Is it safe to come out?

Tess Gerritsen

            Today I’m going to blog about why it’s a bad idea to blog.

And I’ll try not to write anything controversial.

Which may be a difficult feat for me to pull off because, if you’ve followed my travails, you know that recently I’ve had trouble staying out of hot water. A few months ago, I suspended my own blog because of some unpleasantness. The sad, sordid story, in a nutshell, is this: I wrote a post about a certain author who, upset by a bad Amazon reader review of her book, decided to retaliate against that reader and harassed her on the internet. While I didn’t defend her, I did admit that I completely understood the emotions that might drive an author to behave badly after a nasty review. Hey, we’re human, I wrote. Of course we get angry when our books are attacked, and we fantasize about how we might defend ourselves.

The blogosphere erupted in outrage at my confession. They called for a boycott on my books and accused me of being a washed-up author and the moral equivalent of a crazed stalker. As one angry person pointed out to me, “You are a public person, and you should expect to be attacked when you publicly say such offensive things.”

I retreated into a cave and have not blogged since.

What I’ve learned from this is that, yes, to my amazement, I am indeed a public person, although I never thought of myself that way. It’s hard to think of yourself as a public person when you don’t leave your house for weeks on end. But in truth, every published author is a public person. Our words will be scrutinized. Our opinions will be noted. Attacks on us come with the territory. And writing a blog is like shouting into a big, honking megaphone. While you sip a gin and tonic and type away in your underwear (something I’ve occasionally done, sometimes to my regret), you may feel like you’re having an intimate conversation with your dearest friends. You may feel moved to confess secrets or to rant or whine. But blogs are not intimate conversations. Your words are out there, and I mean out there, and they are being read by certain numbers of Easily Offended People.

Which brings me to the other lesson I learned from my blogging misadventures. There are quite a few Easily Offended People. The problem is, you don’t always know when something you say will be considered offensive. Unfortunately, you only find out after the fact.

Stephen King recently got into trouble when he gave a speech in defense of literacy. If there’s a less offensive topic, I can’t think of it. But during his speech, he wandered a bit off topic and got into trouble with certain Easily Offended People. The end result was that he got slimed on national TV (Fox, of course) as a leftist and a traitor. I happen to know that Steve is a man with a huge heart and he’s a big supporter of the troops, and he felt pretty darn beat-up after this incident. I bet he wasn’t too eager to accept any other speaking gig, even if it were on a topic as uncontroversial as, say, the cuteness of kitty cats. He too probably felt like ducking into a cave.

Another friend of mine is an internationally known singer/songwriter who’s so well known that if I were to name one of his songs, 99 percent of you could probably start singing it. We sometimes get together to talk about finances, fame, and the creative process. “I can talk to you,” he said. “You understand the issues and we can be honest with each other.” But he can’t be open with the public. The more famous he got, the more reclusive he became. Over time, he too retreated into a cave. He’s a brilliant businessman, a superb songwriter, and he knows the music business like no one else. But he doesn’t see the point of publicly sharing his opinions, however valuable they may be to others. It just isn’t worth the possible backlash. “Protect yourself” is his motto. People either want a piece of you, or they just want to find a reason to trash you.

Needless to say, he doesn’t blog.

Ironically enough, the more “public” a person is, the more reclusive they usually become. They end up as cave dwellers who whisper only to other cave dwellers. They may trade secrets and insights with each other, but only with each other. They try to stay out of earshot of Easily Offended People but damn, there are so many of them trying to listen in and make their lives miserable.

It’s taken me a long time to emerge from my own cave. Since my own bad blog experience, I’ve been turning down all speaking engagements and avoiding all conferences. I even grew leery of dropping into out-of-town bookstores, for fear that I’d say something or do something to offend someone. Instead I hung out with my donkeys (who are never offended by anything) and I worked on my manuscript. I rediscovered the joy of being the solitary writer, focused only on the work and not on the noise and hoopla and the occasional mean-spiritedness that goes along with the business.

With this post, I’ve anxiously dipped my toe back in the blogging waters. I’m curious to find out if I’ve managed to offend anyone with this post. And if I have, I swear the topic of my next blog will be limited entirely to the cuteness of kitty cats.

