Friday, March 27, 2020

What is the Polite way to Greet Others in our Post-Handshake World? Ask The Manners Doctor

The Manners Doctor, aka Camilla Randall, author of "GoodManners for Bad Times" and "Rx for the Modern Wedding", has agreed to visit this blog once a month to answer some of our questions about contemporary etiquette.

Dear Manners Doctor,

In the era of COVID-19, we are not supposed to shake hands when we meet someone. And obviously, we can’t hug. 

When I greet people now, some stick out their elbows, looking like they’re doing some kind of silly chicken dance; some want to fist-bump like tough guys; and others perform a strange kicking ritual.

What do you think is the politest way to greet people in our post-handshake world?

Want to be Friendly, but Don’t Want the Plague

Dear Want to be Friendly,

The Manners Doctor feels your pain. She does indeed feel like some species of less-than-graceful poultry when she tries to stick out an elbow to bump another.

And she is not terribly fond of making a belligerent-looking fist when greeting a business associate, or kicking her friends and colleagues in the shins.

It is important to be aware why the handshake became a method of greeting. In ancient Greece, men clasped hands upon meeting to show their hands held no weapons. 

The ancient Romans' handshake was more like those unpleasant arm-grabs some men use to show dominance. This forearm grabbing was a way to make sure neither one had a dagger up the sleeve of his tunic.

The actual shaking of hands began in Europe in the Dark Ages, when it is said knights would shake the hand of the other to shake loose any hidden weaponry.  

So a handshake originally meant, “I don't trust you any farther than I can throw you.”  

Perhaps we should take this occasion to permanently adopt a more civilized form of greeting.

The Manners Doctor thinks we should follow the custom of the Japanese, who discovered long before the rest of us that when you are sequestered in a small place—whether a house or an island—it’s always best for everyone to follow proper etiquette to avoid annoying each other.

Or if one is annoyed, one learns to keep quiet about it.

The bow is the Manners Doctor’s preferred form of greeting in these contagious times. It allows for a full six feet of social distancing, and shows good manners. 

A pressing together of the palms in the “Namaste” gesture of South Asia while bowing is also an excellent, polite greeting, although the “Namaste” gesture may not be for everyone, since some feel it has religious connotations.

However, a bow is a simple way of saying, “I do not think myself above you.”

Isn’t that a bit friendlier than, “Let me check to see if you have any weapons.”?

So the Manners Doctor suggests we all adopt the
bow as a form of greeting.

It is an excellent way of avoiding the exchange of germs and viruses, and in her opinion is much superior to impersonating an unwell chicken.

Very Truly Yours,

The Manners Doctor

What about you? What form of handshake substitute are  you using? Do you think we should substitute a bow for a handshake permanently? 


SALE! Only .99c at all the Amazon stores!

SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her.

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky.

Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Available in ebook from:
Available in paper from:

Friday, February 28, 2020

Unwelcome Birthday Greetings: Ask the Manners Doctor

Is it acceptable for strangers to post advertising and political rants on your Facebook page on your birthday?

The Manners Doctor, aka Camilla Randall, author of "Good Manners for Bad Times" and "Rx for the Modern Wedding", has agreed to visit this blog once a month to answer some of our questions about online etiquette.

Are Girl Scouts taking over the world with poisoned Thin Mints?

Dear Manners Doctor,

I recently had a birthday, and I was gratified to see how many of my social media “friends” wished me happiness. But my Facebook page was also crowded with ads for books and services, plus a 2000 word rant from a man who claims that Lizard People from Betelgeuse have infiltrated the Girl Scouts and are planning to take over the world by poisoning people with bogus Thin Mints.

Some of my friends complained about the rant and some of the books, so I deleted the posts. Now the Lizard Person complains I have violated his freedom of speech. So did one of the authors who advertised a copy of her erotica book.

Am I violating the rights of these people?  

Birthday Girl

Dear Birthday Girl,

The Manners Doctor is always appalled by the behavior of people who think that being “on the Internet” somehow eliminates the need to practice good manners. Being online actually requires more attention to manners since one can’t use facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language to fine-tune one’s messages.

What you describe is the equivalent of posting advertising billboards and political signs on a neighbor’s lawn without permission. Whether or not these are posted on the neighbor’s birthday, this is bad manners. 

