Have you seen those t-shirts that say Don’t Make Me Kill You In My Novel! or something similar? I can’t help smiling every time I see one of those, because for a writer, it’s the ultimate threat. Well, a threat with one’s tongue firmly in cheek, so not really very scary. If you know anything about writers at all, you know that our characters generally walk into our heads with their own identities that have very little to do with real people in our lives. Every now and then, though, I do wish I could write a character just for killing him off, because someone in real life has behaved very badly.
This past week, for instance. A reader in Germany got his hands on a copy of Charlaine Harris’ newest book, Dead Ever After. It’s the latest and last in the Sookie Stackhouse series, with a street date of May 7th. When a book has a street date, the bookstores are not contractually allowed to sell their stock any earlier than that date. Trouble is that booksellers are human and sometimes mistakes are made. The rumor is that this reader bought his copy at a bookstore that wasn’t properly observing the street date. Okay, so he got his book early, oh well. Except that he didn’t like the ending, and decided to show his displeasure by posting the ending of the book online. Word spread like wildfire, and the book was spoiled it for a whole lot of readers. Ms. Harris immediately went to her Facebook page and asked that people please not continue sharing the spoilage. She’d have been well within her rights as a Southern woman to pitch a hissy the likes of which has not been seen since Scarlett O’Hara, but she kept her cool. Her post was polite and calm. And what did she get in return?
Screeching fans declaring that her ending was wrong and that she’d cheated them and they were headed right to Amazon to cancel their preorders blah blah blah blah. The things some people said absolutely blew me away with their rudeness. She’s even received threats, although I’m happy to say I never saw those. What drove me craziest were the people who claimed Sookie belonged to them because they’d made Ms Harris a success, and accused Ms Harris of mistreating their Sookie.
But it’s not just readers who misbehave. About two weeks ago, Hugh Howey, author of the Wool series, which was originally self-published on Amazon, posted an ugly rant called “The Bitch from WorldCon.” The rant was about a woman he met who was dismissive of self-publishing. Instead of recounting the tale in a mature fashion, Howey used words like “bitch”, “broad” and “she-devil”, and described her as being a high-functioning autistic. Fortunately, the SF/F community responded, letting him know he’d done wrong, and he took the post down. He also apologized twice (the first time being one of those “fine, I guess I’m sorry” sort of things that don’t satisfy anyone.)
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a reader or a writer, you can make your point without threats, insults or hate speech. Remember that someone is always listening. And if that someone happens to be a writer, especially one who’s at that moment hunting for just the right character to murder in her next novel, be nice. You don’t want to someday pick up your favorite author’s latest book and read that there’s a character with your name who’s been drowned in a vat of peanut butter.