I have many faults, but the one I’m feeling baddest about at the moment is my tendency to dismiss a writer on the basis of very little. For example:

  • If I meet a writer and I think they’re obnoxious I won’t read them. This is very very bad of me. Because I am a writer and I can be totally obnoxious (especially if my blood sugar is low), so if other people are as intolerant as I am, and they meet me when I haven’t eaten, odds are they will never read me. To make this even more circular I am most especially likely to decide a writer is obnoxious and I will not read them when my blood sugar is low and I am being obnoxious.
  • I will read one short story, or worse one or two pages of a short story or novel, and if it doesn’t immediately grab me, I will decide the writer is vastly overrated and never read them. This despite the fact that my own short stories in no way reflect the quality of my novels. Or vice versa. And many writers improve. So an early sucky story says nothing about their later quality. Not to mention that my mood (blood sugar levels) greatly affects whether I will keep reading a story.
  • If I hear a writer read, and they’re not any good at it, I will never read them, no matter how much praise I’ve heard. A bad reading kills the writing for me stone cold dead. This is particularly unfair as I’m an erratic reader and suckiness is sadly part of my repertoire (especially if my blood sugar is low).
  • If a friend whose taste I trust tells me a book sucks I won’t read it unless it is the only book available. This is why it took me so long to discover the joys of the Bartimaeus trilogy—a friend I love and trust told me it sucked. They were so wrong! But why are my friends going to be any more consistent than I am? They have their blood sugar issues too.
  • I also won’t read book by people who have dissed writers I adore. I don’t care how much they’ve been raved about, or by whom, or how many people insist that I will love love love them, if they’ve dumped on Angela Carter, or Georgette Heyer, or Dorothy Dunnett, or Patricia Highsmith, or Ruth Park, or any number of other writers, I won’t touch their books with a barge pole.

Writing is a tenuous profession and too many of us passionate readers are certifiably insane. It’s shockingly easy to turn off potential readers. You can do it with a word (use “jasmine” and you’ve lost Margo Lanagan), a bad clothing choice on the part of a character (I put a book down once because the supposedly hip protag was wearing hot pink lycra), a factual error (I have stopped reading otherwise fine books because they had Canberra being a short bus ride from Sydney).

You can also lose readers through no fault of your own: because they don’t like your cover, because they don’t like your author photo, or the way you spell your name, or won’t read paperbacks, or books by Australians.

So you’ll never catch me insulting fellow writers on my blog—too risky! I don’t want to piss them off (we writers have such long memories), or their fans (ditto), nor do I want to rack up any more bad karma (I’m bowed under the weight of what I’ve already got!). And I resolve to make sure my blood sugar levels are where they should be before reading a new book or attending a reading.


  1. Maggie on #

    Hey, I just finished reading ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ the other day and am a totally hooked fan! 😀

  2. robin on #

    Bold move – I think you’ve just exposed yourself as every writer’s worst nightmare. (Uh oh, does that count as an insult? Is it mitigated if I confess I’m just as bad?)

    Have you read Marijane Meaker’s memoir about Patricia Highsmith? If you love her, I think you’d love the book.

  3. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    I am worse than you.

    (If an author is obnoxious to me, I don’t have to settle for not reading their books… I can return them!)

  4. chance on #

    Note to self: always give Justine a cookie at readings.

    (and yay! Patricia Highsmith.)

    I’m really with you on writers who annoy me-I simply can’t read their books because when I try I just remember how much they annoy me and then I start making fun of their prose in my head.

  5. cherie priest on #

    HAHAHA! I mean (cough cough) yes, I understand. To tell you the sad, sad truth — the reason I quit reading the Anita Blake vampire books (some years ago) was because the protagonist was such a terrible dresser. These days it’s ever-so trendy to trash the series, but I found the first few books quite enjoyable … until the day came when I could NOT get past Anita’s penchant for dressing like fifty year old woman in 1982 — when she’s supposed to be a bad-ass twenty-something. Ah, well.

  6. Lee Battersby on #

    Heh. You know, you really shouldn’t put a list like that up where authors can read it 🙂 There’s me, going down the reasons, thinking “Me…. me….that’s me too….”

