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On Feeling Bad for Jacqueline Howett

I'm a little late chiming in on this, but man, I kind of feel bad for Jacqueline Howett.

If you don't know Jacqueline Howett yet: Hi! Welcome to the internet age! Howett is a British-born author and poetess who publishes her own books for the same reason I eat my own cooking: No less blinkered soul would even think about it. She lives in Clearwater, and now she's internationally famous for her bad, bad reaction to a review of her debut novel.

Here's the review at BigAl's Books & Pals. ("Reviews and more from the world of the Kindle!")

Here's the Amazon page for Jacqueline's novel, The Greek Seaman.

Now, I oughta mention that no writer in the world should give a hot hoot what BigAl tells his Pals, because his website contains passages like:

Any book with 3-star ranking or below has some definite flaws... These might be problems with the story or characters. It may be a convoluted or difficult way the author has of expressing themself.

Slow down, Updike!

Luckily, the people with the best reasons to pick nits at BigAl's Books & Pals aren't likely to grok the astounding wrongness of a themself. Consider the case of Howett, whose back-of-the-jacket description of her novel reads:

What is an eighteen year old newly wed doing traveling on a massive merchant ship anyways? Hadn't she gone to Greece on tour in a ballet as a dancer? These are questions, Katy asks herself while traveling on the high seas with Don her chief officer. However, little do they know a smuggling ring is also on board for this ride, on a blue diamond exchange and when explosions and threats to sink the ship happen, they must try to save themselves.

Oh, my -- I do hate it when threats happen, but at least Don and Katy have selves to save. Most troubling is the comma after the word questions, which seems to indicate that Katy is affirming for herself that the preceding sentences are, in fact, questions. But that would only make sense if it read: "These are questions, Katy tells herself" -- and even that would make Katy seem a bit daft. Better, probably, for the author to write: "These are the questions Katy asks herself" and do away with the comma altogether.

Again, this is what appears on the book's dust jacket. It's supposed to sell the thing.

BigAl looked past the dust jacket and read the whole damned book. In his March 16 review, Al mildly claimed that most readers wouldn't finish The Greek Seaman, and wrote that "one reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it's difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant."

Goddamn it Al, you're probably right. But what's this about "one reason is the... errors"? Worse, what about "attempt unraveling"? You either "attempt to unravel" or just plain "unravel." "Attempt unraveling" is butt-ugly.

Jaqueline either didn't notice or didn't feel consoled by BigAl's own sins against the language, and she responded to his review by accusing him of unfairness and unimpartiality. His review couldn't possibly be truthful, she explained, cuz of all the positive reviews she'd received at Amazon.com. Jacqueline proceeded to post these on BigAl's webpage, in between anguished comments in which she asserted and reasserted her book's unassailable goodness. These comments became slimmer and angrier as days wore on. The last of these reads, simply: "Fuck off."

My favorite:

...This is not only discusting and unprofessional on your part, but you really don't fool me AL.

Who are you anyway? Really who are you?
What do we know about you?

...Because if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via email. That debate is high among authors.

Your the target not me!
Now get this review off here!
This is brilliant free-verse, maybe, but not a smart way to deal with critics. Within a week, Jacqueline Howett went from being almost unGoogleable to having 22,000 links, none friendly.

Which is queer. When a book like The Greek Seaman gets home from the vanity press (or its Kindle equivalent), it's not supposed to be international news. A friend of mine self-published a self-aggrandizing book called Iconoclast when he was 17, in the unbeTwittered 1990s, and to my knowledge I'm the only person who ever read it. Which is good news for him. Iconoclast was not widely reviewed for precisely the same reason that Simon Cowell doesn't join me in the shower to critique my interpretation of "Barbie Girl": It sucks.

But the web foists upon suckage a weird Darwinian paradigm. Suckage is fun, so it survives. What should have been a proud (if not star-making) moment in the life of a tone-deaf, would-be author has become instead a source of shame and anguish, because the web makes fame easy and infamy easier.

There is such a thing as bad publicity, and it's unclear what, if anything, Howett can do to salvage her online literary reputation. Apologizing would help. Changing her name and moving to South America would help more. But people are tough. She'll probably stay right there in Clearwater, noveling and poesying in her free time and sending off the occasional manuscript to the vanity press. As she should. Writing's fun, publishing is fun, and not just for the virtuosos. She has the right to suck in peaceful obscurity. If Big Al should again elect to take her well-meaning documents and subject them to scrutiny as though they were the works of a professional, I hope Howett summons up all of her writerly rage and tells him to go screw himselves.

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Brandon K. Thorp

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