She had to go looking for it. Her name wasn't mentioned; there was no link to her book. Despite the fact that she said reports of typos and other errors should be placed in reviews, she accused me of "shaming" her when I even mentioned it -- even though that mention was not in a review.
But I should be used to authors stabbing me in the back. I'm sure she'll find a place to leave a nasty review of at least one of my books, even though I didn't do the same to her. Since I never look at my reviews, I won't know. And I won't care. I trust readers to know the difference.
I don't trust writers at all any more. None of them, with only a very, very few exceptions.
I had a brief PM exchange with one of them on Twitter last night to explain to her briefly what had gone down. She is one of the very few people on earth who know how it all started and sensed my anger over this latest incident. This morning I'm going to put the worst of it into reasonably coherent words, maybe for the first time. Maybe it will help dissipate my rage.
Names and some dates and other details have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
The first was in the 1980s, before I had sold my first book and while I was still living in Indiana. I had become one of a group of "aspiring" romance writers who corresponded by snail mail -- that's all there was! -- and exchanged manuscripts the same way. At one time the group numbered seven or eight, but only four of us were really active writers. Of the four, Nancy wrote contemporary romance while the rest of us wrote historical. When our group started, Amber and I had finished or almost finished our books and were starting to shop them around to publishers and/or agents; Adrienne's manuscript ran to about 150 pages, but she was far from finished. When the group dissolved, she still had not completed the book.
Amber lived relatively close to me, close enough that I was able to make a couple of week-end visits to her. Her home life was . . . unpleasant . . . but I kept my feelings about that to myself.
Her book was, in my opinion, adequate for the market at that time. I didn't think it was great, but it was okay. Over the course of the year or so that it took for us to swap a few chapters at a time, I had offered her various suggestions for punching up what was a kind of bland romantic adventure. She rather strenuously resisted any and all criticism, but I had little to no experience in that arena. Her comments on mine were minor and not very constructive. "I liked this, I didn't like that," but with no suggestions. I wasn't sure if she didn't know how to make suggestions or what.
Most of my comments on hers were on the way the sex was handled. Remember that this was in the 1980s, when the bodice-ripper was the classic and the norm for historical romance. Amber's book had almost no sex, even though the setting would have almost required it. When she did have a love scene, it was brief and kind of clinical. When I suggested she expand these, she got very defensive.
It was during one of those week-end visits that I learned why she was so reluctant to write sex scenes. She had, she told me, grown up in an abusive family and as a teenager she had become a born again christian. She had kept this secret from her husband, who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. When he learned of her religious leanings, he mocked her for it. This much I saw with my own two little eyes. The hints she gave off led me to believe she saw sex as personally unpleasant.
Over the course of maybe six or seven months, Amber and I continued to exchange letters. With our manuscripts finished, both of us had begun new books, which we were also exchanging. Hers was another historical which I thought had major, major flaws. I had switched to a contemporary, even though I hadn't read very many and didn't really know much about them. It was one of those "the story just came to me in a flash and I had to write it."
Amber's letters were filled with desperation. "If I don't sell this book to [fill in name of publisher] I think I will kill myself" sort of thing. I didn't know how to handle it, but I was just glad to have someone to bounce ideas off.
During one of those week-end visits with Amber, she took me to a meeting of her local RWA chapter. I met several published romance authors there -- I had no local chapter so I knew NO ONE in the industry -- and I was suitably impressed. Amber told me her completed book had been praised by all the members there.
Not long after that visit, I received back from Amber the opening five or six chapters of my contemporary. Without my permission, she had given it to one of the published members of her chapter -- Millie -- for a critique. I was horrified enough that Amber had done this. I was horrified even more by Millie's comments, scrawled all over the manuscript. Page after page after page of scathing, rude comments, the kind that often made no sense in the context of the story. On one page she had written, "Where the hell is she coming from?" referring to the main character. But on the previous page I had explained exactly where she was coming from.
Some of Millie's comments were valid, but I didn't see their validity for months because I was so outraged first by Amber's action and then by Millie's brutal rudeness. I did go on to finish the book, despite their comments, though I've never sent it anywhere or even tried to publish it. It has flaws that I never really cared to fix.
In the meantime, I had sent a proposal on the other completed book, the historical, to another publisher and received a positive response. The editor wanted to see the whole manuscript. I was excited enough to call Amber and tell her. A few days later I received a letter from her asking if I would be upset that she had sent her proposal off to the same editor.
Well, of course I wasn't upset. Not really.
Amber had also entered her book in one of the RWA contests, which were nothing as significant then as they are now. I wasn't yet a member, so I couldn't enter. But I would soon join, because the bunch of us -- me, Amber, Adrienne, Nancy, and a couple of the others -- were all going to the RWA conference together. I would be rooming with Adrienne, even though I had never met her. I think Amber shared a room with Nancy because they also had met several times. But the conference and its award ceremony were months away.
