It is late, and I have been watching the twitter storm erupt over the Kathleen Hale piece published by The Guardian for a full 48 hours at this point. I have really struggled with whether or not to even write this post – whether yet another post is needed to discuss it. I’ve seen many posts by many really fantastic bloggers, some of which I will link to below, deploring Kathleen Hale’s behavior, staying, rightfully, that stalking someone in real life is ALWAYS wrong, regardless of their behavior on the internet. I’ve seen a lot of author blogs providing really good advice about how to interact with readers.
The blogger/author community has, for the most part, been really wonderful, presenting a united front and near universal censure of Hale’s behavior.
I continue, though, to be extremely bugged by the reactions of the individuals who are NOT in the blogging commmunity. Who, often, seem to read the piece and who react to it completely differently. I’ve seen a lot of comments about how “brave” Hale was to write the piece, or how “self-aware” she is in acknowledging that her response to the provocation was inappropriate. The universal sense, to me, seems to be one of “well, yeah, she went over the line when she confronted her troll, but still, you know, it is really upsetting to get trolled.”
And this is why I am writing this post. Because while many posts have alluded to the fact that Blythe Harris didn’t do anything wrong, this is the aspect that I want to talk about here. Blythe Harris was not a troll. She was not Kathleen Hale’s number one online critic. She was not catfishing Kathleen Hale. In fact, until Kathleen Hale went batcrap crazy on her, I would guess that Blythe Harris had absolutely no idea that Kathleen Hale was obsessed with her.
Let’s start with a brief deconstruction of The World According To Kathleen Hale. We can start with an acknowledgment that this is a woman who writes fiction, and who is not adverse to a bit of hyperbole to advance the story. She begins her piece with a charming anecdote about an interaction with her editor that almost certainly happened only in her own imagination. There is almost zero chance that she actually started scribbling edits in the book – her book – that her editor handed her.
Moving on to the actual “interactions” with Blythe. You’ll notice I put “interactions” in quotes – that’s because there were basically no two way communications. She refers to a single tweet that occurred when Blythe tweeted her in response to her tweet to the YA reader community about her second book. Aside from that one interaction, Blythe, as near as I can tell from her recitation of the facts according to Kathleen never again initiated contact with her directly.
In addition, it is really important to point out that her explanation of Blythe’s online persona is highly misleading – intentionally so, I believe. She has framed Blythe as “her number one online critic.” Her “troll”. A person who has embarked on a concerted effort to ruin her, Kathleen Hale’s, life and career. She fails to provide any proof in the way of screenshots, or even dates and/or actual quotes, at all. But her entire article is built around an insinuation that Blythe Harris is just as obsessed with Kathleen Hale as Kathleen Hale is with Blythe Harris.
I am not friends with Blythe Harris. Our paths have crossed before, and I have seen her reviews. Even the briefest looking around demonstrates that Blythe Harris spent almost no time discussing Hale’s book. Her “review” of Hale’s book was a one star DNF that included some status updates. From Hale’s article, you might think that Blythe had only ever reviewed Hale’s book – that she was a entity conjured up from the darkest bowels of internet hell to ruin Hale’s life. The fact that Blythe Harris has reviewed 322 books on Goodreads, with an average rating of 3.57 stars would certainly seem to contradict that. Blythe Harris spent less than 1% of her review time on Goodreads on Kathleen Hale’s book.
In addition, Blythe Harris was a contributor to a blog which is easily found. Her review archive indicates that she reviewed 92 books on that blog. None of them are Hale’s book. Now, it is, I suppose, possible, that she has scrubbed the blog of any mention of Kathleen Hale in the time since the piece was published. I would simply note, however, that there is no proof that this is the case. The Guardian piece does not acknowledge that Blythe runs a review blog at all. If there had been harassment occurring on the blog, it seems fair to assume that it would have been mentioned, or even screenshotted. I think it is therefore a fair conclusion that Blythe never mentioned Kathleen Hale’s book on her personal blog. Kathleen Hale got 0% of Blythe’s attention on her blog, and around .03% of her attention on Goodreads.
Blythe Harris was not a troll. Surely it must be a truth that trolling someone takes work, that it takes effort. That a troll must be someone who spends more than .06% of their internet activity on the object of their trolling. More importantly, Blythe Harris was not trolling Kathleen Hale. The people are who are supporting Kathleen Hale’s Big Adventure are being misled.
