A Tale of Woe

by Jennifer Hillier

I lost a good writing friend after I got my first book deal. Let’s call her Gloria. And I don’t mean I “lost her” in that she died; she basically dumped me, and I didn’t see it coming. Gloria and I were in the trenches together. We met on a popular writers’ forum and instantly clicked, as much as two people – two straight women, anyway – can click online. We had similar backgrounds, wrote in similar genres, and were huge fans of each other’s work.

We started querying around the same time, commiserating in daily emails about the horror that was Query Hell, and joyfully signed with different agents within a week of each other. We went on submission to editors at almost exactly the same time. Two months later, I received an offer.

Gloria was happy for me; absolutely, she was. We celebrated as much as two online friends can, through long emails, a sweet Hallmark e-card, a congratulatory shout-out on Facebook. While I dug into revisions with my new editor, she continued to wait for her book deal to come. I don’t think either of us ever doubted it would. She was – and still is – a fantastically talented writer, and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the right editor at the right publishing house came along waving a contract.

But it never happened.

Two months passed, then six, and then it was a year. My debut novel was a month away from being released when I realized she hadn’t responded to the last three emails I sent. I hadn’t noticed earlier because it wasn’t like she stopped communicating cold turkey. It happened gradually, with emails coming in slower and shorter, and then less and less. We’d never been the kind of friends who waited for a response before we could write back – we blasted out emails whenever we felt like it, and sometimes had multiple email conversations going at the same time. I checked my blog; even though I’d commented on all her posts (and I mean all her posts – every single one she’d written since she started blogging the year before), she hadn’t left a comment on mine in two months. And when I checked her blog roll – the little widget at the side of her blog that listed her favorite sites – mine was no longer one of them.

Another email went unanswered, and then another. She wasn’t dead, because she was still on Facebook posting and commenting (although much less than before). I knew she wasn’t sick, because a mutual friend of ours – let’s call her Karen – still heard from her regularly. So I figured she must be really busy.

My last email to Gloria, in which I told her I missed her, and ended with, “Are you okay? Are we okay?” went unanswered. Frustrated and not knowing what else to do, I finally reached out to Karen about it. Karen was surprised that we hadn’t been talking, because she and Gloria had been in been contact almost every single day for the past month.  

And then it happened. The really big thing you can do to tell an online friend you’re breaking up with up with them without actually saying the words: Gloria unfriended me on Facebook.

I was heartbroken. It couldn’t have been more painful than if we had been “real life” friends. This was a person I cared about, who I’d poured my heart out to for more than a year, and who’d done the same with me. I had hundreds of emails documenting our friendship, tens of thousands of words written, cute cat pictures exchanged.

Allow me to repeat: CUTE CAT PICTURES EXCHANGED. She had cats, I had cats, and we’d SHARED OUR CAT PHOTOS WITH EACH OTHER.

I immediately took inventory of my behavior. Had I forgotten to respond to any of her emails? No, I’d replied to everything. Had I inadvertently used a bitchy or dismissive tone? No, if anything, too many emoji happy faces as usual (and anyone who knows me knows I don’t do sarcasm). Had I done anything else that could have possibly offended her? If I had, I couldn’t imagine what. Also, I would have apologized immediately, had she told me what I did. (I’m Canadian – we are very, very good at saying we’re sorry.)

My debut novel finally came out. I spent the weekend in New York City at ThrillerFest, where I had a wonderful time finally meeting my agent and editor in person. The publisher threw me a fancy lunch at a fancy restaurant. I was part of the ITW debut authors breakfast, and the keynote address was given by Karin Slaughter. I got to thank Jeffery Deaver in person for blurbing my book, who said to me, “Hey, no problem. Great book, man.” It was, in a word, magical.

On my last night in New York, I happened to check my phone and saw that I had an email. It was from Gloria, and there was nothing in the subject line. I clicked on it, only to find one word:

Congrats

It was about two hundred words shorter than any email she’d ever sent me before, but I was so happy to hear from her, I didn’t care. I responded immediately, and I didn’t mention my book at all, or the fact that I was in a hotel in NYC, giddy after a whirlwind weekend. Instead, I asked her how she was, told her again that I missed her, and attached a cute cat photo.

No response.

But like any good internet stalker, I kept up with Gloria from afar. Her book never sold. She parted ways with her agent after her second book didn’t sell, either. She deactivated her Facebook account for a few months, during which time she also deactivated her blog. She had stopped communicating with our mutual friend Karen, who had finally gotten her first book deal.

