Return Home

J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Solitary House  Lynn Shepherd-smallLynn Shepherd’s latest novel The Solitary House, set in the gas-lit world of London in 1850, features a pair of detectives — one of whom appears to be suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s — in the employ of a powerful financier with a dark past. It sounds fascinating, actually, exactly the kind of book I’d be interested in reading.

Of course, that was before she took a swipe at the world’s most popular fantasy writer in an ill-conceived and mean-spirited article last week at The Huffington Post, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.”

I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them… But The Casual Vacancy changed all that… That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere… what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

And then there was the whole Cuckoo’s Calling saga… The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books — just as well-written, and just as well-received — to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do.

Now Rowling’s legions of fans are venting their anger at Shepherd in a cascade of 1-star reviews at Amazon,com, which are quickly overwhelming legitimate reviews of the book. As of this morning, there are 59; here are just a few snippets from the more entertaining examples.

This was one of the first 1-star reviews, published February 24:

Haven’t read it, but bear with me
By Samantha Davila
No, I’ve not read it…  I can, however, give Ms. Shepherd a taste of her own medicine. She published a confounding, maddeningly wrongheaded “Plea” to JK Rowling on the Huffington Post, advising Ms. Rowling to stop writing “Grown-up books” and go back to writing Young Adult fiction. Bear in mind that she… proudly claims in the very first paragraph to have never read a single word of Rowling’s work…
She is actively bringing down the entire institution of writing with her asininity… She only had to read a bit of ONE JK Rowling book to have at least SOME kind of legitimacy, but I guess that would’ve been too much trouble.

Here’s a sample of the ones posted just yesterday.

Portrait of the author as an embittered hack
By Ron Keller
Apparently, Ms. Shepherd doesn’t feel the need to read anything by authors whose work she deems unnecessary, so I hope she will indulge me if I do the same. In light of her recent HuffPo commentary, in which I hear she reveals herself to be a bitter, spiteful, no-talent hack, I would advise her to please free up some of amazon’s pixels and cease writing post haste…

Never read a single word
By S. Alex Martin
Didn’t read this book, but obviously I don’t have to in order to judge it. This author is jealous of more successful people. If you want success, how about you write better books appeal to people?… Now get over yourself and go write more stuff that I won’t read.

Didn’t read this… but DID read the HufPo piece…
By Rog O
I have a 6 year old daughter. If I am fated to do ONE thing for her, may it be to ensure she doesn’t fool herself into thinking this world or anything in it OWES her an iota of success… If I get a chance to do TWO things for my daughter, may the second thing be to teach her not to waste time on envy….
Shame on you Ms. Shepherd and shame on whichever adult gave young Lynn the loser attitude you exhibit.

I don’t need…
By Daniela
to read a book to review it…
This woman should have refrained from writing this book in order to give other books a chance to be read.

Nope
By Christine Foley
Terrible story. There are stories so much better for adults to read, that will stimulate their mind.
Haven’t read the book, though.

Read the complete set at the Amazon listing.

The Cuckoos CallingIronically, the flurry of attention and reviews has greatly increased the book’s profile on Amazon, proving the adage there’s no such thing as negative publicity.

Much of the outrage seems to stem from readers’ discovery that Shepherd isn’t simply a columnist with an axe to grind, but a crime writer trying to sell her own novels. Cranky reviewers we’re used to (yes, even ones that don’t bother to read). But if you’re going to throw mud at a popular writer, it helps not to look like a bitterly jealous rival while you’re doing it.

Still, I think Shepherd has well and truly learned her lesson at this point. There haven’t been any additional 1-star reviews posted in some time; perhaps Amazon has stepped in to stop them or perhaps the fan rage has simply spent. (You’re right — I laughed out loud when I wrote that. If there’s a true source of perpetual energy in the universe, it’s fan rage.)

But public shaming like this truthfully isn’t very effective. Yes, part of me enjoyed seeing Lynn Shepherd get her comeuppance in public, and where it matters most. But this isn’t instructive. It’s bullying.

The heart of this vindictive impulse is to teach the victim a lesson. But mostly, what public shaming like this does is teach about the mindless destructiveness of the mob. True instruction comes from dialog. And there’s no dialog here — just lashing out at a writer who made a mistake and is now paying a very steep price for it.

As for me, true instruction seems to come from reading. I think maybe I’ll read The Solitary House. Cause, I dunno, it looked pretty good.

But first, I’m going to read J.K. Rowling’s Cuckoo’s Calling. Because when all of this dust settles, I trust that woman to tell me a helluva story. And she earned that trust the hard way.

