event announcement (UPDATE)

 **** UPDATE:  THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL THE FALL. ***

 F.Y.I.: 

BEST-SELLING AUTHORS STEPHEN KING, JOHN GRISHAM AND TESS GERRITSEN  HEADLINE FUNDRAISER FOR TOM ALLEN Best-selling authors Stephen King, John Grisham and Tess Gerritsen will headline a special fundraising event for the U.S. Senate campaign of Congressman Tom Allen in Bangor on Saturday, June 7. The authors will each do a reading from their recent works and talk about the importance of Allen’s candidacy for the Senate. King is a resident of Bangor. Gerritsen resides in Camden.  “I don’t often get involved in politics, but I believe there is a great deal at stake in this year’s election,” King said. “Tess, John and I believe that we need change in America. What has happened to our country in the last eight years is downright scary – and believe me, I know scary.” Allen’s vote against the war in Iraq, his support for the middle class, energy independence and affordable health care are all reasons King supports his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. “Electing Tom Allen to the U.S. Senate is an important step towards change for our country, and we are proud to support him,” he said.  General admission tickets are $25 for the 7 p.m. event at Bangor Auditorium, Bass Park Complex, located at 100 Dutton St. Doors will open at 6 p.m.  Proceeds Benefit the Tom Allen for Senate campaign and are not tax deductible. For more information, contact the Allen for Senate campaign at 207-774-9696 or visit the campaign web site at http://www.tomallen.org/free_details.asp?id=102  For more information, contact the Allen for Senate campaign at 207-774-9696 or visit the campaign web site at .   

A request

Please, if you will, no bashing in the comments section.   

Also, I have the highest regard for Nora Roberts, whom I consider a friend.  She, and several authors over at Dear Author have offered supportive coments and have not joined in the slugfest.  For that I thank them. 

A final note

I am not a fighter.  That about says it all.  Conflict freaks me out.  I’m the kid who always had a white flag in her pocket, ready to wave in case the bullies came too close.  I know my own personality, and I know that I’m not capable, emotionally or otherwise, of dealing with the continuing comments that are still in play over at Dear Author.  (And Kyle, thank you for trying to stick up for me.  You tried your best, but I think you saw what it’s like.)  I am sad that the comments seem to come from the romance community, a community that nurtured my beginnings as a writer, and a genre that I’ve continued to stand up for, even though I no longer write it. 

I do regret and apologize for the tongue-in-cheek post about hyper-sensitive authors that started this off.  I wish I could retract it, although I don’t feel it’s right to take it down now because, as they say on Galaxy Quest, it’s an “historical document.”  I have made changes to it.  I hope it will better explain my intent.  Was it bad humor? Certainly.  Worthy of hounding and animosity?  I guess a lot of people think so.

Now the latest meme I’m hearing from Dear Author is that my blog is offensive and demeaning toward readers:

(Added 4/21 for clarification)

“Dear Ms. Gerritsen:

I read your blog today. I am a bit disappointed that you would blame my blog post and the commenters for ending your own blogging.

First, you know that the petition had nothing to do with you and your writing and everything to do with Amazon’s treatment of a reader.

Second, even if you chose to blog honestly, a blog is not a personal journal. It is a statement for any one out in the public to read, consume and comment on. If you did not want public feedback, why not have a diary that is kept at home for no one else to read? Or why not lock your posts so that only a select few are privy to your thoughts? To blame someone else for the consequences of your own actions seems very irresponsible.

You’ve stated very offensive and demeaning things towards readers in the past, in essence implying that they are smart enough to spend money on your books but not smart enough to provide any reasoned critique.

I actually read your blog quite a bit, but in regards to the DAM thing, I didn’t see any humor in it, particularly when you ended with the statement that DAM’s major foolishness was in getting caught. That was not her major foolishness and I think we both know it. Her major foolishness was in obtaining this readers personal information and making threats toward her. At best, this is unethical and at worst, it is felonious.

I’m not going to rehash this on the internet and whip it anyone into a frenzy, but I really dislike authors blaming my site for negative responses to their own words. If you choose to step back from blogging, you do so because it is your choice and yours alone.