That is why, I believe, that the reaction between the book blogging/author community and the rest of the world is so different. We are being mischaracterized by Kathleen Hale and we know it. I read the comments to The Guardian article. The amount and level of vitriol aimed at “nasty bloggers who leave one star reviews to ruin authors careers” is staggering, in spite of the fact that I have personally never seen such a thing.
I know that this is a very long post, and that it contains no images to break up the text. I apologize for that, but would ask you to bear with me, because I want to try to answer the people who have wondered why bloggers are so upset about this. Why we feel like it is such a big deal, since as long as we aren’t trolling trolls who troll we’ll be just fine. Who celebrate Kathleen Hale’s honesty and insight.
Well, first of all, it is terrifying because Blythe Harris wasn’t a troll anymore than I am or any of us are. Kathleen Hale has driven the narrative and people are convinced that she got what was coming to her. Even if we all agree that this kind of behavior is never okay, the fact remains that in this case in particular, she didn’t do anything to provoke it. All of that stuff that Kathleen Hale referred to – that all happened basically in her own head.
And, in response to the folks who find her so bold and fascinating, so self-aware and insightful, well, that’s just not true. I simply deny that she is either self-aware or that she is honest. One cannot be honest by presenting such a one-sided version of the facts that it barely intersects with reality. And one cannot be simultaneously self-aware and self-serving, and that entire piece was nothing but self-serving. What it was, truly, was character assassination, masquerading as essay, aided and abetted by privilege.
Which brings me to a point. I can’t leave this post without pointing out that Kathleen Hale is a very well-connected young woman indeed, connections which she left completely out of her piece. Her fiance is Simon Rich, former columnist for The Observer, which is affiliated with The Guardian. Her brother-in-law to be is Nathaniel Rich, whose most recent novel has been breathlessly review on the pages of the Guardian. Simon’s parents are even more illustrious – his father is Frank Rich, critic and columnist for the New Yorker, his mother is Gail Winston, an executive editor at HarperCollins. Could this explain how this piece that is so terribly mendacious made it into The Guardian without anyone bothering to critically read it or do even the most rudimentary fact checking as to whether or not this person, Blythe Harris, ever did anything that even remotely resembled trolling?
The article itself fairly reeks of entitlement, with its barely veiled contempt for the subject, Blythe, who lives in a slightly run-down residence (not the sumputous interiors that she posted on instagram, apparently) and works processing insurance claims. Who goes to New York on holiday, not Greece. Was it truly necessary to point this out, or was it payback for someone who is not a member of her social circle daring to have an opinion about her book, and putting it out there, on the internet, for everyone to read. And, as well, is it even true? Or is she making that up in the same way that she made up the entire assertion that Blythe Harris was her “number one online critic” when Blythe Harris spent 99.6% of her internet time talking about things other than Kathleen Hale or her book.
Finally, Hale herself is affiliated with James Frey, he of the Thousand Little Pieces debacle, in which he fictionalized his memoir in order to make it more interesting. Does that sound familiar to you? Because it does to me.
Kathleen Hale appears to be a very troubled woman – by her own admission. She manufactured a villain out of her own imagination. Blythe Harris was not her number one online critic, she was just a reader who reviewed a lot of books who happened to have the misfortune of being one of the earliest one-star reviewers of Hale’s debut novel. The fixation was entirely one-sided, like those stalkers who, upon being confronted by the police, insist that they are actually in a secret relationship with the object of their affections when they have never even spoken to one another.
How, having said all of that, we can see from the reaction of the blogging community what actually happens to an author who stalks bloggers. All support has been withdrawn. I seriously doubt that when Hale publishes her next book that she will be able to find a single blogger willing to assist in her promotion. There are, perhaps, those who will find this reaction unfair. You are entitled to your opinion, but I would ask you to consider it from our perspective. Why would any blogger touch her with a ten foot pole, knowing that any interaction that they might have could be completely mischaracterized for public consumption.
I think that she is probably too well-insulated for any of this to really matter. She has the contract, the connections, and the platform. Now she just needs to decide who her number one online critic is at this point, so she can pen her next hit piece against that person. It will be difficult to decide – there are so many of them.
Links to other blog posts/articles:
The Guardian (original article): Am I Being Catfished
Dear Author: Poisoning the Well
Dear Author: On The Importance of Pseudonymous Activity
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: The Choices of Kathleen Hale
Jim Hines: Victim or Perpetrator