Even people who get paid – a lot – for their words can say the wrong thing. Lately a couple of high-profile cases of this “foot-in-mouth syndrome” have appeared, both of which involved writers I greatly admire.
First, the infamous “bitchery” tweet from Stephen King: in response to the recent Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen controversy (which, if you haven’t heard, just Google it), King tweeted this:
Needless to say, the interwebs got into quite a huff; the connotation that King thought Farrow’s accusations were “bitchery,” or that Farrow was a “bitch,” seemed radically out of character for a writer who has long represented his female characters in a very respectful, realistic way. Thankfully, he did the right thing and apologized quickly. His explanation, which I believe, was that he was using the word “bitchery” to describe the whole “sad and painful mess,” not either Dylan or Mia Farrow.
Being a long-time fan of King’s, I can only hope this one poorly-thought-out tweet won’t wreck his entire career. As he states on his apology page, “Some people seem to believe that writers never use the wrong word, but any editor can tell you that’s not true.” And therein lies the danger of Twitter and other social media: there is no editor.
Then, Isabel Allende appeared to have contracted the virus. Allende is probably most known for her novel “The House of the Spirits,” though my favorite is her food/sex memoir, “Aphrodite.” As reported by NPR, in an interview about her new novel, “Ripper,” she had a few not-so-nice things to say about popular mystery novels:
“It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful…” She then stated that she would “take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”
These comments apparently angered many mystery fans. Once small bookstore owner even sent all the copies of “Ripper” back to the publisher in protest. So Allende apologized, claiming that her comments were themselves supposed to be the joke. However, many – including the angry bookstore owner – have not accepted her apology.
In all fairness, having read a lot mysteries myself lately, I can understand some of what she is saying. I know I may be risking a flame-war myself, but I have to be honest: much of what is written in the mystery genre is not the best writing in the world. I have seen a lot of work that falls into two camps: the kind Allende is talking about, which is quite gruesome and populated with cardboard, unlikeable characters, and cutesy cozies, where amateur bookstore owners or scrapbookers solve bloodless murders by following a predictable (and unrealistic) plot formula. Before you click send on your hate comment: notice I said “a lot,” not “all.”
On the other hand, clearly Allende hasn’t done enough research. There are many, many mysteries whose sleuths and protagonists aren’t handsome or promiscuous. The Flavia de Luce mystery series’ eponymous sleuth is an 11-year-old girl with a passion for poisons. The Red Rock Canyon Mystery series’ protagonist is an aging English literature professor…and I could go on.
So now, I wonder, will there be a third outbreak of foot-in-mouth?