It’s not Keats

I promised myself I wasn’t going to do another post about an author having a meltdown, but this week I came across one that was so spectacular that I just couldn’t avoid it. Seriously, it made Anne Rice look like a sleepy kitten. The incident happened way back in May, but was still going on right up until this week. I couldn’t NOT post about it. So, late to the party, but here you go.

The author in question is one Stephan J Harper who went all kinds of ballistic at a reviewer. Posting over 50 comments which alternated between abuse and self congratulation. It was…..special. The kind of special where you want to close your laptop but you just can’t stop reading. Or laughing.

The whole episode was one of the biggest trainwrecks I have seen for a long time.


It all started when a reviewer posted this review of Harper’s book ‘Venice Under Glass’ – a crime novel in which all the characters are teddy bears. Not the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of, but it certainly raised a few eyebrows.

The review isn’t spectacularly bad, the reviewer clearly read the book and went to great lengths to say why he didn’t like the things he commented on. In all, it could have been much worse.

Harper’s response, however, was pretty spectacular to witness. And not in a good way.

Harper was the first one to comment on the review And the second. And the third. And so on and so forth. Within the third comment he was comparing his writing to Keats while using a truly awful extract of terrible prose to try and prove his point. *le sigh* In fact, he KEPT posting badly written extracts that quite frankly made my eyes bleed a little, as if to ‘prove’ that he was a good writer and the reviewer was wrong.

And it wasn’t just the reviewer who was in the firing line – other commentators got it too for daring, yes daring, to post on a public thread. *shock* They were called, and I quote:

uneducated – unfamiliar with critical review. Yet, amazingly, you seek out opportunities to ‘contribute’ – what? Nothing of any value or substance. My god, your triviality…do either of you contribute anything to the world of Ideas or Art? And just how would you respond if you had created something of value that someone thoughtlessly tore down?

In response reviewers started to discuss the novel and the reaction by means of haiku and Harper demanding to see what the other commentators have written – presumably so he can ‘prove’ that his literary genius far outweighs anything they can come up with (after all, he’s better than Keats – although later on he compares himself to Joyce too – but only after posting a paragraph and trying to trick readers into thinking it was his work, and then being surprised when folks can spot it straight off. Seriously, most of us studied Joyce at school, it would be like trying to crib Shakespeare and thinking no one would notice.) and some nice people trying to talk him down off his ledge before he hurts himself. Harper’s responses grew increasingly irrational and abusive, there was some name calling and demands for critiques and more demands for people to show evidence to prove their opinions. No. You read that correctly.

And apparently Harper was keeping a list of some sort. I didn’t want to think about that too much because I’m from Belfast and when people here say they are keeping a list, they aren’t talking about their shopping.

In response to gentle warnings about social media and how what he was doing might not be the best idea ever, Harper responded with:

Stephan J Harper  2014-09-02 07:59
Who are you to tell me anything? You have no authority or knowledge of best practices in social media. I have a global audience now and will let them read my words here as I put trolls like you in your place.


Showing that clearly he has no idea at all about best practices when it comes to social media. And that ‘global audience’ he now has, well, they’re laughing at him and he doesn’t seem to realise. It’s sad really.

What scares me about these sort of authors is not the reaction they have to reviews, it’s the reaction they have to reviewers. The comment thread was apparently closed after Harper started posting personal details about the reviewer – and I bet you all thought that only Melissa Douthit was that special brand of bat shit crazy.

This is just taking things too far. It’s scary to watch and it makes me really wonder about the general mental instability of people sometimes. It’s one thing to rant to your friends or family in private, but it’s entirely another thing to do it on a public board where the whole world can read it. I mean, your family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, your BOSS can see that. It’s never going to reflect well.

Not only that, but it makes us all look bad. If you can’t think about your own reputation then you should at least try to think about the reputation of the industry you are part of.

I really don’t have much more to say to folks except this:


I’m gonna go and bang my head against a wall for a bit and bemoan the fact that I’m not as good as Keats, but I shall leave you with a link to the website the author has set up for the protagonist of his book. If nothing else, it’s worth a look but don’t tell him I sent you. 😛

Until next time.

Love, etc




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7 responses to “It’s not Keats

  1. Pingback: Not Keats – but just a little unstable | clairewriteswords

  2. Pingback: The Ballad of Stephan J Harper – Part 1 | clairewriteswords

  3. Claire, please do use this as case study!

    I’m also an ex-professor, now I write freelance (full time freelance) and i am also a CRITIC, – but i also dabble around as an amateur filmmaker.

    I just read Stephan’s rant on the other site Tidbits, and now i see he’s attacking you here! Such appalling behaviour – seriously.

    Quite a few people on the original Tidbits thread, especially one named “Dani”, tried educating Stephan that a review is an OPINION and such, it is SUCJECTIVE. It therefore cannot be “right” or “wrong”, “a lie” or a “truth”! A critique/review is simply how the critic saw the piece of writing.

    I know this as a critic. And thank God, I know this even more as a filmmaker.

    As a content creator for the masses, like Stephan is, it’s impertinent we know that a review cannot be “dishonest”, it can only reflect what the reviewer felt. It is 100% subjective, and true to the reviewer’s feelings. The creator’s intended audience in general knows they might not share the same views as these critics.

    And unless you can prove the critic had it in for you (maybe he smsed his personal hatred for you to his BFF who happens to be your neighbour’s boyfriend’s aunt’s teacher’s gardener) – you really have no right to label a review/critique as “unfair” or “biased”, even if you feel in your bones it might be! Why? Coz you don’t have proof of this.

    Unfortunately, despite several attempts at trying to educate him, Stephan just can’t understand this concept. That’s where all his rants are coming from.

    PS – if you decide to publish this comment, I hope he doesn’t come tearing each of my sentences up and deciphering the grammar and vocab in them. Hope he understands writing online comments isn’t really my job. And it shouldnt be his.

  4. I like what Chekov had to say on this subject:

    Critical articles, even the unjust, abusive kind, are usually met with a silent bow. Such is literary etiquette. Answering back goes against custom, and anyone who indulges in it is justly accused of excessive vanity. … The fate of literature (both major and minor) would be a pitiful one if it were at the mercy of personal opinions. Point number one. And number two, there is no police force in existence that can consider itself competent in matters of literature. I agree that we can’t do without the muzzle or the stick, because sharpers ooze their way into literature just as anywhere else. But no matter how hard you try, you won’t come up with a better police force for literature than criticism and the author’s own conscience. People have been at it since the beginning of creation, but they’ve invented nothing better. — To Maria Kiselyova, January 14, 1887

  5. And all critics should be required to learn this:

    I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. — George Bernard Shaw

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