Thursday, April 15, 2010

Inviting public mockery, one blog post at a time

There’s been a lot of buzz in the writing community this week about a situation that turned ugly in a very public fashion.

I’m staying out of the fight mostly because authors like Myra McEntire and Kirsten Hubbard already said it better than I could.

For those of you outside the writing community (or those who missed the showdown because you were doing something productive like laundering your belly-button lint) here’s the quick rundown:

Agent receives query, responds with professional rejection, author responds in an ass-hat manner, agent posts author’s ass-hat rant on blog with author’s full name, author responds with further ass-hat comments, agent holds Twitter contest inviting participants to publicly mock author.

I’m not going to jump on my soapbox and say who behaved more stupidly – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Suffice it to say, we all do dumb things. What alarms me is the fact that nearly every stupid act you might commit these days has strong potential to become horribly, painfully public.

It wasn’t so long ago you could perform a bonehead maneuver and truly believe only your closest friends would know.

When I was in high school, I used to do a trick that involved smearing my hand with rubber cement and lighting it on fire.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Since I’d done it dozens of times without incident, I was honestly surprised one day when I couldn’t get the flames out. I ended up in the hospital with second and third degree burns.

Sympathy was in short supply – I had, after all, deliberately set myself on fire.

To top it off, I had the pleasure of learning that I’m violently allergic to codeine – a discovery made when my parents found me running around the living room throwing up and kicking walls while hallucinating I was in a house of mirrors.

A proud moment all around.

I had no problem then or now admitting that I had done something stupid. At the same time, I had the comfort of knowing my college application packets wouldn’t include a write-up of the event. My future job interviews did not have screenings of the video footage, and I was not forced to add it to my agent queries.

I also have the benefit of being a humor writer. As such, one of my favorite targets for mockery is myself. I’ll gladly blog about getting caught having fake car sex or dropping gristle in a stranger’s purse. I’m happy to tweet about the dog licking my armpit or hitting myself in the head with the car door.

I don’t mind you laughing at me. I encourage it.

But that’s the difference. I ask for it. I’m choosing to post my embarrassing moments for everyone with an internet connection to enjoy.

Not everyone asks for it.

Just something to think about before you hit the “post” button on that video of your co-worker break-dancing topless to Neil Diamond at the company Christmas party.

33 comments :

CKHB said...

Fair point. I plan to take your advice.

Lani Woodland said...

I plan on writing a comment but thought I'd do a test first. This a test of the Public Blogcast system.

NWFoodie said...

People are becoming more and more...how shall I put this...unaware of boundaries with social media. I've seen this in the past. Long ago and far away - ok not so long ago and far away - I was a game master for an on-line role playing game. It was text based and I would create worlds by writing a description - was fun. But what I noticed then as a GM and now as just a regular gamer is that people feel - hidden and empowered behind their PCs. People who would say things they wouldn't dream of saying in a face to face meeting, but because they were hidden in cyber-land they didn't feel the need to follow normal social rules of engagement.

Glad you didn't get too badly hurt doing your Flaming Tawna act

Lani Woodland said...

It worked from the computer we just fixed! Yeah!!

People can catch you doing stupid things anywhere at any time, without you even knowing. I mean videos cameras on our phones! I don't mind people laughing at me when I get to choose the fodder and the context. But it is different when it is picked for you...

Linda G. said...

I think you've summed it all up perfectly, and I salute you for it. :)

I can understand the agent's frustration with the abusive response from the querier. I can even understand using some/all of the juicy, abusive details as blog fodder, if the sender is kept anonymous.

But naming names on a blog or on Twitter crosses the line of professionalism, IMO. What's that old saying? "You can't sling mud without getting yourself dirty." Or something like that.

tammygallant.com said...

and that's why we're writers, our own lives keep us amused for days and we use them to amuse others. (Though I don't think I'd light myself on fire. Oh wait, nevermind. I have done that!)

Patty said...

Ok, first kudos for adding Neil Diamond. (Big fan since I was eight and my uncle sang me the delightfully weird Porcupine Pie while twirling me in circles.) I love laughing at -er, I mean WITH, yeah, WITH you over canine and feline sanity issues.

