My First Hate Mail

I had a brilliant day on Saturday. I was away for the weekend in stunning Killiney, a suburb of Dublin, the sun was shining bright in a cloudless sky and I had just attended an Inkwell Writers Women’s Fiction Workshop with bestselling authors Sinead Moriarty and Monica McInerney (more on that later in the week).

I was also celebrating something very special, which I’ll blog about in a little while, after coffee.

Then I checked my phone and found what I consider to be my very first piece of hate mail.

If you haven’t read Mousetrapped, some background: the emailer is referring to ‘In God We Trust’, a chapter in Mousetrapped (one of sixteen) in which I describe my visit to The Holy Land Experience, Orlando’s religious theme park. To put my reaction in context, I confess that I’m an Atheist and describe how that came to be, beginning with my earliest memory of questioning what I’d been told, which is wondering where in the Bible were the dinosaurs. (I am not, for the record, an Atheist just because I couldn’t find a chapter in the Bible called Jurassic Park.) It is written in the same light-hearted, humorous style as the rest of the book and is the furthest thing, in my opinion, from a diatribe.

This is the e-mail I received, in its entirety. The only thing I’ve left out is the sender’s name.

First, thank you for writing and publishing Mousetrapped. I hope someday to follow in your writing and publishing footsteps. I found your site and book while researching self publishing.I was posting a review/warning on Amazon when I considered that time has gone by since you published and it might be more polite of me to send you the review/warning to look over first since a revision of your e-book may already be in the works. Here is what I wrote:

“This is, in many ways, a wonderful book. Would-be purchasers though deserve a warning. A Muslim will stop reading near the end when Ms. Howard comes out of the blue with a 14 page defense of atheism. Unbelief being the worst of the seventeen great sins (punishable by death in some Islamic countries). Observant Jews should know this chapter includes a trashing of your scripture – not enough dinosaurs (I’m not kidding). The author, at age 12, apparently mistook her Bible for a biology or paleontology text and found it wanting.

Christians and Christianity are of course the focus of her vitriol, Christianity being the only religion that tolerates such rants. The Bible defends atheists (God’s admonition to let them live, Matt.13:30), sees unbelievers as future converts, and contains a book written from an atheist perspective (Ecclesiastes).

Ms. Howard fell for the old “science vs. religion” hoax, the emotional battle between those who do not read the Bible because they do not believe its message and those who do believe its message and thus informed, don’t feel compelled to read it. As a teaser aside (to inspire reading), for Ms. Howard and those still caught in that weak trap: cars, medicine, our knowledge of dinosaurs and those flags on the moon, all exist because of the Western Scientific Method which derived from the unique premises of; linear time, a stable and universal (observable and testable) creation, and that creation ex nihilo. You’ll find the tipping point for humanity’s relationship with nature (the beginning of science), in the first five words of Genesis 1:1.

I was so happily getting more than my money’s worth reading Mousetrapped until accosted by the diatribe. I read on, but those 14 pages made the book feel expensive. A delightful young woman’s naivete (of America, the Space Coast, living on her own, etc.), is powerfully endearing and when mixed with courageous growth and appreciation for life, – well, it made me cry at times and want to hug her. Naivete of faith and scripture, mixed with defensiveness, anger and even contempt, does not belong in this book. A revised edition should omit these pages.”

I’m 99 percent sure I logged out of amazon before it posted. I was in the “review your posting”  window and had not checked anything that looked like a “send” button.

As an author (a very good one because I honestly loved your book), you want to include your theological identity in the book. You want to proselytize your (un)belief. This is understandable.

As a publisher, you must not kill sales, offend readers, or in the case of purchasers in places governed by fatwas, endanger them without warning.

I would not have taken the time and effort to write all this (or attempt a post on amazon), for a lesser writer or for a book that wasn’t spiritually redeemable (like it’s author).

Yours sincerely,

[Sender’s Name]

Now, I am far less interested in sales than I am in being honest. There is little point in writing anything that even dips a toe in the ‘Memoir’ waters without it. And it’s not like that chapter is an Atheist manifesto; I was establishing context. And even people of faith who’ve read it have said to me that they too think a religious theme park is a little on the crazy side.