Best regards,

Jane Litte

http://dearauthor.com”

If this is how my posts have struck people, then I have failed in my intent and have no business blogging. Jane is right; I should take responsibility for my own words.  I am.  Which is why I think it’s best to shut down.  As I wrote in a post over at Dear Author, if someone considers my posts demeaning and offensive, I don’t think it’s necessarily they’re fault; it’s mine.  I believe that the burden belongs on the shoulders of the communicator; if we don’t get our messages across, then we’ve failed at our mission.  And it’s certainly obvious that I’ve not done a very good job of making myself understood, because “offensive and demeaning” was never my intent. 

I will therefore leave up the archives of my blogposts so that readers can judge for themselves whether I’m demeaning and offensive.  No posts will be taken down. Some, however, may have editorial changes in the form of additional explanatory notes. (as I’m now adding to this one as I type.)

Thank you all for listening to me through the years.  For putting up with my bad moods and my rants.  I’ve tried to be an observer and an explainer and an analyzer.  And yes, at times, I’ve been a whiner.  I’ve tried to give you the writer’s point of view — and that’s been the point of the blog, to always stick up for the writer.  Because really, there are so few of us, and who else is going to?

The wonderful Paul Guyot wrote me with advice that ending one’s blog is the first step toward freedom.  I take this step sadly, but I think he’s absolutely right.

(editorial changes)

Why honesty is a bad idea (redux)

(I now call it my Jimmy Carter “I have lust in my heart” moment –the blogpost where I shouldn’t have said what I was really feeling.)

Over at the “Dear Author” website, I’m being blasted for my tongue-in-cheek comments about the McGillivray mess.  Last night my husband told me he was concerned that I let it “all hang out” on this blogsite and that I keep telling the truth about exactly how I see the industry.  And it’s true.  I’ve confessed to my insecurities here.  I’ve revealed what I know about how the business works.  I’ve talked about bestseller lists and hard numbers and incomes and racial issues and a lot of things that most authors will never tell you about.

And now, it seems, there are tons of people who say they will never buy another one of my books or hang out with me at conferences because I’m such a jerk for telling the truth (about my feelings.)

This is the sort of defining moment that tells an author it’s time to close down the blogsite. 

As an author, one has to deal with enough difficulties.  And as for being stalked by weird readers/reviewers, hey, I’m the author about whom a reviewer wrote (in print) she’d like to slap me, and who also revealed the town I lived in and encouraged readers to accost me on the street.  So yes, I know something about feeling a bit stalked.  (But honestly? I was more bothered by the fact she didn’t like my book.  How crazy is that?) 

I’ve always reserved my deepest passions for the stories I tell, and for the whole, fascinating world of publishing.  I didn’t realize that just talking about these passions could make a whole host of people who don’t even know me want to have me drawn and quartered.

So I think it’s time to cool the blog for awhile.  I may be back.  I may not.  Either way, at least I can leave feeling that I’ve always been honest here.  (Well, except for the times I exaggerated for the sake of humor.)  I’ve tried to tell it like it is.  I’ve tried never to hurt anyone.  I’ve never used the internet to harass anyone, lambaste anyone, nor done any of the weird things McGillivray is accused of doing.  I’ve never bitten back at a reader (even though, as I confessed, I sometimes want to.) I’ve never advocated any of these things.  I just said, quite honestly, that when your feelings get hurt, you have emotional reactions that aren’t quite rational. 

But on Dear Author, it appears that just confessing to those emotions are thought to be akin to actually committing sins, and in this age of internet pile-ons, it’s just too dangerous to be truthful.

(editorial changes)

the sad financial truth about writing

So you want to be a writer and become rich and famous?  You might want to dial down your expectations a bit — at least, in regards to the “getting rich” part.

An organization called Novelists, Inc. (NINC) conducted a survey of its membership last year.  NINC is a terrific group, by the way, to which I belong.  Its membership is restricted to multi-published authors.  NINC queried a random sample of 100 of their members.  All 100 members responded, so this is a good sampling, with no self-selection involved.  These 100 authors had published a median number of sixteen (sixteen!) novels apiece.  Their genres were all over the board, with most of them published in mystery/thriller or women’s fiction/romance.  Nine percent of them have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.  Nineteen percent of them had appeared on the USA Today bestseler list.  Clearly these are accomplished professionals. 

