On Jacqueline Howett

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Braak
Tags: , , ,

Maybe you’ve heard of this crazy lady who responded very poorly to a review of her book.  Maybe you haven’t.  If you haven’t, here’s the upshot:  some people are crazy and respond poorly to negative reviews. 


I know, right?

If you have heard about it, and you’ve responded to it with anything other than “aw, that’s kind of sad that she’s completely nuts,” or maybe you clicked on it out of morbid curiosity, read a little, and THEN said, “aw, that’s kind of sad that she’s completely nuts”, then there’s something I think we can all keep in mind:

No one is impressed with how you can kick someone where they’re down.

Seriously, it’s one thing to righteously smack someone down when they’re giving you a hard time.  It’s another to join in on a dogpile.  Dogpiles are for cowards and for fascists.

And it’s completely another if you’re a famous author with a million followers to feed that dogpile.  For real, NEIL GAIMAN?  I’m defending some poor crazy lady from NEIL GAIMAN?

Yes.  Dude.  Don’t be a bully.  What the hell are you doing?  When you’ve got a million followers eager to do anything that might possibly earn your approval, then you’ve got a fucking responsibility to not pick on people.

Lay off.

  1. T/M. Roy says:

    Good on you.

    Enough is enough.

  2. Well said. I suspect Mr. Gaiman regrets his tweet. He does care for bees, after all.

  3. Evil Wylie says:

    I don’t think that Neil Gaiman is encouraging anyone to “dogpile” by pointing out the author’s misbehavior. He pointed it out as an example of behavior to avoid. As he tweeted, “if one up and coming author remembers it and bites her tongue at a bad review, it’ll be worth it.” I agree with him–this is a learning lesson.

  4. I’m a regular reader of Neil’s Twitter feed and journal, and I missed his being a bully. I noticed that he mentioned Howett in his Twitter feed and offered some advice to writers on responding as Howett did to reviews (“Don’t do it. Just…don’t.), but I think your calling him a “bully” drastically overstates the case. It’s not like he insulted the woman’s book or grammar. He just said don’t respond to reviews like she did.

    Which is actually pretty damned good advice.

  5. Kim says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. There are mugs out there making fun of her. MUGS. Why? Why even bother?

  6. Yeah … a certain amount of personal responsibility was laid aside there.

  7. Moff says:

    Seriously. It would be nice if the Internet’s ability to form instant hit squads were used more often to, say, demolish opposition to net neutrality or gay marriage, instead of piling on top of already clearly not-entirely-well people like Jacqueline Howett and the Cooks Source lady.

  8. braak says:

    @Will: Your point, while considered, seems disingenuous. Really, “don’t respond to book reviews like this”? That’s a point he needed to illustrate to a million and a half people? It’s a valuable object lesson that all of his followers were desperately in search of? Did they read that exchange and say to themselves, “Oh, THAT’S what I’ve been doing wrong”?

    The more power you have, the more careful you have to be. I can write a whole couple of paragraphs trashing Neil Gaiman, and not have to worry that I’ve harmed him in any significant way; for someone with a million and a half readers, even pointing to something like this can constitute a kind of cruelty.

  9. Mac says:


  10. Mac says:

    Although…it’s a brilliant marketing ploy. Maybe I should try it. Someone write a bad review for me!

  11. “That’s a point he needed to illustrate to a million and a half people?”

    Obviously, some people–like Ms. Howett, for example–were unaware of the point, so who knows how many people could have used said illustration?

    Your point seems ill-considered. There are plenty of people who are actually bullies. Neil isn’t one, and by labeling him one, you’re crying wolf.

  12. braak says:

    Who knows how many? Who knows indeed? My bet is that Neil Gaiman doesn’t know how many of his followers needed this advice; my bet is that he’s never done a head count or a survey to see just how many of those million and a half people were neurotics and how many were closet-case bullies. My bet is that he didn’t give this a moment’s thought, because if he had given it a moment’s thought, he’d have realized that the people most in need of the advice “don’t have a nervous breakdown in public about a bad review” are the people least likely to heed even an object lesson — they’d be people like, as you say, Jacqueline Howett, unable to learn much of anything despite the reasonably-levied arguments and the collective calumny of the internet.

    But I didn’t say that Neil Gaiman was a bully, I said that he was acting like a bully. I’m sure that he is a nice person, who loves his family, and has compassion. I don’t think he acted out of malice, I think he acted out of carelessness and this is precisely my point: that there is no consequent difference between carelessly pointing out to the wolves a woman in the throes of a public breakdown, and maliciously feeding her to them for their daily sport.

    There are two things required for a person to be bullied; the first is malice on behalf of some. The second is a casual disregard for all our shared humanity on behalf of the rest. It is this disregard that permits bullying, and it’s that permissiveness for which I’m criticizing Neil Gaiman (and, frankly, anyone else who helps feed that pile). Because I believe that to be insufficiently good is to do wrong, and the measure of that wrongdoing is directly concomitant with the capacity for good.

    If you have the power to stand up for someone who’s being picked on and you don’t do it, then you’re helping the bullies, and that means that you are acting a like a bully, whether it’s malicious or not.

  13. Evil Wylie says:

    Neil Gaiman isn’t the one calling people “rats” and “snakes.” It’s well within his rights to call out such behavior, on the part of another author, as unacceptable. I doubt Neil realized she was a self-published author or that he had the time to read all 300+ comments within that review’s thread to see how vicious the discussion had already become. Neil is a professional author, and he criticized another author whose behavior he found abhorrent and insulting to the profession of writing.

  14. magpie says:

    Neil is not a bully. You are just as over-reactive as the unhinged author.

  15. braak says:

    @Wylie: I think if you don’t have the time to fully apprehend a situation, that’s something you should take into consideration before you pass it on to a million and a half people.

    @magpie: True! I am intemperate, and probably a little ways unhinged myself. Though I, at least, have the decency to be that way in the privacy of my own…home. Blog? Space.

  16. “that there is no consequent difference between carelessly pointing out to the wolves a woman in the throes of a public breakdown, and maliciously feeding her to them for their daily sport.”

    The main issue at point seems to be that Neil Gaiman doesn’t have a private life. Or rather, he doesn’t have a private internet presence. One thing I really enjoy following both him, Moffat and Gatiss is the occasional conversations they have over twitter. They can be entertaining and make me feel like one of a privileged million or so.

    You could easily argue that due to his blog and his tweeting, it’s become his choice. And I have no response, because I’m not defending his actions, as I can’t think of why it was important to draw attention to something the internet hordes have already caught on to. I do however want to support the above quoted passage, what should matter more to people is the consequential difference, not the intended perspective. And, well, you’d think writers would know about consequences more than most.

  17. Anna says:

    Hear, hear, Braak. I didn’t really pay attention to this whole thing, but I do wholeheartedly agree with you on the point re: Neil Gaiman. Once you have notoriety, you have a responsibility to consider your public statements and what impact they will have. It’s the same issue I have with the PA rape-wolves debacle. You are a “public figure” in that you hold sway over the opinions of people in the public, therefore you can’t say anything you want (publicly) and expect people not to react.

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