36 thoughts on “Is it safe to come out?

  1. Angie Trianta

    Hi Tess,

    It’s good to see you back in the ‘blogosphere’, as you put it. I’m on the other side of the world (Australia), but am aware of all the hoohah related to that issue months ago.

    I’m so sorry that you felt you had to retreat into your cave. I, for one, miss your blog posts. I can understand why you felt the need to withdraw from the world though.

    And no, I was not offended by this post. Please don’t resort to talking about the cuteness of kitty cats in your next post. Not that I’ve got anything against kitty cats, mind you. 🙂


  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Tess, it is so very great to have you here. I was so devastated when you closed your pricelessly informative blog that I would have done just about anything to get you back up and posting again.

    Rest assured that we’ve got your back! – but actually, in all the time I’ve been on Murderati I’ve never seen this blog erupt into ugliness. Controversy, yes – flameouts or deliberate attacks, never. I love that about this place.

    I do think we all have to take into account that a lot of people are on hair triggers these days because of the economy and (not to get too political) other international instability. Gas prices alone are making things difficult for just about everyone and people are bound to explode more.

    I thought the attacks on you were unconscionable, but I do understand that people are hurting and lashing out randomly. I’m sorry to hear that Stephen King just experienced the same kind of thing. In your case and his there’s obviously a lot of festering jealousy involved, but on another level it’s also NOT personal – it’s an amorphous fear that is making people explode.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tess – welcome!

    I think we’re back to this terrible business of keyboard heroes. It’s a lovely phrase for people who would say things on the internet, from the safety of their bedrooms, often – but not always – hiding behind a pseudonym, that they would not have the courage or the courtesy to say direct to your face. I was very sad to hear that you’d fallen foul for expressing an opinion. I read your original post and didn’t feel you’d overstepped any boundaries. Certainly not enough to warrant the reaction you received.

    But, as you point out, you are public property, and therefore there will always be a certain element who just can wait to see the mighty fallen.

    And I’ve always found donkeys are very easily offended … ;-]

    Very much looking forward to meeting you at Harrogate next month!

  4. Catherine

    I’m certainly not offended by this post, even though I prefer dogs over cats. Don’t get me started on cute kittens…(mild humour intended)

    In any communication… written, verbal or visual, someone will always have a slightly different preference of how they interpret what’s expressed or have an alternate sensitivity level to what they have read, heard or seen. Ideally honest communication is where an exchange of ideas stimulates something good. I think I may be a tad naive when I’m surprised by how some (only some) people react to difference with venom.

    I’ve found truth in that saying, that you can’t please all the people all the time.

    I can say this from the safe position of never having had a slew of ‘easily offended people’ come after me though.

    I’m very glad to see you blogging Tess. I’m also pleased that out of a less than pleasant set of circumstances, you were able to find some joy.

  5. Wilfred Bereswill

    EOP – A new acronym. Welcome Tess. I still live mostly in the corporate world with my first novel almost peeking it’s pages over the horizon. I learned some time ago to be careful what you write. My revelation came with an e-mail. It’s a long story, a blog in itself, that started with a pasted article from a China newpaper topped with a smart-ass comment by me. I sent it to two people in the neighboring cubicles.

    A week later, I received an email with the same smart-ass subject only it had grown to 4 pages with responses from every VP and EIP (Extremely Important Person, namely the CEO’s Sister who works here).

    Nobody ever said a word about my comments on the e-mail, the entire subject revolved around the article. With that said, I NEVER send an e-mail without first taking a deep breath, re-reading it and considering the words.

    BTW, I completely understood and support your side of the aforementioned controversy.

  6. Kaye Barley

    Welcome! I must live on another planet, or a parallel universe. Am I the only person on earth who missed this whole controversy? and here I thought I knew everything. dang. Tess, I’m sorry for whatever it was that made you give up your blog, and certainly hope this will be a happier experience for you. I think Murderati is a very special place, and I’ll just bet you’ll love it here.

  7. neil nyren

    Welcome back, Tess! It’s good to see you blogging again and to see you back in the conference swing. I’m hardly the public person any of the Murderati writers are, but I’ve run into my share of EOPs in my time, too, and…life is just too short. Never let the numbskulls keep you from what you enjoy!