In due course, I received word that the editor to whom I had sent my manuscript was offering a contract on it. I was over the moon with excitement, as you can imagine. I called Amber to tell her, but I immediately got the sense that she wasn't exactly happy for me. I wished her luck, since she had sent her book to the same editor.
Not long after I sold my book, Amber received a note from that editor requesting her full manuscript also. She sent it, and a few months later got a contract offer. On the advice of her fellow RWA members, she began looking for an agent before she signed the contract. But when Amber called to tell me about the contract offer, she also told me not to tell anyone else, not even Nancy or Adrienne.
Why not? Well, because she had also received notice that her book was a finalist in its category for the RWA contest. If anyone found out that she had a contract offer -- just an offer, mind you -- her book would be disqualified. Even though I told her that wasn't exactly fair, she insisted that this was the advice of her new agent, who believed that if the book won, it would give her better negotiating power.
The conference was still months away. Delays in signing the contract pushed the scheduled date for Amber's book's publication out further and further.
I was already deep into my next book, and looking forward to the conference and meeting all these new people. Even though I had met Amber and spent two or three week-ends with her, she was remarkably stand-offish when we all got together for dinner that first night of the conference. Nancy, too, was way less friendly than I had expected based on her letters. I had fun with Adrienne, staying up way way way late to talk about our books and our families and . . . everything.
Amber seemed to be spending most of her time with her agent, who shall remain nameless. Nancy sort of reluctantly joined me and Adrienne for lunches, but we mostly went our own ways for workshops and so on. The night of the awards ceremony, Amber sat with the other finalists, while the rest of us sat at a table in the back of the ballroom.
When Amber's name was announced as the winner in her category, we all applauded, but there was a niggling distaste in my mouth because she had, after all, cheated. But hey, everyone cheats, don't they?
After the dinner and awards, we tried to reach Amber to congratulate her in person. Somehow or other, I happened to be the first of our group to locate her in the milling crowd. She was with her agent, a rather frowzy woman with badly ratted hair, but I walked up to them to congratulate her.
I don't remember exactly what words were exchanged between us, but they weren't very many before the agent took Amber by the shoulders and physically turned her away from me, saying in a very loud voice to Amber, "You don't need to talk to people like her. She's nobody."
Amber didn't speak to me through the rest of the conference.
What I didn't know until several years later, when I happened to run into Nancy at another conference, was that Amber had bad-mouthed me to every single one of my "friends." She told them I was seething with jealousy over her award. She told them I had offered her suggestions on her book that would have ruined it so it would never be published. She told everyone that I was a horrible person and a horrible writer.
I was stunned by what Nancy told me, but then I realized it all fit the pattern that had emerged. Even though Amber and I continued to correspond and even exchange manuscripts after that conference, there was an underlying malice to her comments. I was hurt beyond belief, but I also knew about the problems in her personal life, so I chalked it up to that and moved on.
She signed her contract, sold a couple more books, and vanished into obscurity.
I moved to Arizona, sold a few more books, and also vanished into obscurity!
There were some minor incidents of a similar nature to what I'd gone through with Amber, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to them. I had two kids, we had moved to Arizona, I was writing, and so on. Life was too busy for that kind of shit. I joined a local RWA group in the Phoenix area, then started another one. Our new chapter ran a contest -- as far as I know, they're still running it more than 20 years later -- and there were some clashes over that. Some of them stung pretty hard, but I got over them.
Then came the incident with Marie's book. Marie was one of the unpublished members of the new chapter, and she too was entering her book in the RWA contest, which by this time had become a pretty big deal. Marie asked if I would look over her sample chapters and give her any advice. If I had known about the Josh Olson protocol then, I might have followed his advice, but I didn't. And I really had no reason to expect any kind of backlash.
Well, boy oh boy, was there backlash.
Marie was totally grateful for my advice. She couldn't thank me enough. She publicly praised my ability to find even tiny weaknesses in her plot that she was able to fix and strengthen. Of course, once she won the award, she sang a different tune. She and her friends snubbed me every chance they got. It was as if I had become invisible.
After winning the RWA award, she signed what was rumored to be a very comfortable two-book contract. The first book was published just about the same time one of my books came out. Another member of our chapter, Dana, also had a book published around then, so the chapter set up a joint book-signing event at the bookstore in the mall where we had our monthly meetings. I spoke with the store manager to give her all the information on my books, and she said she would get back with me if all the backlist titles weren't available. I told her I had copies I could bring if she couldn't get them.
I never heard back from her, so I assumed she had them. I knew, however, that two titles were out of print and couldn't be obtained anywhere, so I brought a few of those with me, as well as a couple copies of the others just in case.