So they must be raking in the bucks, right? 

These writers were asked: “Do you (or could you) support yourself on your current writing income?”  The results:

Yes — 22%

Probably Yes — 9%

Probably No — 17%

No — 52%

These are depressing figures.  Only 31% of multi-pubished novelists are able to support themselves on their writing. 

Frankly, I’m not surprised by the results.  The novel-writing business is in many ways like the acting business.  We hear about Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but we seldom hear about the struggling actor who’s moonlighting as a waiter.  We hear about JK Rowling, but we seldom hear about the mid-list author who’s written twenty original paperbacks.  Writing, like acting, is a buisness of dreams.  Sometimes those dreams come true; sometimes they don’t. 

So why do writers stick with it?  Because most of us love what we’re doing.  And we’d do it anyway, whether you paid us or not. 

I guess I’m the exception

Okay, the last (I think) entry on this subject. 

I’ve made a startling discovery: that I’m one of only a few authors in the universe who gets heartburn from a bad review.  Wow, who would’ve guessed that there are so many well-adjusted authors out there?  Authors who aren’t bothered in the least about getting whacked over the head by anonymous people in public forums like Amazon?  

(I think I’m also a Really Dumb Author for going public with my sensitivity.)

But EC said something in one of her comments that really resonated with me:

The Amazon.ca glitch revealed another sort of hypocrisy: the anonymous posters–readers, not writers–who didn’t want their names revealed and their words held up to public scrutiny. I’m sorry, but if you post, you’ve published, and you should be prepared to play by the same rules as professional authors. If you’re of the option that working writers should suck it up because it comes with the territory, then OWN YOUR WORDS and accept the possibility that what goes around, comes around.

So okay, maybe I’ve said things here that sound neurotic and hypersensitive.  But at least, damn it, I’m brave enough to OWN MY OWN WORDS.  On this blog, you all know exactly who’s writing these thoughts.

Unlike the cowardly anonymous reviewers who throw bombs and scuttle back under their rocks.

I’ve pondered the question of why, exactly, getting a bad review bothers me so much.  And I think it has to do with how much of my own soul goes into a book.  If I get an unkind comment about, say, a blogpost or an article, well, that’s only a few hours’ worth of labor that’s gone unappreciated. 

But I spend more time and more effort writing a book than I ever did gestating a kid.  By the end of a year’s writing, I’ve become personally invested in the characters and what happens to them.  I’ve gotten gray hairs over these people.  I’ve done the best job I know how to do, and once it’s done and published, there’s nothing I can do to go back and change it, no matter how many bad reviews I get.  So no, bad reviews don’t help one whit in improving the story; the book’s already done.  And whatever criticisms a reviewer may have don’t carry over as lessons into my next book, because that’s a completely different project with completely different issues to contend with.  Bad reviews aren’t Teaching Moments; they’re bombs thrown at kids who are already born and who can’t be stuffed back into the womb.

I’ve used children before as a metaphor for books, and how most of us would hate it if a complete stranger told us our kid was ugly.  Books are like babies — reflections of ourselves.  I keep hearing that “your book is not you”, and that we shouldn’t take criticism of our books personally, but you know what?  My books are as personal to me as my children are.  A book is what I’ve spent the past twelve months or more thinking about and dreaming about.  It’s not just a piece of garbage I nailed together, but something I’ve painstakingly labored over.  They’re the parts of me that will survive after I’m dead and buried.

I may be taking this writing thing way too seriously. 

On the other hand, the fact I take it so seriously — and so personally — may explain why I’ve managed to get as far as I have.

Can people ever truly be honest?

Wow, my last post illustrates how dangerous it is trying to be funny; some people end up taking you too literally.  (And yes, in case people didn’t get it, the previous post was meant to be funny.  I’ve been getting flak for not stating that explicitly.  So here I’m stating it.  I don’t advocate stalking. I was trying to put a humorous spin on “authors who go over the top” and why.  I hope that’s now clear.) 

