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Thursday, 19 November 2009

He said. She said.

Having posted a few weeks ago about the increasing importance of the web as a source of critical opinion and reviews for commercial fiction, I found myself recently assailed by its evil twin - the unsolicited psycho email.

It actually started, as these things often do, innocuously enough, when this popped into my inbox:

"Double Eagle. Page 170 (paperback). \"Disorientated\". Not a word. You need a proof reader? I'd be great."

No hello. No goodbye. Staccato syntax. A hint of arrogance, perhaps, towards the end? But then people are busy, and frankly I'm always happy to get feedback, good and bad. So I responded:

Really? But people say it all the time - doesn't that make it a word, even if the dictionary hasn't caught up!

You tell me - is there anything in the least bit offensive or rude in that? No, that's what I thought too. But my electronic interlocutor had found reason to take offence, it seemed:

You will find "ain't" in the dictionary. Doesn't make it a word. Just gives people too lazy to use the correct word(s) an excuse to continue sounding stupid to people who know better.

Okaaaay then. Someone's not been taking their medication. Nurse? Nurse?

Now again I'll ask you - did anything I say warrant that sort of response? She (yes it was a she - let's call her Julianne Connors … because that's her name) is actually implying, is she not, that I'm both lazy and stupid? Hell she's not implying it, she's saying it. My wife would probably agree about the former, and I'll leave judging the latter to you, but even so talk about raising the stakes - I toss a tennis ball over the net and she fires back a bloody Scud missile. Not too mention that she is also implying that she is a better judge of what is a word than the dictionary ...

Fine. If that's how you want to play it missy, it's on. It's on like Donkey Kong.
The way I see it you have two choices in these situations. You either bite your tongue and let people get away with their crass rudeness. Or you say - "Take that, crazy psycho email bitch – hiya!” (imagine Miss Piggy karate chop). So I simply replied:

OK - in other words I am lazy and sound stupid and you know better

You're clearly as rude as you are pedantic

Have a nice life


PS I don't think I will take you up on your offer of being my proof reader

The "have a nice life" line was perhaps a bit sharp (I'd been dying to use it since someone used it on me a few years ago), but turning her down as my proof reader was a moment of utter genius, if I say so myself. Even so, she wasn't about to roll-over yet. A few weeks later (she'd clearly been carefully honing her response!), she came back with this:

Subject: So, so, sorry
(who says Americans don't understand irony?)

Mister Twining
(finally a greeting - things looking up, perhaps?)

I must say I am a little suprised you took the time out of your busy schedule to respond to, what must have been, a significant hit to your considerable ego. I do hope your attention to my e-mails is not an indication of your fan base.

You mistook my meaning, I fear. It seems to me if a person is willing to undertake all things involved in creating literature, to attatch their name to a work of fiction they hope to be recognized and praised for, one would do all that is possible to insure accuracy and quality.

I merely wanted to draw your attention to the fact that you used a word that is, in fact, NOT A WORD.

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking and I understand that constructive criticism can feel like attack. Take it as you will - I'll not lose any sleep over it. Nor will I be reading anything more from James Twining. Turns out, the students in my English Lit. classes have lost interest in your work as well.

Thank you so much for your well-wishing. Much the same to you.

Let's just be clear on one thing Julianne - I took time out of my "busy schedule" because I figure part of the job of being a writer is to talk to your readers, and that if someone has taken the time to write to you, you owe them the courtesy of writing back. And for the record I get emails all the time, all of them better written and more civil than yours, even the ones inviting me to accept a transfer of $3 million in stolen Nigerian oil money. So no need to feel special on my account.

If all you had really wanted was to draw my attention to a word not being a word, why go nuclear when someone asks, what is I think quite a reasonable (and dare I say interesting) question about whether language is dictated by a text book or current usage?

And in case you were unsure, calling someone stupid is not constructive criticism, which I welcome. It's just plain rude.

You got one thing right though - emailing you back would give you the wrong impression about the importance I attach to you or what you have said. Far better to lay your bitterness out here for all to see and enjoy. The Internet. Love it.

P.S. Julianne, despite your keenness to correct my vocabulary and desire to be my proof-reader you misspelled both “suprised” and "attatch" above and when you say "insure accuracy and quality" and think you probably meant "ensure" unless you wanted to take out a policy on something. I see that scarily enough you teach English Lit classes. Give yourself an F.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I get similar feedback to my mailers. People often criticise my grammer. And from a literary bookshop! How dare I?
Some people have too much time and no manners.

November 20, 2009  
Blogger Kevin Wignall said...

Okay, I'm always happy for people to point out mistakes, as long as they really are mistakes.

Your would-be proof reader has clearly failed to notice that there's more than one form of English. In US English, "disoriented" is the norm, but in the mother tongue the correct word is indeed "disorientated".

Of course, even if it had been a mistake on your part, your response as a creative artist should have been, "There is now - I just invented it, but thanks for noticing".

November 20, 2009  
Anonymous Sarah Higgins said...

Ha! Funny! I was rather pleased with myself for noticing the 'insure' but then worried that I might be in danger of turning into a stalking pedantic proofreader myself but evidently I am not yet rude enough.
Loving your work!

November 20, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this for real?

If you want the moral high ground then you should try to be more polite to your critics even if you are right.

November 20, 2009  
Blogger Ben Peyton said...

I think you handled that perfectly. Silly woman.

November 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the person who asked "is this for real and that James should be more polite to his critics" It works both ways. Personally I thought his response was brilliant.

November 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'English Lit' thing is a bluff. English teachers, as we all know, are taught to use a correct and proper form of spelling and grammar.

You probably already guessed, but it was blatantly fabricated to try to get a 'one-up' on you.

December 13, 2009  
Anonymous Susan said...

Oh dear! James, I am afraid that it sounds to me as if both of you totally over-reacted! That's the trouble with e-mail - there is a tendency to shoot out thoughts without the sort of structure that people used to employ for letter writing, and these fragments can easily be misconstrued. I am old enough to remember the helpful hints for sending e-mail that were everywhere when this new communication media was created. I didn't think her first message was rude, nor was her response - she responded as she would have to a friend, not a stranger, someone who would get the context. Your reply back (where you were really getting your tie in a twist) must have seemed like an unexpected slap. I think she did not intend insult in the first place - if she hadn't been reading, she wouldn't have written. And one of the problems with being an author is that your readers assume an intimacy with you that really doesn't exist. You've probably been to bed with them more than once, and certainly gotten inside their heads, so they feel this special bond with you. The fact that you weren't actually there sort of slips through the haze. And too, it has to be said that Americans have their own special language and the assumption that the world begins and ends in the good old US of A! As a Canadian with an English father, this can be very confusing - one thing at school, one thing at home, English books vs. American books... I had a great argument with the local media who had done a piece on Irish Whisky - just because the CP style book only has whisky doesn't mean that there is any such thing as Irish Whisky...
Thanks for letting me ramble - I adore your books, and look forward to the next one!!

June 03, 2010  

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