These people are trespassing.

The doctor suspects that these people have read the Facebook guidelines that say it’s a no-no to post on another person’s “timeline” unless there is some occasion where you want to send good wishes, like a birthday.

But this does not mean that people are invited to invade a neighbor’s personal space on their birthday.

As for the accusation of the victim violating the “freedom of speech” of these trespassers, the victim is not the one doing the violating. Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas in public without fear of retaliation by the government.

It does not say one’s speech is free from consequences. Just free from government retaliation.

If you call your mother-in-law a Lizard Person from Betelgeuse, you will have to deal with the consequences, and “freedom of speech” will not save you.

Besides, Facebook is not “public.” It is a private company. And Mr. Zuckerberg is not the government. You have every right to decide what is printed on your page as long as Mr. Zuckerberg does not object.

The Manners Doctor does not believe the Girl Scouts are Lizard People planning to take over the world with poisoned Thin Mints. This is because the Girl Scouts have already taken over the world with Thin Mints, which are one of the most addictive substances known to man. 

Very Truly Yours,
The Manners Doctor

Have you ever had unwanted things posted on your FB page on your birthday? At other times? How did you deal with it? Do you have any questions for the Manners Doctor? 


Googling Old Boyfriends: the Latest Camilla Comedy-Mystery

Want a fun escape to a California beach town?
"If you love comic mysteries that read like watching a movie in your head, you’ll have no trouble losing yourself in “Googling Old Boyfriends.” The prose is sharp, the humor dead on, and the solution unexpected with a romantic postscript." blogger Debra Eve
Googling old Boyfriends cover reveal

The Camilla Randall mysteries are a laugh-out-loud mashup of crime fiction, rom-com, and satire. Morro Bay bookshop owner Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong. But she always solves the case in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way. With some help from her cat, Buckingham.
In this stand-alone 7th episode, Camilla befriends socialite Mickie McCormack—a sexy, mysterious older woman who’s going through a painful divorce. Mickie has been Googling her old boyfriends to reconnect and “remember who she used to be.” Unfortunately every one of those boyfriends soon ends up dead.

"I whizzed though this page-turner in 48 hrs., scratching my head every step of the way yet stubbornly determined to solve. A fun read by a talented writer who grabs your attention and refuses to let go!" Bonnie Classen

Friday, January 24, 2020

You Lost me at Hello: Ask the Manners Doctor

The Problem with the Naked "Hello"

The Manners Doctor, aka Camilla Randall, author of "Good Manners for Bad Times" and "Rx for the Modern Wedding", has agreed to visit this blog once a month to answer some of our questions about online etiquette.

Q. Dear Manners Doctor:

I never know how to respond when some man friends me on Facebook or Instagram and immediately sends a direct message that simply says “Hello”—nothing else.

I used to just ignore these naked “hellos” because they seem creepy, but recently, a man on Instagram called me rude for not responding.

So the next time I got a hello on FB, I asked the man to interact on my page before he sent me a direct message, which I like to reserve for friends and family. He got so mad he sent me eggplant emojis all night long, interspersed with messages like “Goodnight Sweetie” and “Bye-bye Baby.”

I finally got up and blocked him at 4 AM, but when I told my FB friends about it, one woman said I should unblock because it wasn’t his fault. He probably didn’t know how to use his phone and did it all accidentally.

Can the Manners Doctor tell me what I’m doing wrong? Do I owe it to strange men to interact with them on social media?

Divorced but Not Lonely

A. Dear Not Lonely:

No man (or woman) has the right to sexually harass you, online or off.  Facebook and Instagram are not dating sites. The Manners Doctor is quite sure that anyone who is unaware of that fact has either been in a coma for the last twenty years or recently arrived from a galaxy far, far away.

And she doubts that comatose space aliens would know the off-color meaning of the eggplant emoji.

What you call a “naked hello” is the calling card of the scammer.  It is intrinsically manipulative. The speaker offers nothing, but demands something of the recipient. Con artists always count on the good manners of their marks. 

Sometimes what seems “rude” in normal circumstances is simple self-preservation when dealing with a con artists.   

You were doing exactly the right thing. The person who called you rude was in the wrong. If anybody sends you a “naked hello” (The Manners Doctor is going to appropriate your excellent phrase) do not respond. Then block the sender.