For the following reasons, I still feel it was the right decision to put that chapter in the book:

  1. Religious freedom works both ways
  2. The book is about me and my experiences
  3. It’s my book
  4. It’s my book
  5. Oh yeah – IT’S MY BLOODY BOOK.

And, just an FYI, the book’s description on Amazon is the same as on the back of the book and points out that one of Mousetrapped‘s topics is ‘religious theme parks’. Presumably the emailer was okay with religion featuring in the book, so long as it was positive. Moreover, I have read the Bible. I was educated at Catholic-run schools from the age of five until the age of eighteen, was baptized, confirmed and communed and have travelled twice to Lourdes, France, as a helper of the sick – after I realized I was an Atheist, I might add.

My email address is on my site so people with genuine questions about self-publishing, etc. can get in contact, and I’m not going to take it down. However should I get any more emails like the one above, I will stop reading as soon as I realize what they are and they will be deleted. All comments on this blog are moderated; see Comment Policy in bottom left hand corner for details.

Also: I don’t need saving, thanks.

If you are the emailer, thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you haven’t been waiting for a response, because one isn’t coming. Feel free to press the ‘Submit Review’ button; Amazon screen reviews for the sort of hatred, subtle threats and attacks on the author – as opposed to views on the book – that your ‘review’ contains and even if it got through, I would have it removed for the same reasons. Finally, thanks for your $14.95. I’ll be sure to spend it on something Atheist related.

In other, happier news, something fabulous happened this week; details coming up shortly.

If you want to read my Atheist manifesto, you’ll have to wait because I haven’t written one. However if you want to read Mousetrapped, you can do so here.

20 thoughts on “My First Hate Mail

  1. Josa Young says:

    I don’t think this is hate mail. It is rather lovely in many areas. I think it is this person’s opinion, and therefore valid. Made me want to read your book!

  2. catherineryanhoward says:

    Thanks everyone – appreciate it.

    The thing is, this email would’ve been a thoughtful advisory (and nice review) but for what she threatening to post on Amazon – the bit from “This is…” to “… omit these pages.” The book and experience she’s describing is not mine, she’s accusing me of putting people in danger and repeatedly calls me naive in matters of faith, which I am absolutely not. I also don’t appreciate the subtle threats she plants throughout.

    Anyway, the irony of all this is that I actually finish up that chapter by saying that the hatred directs towards Atheists scares and upsets me (and that I, for one, am just LOVELY!) and also that I don’t want to talk about religion at all, because it’s not in my life.

    So I won’t be blogging about this again but honestly I just got such a shock – I had to vent!

    C x

  3. Graham Storrs says:

    Your correspondent forgot to mention that it is the religious crazies in religious countries that are killing people for what they believe – not atheists. It’s also worth noting that no-one else is suggesting you censor your book — or else.

    I like your point about not wanting to talk about religion. It’s a total irrelevancy in my life too. But religious theme parks! How can one let such a thing pass without comment?

  4. diane says:

    I can understand why someone who believes in God would not agree with, maybe not enjoy, that part of the book. But for them to advocate censorship so that you don’t offend anyone is ridiculous and a belief I hope never becomes the majority opinion.

    We all take the chance of learning something or of being offended when we read, and just because we do not like something, does not mean it should never be published. The point of writing is to tell the truth, your truth in the case of this book. The “diatribe” was relevant in the context of what you were doing, visiting a religious theme park, and is one of the things that added depth to Mousetrapped, meaning it isn’t just a simple “Sun and J1 visa” Floridian romp (not that there’s anything wrong with those, or that you don’t celebrate the lighthearted side of life in Florida – but you also go a little deeper.

  5. Lindsay Edmunds says:

    I agree with Diane’s comment. What’s next — books that do not endorse religion (specifically Christianity) having to carry warning labels to protect the fragile faith of the believers? And for the record, I am a believer.

    • diane says:

      Ha, that made me smile!
      “Just because we wrote it and they read it – it does not mean that what we wrote is what they read!”
      Words for all writers to remember.

  6. Maria Duffy says:

    Hi Catherine,

    Don’t let it get you down. Maybe putting aside the nastiness of some of the comments, you should take pride in the fact that your book is obviously worth talking about. I can’t wait to read it. xx

  7. Jon says:

    It’s your book. That’s the best and really only defense. You are your own publisher, as well as your author.

