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Victim or Perpetrator?

The Guardian recently published a piece called “Am I Being Catfished?” An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic. In the article, author Kathleen Hale describes her anxiety after her first book came out, how she obsessed over Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. I can definitely relate to this part. Book #10 comes out in January for me, and I expect I’ll still be auto-refreshing the Amazon page every 15 minutes…

Hale asked Twitter for ideas about her next book, as a way to “connect with readers.” A woman named Blythe offered suggestions, which led to Hale checking to see if Blythe had read the book, and discovering not only that she had, but that she’d apparently given it a harsh one-star review and was warning other readers away from the book.

Yeah, that sucks. Especially if a reviewer is complaining about stuff that you don’t think was even in the book. (My favorite bad review of The Stepsister Scheme compares it to an S&M porno. WTF???)  Hale’s mother pointed her to the Stop the Goodreads Bullies site, where Blythe was listed along with more than 150 other reviewers, for crimes ranging from participating in organizing attacks on authors to “derogatory shelving” to reviews considered to be “bullying.” One of the StGB founders talked to Hale about her reviewer, no doubt reinforcing Hale’s belief that she was the victim of a bully.

Foz Meadows has a blog post about why the StGB site is…problematic.

Blythe apparently began tweeting about Hale online. And Hale began to engage in what she describes as “light stalking.” She eventually pulled herself away, but then a few months later, when a book club wanted Hale to do an interview with a book blogger, Hale suggested Blythe. Because she “longed to engage with Blythe directly.” This also involved doing a book giveaway, which allowed Hale to get Blythe’s home address.

I’ve done giveaways myself, which involves readers trusting me with their home addresses. I’ve also sent books to reviewers’ home addresses. I consider this a matter of trust and privacy, which is one of many reasons I get very angry about what happened next.

Hale dug into Blythe’s identity, questioning whether “Blythe” was a pseudonym. She rented a car and, in what she describes as “a personal rock bottom,” drove to Blythe’s home. She called Blythe at home work, pretending to be a fact-checker. She called again, this time identifying herself as Kathleen Hale and confronting her.

Blythe unfollowed her on Twitter, made her Instagram private, and blocked her on Facebook, essentially cutting off Hale’s options for online communication.

Dear authors: don’t do this. Just don’t.

When I tweeted about this, one woman told that Hale is the real victim here, and accused me of victim-blaming. She compared Blythe’s tactics to those of GamerGate (though I’m having a hard time finding where Blythe threatened to rape or murder Hale, or drove Hale out of her own home).

Online bullying is a thing. Trolling is a thing.

Bad reviews are also a thing. Hating someone’s book is not bullying. Sharing your opinion, suggesting others stay away from a book or an author, is not bullying. It might cost you some sales, and that sucks, but it’s not bullying, nor is it an organized campaign to destroy someone’s career.

Hale’s account does not convince me that she was a victim of online bullying. But even if she was, there comes a point where she crossed a line from victim to perpetrator. She admits to stalking Blythe online. She then began stalking her in real life. She showed up at Blythe’s home, called her on the phone.

Blythe criticized Hale’s book and probably cost her some sales. Hale stalked Blythe, presenting herself as a very real threat. She went to Blythe’s home. She called her to say, “I know who you are.”

Not okay. Even if someone said mean things about your book. Even if you’re anxious and depressed.

Which leads me to wonder why the Guardian published this piece in the first place. My friend Barbarienne sees it as a cautionary tale. She also sees it as a warning from the author: “Don’t do what I did.”

I disagree. While I see some recognition that maybe Hale made mistakes, and that she was personally in a bad emotional space, I don’t see any understanding or awareness of the lines and boundaries she crossed, or how serious those violations were. Nor does the Guardian provide any sort of context or acknowledgement of the same. Hale ends her post with the nostalgic admission that she still wishes from time to time for confirmation that Blythe has seen those old messages. There are people reading this article as if Hale is a hero standing up to the bullies of the internet.

She’s not. She’s someone who stalked and harassed a book blogger and reviewer. Someone who, to my reading, still doesn’t seem to recognize the lines she crossed. Someone who leveraged her harassment into an article for the Guardian.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 19th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
Hale kind of horrified me, honestly.

Bad reviews? Deal with it, and deal with it privately, by venting to close friends, possibly drinking, and then going back to work. But in public, it's like that godawful present your distant elderly relative gives you every birthday. Smile when it's brought up, say the socially acceptably vague thing, and then change the subject.

[EtA: and now I can't NOT read the title of the post in Michael Emerson's voice....]

Edited at 2014-10-19 04:31 pm (UTC)
Oct. 19th, 2014 04:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I didn't get a sense of awareness from Hale of just how wrong what she did actually was, either. I'm sure she knows on a basic level that she did some bad things, but the article still came off as fairly lighthearted to me. If she understood just how many boundaries she crossed and just how seriously she crossed them, I think the article would have read very differently. It can still function as a cautionary tale, but more of an inadvertent one, I think.
Oct. 19th, 2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
Given that her soon-to-be father-in-law is a noted former NYT critic, I don't think there's anything "inadvertent" going on here.
(no subject) - shanrina - Oct. 19th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lavidaessueno - Oct. 19th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evewithanapple - Oct. 19th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2014 04:47 pm (UTC)
The whole thing is just horrible, especially since some people seem to mostly be focusing on the blogger, rather than the author's behaviour. She was way, way out of line and I can't believe she went so far as to dig up the blogger's address. It's disturbing and I know a lot of reviewers are now quite wary of giving negative feedback.
Oct. 19th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
Hale dug into Blythe’s identity, questioning whether “Blythe” was a pseudonym. She rented a car and, in what she describes as “a personal rock bottom,” drove to Blythe’s home. She called Blythe at home, pretending to be a fact-checker. She called again, this time identifying herself as Kathleen Hale and confronting her.