  8. DebbyJ

    Hi Tess,Glad you’re out of the cave. I was a big lurker on your old blog and was sad to see you and the blog go. Don’t worry about the EOP. Who needs them anyway?

  9. toni

    Welcome to Murderati, Tess. I have long admired your forthright ability to open up subjects that people often shy away from, and handle them with precision and care and empathy. I think I learned more from your blog than I did my MFA classes. 😉

    (I have been in the middle of heated discussions elsewhere where the other person rephrased what I said…. or argued of what they heard I’d said… which was entirely different than what I had actually said. There is nothing more frustrating than getting skewered for a stance one did not take to begin with. I don’t mind being skewered for what I did say or believed. And I’m perfectly capable for saying dumb things and not thinking something through and deserving of a skewer or two. But at least skewer me for the mistakes I made, not the imaginary ones.)

    I have been impressed and grateful that the readers here have always been thoughtful and kind. We’ve certainly had disagreements, which, frankly, keep the place interesting, but we’ve had a lot of fun, too. I’m certain you’re going to find yourself most welcome here and, should disagreements arise, as they will over any variety of discussions, that the disagreements will be articulate and without rancor.

  10. R.J. Mangahas

    So glad to see you back Tess. Unfortunately, I was a late comer to reading your blog and was disappointed to see it go because of some knuckleheads who decided that you are not allowed to say what’s on your mind.

    I think what offended me about that post awhile back was the fact that people slammed you for being honest. It’s real easy to be nasty hidden safely behind that keyboard. I think it took conviction on your part to speak your mind, and it’s unfortunate that people criticized you for that.

    I’m certainly not a public figure myself, but I at least have the guts NOT to leave an anonymous post whenever my opinion may not be the same of everyone else. Mind you, I don’t intentionally try to offend people, but it does happen. It seems to me no matter what anyone says, there is bound to be someone who gets offended.

    Again, welcome back and I’m looking forward to reading your posts.

  11. ArkansasCyndi

    Hi Tess. I’m one of Murderati’s lurkers. I read EVERY day but rarely post but I had to stick my head out of my cave and say welcome. I really miss your personal blog (was a lurker there too!) I did follow all the ridiculous outcry started on DA. Dumb dumb dumb. Your comments were taken so out of context. I was thrilled when it was announced you were coming on board here. I’ll look forward to your comments!

  12. Mark Terry

    I’m wondering: which did you have problems with, typing away while drinking gin & tonics, or typing away while in your underwear?

    Or was it the combination?

    My mind reels, because, after all… well, never mind.

    I wonder just how many of us have had some sort of experience of some sort that made us throw in the towel on some online venture and say, “Meh, life’s too short.”

    Mine was on DorothyL, where when someone was going on and on about the “rules of writing” I posted: “The only rule of writing is: don’t be boring.”

    Somebody felt motivated by that statement (which I still stand by) to e-mail me personally to tell me I was a bad use of bandwidth. To which I decided, “Meh, life’s too short.” Bye-bye, DL.

    I could see that happening with blogs, too. Sorry it happens, but, you know, life’s too short.

  13. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Gerritsen,Wow, it’s so awesome to have you blogging here. However, I’m a dog person. So if you start talking about how cute kitties are, I will throw up. Just fair warning. (kidding…sorta…)

    I like Ms. Sharp’s term. I’ve always called it “internet tough,” but it amounts to the same. Someone who could be 125 lbs or 325 lbs, it doesn’t matter which, sitting behind a desk and a screen and saying things they wouldn’t dare say publicly, let alone to your face. It just shows the lack of integrity that’s been bred into our society lately. I see it every day in school, where some of my students must re-learn what the right thing to do is (or learn it for the first time, because they apparently aren’t getting it at home). That’s the one thing I’ll say in my own defense…if you see something with my name on it online, you can bet I’d say the same thing no matter who’s around. It’s one thing to be rude, but quite another to be a rude coward.

    As for those EOP out there, I’ve grown so irritated with the lot of them that I just say, “Hey, your opinion doesn’t matter to me.” Well, what I actually say is usually only a two word sentence that ends with “off”, but the sentiment is about the same. And if there are any EOP who were EO by any post on here (mine included), well, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. Then grow up (or grow a set, whichever is necessary).