    As a believer, those pages were a struggle for me, not so much as the bleak prospects of a religious theme park, as much as hearing your struggle with faith. That was offset by my understanding is that you are writing a memoir, not trying to proselytize, but to tell your own story, and that requires a background of your belief, worldview, what have you.

    Also, as a believer, I think this is a golden critique for Christian to take to heart, what are the goals of these theme parks? Preach to the choir? Teach the good news? Are we doing a good job of either, by making theme parks?

    Again, Cath, I really enjoyed your book, because, in part, because you were brave enough to be honest, and the courage to include even parts that might be taken as unpopular.

    Namaste.

  8. catherineryanhoward says:

    Thanks Maria! 🙂

    And thanks Jon, that means a lot coming from you, and it’s good to get a take on it from a person of faith. Clearly you understood that I was not trying to get people to agree with me, but to show why I choose to believe (or not believe) what I do.

    Thanks everyone!

  9. Ciara says:

    I love this “review” of your book! I want to read it even more now, if only to mourn alongside you about the lack of dinosaurs in the bible. How much more fun would it have been if Jesus had to fast for 40 days and 40 nights because a velociraptor ate the last piece of steak? I also enjoyed the vaguely threatening references to the fact that unbelief is punishable by death in some religious but, equally, was comforted by the fact that God reminded people to let us live. Phew!

    Anyway, if this person couldn’t get the joke, that really is their problem, and they do say many good things about your book so that is all good. And, most important of all, I think this means you are a real, bone fide superstar writer now!! All the good ones have had hate mail and lots of it! x

  10. Andrea "The American Roommate" says:

    You know you’ve “made it” when you receive negative feedback from someone…that’s all I’m sayin’.

  11. Cid says:

    Oh my. I know how demoralizing it can be to get hate mail; though I have never received any as well written or verbose as yours. It’s a pity that the reviewer only wanted to focus on those 14 pages instead of the work as a whole. Sounds like it hit a nerve for them and… they wanted to beat their drum. I’m sorry you had to experience that!

  12. Catherine Rotte-Murray says:

    Hi Catherine (my namesake!) I follow your posts via email cos I don’t know how to get them otherwise as I blog with Blogger. And I found your blog via your mam’s who follows mine (is that confusing? Probably!) Anyway I just want to say this reviewer is so ludicrously promoting her own agenda that she has the audacity to tell you to change the ending or the part you satirise creationism or dinosaurs in the Bible – incredible! I lived in Africa and Asia and was frequently surrounded by religious fanatics of all stripes – and I found the fundamentalist evangelical Christians the most difficult to take – their intolerance would nearly put the Taliban to shame at times. So I know exactly what kind of person would send a diatribe like this. People so intolerant of the “other” that they lived in the African bush (sent there by The Lord to bring his word and blatantly prosyletising) as if they were still in the Deep South – Lazyboy recliners, Betty Crocker cake mix (as in The Poisonwood Bible) and were voracious game hunters – nothing on four legs in the wild was safe from their guns. They considered anyone not of their ilk to be beneath them and worthy of their contempt. Their missionary planes were known to have refused to carry sick nuns or bring patients to catholic mission hospitals – and I have no particular grá for the nuns except I knew some great women who looked after us so well when two of our kids were born in their mission hospital – which was open to all in the community – christian, muslim, atheist, they didn’t ask. So I haven’t yet read Mousetrapped – I will do though, must check out availability on Amazon – but it sounds a riot – well done! It sounds like it’s in the hilarious genre up there with Joe O’Connors Secret life of the Irish Male when he went to Florida in 1994 for the World Cup and had a romp thru’ Disneyland where the Irish lads had a howl at the guide telling them they had the biggest Mickey in the world in Disneyland – along with the fact she went for a ride a few times every day!
    Anyway, this is all over the place – but you get my drift – just to say F*** the begrudgers and well done with your book and getting an agent!
    Drop by my blog sometime – it’s just over the border from Cork – I had a self-published story in a book once from a writing group I went to for a few summers, it’s great to have that chance. I blog erratically and with no theme in mind, just whatever comes up in my life. I love writing and might do some again one day.
    All the best, Catherine

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