I first interacted with Sarah Chorn last year when Pilgrimage to Skara was a finalist in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (still tickles every time I say that). Sarah runs the blog Bookworm Blues, which was then, and is again this year, one of the SPFBO judges.
Sarah didn’t particularly care for Pilgrimage, which is fine, she was hardly alone in that. The book polarized opinions and it is what it is. She was never personally impolite to me. We became friends on Facebook and it’s all good.
Sarah recently released her novel Seraphina’s Lament, a grimdark tale which has received a large number of positive reviews. Full disclosure: I have not read it yet but only because my TBR is about a mile high right now. It’s on the Future TBR list.
Anyway, things seemed to be going well. And then apparently Sarah received this email from a reader. She posted it on FB. I asked if she minded me using it here and she was okay with that. The text read:
I looked up your email address on your website. I did not finish that Seraphina’s book. I bought it without realizing it is liberal propaganda. Why is everyone gay, black, or disabled? I was looking forward to this book but now I’m disgusted. This liberal message is offensive and everything that’s wrong with fantasy and I thought you should know. I’m getting my money back. I wanted a fun adventure, not this bullshit message. Maybe next time you’ll do better. This is why SJWs shouldn’t write. CFX
Muse: Yeah, yeow.
I have to admit, this is bothersome. I am not going to defend or attack any particular political ideology or slant here. I think this kind of behavior isn’t really about your opinions.
It’s about contempt, and how modern society is overrun with it. This is rudeness, plain and simple.
What goes through someone’s head when they send an email like this? What’s the point? The desire to lash out and inflict pain? The desire to make damn sure that person knows how wrong they are? I think this kind of action can only be borne of contempt for one’s target–lack of basic human respect, in other words. “I wanted you to know,” the reader wrote. Translation? “I want to be able to spit in your eye because I don’t like the theme of your book and since you’re obviously a horrible person, that’s my right.”
What happened to polite disagreement, or even just keeping your fucking opinion to yourself? It’s gone, dead as the dodo. Some might want to blame our current president for this state of affairs, but I have been watching it deteriorate for three decades.
No, I actually put most of this on the internet and social media. The internet is a wonderful tool but it is also a shield of semi-anonymity. And some people feel safe lashing out from behind that shield. That’s not the only thing, of course. In general, I believe our culture has gotten a lot more confrontational and I have had people verbally attack me in ways they never would have forty years ago. (Of course, me being who I am with the temper I have, forty years ago I would have busted most of them in the mouth. Age and legal liability have added layers of restraint and probably stripped the offenders of accountability but that’s another post.)
I read once that arrogance and self-righteousness are two of the most common and least attractive facets of human personalities. By observation, I think that is true and it seems consistently so across age, gender, and cultural boundaries. In order to send an email such as the one above, I think someone has to be both arrogant and self-righteous. The latter because without that, they wouldn’t have such a visceral reaction (“They dare disagree with what I believe?”) and the former to think their opinion matters that much to the recipient in the first place.
Muse: Yeah but people being what they are…I think they tend to amplify their own importance.
When Sarah critiqued Pilgrimage, she critiqued the work. She covered characterization and plot issues she didn’t care for. She never once made it about me. There were those who did. I recall reading someone stating that I must entertain latent rape fantasies. (This makes me wonder what kind of hate mail George R.R. Martin or Mark Lawrence get.) This was from someone that had never interacted with me, yet felt free to comment on my personality in an insulting way.
You know, here’s a thought: if you read a book with something you find profoundly objectionable, don’t buy any more from that author. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads and call it a day. Or just keep your flap shut and move on with your life. If you find you are easily triggered, don’t buy a book until it’s been out a month, a video game until it’s been out for three, or see a movie until it’s been out a week. By then, you will likely have all the information to know whether you should partake or not. It’s really no more complicated than that.
And yes, I know that if you do that, the author won’t get the privilege of hearing your “unique” wisdom and insight. You know what? You’ll both live.
I know, for example, Terry Goodkind is a polarizing author. I’d be equally opposed to people sending him nastygrams about him being an Ayn Rand disciple or misogynist or whatever. Stop stroking your egos…just don’t fucking read his work. I can think of a few authors over the years who wove an inherent message I didn’t like into their books. I just stopped.
Anyway, I would tell Sarah to let it roll off her back and she seems to be doing that. The general buzz on her book is good and that is frankly the form of medicine to counter this particular kind of troll.
And lastly, just as an aside….
The person who wrote that never identified themselves, in gender or race. Yet it was telling, in the FB discussion, how many people said something to the effect of, “That guy’s triggered,” or “What a manly man.” I even saw someone say, “Poor triggered white dude.” Only Sarah seemed to go with the “he/she” identifier, though I may have missed others that did so.
Of the five most conservative people I know, three of them are women, one of whom is hispanic. One of the three is definitely acerbic enough to write the above. Yet most everyone assumed it was a dude and more than one assumed they were white. Sometimes our biases crash to the forefront without us even trying. Just sayin’….
Anyway, friends, be well.