Lauren DeStefano's Blog
May 19, 2013
Sometimes on twitter I make the occasional joke about nerves, hiding under my bed with my cats, and weeping uncontrollably under a deadline. The truth is that it runs much deeper than that. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been living with an anxiety disorder. Over the years I suppose the anxiety has gotten bored and decided to try on different hats, such as a fear of flying, a fear of elevators, fear of travel, and agoraphobia. I really never know what I’m dealing with on a given day until it rears its head. Sometimes, just to keep me on my toes, there are long stretches (months or even years) in which I experience no anxiety at all.
I’ll give you an example: Living in CT about 90 minutes from NYC, the hub of All Things Publishing, I often take the Metro North train to visit my agent and/or publishing team. I’ve taken this train, I don’t know, about a hundred times by now, with no incident. Back in February, on the way to meet my agent, the train car suddenly felt too narrow. The air felt hot and thin. I was overtaken by waves of chills and heat rash, and the remaining 20 minutes of the trip was unbearably long. I had to remove my headphones because I felt they were causing my head to cave in.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine. The train made it to the station, and I ran to a bathroom and hyperventilated and talked myself down in a stall. And then I went about my day, and I’d actually rate this experience on the more positive side because I was able to overcome it and it didn’t disrupt my meetings that day.
One of my earliest memories is of a panic attack. I was somewhere between six and eight years old. I had been feeling strange all day, and that night I climbed in bed with my mother to watch TV. As soon as she shut the TV and the room was dark, I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea what was happening to me, and it didn’t matter that I was someplace safe or that nothing was wrong. The attack escalated to the point that my parents worried I’d developed asthma or a heart condition. None of us had any idea what we were dealing with, and several trips to the doctor in the coming months returned nothing but a clean bill of health.
Very little was known about anxiety in young children. And even now, I feel that anxiety disorders are misunderstood. That first panic attack was when I first heard the words that have been repeated hundreds of times, and now haunt me to this day: Calm down. Calm down, my parents would say. Nobody is going to hurt you. You’re safe. Calm down. Nothing is wrong. It’s all in your head. Calm down.
I began to withdraw. By late elementary school, I couldn’t get through a dinner in a restaurant without having to hide in a bathroom to get away from the other customers. By middle school, the anxiety began to manifest into something new and scary that I didn’t understand. I began to obsess over numbers. The textured shower tile proved a problem, because it had somehow entered my head that if I didn’t step on the tile a certain way, some horrible tragedy would befall my family. And if I did it wrong, which I always did, I would have to get it wrong eight more times, and then get it right eight times. By the time I made it to the shower every day, the water had gone cold, but I was too embarrassed to tell my parents. I thought they’d have me committed. Over the course of just a few weeks, this obsession with numbers overtook my life. It would take me more than an hour to close a window properly, and even more time to pull back the blankets on my bed.
I tried to hide this not only from my parents, but from everyone. I was teased mercilessly. I often went to school with messy hair because the stress of trying to brush it was crippling. I often wore yesterday’s clothes because it would take me twenty minutes to open my closet door properly. I didn’t understand why I was like this. And then one day, in what I can only call a life-saving coincidence, I saw a daytime TV segment about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Everything these people described was what I’d experienced: the fixation on numbers, the panic attacks, the withdrawal from society. And once I understood what I was dealing with, and understood that it was not a condition exclusive to only me, I grew brave enough to face it. I challenged it. Sometimes I won a small victory, and sometimes it won instead.
Over the years I’ve learned little tricks to overcome it. And now, at 28 years old, the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does not have a paralyzing hold over me. When I’m under extreme pressure, such as work deadlines or a family tragedy, I’ll catch myself putting the car into gear twice, or turning a sink off and then on before I use it, and I stop myself. And just like before, sometimes I win, and sometimes it wins. I’ll always have that fear in the way back of my mind that things will revert to what they once were.
But while I have a hold on that aspect of anxiety, the rest of it remains. When my agent calls to discuss my latest manuscript, my heart leaps up into my ears and it takes me a few seconds to get my breath. When I’m under a deadline, I wake up gasping. When I do even the smallest signing events in my hometown, I hyperventilate in the car on the way over, and perhaps have nightmares for days before. And over and over in my head I hear the words: calm down, Lauren, calm down. It becomes a challenge and a threat. Calm down, or they’ll notice. Calm down, or you’ll never be normal. Calm down, or this will destroy your life.
