A ruined life?

I received this unusual e-mail recently (subject line: “you ruined my life, sorta / an offer for karmic balancing”). I have edited it somewhat to conceal the identity of the author. I have no memory of the incident the writer describes. I will say that I think I have generally been courteous in rejecting manuscripts. I’m sure there were exceptions.

Hello, I think you are someone I met years ago, and you had a big (negative) impact on my life. I’m writing today to say hi, and to offer you a chance at karmic balancing.

On the other hand, you may not be the person I met years ago, in which case I sincerely apologize for sending you this email.

This is how I remember it: I was in my early twenties, a former Peace Corps Volunteer from [foreign country], and living in [U.S. city]. I had published in small ways, school and work newsletters, that sort of thing.

I met you at a reading or some other event, maybe at a bookstore. You were an editor for North Point Press. I had just written a book that I thought was going to help the Third World. You looked at it and said the writing was no good.

I was devastated and stopped showing my writing to others for ten years. I continued to write, of course — that’s what writers do, in spite of everything. I just felt really uncomfortable about writing and so I did it late at night, and accorded it no honor.

A key event in “getting over Tom Christensen telling me my writing sucks” were the letters I wrote home when I lived in [another foreign country]. I was there for [big news event], of course, and wrote feverish letters to a large audience back in the states.

People photocopied my letters and passed them around to friends and family. [Later], I got a letter from a woman I’d never met (still haven’t), a young [woman] in [U.S. state].  She had received a photocopy of one of my letters and said it had changed her life. I’m not sure why or how.

Still, it took the hand of God to get me to publish. [Later], I  [experienced a personal tragedy]. My time had suddenly become meaningless — of what use is the time of a [person in my situation]? So, I used my time to write for real, to invest myself in my writing. To my great surprise, that piece was almost immediately published and it become something of a cause celebre.

I guess I slowly came to realize that you, or the message I heard you deliver — “Your writing sucks / you have no talent / go bury yourself somewhere” — Perhaps you did not say exactly that but that is what I heard — was incorrect. People liked my writing, found it worthy. I should keep writing.

And, so, I did.

I have no hard feelings against you. You may not even be the person I met, although what I’ve turned up on the web seems to indicate that you were that person.

I’m writing now because I’ve written a book I’m trying to get published, and, from your webpage, you seem very knowledgeable. Please look at my query letter, below, and if you have any advice to offer, please do offer it. If not, have a nice day.


I am writing to this person, but I fear the gesture will do little to balance my karma, as the cover letter seems mostly fine as is.


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  1. This person sounds like someone who is trying to get you to respond in a very unique way or someone who cannot take criticism. Karma be damned. Advice to that person is don’t over value someone’s opinion.

    edited by xensen per policies, no keywords in author names

  2. 1. karmic damnation: not the way.
    2. further proof that the Peace Corps is some kind of writers’ retreat.
    3. A+ for awkward.

    via twitter

  3. That’s a sad and bitter post. I’m sorry for the guy who wrote it but find it hard to believe that anybody’s life would be so destroyed by a chance comment from a stranger – even if that stranger was the TC who writes this blog.

  4. maybe i am off track, but from reading the mail, i thought: this doesn’t read like karmic balance, but rather like emotional blackmail.
    why would a writer who got “burned” by an editor send work to the same person again? that’s what doesn’t really make sense to me.

  5. Awkward! Seconding the emotional blackmail comment. The guy was in his 20s during the initial encounter, but he’s holding grudges like you de-pantsed him in 5th grade. He asked for your opinion and you gave it. You didn’t have to like it. Every writer takes that risk by showing other people their work. Sad.