Today Teresa Nielsen Hayden expends a considerable amount of verbiage pounding on someone who wrote her a letter taking her to task for calling a writer an “idiot,” because apparently as an editor (and an editor of science fiction books, of all things), she’s not allowed to say anything bad about writers, and certainly not publicly. Teresa corrects this impression, primarily by noting that, in fact, she can say anything she wants, so there (however, she does it in a much more compelling style).
Normally I wouldn’t say anything about this — Teresa pounds on the arrogant and clueless on a regular basis — but given her description of the letter writer, I’m pretty sure I know who it is. Teresa noted that the fellow was given to trashing writers himself: “The most notable instance I found was back in 2003, when he devoted considerable column space to trashing an author whose novels Patrick had bought a few months earlier.” I suspect the author referred to is me. If so, it narrows down the field of possible candidates for the identity of the letter writer. As Teresa has not outed her letter writer, I won’t out him either, except to note he’s commented here before and I’ve linked to his site on at least one occasion (interestingly, to an entry where he expended considerable column space trashing my writing. I’m just perverse that way). If I’m wrong about this, I’m sure this person will let me know.
I don’t doubt the letter writer will be upset that a private letter has been slapped up on the ‘net and publicly beaten like a pińata (he was distressed when I linked to his opinion piece about the quality of my writing), but one of the truths of online communication is that everything eventually shows up there. People also have sliding scales regarding what is public communication and what is private. Some people will post any e-mail they get, some will post it if they don’t specifically refer to the person who sent it, and others regard all e-mail as private unless otherwise stated.
I fall into the last camp myself, but there’s nothing wrong with the other two policies, and one ought not assume that just because you assume an e-mail message is private that the recipient will do the same. So, in short, never write anything in e-mail form that you’re not willing to have splashed on the Web and ridiculed. I imagine that might trim down the amount of e-mail out there. Actually, I imagine it won’t. Although maybe it should.
Regarding the content of the letter itself: Eh. I’ll leave it to Teresa and her unnamed correspondent to hash it out. However, I do think Teresa has an obvious point in that her quasi-public persona as a Tor editor does not prevent her from saying what she wants, how she wants to say it, in her own private Web space (“private” meaning privately-owned). One does not take a vow of silence when entering the editing field — even (as apparently presumed by Teresa’s correspondent) a subsection as lowly as editing science fiction. In any event, if one were entirely circumscribed in one’s speech by one’s work, the online world would be far less interesting, and a great deal less contentious. And in this specific case Teresa’s not even bagging on a writer to whom she owes some duty (as she might with a writer whose book Tor has purchased and she is editing); she’s just responding to some guy. Really, what’s the problem.
(Apropos to this, however: Teresa, if you’re reading this, should you ever feel the need to publicly nail my hide to the wall, by all means go right ahead. I won’t presume any public disagreements we might have would impinge on your ability to do your job as it relates to any work of mine you have in front of you. You’re far too professional and competent for that. So that solves that.)
In all, a fun little tempest in a teacup. Check it out.
Update: Talked with Teresa. Yeah, it’s the same guy.