I cover it up with jokes, because it puts me at ease, but more importantly, it seems to put other people at ease, which goes a long way in making me feel like I can be a functioning member of society. (Also I just love to make people laugh, how can I resist?) But there is a lot of pressure to be normal, and, as an author, to be what readers expect. During Wither’s launch week, when faced with more reading and signing events than I was able to handle, I broke into tears and told my agent, “My job is to be a writer.” To which she firmly replied, “No. Your job is to be a published author.”
That’s when I realized there was a difference between those two things. And truly, what a huge difference there is. A writer can hide in the worlds she creates: structured, paper worlds in which everything is fiction and the writer herself doesn’t exist, and therefore can’t be harmed. An author, however, must exist in the real world.
I’ve been a published author (if you will) for two years. I’ve miraculously stumbled my way onto the NYT bestseller list twice. I receive letters, tweets, and comments from readers daily. And I love my readers, and I want to be what they expect me to be. I want to be charismatic at signings, and answer their questions, and reassure them that their own dreams are attainable. I want to be, for my young readers, what I wish I had when I was that age.
So I say yes to signings that terrify me. I look for the positive. I sit in front of a room full of people, and in my head I tell myself: calm down, calm down, calm down, and I hope no one notices that I’m falling to pieces.
Sometimes my body complies, and the anxiety is subdued.
Last year, I was all set to go to a rather huge author event in Texas. It was an honor to have been invited and I was not going to let my crippling fear of travel and crowds stop me. Anxiety won that round. Days before I was set to leave, I got very sick, and was diagnosed with shingles. My doctor’s reaction was, “What has you so stressed out that you managed to give yourself shingles?” I was distressed to think my own anxiety was the reason I had become so sick, and I told myself that this was all silly and I just needed to calm down, calm down, calm down.
This past Saturday, I was at the amazing Teen Book Festival in Rochester, NY. I was moved to tears by the pre-event dinner on Friday night. So much heart goes into this event and any author is honored to receive an invite. I sat between two lovely young ladies who missed the start of their prom just to be there with their favorite authors. I met a few of my heroes and I befriended some truly phenomenal authors who were as welcoming as they were charming. And in my head I told myself: calm down. Everyone here is on your side. Calm down.
During the event, which was inhabited by no fewer than three thousand people, I was seized by terror. People asked why I didn’t have breakfast. We stood in line making small talk. Calm down, calm down, calm down. I stumbled through three morning events, and somewhere in the third event, while the lovely Jessica Brody was talking about UNREMEMBERED (which you seriously have to read, btw), my face started to go numb. I have a vague memory of taking the microphone from Marissa Meyer and being terrified that I would drop it because I could no longer feel my arm. And when our panel was over and I finally stood, I could see a very detailed sweat imprint on my chair. I hurried off stage, despite the guilt of knowing readers were waiting to meet me, because I couldn’t breathe. My vision was tunneling. I walked my way through a bustling crowd, nothing at all in head but the words: calm down, calm down, calm down, which grew increasingly desperate.
A volunteer found me like this and brought me to an isolated place outside, at which point I burst into tears of guilt, humiliation, fear, and utter defeat, because after a week of frantically telling myself to calm down, it was time to face the truth: sometimes I just can’t. Sometimes it’s bigger than me. Sometimes a love for my readers and a responsibility to my publishing team and the welcoming faces of my fellow panelists and event hosts isn’t enough to make this go away. Nothing is.
I don’t know whether or not I’ll conquer my anxiety, because I don’t know if it’s something that can be conquered. It’s as much of a physical thing as it is a mental thing. Those with anxiety will tell you that much. In these sorts of situations, the response from my brain is, “Whoa whoa WHOA, what the hell are you putting me through?” It cannot be negotiated with. It has no concept of reality, no ear for logic. The way I see the world begins to change. People seem venomous. The world seems cold. The ceiling and walls are suddenly much closer. The intrinsic mantra of “calm down, Lauren, calm down,” swirls down a drain and escapes me.