But I am completely serious about this: you're right. The Send button, adrenalin-induced hysteria and an itchy finger can be a dangerous combination, to summarize the premise of my current WIP, "Send".

If adults can succumb to the temptation to publicly taunt someone for a judgment error, what hope can we have for our kids? It's gotten so bad, I can't keep the tragedies straight. I believe three teens committed suicide over cyberbullying in the past four weeks or so.

Let me ask you this, Tawna. Was THAT the last time you attempted a rubber cement pyrotechnics show? Because if we can't learn from our stupid mistakes, even more reason to keep them private.

I do hope you didn't suffer and for God's sake, buy the dog his own underwear.

Daryl Sedore said...

Well said. All I want to add is I'm surprised that no apology has been issued from the agent. Also, don't be shocked if the person who was publicly lynched doesn't call a lawyer. He would 100% have a case. This has or could be proven to have hurt his chances for publication. Which in turn hurts his ability to make an income. I understand this person has been previously published, so this is his living the agent messed with.

Tawna Fenske said...

CKHB, the hope, of course, is that someone will then abstain from posting that video footage of YOU break-dancing to Neil Diamond :)

Lani, yaaay! I'm so happy you're finally able to post comments for real! Not that I minded the email comments, but this is much more fun. I agree, it's nice to have some measure of control over when and where you're humiliated.

Linda G, you're exactly right -- my biggest issue with the situation was the use of the full name in such a public forum. The guy certainly deserved some bashing, but not a complete public crucifixion that will follow him long after he's woken up and realized what an ass-hat he was.

tammygallant.com, I'd love to hear your story of lighting yourself on fire. Didn't realize it was such a popular pastime!

Patty, amen to everything you said! Alas, I haven't attempted the stunt since my hospital visit. Still have a spot on my right ring finger with no sensation at all.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Tawna Fenske said...

Daryl, looks like we simu-posted there! I'll be curious to see if the incident dies down and goes away, or if anything more comes of it. Either way, there are certainly a lot of lessons to be learned (er, besides not lighting yourself on fire).

Tawna

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is an excellent post! I've had conversations like this with my high school students, who truly don't understand social networking boundaries. It's important to remember that "send" these days can involve a worldwide audience.

Thanks for the valuable reminder! :-)

Morgan Ives said...

Ouch. I needed this.

I'm a big fan of humor, but I have a tendency to cross the line from harmless humor into the harmful and cruel kind sometimes. I read the post, laughed at the idea of a haiku contest...and jumped right in, not even thinking of long-term consequences.

Sad thing is, I know better. I've been the recipient of some very cruel humor, and it still stings. I haven't forgotten. So, after letting my brain catch up, I deleted the poems, but still. I admire people who don't forget their values in the face of a chance at a laugh.

Thanks, Tawna.

Candyland said...

Can't do anything anymore without it plastered all over the world...

Danica Avet said...

I'm with you Tawna. I prefer mocking myself, mostly because if I do it, at least I know it's done right (or something like that).

It's all the fault of Candid Camera, has to be. They started it, didn't they? With their pranks on poor innocent people. Now we're addicted to laughing at others mistakes. Of course, now you never know who has the camera phone taking video of you trying to click your heels in the grocery store and falling in the cookie display.

Patrick Alan said...

Oh good. Another post about how hot you were when you were younger. No picture this time, just - I was so hot I was on fire!!!

Now I am such a cougar - with my tantric biking and stuff. MRowl!

snacks said...

Hi Tawna, I don't know the details of this incident (I want to hear all about it over a glass of wine!) but I think that you're talking about two or even three different issues here.

First, is the fact that everything we post online is out there for everyone to see. And you can't take it back! I'm amazed at what people will say in e-mails or post on Facebook! Don't they know that those things will come back to haunt them? In this case, all I can say is that it's the person's own damn fault.

Second, you have people doing something stupid and some evil person collecting the "evidence" and then sharing it with others. In that case, it's still ultimately your own fault for doing something dumb in the first place but there's something really awful about people feeling the need to exploit that for laughs or to feel superior.

