Thursday, October 23, 2014

This week in books part 2 - authors vs critics electric boogaloo

While I was finishing research for the blog post "This Week In Books" on Monday, I came across a reference to the "Benevolent Stalker".  I had too much material already, and passed over it. I refreshed the pages I was looking at on Wednesday, and saw that the "Benevolent Stalker" is now facing charges after allegedly belting a critic of his book with a wine bottle. 

When the informal internet rules state you shouldn't engage with your critics about your book, I'm pretty sure this advice tacitly includes not trying to kill them.

To start at the beginning:

On 23rd September, a writer and winner of a British TV quiz show, whom I'll refer to as RB in order to cut down Google search results - he is named in full in some of the links - wrote a blog post entitled "The Benevolent Stalker" in which he details at length how he stalked a woman who had no interest in him for months, hoping to get her to run away with him after he faked her kidnapping. But not creepy in the slightest, because he was totally going to get her permission, even though she obviously wanted nothing to do with him, which he acknowledged in every word of his blog post but which didn't seem to quite penetrate his skull.  He took the blog post down after everybody who had come within fifty feet of it pronounced it weird, chilling and inappropriate. However, Jezebel has extensive quotes from it here,  It ends:

I was going to tell her that if she came with me, and we faked a kidnapping, we would both become famous. We would go into the hills and camp out for a few days while the nation searched. I had brought the necessary supplies. 
I would like to reiterate that I was not plotting to kidnap her. I was planning on asking her if she would be interested in pretending to be kidnapped, so that we would make the news and people would learn about our story. 
Yesterday, I saw her on the street and approached her, and called her name, but she freaked out. 
"How?" she said. "How are you here?" She turned and snapped me on her phone before hurrying away. 
I didn't even get to tell her about my plan. I didn't want to make a scene because people were staring. I also realised that I didn't have the heart to ask her if she would like to be kidnapped. 
I left Glasgow, and I think our relationship is finished now. I gave it my best shot. I really thought that we would both become famous. We would have disappeared for a few days, people would have read my book, and she could have played the lead role when The World Rose is made into a movie. But alas; I'll have to find another way.
On October 20th, RB wrote a blog post called A Re-evaluation of Romance, in which he claimed to have realized his error.  It says in small part (because he does tend to go on a bit):

I have re-evaluated my stance on many things. My blogpost entitled “The Benevolent Stalker” made international news and was roundly condemned. For every supportive comment I received, I had about a hundred negative ones. This level of response was helpful because 99% of people cannot be wrong. At the time, I didn't realise just how terrible my behaviour was. I did have benevolent intentions but I now realise that there was nothing remotely benevolent about what I was doing. Stalking in any form is horrible and it is unacceptable to attempt to justify it.
In much of the discussion, I noticed women saying things like ‘Romance is evil’. I then remembered a former flat-mate called Gabrielle who had mentioned that she didn't like romance because it seemed ‘sort-of selfish’. Back then, I wrote her off as anomalous, but I am now willing to accept the possibility that the majority of women share that view. Romance is generally cast in a positive light in movies and literature, but when I thought about it, I realised that most of those stories are written by men. We're not seeing things from the female perspective. What I also realise now is that if you act the way that those characters do, in real life, you may end up in jail.
There is a danger here. This problem clearly doesn’t affect the majority of men, but it does affect those of us who are borderline-psychotic and easily carried away by epic ideas. I really thought that what I was doing – writing a book about my love and pursuing her despite repeated rejections – was part of a grand narrative which would end in happy matrimony. 
I now recognise that my behaviour was vile, selfish and deluded.
And it ends:
It is unforgivable that I continued to pursue her, and I have learnt a great deal and hope that others do not make similar mistakes. I've felt a bit like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense recently, when he realises that he is a dead person. That is how self-revelatory the last week has been for me. I wish I had found this peace of mind earlier, because it would have saved others from harm.

Others from harm? Why, yes.

In September, someone I'll call PR wrote a Goodreads review of RB's book, The World Rose.  It's a pretty scathing review. Not personal, though, just critical. A sample:
"But the bulldog merely yawned, slumped lazily in his basket with a sullen frown on his face." Adverbs: check. Redundancy: check. Slumping is a lazy action. Frowns are usually sullen. From the context, we know this. I just... 
Urgh, I can't. Even if there WAS more on Wattpad to read, I wouldn't. This is painful. Everything is written through telling and purple prose which is just about the worst combination there is as both a reader and writer. You can have the most fantastic plot in the world, but if you can't write it well, it won't sell. At least concerning self-publishing. And bad writing usually equals bad characters.
The review must have gotten his goat. In an addendum to the review she writes:
[EDIT] - The writer of the World Rose is arrogant. SO arrogant, in fact, that my review hit him where it hurts a little to hard. In return, he found out where I worked through Facebook, came from LONDON to where I live in the east of Scotland, and attacked me by hitting me over the head with a wine bottle from behind. Not a word or a sound. And then he left. I had to be taken to hospital to receive medical treatment for it, which included several stitches in my head.

I have to stress that this is currently an alleged attack - he has, according to her, been charged, but the case has not yet come to trial. However, the pictures of the split in her head certainly look legit.  There's a full write-up here and pictures here.  To summarize, RB traveled 350 miles (at least $250 in transportation costs) just to sneak up behind a petite 18 year old girl and smash her over the head with a wine bottle. Because of a one star review on Goodreads.

I'm not sure what these past few events- first Kathleen Hale, author, stalking her critic and now RB, author, bottling his own critic - portend. Has the world changed, and authors have decided that dead gophers in the mail are no longer sufficient; only direct confrontation will do? Are these a couple of terrorist-novelists, intended to chill the speech of reviewers on behalf of other authors?  Is novel-writing correlated with poor impulse control?

This makes the Stephan J Harper incontinent-comments-left-on-review episode look even more hilarious in retrospect. If only today's authors were as fully-hinged as Harper was way back, ooh, way back in May 2014. We laughed about the Streisand effect and so forth but at least we didn't fear for the critic's life.

Everybody calm down.

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