This is a blog I hoped I’d never have to write, but now I think it’s time to be honest. I owe that much to myself, and my hope is that it helps anyone else out there who may be wondering why they can’t calm down.
Now that I’m home, with one cat in my lap and another napping in the laundry basket of clean clothes, I’m taking some time to assess my needs. Therapy had helped me for a while in college, and my hope is that it will help me again now. I’m putting a freeze on appearances for the moment so that I can focus on my wellbeing, which in turn means I can continue to write the books you will hopefully love. I cannot be a strong writer unless I take care of myself. This is something I’ve put on the back burner for a long time, but now I am going to accept that my willpower alone is no match for this degree of anxiety and I am going to actively seek help.
I will, of course, still be here to answer your emails, tweets, and comments. And of course, work on Internment Chronicles, which I hope you will love as much as I do.
February 23, 2013
In case you missed it, a while back I announced that Simon & Schuster BFYR will be publishing a BRAND NEW SERIES that I wrote with my own two typing hands. You can read more about that here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17339241-perfect-ruin
And even though it's just a tad early, I just love an opportunity to give away free stuff... The fact that ARCs aren't printed isn't going to stop me. Are you interested in winning something that hasn't been printed yet? OF COURSE YOU ARE, and you have come to the right place, my friend. So here's how it works: This giveaway will carry through from now until Sunday, March 31st at 12:01 AM. The giveaway will be INTERNATIONAL, and the winner will be drawn using a random number generator. Based on the number of entries, I'll throw in a few consolation prize packs that will include some signed copies of my Chemical Garden books and/or a mystery book that I think you'd also enjoy.
Still in? Here's what you have to do. Internment is about a city that floats 30,000 feet in the sky, with virtually no means of getting to the ground below. In 100 words or less, write a piece of flash fiction about a person who would live in such a city. Your flash fiction can be told in any tense, and any perspective. It can be serious or silly. It can even be a poem! The winner will NOT be determined by content; I just want to see you guys have some fun. Once you've written your flash fiction:
1.) Tweet/facebook/tumblr/blog/whatever the following: "Enter to win a floating ARC of @LaurenDeStefano's #InternmentChronicles! http://laurendestefano.livejournal.com/1590.html"
2.) Comment on this blog post with your flash fiction and a link to your tweet/facebook/tumblr/blog/whatever post IN THE SAME ENTRY. You may advertise about the giveaway in as many places as you like, but please no more than one entry per person.
3.) Be sure to check out the summary for #InternmentChronicles on goodreads! http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17339241-perfect-ruin
4.) Pet a cat, hug a baby farm animal, eat some grapes and check back on March 31st to see if you've won!
Winners will be announced here. I will not email the winners; it will be their responsibility to check back and see the instructions for reaching me! Please remember this step, as it would make me very sad if you missed out.
NOTE: ARCs for this book have NOT been printed yet. I don't know when they are coming, but whether it is one day or six months from now, I will be certain to send it to the winner right away. If, for some reason, ARCs are never printed, the winner will receive a finished hardback instead. Think of this as like a blind date.
December 12, 2012
Recently I was forced to do a little e-housecleaning when my site’s mailbox reached its max capacity. I’ve spent the last several days going through about three years worth of emails from fans, peers and critics. Most of these emails I answered. Some I did not. However, I can say with certainty that I read them all. And reliving years of authorial emails has inspired me to compose a teeny blog on the topic. A blogella, if you will.
Keep in mind, I don’t speak for all authors. I haven’t interviewed anyone, and it’s possible that others might not even agree with what I’m saying here. But from my personal inbox, here are some examples of how I’ve been contacted in pitch perfect and in “ehhhhh, could’ve been better” ways.:
Asking for signed and/or free books: This is something every author will face at some point, and it’s flattering, because a request for a free book means that there’s interest. And the person doing the asking usually sees it this way as well. However, given the context, it can be a little bit like going into your grocery store and asking the manager for a free crate of steak so that you can invite your friends over for dinner and spread your unbiased word about his store.