31 Comments »

  1. Interesting article John.

    I guess I kind of find it hard to sympathize with Shepherd. Her column smacks of envy, pettiness, desperation, and sour grapes of the worst kind. And straight-up ignorance- saying it’s a shame that adults are reading novels which, by her own admission, she has no clue of the quality of, having not read them.

    It’s weird, the cover and synopsis of Shepherd’s book look pretty interesting, but at this point I don’t think I’ll be reading anything from her.

    Comment by Golgonooza - February 26, 2014 3:17 pm

  2. Her condescending tone aside, Shepherd’s article is so wrong-headed as to be whiningly myopic.

    Stephen King didn’t take away the market from other horror writers; he made the market bigger, and dozens of authors whose works otherwise likely would have never seen print were published. Rowling’s books, likewise, turned on a whole generation to fantasy — thank you, J.K., for creating this new mass audience for us! — and we might imagine that her now writing detective fiction will draw new readers to that genre who otherwise would have never bought a crime novel — not Sheperd’s, not anyone’s.

    So, yeah, after a diatribe that severely illogical, I’m not terribly interested in reading anything by this author that involves characters using logic to solve crimes.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - February 26, 2014 3:42 pm

  3. Golgonooza,

    Oh, I’m certainly not saying that you should have any sympathy for Shepherd. Or arguing with your assessment of her.

    I’m just asking fans to stop leaving a 1-star review for a book they haven’t read.

    Here’s an idea — and I know it’s crazy — but how about we trying assessing a work on its merits?

    All the bullies piling on Shepherd’s book are trying to teach her a lesson: don’t judge Rowling’s books without reading them. And they’re doing it by judging a book without reading it.

    This is not instructive.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 26, 2014 3:45 pm

  4. If only the Beatles hadn’t been so big, then maybe other rock bands might have prospered…

    Comment by Nick Ozment - February 26, 2014 3:48 pm

  5. Nick,

    > Stephen King didn’t take away the market from other horror writers; he made the market bigger, and dozens of
    > authors whose works otherwise likely would have never seen print were published.

    Yup.

    > So, yeah, after a diatribe that severely illogical, I’m not terribly interested in reading anything by this author that involves characters using logic to solve crimes.

    Hah! Well, yeah, I can’t argue with that. Shepherd certainly hasn’t done herself any favors. Hard to take any enjoyment out of the book when you find the author’s actions distasteful (I frequently have the same problem with Harlan Ellison).

    But there’s a difference between not buying an author’s book, and bullying an author to teach her a lesson (about bullying). I think the former is instructive, and the latter is most definitely not.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 26, 2014 3:51 pm

  6. I wouldn’t go leave a 1-star review on a book I hadn’t read, but I do wonder if one can leave comments on the Huffpost article? Not that I’d bother doing that either, because I’m guessing by now that many others have made the same point about popular authors and markets that I did in my earlier comment here.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - February 26, 2014 3:55 pm

  7. * Sorry to be flooding this post with comments today, but I did just check the Huffington Post article, and confirmed that the comments function is available on the post itself (which is the proper venue for such dialogue — not in the Amazon review forum). There are nearly 700 comments. As expected, dozens — hundreds — of people have made the points we’ve raised. I wonder if Shepherd’s read them, or taken any to heart? I’d be interested in reading a response or follow-up from her.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - February 26, 2014 4:03 pm

  8. > I wonder if Shepherd’s read them, or taken any to heart? I’d be interested in reading a response or follow-up from her.

    Well, sure. Everyone wants to know if she’s learned her lesson yet.

    If she’s smart, she’ll make a loud public apology. This will blow over in a week, and people will forget her name. And in two months when they see her book in the bookstore, they won’t remember why the cover is familiar, but they’re remember something about it was interesting, and maybe pick it up.

    If she’s NOT smart… well. Heaven help her. This could drag on a looooong time.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 26, 2014 4:13 pm

  9. Far be it for me to encourage outrage culture on the internet, but if writers didn’t occasionally attack each other then fandom would be much less interesting. There’s an art to it, and more than a few masters. I’ve enjoyed Harlan Ellison’s comments for years.

    This article, however, seems more like bear-baiting the Pottermore community than an attack on Rowling. I mean, how dare they buy Rowling’s work rather than her own, right? Everyone knows that you write one book, then retreat to New Hamphire or Alabama and are never heard from again. You know, like James Patterson, who is in no way eating up any of the crime market.

    Comment by darangrissom - February 26, 2014 4:57 pm

  10. 1.) I think Lynn Shepherd will be seeking out her own new penname now.

    2.) If we should make room for new authors, then shouldn’t we move along all the stuff by dead writers to make room for new ones? You know, like Jane Austen.

