach” to a particular author in the same way that they attach to any other “thing” that they’re a fan of. Is this good or bad? Heck if I know. What I do know is that both good and bad behavoir then becomes part and parcel of the equation ON BOTH SIDES. And, remember, books don’t have behaviors. Somebody living and breathing has to return that favor. ;p

  44. Jessica Inclan
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 17:02:04

    One letter I received from a reader made me so upset. It was snail mail, and I spent a good long time responding in kind. Thank god my boyfriend told me to let it sit a night, and I ended up not sending the letter at all.

    The point was, the letter hurt my feelings a great deal. And when you put something out into the world–a blog, a book, yourself as an actor, a piece of art, media–you expose yourself, and that is part of the deal.

    I don’t think most of us are trained in terms of how to deal with these slings and arrows. And most of us aren’t taught how to deal with the “love” letters that come to us, either. But kind words–no matter who you are–are always easier to handle.

    When someone criticizes my work in a private communication, I immediately take it personally before leaning on the years of learning that it’s not really about me. It’s about the reader. And I can just take the letter and put it away. I can delete the email (even though I have felt like putting it on my web site and excoriating the writer). But what purpose would it serve? I’d end up being talked about on blogs perhaps! Except, I’m not high profile!

    Basically, we can’t please everyone. Sometimes, we can’t please anyone! But we can not take it personally.

    On the contact page on my web site, there is a statement that some letters will be published. I have done so–as it was clear that I might. Letters good and bad, my response as well. But this seems different to me than taking the letter that came to me via my publisher from a woman who did not know that I could put it up for all to see. So I did not. And I do not put letters that come to me via email addresses other than my web site.

    But trust me, I have thought about it.


  45. Michelle
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 17:17:34

    Kind of like mugglenets wall of shame. They let people know that if they send in any stupid, ranting message it is fair game.

  46. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 19:34:41


    This is just my personal feeling, but I really do think authors should ignore rude readers forever. Not everyone is going to like all your books. It’s a given. Not everyone is going to be able to look away if a book hits a hot button. It’s a given. FWIW, I don’t even post good things from letters without permission. If I get freaky email, I keep it in a “watch” file, just in case. If I get diatribes I respond politely. Now, I probably won’t respond to points because, well, honestly I probably haven’t read the whole thing if it’s a rant. (the delete key is a wonderful invention) But for whatever reason, that person felt compelled to write to me, so I do respond politely. I don’t name call and I don’t debate, but I do respond (not to the freaky one’s though).

    I just think that handling interactions with the public in the form of reader mail is another “job requirement.” Mostly it’s fun and most everyone is nice. The emails that really get to me though are not the angry ones or the freaky ones, but the ones where someone was genuinely disappointed with a book. As much as I want to please every reader, as much as I know rationally that every book won’t because as a character driven author it’s the personality of the characters that drive the books, It’s the occasional fan that reads a book that doesn’t melt their heart that gets to me. I really feel their disappointment and those letters are the ones that can spark a sense of failure. Those are the hard ones to deal with for me. Those make me want to find a very dark corner to hide in,

  47. Jane
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 21:02:50

    I don’t think that there is any legal impediment to the posting of emails. It’s really, as others have said, an issue of ethics.

  48. Robin
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 22:22:44

    Roslyn: I’m not a quilter, but those Northern Tissue needles DID look like knitting needles, lol.

    Laura: I hope you’re right that this is really just online growing pains. If I came up on some authors mocking a reader, while it might make me feel uncomfortable, I do think it’s a different situation because I am the eavesdropper. I do wonder, though, if those authors were mocking another author, assuming they weren’t being overheard, and I blogged about it, how that would go over with that group of overheard authors. Since no one should have an expectation of privacy and all that.

    Bev: I think the Romance community has encouraged a kind of celebritization of authors, or at least a false sense of intimacy between readers and authors. And sometimes that does seem to cut in opposing, even contradictory directions.

    On the contact page on my web site, there is a statement that some letters will be published.]

    This, to me, seems like the perfect compromise, Jessica. If you give people notice that their communications are potentially public, then they can make an informed decision about whether or not to send that note.

    Michelle, I’m not a Harry Potter reader, but I LOVED that site! And at least they were completely honest about what participants are in for if their letters are deemed to be worthy of “shame” — I wonder how many Romance authors would be comfortable with making that kind of announcement (as a couple of reader blogs I can think of do).

    I just think that handling interactions with the public in the form of reader mail is another “job requirement.”