So how and when should you request a free book? If you are collecting books for a charitable cause, provide the specifics and ask whom you should contact about obtaining a signed copy. Some authors or their publishers may be willing to donate. It’s also perfectly acceptable, prior to publication, to ask for an ARC (advanced reader copy) for review purposes. ARCs are absolutely free, and if the author doesn’t handle their distribution personally (I don’t), they should know where to refer you.
How and when should you request a signed book? Ask the author where you can purchase a signed copy, or a bookplate. Most authors can refer you to a local bookstore where they sign copies of the books that can be mailed out nationally. And most authors will be willing to send you a bookplate for free, or ask for you to send them a self-addressed envelope. Bookplates are a signed sticker that you can put inside of your book’s cover, and it’s the next best thing to a signature.
How and when should you NOT request a signed and/or free book? When you’d like to give the book as a present for your cousin Harold’s birthday, or you just really really want one. A book is a product like hair gel or nose clippers, and buying a copy is a great way to show your support. And if you are a reviewer, it’s a faux pas to ask for a review copy of a book that is already published. If you’d like a free copy for review, check your local library; if they don’t have it, ask for it! This is a great way to support an author. You could also try looking for giveaways online. Bloggers are always eager to share books and are known to give away a copy once they’ve reviewed it.
Inviting an author to participate in a blog post/other event: This is something I faced a LOT during the year Wither debuted. And it’s as flattering as it is overwhelming, because of course an author wants to answer questions, but when there are so many interviews fighting for that author’s time, and there are only so many hours in a day, the author is forced to pick and choose.
How should you request an interview and/or event participation? Always address the author by name. Always. I can’t stress this enough. Read the author’s FAQ; the author’s FAQ is a response to frequent interview questions, and it’s where the author will provide the most detailed and thoughtful answer. Be sure to look through it and be certain that you aren’t asking something that’s already been answered. The author will notice and appreciate that you took the time to do this.
How should you NOT request an interview and/or event participation? By beginning your email with “Dear Author,” no greeting at all, or an apology for the mass email and an explanation that you’re just so busy you can’t send individual emails. You’re emailing an author to ask for his or her time, thought and consideration, and how can they be expected to offer those things when you didn’t take the time, thought or consideration to mention them by name? Which leads me to another fatal error: mass emailing a group of authors. While it may save time for you, what it says to the author is, “I’m just going to throw this out there and hope I get a few bites, and it doesn’t matter who from.” These are the most common emails in my inbox that went unanswered. And the most fatal of fatal flaws: Sending periodic reminders, inundating the author with friendly nudges, or, worst of all, forwarding your request again. If an author is interested, he or she WILL REPLY as quickly as possible. Sometimes “as quickly as possible” means a few weeks. It takes a long time to slay the deadline monster and feed the editor and agent dragons their word chum. We are doing the best that we can and we adore our readers and we will get back to you. Promise.
September 24, 2012
If you happen to be in the Bridgeport, CT area on Friday, September 28th, there is a silent auction that includes TONS of YA gift baskets among other things, some of which are signed. Tickets are $30 at the door, I believe. Details on the link. ♥
September 6, 2012
If you've been following me on twitter and facebook lately, you might know about the books I've been auctioning off to help a family member and friend who is battling stage 4 breast cancer. Her name is Jessica, and about five years ago we all thought she had conquered her breast cancer. Not too long ago, she learned that not only was it back, it had spread to her lungs and abdomen as well. My family and I have been doing all we can to help raise money for her treatment, as well as allow Jessica an opportunity to perhaps plan a fun activity here and there with her ten-year-old daughter. 100% of your bid will go to Jessica's cause.
So here's what you're bidding on:
Once you've emailed me the first 30 pages of your manuscript, I will read it and reply with at least 1,000 words of feedback.
Your 30 pages must be double-spaced in Times New Roman 12 point, or an equivalent thereof. This would put it at about 7,500 words. With the exception of a paragraph or two, I will not read beyond the 30th page.
If you have a query letter, I am happy to also take a look at that for no added charge.
I will reply within 30 days of receiving your writing.
If you have specific areas of concern, you're welcome to let me know when you send me your manuscript.
And here's how it works:
Post your bid in US dollars, as well as your email address ONLY. Bids that include any sort of commentary at all will be disqualified.
Your bid must be at least $1.00 higher than the previous bid, but you may bid as high as you would like.
