On Friday, Oct. 17, the Guardian allowed Kathleen Hale to document a series of stalking incidents for a punchline. Not every author finds the situation a good idea, however.
Author Kathleen Hale managed to accomplish an action that many authors never do: confront a book blogger.
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But the bigger question is: Why? And does she have the right to stalk? A tangentially important follow up is: Do the actions of media like MTV’s Catfish encourage this confrontational behavior?
Also, it is an egregious breach of privacy and an extension of her aggressive stalking that she wrote an entire article about Blythe.— C.J. Redwine (@cjredwine) October 18, 2014
In a first-hand account to The Guardian, Hale details how and why she went after a vitriolic blogger. As with most first-time authors, her publishing company HarperTeen wanted a fair amount of social media interaction to drive reader interest and increase book sales. In this day in age, it’s easier to get access to favorite authors, to build relationships and sometimes warm friendships as fans and bloggers.
And the site Goodreads offers a chance for authors to interact, give interviews, and communicate with readers. Many bloggers and writers use the site for the intended purpose and it works well. Not all reviewers are quite so immersed in honest reviewing, however.
In the beginning, Hale enjoyed the posted reviews for advanced reader copies (ARC) books that HarperTeen had passed out to bloggers. It’s a common tactic for publishers to handout copies to prominent bloggers, offer giveaways, or put a limited number of copies available on NetGalley. And NetGalley can be a valuable tool since it connects bloggers and publishers, offering a working relationship of new and established authors equally. It also works as a way for companies and public relations to easily document if a reviewer has left a real review and what’s been said.
Hale’s excitement in the beginning slowly turns to a depressed, anxiety ridden experience as reviewer Blythe Harris begins a harassment campaign before No One Else Can Have You is even released. Harris started ingratiating herself with the author, pretending to be fan before campaigning against the new writer. Initially, the author had asked readers for “the weirdest thing” to add into the sequel, drumming up an audience while developing an interactive community for readers; actions all usual for promoting books nowadays.
Don't tweet justifications for Kathleen Hale's stalking to me. You will not find welcome reception.— DearAuthor (@dearauthor) October 18, 2014
There’s where Harris comes in. According to Hale’s narrative anyway.
Harris claimed the book was full of “rape apologists and slut-shamers” and, according to Hale, “accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD.” Even going on to say, “I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year, maybe my life.”
Claims that “Rape is brushed off as if it is nothing” perplexed Hale since the book did not deal with rape at all, making her wonder if the attacks were ad hominem based only. No One Else Can Have You focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder as well as the stigma and issues that comes with mental illness, so the writer can’t see where the rape allegations appear.
Hale believes this where Harris outed herself as a bully, thanks to stopthegrbullies.com's claim that “PTSD is referred to insensitively; domestic abuse is the punch line of a joke, as is mental illness.”
It wasn’t the review that stood out, but the misdirection and attempt to bully on topics not in the book. Hale says that the site labeled her a Badly Behaving Goodreader by labeling the review content to contain“PTSD, sex and deer hunting without moralising on these topics.” Ignore for the moment how the anti-bully site has posted reviewer's private information previously.
And to put this is into perspective, the STGRB website has in fact been bullying for years. Even John Scalzi talked about it in 2012. The romance genre and community have been discussing the actions and merits of the reviewers for as long. But this is the important element to the reviewing divide: the authors backed away from engagement because ultimately, the internet shows who you are both in identity in personality. And Hale revealed her actions to be that of a stalker, to the point of calling professionals for advice.
Obviously, authors, don't do that. Kicking over every Internet log to see what squirms underneath is bad — and stalking? Worse.— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) October 18, 2014
Plus, reading the comments that Harris documented in her review, nothing seems particularly out of the ordinary in how to review a book. It’s fairly standard to note, either in blog form or on Goodreads, quotes and areas that are problematic or unclear. And many authors like C.J. Redwine hold no ill-will towards the reviewer. Added to that, the subsequent behavior doesn’t really prove Hale out to be particularly good at impulse control. And in the comments listed, other reviewers had the same problems. In fact, over 130 people rated the book 1 out of 5 stars.
So is this a case of Kathleen Hale being bullied, or someone facing strong criticism to a written book held dear?
Believing Harris to be a catfish, or someone not being truthful in an online persona while reeling in a target, Hale pondered on how to react. And in perhaps not the wisest direction, she went forward with paying money to find out who Harris was really was, which allegedly is J. [last name redacted].
Trolls are online, and it’s ugly to be on the wrong end. There’s no question to that, especially as a woman, but impulse control is vital when using social media professionally. Hale called the possible catfish at work with an attitude of determination to catch “Blythe” in lies. Except that the truth was unclear. And still remains unclear.
Remember that question about Catfish? It’s not there randomly. Hale called up Nev Schulman, the host of Catfish and a victim of catfishing himself, looking for advice. Already in possession of a car rental date, the author asked Schulman the best way to confront the possible fake. Seemingly not on board with a random show-up to surprise a possible catfish, he offered the same advice provided to potential victims on his show.
“This is a woman who is used to sitting behind her computer and saying whatever she wants with very little accountability. Even if she hears from people she criticises, she doesn’t have to look them in the face. She doesn’t know she hurt your feelings, and she doesn’t really care.”
What Kathleen Hale did is Stalking in the 4th degree in New York, a class B misdemeanor punishable of up to 3 months in jail.— Megan (@bookbrats) October 18, 2014
Schulman also pinpointed the fact that Hale’s deeply emotionally involved. When asking how, he simply noted that she’s already planned everything out—including a trip to someone’s home.