Humor involves a certain amount of exaggeration, and the actual story I cited is about the exaggerated lengths a certain author has gone to to protect her turf.  Yes, she went way over the line into the creepy.  But am I the only one who found black comedy in the story?  The only one who could see it as a wacky film about people who get carried away into committing absurdities? 

But another facet of humor is that it reveals some universal truth about humanity, and there are several truths I saw demonstrated in what the author did.  First, that some people don’t recognize or accept the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behavior.

And the other truth is that people will criticize such trespasses and declare themselves above such base emotions and would never, ever dream of doing such a thing.  I don’t think they’re being honest.

EC, in her comment, mentioned a little Amazon glitch that occurred a few years ago:

A couple years back, a computer glitch led to the posting of reviewer names and cities of origin on the Canadian Amazon.com site. Suddenly, anonymous posters were publically accountable for their words. Gasp. Clutch the pearls.  

That glitch revealed that certain authors (or their family members) had posted 5-star reviews of their own books.  And there were tons of red faces all around.  But I’ll bet you that those same authors, had you asked them the day before if they would ever even think of doing such a thing, would have angrily denied it and soundly condemned anyone who did it.  It was only the glitch that revealed how fragile their writerly egos really were.

Now, let me say right here and now that I have never given myself a 5-star review –or any review, for that matter.  Would I condemn another author for having done so?  Well, yeah.  But I would completely understand the impulse.  Just as I understand the impulse to follow around an ex-boyfriend or spank your kids, neither of which I’ve ever done.  (And my kids turned out just fine, thank you.)  These are common human impulses, and I recognize them as such.  It doesn’t mean they’re ever the right thing to do, but to claim that normal people shouldn’t even be thinking about, or be tempted to do, these things is a little disingenuous.

But maybe I’m the totally abnormal one here.  Maybe I’m the only author who feels hurt by a bad review, or who feels a stab of anger when an anonymous reader on Amazon calls my latest book schlock.  Maybe I’m the only one who wonders who that reader is — and wonders whether they’re someone I know.  Maybe I’m morally inferior and every other writer is as pure as the driven snow and can honestly say that criticism doesn’t bother them, not one single whit.

I just don’t believe it.     

On NPR a few months ago, there was a fascinating program on honesty and whether it’s ever really achievable.  Some researchers came up with questions that would generate extreme embarrassment should the person answer it truthfully.  One of the questions, asked of men, was: “Have you ever thought, even just fleetingly, about forcing someone to have sex?”  Almost all the men gave a vociferous  “No!” But the researchers realized that the truthful answer was actually, almost universally, yes.  The men simply refused to admit it to themselves, or to the researchers. 

I feel, in a sense, like one of those men who’s just come out and admitted the truth.  

And admitting the truth (that one-star reviews do hurt and make me angry) also means I can sympathize with the impulses that drive an author like McGillivray totally over the edge.  Acknowledging darker human impulses means I also understand why my fictional characters fall into bed with the wrong men, or shoot their lovers, or hunt other human beings.  I understand that normal human beings sometimes entertain totally insane thoughts late at night, in the darkness of their bedrooms.

I could have jumped in with everyone else and just started throwing stones at this author.  But what fascinated me about the story wasn’t her trespasses — it was the impulse that drove her to it.  And I’m going to acknowledge right here and now (even if not a single other author in the world will come out and agree with me) that the emotions that drove her to it are universal.  Even if her actions (thankfully) were not.

(editorial changes)

Authors who bite back

Over at the website Dear Author, there’s a lot of tut-tutting about author Deborah McGillivray (whom I don’t know, and don’t believe I’ve ever met) and how she handled certain nasty reader reviews on Amazon.com.  This topic has also been mentioned over at Galleycat, where the story is summed up as follows:

Highland Press co-publisher and Kensington author Deborah MacGillivray is evidently harassing an Amazon reviewer that goes by the handle Reba. Dearauthor.com reprinted an email from Macgillivray to Reba (who gave her book a 3 star review) and admonishing her for not getting it right. According to Dearauthor.com Reba “has since deleted the review, but not before it came to light that MacGillivray uses yahoogroups and author groups to encourage, browbeat, or by other means, individuals into taking down negative reviews by reporting that the review is a) not helpful and b) abuse. MacGillivray also appears to have taken even further steps to ascertain personal information about Reba.” In an frightening amazon romance forum post by MacGillivray entitled “vote down this bitch please” she states “Well, thanks to XXXXXX our PI , we now have her name, her husband’s name, her chidrens’ names, her grannies and great grannies name. Her address phone number and email lol… quite interesting.” (and in my opinion, quite creepy!)
Her actions have led to a
Backlash on the Amazon romance forum with many readers stating outright that they’ll never read her works.

The responses in the comments section at Dear Author have tended to be along the lines of “What a dumb thing to do,” “What was she thinking?” and “I am so angry about this, I’ll never buy another one of her books.”  The comments come from both readers and writers.  Everyone seems to agree that the author should know better and of course they themselves would never stoop so low as to hunt down the identities of people who’ve posted bad reviews of their books and harass them.

My first reaction to this story was: “What?  I can get the bad reviews taken off my Amazon pages?  How do I do that?”  Because I didn’t know an author could do that.  I thought you just had to live with them and suffer heartburn every time you scroll past them.

My second reaction was: “There but for the grace of better self-control go I.”

Because, let’s be honest here.  Really.  Is there an author alive who hasn’t wanted to hunt down the identities of those who’ve written bad Amazon reviews of our books?  Is there an author alive who hasn’t harbored fantasies of revenge, even if it only involves sticking a few pins in a voodoo doll?  Is there an author alive who hasn’t wanted to fire back a response along the lines of “what could you possibly know about good writing, you illiterate slut?” (helpful link for those who don’t understand the cultural reference behind this wordplay)

 If you haven’t harbored such fantasies, then you’re a far better person than I am.

Now, I’m not saying that Ms. MacGillivray wasn’t out of line here.  But her (other) major foolishness was that she got caught at it. 

(editorial changes)

When writing leads to really cool experiences…

Being a writer does have its perks.  Sometimes it gives you access to places and events you’d never otherwise get to see.  Thanks to my job as a novelist, I’ve gotten access to the inner workings of Johnson Space Center.  I’ve visited the Boston Homicide unit and the Maine state morgue. 

And on Tuesday, I was lucky enough to attend this incredible event: the CT scanning of a 2300-year-old Egyptian mummy.  (More here.)

 img_0087-small.jpg

(photo: Dr. Jonathan Elias, me, and Joann Potter from the Vassar College Museum, with the coffin containing Shep-en-Min)

 If you know my background, then you know that I have a lifelong interest in archaeology.  I was an Anthropology major at Stanford and I’ve traveled numerous times to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  Last year, because I had questions about the technical aspects of mummy CT scans, I contacted Dr. Jonathan Elias, the Egyptologist who directs the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium.  We’ve corresponded on and off over the months, and last week, he invited me to be a guest observer at the CT scanning of a mummy who has resided at the Vassar College Museum for over 100 years.  Based on writings on the coffin, Dr. Elias concluded that the coffin’s occupant was a male priest named Shep -en-Min who lived during the Ptolemaic period.  Dr. Elias’s project involves scanning mummies across the U.S., but just getting the wheels in motion for such a scan requires organizational genius, plus the patience of a saint.  At long last, after months of emails and paperwork, Dr. Elias was finally going to get a peek at Shep-en-Min.

And he invited me down to Fishkill, NY, to watch as the first images showed up on the screen. 

The event was a big media event, with reporters and TV cameras crowding around as the coffin was unloaded from the museum van.  They followed it up the hallway toward the diagnostic imaging department, flashbulbs going off the whole way.  I felt like I was part of a rock star’s entourage.  No other patient — even Brad Pitt himself — would have had such an eager press pack chasing so avidly after him down a hospital hall.  After the mummy was gently placed on the CT scan table, the reporters were shooed out of the room and the scan was performed.  Later, at the press conference, Dr. Elias gave a brief summary of the findings, which you can read in the news articles linked above — but much more will be revealed in time.

Dr. Elias will be publishing his findings once he’s analyzed the data, and I don’t want to give away any secrets.  But suffice it to say there was a big surprise at the scan – one that startled us all.