Kicky Come-Backs and Rousing Retorts

A few weeks back I attended my weekly French group, where I usually look forward to practicing my flagging French language skills with my fellow Francophones and Francophiles, my parlance (hopefully) smoothed out by a nice glass of wine.

A common way to commence a conversation with someone new is to ask, “Qu’est-ce que tu fais?” What do you do?

Only on this particular meet-up, what is normally the beginning of a pleasant exchange became anything but.

I was chatting with an attractive German-born woman who was patiently deciphering my halting French when a man sporting a smarmy smile and a jacket the searing shade of blue associated with hard boiled eggs at Easter, strolled up to us. “You are the two prettiest women here,” he announced in French, adjusting his coat cuffs.

My conversation mate and I bonded over a mutual rolling of eyes. “You are a charmer, I see,” she said in flawless French.

“Ah, oui,” he replied, apparently not cottoning on to the subtext sarcasm. “C’est mon metier.” It’s my profession.

A professional charmer, really?

The German wisely faded into the backdrop and Blue Blazer zoned in on me like a homing pidgeon. “Qu’est-ce tu fais?” he finally got around to asking after rolling out a long laundry list of his own sterling attributes–the book on German philosophy he’d recently read, his impressive (to him) knowledge of the Art World, his generally high-minded thoughts.

I replied in French that I’m a writer, meaning to leave it at that. I’m enormously proud of the books I write, of the genre I represent, but generally speaking I don’t like talking shop on my nights off.

A salvo of Spanish Inquisition style questions winnowed my replies from the general to the specific: “books” to “novels” to “commercial fiction novels” to “historical and contemporary commercial fiction novels” to finally, “historical and contemporary romance fiction novels.” And that’s when the fun started.

Our exchange went something like this:

BB: “You write that stuff just for money, huh?”

Hope: “Well, I write what I love, what many readers enjoy reading, and yes, I do get paid.”

BB: “Ever try writing a real book?”

Hope: “I do write real books, books that are well-researched, well-crafted, and well-received. You might want to reference my previous remark about getting paid.”

BB: “I wrote a short story once. It’s really literary. What’s your email address? I’ll send it to you. I think reading it might really help you.”

Hope: Stunned silence, on the outside at least. My Inner Voice was far from silent. Uh-huh. Horrendous fashion sense and a narcissist. Now that’s hot–not!

Holding onto my temper–and stemware short of snapping the glass–I asked him if he’d ever read a romance novel. After considerable hemming and hawwing, he claimed to have read part of a romance novel Back in The Day, likely when he was a pimply-faced sixteen year-old trolling for “the good parts.” But apparently he felt so sullied by its silliness that he threw it away. In the garbage. 

“I can’t read that stuff,” he said, with an emphatic shake of head.

I told him he had no right to make denigrating comments about a genre of fiction, or indeed about any topic, on which he was obviously completely uninformed.

“Oh, c’mon,” he said, flicking a stubby-fingered hand inches from my face. “I know that stuff. I know what that stuff is all about.”

There it was, that word again. Stuff. For a would-be writer, he really ought to look into expanding his vocabulary.

And then he ratcheted it up one level further and added another word. Garbage.

And something in me snapped and thankfully it wasn’t the wine glass I was clenching. I drew back my shoulders and hoisted my chin exactly as my fictional heroines have done countless times when family or personal honor or both were at stake.

“You, sir, are stunningly ignorant and boorishly rude, and until you read an actual book–a whole one–I don’t have the time or patience to educate you.”

The packed bar floor parted like the Red Sea. Mr. Blue Blazer and I stared each other down like two bulls, locking eyes if not horns. And finally, flush-faced and stammering, he dropped his gaze and turned away. First.

And you know, ladies and gents, it felt really, really good.

Energy Vampires, they don’t just come out at night. You can encounter them at anytime, anywhere. They set out to suck our energy and drain us of our belief in ourselves. At their worst, they can cause us to question our talent, our very sense of worth. Ordinarily I give energy vampires like Blue Blazer a broad berth. But there are times, and IMHO this was one of them, when you have to stand up straight and tall and not let the bullies get away with it, no matter how sharp their fangs or…blinding their attire.

Wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I was flipping through the November issue of “The Romance Writers Report,” the monthly membership magazine of Romance Writers of America when I came across an article on just this very topic. In “Snappy Comebacks,” fantasy romance author Eilis Flynn poses the question: what do you say when someone takes a dig at what you write?”

Quoted in the article is my fellow Harlequin Blaze author, Julie Leto, who knows a thing or two about vampires, fictional and real. “The key to the snappy comeback,” says Julie, “is to not censor yourself. Actually say what you’re thinking.”

Wise words from a wise woman. And I for one am taking that advice to heart–and on the road.

“Stunningly ignorant” and “boorishly rude.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Who knew serving up raw honesty, sushi-quality raw honesty, could feel so downright good?

Savor the Simplicity,