Very Truly Yours, 

The Manners Doctor

Q. Dear Manners Doctor:

A friend I hadn’t heard from in several years—I’ll call her Sheila—recently sent me a Direct Message on Facebook that simply said “hello.” I was thrilled. We hadn’t parted on good terms, but I figured she wanted to let bygones be bygones and make up.

Because the situation was delicate, instead of sending a reply message, I phoned her.

I was devastated when her husband answered and said Sheila died two months ago. He said I was horribly rude to intrude on his grief when I hadn’t even bothered to show up at the funeral.

Doctor, how can I be called “rude” when I didn’t know anything about the funeral? There was nothing about it on her Facebook page, which hadn’t been updated for nearly five years. 

And I still don’t know why I got that “hello” message from Sheila from beyond the grave.

Getting Messages from the Other Side

A. Dear Getting Messages:

The Manners Doctor makes it a point never to criticize anyone’s belief system, but she is quite sure that what you experienced was not a message from the “Other Side.”

One of the most common scams in social media is a “hack” that doesn’t require hacker skills. The scammer simply goes to a Facebook page (they prefer neglected ones like Sheila’s) and skims the person’s friends list. Then they send messages (usually an unadorned “hello”) hoping to get a reply. 

Once they’ve convinced the mark that they’re really the friend they’re impersonating, they spin a tale of woe and hit the mark up for a "loan".

This must work on some victims, because these scams are proliferating.

The Manners Doctor advises that no one respond to a naked “hello,” even when it appears to be from a friend.

Very Truly Yours, 

The Manners Doctor.

Do you have any questions for the Manners Doctor? How do you feel about the "naked hello"?

Book of the Month
Start at the Beginning of the Manners Doctor Saga--Only 99c!

GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY:  Camilla Randall Mystery #1 

After her celebrity ex-husband’s ironic joke about her “kinky sex habits” is misquoted in a tabloid, New York etiquette columnist Camilla Randall’s life unravels in bad late night TV jokes.

Nearly broke and down to her last Hermes scarf, she accepts an invitation to a Z-list Writers’ Conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California, where, unfortunately, a cross-dressing dominatrix named Marva plies her trade by impersonating Camilla.

When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with Marva to stop the killer from striking again.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in e-book at all the Amazons  GooglePlay  KoboScribd and NOOK.

It is available in paper at Amazon & Barnes and Noble 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Happy 2020!

I wish all my readers a peaceful and prosperous new year! 

I'm going to be taking a little hiatus from this blog in order to work on my new Camilla mystery, Catfishing in America. It's inspired by the "catfishing" would-be scammers who try to romance older women on social media then hit them up for money

A classic painting by Ohara Koson that might inspire the cover designer.

Expect it later in 2020. I'll be bringing back a lot of Camilla's old bad boyfriends, including Ronzo, Peter Sherwood, and of course, her ex-husband, Jonathan Kahn. Will she finally find Mr. Right? Well, probably not. But there will be lots of laughs, adventures and a little romance along the way. 

And of course, Buckingham, the bookstore cat. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Being Thankful for…Rejections? Why I’m Grateful to the People Who Rejected My Early Work

On our writers’ blog, Ruth Harris and I say we made the mistakes so you don’t have to. And I sure made my share. Maybe more than my share.

I got an agent with my first query!
When I started querying agents, I scored the pot at the end of the rainbow with my very first query. I was such a newbie, I didn’t even know how impossibly lucky this was.

I was still a working actress in Southern California when I sent off a very early draft of The Best Revenge to an agent who was referred to me by a friend in the business. It was a prestigious agency in Los Angeles, and I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in Hades.

But a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call. Yes, an actual call, from a delightful man with a British accent who said he thought the book was hilarious and he wanted to “send it around.” No mention of a contract. That should have been my first clue.

And then I heard nothing. For weeks. And months. I’d read in Writer’s Digest that you’re never supposed to phone an agent, so I didn’t call. After about six months, I sent a “follow-up” letter. (This was long before email.)

Two months later—a full eight months after my “acceptance”— my manuscript, in its stamped, self-addressed manuscript box, landed back at my house. I can still remember the sound of “thump, thwack, slide” as it skidded across the concrete patio.