This author's experience seems to me to be in a different category from either of those instances. From what you've said, I don't feel sorry for the guy at all. This is business and he was completely unprofessional. And he made the ridiculous mistake of directing his anger at the agent and putting it in writing! The agent may have stooped to his level by sharing it but does that really make him a victim? He's not a child, this isn't a spat with a girlfriend, and there's just no excuse for being an idiot. Now he has to deal with the consequences of his actions. And it should be a good reminder to all of us.

Myra said...

ROFL.

After the crazy that was this week - I SO needed this.

Shain Brown said...

I started writing a response and before I knew it there was too much to say. If you are interested read my post @ http://shainbrown.blogspot.com/

Karla Nellenbach said...

I didn't catch what happened until well after it was all said and done...which is good because if I had, I probably would've had a thing or two or five to say to the people that bashed this guy...yes, he was probably being a butt-munch but really a public flogging of that caliber was way out of line...kudos to you on the post. It was well put.

Oh, and I always knew you had a fiery personality...I just didnt know to what extent :)

Sun Singer said...

Fact of life: meaningless tweets get lost in the shuffle and the stuff you wish people would read never gets a comment. But dumb stunts really do go on your permanent record.

Xuxana said...

snacks, I think that's what Tawna was saying. Anyway, I agree with the both of you. Mostly I'll learn from the mistake of that author. What's the point in getting all pissy with a lit agent anyway? They'll just plaster your rantings all over the internet, then you'll regret it! Not to mention the fact that lit agents are trying to make a buck, if they don't think your MS will do that for them, they aren't going to take you on. Writing an angry response can only make things worse for the author.

Oh look, now I've joined in the debate! I'm clearly on the agents side. I'll even go so far as to say I think they have every right to post the author's response online. To show other lit agents how unprofessional they are. Well, okay, maybe it is a bit harsh to let fellow writers abuse the author further, but like you said Tawna, it's the author's own damn fault for writing to the lit agent in the first place!

Tawna Fenske said...

Shannon, absolutely! I remember sitting on an interview panel for a young man who was horrified to discover we had all reviewed his Facebook and MySpace pages before we brought him in. I think younger people sometimes don't think about the things they put out there being available to everyone.

Morgan, don't feel bad, I think a lot of people joined in without really weighing all sides of the issue. That's the problem with the speed of social media. It's so much faster now to put your foot in it without realizing it.

Danica, good point about Candid Camera. I never thought of it, but that's probably why I don't like watching shows like that. I don't like "Meet the Parents" much either. Anything that prompts me to laugh at the misfortune of others just doesn't seem funny to me.

Patrick, I knew I could count on you for a good "hot" pun.

Snacks, I agree 100% that the guy was a jack-ass. There's no question about that. But to me, that doesn't give other people the excuse to be bigger jack-asses in response. Then it just becomes one great big jack-ass contest, and as much as I love to win things, that's a competition I'll happily refrain from entering.

Myra, glad you enjoyed it! I was a huge fan of your original post.

Shain, I enjoyed your blog post as well. It's easy for all of us to sit back and take not of how many mistakes other people are making on the path to publication (and certainly anyone who spends time in online writer forums has seen some doozies). But to me, there's a big difference between learning from others' mistakes and crucifying them for making them in the first place.

Karla, *snort* on the "fiery personality." My parents would love that. Incidentally, they were mortified to have to come pick me up and drag my charred self to the hospital.

Sun Singer, for sure! And you really never know which screw-up will end up earning you all sorts of unwanted attention.

Xuxana, I won't say I'm on either person's side, exactly, since I think they both behaved like idiots. For sure, the author was an idiot first, and perhaps the bigger idiot for picking the fight in the first place. But in my opinion, "he was an idiot first," isn't much of an excuse for trying to one-up someone in the idiot department.

Great discussion, guys! Thanks for reading!
Tawna

Harley May said...

Hey Tawna,

Everyone has a lot to say over the whole debacle. Personally, I'm a big believer in second chances and know that not one of us would want to be judged on the worst day of our lives.