I arrived at the bookstore early, to make sure everything was in order. Out in the mall area the bookstore had set up nice little tables with books and vases with red roses and name placards . . . for Marie and for Dana, but not for me.
I was stunned. I was devastated. I didn't know what to do.
I went into the store and asked for the manager. She showed up and was clearly not inclined to be friendly when I told her who I was.
"You told me you weren't coming," she snarled at me. "I had to send all those books back."
But of course I had done nothing of the kind.
Somehow or other, I don't remember how, she found some copies of my books and I provided the few that I had brought. A name sign was made, a red rose was scrounged up, and all was made more or less right. But I was hurt. I was mortified. I was humiliated.
Why? Why would anyone call the bookstore and tell them I wasn't going to be there? And who had done it?
Oh, I eventually found out. Marie and some of her allies in the chapter had done it. Marie didn't want me to take any of her limelight, because I'd have three or four books and she'd only have one. (Never mind that her one book looked a whole lot better than mine, because I ALWAYS got crappy covers.) When I confronted one of the "allies" and asked her why she had done something so horrible to someone who had never done anything to her, she just shrugged and said, "We figured you were strong enough to take it."
Yeah, a knife in the back and public humiliation are so easy to take.
There were some repercussions from that incident that left me really at a loss for how to continue. There were sabotaged contest scores and a whole lot of lies thrown around -- and I still have the tape recordings of the confessions -- and I took it pretty hard. I tapered off my involvement with the local chapter and moved on to another group where I felt the jealousy factor was going to be toned down.
This other group decided to sponsor a conference, and for logistical reasons, I got chosen to do the siting work. I coughed up funds I didn't have and took time off work I couldn't afford, so I could spend three or four days in Los Angeles visiting hotels that might accommodate our conference. A few things went right, a lot of things went wrong, but we got the conference put together.
One of the few benefits I got as a result of my trip to choose the site was that I got a fabulous free suite at the hotel. Double king bedroom, two and a half baths, dining room, living room, wet bar with mini-kitchen (microwave, but no stove). I think there were five or six phones. I made the decision to invite my husband to come along.
Although this was a conference for members of our chapter only, there had been some controversies, and one member of the RWA national board decided she wanted to attend. We could not deny her that request. And because she was someone I knew and had kind of palled around with at a previous conference, she was welcomed. She joined in with some of our social activities, and one evening joined a small group of us for an impromptu "picnic" in my suite. We all trooped over to the shopping center across the street from the hotel, bought sandwiches and chips and soda and wine and snacks, then sat on the floor around the huge coffee table in the living room. My husband was with us, and even though he was normally pretty shy, he joined in the conversations, too.
The very next morning, the rumors started to fly. The board member who had sat in the suite with me and my husband was now accusing me of refusing to let her speak to the conference. She had never asked to speak. There were more accusations, more straight out lies. Even my husband spoke up, asking who the heck started this. It made no sense. Why in heaven's name would she do this? What reason could she have? What good would it do anyone? The only result was to hurt me, personally.
To this day, I don't know. She was a best-selling, Big Name Author. She sat on the board of RWA. I was a nobody who had just pissed off one of the most powerful editors in the industry and killed my career. Why? Why do this to me?
Again, to this day, I don't know. I have no fucking clue.
Then comes the familiar litany of events. My writing career was over, I went back to college, my husband passed away, and here I am. My experience on Goodreads told me a lot about myself. I'm a bitch. I'm self-righteous. I don't suffer fools, not gladly or any other way. And I want good books for readers to read.
In all my fifteen years in RWA, I read a lot of contest entries. I was in a total of five different critique groups. I saw a lot of really, really, really shitty writing. I saw some good stuff, too. And of the good stuff, most went on to be published. Marie's book did. Amber's book did. And a few others. Some of the stuff that wasn't so good has shown up on Amazon. Some of those books have been offered free and I've downloaded them. They're no better now than they were when they were entered in RWA contests. And they aren't selling.
I only ever entered one of my published books in the RWA contest. My scores were middling, and I never advanced to a further round. But one judge's comments stuck with me because they were so far out in left field. It was obvious she didn't get the point of the story. I shrugged it off mainly because she was well published in contemporary romance, and mine was historical. She's gone on to be one of the Big Name Authors in romancelandia, and that's fine. I've never felt the need to reveal who it was or badmouth her for any reason.
I've never felt the need to stab someone in the back.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I really am a mean, spiteful bitch. Maybe I really am jealous of everyone, regardless how poor or stratospheric their sales, regardless how glowing or slamming their reviews.
I've said often enough that I simply can't read Nora Roberts, and I've made no secret why. I read her first novel, Promise Me Tomorrow, when it was entered in the RWA contest. I should have kept that paperback edition instead of dutifully returning it as we judges were supposed to do. It's now worth a small fortune, because it was so horrifically bad that even Nora herself allegedly hated it. She wasn't a Big Name Author when I read it for the contest. She was just another writer. But that book was, in my humble opinion, utterly horrible. And I can't read her stuff because of that.