You may only place one bid at a time, and are welcome to place another bid only after you've been outbid.
The winning bidder has 24 hours to PayPal me. If I haven't heard from you within 24 hours, I'll assume you are no longer interested and the offer will be extended to the next-highest bidder.
To be sure your bid is counted, post it as a new comment, not as a reply to an existing comment.
This is open internationally, however your submission must be in English.
Bidding is open now and will be open until Monday, September 17th at 12:01 AM. Bidding will not be officially closed until I've posted a comment announcing as much. Any bids after my comment will not be counted.
I've been an author represented by Barbara Poelle at Irene Goodman Literary Agency since 2008. My debut novel, Wither, became available nationwide in March of 2011 and is currently published in over 20 countries. Its follow-up, Fever, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list in February of this year. Both are available wherever books are sold and electronically wherever eBooks are sold. You can find me on twitter here, and on facebook here!
I was once an aspiring author, too. I will be as helpful and informative as I know how to be, and I do solemly swear to be 100% honest.
This is going to be a very deep and meaningful blog. But for right now, I am trying to figure out how to make the transfer from my old blog. If you're looking for any previous entries, for right now they can be found here: http://laurendestefano.com/blog.php
August 25, 2012
By the time I was seventeen years old and starting to apply for colleges, I was certain that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know if I’d ever be published. I didn’t know how publishing worked. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t even very good at it. But I knew one thing for certain: to be a writer of fiction, one must be an apt liar.
My college admissions essay was called Fantastic Exaggeration and it was all about a writer’s ability to lie, and to lie well.
Ten years later, having earned my BA in English, published two novels and spent some time around editors, authors, agents, bloggers, and readers, this still holds true. When a reader selects a work of fiction, they are asking to be told a lie that they can believe. They are asking for imaginary people that they can love with a ferocity and bravery that is rare in the world of the true and the living.
And to be an author of fiction, one must possess that sort of power.
That’s what it is: a power. An author has thousands of people in his or her palm, believing everything that is said. And there are so many types of stories, from books that make a girl fall in love to books that make us all afraid to turn off the lights. Readers want to fall in love, or be horrified, or worried sick, or content. This is a book’s job and an author’s job, and it is not a power that should be taken lightly, because, but by bit, it’s the stories that can do this that change the world. Books get braver, and people get braver with them.
We read books that were written hundreds of years ago, and those books are what define that generation for us. Sometimes the opinions we form are unfavorable, or silly. I keep a stack of vintage manuals in a basket by my desk. They were printed in the 1920s-1960s by various nom de plumes that most likely belonged to men. The manuals, part of a series, instruct women on how to be supportive wives and good housekeepers, and how to mind their emotions, and how to help their husbands get ahead. One in particular, “How to be a More Interesting Woman” has a place of honor in my living room, because it is such a great conversation starter. Everyone who visits will comment on it, and sometimes we flip through and read the sentences aloud. We do this with laughter, and with gratitude that we live in a time in which this sort of thing seems absurd.
At least, I think we do.
There’s a trend in literature that concerns me. This sort of book starts the same way: A bright young girl is moderately discontent with her circumstances but otherwise forging a path for herself in the world. The girl meets a boy. The boy is debonair but distant. Somehow the two are forced to make acquaintances.
The girl forgets that she is a fully realized person the moment this boy starts bossing her around. The girl spends a few hundred pages tripping over her own feet while the boy tsks and sighs and convinces her that she would be nothing without him. And the girl agrees. The boy will lock the girl away if it comes to that, and tell her whether she can continue on with school or stay later at the party (probably not). If the boy leaves, the girl will forget to eat. She will cry. Supporting characters—friends, siblings, other potential love interests—fall by the wayside, earning a sentence or two just to show that the story takes place in a world where other people meander about without purpose. All that’s really important is the boy. Without the boy, the girl is nothing, and all the reader can do is wait and hope for him to come back so things can get interesting again.
It happens with about as much subtlety as an actual, real life abusive relationship would. It’s desperately unhealthy, and it sends some dangerous messages to the women of the reading world.
Anyone who follows me around the internet at all knows that I am all for unapologetic writing. Books are supposed to shock and amaze and make us believe. We love to feel scared and excited and relieved right along with the characters. But once a reader has turned the last page of a horror novel, the notion of ghosts and things that go bump in the night will eventually subside.