Inside was a scrawled note. “John has left the agency and we understand he has moved back to England.”


I was devastated. I felt hollowed-out and dead inside. It was like the time in 7th grade I found out that my first love, Chip Bessey, had asked Katrina Jagels to the Spring Hop instead of me.

I gave up writing for almost a year.

I Finally Get a Real Agent

Meanwhile, I wrote a play and had it produced and won some awards. I was having the success in the theater I thought I could never have in publishing.

But I also found the theater didn’t thrill me the way it used to.

And my itch to write novels was still there. I finally sat down and reread my manuscript and saw hundreds of flaws. I went back to my critique group and asked them to help me polish it up.
Jeff Herman's Guide was our Bible
I researched agents in a pricey copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents—the only way you could find out about agents in the pre-Internet era.

I found one that looked good. Young, eager for new clients, and she had worked for the same agency with my sort-of agent from L. A.

She wrote back and asked for the full manuscript. A few months later I got the call. She wanted to rep me!

Meanwhile, I had a major tragedy in my life. My beloved Dad died. I also turned 40.

My mother reminded me that when I was small, I always used to say I wanted to live in a little cottage by the sea and write books.

So I pulled up stakes, sold my SoCal condo, and moved to the sleepy Central Coast. I bought a little 900 sq. ft house three blocks from the waters of Morro Bay.

I had an agent. And my cottage by the sea. I was going to be a real writer.

I started working on my magnum opus. This was the literary novel that was going to find me a place in the literary firmament.

You’re probably all laughing now. That’s not exactly how the publishing industry works.

Fear of Success…

Six months after I moved to the Central Coast, my new agent dropped me. Again, I was devastated. I managed to get some freelance writing work while I clerked in a couple of bookstores and sold antiques.
Photo of downtown Baywood by Paul Irving
I put The Best Revenge in a drawer and worked on that “big book.” And then wrote another, lighter one.

I started sending them out. And sending . I got rejections by the ton. Sometimes in return mail.

I did everything you shouldn’t.

·       I sometimes queried all three books at the same time.
·       I wrote my synopsis in a tiny font so it fit on one page—since so many agents asked for a “one page synopsis” in those days. (Who did I think I was fooling? I was only making it harder to read.)
·       I queried agents who didn’t represent my genre (s)
·       I didn’t even know what genre to say I was writing, so I improvised according to what the agent was looking for.
·       I wrote terrible query letters. Not enough hook & way too much about me and all the nonfiction articles I was writing.
·       I faked personalizations, once even saying I was going to a writers’ conference where the agent was slated to speak—even though I had no intention of going.

Is it any wonder the rejections stacked up?

I think I had a fear of success.

But I think that was because I knew, deep down, that I could do better. And that took time. I think my freelance writing helped me improve. Plus all the research I was doing on agents also taught me about the publishing industry and how it works.
I was collecting lots of rejections

Without that time to grow and learn, I don’t think I would have succeeded in this business. I was too na├»ve and would have got myself in all kinds of trouble.

Two more Agents!

Finally  I started doing some things right.

·       I went to writers conferences,
·       Joined a local critique group
·       And a writing club.
·       I kept learning from what I’d done wrong the last time.
·       I placed short stories and poems in literary magazines.
·       I even won some contests, one for a story and one for a poem.

Finally, it worked! I got another agent.

She sent my “big book” out on submission for a year.

She couldn’t sell it. In fact, she couldn’t sell much. She ended up leaving NYC and gave up agenting altogether and moving back to Texas.

But I was better at getting agents by now. So I got another one.  She liked Food of Love but made me do lots of edits to dumb it down and make it more of a romance.

I Fire my Fifth Agent

While my romanced-up version of Food of Love was making the endless rounds with editors, I got an email from one of the magazines that had accepted a story months before. The editor said the magazine was going under, but he had taken a job at a small press in the English Midlands. He was in charge of acquisitions— did I have any novels looking for a publisher?

I sent him Food of Love. A month later I got a call from the managing editor of the company—a former BBC comedy writer—with an offer of a nice advance. He also offered me a place to stay if I wanted to come to England to launch my book.

Do I have to tell you how fast I bought a ticket to London and fired my agent?
I was off to England!

