Hugh Howey, author of the phenomenally popular book Wool, made a blog post
today (were y’all aware that it’s not April 3rd today, but is, in fact, April 12?) that is making the rounds on twitter. And not in a positive way.
The post is titled: The Bitch from WorldCon.
Now, I’m not a big fan of men using the word bitch. I feel that coming from a man, it’s never going to be anything other than a misogynist slur used to denigrate and devalue a woman. Yes, even you, gay men. Stop doing that. So, right off the bat, I thought, “You know, he’s made a misstep here.” But then the post went on. And on. And on. And I got more and more angry. I sat there thinking, “Oh, so you’re FINE with “crazy” people, huh? We’re all so RELIEVED that you like us. Oh, you can tolerate people with austism? Let me help you pin this medal to your chest.” By the time I got to the part where he’s openly mocking the woman’s appearance by comparing her unfavorably to Mayim Bialik (really, you gonna crack on Blossom in front of God and everybody?!), I was ready to hit the comments and rip him a new one.
And then I thought, you know… there’s no point. There are already tons of people commenting about how great it is that he’s refreshingly un-PC (can we just take “PC” as a term out to the woodshed and pull an Old Yeller? Because it’s clearly spreading disease at this point). They can’t be reasoned with, and they’re the only voices that Howey is going to hear.
So I decided instead to use his blog post as a teaching tool for other author/bloggers. Since so many of you are writers or aspiring writers, and I know a bunch of you blog, we can talk about how to avoid his missteps.
For starters, he could have used his WorldCon story as a way to explain what is/isn’t appropriate behavior when approaching authors at cons. I don’t think anyone would disagree that what the woman in his story did was rude. It was. You don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hey, you’re self-published? That’s a totally invalid choice. Let me, a stranger, tell you how to run your career.” It’s super rude. As a self-pubbed author who has done extraordinarily well in his career, Howey has a platform he could use to give good PR to self-published authors everywhere. While self-publishing is gaining ground, there are still hold-outs who feel it’s unprofessional and kind of a joke. Rather than proving them right with a blog post about how that “bitch” at Worldcon can “suck it,” he could have made a post calling out that kind of behavior and how wrong it is for people to disrespect self-pubbed authors. Not because some far-off day a self-pubbed author might win an award and tell all those rude haters to suck it, but because making assumptions about a stranger’s success or lack thereof is super duper shitty.
Second, he could have just told the story without referring to the woman as a bitch, insinuating that she’s ugly, and comparing her to a woman on tv he finds unattractive. If this woman at the con had been conventionally beautiful, if she had been a sexy cosplayer, would he have not found her behavior so offensive? What if she had been a he? Furthermore, why the need to include that his wife thinks it would have been okay for him to “slap the bitch?” Leaving any of this out wouldn’t have hurt his point in any way: that it’s shitty for strangers to make assumptions and criticize your life when they don’t even know who you are. In fact, I think a lot of people would have valued his point a lot more if it hadn’t been obscured by his vitriolic, gender-specific hatred.
Third, dude, why the bizarre pre-apologies to “crazy” people and people with autism? Especially if in the next sentence he was just going to go on and stereotype them by talking about bad skin, comic books, and D&D? What did that have to do with anything in the story? Nothing. And I know that his characterization of the mentally ill and non-neurotypical turned off at least one potential reader today.
Look, I understand the desire to get the big movie scene comeuppance. I have revenge fantasies about at least 108% of people in writing business. “Just wait until x happens, I’ll show her!” But I recognize that these fantasies are fruitless and destructive, and they’re not helping me get anywhere.
Case in point: I was at a con last year. At cons, my fashion sense falls somewhere between “shut in” and “mall goth.” I was leaning toward the latter at the first icebreaker of the week. Standing in line behind me and my friends was an author and an editor from a New York publisher. They looked smart. They were dressed professionally. Because we were in line a while, I introduced myself (because that’s what I’m there for, right?), mentioned that I was an author, too, and they asked me about my books, where I had been published before, etc. The moment our conversation ended and I turned around, I caught a glimpse in the mirror beside us of the author leaning over to the editor to say something in her ear. The editor responded, “No, I don’t think she is, either,” and they smirked to themselves. Basically, they were looking at me and saying, “I don’t think she’s really an author.”
Was my first reaction super kind and not at all full of gendered insults? I’m not even going to try to lie. The first word in my head was, “Bitch.”
Later that week, I did win an award. But when I got up to accept it, I didn’t think to myself, “Ha, I’m showing that bitch.” It was, “Oh. my. god. My readers are the fucking best. I can’t believe they turned out and voted for me. I can’t believe I won this. Shit. I didn’t write a speech. Maybe I should have taken Stella’s email about writing a speech more seriously. I hope I don’t swear. I really hope I don’t swear.” I got up, I swore, I was elated, I sat down.
But you know what? If I had gotten up there and thought, “SUCK IT, BITCH!” that would have robbed me of the entire experience. All that joy would have just been gone. Because revenge isn’t satisfying. Showing people up just makes you feel more mean, and it makes your accomplishments all about them. That’s no fun.
I think about that a lot when people say, “When your book is bigger than 50 Shades you can tell E.L. James to suck it,” or whatever. Holy shit, guys. If I ever wrote a book that got bigger than 50 Shades, the last thing I’d want to waste my time on would be running around trying to make sure everyone I didn’t like (especially people I’ve never met in person and who have never personally wronged me) knew I felt that I was better than them.
And that’s how Howey’s post came off. “Look at me, I’m better than this ugly, possibly mentally ill, probably autistic (because autistic people act like that, amiright?!) bitch that my wife wanted to slap! I am validated!”
Mr. Howey. You were already validated by being a really good writer. By the success you have, and the support of your readers. There will always be someone who wants to make themselves feel important by acting like they’re “in the know.” There will always be that guy at the book signing who asks you how long it took to get your book published, and then follows up that question with, “But what if it’s good, how long does it take then?” There are going to be people who offer their really good ideas to you, who want to tell you about this awesome new way to publicize your book, or who loftily offers to see if they can maybe get your story into their friend’s zine “if there’s space.” But their behavior doesn’t take away from your success. It’s a sign of your success. Ignore it. Roll with it. Call them out if you want, because that woman needed someone to say, “Hey, it’s not cool to bash self-publishing in front of a self-published author.”
But don’t write a blog post calling her a bitch, calling her ugly, calling fucking BLOSSOM RUSSO ugly (she is the voice of a generation, goddamnit!) and making assumptions of your own about the importance of an intern experience. You alienated a lot of readers today. You alienated women, crazy people, autistic people, Canadians, Blossom fans, interns… all those people probably would have bought and enjoyed your book. You didn’t “show” the bitch at WorldCon anything, but you sure showed your ass to a lot of people who are now regretting buying your book. What did you gain from that? A momentary sense of mean satisfaction you could have easily gotten from just having this conversation in private with friends who won’t ask you to explain your “tone.”
And P.S., this: