Acting outside the lines

Authors may write outside the lines, but what happens when they act outside the lines?  Can you separate the work from the author? Or is it possible for authors to forever tarnish their books by their behaviors?
Does how authors act matter?  Should it?
One extremely successful mystery author I know of once complained on her cell phone - while she was still signing books - about how many people remained in her line. A bookseller told me that story. I haven’t read anything by her since.  
But then again, truth be told, I had never been a huge fan.  

What about you? Would you keep reading books by someone who was rumored to be a jerk (which could just be tiredness or a lack of social graces)? Standoffish (which could be just shy)? Boastful (which could just be the very human impulse to share good news)?

I was a fan of Anne Perry’s historical mysteries for a long, long time. I read each one of her books nearly as soon as it came out. In the early 1990s, I went to see her at a local mystery book store. Many women in the audience dressed up in period costume, as if they were characters in her historical mysteries.  
Only a few weeks after that, the movie Heavenly Creatures came out. It was based on a true story - two 15-year-old girls in New Zealand who planned and carried out the murder of one girl’s mother. Their motive was to stop the woman from moving out of the country with her daughter and separating the two girls.    
Journalists tracked down what had happened to the teens. One grew up, changed her name, and became Anne Perry. She seldom speaks of the crime, but clearly accepts her guilt.  
I haven’t read her books since I learned about her past. But I feel torn about it. I believe that people can be forgiven, can be redeemed. I don’t begrudge her her success. I’m not sure why I can’t move on and read her books as I used to.

Would you be able to? 
Child pornography 
This one is the easiest for me - and the awfullest.  A local man, KP Bath, had written two middle-grade books published by Little Brown:  The Secret of Castle Cant and Escape from Castle Cant. The books were generally well-reviewed. The writing community in Portland is close-knit, but I never crossed paths with him (thankfully).  
Last year, Bath was sentenced to six years in prison for possessing child pornography. On his computer, the FBI found images of children, some of whom were bound and appeared to be being violently attacked. They also found a book manuscript on his computer, possibly Flip Side, which had been due out from Little Brown.  The publisher dropped the book after the allegations were made public.  
Could you separate this man’s awful actions from what were, by all accounts, pretty good books? Or would you join the many commenters on Amazon who suggest that the books should be burned?
Authors behaving badly
With the Internet, there no secrets. Get drunk at a conference and your antics will be Tweeted and blogged by morning.  Tweet something stupid yourself, or put it on your own blog, and even if you go back and delete it, it will still live on in cyberspace.  
How do you feel when you hear about a writer behaving badly? Have you ever stopped reading books you loved just because you had been turned off by the author as a person?


  1. It does affect my view of the whole package, in the same way an actor's bad behavior will then affect whether or not I enjoy their films. Used to be a huge Mel Gibson fan. Not so much anymore.

    Whether or not that is a correct line of thinking, I'm not sure, but it is what it is. And the "it" here, in my opinion, is just human nature.

  2. Hmmm.
    Good thoughtful post.
    I think Lydia Sharp (above) has "it" correct.
    I still read Anne Perry even after I found out.
    I haven't read Alice Hoffman since her TwitterBehaviour, now referred to as "Pulling a Hoffman".
    Thanks for sharing,

  3. I really enjoyed this post; I'd never heard about Anne Perry being a murderer!
    There's always the flip side, too: people might be MORE interested in buying books because of the publicity the author received for their crime.

    I, personally, don't think much of an author's reputation when buying their book. *shrug*

  4. Wow! What a great post. So interesting. I didn't know about Anne Perry. Very weird. And the first signing author. Yeah. That would totally turn me off.

    Luckily I quit drinking over fifteen years ago, so I just have to watch my behaviour on cyberspace!!!

  5. A really thought provoking post, April. One of the best books I've ever read was The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter. About the time I had read the book it came out that Carter had once been involved with the KKK. It didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book, but it did make me think long and hard about how a man who had belonged to such a group could have possibly written a novel filled with so much love. Human beings are strange and complex creatures.

  6. For me, it depends on the behaviour. Things like the child pornography example you cite are a no-brainer, but general bad/rude behaviour will also affect my decision - though only if I witness it first hand.

    I confess there are several people whose work I've deliberately passed by after seeing how they treat the people who read their blog, or who use their blog to make spiteful attacks on public figures (usually politicians).