    You know, Sarah, one of the reasons I am sensitive to this issue is that my own job requires a very high level of discretion and the ability to manage a great deal of ultra-sensitive and confidential information. It doesn’t really matter what *I* think of the information, because that’s not a condition of my keeping it private. It’s about me and my reputation and my employer’s ability to trust me to honor the requirements of my role and to respect the people for whom I work. And since I also manage a lot of correspondence with the public, I guess I see it all of a piece. I think it’s nice to know where different authors stand with regard to reader mail, since it shapes at least how *I* would approach them. What concerns me is this idea that we can’t even have a baseline level of trust that if we talk with someone directly that we can count on even a basic level of respect for our privacy, regardless of the message (assuming it’s not really *scary* in a ‘time to consult the cops’ way). As women, we seem to have so much difficulty being forthright with each other, that I hate to see one more impediment to that.

    As for not making readers melt with your work, it’s tough because every writer faces such disconnection with their work, and I think somehow we tend to focus on the one negative reaction among ten positive ones. That’s why I understand why Caridad Ferrer wrote what she did on RtB, even if I think the reader should have given consent to have her email posted publicly. In so many ways, I wish that reader opinions didn’t impact the author, because sometimes I get the impression that authors tend to be more negatively affected by reader feedback than positively affected by it. But then who can work in a vacuum?

  49. RfP
    Oct 02, 2007 @ 22:50:14

    I’m sort of disappointed by some of these characterizations of the “other side” of the argument. For me:

    Fangirl: No. I don’t read Rich, and while I like a lot of Crusie’s work I’m not an uncritical fan, nor would I stick up for her online behavior because of her work. I also don’t know (or think I know) either of them personally.

    Pointing and laughing: Absolutely. And head-shaking too. Some things deserve to be laughed at. And discussed. Because there’s a lot of strange stuff in the world, and some of it’s disturbing, and some is funny, and some makes it hard to know what to think. To quote P&P: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” (BTW, I would call that wry, not mean.)

    Aren't-we-clever, or feeling superior or safe from ever being the target of mockery: No way. I say unreflected or otherwise laughable things all the time. I know it; I get called on it; it’s unavoidable. When I read things like that email, I’m always grateful for the reminder of what I don’t want to do.

    Implying others are overreacting: I don’t think I did this, but I thought it a couple of times. That’s the part of this I find most worthwhile: trying to parse my conflicted reaction of “Come on guys, have a sense of humor”. Because I do believe that saying that is dismissive–but I also believe that a certain amount of humor, tolerance for different styles, and “live and let live” are essential. I put a high value on interesting viewpoints and distinctive, even cranky, voices.

  50. Meriam
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 04:54:50

    “To quote P&P: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” (BTW, I would call that wry, not mean.)”

    When Emma publicly ridicules a neighbor from a smaller world, who is silly and tiresome, Knightly rightly rebukes her for it. My biggest problem with this whole thing was a) the publication of the letter, initially with a name. I think there is a valid and serious point to be made about the ethics of sharing that letter, word for word. If Crusie had merely alluded to it (or to hyperbolic fanmail in general), if she’d merely lifted a quote or two before adding Rich’s response to nasty fan-mail, I would probably have laughed and moved on.

    b) I found the back-tracking, the (retrospective) high-minded justifications and (particularly in Rich’s case) the contradictions kind of annoying. How hard did my eyes roll when Rich exclaimed ‘I love Y!”?

    I think you’re right: I would hate it if blogs like Crusie’s lost their spontaneity and intimacy because some of us are over-sensitive or addicted to creating conflict where non exisits BUT I think Crusie should have thought twice before sharing that letter. Like Emma, Crusie had the greater ‘social power’ here and she – unwittingly – abused it.

  51. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 06:49:27

    “It doesn't really matter what *I* think of the information, because that's not a condition of my keeping it private. It's about me and my reputation and my employer's ability to trust me to honor the requirements of my role and to respect the people for whom I work.”

    I think this is the crux of the matter to me. I love chatting with readers, love interacting, but I am sometimes surprised by how much some reveal. Usually it’s through a happy sharing but sometimes pain inspires peoples reactions and it matters to me how I handle that sometimes inadvertent trust. I was raised with the creed, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” I take very little personally, thank goodness, and rarely get mad over anything, but when I do, that question, “Should I?” usually stops me in my tracks because, for me, the answer is rarely yes.

    It doesn’t mean I swallow every insult. It just means that not everyone has the power to insult me.

  52. Nora Roberts
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 06:55:11

    I didn’t read the whole business–I’m away in–horrors!–New York for a few days. While I can get, to a point, the discomfort at having an email posted, I’d lean more that way if the writer of the email was identified. As in, Sally Quilter from Nebraska wrote.

    But I don’t see a problem with posting the text of an email when only the sender and receiver know the identity. The text itself illustrates, or can, a topic worth discussing. And the following discussion on how it can, is, or might be handled. Good fodder, imo.

