It all began when I asked two fellow writers, on an email, for a short blurb for the dust jacket of my forthcoming novel. A simple request, I was sure. It only required that the friend read several chapters of my new book to get a sense of it before making a brief comment on it’s worth.
People I know often shock me with the depth of their kindness, as well as the extent of their malice. These disparate attributes confronted me on the very same day.
I had asked these friends of mine to “blurb” my forthcoming novel. Both have distinctively respected “creds” in the publishing industry. One writes non-fiction about critical issues and the other writes memoir that reads with the shape and the savvy of good fiction.
The first one offered not only to “blurb” the book, but do anything else I needed to promote the work, once it was out in print.
The other friend, whom I have known for many years, wrote back and turned me down cold, with a response so startling that it clobbered me with a punch to my heart.
She said, “You did not ask whether I would be so kind as to do this since 'no,' in your opinion, was never an option. You assume that it is a small favor--which it most assuredly is not, for reasons that I know escape you. I was not free to say no, even if I had the best of reasons. And I do. And I tried every which way to keep them to myself, so as not to upset you.”
Okay. I got it. She didn’t like the book, and she didn’t want to place her name on the back cover to tell perspective readers, otherwise.That was her right, whether I liked it or agreed with her, but I would have appreciated a brief note that read, “I just don’t like the book well enough to blurb it.”
That simple response would have worked for me. Sure, I really, really like the book I wrote, but I don’t have any illusions about the entire world loving it. After all, there are people out there who don’t read novels by lots of writers I love. But what bothered me was that she continued with a venomous diatribe, starting with a wildly unrealistic description of me.
She started to rip me to shreds by describing “the manipulation that bothered me, how you use the guise of a friendly request to bury an ulterior motive and a mean spirit. It reminds me of the men who used to say things to me on the street when I was younger; if I ignored them or said no, they'd turn on me with a fury and call me horrible names. So ... let's see, I'm beautiful and sexy only if I say yes, and ugly and a lesbian if I turn them down? It's very easy to tell when a "friendly request" and the flattery that goes with it is not meant from the heart, and will turn on a dime.”
Whoa! “Men, women, beautiful, sexy, ugly, lesbian?”
I didn’t reference any of those notions in the note I sent her. I never would. It was very shocking to read this, to say the least. I read what she said but I didn’t turn it against her. What I did read and had heard from her own mouth several times before, was an unending vitriol about men who used her, women who pretended to like her and her aging mother and disabled sister who made her life a living hell. But I knew that I wasn’t one of them.
Before I even had the chance to take another full breath, I read, “I really despise these double binds. You asked me for a favor on the pretense of loving and respecting me as a friend and colleague ... but if I say no, all that love and respect turns into the bitterness that was there in the first place. I say no and then you turn my answer against me and make it the repository of everything you secretly disliked about me anyway.”
I was never the legitimate target of her wrath—not now, not then. Luckily, I knew that. I was just the one who stepped into place when the volcano inside her was ready to blow. So I finished the written “conversation” with her, by saying that I was sorry she suffered so much, and I told her that I know for sure, that I had never done anything to make her suffer, ever. I tried to tie this up as kindly as I could and said, “If the reason you don't want your name on my book is because you don't care for it, that's fine--really okay. We all don't like the same lit or pap, or whatever anyone calls it these days. I've always been open to discussion about anything and that has always been my choice with you. But you haven't gotten back to me to talk truth. I hope that someday, you'll understand that I did nothing to put you under such duress. If you wanted to just tell me you didn't like the book, I'd have been content with the truth. As you can see, there are others who do like it.”
And then, I sent some great blurbs other writers had already offered. I hoped she didn’t cry. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent the other attributions, to prove my point. That was an unkind gesture. In the end, I offered my hope that she would get a handle on the unmitigated rage she aimed at me--someone who never had bone to pick with her before, and didn't deserve the bashing.
I also felt I owed her a little more personal information; something she obviously overlooked in me.“I'm not the type who 'loses' it easily, but I have now experienced your very short, flaming fuse. You probably didn't know that I run from that, but now that I've told you how I respond to rage, I feel better. Friendship is such a tenuous thing," I added with certainty. “I thought the world of you and asked nothing in return for your friendship, in all these years. The minute I needed help from you, I was surprised to discover that we were never really friends in the first place.”
Would she believe what I wrote to her while she was in such an addled state? Who knows? Then I wrote, “Call me naive. Call me stupid. But please call me a bit wiser for this experience; not mean and vindictive. You're talking to the wrong woman here."
I haven’t found out what the impact of those words had on her, and I’m sure I never will. But one thing is certain. I was clear about what I said. The most important thing I learned is that there is value in shock. It helped me balance the whole spectrum of a difficult moment in time, which was horrid, almost hysterical, and it all made me humble. I’m happy to know that I understand this woman now. I never really caught on through all the years I thought I knew the best of her.
In the past year, I often asked how her BFF, Marie, was doing. She never quite answered. Now I know why. Marie, at some point, probably got a load of volcano ash in her face, too.
As for me? It was just about a blurb for the back of the book jacket, and I realized I never really needed her help in the first place.
I wish I never asked.