I’m not going to tell you that everything was beer and skittles after that. (Although there was a lot of beer involved.) But I embarked on the adventure of my life (which inspired my comic mystery Sherwood, Ltd.) And got to see two of my books in print. I got to go on a book tour and live out my fantasy.

But I also had to deal with some strong criticism and major changes from my UK editor. I was finally mature enough as a writer to understand what he wanted and why my book needed the changes.

A few years before the edits would have made me sad. So would the book signings where only three people showed up. But I finally knew enough about the business to take it all in stride. All those years of rejection had taught me a lot.

And so, in a way, I’m grateful to them. They gave me the time to learn and grow into a confident, professional writer.

Did my magnum opus make it? Nope. It took another, fiercer editor to whip that puppy into shape…but that’s another story.

What about you? Did you collect a boatload of rejections before you found a publisher? Are you still on the query-go-round?


SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her.

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky.

Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Available in ebook from:
Available in paper from:

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Worst Thanksgiving Ever...And Can a Romantic Heroine Stay Happily Single?

Is this the only path to happiness? 
Some of my readers have been discussing whether Camilla should “end up” with one of her string of charming, but unsuitable boyfriends. Her marriage to newsman Jonathan Kahn ended in disaster, and she hasn’t made any terribly good decisions about romantic partners since.

At the end of each book, Camilla has a nice “happy for now” ending, but readers don’t really expect the romance to last.

My tagline for the series has always been “Murder, Mayhem, and Mr. Wrong.”

Personally I don’t feel she can settle down with a Mr. Right unless the series is ending. I think of all the TV shows that faded away once the main characters consummated the relationship. Moonlighting, Dexter, and Castle come to mind.

Finding Happiness

So does a woman really have to be tethered to a man in order to have a “Happy Ever After” life in contemporary fiction?

Recently I visited a hairdresser who talked about a widow friend
who she felt was still attractive enough “to find happiness.”

Find happiness. That phrase had me seeing red, although I didn’t say anything.

I’m single. I’ve been single most of my life, and I’m not actively looking for an old man to take care of in my “golden years”—does that mean I’m not happy?

It doesn’t feel that way. I’m free to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. If I feel like hopping on a plane to have an adventure, I can. If I want to hole up for six months and grind out a book, I can do that too.

I live in a lovely little house by the sea in a quiet neighborhood full of wonderful friends. My own personal writing retreat.

Like Camilla with her cottage and bookstore.

So can’t she have a happy life with a series of boyfriends instead of just one?

Holidays Are Tough for Singles...but You're Wrong About Why

Unfortunately, some people still believe “single” is a synonym for "needy" and “unwanted.”

As we get hurtled into “The Holidaze,” we approach a time that’s precarious for us singles. No, not because we’re all sitting alone and in despair because we’re not cooking a turkey dinner for twenty-five or fighting with a spouse about which set of in-laws to visit for Christmas.

Not going to a holiday party can be fun, too
But this is the season when married people trot out their pity for the “poor, sad, lonely” single people. 

They invite us to tension-filled family dinners with the MAGA parents and non-binary teenagers and the untrained puppy who tries to take your leg to the we don’t “have to be alone.”

Sometimes they try to fix us up. They invite two single persons of opposite genders to the tension-filled family dinner and expect romantic sparks to fly. The sparks are almost always a no-show. Instead, awkwardness ensues.

For me, the best holiday celebrations are big neighborhood parties where everybody brings a dish and there are kids and dogs and everybody’s having a good time no matter what their living arrangements.

And if I don’t happen to get invited anywhere, I can still have a wonderful holiday. 

One Thanksgiving, when the weather was more suited for the beach than roasting large birds, I made a turkey sandwich (with cranberries—had to have cranberries) and took a book to the beach. What a great day! (Even though a seagull tried to take half my sandwich.)

The Worst Thanksgiving Dinner Ever

Worse than having dinner with these guys.
But I have had some bad ones. The worst holiday I ever spent was the Thanksgiving when a married acquaintance insisted I come to her house for her very special turkey dinner. I had two other invitations, but I turned them down because this woman was so insistent.

I got all gussied up and brought a pricey bottle of wine because I assumed it was going to be a fancy do. 