And he pushed Hale to not be overly confrontational if she wanted real answers. Ignoring the production set-up of the MTV program, the advice is sound. Remember that adage “you catch more flies with honey”? Obsessing over outing a particular troll can lead to a mental shift, according to Michael Rich. After Schulman, she called the former film-maker turned professor and lecturer on what her issues may actually be. (There seems to be a few as information keeps unfolding about the author’s actions.)
Admitting to the arrested development on the topic of criticism, she discussed with Rich the best way to handle online cyberbullying and perhaps an overenthusiastic response to social media interaction. He said, “The internet doesn’t make you crazy, but you can make yourself crazy on the internet.” And that made her pause, briefly, to consider her behaviors.
How do those catfished feel and react? “Depression, anxiety. They tend to spend more time online rather than less.”
Reading the account, it seems as if she ignored the increase in activity as he continued on. “They’re hyper-vigilant, always checking their phone. Certainly substance abuse.” And she admits here to plans on escaping that night. When he explained “the response is going to vary, but it will have a commonality of self-loathing and self-harm,” she was busy planning on showing up to Blythe’s house.
Calling several times, showing up to the house, doing a lot of investigation, and demanding attention on Twitter didn’t end well.
"Why would a reviewer EVER use a fake name?" implored the author currently stalking the hell out of one. "I can't think of one reason."— Bree Bridges (@mostlybree) October 18, 2014
Eventually, J. blocked Hale after repeated contact attempts that read as stalking. By blocking any attempts at interaction, Hale’s left with unanswered questions, like whether Blythe Harris even read her last direct messages on Twitter. What the author fails to recognize is that the internet offers a feeling of anonymity, of the chance to be anyone you want. While that can and does end badly, being obsessive and stalking doesn’t help the harassed side, either.
It’s not easy to ignore trolls and people looking for attention. Really, it can suck at times, but it’s usually the best bet for professionals. When StopTheGRBullies appeared online, author Foz Meadows stated, “any public figure, regardless of whether they’re an author, actor, sportsperson or journalist, must resign themselves to a certain amount of public criticism.” In other words, the internet creates many more public figures and people must be willing to take the good with bad. Taking the good with bad doesn’t excuse the person’s behavior, but it does offer personal accountability.
And Kathleen Hale seems to treading in the water of not really understanding why the writing community told her to stop before starting (such as the case with editor friend Patricia) and is now damning the actions. Public criticism, on any level, can make anyone upset. But the idea is to deal with personal issues in private because the public answers back won’t be in your favor.
Now, there’s a caveat here: being quiet doesn’t mean silently suffering when another person’s behavior becomes threatening. Key distinction there, but all bloggers are probably not going to love the book you spent months and years cultivating. Writing negative reviews isn’t easy, either, especially if the person wants to like the book.
To break all kinds of professional walls here, I used to review romance books. Giving out low grades on a book didn’t make me feel good. It sucked. Authors had to tell me to stop reading bad books when trying to find a positive. But at some point, you have to be honest.
Things that are likely to tank your career: Spending all your time stalking a reviewer who didn't like your book.— Courtney Milan (@courtneymilan) October 18, 2014
I’m not saying Blythe was being honest—I don’t know the person. But I can say that from a reviewer standpoint, giving bad reviews comes with a certain level of feeling bad for the author. Even while being unfailingly candid. You know the work being put into the product, the time and effort. Often I would make sure I had a good and a bad book to review, back to back, to balance the feeling. I also tried to offer some positive spin on the disliked book.
The whole point of that side note is to remind everyone in the literary industry that it’s never easy. Hale isn’t excused because of abusive behavior towards her. Instead they’re equal on footing for not knowing when to step away from the situation.
Meadows described bullying best: “Bullying is when someone with a greater position of power and/or possessed of greater strength repeatedly and purposefully attacks, harasses, belittles and/or otherwise undermines someone in a position of lesser power and/or possessed of lesser strength.” A bad review is not bullying. A bully is someone that oversteps many boundaries in an effort to remain on top of a situation. The site itself is continuing the cycle.
Meadows’s read is really important and put a fine distinction on the lead up to this situation. An escalating climate among reviewers/bloggers and authors culminated in a very toxic environment and helped to foster Kathleen Hale’s stalking, obsessive behavior. The only way to deescalate the situation is for both sides to mark a draw and simply walk away.
And as information continues to be unearthed about Kathleen’s previous behavior, the possibly criminal actions, the lack of remorse is worrying. The idea of social media interaction to offer some community with a group of people of like-minded hobbies and interests. It’s not meant to self-congratulate yourself…at least not entirely.
I mean, I personally couldn't have told you a damned thing about Kathleen Hale or her book before this so...stunt feels about right.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) October 18, 2014
Mikki Kendall goes by Karynthia in the reviewing world and is pretty on-point most of the time. She linked to a piece written by Hale describing another case of similar behavior as a teenager. It’s not okay to excuse any of the elements put together about Hale, even if it’s all for a suspected publicity stunt. Actions have consequences and approval of stalking, obsessive behavior never ends well. If the articles are too long, someone uploaded a short summary of the disturbing behavior onto PasteBin.
And Orli, a 15-year-old reviewer, wrote an open letter to Kathleen Hale that points out the fear in not just an abuse by author, but also the possibly unintentional abuse by publishers handing out private information to bloggers.
“I'm worried about the publishers that have my addresses, and think it might be okay to give them out to authors who will then turn up at my house and confront me about a negative review. What you did was A CRIME. A crime to the blogger and a crime to the community, in which you no longer have a place.”
I hope the book writer reads the strong condemnation across the industry—especially Orli's account—and notices how detrimental her actions are; and not just on her bank account, but also mind. To be so obsessive in justifying criminal behavior doesn’t illustrate the mind of a rational person. Nor does joking about breaking laws for the sake of a bad review.