Didn't the article say she called Blythe at work? Which adds a whole 'nother dimension to this debacle.
Oct. 19th, 2014 05:33 pm (UTC)
You're right. Fixing that mistake now...
Oct. 19th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
As I read the original article, I kept wanting to facepalm and headdesk repeatedly. No, no, no, not the thing to do as a writer, not at all.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 20th, 2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
I stopped reviewing books online years ago. I had one time where the author showed up and - very politely, mind you! - explained that I was reading the whole book wrong and that the things I saw in there weren't there. (It was a fairly positive review, as a matter of fact, though I made a number of allusions to roleplaying game references that the authors disagreed with.)

I decided then and there that I didn't need that and that I'd never no plans to talk about books outside of a lock again. Even though I love genre fiction and read it all the time. Seeing how some authors have gotten angry at bad reviews is a little scary, though.
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Oct. 21st, 2014 05:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2014 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Oct. 19th, 2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
I'm utterly disgusted by Hale's behavior, and even more disgusted that the Guardian's desire for traffic led them to publish this, apparently with no attempt to provide context (as you said) or even the slightest hint of fact-checking. The commenters on the site almost all agree that Hale was in the right--that's perhaps most disturbing of all.

ETA: One additional comment: I felt a lot of people were dismissive because the author, being a woman, wasn't perceived by readers as a threat to the blogger. What if the author had been a man? Would that change people's opinion? What if she'd shown up at the blogger's house with a weapon? Would that change people's opinion? This impression that this was somehow a spat between women that got a little bit out of control--that's part of the problem. People don't talk stalking seriously.

Edited at 2014-10-19 07:01 pm (UTC)
Oct. 21st, 2014 12:50 pm (UTC)
I think there's something to this. I was watching Conan O'Brien last night and there was some actress on (don't ask me who; I came into the middle of the interview) who was laughingly talking about her terrible, awful temper, how she's broken phones by throwing them into walls, had to fix drywall, and once when younger /pulled out a couple of wall sconces/. And her tone was all 'hahaha isn't this funny'.

Ugh. No, lady, it's not funny, you have a serious problem, and the only reason anyone's laughing is because people don't take violence from women very seriously. :/
Oct. 19th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
Hale seems to have a pattern of such behavior. This link has been shared in a couple of places including the comments to the Smart Bitches analysis:


Oct. 19th, 2014 07:55 pm (UTC)
That was the bit that scared me - not only does she have form stalking, she seems to have zero remorse.

The number of people I've seen on Twitter this morning who said 'not ok, but I understand why the author did this' and the people who said 'well, the reviewer must have provoked this' were pretty frightening. Even though Hale - this time - did not pour noxious substances over the target of her ire.
(no subject) - roseembolism - Oct. 20th, 2014 03:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ursulav - Oct. 20th, 2014 08:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roseembolism - Oct. 21st, 2014 08:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ethelmay - Oct. 22nd, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2014 07:22 pm (UTC)
I like that she calls it "confronting" and not, y'know, "TERRORIZING."
Oct. 19th, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
That word "empathy" that she keeps on using, I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

More precisely, she several times talks about trying to have empathy for her target, in both articles, but it appears that what she means by "empathy" is that the other person will feel sympathetic towards her, and understand her plight. She wraps her self-centeredness up more polite language, but really what she wants is for the other person to empathize with her. She doesn't really ever see anything from the point of view of her target. It's disturbing and weird.
Oct. 19th, 2014 09:11 pm (UTC)
Hang around in this business long enough, and you'll come in for your share of nasty reviews and even nastier Tweets. (Been there, done that, you know the drill.) You don't like it, don't hang out at sites where you're apt to run into it.

Nothing, absolutely nothing justifies stalking and invading the privacy of a reviewer (or anyone else) you don't like. If you feel in physical danger from the reviewer, you take appropriate legal action. In this case, however, it was the reviewer who might have been (and for all I know, was and still is) in danger from Hale. That's scary.
Oct. 19th, 2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
The article was in the magazine section -this is a part of a British newspaper where a range of personal opinions are both permitted and expected . I felt that the article was interesting and that the author made it clear that she wasn't presenting herself as a paragon.

I don't see the shades of black and white that you do . Neither Blythe or Hale have behaved well and I certainly feel no urge to make a hero out of either of them.

Oct. 19th, 2014 10:32 pm (UTC)
You claim not to see shades of black and white, but you have no problem simplifying my post into a "black and white" perspective?
(no subject) - evewithanapple - Oct. 19th, 2014 10:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fengi - Oct. 20th, 2014 01:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2014 11:20 pm (UTC)
Even Ed Champion, who was bad enough, didn't hunt down and stalk random readers.
Oct. 19th, 2014 11:40 pm (UTC)
It also occurs to me that Hale repaid someone who was a waste of her professional-quality time with more of her professional-quality time.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Possibly not the sharpest spoon.
Oct. 20th, 2014 01:05 am (UTC)
Or even the sharpest spork.
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Jim C. Hines


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