    And, perhaps, related spinoffs that use Jane Austen characters.

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - February 26, 2014 5:16 pm

  11. These online kerfuffles, or what I’ve heard called “flame wars,” are becoming so common nowadays–not just in the publishing arena.

    There are a multiplicity of issues related to these things including internet etiquette (an extension of common or business etiquette?), moral implications and obligations of public forums, wisdom in making one’s personal thoughts available in public forum, and a host of others.

    I really think that many of us have not quite thoroughly processed all the various implications related to expressing things in public forums. It’s NOT simply an extension of making opinions in other ways–that seems clear to me. But until we begin to understand the sort of boundaries that exist, or should exist, in such new forums, I think we’ll continue to see these sorts of public blowouts again and again.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - February 26, 2014 5:23 pm

  12. > Far be it for me to encourage outrage culture on the internet, but if writers didn’t occasionally attack each other then fandom would be much less interesting.

    Daran,

    Certainly there would have been a lot less traffic to Black Gate in the last two weeks, that’s for sure.

    > There’s an art to it, and more than a few masters. I’ve enjoyed Harlan Ellison’s comments for years.

    Harlan’s comments are frequently enjoyable… unless you’re on the receiving end.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 26, 2014 5:29 pm

  13. On the one hand, I think her original article was (to say the least) ungracious.

    On the other hand, I’m generally opposed to people using 1-star Amazon reviews to complain about things other than the item being reviewed — people giving 1-star reviews because of eBook region-locking, e.g.

    On the gripping hand, since she admitted up front that she herself had not actually read any Rowling before saying what she said, I’m more inclined to cut the reviewers at least a small amount of slack.

    Comment by Joe H. - February 26, 2014 6:46 pm

  14. I say a pox on both their houses – a juvenile column met by an even more juvenile reaction.

    Michael Moorcock’s rant against Tolkien was asinine but I haven’t heard anyone put down an Elric story because of it (nor should they!). People are entitled to their opinions. That doesn’t always reflect on the quality of their own work. Only a twelve year old would think otherwise – or people who obsess about books for twelve year olds….

    Comment by Tyr - February 26, 2014 6:56 pm

  15. On the subject of authors’ personal lives/opinions over shadowing their work, someone mentioned Harlan Ellison. Much of the animosity directed towards this odious fellow comes not so much from his rants (or his inability to deliver the third Dangerous Visions) but from his shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.

    He’ll never live that down.

    Comment by Golgonooza - February 27, 2014 10:09 am

  16. “his [Harlan Ellison’s] shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.”

    I had not heard of that. I was thinking about the lawsuits. His fights with Gene Roddenberry, Stephen Spielberg, and James Cameron. And that news reporter who said Harlan pushed into an open elevator shaft (He only fell like a story). Hadn’t heard of sexual harassment. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised…

    Comment by darangrissom - February 27, 2014 10:59 pm

  17. John, we all know you never read books, so don’t go making others believe you do, unless they are audio books you can listen to during your drive… 😉

    Comment by Scott Taylor - February 28, 2014 12:44 pm

  18. […] made their mark. Ann Rice apparently agreed, she wasn’t as nice as I was. Neither were a lot of readers who stormed Amazon to pelt the blogger with bad reviews. That’s largely unfair, especially […]

    Pingback by Sharing the Wealth: 02/28/2014 | Story Arcs - February 28, 2014 5:31 pm

  19. When did Ms. Shepherd apologize? I was curious to see if she had responded to the criticism and could not find anything.

    BTW, while I agree that one should not post one-star reviews without having read the books, I did think that the comments on Amazon were pretty funny.

    Comment by SAM - March 1, 2014 9:54 am

  20. […] but that doesn’t mean I think she should suffer abuse or be 1-starred into the mud. (And I’m not alone.) People are angry she criticized Rowling without actually reading her work. That’s fair. But the […]

    Pingback by I Just Bought a Lynn Shepherd Book | Bill Cameron - March 1, 2014 7:26 pm

  21. > I think Lynn Shepherd will be seeking out her own new penname now.

    Paul,

    Very possibly. Although I don’t know… certainly the whole affair has brought Lynn Shepherd some brief notoriety. And readers don’t always remember WHY a name is familiar when they’re standing in book store aisles. If she can weather the fan blowback for a year or so, she may still survive.

    An apology would go a long way towards making that easier, though.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 10:29 pm

  22. > But until we begin to understand the sort of boundaries that exist, or should exist, in such new forums,
    > I think we’ll continue to see these sorts of public blowouts again and again.

    James,

    Very true. It seems clear to me that part of the issue is that the public has a very clear appetite for precisely this kind of scandal… a bitter creator, filled with hubris, who sets herself up for a fall. Everyone enjoys seeing how that inevitably plays out.

    You’re also right that the rise of blog culture, and the shorter news cycle it creates (bloggers report news more quickly than news sites, as they don’t bother to fact-check anything), is a natural environment for this kind of journalistic rage.

    It’s interesting… I think every medium has its period of early scandal. I’m thinking in particular of the early days of yellow journalism with the rise of popular tabloids in the late 1800s. Seems there are strong parallels.

    I’m sure there’s a compelling thesis topic in there somewhere. But since I can’t be bothered to fact check anything, I won’t be writing it. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 10:38 pm

  23. > On the gripping hand, since she admitted up front that she herself had not actually read any Rowling
    > before saying what she said, I’m more inclined to cut the reviewers at least a small amount of slack.

    I don’t know, Joe… are you sure that’s not your desire for mob justice talking? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I understand what you mean, though. I had to stop myself from voting up all those 1-star reviews at Amazon when I first stumbled upon them. I felt a satisfying surge of righteous solidarity with all those angry readers teaching her a well-deserved lesson.

    I just don’t think that impulse comes from a healthy place. We’re better than that.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:01 pm

  24. > Michael Moorcock’s rant against Tolkien was asinine but I haven’t heard anyone put down an Elric story because of it (nor should they!).

    Tyr,

    You’re right, of course. Although I wonder if Moorock would have gotten away with his “Epic Pooh” article if it had appeared as a blog post last month, instead of in a nonfiction collection of essays (Wizardry and Wild Romance) in 1989?

    > People are entitled to their opinions. That doesn’t always reflect on the quality of their own work. Only a twelve year old would think otherwise
    > – or people who obsess about books for twelve year olds…

    Well, that’s the nature of fandom. We do care deeply about books, and do obsess about books for twelve year olds. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a fan of Robert E. Howard, Tolkien, of J.K, Rowling… when someone pens an attack (especially a deeply flawed attack), we want to leap to their defense.

    I think that’s a fine impulse, and mocking fantasy fans as “people who obsess about books for twelve year olds” is ungenerous, I think. I don’t blame fans for their outrage… just for their rather thoughtless actions in this case.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:21 pm

  25. > someone mentioned Harlan Ellison. Much of the animosity directed towards this odious fellow comes not so much from his rants (or his inability to
    > deliver the third Dangerous Visions) but from his shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.
    >
    > He’ll never live that down.

    No, he won’t.

    Ellison was one of the first to experience this new phenomenon of flogging-by-blogging. I think he was used to getting away with being science fiction’s bad boy for decades, and he was stunned and resentful as the hugely negative reaction to that public grope of Connie Willis.

    He was enough of a gentleman to apologize to Connie, however… even if he did attack everyone who criticized him in the same paragraph.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:26 pm

  26. > “his [Harlan Ellison’s] shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.”
    > I had not heard of that.

    Daran,

    There’s a video of it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxd1jFDXzsU

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:27 pm

  27. > John, we all know you never read books, so don’t go making others believe you do, unless they are audio books you can listen to during your drive…

    Scott,

    I’m still waiting for the audiobook version of your book, Tales of the Emerald Serpent! I’d pay good money for it, actually.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:29 pm

  28. > When did Ms. Shepherd apologize? I was curious to see if she had responded to the criticism and could not find anything.

    SAM,

    I don’t think she has (yet). Although a fellow Huffiington Post writer did take her to task for it:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-pryor/an-open-letter-to-jk-rowl_b_4861009.html

    > BTW, while I agree that one should not post one-star reviews without having read the books, I did think that the comments on Amazon were pretty funny.

    That they were.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 2, 2014 11:33 pm

  29. >I don’t know, Joe… are you sure that’s not your desire for mob justice talking? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    You’re correct, of course, and you’re also correct that we need to be better than that.

    (And now I wish I could find a YouTube clip of Homer Simpson telling Lisa that two wrongs make a right.)

    Comment by Joe H. - March 3, 2014 12:15 am

  30. […] J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February - March 31, 2014 1:41 am

  31. […] but that doesn’t mean I think she should suffer abuse or be 1-starred into the mud. (And I’m not alone.) People are angry she criticized Rowling without actually reading her work. That’s fair. But the […]

    Pingback by Thoughts on Murder at Mansfield Park (Updated) | Bill Cameron - April 25, 2014 2:09 pm


Comments RSS  |  TrackBack URI

 

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Black Gate Home
This site © 2018 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.