  53. Robin
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 12:49:39

    I'd lean more that way if the writer of the email was identified. As in, Sally Quilter from Nebraska wrote.

    Well, the sender’s first name was included originally, and Crusie did not remove it until the next day, at which point she changed all references to the woman’s name to “Y”.

    As for the question of discussion, in the original blog post, titled “You Have Not Got A Clue,” after posting the note from Y, here’s what Crusie posted:

    Gotta love Y, who speaks for quilters and Americans everywhere against the godless upstate New York liberal commie blue-state romance novelists. I particularly love the “Thanks, Y” signature.

    But even more, you gotta love my pal, who sent back this:

    Dear Reader!

    Thanks so much for writing! I am sorry, but because of all the fan mail I get, I can't respond to every letter individually. But please know I do read them all, and I'm so glad you loved my books!


    Is there any wonder I adore X?

    IIRC, I was actually the first one to weigh in with a comment about readers and authors (although I was not the first to protest; someone else weighed in with a comment that she “wasn’t going to feel superior to Y” ). Crusie then went back and forth to debating with me and joining the ‘making sport’ to use RfP’s Austen reference. Had there been no objections, how much discussion does anyone really think there would have been? Perhaps a lot, but it wasn’t going in that direction before some of us said we were uncomfortable. To me, the post was problematic at every level: posting a private note with the sender’s first name (and Crusie even says she’s Xing out RICH’S name in case the reader is searching the Internet for her — overtly protecting Rich but not the reader who sent the private missive); doing so with the stated intention of showing why she “adore[s]” Rich with no invitation for discussion of anything (which she talked about in her second post the next day, to her credit); Rich initially commented only with “chortle” and “tee hee,” eventually making, as Meriam said, contradictory statements, from “I love Y” to “This woman was not my reader. She didn’t even buy the book” (she got if from the library), to she “deserved to be taken down a notch,” to “The fact that the swinging fists of crazy were about the book is really just clouding the issue,” to an adamant, repeated refrain that she would do the exact same thing again. Rich, in fact, argued that the issue wasn’t even about the reader – author relationship.

    And I can safely say that protests to the whole deal were not the “popular” response. I really do give people credit for not trying to flame us, but none of us were frantically ranting, either. We were accused of over-reacting (and “over-extrapolating,” a Rich put it), and I understand that part of what Rich was trying to do in responding was to defuse some of the tension around the issue, trying to get me and Jane and several others to see that this was really just about a “crazy” letter, etc. And the thing is, I *know* why people found this funny — from the start I understood the appeal of the post to people. And I don’t think anyone who mocked is a horrible person. I just refused to play along, not out of ignorance to the humor people found, but to a) the violation of reader Y’s privacy (and to me, if someone reads your book, they are your reader), and b) the idea that hammering her was okay because “she started it” (a defense Rich even used) and her letter was “abusive.” But none of that “abusive letter” talk was part of the original invitation to share Crusie’s adoration for Rich. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Crusie wanted to show off Rich’s cleverness. And hey, it was clever, no doubt about that. What I don’t agree with is the contention that Rich’s note to the reader was “nicer,” though (unless the standard is similar to whether it’s less painful and cleaner to be shot with a rifle or a semi-automatic), because a) this WAS a reader, b) who wrote a private letter, c) designated publicly as “crazy” d) and therefore erasable (e.g. “This woman was not my reader” ). Someone even said “You cannot hurt this woman,” assuming she was inured to criticism based on the handful of sentences in her own note. It was suggested several times that she wasn’t smart enough or aware enough to even understand she had been insulted by Rich’s response. Of course, with no more than a handful of sentences to represent Y, her letter was, as someone put it “ripe for the picking.” Sometimes I do think you need to vent — publicly, even. But as I asked before, if I had overheard a group of authors ranting against or mocking another author, and I blogged their whole conversation, with their first names, would there still be such broad support for a) posting it, or b) mocking it publicly?

    If the aim *is* discussion, then how can the public posting and mocking of private reader email, foster that in any authentic way? And if that isn’t the aim, then is it simply making sport of our neighbors by publicly revealing their letters to us and laughing at them?

  54. TeddyPig
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 14:07:48

    If the aim *is* discussion, then how can the public posting and mocking of private reader email, foster that in any authentic way? And if that isn't the aim, then is it simply making sport of our neighbors by publicly revealing their letters to us and laughing at them?

    Was the original reason the writer was upset ever really discussed? The book could be excerpted and the way it characterized whatever the reader was upset about could have been analyzed without even once having to post the original email that was sent.

    Focusing on the book would have been constructive and promoted the book. Eh, who knows it all seems overly personalized and not professional.

