Amazon.com reviewers knock Rice from pedestal

These days vampires aren’t the only ones going for the jugular. Anne Rice, empress of vampire novels everywhere since “Interview with a Vampire” was first published in 1973, has now become the empress of the hissy-fit. Earlier this month, Rice used the Internet to fire back at critical Amazon users when she found them posting “outrageously negative comments” about her most recent book.

But Rice isn’t the only author using the Internet as a means to connect to readers, for better or worse. More and more writers are trading in their status as demi-gods to relate to their fans.

The Rice fracas developed over reviews of “Blood Canticle,” the ninth and last novel in her “Vampire Chronicles” series. Disappointed readers took to the Amazon rating system to express their disdain for the book after it was originally published in October 2003. This is the second avalanche of criticism to occur on the same online forum, but the first time Rice acknowledged it.

“… There is very little plot to be found in ‘Blood Canticle,'” reader Sebastian Pharand wrote on Amazon. “As a matter of fact, there is very little to appreciate in this self-loathing, overwrought novel.”

“I thought ‘Blood Canticle’ was not only extremely disappointing … but also whiny, affected, uninspired, and poorly written,” reviewer David Warner wrote. “I could have written a better final installment myself, even if I’d never read the rest of her series.”

Such negative reviews are hardly uncommon, even for as popular an author as Rice. But the renewed attacks evidently touched a chord in the famed vampire novelist, and on September 6, she took to Amazon herself to address her critics head on.

“Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work,” Rice wrote. “In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However, there is something compelling about Amazon’s willingness to publish just about anything and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you’ve said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul.”

The comment lambasted those who had criticized Rice’s characters, her writing style, and her fan-base.

“[Y]ou have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies,” she wrote. Rice finished by telling critics to e-mail her personally, and told any disappointed readers who “wanted [their] money back” that they could send their books back to her personally, giving an address and stating that she wasn’t “a coward about my real name or where I live.”

Though the comment was eventually removed from the Amazon’s databases, the author admitted to posting the review in a note to her readers on her official website. She offered up her e-mail as well as claimed to have responded to her critics who had written her personally.

But beyond Rice’s temper-tantrum saga is the growing reality that authors are increasingly utilizing the Internet to answer critics and interact with readers. The Internet is popular among writers because it allows them to mix with the public as equals, giving fans the opportunity to see a favorite author as a human being rather than simply a name on a book.

Romance novel publishing companies have utilized Internet forums for years to encourage their writers to intermingle with readers. Neil Gaiman, a popular comic book writer turned novelist, answers questions and jokes with fans through a personal blog published on his Web site.

Writers have even turned to the Internet to keep up interests in their series when there has been a long delay between books. Earlier this summer, “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling launched a personal Web site that offered readers a behind-the-scenes look at her popular series while the publishing date for her upcoming novel is presumably years away.

But there is a dark side to the increased contact between writers and fans, as the Rice incident shows. The Internet, with its forced equality, has done much to break down the “fourth wall” between the mystified author-god and his/her reader – something that would have thrilled literary theorist Roland Barthes, but often does little to support the legends that spring up around media figures.

For the first time in history, readers no longer have to depend on professional critics for individual opinions of an author’s work. The Internet puts everyone on equal footing, throwing away the distinction between a world-class book critic and a bored college student when they publish their opinions on Amazon.com.

As a result, attacks can become much less filtered, much more personal, and infinitely numerous. But when an author like Rice fires back, it’s her own image that often suffers in the eyes of her readers. She looks like a baby, whining, instead of a literary goddess.

“[Y]ou have strained my Dickensean [sic] principles to the max,” Rice informed her reviewers on Amazon. “I’m justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks, in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you?”

Unfortunately for Rice, thanks to the Internet, thanks to her taking their bait, they are her equals.

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