But when I arrived, the woman ushered me into her astonishingly messy kitchen, and pointed at the cold, half eaten turkey on the table and told me to help myself. But I wasn’t to eat any stuffing or cranberries or dessert, she said, because those were “for the family.” Slowly I realized that her family had already eaten and I’d been invited to pick over the unwanted leftovers.  

Even though we were the same age and the same social class, both homeowners who were gainfully employed, she saw me as some pathetic stray she was generously allowing to eat her scraps.

All because I’m single.

As if this were 1890 and women had to be the property of a man in order to have food and a roof over their heads.

I learned something there. Like never accept an iffy holiday invite when you could be at the beach with a good book and an attentive seagull. 

Why I Prefer Happy for Now

The truth is that being single in a society where women are allowed to earn their own keep is a pretty nice life. 

We are only unhappy when ignorant people put us in awkward positions.

Which takes me back to Camilla. Camilla was raised to be uselessly rich, so she’s not terribly good at earning a living. But she has never expected a man to keep her. 

And she’s not desperate for love. Love appears, usually in the form of a complicated and peripatetic man. She resists, succumbs, resists again, then falls happily into his arms. For now.

Which is why I think “happy for now” is the best goal for her series.

What about you? Are you single and happy? Do you think marriage is the only path to happiness? What's the worst Thanksgiving experience you ever had?

No Place Like Home: Camilla Randall Comedy-Mystery #4
(But it can be read as a stand-alone)

Wealthy Doria Windsor is suddenly homeless and accused of a murder she didn't commit. But Camilla, with the help of a brave trio of homeless people, the adorable Mr. X, and a little dog named Toto, is determined to unmask the real killer and discover the dark secrets of Doria’s deceased “financial wizard” husband before Doria is killed herself.

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.
"It's comedy about a dark topic – homelessness – and it succeeds without ever descending into tasteless insensitivity, or tipping over into sentimentality."...Lucinda Elliot

Available at all the Amazons and NOOK,  Page Foundry, Kobo and iTunes It's also available in paperback from Amazon USAmazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT. LARGE PRINT is also available at Barnes and Noble.
Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)
Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook

Friday, September 27, 2019

Using Fiction to Process Real Life Trauma: How I Survived an Online Troll Attack

This week one of my readers suggested that I put more autobiographical material in my novels. She especially wanted to know more about the time I was stalked and terrorized by a gang of Amazon review trolls and Goodreads bullies.

The truth is, some scenes from So Much For Buckingham take a whole lot of material from my real experiences back in 2012. 

So I decided to post a scene here today.

I think writing this scene helped me process my own trauma and put it in perspective. By adding the cat for comic relief, it also helped me lighten my attitude to my own experience.

When I was under attack, I hadn't committed the cardinal sin Camilla has—responding to an online review. But I had witnessed the bullying of a teenager who had responded negatively to an online review and that meant I got on the full Goodreads bully treatment. (Goodreads later banned the ringleaders of that notorious gang.)

The obscene threats are taken verbatim from threats I saw or received via email, blog comment, and “review.” The bullies did indeed send me a photo of my house along with death threats, to escalate my fear. 

I only figured out later the photo they emailed me was simply taken from Google Maps. At the time I feared these people were right here on my property, photographing me. The Google image had been taken only months earlier and the photographer happened to get my garbage bins in the shot. The night I got the death threat, it was garbage night and the bins were at the curb just as they were in the photo.

The panic Camilla feels is what I felt. I knew I couldn’t get any help from law enforcement, since I had no proof these lunatics planned to carry out the threatsand it turned out they didn't. But I had no way of knowing that. So I was as terrified as if these murderer-wannabes were really outside my door.
photo of my house from Google Maps

I think online bullying has only got worse since then. But I don’t think it’s as prevalent in the online writing community as it was in the wild days of the "Kindle Goldrush."

Like Camilla, I have worked in bookstores, although I've never owned one, as Camilla does. She’s an author, like me, but she writes etiquette books, something I would fail at miserably.

I did not have Buckingham to save the day.
I did once have a tuxedo cat who banged my screen door the way Buckingham does in this scene, but alas, I didn’t have him to save me from the psycho review bullies during my night of terror.