    Again, it’s wonderful to have you here, Ms. Gerritsen. Welcome welcome welcome!

  14. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Tess,It’s a joy and an honor to have you here. And, as Alex says, we’ve got your back. One of the most pleasant surprises here at Murderati is how incredibly civil, and just plain fun, the conversations can be.

    Here’s a story that will amuse you.A few months ago, I was interviewed for a radio program. My interviewer and I hit it off. She then went for another segment to Belen, NM, where I’ve set one of my books. She was interviewing a very famous feminist artist. When my new acquaintance mentioned me to the artist, the latter told her that she HATED me and my book and that she’d NEVER read my book. (So, how does she know she hates it?)

    Turns out she thinks it’s about her.It isn’t. She factored into my thoughts for about 23 seconds when I wrote it.

    EOPs are everywhere.Alex shows great compassion in her read of why they exist.

    I think indignation has become commonplace because it’s so much easier to jump to conclusions and be self-righteous than it is to actually pause and consider another POV.

  15. spyscribbler

    Welcome back, Tess! I’m so grateful you’re blogging again. 🙂

    To tell you the truth, I’ve watched a ton of blow-ups at writers. So many times, I end up thinking, “Man, if you’re a writer, you can’t say anything honest.”

    It’s something. Even though my above thought isn’t quite true, thankfully, it’s true often enough to make one wonder.

  16. Dana King

    Tess,We’ve not met, but your reputation precedes you from reading in blogs and on Crimespace what a sweetheart you are. It’s great to see you here and out of the cave.

    I guess the part that confuses me most is how much established professionals can be put off by a comment from even a questionable source. In a former life as a musician, I heard a story of Robert Shaw being unable to sleep because the Robert Shaw Chorale got a bad review in a college newspaper. Yes, the reviewer might have been right, but if I’m Robert Shaw, I can’t imaging getting too upset about what some twenty-year-old who may not even have been a music major said about me.

    The same goes for the unnamed author who virtually stalked the Amazon reviewer. Sure, people read the review, but you’re (INSERT ESTABLISHED AUTHOR NAME HERE) for crying out loud! The reviewer is some guy who doesn’t even use his real name for his reviews and might live in his parents’ basement and only dissed your book because he just got schooled at World of Warcraft. Ignore him. Life’s too short.

  17. billie

    I knew nothing about the controversy and was thrilled to learn you’d be blogging here at Murderati – and not only have you not offended, you have TOTALLY intrigued me:

    you have donkeys?!

    We bought a 6-month old miniature donkey for my 25-year old retired Hannoverian mare Salina earlier this year. She needed a companion for when the other horses leave the farm. His name is Rafer Johnson and he is the Ambassador of Love. I never knew donkeys were so amazing. Our second one, Redford, is coming the end of August.

    (sorry for the aside, but I couldn’t resist!!)

    Welcome to Murderati – my first blog read every morning. 🙂

  18. JT Ellison

    Tess, it is truly a joy to have you join the Murderati team!

    I too was upset when you shuttered your blog, because I’ve learned so much through your honest assessments of the industry. We look forward to more of that here.

    And apologies to everyone — Typepad had a massive hiccup earlier, but it seems they’ve gotten everything straightened out now.

  19. Louise Ure

    Welcome to my Tuesday partner, Tess!

    Your post today is almost the flip side of mine from last Tuesday: do we as authors need to bare our souls publicly to our readers?

    I love the perspective and honesty you’ve brought to the blog — even the first time out.

    Thanks for joining us.

  20. tess gerritsen

    Thank you so much for the amazing welcome from everyone — I loved it here as a blog-reader and I feel honored to now be part of the team!

    And as for donkeys — yes indeed, I have four of them. Two are miniatures and two are big ol’ standards. They are such sweet, serene animals. Added plus: I never again have to buy manure for my garden.

  21. B.G. Ritts

    Welcome to the ‘Rati, Tess! It’s wonderful having you added to my favorite blog.

    “Is it safe to come out?” I certainly hope so. You have always shown exceptional insight in your writing. Whether some EOP can grasp that or not is another matter — rarely can everyone be kept happy.

