Monthly Archives: June 2009

Alice Hoffman and the Boston Globe

Based on commentary here, here, here, here, etc., I gather I’m not the only writer with a reaction to Alice Hoffman’s recent reaction to a negative(ish) review by author Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe. In case you missed the details, Hoffman took her complaint to Twitter, “tweeting” 27 comments in response to the review. Hoffman has since yanked her Twitter account, but Gawker gives you the gist.

Like probably every writer, when I first saw the headline, “Novelist Uses to Twitter to Trash Critic,” I immediately had painful flashbacks to my most rage-inducing review. The review, the only negative one I received among several handfuls of glowing ones, began, “Reviewers have been unkind to [title].” I continue to believe that statement is libelous, and for a day and a half, I told my agent, editor, and anyone who would listen so. I even started to draft a letter to the publication, complete with copies of every (did I mention glowing?) review of the book, daring the reviewer to identify the source of what seemed like a factual statement, not an opinion.

See? As much as writers say they don’t care about reviews, that sh*t still hurts. So when I saw the first online teaser about Hoffman blasting a reviewer, part of me wanted to cheer her own. Yeah, sister, you tell ’em.

But then I read the content.

Some of the doozies? “Roberta Silman of the Boston Globe is a moron.” “Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann [sic] Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?” And worst of all, “If you want to tell Roberta Silman off her phone is xxx.” She also threw in Silman’s email address for good measure but misspelled the domain name.

There’s something intensely personal and aggressive about Hoffman’s response. Never mind that one of Hoffman’s own forays into the book reviewing biz, a negative NY Times review of a Richard Ford book, drove the author and his wife to shoot copies of Hoffman’s books. And never mind that the answer to “So who is Roberta Silman?” turns out to be recipient of a Guggenheim and NEA Fellowship, accomplished short story author, and so on. Even if Silman were some pajama-clad, basement-dwelling blogger (gasp!), Hoffman’s attack on her would be disturbing.

Posting the woman’s direct contact information and encouraging your vast world of followers to “tell her off”? At the very least, it smacks of a (far more talented) B-list celebrity excoriating a club doorman: “Do you realize who I am?” From a darker perspective, it reminds me of the non-physical but nonetheless abusive power plays I saw as a prosecutor in domestic violence cases, intended to belittle, debase, and intimidate.

Pushing the send key too quickly in the internet age is nothing new or unimaginable. Hell, I might regret posting this the second I hit “publish.” But 27 tweets? That’s a little nuts.

Hoffman owes the reviewer a better apology than this. It got “completely blown out of proportion?” “In the heat of the moment?” “Of course I was dismayed” by Silman? “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone?” And of course the obligatory, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone.”

I’m flashing back again, but this time to sentencing hearings when I was a prosecutor. Those are precisely the kinds of apology-sounding but non-apologetic statements that would bring down a judge’s hammer. Hoffman apologizes to her readers, whom she hopes will “understand,” but never apologizes to Silman. Instead, she repeats her allegation that Silman provoked her rage by giving away spoilers in her review. (Yeah, that was her problem with the review.)

Alice Hoffman’s a true talent. She knows how to use her words. She should use them to make right with a fellow writer who didn’t deserve to have her phone number tweeted.

If you enjoyed this post, please follow me at Twitter and Facebook. (I’m now turning the ringer off my phone.)

Introducing Ellie Hatcher and Mickey Haller

Nope, no collaboration between me and Michael Connelly (shoot!). But I did have to share this photograph of new kittens Ellie Hatcher Spitzer (calico) and Mickey Haller Spitzer (orange tabby). They belong to my and Michael Connelly’s mutual agent and his family (whose previous cats were Dave and Samantha).

I’ll confess that every time I look at Ellie and Mickey together, I’ll be fantasizing about a book in which their fictional namesakes meet.

Are Young-Adult Authors Role Models

When I read about James Frey’s collaboration on a series of young adult novels, I found myself immediately irritated. Frey’s bestselling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was exposed as wildly exaggerated if not wholly fabricated. In a world where even respected editors admit plagiarizing Wikipedia, and where every year as a professor I have to explain to a law student the difference between paraphrasing and verbatim quotations without quote marks, do we really need the literary world’s most infamous fibber to become the next generation’s C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, or J.K. Rowling?

But then as a writer, I found myself questioning my first instincts. Had it been up to him, he would have sold A Million Little Pieces as a novel, but publishers only wanted it as a memoir. Sure, he should have put down his foot and cleared up the record, but wouldn’t other struggling writers be tempted? And he has paid a price for his mistake. This country doesn’t imprison writers who lie, but I’d rather be sent to the clink than face the wrath of Oprah. Her on-air excoriation of Frey is the closest thing I’ve seen to a contemporary flogging.

Writers write, even the ones who screwed up. Is he supposed to suppress his urge and his talent for the rest of his life because of one (colossal) error in judgment?

