I rest easy in the long, lonesome place between completing a novel and making the sale, all thanks to a forum troll.
It’s not fun, mind you. Agents queried thus far have passed. Contests and direct submissions aren’t panning out either. It’s disappointing, but it’s just business, and these people are polite and professional.
I rest easy mainly because I have faith in the project but also because a troll fulfilled his role. I’m inoculated. If my own dear mother called to say I should give up this writing business, I would smile and nod and keep right on doing what I do.
But let me just tell you the story:
In 2009, my favorite online home-away-from-home was a fan forum for XTC (the band, not the drug). This unique bunch, XTC fans of all ages from Scandinavia to the Antipodes, are by far the wittiest, most knowledgeable and kindest online family it’s ever been my pleasure to meet. I count several of them as “actual” friends, not just online friends, and in the days before Facebook, we shared personal details on the forum we wouldn’t share online today. It’s a pretty tight group.
I took several months offline to complete the first draft of The Drowning God, a paranormal thriller. When I got back online, I was eager to tell my fellow fans about the novel and other projects. It went something like:
(between chapters of The Drowning God)… I also wrote something much more Gothic and ornate: an eight-part 1930s-serial-style Lovecraft Mythos/Clive Barker mash-up. It’s about 18k of crazy layered with Lovecraftian paranoid prose, teased with a dash of Borges, and topped with Stephen King/Michael Crichton “actual doc” verisimilitude frosting. Yum.
Yes, this was very silly (although it’s an accurate description of In the Red, my 2009 novella), but keep in mind that these are my people. We’re the last hardcore fans of XTC, a British punk band that went pastoral and even orchestral and survived till 2006, and we’ve survived with them. On that level — our shared obsession with the sublime and sometimes frightening music of Andy Partridge and XTC — no one understands us as we understand one another. So silliness is not out of bounds there. We’re an odd online family, but family’s what we are.
Except for one spiteful and maladjusted bastard stepchild who called himself H0neyc0mb Jack. Jack lurked on the “friends” forum, which he had chosen not to join. He responded the next day on the “official” forum, an entirely different entity:
Good to be back! I’ve been away researching my new novel and its a spinecrackler! At least three (Count’em, losers) internet publisher ibook download companies have picked up on the idea and guess what?! I’ve actually written it and people are telling me it IS good! I cannot believe I am this close to the Booker Prize at age fifty . My first novel!!! Based on black and white films catapulted into a Die Hard present mixed with Sopranos vava voom and tossed off with words written in another style, I cannot BELIEVE the hum it is stirring . If you had asked me at age seventeen when the sap was still rising if I could have written anything so erudite and funny and musical and in touch; well, I would have said…NO WAY
Thanks for the support guys, because without you all,there is no way I would have written this
Juvenile mockery, but it was good enough. The troll fulfilled his role.
Familiar and not-very-interesting troll strategies here:
• posting on a different forum for deniability (“Dear boy, my post had nothing to do with you! Just trumpeting my successes and whatnot. But what is this? Do you scribble as well? What a coincidence!”)
• exaggerating the target’s claims (“But of course you’re shooting for the Booker Prize, old sock. What young Turk like yourself would not?”)
• and the troll’s best game, playing on my perceived weaknesses: academia’s scorn of genre writing, the rapidly changing publishing market, my advanced years (I was 47 at the time, not 50), my lack of contacts, and my wide-eyed naïveté.
I kept on writing and submitting. Several friends PM’d to commiserate about his unwarranted cross-forum cruelty, but I held my tongue. That in itself was unusual. At the time, I loved an occasional wee online dust-up, and I’ve never been one to let a bully have the last word, online or off. But this was different because there was something to be learned here. This troll had touched a nerve somehow, and I sucked it all in and examined it instead of lashing out.
I kept on writing and submitting. I looked up the Booker Prize to see how hard he was mocking me.
And I kept on writing and submitting. With a full-time job, a new baby, three moves, and an overlong sojourn in the barren gulag archipelago of for-the-love online litmags, I kept on writing and submitting. I joined a professional writing organization, The Horror Writers Association, and a couple of local writers’ clubs. I put out 80,000 words of short stories, essays, and reviews, and I polished The Drowning God to within an inch of its life.
That was the lesson. I kept on writing and submitting. Over time, the truth in the action dispelled the troll’s lies.
Think of it this way: every environment has a scavenger, a bottom-feeder that turns dead matter and excreta into energy. In the process, it removes toxins and debris to make room for new life.
Trolls and haters are good for the writer’s mental environment. They uncover the fears, thus helping to turn toxins and debris into new energy and new work.
Thank you, bottom-feeding scavengers.
Thank you, H0neyc0mb Jack, wherever you are.
As for Kendley Fiction, I will meet meaner, stronger, smarter trolls. That’s part of the deal.
I am rejected.
I am disappointed.
I am rejected.
I am disappointed.
I write for today. I also have hopes for the future, but I write for today.
Oh, the future:
Every dog has his day.
Kendleyness is next to dogliness.
Therefore, I will have my day.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
[update 10/11/2013: I wrote this post assuming that H0neyc0mb Jack pissed off into the ether on Jan. 31, 2011 either because he tired of trolling well-adjusted adults or because forum admins finally booted him. However, astute forum members correlated Jack's disappearance with the suicide of a long-time XTC fan, a man with a similarly troubled online history. Honeycomb Jack seems to have taken his own life. Weirder still: at one point, the troubled XTC fan in question, the man who was probably Honeycomb Jack, friended me on Facebook.]