However, somehow, the message of the controlling boy and that once-in-a-lifetime love resonates and is recharged by the next such story that gets written, and the next. There may be more of these stories than there are manuals on how to be a good housewife and how to entertain a dinner party and raise little darlings.
I’m not saying don’t read them. I’m not even saying they can’t or shouldn’t be written. But they, like the manuals, should not be taken as fact. They are not a representation of who women are or what boyfriends should be. Hundreds of years from now, when a student in a “literature of 2000-2020” class reads the stories of today, I don’t know about you, but I want that student to think we were all pretty damn amazing and strong.
July 13, 2012
July 6, 2012
Hi guys! Wow, over 500 entries for this ARC of SEVER. It makes me sad that I only have one spare to give away. But I also have an ARC of THE HALLOWED ONES by Laura Bickle, which is an unclaimed prize from a previous giveaway, so one lucky winner will get that as well! It’s a fantastic book, and my personal recommendation can be found on its Amazon page and I believe it may also appear on the cover: http://www.amazon.com/The-Hallowed-Ones-Laura-Bickle/dp/0547859260/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341619228&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hallowed+ones
Also, because I am so so so appreciative and moved by all of the entries, I’ve selected a few random commenters to receive personalized bookplates. Winners were all selected using random.org and the order in which the comment was posted.
The SEVER winner is: EMILY! who posted this tweet: https://twitter.com/emilybookaholic/s...
The THE HALLOWED ONES winner is: CARINA who posted this tweet: https://twitter.com/CarinaOlsen/statu...
The bookplate winners are:
Molly Frenzel: https://twitter.com/dg_molly/status/2...
Sabrina Khan: https://mobile.twitter.com/breephoeni...
Winners, email me your info at lauren at laurendestefano dot com. Let me know how you’d like your ARC or bookplates personalized. If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you just want them signed! It’s your responsibility to reach out to me. If I don’t hear from you in a week, I’ll assume you were eaten by a large mutant goose or something and your prize will go to somebody else.
If you didn’t win, no worries, here’s a delicious cheese danish, and I adore you.
July 5, 2012
I recently tweeted about something funny that happened to me. I was in a pizza place, and yes, I know I’m supposed to be like this big health nut tweeting about hummus and running at the gym, but I just finished my proofreads for Sever and I wanted to celebrate with what is essentially a doughy wheel of cheese. Get off my back.
Anyway, the owner of this pizza place has been a family friend for decades. My parents and I have been going there for dinner since I was a toddler. He hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he asked what I was up to. I told him that I write books. The words still feel strange in my mouth, because writing is one of those job titles that come with a lot of questions. And I don’t even see it as a job; it’s more like I tricked a publisher into paying me to do what I love. And people either think I am dirt broke, or a bajillionaire, and they are shocked that I’m wearing sweatpants from old navy and they assume these Target CZ earrings are the finest of blood diamonds. Or they assume that I took out a loan to pay for these shoes (by the way, Payless).
I suppose my pizza-spinning friend chose the dirt poor assumption, because he gave me a sort of piteous smile and said, “Just keep looking for a real job.” I smiled and told him to take care.
Obviously, I came right home and tweeted about the exchange. A few of my followers were amused, and a couple were angry on my behalf. For the record, I was never angry about it. The truth is, I get things like this a lot. And, as I told someone on twitter, because I’m a writer, people often think they can say whatever they want to me. A very wise and experienced industry pro overheard me talking with my agent about a hilarious/infuriating thing that was said to me at a signing, and this industry pro told me, “No matter how long you’re in this business, people will always find a new way to offend you.” This was coming from someone who has been in publishing since before I was a zygote, so she knows her stuff. And if people were still finding new ways to offend her, I supposed I should just accept that this would be a part of my journey.
Writing may be a whimsical profession, but it has more or less the same ups and downs of any profession. Before Wither, I was a switchboard operator for a small lending company. I was the only person directing calls, 8-4:30, Monday through Friday. Every single person to call the office had to go through me, and, this being a loan office, a lot of people functioned under the delusion that I was personally responsible for their low credit scores or for their account representative being out of the office that day. I was called a lot of things I couldn’t repeat in polite company (and I pride myself on this blog being family friendly, besides). For the first month or so, I took it. I referred to each caller as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and in response to venomous remarks, I apologized, saving my curse words for after I’d hung up.
