Last month, Natasha Tynes lost her book deal because she was a terrible person on Twitter, and I was ambivalent about that, but only because it seemed like there were some contractual aspects to the situation that perhaps shouldn’t be waved away, as much as a publisher like California Coldblood might no longer want to work with a person like Natasha Tynes.
But they had to, because you can’t just stop working with a person after signing a contract with them if you find out you don’t like them. At the end of May, California Coldblood conceded that, due to contractual obligations, it still had to publish the book… but they would only do it as an e-book, and would try to give whatever money they made from it to anti-racist organizations.
But that wasn’t the end of it. As you probably saw last weekend, Natasha Tynes is suing Rare Bird Books, the distributor for California Coldblood, asking for $13 million in damages, including “extreme emotional distress,” because Rare Bird not only defamed it when it announced it wouldn’t distribute her novel, it breached the contract she had with them.
The reporting on this is somewhat confused: Buzzfeed describes California Coldblood as “the science fiction division of Rare Bird Books,” a condition other outlets have stated as fact on several occasions in recent years, whereas Rare Bird maintains that they only distribute California Coldblood’s books (or, perhaps more accurately, give California Coldblood access to their own means of distribution). Specifically, in response to the lawsuit, Rare Bird says it doesn’t have a contract with Natasha Tynes, so it couldn’t have breached a contract that never existed.
I didn’t respect Natasha Tynes much when all this hoopla broke out the first time. I respect her even less now.
It’s not about the merit, of lack of merit, to the lawsuit, although romance novelist and former Supreme Court clerk Courtney Milan has torn the lawsuit apart in rich detail, and I highly recommend you read her thread.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of being a writer is learning how to “become what you are,” to identify the things that you care about most and to cultivate a writing practice that allows you to give an authentic voice to those passions.
At the same time, you’re taking ownership of those passions, and you’re taking responsibility for your practice. When you say something awful, or when you try to say something and it comes out poorly, and the world takes umbrage as a result, you don’t blame the world for your failure. You admit you screwed up, make whatever amends you need to make, and resolve to do better moving forward.
Even if you say something awesome, and the world isn’t ready to deal with its awesomeness, you don’t get to act as if the world owes you acclaim. You either change your deepest beliefs in order to fit in with everyone else—which I don’t recommend—or you resign yourself to a certain amount of frustration as you continue to share your passions in the hope that they’ll resonate with some readers out there.
Natasha Tynes screwed up in a spectacular way, and faced a lot of public ridicule for it (as well as a bunch of support, actually, but that got overshadowed by the massive ridicule). Her actions caused her publisher to lose respect for her, to the point where CA Coldblood did everything possible within its contractual obligations to minimize its involvement with her. And those same actions caused her publisher’s distributor to wash its hands of her completely, in a very public manner.
But it’s not as if Rare Bird Books dragged Natasha Tynes into the spotlight. She was already there, because of what she’d done.
So, while keeping in mind that I Am Not a Lawyer™, and acknowledging that there are some interesting legal questions about the degree to which Rare Bird exerted influence on California Coldblood (although certainly not $13 million worth of interesting), as far as I’m concerned everything that’s happened to Natasha Tynes is on her. She chose to use Twitter to denigrate a public transit employee, and she found out the hard way that the negativity could come back at her a thousandfold.
Some critics can talk a good game about keeping the life separate from the art, but in the real world, how you live your life can have a significant effect on how your art is perceived. For most of us, who don’t live in the public spotlight, that effect won’t be enough to make or break our careers. For Natasha Tynes, it was, and now she has to build her life back up again, facing the very real possibility that her actions may have soured readers on the fruits of her writing practice for the foreseeable future.
In my opinion, she should be focusing on that rebuilding process, rather than suing a small publisher, who almost certainly doesn’t have $13 million in the first place, so she can have an undeserved good fortune handed to her. She says she spent four years working on the novel at the heart of this lawsuit. Perhaps she should spend another four years, wrestling with another story, and wrestling with everything she’s brought upon herself, and maybe that will lead to something another publisher will find compelling enough to help her try sharing her voice with the world once again.