I have a same but different experience with fire as a teen. My sophomore year of high school, I made a big fire ball with someone's lighter and another person's body spray on school property after school.

Someone saw me, told on me, and I was suspended for three days. What I thought would be a neat trick (and it was-totally bitchin') ended up on my permenant record.

I had to write those three seconds on all my college applications. Three seconds. I've certainly done worse since then, but this was an eye opener in the land of "stupid stuff follows you." And this was before facebook/myspace/blog world.

Honestly, your teenage years should be a wash anyway.

roxy said...

Wow. I must have been really busy with the belly button lint because I totally missed that ugly public event you mentioned. Boy howdy. Makes me glad that I'm rarely noticed. It also surprises me that caution and good manners are so often overlooked.

Claire Dawn said...

Great post.

I keep seeing all this stuff coming up about how facebook affects your life.

I'm lucky cuz my life is an open book. I don't care what people post of me of facebook. And I don't do secrets, so the whole world knows everything. Plus my employer doesn't care- wonder if 1% of Japan even know of facebook's existence- and any employer who would care, is not fit to employ me. I don't do well with pretending I'm someone else, so I'd probably last a week in your company if you can't deal with the real me.

But for the people in the world that don't live like that, life gets a little scarier every day.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

great post, Tawna! thanks for weighing in. (also for sharing your rubber cement story -- did not know that was possible, but now know not to try it)

Tawna Fenske said...

Harley May, thanks for sharing your fire story, too! Wow, it's like we're evil twins or something.

Roxy, I'm kind of amazed the topic is still so hot three or four days later, but obviously there was a need to discuss this in the writing community.

Claire Dawn, does your employer mind if you're tweeting during the work day? I have a lot of friends who avoid Twitter and blogging throughout the day because they don't want time-stamped evidence that they've been screwing off.

Kirsten, I just realized I had your name spelled wrong in my blog -- my apologies! Fixed now! The Kristen/Kirsten thing throws me every time. Loved your post, btw!

Tawna

Amie B said...

i must have been busy cleaning my belly-button lint, because i totally missed that one!

Saundra Mitchell said...

I'm late to reading this entry about the incident, and I thank you for adding your voice. But mostly, I want to say- I TOO had a fire-hand trick in high school! I'd smear a bit of Vaseline on my hand to protect it, then douse it with alcohol and set it on fire. EVERYBODY LOVED THIS TRICK. Everybody wanted to learn HOW to do this trick.

So of course, the day that I demonstrate it, I forget to put on the protective Vaseline.

Roasted people really does smell just like pork.

Jennifer X said...

You do give endless entertainment. I'm allergic to codeine too, but found that out very young, so I don't think my reaction was like yours. LOL Worrying about what I say coming back to bite me in the ass is why I'm so hesitant to even start a blog or live journal. I like Twitter, but now that the Library of Congress has the ENTIRE archive on file, I think, "Do I want future generations to find this in random research attempts?" before posting. If the world ends in 2012, I guess I don't have anything to worry about, but still!

Tawna Fenske said...

Amie, well, you can really never have clean enough belly button lint. I like to launder mine at least twice a week.

Saundra, I know it's wrong, but I really, really want to try your trick now. Sounds similar to the rubber cement one, but the Vaseline is a nice touch.

Jennifer X, are you allergic to ALL drugs that end in -ine? It's technically a morphine allergy, but I pretty much can't handle anything in the -ine family (including caffeine in larger doses, so no coffee for me!)

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Julie Weathers said...

Tawna, this was an excellent post. Agreed, the guy was an ass, but I'm willing to bet agents get those kinds of responses every week. I guess the lesson is that regardless of what we send, say or post, it very well could be public fodder.

I'm the first to laugh at myself, but I would prefer to pick the time and place. Even so, someone playing with me doesn't bother me a bit. I just jump in the middle of it. Insulting me, not so much. Life is too short to spend arguing and I just normally bow out. I spent 35 years with a man who was never wrong. Now I live in peace and I like it that way.

Tawna Fenske said...

Julie, you hit the nail on the head with this: "I guess the lesson is that regardless of what we send, say or post, it very well could be public fodder." Very true!

Tawna