In the following scene, Camilla is alone in her cottage, unable to contact her best friend Plantagenet, who has flown to England (Where he meets the ghost of Richard III, but that's another subplot.) 

Plus her publishers haven't returned her calls for weeks. So she feels alone in the world when she gets the death threat. She has been getting nasty "reviews" and comments from the self-styled "review police" after committing the gaffe of responding to a review, but this is the first time her life is threatened.

Later one of the trolls, "DickonthePig" is found murdered during a historical reenactment in the English Midlands, and Plantagenet is a suspect. But here Camilla doesn't know if these people are truly homicidal, or just obscenity-obsessed online crazies. 

This passage from So Much for Buckingham is from Part III The Kingdom of Perpetual Night

There were a dozen more one-star "reviews" on my Amazon book pages. Especially Good Manners for Bad Times.
These poisonous reviews were even more toxic and threatening than the last batch. Some accused me of criminal behavior and others of sexual deviance. Lots of them threatened me with rape. Some also threatened somebody named Hinckley Lutterworth.
I didn't even know anybody named Hinckley Lutterworth, although the name rang a distant bell.
I felt a burning in my gut as I skimmed the headers. Part of me wanted to click away and pretend it wasn't happening, but I knew I had to face the full catastrophe.
The most recent "review" had come in only a minute before.
"Jezbellzbooks" said "Dr. Manners is a BBA. Sumbudy shud teach HER sum manners. Maybe with a **** up her ***. Or get a gun. Just shoot that old bat. Put her out of our misery."
A gun. They wanted to kill me. Apparently the crime of responding to a ridiculous "review" was a capital offense to these people.
I refreshed the page and another one came up.
"Owain Glendower" said: "These bloody reviewers have completely lost the plot. As William Shakespeare said, 'Hell is empty and all the devils are here'. Looks like the work of You-Know-Who-You-Are-You-Sodding-Prats. The filth on Book Reviews dot Com is even worse. Utterly depraved. What's wrong with you people? Henry Tudor was one of the greatest kings Britain has ever seen."
Except for the weird reference to English history, that was the first "review" that had made any sense. It even gave me five stars.
I Googled Book Reviews dot Com and searched for my books.
What came up turned my stomach. There were many pages of obscene comments. "Author Should be Sodomized Sideways with a Garden Gnome" was repeated at least 50 times by different "reviewers" with monikers like "SmarterThanYouBitch", "Pottymouth" and "F***U2". Some had odd symbols instead of names. But they all called me a "badly behaving author" and threatened me with rape and torture. Hinckley Lutterworth got a number of threats too, although he didn't seem to get the "badly behaving author" accusations.
The only person who defended me was my Amazon friend "Owain Glendower," who appeared to be a civilized, non-psychopathic person. As a result, subsequent reviews attacked him, too.
DickonThePig, who seemed to be everywhere, said he knew where Owain lived and threatened to cut off his private parts with rusty garden shears. The one called "Alfred the Cake" threatened to blow him up with a fertilizer bomb, and "Libra Rising" thought Owain deserved garden gnome rape as well.
Gardening seemed to be a theme here.
There was also excessive verbiage about Richard III and Henry Tudor. What these people thought I had to do with medieval English monarchs I couldn't even guess.
With my publishers AWOL and Plantagenet refusing to return my phone calls, I had no idea what to do about any of this.
I took off to eat some dinner, but when I came back, there were plenty more toxic reviews. On Book Reviews dot Com, Owain Glendower and somebody called Jasper Tudor seemed to have got themselves into a "flame war" with DickonthePig, Libra Rising, and Alfred the Cake. It was horrific, but also pretty laughable. Luckily, they dropped any mention of me early in their Tudor-vs-Plantagenet battle in the comment thread, but they all threatened each other using obscenities that nearly seared my eyeballs.
Why did the Internet bring out such bad behavior in people?  
I started to feel panicky.
I checked my email. Plant would have to reply to my frantic messages sometime. 
Oh, good. I had one new email. From a U.K. address.
I started to feel relief. It had to be either Plant or somebody from the publishing company.
The relief didn’t last long.
"The rape train is coming. Your raped and mutilated corpse will be in tomorrow's Bay News. We will choke you with Hinckley Lutterworth's severed penis. Libra will rise."
There were two attachments, photos. When I enlarged the first I saw a 1930s California bungalow-style stucco cottage. Mine. The second was a picture of my bookstore.