  7. As a bookstore worker and a conference worker, i have had authors be rude either to me, or to a coworker. I have never bad-mouthed these authors in a public space, but i also do not, ever, recommend their books. Being polite to people is important.

    That said, if i thought someone's writing was fantastic, i might make exceptions for rude behavior. But not for child pornography.

  8. Definitely the type of behavior has something to do with it. I had heard about Anne Perry, but I wasn't a reader prior so that didn't really effect me other than to perhaps make me a little curious, given the types of novels she writes.

    The child pornographer's a no brainer.

    Rudeness is kind of a "depends on" sort of thing. What was the context, the situation, is it possible the author was having a bad day... repeated accounts of rudeness, on the other hand, are definite strike 'em off the reading list offenses.

    My personal one is a lack of intellectual curiosity. A well-known author professed a lack of knowledge or interest in the subject she writes novels about because she finds it "icky."

    Just left me absolutely gobsmacked. I'm not sure I could ever pick up any of her novels after that.

  9. I put a high value on decency in my own interactions with others, and it's a quality that people I choose to be friends with possess. But at the same time, I don't think disordered--or even pathological--behaviors disqualify a person from being able to contribute something positive to the world around them.

    In the case of the guy with the pornography: yes, he needs to face the consequences of his behavior, and he needs to receive treatment. But should his books be burned? Absolutely not. I'm with R.A. Nelson on the surprising possibilities and contradictions we contain (and I also loved The Education of Little Tree). This individual could write his MG books from his cell; his right to have a voice via writing doesn't expire, not even with these unsettling actions. No school visits for him, though.

  10. The Education of Little Tree was originally published as non-fiction and was supposed to have happened to the author. The author is the one who wrote "Segregation now! Segregation forever!" for George Wallace. My understanding from Native American authors is the book is offensive, partly because it is inaccurate. I actually protested it being on my daughter's 9th grade summer reading list, because it was the only book that was supposed to be representing Native American Lit.

  11. Great post, April. From this moment on I shall lead an exemplary life, lest someone Tweets about me.

  12. Wow, um, this is a difficult one. For the first two, it would depend on the infraction, how I heard about it, and what the situation was. However, number 3 can go to hell for all I care. I wouldn't touch his books with a 50ft. pole.

  13. Great topic, and one I think about a lot. Philosophically, I think I've decided I believe author behavior and author work should be evaluated separately, where I'm able.

    People compartmentalize. I've known men who did wonderful things in their day job, often helping others in life-changing ways, yet who went home at night and beat their wives. I understand the desire for black-and-white solution, but I'm not sure how it would help anyone to deprive him of livelihood and honestly-earned praise in one area because he sucks in another.

    I guess I believe in discipline rather than punishment. But I reserve the right to change my mind or fall short of my own ideals about forgiveness.

  14. I have some evil deeds in my past. I also tend to be rude -- it's not my intention, but I have a prickly personality. In case anyone wonders why I use a psuedonym on the net, those are the reasons why.

    So I'm not typical, but I would be *more* likely to read a book by an author of questionable moral background. I value ideas, and authors who live on the fringe will have wilder and more diverse ideas than any Susie Homemaker turned novelist.

    I believe that freaks make the best authors. I can only hope the public judges me by that standard as I begin my writing career, and not by the standards of moral perfection and politeness. I have a damaged mind and I have had a lot of bizarre experiences, and I would like to entertain the world with stories about both.

  15. I usually take it on a case-by-case basis. However, every time I read/buy a book I am in some way promoting or supporting that author. So if they happened to be a little snappy once it probably wouldn't affect me much. If they exhibited consistently rude and abrasive behavior towards others, I would definitely think twice. If it was someone who I thought had done something truly horrible (child pornography being a perfect example) I would refrain from buying their book.

  16. Great post, April! Very thought provoking. To me the child pornographer is a definite no brainer. Rude behavior is case by case. Personally I don't like to listen to gossip, but if I witnessed it personally or someone I really trusted did, I'd take it pretty seriously, though like Barb said I understand if people are having a bad day. But it's very important to be polite and respectful to fans and booksellers and everyone. I firmly believe this and even when I am having a bad day try not to take it out on others.


Post a Comment