    And I wholeheartedly agree that kitty cats are cute!

  22. Rae

    Hi Tess,

    Glad to see you here. Love “EOP” and am adopting it immediately 😉 Another word that comes to mind on this topic was coined, I believe, by Berke Breathed of “Bloom County” fame. It’s “offensensitivity” – pretty descriptive, I think, especially when it comes to EOPs….

  23. Tom Barclay

    It’s a glorious day when we see you here, Tess. Hooray, hoorah, huzzah!!

    Donkeys. Right. Dusty’s llama, Lloogie, needs some company. That might be the solution.

  24. John S

    Tess, we are all so glad to have you here and we look forward to hearing from you weekly.

    Until your next post, I have bookmarked your post on Writing the Second Draft at your old blog. I’m STILL writing mine…!

  25. Carol

    Everyone has the right to their own opinion and/point of view so when I read a blog I try to look at both sides and am not easily offended. I would, however, love to read a blog about the cuteness of kitty cats! I love kitty cats! 🙂

  26. joe bernstein

    Hi Tess-great to see you’re dipping your toe back in the water.Your donkeys do get offended by porcupines as I recall.I blog quite a bit in Rhode Island and I piss some people off.So I always use my real name because sniping anonymously is cowardly.One night there was a gathering of people I am seriously at odds with-I just showed up and took on all comers eye to eye.I had no one on my side.It was fun.One of my nemeses said he was surprised I would do that-I answered that compared to some of the people I dealt with this was like grade school kids.They wound up offering to buy me drinks,but I made do with a self-purchased Diet Coke(yech!0

  27. Becky Hutchison

    Hi Tess! I’m so glad you’re back with the blogging world and posting your opinions for all of us Murderati readers to see. (I had been reading your blog for a week or so when all the backlash started. I thought your opinion on the Amazon stalker issue was pretty funny and IMHO very true.)

    I hope you enjoy blogging at Murderati. Although I only backblog occasionally, I read it every day. For me, the main attraction is the informative and healthy exchange of opinions by the bloggers and backbloggers. Every day I learn something new from Murderati –thanks to the free-flow of ideas. So I look forward to your insight and frivolity…and definitely your opinions! 😉

  28. Rob Gregory Browne

    Welcome, welcome, welcome.

    Why is it that some people are so easily offended and others aren’t? It takes a helluva lot to offend me. Racism. Sexism. Yes. But expressing an opinion about someone’s reaction to a review? Ohhhh, the horror.

    I think a lot of the time the outrage is phony. A way to get attention, perhaps. I’m no psychologist. But my response to such people is to simply say, get over it.

    Again, welcome, Tess. It’s great to have you here.

  29. Brett Battles

    I’m a little late to the party today, but I am SO glad you decided to join us. And so glad you came out of your cave. Everything you said before ran absolutely true to me.

    You are and have always been one of the great ones!

  30. Tammy Cravit

    Last I checked, no nation’s constitution includes the right not to be offended. Like my friend Jayne says, we all need to put on our big girl panties and act like grown-ups. Maybe I need to send Jayne over to have a chat with the EOPs…

    I also agree that kitty cats are cute, despite the fact that I’m violently and dangerously allergic to them (they trigger severely unpleasant asthma attacks). But I’m sure those in your post are hypo-allergenic.

  31. Roberta Isleib

    The murderati folks are lucky to have you aboard Tess! I have greatly admired your honesty about writing and the business of getting published on your blog–look forward to more of it here!

  32. Elaine Flinn

    So very late to the party myself, Tess. Been out of town, but didn’t want to miss telling you how happy I am to see you back on the net.

    And I LOVE ‘EOP’ – seems I have a penchant for running into those folks myself. But what the hell, huh? Just do me a favor – don’t change. I love you the way you are. Honesty vs a book sale? Ha! I’ll take honesty every time.

  33. PK the Bookeemonster

    Tess, if you go into your cave, they win. If you aren’t ashamed of what you said then don’t take on another person’s burden. What are they going to do, fire you? You have multiple others who enjoy what you write, so why let one person have all the power?PK the Bookeemonster


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