But then, in my ever-Cybil-like way, I found the original, disgusted me arguing with my newly sympathetic me. James Frey isn’t just any writer. His million little fabrications were on Oprah, for pete’s sake. The book sold more than five million copies worldwide, topping the New York Times bestsellers list for fifteen consecutive weeks.

And as the fiction writer he’s always been, Frey has apparently found redemption. His novel, Bright Shiny Morning, reportedly earned him a million dollar advance and debuted at #9 on the New York Times list. Can’t he continue to write for adults? Does he have to move into the lucrative young adult market, selling the movie rights to Dreamworks before the book has even been sold?

I didn’t buy a copy of A Million Little Pieces, and I don’t have children. But if I had and did, I don’t know how I’d feel if Frey’s latest venture becomes the franchise he’s envisioning. On the one hand, any author who gets a kid to read a book is making the world a better place. On the other, we don’t need any more little fibbers out there. The question, I suppose, is whether the target audience for this new book — young adults — can distinguish the work from the author. My guess is they can. Still, I have to admit, watching that guy get richer annoys the heck out of me.

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Michael Connelly on up-to-the-minute changes

The Washington Post had a terrific profile this week on Michael Connelly. I was especially interested in the last minute changes he had to make to The Scarecrow after the Rocky Mountain News, which he references in the novel, ceased to exist just before print day.

I’ve also had to make changes to novels because of real world developments. My next novel, 212, has a plot line involving an actual website devoted to mean-spirited, anonymous college gossip. It bodes well for humanity that the website has gone under, but it did require me to fictionalize the name of the site. Luckily, the book wasn’t on its way to the printer like Michael’s. The fact that he could fix it in one page as he did shows he’s a master. Have you read The Scarecrow yet? It’s another terrific Connelly novel.

In other news, I have a new Facebook Page. Please follow me there!

The Things I Write

I had the privilege this week of meeting Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming memoir, The Happiness Project. Like me, Gretchen is a former lawyer. She went to a pretty decent school called Yale. When I told her that I was working on an essay for the law journal she previously edited, she congratulated me wholeheartedly, noting that it wasn’t an easy publication to land.

Two days later the conversation has me thinking once again about my life as a writer. It makes sense to me. I grew up with a father who was a writer and a mother who was a school librarian. Of course I sit at a desk all day in my sweats and write words. What else would I possibly do?

My life as a writer makes sense to me even though the content of the words changes wildly from day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute. Sometimes I’m working on the fiction that has led to five thriller novels. Other times I’m working on the articles about prosecutorial power that got me tenure as a professor at Hofstra Law School. Either way, I’m writing.

I’ve noticed, however, that other people find my work puzzling. How can I write both fiction and legal scholarship? How can I wear such different hats? Most daunting of all, they ask: How long can I continue to have two jobs?

Two jobs. Wow. That sounds hard.

Some days, the rare ones when I feel sorry for myself, I find my thoughts moving in that direction. I allow myself to feel pulled in two. I make what I do seem complicated. I let myself feel like Cybil, but with a MacBook Air.

But after my conversation with Gretchen, I’ve vowed to set that stinkin’ thinkin’ aside. I am a writer, pure and simple. And real writers write. A lot. About different subjects, in different formats, for different audiences, and sometimes just for ourselves. If I wrote only fiction, couldn’t I knock myself around for writing both the Ellie Hatcher and Samantha Kincaid series, as well as the occasional short story and blog post? If I wrote only as an academic, might I wonder whether I should write only pure theory or get out there in the real world as a pundit/practitioner?

My way of being a writer might not make sense to other people, but I’m continually surprised by how well it works for me. My loftier thoughts about the criminal justice system find their way into the stories of Ellie and Samantha. Translating police and court procedures into stories about actual people makes me a better classroom teacher and academic. My book friends, like my new friend Gretchen, are much more impressed by my academic life than my academic friends are, while my academic colleagues marvel that I publish thrillers. Meanwhile, I’m in awe of all of them because they are writers, too, and I know that all writers, no matter what they are writing, have to work hard.

I finished my first book by telling myself I was a writer. I need to continue to treat myself as one. No pats on the back, but also no apologies or explanations. I’m a writer who writes what I know. That’s not going to change.

Free Books on Facebook

I have a new author Page on Facebook, where I’ll announce all new books, appearances, have contests, post video interviews, and talk about books and writing. I hope you’ll join my Page. To get things started, I’ll be having a raffle to give away five signed copies of Angel’s Tip to friends who join my new Page. Just join me there and write on the wall saying you’re a reader by Monday, Jun 22, and you’ll be entered. Winners can choose either paperback or hardback.

Here’s the link to the new page.


New Online Interview

My friend and fellow author, D.P. Lyle, MD, was kind enough to interview me for The Writer’s Forensic Blog. In the interview, I talk about the connection between Angel’s Tip and the murder of Imette St. Guillen, my writing approach to forensics, and why my next book should feature a crime writer -law professor who wins the lottery.

Read the full interview here.