But then one day, Gloria’s blog popped back up in my blog roll. I clicked to read the post, titled “Where Have I Been?” The first line was (and I’m paraphrasing):

I needed a break from all things publishing because it was too hard to watch everyone succeed where I was failing.

Karen read the post, too, and sent me this: Wow, she’s jealous! So uncool. We would have been excited for her if it was the other way around.

But would we have been? Honestly, would we? Because how can we say for certain how we would have felt? While I don’t ever doubt that Gloria was happy for me – and for Karen – it must be incredibly hard to watch your friends get the exact thing you want, that you’ve worked just as hard for. There’s no way to know how great the disappointment would have been, the dent it would have made in our self-esteem as writers had we never been published. We won’t ever truly understand how she feels, because we never had to find out.

Three years later, Karen found out that Gloria got a book deal. Her third novel had found a home with a small but well-respected publisher. When her book was released, I bought a copy, then sent her an email to congratulate her. Her response:

Thanks

As hard as it is, I can’t force someone to be friends with me. I have to respect her choice. But it sucks to lose a writing friend, because nobody other than a fellow writer truly gets how crazy this rollercoaster really is, and we need to stick together if we’re going to survive it.

We don’t have to do this alone.

I saw a photo of Gloria recently, signing copies of her new novel at a local book fair. She looked happy. And it occurred to me then that as much as I wish she could have stayed with me on my journey, I wish I could have stayed with her on hers.

JENNIFER HILLIER writes about dark, twisted people who do dark, twisted things. She’s the author of the thrillers Creep (2011), Freak (2012), The Butcher (2014), and Wonderland (2015). She loves her husband, her son, her cat Kobe, Stephen King, and the Seahawks. Not equally, but close. Born and raised in Toronto, she currently lives in the Seattle area with her family. Find her on the web at jenniferhillier.ca.

To learn more about Hillier’s most recent thriller, click on the cover below:

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Abrams

    Oh, Jen. How heartbreaking… I am so sorry that that happened to you. That must be so painful. Friendships on the internet are just as deep as those made IRL. You have such a kind heart. You have so many people who truly are happy for your successes! I know that doesn’t help take the sting out of this, though. 🙁

  2. Casey Clark

    I’m so sorry. That is very difficult. 🙁

  3. Kitty

    While I can understand both sides of the relationship, I have to say Gloria let you down. If a friend can’t be happy for your success, regardless of where she is on the publishing journey, she’s not a true friend. She could have at least responded to your emails and let you know she needed to step away for however long it took for her to grow up. Sorry you had to go through this. You seem like a genuinely warmhearted person.

  4. Yat-Yee Chong

    Losing a friend is heartbreaking, especially when you don’t know if there’s anything you could have done or still could do differently because the other person has chosen to stop communicating. After the unmistakable acts of cutting you off online, the “congrats” and “thanks” are curt and not enough. But maybe it shows that she is torn between doing what she needs to take care of herself (I disagree that her actions neccesarily show jealousy alone) and acting on her loyalty to you as a friend.

    Hang in there, Jen. The story of your friendship may not be over yet.

    If it iss, I hope you hurt will lessen over time. You are doing what you can to understand and support someone you care, and I think this is a beautiful outcome of this sadness.

  5. Jennifer Hillier

    Thanks for reading, guys. It never did feel like jealousy to me – more like intense disappointment, that something she wanted so bad just never materialized, and like Yat-Yee said, a need to protect herself from it. I just wish, like Kitty said, she would have told me she needed space. I really think I would have understood.

    I’m okay now. I missed her for a long time, though.

  6. sibella giorello

    Jennifer, thanks for a sensitive perspective on a tough situation.

    A close friend dumped me after my first book was published. It hurt but I took solace in the many, many other writer friends who rallied ’round in celebration, instead of pulling away. Writers who were both published and unpublished. I finally came to see that my friend was in a “hungry ghost” pursuit of publishing. She needed it to feel good about herself. I don’t judge her for it. I take it as a cautionary tale. Every writer begins every book with a blank page. We have to love the process as much as the outcome, or we’ll fall prey to the same traps.

    Thanks again for your post.

  7. B.E. Sanderson

    Wow. I’ve lost touch with people for a lot of reasons, but that would never be one of them. We get busy, we forget, we discover we really don’t have that much in common. Stuff happens, but someone else’s success wouldn’t be part of the stuff. It would be stupid of me to say I never get jealous. You’re totally rocking the publishing thing and I am so thrilled for you. But I also hate you a little. In a totally friendly way. ;o) But I love you more, so it’s all good.

