Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Every author strives for greatness. You’ll have to invest thousands of hours honing your craft and dealing with rejection, though, if you want to be mentioned among the immortals. Or just find one of the immortals and punch them.
Ernest Hemingway vs. Wallace Stevens. John Updike vs. Salman Rushdie. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman. A good literary feud can be as exciting as the authors’ books. You may think you already need to be a famous author to have a noteworthy spat. This is the twenty-first century, bub. Between cons, book tours, and social media, it’s never been easier to harass your idols in public.
Step 1: Choose Your Opponent
[pullquote]Feuds occasionally happen over innocent misunderstandings, but you’ll have a better success rate with willful misunderstandings.[/pullquote]
If you already have author enemies, this will be easy. If you don’t have enemies, make some. With a personality like yours, trust me, you’re waaaaaay ahead of the game on this one, pal.
Many a feud has resulted from personal slights; Paul Theroux fantasized daily about V.S. Naipaul dying in a fire because Naipaul auctioned off a personalized copy of Theroux’s book. Think back to when an author offended you. Did a famous author once flag your blog comment for spam just because it was blatant advertising for your self-published memoir? Sounds to me like Mr. Famous has let fame go to his head. The Internet has expedited personal slights the way the Panama Canal sped up international shipping. Somewhere, my special little snowflake, there’s a writer who irritates you in ways you never thought possible. When you find them, you’ll know your mutual loathing was meant to be.
Step 2: Get Ready to Rumble
You’ve got your target, but it’s not a feud until both parties attack. You need to provoke a response. Start with a snarky review of their book. It is not necessary to have read the book beforehand. In fact, the more incoherent the review, the more likely you’ll goad them into battle. The Faulkner estate was very quick to respond when I said “A Rose for Emily” would’ve been better if the zombies had won.
Feuds occasionally happen over innocent misunderstandings, but you’ll have a better success rate with willful misunderstandings. Go ahead and read sinister intent into your opponent’s behavior; you can safely assume their protagonist’s love of peanut butter crackers alludes to severe flaws in the author’s character. It’s hard to properly antagonize a person of letters over a difference of opinion. It’s much easier when you realize they’re really a crypto-fascist baby-eater.
Step 3: Attack!
[pullquote]No matter how cogent their argument, how scathing their rebuke, it is entirely invalid if they make a single spelling or grammatical error.[/pullquote]
Shots have been fired and the feud is on. Time to make your battle plan:
- Let slip the tweets of war. The Internet is a big wrestling ring where the ref’s been knocked out, and your Twitter followers are your manager sneaking behind your opponent with a steel chair. Let your followers know what an ignoramus your opponent is, then sit back, tent your fingers, and chuckle to yourself as they swarm like angry hornets. Once your opponent is softened up, engage them directly.
- If you have more Twitter followers than them: Inform them that the marketplace of ideas has deemed you more relevant and important. The inferiority of their ideas is a foregone conclusion.
- If you have fewer followers (much more likely; I’ve read your tweets): Your opponent is a sheep who caters to the lowest-common denominator. They probably like Nickelback and prefer McDonald’s over Five Guys burgers, too.
- Subvert Godwin’s Law. If your argument takes place online, at some point, one of you will call the other a Nazi. This is a law of the Internet. Just remember there are a variety of dictatorships, military juntas, and kleptocracies to which you can compare your opponent, so don’t pigeonhole yourself.
- Hit them where it hurts. If they write literary fiction, say their work is pretentious and boring. If they write sci-fi, say that their work is a landfill of genre cliches. If your arch rival is a poet, you need to raise your standards.
Step 4: Finish Him! Or Her! Or Something!
Your opponent is dazed and stumbling around the ring. Time to hit them with the People’s Elbow and claim your prize. Use any or all of these tactics to finish them off.
- A legendary zinger. Words are a writer’s best weapon. Norman Mailer beat Gore Vidal senseless and lost because of Vidal’s quip, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer.” You need something just as pithy. Something like, “There’s two kinds of people: rubber and glue. And you’re looking pretty sticky, my friend.” Not that one, of course. That’s mine.
- Pour your drink on their head. The most writerly way to dis someone without writing anything. Self-explanatory and easy to execute; you’re a writer, so you’re probably holding a cocktail right now.
- Updog them. If you successfully updog your opponent, you are declared the winner, and are entitled to receive non-stop high-fives for the next ninety minutes. (If you’re not sure what updog is, please visit their website.)
- Technical knockout. No matter how cogent their argument, how scathing their rebuke, it is entirely invalid if they make a single spelling or grammatical error.
- Declare victory. Talk about how viciously you’re owning them. Do this as early in the feud as possible. It will annoy them, which plays right into your hands.
You now know the basics of authorial antagonism. If you want more practice, for a small fee I’ll be happy to feud with you. For a slightly larger fee, I’ll let you win. Go forth and antagonize! Someday soon, you’ll be world renowned as the jerk who keeps picking fights with other writers. We should all be so lucky.
What’s your go-to move in a literary feud? Who would you like to feud with? Let us know in the comments.