I started to shake. Partly with fear and partly with rage. These rapist, misogynist monsters had been here. In my very own courtyard, taking photos of my house. They could be out there right now.
My first instinct was to call the police. But then I realized it was pointless. People made stupid threats on the Internet all the time these days. You could see them in the comments of every online news article. In fact, I remembered reading that the Supreme Court had recently ruled that making online threats was perfectly legal if the threatener didn't mean to carry them out.
How was I supposed to know if these crazed "book reviewers" really intended to rape and murder me?
And who on earth was Hinckley Lutterworth? And why didn't these people have lives?
The screen door banged.
And banged again.
If this was a prank, it was entirely too close to home. It was time to call the police, no matter what the Supreme Court said.
I reminded myself I needed to breathe. But I had to do it silently. I didn't want whoever was out there to know for sure that I was here.
This wasn't Internet bullying anymore. This was real life. I had rapist psychos banging on my front door.
It occurred to my rational brain that they must be very lightweight rapist psychos. I hadn't heard any footsteps. People always made noise crunching through the gravel in the courtyard.
But I wasn't taking any chances. I dialed 911.
The door banged again.
As the phone rang, I grabbed the empty wine bottle by the neck to use as a weapon.
"What is your emergency?" the operator said.
"Somebody keeps slamming my screen door," I whispered into the phone. "They've sent me a threatening email. I think it's a bunch of lunatics from Amazon. They know where I live. They sent a picture of my house. They want to rape and murder me, apparently. And mutilation will be involved."
"Amazon? The online store? Are you being physically threatened?" The woman's voice was businesslike, but soothing.
"Um…They said news about my corpse would be in tomorrow's Bay News. I guess they don't know it's a weekly." I worked hard to make my voice sound calm. I didn't want to sound like a paranoid crazy person. "They also threatened somebody named Hinckley Lutterworth, and I don't even know anybody by that name. Not that I can remember. They also said something like 'Libra will rise'. I have no idea what that's about. I'm a Scorpio."
"Can you see who is at the door, ma'am?  Do they have weapons?"
I could see nothing from the front window. Not even a shadow thrown by the bright security light that illuminated the path between the store and my cottage.
I drew up my courage, set down the phone, and unlocked the door.
"I have the police on the phone!" I shouted into the courtyard as I yanked on the doorknob.
But I saw no one. The person who had been banging the door had disappeared. Which made no sense. I still hadn't heard any footsteps on the gravel.
I picked up the phone again.
"I don't see anybody," I said. "But they could be hiding."
"Are these people threatening you now, ma'am?"
I let go of the door handle and looked in horror as the screen door moved away from me, seemingly on its own.
Then it banged again.
I looked down. There was my cat Buckingham, with his claws hooked in the screen, pulling back the door.
He unhooked his claw and gave me a look that said, "You can't be this stupid. Open the damn door."
"I, um, maybe it's not…" I felt my face flush. "I'm so sorry. It seems to be a false alarm. Sorry. It's only my cat. Don't bother the police."
"A unit has already been dispatched, ma'am."
I closed my phone and gave Buckingham a stern look.
"I'll let you in on one condition," I said to his smug little white-mustached face. "When the rapist reviewers come for me, you will use those claws on them."

Have you ever been the victim of online trolls? Did they send death threats? Did you call the police? Have you ever processed a trauma by fictionalizing it? 

Until September 30th
"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, Canada's "Queen of Comedy"
It's a comedy-mystery about cyberbullying, the gangs of new media, and the ghost of Richard III. Plus a cat named Buckingham.

"This wonderfully satiric comedy is a joy to read. On the surface, it's a frothy romance cum suspense story about a whacky writer, Camilla, whose life is threatened by trolls and who topples from one hilarious disaster into the next. But underneath, it provides a perceptive insight into the mad world of modern publishing, the sub-culture of Internet lunatics and the mindset of cultists who can - and do - believe ten impossible things before breakfast. The reader is left with the question: how much of the story, perish the thought, might be true? Tremendous fun, wittily satiric and highly recommended."...Nigel J. Robinson

Available in ebook from:
Available in paper from: