Word of the Week: Revenge

Is revenge possible? I expect that most people here know the qualifier to “revenge is sweet,” and we all agree that it’s best served cold. And then there’s that bit about living well . . .

There’s a person who’s wronged, repeatedly, a friend of mine. It enrages me in a way I would never be enraged on my own behalf. Because I learned, accidentally, the best way to deal with someone who has done you wrong:

Act as if you have no knowledge of it.

Several years back, I got a pre-publication review that I thought was unfair. Of course, it was bad, too. I freely admit that I’ve never gotten a good review that I thought was unfair. (Although a few have been a little skewed, focusing on aspects of the work that I would not have emphasized.) But this was a case of someone with a little knowledge wielding it very dangerously, deciding that an off detail — a really inconsequential one, at that — was reason enough to proclaim the whole book as a shabby, shoddy enterprise. So it goes.

Eighteen months later, I was at a bookstore event held during one of the Bouchercon gatherings and was introduced to someone with a vaguely familiar name. Given the title of this blog, most readers can infer that I am regularly plunged into the panic of meeting people with familiar faces and names, only to come up empty. What can one do? I smile brightly, pretend familiarity, shake hands, move on. Who was this nervous-looking person? Another writer? A reader? I pumped her hand with great enthusiasm, saying it was WONDERFUL to meet her.

Yes, it was my critic. And when I figured this out later, I was delighted. The only thing that could have made it better would be doing it deliberately.

So I realize that I must do nothing on my friend’s behalf. And should my path cross that of my friend’s nemesis, the only thing I must say is, “So what are you up to these days?”

Has anyone here had a truly satisfying moment of revenge?


20 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Revenge

  1. I do think being classy instead of nasty mystifies people in a marvelous way, a much better payoff than the expected tit for tat. A few years ago there was this talentless hack on the make, I mean a writer, who thought she and I — both being female carbon-based life forms who write books and dwell in Connecticut — ought to do a reading together, which would certainly have been useful to her (she had one badly written novel with a cartoon drawing of shoes on the [paperback] cover) but would not have been a fruitful event for me. I declined, but she scheduled the event anyway in a local bookstore! I was now in the position of having “backed out” of the plan when I reasserted my lack of intention to appear at this reading with her. She was furious, and broadcast her rage at me all over the internet. On the day of her solo reading, I sent her flowers (with a cheerful card) at the bookstore.

  2. Revenge is messy and time-consuming and often unfulfilling and at some point I think the wheel of justice turns without help from us. That said, revenge is fascinating and I never hesitate to use it as a motivation in a book.

  3. I’m with Jeff on this… I’ve had moments where revenge would have felt enormously satisfying, had it come right at the perfect time and through means of Fate intervening, but on the whole, I won’t allow myself to focus on it. It would just eat up the time, really, that I’d rather spend on enjoying life/family/friends. I do have to admit to satisfaction, though, when I see vicious people get their comeuppance, especially in a novel. Like you, though, I have a terrible memory, and odds are, unless the person shot my child, I’m not going to remember anything negative later on were were to meet again. Lif’e's just too damned short to worry about it.

  4. Yes, I’ve experienced a sweet moment of revenge but funny thing, by the time it happened, I didn’t care anymore. So, I think you’re right. Pretend it doesn’t exist.

  5. Oh, I’m hoping to read some fun revenge stories here.

    I had a guy dump me in a most hurtful manner, and I wanted revenge big time. But then he ended up dying suddenly, which wasn’t fun at all. (And then I got freaked out thinking I had some special revenge powers. I do not.)

  6. I did not enjoy reading a vicious (and silly) “review” on Amazon for one of my books, and then a few years later, the “author” of that “review,” who used her actual name, perhaps forgetting about her little poison dart (one among many, though she also raved at Amazon about various strange cleaning and skin care products), wrote me a fawning, gushy fan letter, which she sent with a manuscript, asking me to blurb her forthcoming book (which was in a genre that made it unlikely that anyone who would read her book would have ever heard of me). I wrote her a very polite note saying that I couldn’t blurb her manuscript and how wonderful that she had changed her mind about the quality of my work. (Not exactly revenge, as I wouldn’t have ever been willing to blurb her book, but a nice full-circle moment.)

    But generally I like to leave revenge to the professionals — the karma police. I really do think that they will get the people who deserve to be gotten, Maybe not right away, but sooner or later.

  7. I have seen what Katharine describes happen more than once (not just to me, but to others). Like she says, it’s karma come round, not really revenge-it’s hard to take revenge against cluelessness. You need actual malice directed at you or a loved one for revenge.

  8. Katharine, That sounds very classy, a hard thing to pull off. I think revenge is great in books because it’s one of those things that real life seldom provides.

    Betsy, that sounds like a novel. One I’m tempted to write.

  9. Karma does come round. Sometimes we’re tempted to help it do so, but you just get dragged down in the gutter. Even when I’ve given in to the temptation of VENTING about people who’ve wronged me, I usually come to regret it. You’re a good friend, though, to get pissed off on your friend’s account. That’s a sign of true loyalty.

  10. Revenge is best left to characters in novels. It’s not worth the time and stress in the real world, and gives the offending person far too much status in your life. Acting as if you’re unaware of the offense is precisely the right approach.

  11. While I haven’t actively pursued revenge, there has been plenty of accidental revenge that I didn’t exactly say no to. But you all are right, because karma came right back at me. The aughts were just a bad decade!

  12. brains, looks, and personality, stunningly combined with athletic prowess…that’s my revenge. oh, and i’m incredibly modest too.

  13. HeatherY: Your story is a hoot.

    Revenges… I have a family member who has spent the last 35 years living for revenge against her husband. It has pretty much destroyed her; she has no friends to speak of, and is now losing her mind to Alzheimer’s (which doesn’t help the anger or paranoia). The husband, meanwhile, seems to be doing fairly well in spite of her. It affected my teen years and all my relationships quite a lot.

    I’ve had a couple of revenges, but both were accidental rather than planned or deliberate, and more Karma-coming-full-circle rather than carefully plotted revenge.

    One was a co-worker, and he and I worked remotely with a group of about 7. It’s not clear why he worked there in the first place; his first annual review was not good and he was not recommended for a continued contract, but somehow he was kept on. He managed to annoy every other member of the group to the point that we all individually refused to work with him. Our female group member was incredibly long-tempered, and she was furious with him. Likewise myself, both of us for specific incidents that left us enraged at his inconsideration. He was also dumb enough to threaten suit against our mutual on-site/local boss for the boss’s doing his job properly. And when our project lead tried to talk to him about being more considerate, he was verbally attacked for it.

    So when the main-site manager found that nobody was willing to work with him, he was concerned. Then he found out what this contractor was making (more than either of his managers). Then he contacted the local manager about supervising him more closely, and was told “The lawyers told me not to interact with him directly.” One conference call later, with the entire group weighing in, he was summarily fired.

    A couple months later, I’m hanging out with my flying buddies, and one of them asks about this guy. I said nothing at all bad about him, but after about a minute, he says, “I think I’m getting a very strong feeling about what you’re not saying. I need to hire an engineer, but I think I’ll look elsewhere.” (Bingo!)


    The other one I feel bad about, because of one person, who, although she was a principal in the mess, was not an instigator, and she came out very badly. The same site that my fired coworker and I worked at was closed by executive fiat. The executive wanted a bonus, and wasn’t going to make his numbers on revenue, so he decided to close the site and make it on diminished expenditures. He planned to make 160 people change jobs for a $500k bonus. The person who talked him into it promptly switched jobs (he knew it would kill the organization but hated the site manager) to the larger corporation, and a new person was promoted into the executive management to handle the site closure. (The job switcher was summarily walked to the door and fired for embezzlement about a year later. His wife also filed for divorce and took him to the cleaners for the same incidents, which involved a female subordinate.) The newbie exec was sold a bill of goods about her new job, which she discovered when she came to shut down the site.

    There wasn’t anything she could do to ameliorate the mess, and nearly everyone left the company rather than transfer to out-of-state sites. (A few junior engineers and senior managers stayed with the company.) I stayed until the end at the old site, picking up a few *very* nice retention bonuses, but even so the sub-company lost engineering continuity on two of its three most profitable products, and the opportunity costs it lost were probably on the order of $200M.

    I then went to work for a small company in another state, where I was very happy. Two years later, the original (large) company had folded the sub-company into its ordinary operations, and was trying to regain the expertise it lost. And so it made arrangements to spend $75 million to buy my new company. And the exec in charge of the acquisition was the newbie exec.

    She came out and talked to my company, which was about 40 people and told us all about the company and what changes would be made and benefits &c, and it wasn’t all bad. I stuck around afterwards to say “hi” and she said that I looked familiar. I told her that I used to work for her in Colorado, and she got a horrified look on her face and said, “You didn’t tell them [my new coworkers], did you?!”

    The week the large company closed on my new company, the executive (who got his $500k bonus) was fired. Excuse me, “left the company to pursue other [unspecified] opportunities”. The newbie exec was given an opportunity to transfer within the company, but wasn’t able to find a new position, and lost her job 90 days later. Sadly, she was upside-down on her (CA bay-area) home, with three mortgages. If she avoided bankruptcy, it was a miracle.


    There is some satisfaction in both of these, and Karma got some help in the first one, but neither really constitutes a truly satisfying moment of carefully-plotted revenge.

  14. After reading the comments about nasty reviews, I want to add that I’ve tried to make a couple of aspiring writer friends understand the long-term consequences of tearing a published writer’s work apart in public, but they stubbornly insist that they have a right and intend to exercise it and the authors they criticize should be grateful to them for pointing out where they need to improve their writing. All I can say is, keep a list of the authors you treat this way and never ask one of them (or one of their friends) for a favor. The mystery world is a small place.

  15. Accidental revenge is the best!

    My ex-husband had talked me into taking over the loan on his parents station wagon while we were still married. As a twenty-something, I didn’t relish the thought of such an uncool ride - but he had worked many years to crush my self esteem.

    When we divorced, I told him to take the car (although it was in my name). He proceeded to be late with payments, trashing my credit beyond my control.

    God intervened and the car ended up totaled. We had apparently paid over the blue book value and soon after I received a call from a very stressed woman who needed my permission (since it was legally due to me), to pay him the balance. He had been harassing her (repeating one of his favorite words “unacceptable”), for a little over an hour in her office.

    I had to fax a copy of my driver’s license and a note granting permission to sign the check over to him with my signature.

    My note granted permission on the condition that he get down on his knees in the office and beg her forgiveness for putting her through hell. Only after such an action, was he to be paid.

    She called back to say she received the fax. She didn’t show him the fax or make him apologize. Instead, she passed the fax around the entire office. It was nice to brighten the day of everyone in the office after having to deal with such a d-bag all day.

    The End.

  16. I know some young writers who criticized their elders, if you will, when starting out, and I think most people felt those comments fell into the category of youthful hubris and could be forgiven. Bad reviews come with the territory. I would have no problem being civil to the author of the single most painful review I ever received because it was honest and fair. It’s not personal — unless someone makes it personal.

    Years ago, when I actually read Amazon reviews, I had two pretty nasty ones on my second book. They were both anonymous. But, one day, in a glitch — a glitch that predated the more famous one — the names were exposed. One was from another journalist who would later seek a favor from me. The other one was from someone with whom I had had a friendly (I thought) e-mail exchange where I encouraged the correspondent to tell me candidly what he thought about my book, which he was reading for a book club. He never did, but took to the Internet to complain about my grammar and ignorance about some small legal issues. Then he got angry because I spoke about the matter in public, although without identifying him.

    He was a very angry man, a wannabe writer as it happened. I’m sure he’s still pissed off about my grammar. And I’m fairly confident he remains unpublished, unless he’s going the DIY route.

    Heather, your story belongs in a novel, too.

  17. More often than not thoughts of revenge dissipate in the knowledge that usually, those who wrong others get theirs in the end, however long it takes. And playing the long game is the best option. I’m doing that right now with a literary acquaintance who is a bona fide narcissist, who cavalierly steps on others (and their work) in order to further a rather middling career, who has wronged people I care about, one whom I don’t care for and certainly don’t respect. (The feeling is mutual.) But I have to keep the person within range for intelligence purposes - and also, I guess, because I know that one day, the tide will turn, the axis will tilt, the con game will be revealed and I want to be in spitting distance to watch. But, based on past experience with narcissists, that changing tide will take years, even decades, because who wants to believe someone is pathological? Not me. And not most people. But so it goes sometimes.

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