But I don't hate Nora Roberts as a person. I've never trashed her or her books. (I've never read any others.) I don't hate other authors. I've disliked some of their books, but with very few exceptions, I've never hated on another writer just because I don't like his/her books. They have to actually do something to earn my enmity.
I have no personal contact with any other writers, and I haven't had for years and years and years. My connections with other writers here on Booklikes are almost entirely as readers, not writers. I left RWA in 1998. I reconnected with a few old friends online through Facebook a few years ago, but I've not become an active participant with any of them. I write mainly for myself; the success of The Looking-Glass Portrait still astonishes me. I still have never looked at any of the reviews, not on Amazon, not on Goodreads, not even here on Booklikes.
Reviews are for readers. Period. End of discussion.
I know that I am a harsh reviewer. I know that doesn't endear me to writers. And to be honest, I don't care all that much. I'm still a reader first, and I will stick up for the rights of readers to get good things to read. I personally don't want to read crap. A few typos won't prompt me to ding a book -- other than my own -- but I do have my pet peeves. Peerage titles are one; if a writer can't even get the forms of address correct or the rules of inheritance, then I'm going to be pissed and I'm going to review accordingly.
This whole business with "book stuffing" was new to me a few weeks ago. I had come across some of the books because I had downloaded them as freebies from Amazon. But I had no idea what they were, and I expressed my confusion and consternation here on BookLikes. An informal group of writers and readers on Twitter began somewhat coordinating the reporting of the most notorious "stuffers" and I got involved with that. There were some sock accounts that showed up to defend the stuffers and/or attack the reporters. I left the socks pretty much alone, to an extent that surprised even me, because I tend to let myself get dragged into those fights. But I stayed pretty much out of it.
One of the leaders of the group (I'll explain in a minute or two) pointed out that "stuffed" books could be reported for other reasons than just stuffing. She suggested they could be reported for bad formatting or even typos, as appropriate. And that's how this whole latest debacle started.
I still don't know who the dyslexic writer is. And I don't know why a dyslexic writer would feel entitled to put out a book they knew was filled with tons of misspellings and typos and expect readers to just ignore it. Maybe I'm being too cruel? Too intolerant? Not supportive enough of other writers, regardless how good or bad their writing?
My experience in the Goodreads Purge taught me that there are no second chances, and there should never be any expectation of either support or justice. There is a very human tendency to take the path of least resistance, to side with the majority, and to not make waves. (We're seeing this is current American politics, too. Don't get me started.) I've fought in real life and I've fought online, and there's never really been a win for me. Oh, some small victories, but I'm still pretty much on my own and still pretty much taking my own hits.
And I'm still nobody.
I mentioned above that there were some "leaders" of the Twitter group. They are authors who have a significant following, who publish in the more popular genres, and they were vocal in their denunciation of the "stuffers," and to a lesser extent the trademark trolls who are trying to corner the market on particular words. I don't know any of these writers, and I've never read any of their work. I'm sure they don't know me either. I'm pretty much nobody wherever you go in this business. And that's fine; it is what it is.
So those three or four or however many they are, they get all the virtual high fives and all the congratulations, while I continue to quietly get other stuffers removed. I don't need to brag about it. I get little to no recognition, and in a way that keeps me able to operate under the radar.
I can't review on Amazon or Goodreads. My blog is pretty much inactive, and I didn't really review much there anyway. I save my reviews for BookLikes, but I don't write reviews of everything I read. Lately I've been going through some of the gazillions of Kindle books and weeding out some of the real shit, so I've posted some junk here. But other than the William Morris and Judith Tarr books, much of my recent reading has been non-fiction for research on subjects of very narrow interest. There's really no reason to review them here.
I didn't review the "reign" author's book. I didn't identify it or rate it or anything else. She chose to vent her rage directly at me on Twitter, to post a screen shot of my Booklikes post, and accuse me of "shaming" her. I have several voices in my head right now, urging me to do many different things.
One voice -- the loudest -- says, "Curl up in a ball and cry, because you're a terrible person, full of spite and venom and jealousy who doesn't deserve to interact with normal human beings."
Another, almost as loud, says, "Get online and rip the ever living shit out of every bad book you find. No quarter! Go after the shitty writers, the bad formatters, the liars and cheats and everyone."
A third tells me, "Just withdraw. None of them are worth it. I know you want to be social and have friends like a normal person, but it's not going to happen. I'm sorry. You're basically good with good intentions, but the world is cruel."
A fourth whispers, "You're just doing all this for the attention. You're feeling sorry for yourself."
I'm inclined to give that fourth voice credit for telling the truth.