I used to write for Salon all the time, and when recently, a Chinese edition of my novel, Girls in Trouble, appeared with the wrong author photo, I wrote about it for Salon. To me, it was an essay about how so much is out of our hands as authors and also about the meaning of ownership, how an author photo is a physical symbol of "this is who I am and I wrote this book."
You might have thought I was writing about starting WWIII.
I instantly had about 70 responses, and most of them were anonymous. I had posted up two photos, my real author photo and the photo of Summer Pierre, the woman whose picture festooned my book. "You look like a vampire who needs a tan," someone wrote. "You want to look mysterious, but instead, you just look like a big bitch." I was accused of being jealous because the other woman was prettier, warmer, less pale. Then commenters began attacking me for what they thought was navel-gazing, for being a hack writer, for having a website they didn't like where "each link opened to a new window!" The attacks grew bigger and bigger, the language nastier and nastier, right along with my headaches and nausea.
People did come to my rescue. "I was going to email you to warn you about the commenters we get," someone who worked at Salon told me. My editor there emailed to tell me, "they're all mostly wanna be writers and they get jealous. Don't take it personally." A few friends, who had published pieces in Salon, also wrote me, telling me the same vitriol had splashed over them, too. "Don't read any more," people begged.
I believe in karma. I didn't react. I stayed cool, but it was a really rough day for me. And then, half an hour ago, I heard the story had found its way to China. An award-winning radio show in Ireland emailed me, wanting to interview me.
Not bad for a "vampire who needs a tan."