    :hugs:

  8. Julie Christine Johnson

    Jennifer, thank you so much for writing your truth. My first novel launched in February and although I haven’t been cut off by any writer friend I’m as close to as you were to Gloria, I am very aware of a distinct pulling away by a few writers with whom I am friendly-one in particular, who started out as a mentor when I was trying to salvage this first novel. She found an agent six months before I did, and two years later I have one novel out, another to be published in 2017, a third ready to go on submission. She’s been open with me about how much my “success” hurts her-as happy as she is for me, it is difficult for her to be around me.

    The irony for this writer is how difficult being an author has been, how soul-sucking the process of publication is, how tenuous my success, how precarious my finances are now that I rely on my writing. My marriage has fallen apart. I’m alone. I’m scared. But since I’m published, I’m living the dream, right? I’m so very proud of and grateful for my accomplishments and for the many souls who have nurtured me and championed my writing along the way, but my life is as bumpy as it has ever been. Publication is a state of affairs. It doesn’t define me nor has it solved all my problems.

    One commitment I have made, even before my first novel sold, is that I would always reach behind me and extend love, support and whatever practical assistance I can to writers who are steps behind me in this journey. It’s such a nasty business in so many ways. We are all stronger for the love and support we offer each other, no matter the perceived success.

    Warmest regards,

    Julie

  9. Yvonne Salvatierra

    I read this once and then over again. Only this time I cried. In another lifetime, I was “Gloria” to a good friend. A fellow aspiring writer. Like your “Gloria”, I was filled with confusing emotions as I watched my friend publish his first novel and then his second and third. While I, well I remained “aspiring”. I was envious of his success but happy for him at the same time. And I stayed away and wallowed in my pity. I began doubting my talent and I totally “Gloriad” my friend. As a result, I lost his friendship. It’s something I am not proud of and still feel bad about. I have since regrouped and know in my heart of hearts that I am a talented writer and that I will publish that elusive book one day. What I won’t be able to do is recoup my friend and for that, I will always be sorry. Thanks for sharing Jen!

  10. Laura McHugh

    I, too, had a “Gloria”…I was surprised, because my Gloria had already achieved success before I sold my first book. She unfollowed me when I started having good news, and I eventually realized she had unfriended me. Meanwhile, I have shared the journey with a dear writing friend whom I met when we were both querying. We have been there for each other through the entire process, celebrating, crying, commiserating. My second novel will be out this August, and her first will be published in the spring. We are still each others’ biggest cheerleaders.

  11. Gemma

    I particularly respect your final line.

    I have been through similar friendships; sometimes the loss was based on a seriously flawed impression of what the other was going through.

    Like a previous poster, I did not see anything in your friend’s withdrawal to signify “jealousy.” And, if a friend I was temporarily elusive towards started to discuss me with someone else who was still in my daily life, who, presumably, I considered a friend, yes, I would have unfriended her, too, because it was a triangulation and breach of trust.

    The story could have had a different ending had you not needed to have your curiosity satisfied by going through someone like Karen. If you had been a genuine friend to Gloria, hearing her called “uncool” and “jealous” might have offended you. But Karen is the one you kept around.

    I lost friends whose depressions I interpreted as indifference as well. I am sorry for the pain you must feel. Please allow your former friend to maintain the personal and professional boundaries that she needs.

  12. Arleen Anderson

    I am a self-published author and have been struggling with promoting my first novel, Cliodhna’s Wave, for a couple of years now. I frankly, still love my novel and believe in it, although it is not a financial success. I empathize with you because my experience with other authors has been less than positive. For that reason, if anyone suggests I meet an author friend of theirs, I balk at the notion and never meet their friend. Certainly I’m being a sniveling coward, but why place myself in a situation I’ve learned might leave me in tears or brooding for days? It is not just other writers who feel threatened or jealous by the accomplishment of writing a book, friends who have never had an aspiration to write or have, at least, never expressed one, can react jealously simply because you’ve actually done what you’ve set out to do. In my estimation, all that can be done is remove yourself from the negativity because any relationship poisoned by the green sickness of jealousy is definitely not healthy for either party. Your true friends are those who love and support you, who are proud of your accomplishments and build you up, not make you miserable. I love, value, and want to hold on to those friends, and try to love and support them in kind.

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