    Except for readings. I think I do cool readings. It’s the propensity to jump from table to table frightening the punters that I enjoy…. 🙂

  7. katerate on #

    Arrgghhh, Bartimaeus Tril was so good. Thanks for reccommending that, by the way. And I am a sad person who if is just looking around for any random old book in the YA section and the book has a crap cover (like, it looks really cheesy and poorly done), chances are I won’t give it the time of day (unless if I heard it was a good book from reviews or friends, then I’ll check it out). Usually books that do really well get renovated covers at some point to appeal to a wider audience, don’t they? Like they get ‘adult’ covers out and everything. Hmm. That is advertising for you.

  8. Robert Legault on #

    There are, for practical purposes, four kinds of writers: 1) Good writers who are nice people, 2) Good writers who are jerks, 3) Bad writers who are nice people, and 4) Bad writers who are jerks. Or throw in nice and jerky mediocre writers if you want. I decline to speculate about the relative proportions of each, but I think it is important to learn to distinguish among them. Though I certainly agree, if I meet a writer, and I get an unfavorable impression, it doesn’t make me eager to run out and devour everything he or she has written.

    As for writers’ opinions of one another…Writers are notorious for feuding, making up, feuding some more…and it often has little to do with the actuall quality of the writing involved. Just because Truman Capote and Gore Vidal loathe[d] (Gore’s still hanging in there) each other. must one ally oneself with one camp or the other? Nabokov sneers at Faulkner a number of times in his writings, and I like them both. Does this make me think less of Nabokov? A little, but I just think of it as a bit of old-world crankiness.

    As for covers, I somewhat collect sleazy, totally inappropriate paperback attempts to sex up the classics. Covers are such a hit-and-miss proposition at best, I try to enjoy them when I can and not pay too much attention otherwise.

  9. lili on #

    oh yes. there is an author who will go unnamed who is so irritating you just want to kick them repeatedly in the shins. and even though this author is a brilliant, brilliant writer, i cannot read their books anymore.

    i had the opportunity to meet philip pullman when i was recently in the uk, and chose not to, because i’ve heard he’s a bit prickly, and don’t want to do anything to endanger my love of his books…

    it’s the same with everything, i guess. i liked jude law until i found out he was screwing the nanny…

  10. lili on #

    oh, and i adored margaret atwood, until i read that thing about the remote signing pen.

    (and read oryx and crake)

    and how much did we all start hating ann rice when she said that she never lets anyone edit her books because they are perfect just as they are??

  11. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    i think people know you are tongue in cheek, don’t they? or are you getting angry emails or something?

    oh and also … I was joking in my response.

    (sort of)

  12. Justine on #

    Jennifer: Yes, I got some cranky emails. Funny how people seem to save their invective for annonymous emails . . .

    I assume you’re always joking!

    Camille: Excellent point! Though I’ve no problem with the word “unicorn”. You can write a book with a Unicorn pub in it, for example. It’s just books about them that make me gag.

  13. janet on #

    I could never bring myself to read the work of a certain well-known fantastical writer after I heard that he had worked as a speechwriter for a certain right-wing senator from Kansas.

    On the other hand, once I become a fan of a writer’s work, I’m usually able to think up plenty of reasons to excuse bad behavior that might otherwise bother me. It’s really a matter of when the writer hooks me.

    I still like Atwood’s early novels, even though some of the things she’s said about science fiction annoy me deeply; I was a fan long before I ever heard about these statements. Alas, her more recent novels read like self-parody, and during a recent massive book cull, I made the momentus decision that I no longer need to be an Atwood completist. But that’s another issue.

  14. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    oh, good. i assume you’re always joking, too, which is why i’m always thrown for a bit of a loop when you have to specifically say you are. like, duh!

    of course the obvious exception is when you say how much you adore booksellers – then i know you are deadly serious.

  15. John H on #

    I find that, like Janet, if I have already read and enjoyed an author’s work it is not likely to be diminished by anything they do in public. That said, I probably won’t read any of Michael Crichton’s books after some of the stupid things he’s said about global warming…

  16. Diana on #

    I apparently once turned off a group of readers in the stupidest way possible. that was fun (and educational). how about a slogan? “peterfreund: pricklier than pullman.” but yes, I find it mystifying on what grounds people will make decisions like that, though I suppose I have blood sugar too.

    ah well. can’t please ’em all.