But eventually it took its toll. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I was raised to be respectful when addressing another person. This isn’t a practice universally acknowledged however. One afternoon, a gentleman called and asked to speak to his account rep. The rep was out of the office that day, and another rep was filling in. I explained this, and he was angry because the rep filling in was a woman. He demanded that I get my fat lazy (redacted) off the chair and go find his rep’s home phone number. And while he was in the middle of a tirade, which I honestly can’t remember, I hung up. Maybe it was a knee jerk reaction, maybe it was anger, or shock, but that’s what I did. A minute later, the gentleman called back. I answered the phone. And, folks, it was like I’d never even hung up. He was still ranting. When he paused for a breath, I told him, “Sir, like it or not, I am the only person who can direct your calls, and I’m not going to put you through to anyone until you learn to speak with some respect.”
He hung up. Didn’t call back. And for all I know, he’s still learning. But I felt better, and that was what mattered. I felt like I had shown this gentleman that I wasn’t just a voice on the phone, but an actual, fully-realized human being. I feel like people forget this, and that’s why they act the way they do. And from that day forward, I was better prepared to handle the more venomous callers. Sometimes they even apologized.
When I left my job to pursue writing full time, silly me, I thought I had seen the last of rude people. Looking back I’m not even sure why I thought this.
Now, to be clear, I am not here to discuss reviews, or blogs, or opinions of any kind. I take absolutely no issue with anyone disliking my work, my person, or my face. I advocate freedom of speech, and if someone wants to tweet about how stilted my prose is, or write a seven-page review detailing why my writing is inferior to the poo of a Montana mountain lion, that is a-okay with me. What’s said about an author is really none of the author’s business.
However, when one is addressing another person directly, respect is kind of standard. Unless I ran over your puppy or insulted your mother, there is no reason to talk to me the way that caller did.
I don’t think the owner of the pizza place meant to be disrespectful. Or at least I choose not to. But what I told that person on twitter is true: since I wrote a book, people really do feel that it’s okay to say whatever they want to my face. Last week during the reveal of my latest book cover, a person tweeted to me publicly, firing off some venom about my cover art, which this person had seen on Goodreads. This person used words like “green THING” among others. In the interest of keeping the peace, I won’t quote it directly, but I assure you it was enough that my jaw about hit the desk. The approach was reminiscent of the mean girls in my high school addressing me about my hair. I was stunned that someone would be so blatantly disrespectful to another person’s face (or, you know, computer screen). Even thinking back on it, words like “flabbergasted” and “befuddled” come to mind. Did I mention that this person’s tweet is how I learned my cover was even up on Goodreads? I don’t mind that this person hated the cover. But no one on this magical green sparkly planet has the right to talk to another human being like that.
But I’m no longer a switchboard operator, and I can’t just hang up. I was struck with inspiration to type out some most unladylike responses before I finally replied that yes, that was the cover, and I loved it, thanks for asking. I don’t think it occurred to this person that I’m as much a human being as they are, and I’m sure they’ll never see this, so I can only quietly hope that this person learns some tact. But nonetheless, I maintain that it’s important for people to show respect to others, regardless of profession. We are all people here.
I hope I’m an approachable person. I’m not on twitter to receive throngs of praise and be fed grapes. I want readers to feel free to say “Eh, this cover, not so much” or “THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH YOU A LITTLE” (assuming it’s done in jest; please don’t actually punch me). I enjoy hearing from readers. If you love something, like something, or hate something, I’d love to hear from you. All I ask is that when you reach out to me directly, I’m shown the same level of respect any one person should show another person. What matters isn’t what is said, but the way in which it is said.
If a few tweets like that one and some pizzeria snark are the price of being able to tell my stories and interact with all of you wonderful readers and followers and fans, then I happily accept. And even if you are rude, I’ll most likely give you a respectful reply, if I do reply at all. That’s what I’d encourage anyone to do. And then I’ll probably stick my tongue out at the screen. Just saying.