    I do not think you were seeing things.

  55. Robin
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 14:30:59

    Teddy, I honestly don’t think Crusie thought the whole thing was a big deal (and I’m not saying that as an accusation); I think she figured she’d post this letter that had her and Rich “in stitches,” people would share the funny, and that would be all of it. That a few of us didn’t share in the funny took the post in a different direction.

    One of the most interesting issues, IMO, was whether or not the letter writer was trying to interfere with Rich’s creative process, as some asserted. Since neither Rich nor Crusie seemed to take the letter very seriously, that conversation didn’t really go too far (and interestingly, the reader didn’t demand anything, she wrote “Please do not put your name on anything with the word, “Quilt” ever again.” ). It was tough all the way around, because the letter was introduced as being laughable, so later talk about how it was “abusive,” etc. was not part of the original context presented by either author.

  56. blog hopper
    Oct 03, 2007 @ 17:58:27

    (and Crusie even says she's Xing out RICH'S name in case the reader is searching the Internet for her -‘ overtly protecting Rich but not the reader who sent the private missive)

    I didn't read it that way. Had the letter-writer googled her own name, which was hardly unique, she may not have found that particular blog post. But if she had googled by that author's name, she would have been able to connect the dots.

  57. Janet
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 11:36:03

    I didn't read it that way. Had the letter-writer googled her own name, which was hardly unique, she may not have found that particular blog post. But if she had googled by that author's name, she would have been able to connect the dots.

    But isn’t the upshot the same: extending protection to Rich but not to Y? Very possibly I am misunderstanding your point. The intended nature of the protection is a bit different — protecting Rich From Y rather than protecting Rich’s anonymity more generally (and Rich made it easy to figure out it was her, as did Crusie, if you know Rich’s books). I don’t know; here’s the original comment: But a pal of mine-no, really a pal of mine, not me-just got a letter that had us both in stitches. The letter is below with my pal's name Xed out in case the letter writer is doing an internet search for her although given the content of the letter, I doubt it

    I wonder, though, if Y had come upon the discussion, how things would have gone, had she dared to enter the fray. And some wonder why people make anonymous submissions online, lol.

  58. RfP
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 15:23:43

    If you think about how searches work and what people search for–and the way Rich made it obvious who she was–the more reasonable interpretation is that the intent was to provide anonymity for the letter writer, NOT for Rich.

    Which is also why Y is far more likely to stumble across this post, which names Rich.

  59. Robin
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 16:22:16

    I made a conscious decision to post Rich’s name here, RfP.

    As for what’s “reasonable” in any of this, I don’t think we’re ever going to agree. I can buy that Crusie didn’t think it was at all a big deal to post the letter, but I don’t find either implicit or explicit in anything she originally posted that she intended or was at all interested in protecting Y, at least initially (the next day she changed the name to Y). In other words, if she intended that, it didn’t come across to me at all in the tone or content of her post. It doesn’t make sense to me that given everything Crusie and Rich were saying about how “abusive” Y’s letter was that they were trying to protect her from knowing her letter was the subject of that post. Generally speaking, I do think it’s a lot easier to publicly mock someone who isn’t there to respond, defend themselves, or protest the revelation of their private correspondence. And a handful of angry sentences an easy caricature makes. One of the ironic things about this, though, to me, at least, is that one’s name IS public information, and in that correspondence, it’s the one legally recognized piece of public information posted.

  60. Penelope Powers
    Oct 06, 2007 @ 12:58:30

    Lawrence Block wrote an entire book about this. His protagonist, Bernie Rhodenbarr, is a “reformed” thief and book seller, who will occasionally steal things for clients. (At least that’s what I think is the premise, although it’s been a long time since I read the book so my apologies to Mr. Block if I have it wrong.)

    Spoiler alert*****
    In any case, Bernie is hired by a well-known author to steal private letters he wrote that are going to be published. Once he steals them, the author writes a new version of the letters and replaces them. When Bernie, who can’t distinguish one set of letters from the other, asks him what the point was of that, the author replies, (again I hope memory serves and I am not doing a disservice to Mr. Block or misrepresentating of his work), that the private letters were not meant for public viewing, and therefore the publication of them felt like a violation, however the replacement letters were a work of fiction.

    I believe that publishing another person’s private correspondence, in whatever modality it is initially sent, is a violation. People are going to do it anyway. That doesn’t make it right, and I think it reflects more poorly on the poster than the letter writer, whatever is in the original letter. This is my problem with You-tube as well. I think it’s a violation for people to put videos of others on the web, but they do it anyway. It’s this kind of behavior that keeps tabloids in business, but now it’s not just the rich and famous who are victims of it.

%d bloggers like this: