I am not alone.
I’ve been hearing from a number of writers about the strange, alarming, or infuriating letters they get from readers.Â Most of these writers are wise enough to ignore the missivesÂ and never comment publicly about them.Â But they were happy to tell me about them, and it seems I’m in very good company.Â The letters seem to run along similar themes:
Â YOU WRITE FILTHY BOOKS
Here’s a gem of a letter received by a bestselling thriller author:
“I picked up this book to kill a little time on a long flight. I found it to be vile, disgusting, and have to question a mind that can conjure up this type of literary pornography. I suggest you seek mental help. Also, the covers should come with a warning.”
Another writer got this one:
“I have never heard so much poor, pitiful, dirty language… that is not the way the people I know talk, and I find it annoying.”
J.A. Konrath wrote: “There was a lady who said Rusty Nail was irredeemable and disgusting, and that my publishers were worse than OJ and should be ashamed for printing such filth.”
AndÂ another writer shares this one:
“I gotÂ a letter from a woman who objected to her 14 year old daughter reading one of my paranormals and who then went on to say that my publisher must surely have forced me to write certain scenes, including, she said, the one on page 272 which she felt was pornographic. I, of course, am not responsible for her daughter’s reading material, but I couldn’t help wondering whether this woman just got lucky and opened a random page to 272, or whether she read the whole book.”
(I suspect she probably went hunting justÂ for thoseÂ naughty and irresistable sex scenes.)
YOU ARE VILE FOR KILLING OFF THE DOG/CAT/BELOVED CHARACTER
Joe Konrath writes: “there was a reader who complained about aÂ satirical short story I wrote, because the ending implied a dog would be euthanized. She called me an animal hater.”
Elaine Cunningham told me about a writer friend whoÂ “actually fielded death threats when he killed off a much-loved character. Unfortunately, his young daughter saw one of these letters and was understandably shaken.”
And yes, these sorts of letters are so common that every writer knows that if you kill the cat/dog/kid in the story, you’d better be prepared for the nasty letters that will surely follow.
YOU INSULTED MY PROFESSION/MY FAMILY/Â MY ETHNICITY/ MY RELIGION/ MY POLITICS/ MY BLAH BLAH BLAH)
Yep, we’ve all gotten those.Â I’ve been scolded by organ bank officials, by hunters, by the parents of foreign adoptees, by liberals, by conservatives.Â And they all say I’ve insulted them.Â I’ve received letters from laboratory technicians furious that one of my fictional killers was a lab tech.Â Just a stray turn of a phrase can set someone off.Â Witness what this writerÂ experienced:
“IÂ had a sentence that was in the lines of “and he/she spoke to me likeÂ I was retarded.” I have received two emails from people saying that I was being rude and unfair to retarded people. One woman told me she had a brother whoÂ was retarded and he was a wonderful person and I had insulted him. This was all based onÂ one half a sentence.”
She goes on to say:
“I have decided not to get into a pissing contest with pissed off readers. It’s not worth it, especially since 99% of all reader emails I receive are positive. BUT are we just supposed to take it from upset readers and acquantainces and friends? I have had friends (now ex friends)Â tell me a few days after my book comes out why they hate the book. I mean it’s like coming to your house and looking at your newborn baby and saying “your baby is ugly.”
Ouch, that hurts when your own friends and family insult you.
Finally, there’s my favorite category of all:
THE JUST PLAIN CREEPY/SEXUAL LETTERS
All women writers seem to have a story or two about these:
“I was at a signing with some other writers once and a man handed the writer next to me a photograph of his penis and said he’d really like to get together with her.”
“An editor once told me of an author who frequently gets invited to three-somes and more-somes when she attends conventions. Her books include such things, so some readers make assumptions.”
And finally, there’s the author who kept getting fan letters from a man who signed himself “Leaky Meat.”Â Years later, she actually met the fellow at a convention, and he turned out to be a delightfully normal married guy.Â Who called himself “leaky meat.”
I guess you just never know.