  17. brandon on #

    I’m pretty forgiving if I’m really enjoying a story, but one thing I can’t tolerate are dream sequences. I don’t care how good the book is, but if I come across a dream sequence, I’ll put the book down right there and never pick it up. Dream sequences are reminders that I could be having my own dreams. And they’re just uncreative and pointless. I don’t waste my time with books like that.

  18. camille on #

    “it’s shockingly easy to turn off potential readers. you can do it with a word (use “jasmine” and you’ve lost margo lanagan)”

    …or “unicorn” and you’ve lost justine larbalestier.

  19. bmad on #

    bad politics on the part of the author kills it for me. but it takes me so long to get around to reading anything anyway that the threat of “not reading” something is very empty. the fact is that i’m probably not going to read it anyway. for instance, there is no way i could read orson scott card anymore thanks to his terrible politics. luckily i have not read any orson scott card since ninth grade anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

  20. Colleen Mondor on #

    I’m with Bennett on the bad politics thing although it’s not a question of say, someone being a Republican or Democrat – I really don’t care about that. It’s when they do something like deny global warming or the Holocaust, etc. that I’m done with them. (And yes, I’m done with Crichton.)

    I also have a problem with writers who are rude in comments on blog postings – as some of you may recall the flame war that developed in the wake of the Ellison incident saw a lot of nasty comments flying around the web (and I got hit with a few). I don’t expect writers to be any better or held to a higher standard than anyone else – it’s just that if they are consistently horribly rude then I can choose not to support their books. And that’s what I do.

    I also don’t like books where animals die. I know that is stupid and emotional and even silly when I read and review lots of heavy war books but I hate fiction where authors kill off puppies.

    Go ahead and hate me, it’s just my thing!

  21. amy fiske on #

    i have to agree about not reading books by people who have dissed writers I adore – especially when it gets back to the author who is being dissed. i spent a week last october driving stephenie meyer to multiple readings throughout my library district. when you spend that much time together, you get to talking. she told me that a ya author whom she likes and respects had dissed her. it really bummed me out because i like and respect both authors. i’ll continue to read his books because i don’t want to be childish but it really disappointed me.

  22. Heather Brewer on #

    Totally agree with Colleen about not reading authors who are rude in blog postings.

    I also can’t stand wimpy, whiny female protagonists.

  23. Brian F. on #

    Am I wrong to refuse to read an author if they were not necessarily directly rude to me but I have it on VERY good authority that this person is a self-important punk who condescends to booksellers and spends far too much time smiling softly to himself because people don’t “get” him? I’m not usually one to condemn on hearsay but what if it’s reliable hearsay? May I rebuke with a clear conscience?

  24. Colleen on #

    Lauren – I love you.

    Brian F. – I was a bookseller for two years and on the very very rare occasion when an author was rude we told everybody just so readers would react like you are suggesting. Like I said, I’m not for holding authors to a higher standard, but it wouldn’t kill you to just be nice. (I mean really – if you don’t like the public then why show up for a reading in the first place?)

  25. Kathleen on #

    But it *is* just a short bus-ride!
    (But I am from Queensland, and it was 6 hours by bus just to get to school, let alone between cities).

  26. Peter D. Tillman on #

    Re: “short bus ride”

    A mistake I’ll never make, after somehow missing the last flight from CB to Sydney, and thus having to drive all night in a crappy little English Ford rental to catch the ship’s sailing time early next AM.

    I recall being criticized once, as this is apparently an easy drive now. But this was c. 1973, a twisty mtn 2-lane, with the added thrills of night wildlife plus wrong-side driving…

    Thanks for the pointer to Scalzi’s wonderful Creation Museum piece
    –he in turn pointed me to this.

    Best for 2008, Pete Tillman

    “Don’t roach me, funker,” she said. “And don’t shirk off in your
    electro-steamer. This mopsy wants to poke.”
    –Mack Reynolds, _Commune 2000 A.D._, 1974

  27. Justine on #

    You’re welcome.

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