Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Bitter Barista - What Not to Do If You're Writing True Story

I was pretty shocked by the BitterBarista debacle. Some guy blows off steam on Twitter. Some other blog exposes him and links to the company he works for. The guy gets fired.

Here were my first thoughts: The posts are satire, and people think he's funny. What's the big deal? Wow the blog that exposed him must be creeps! 

Based on the feedback they got, a lot of other folks thought that as well.

But I'm a writer, so I immediately looked at it from a writer's perspective.

There are plenty of funny books out there about people's exploits on the job. And many of them deal with wacky customers and many of them get written about. I recently read and loved, Pets in a Pickle (also available as an ebook)

Except it's not quite that easy. I went to, the site that allegedly outed him. I say allegedly, because according to their site he had already outed himself and that his real name is available on his twitter profile and that he says where he works in some of his tweets.

Further, they state: "Rough days at work? Of course. Upsetting interactions? Absolutely. Need to vent sometimes? That’s universal. But rape jokes? References to violence and animal abuse? Endangering customers with food allergies and dietary restrictions?" They also say that the posts were not posed as satirical until after the whole debacle occurred. Here's the post on Sprudge.

I haven't independently verified their claims, so please don't send me hate mail. ;) Whether or not their claim is true isn't the point of my article here. Nor is whether or not Matt Watson should be fired.

Instead I had two questions:

In books that tell all about the author's present or past profession how is this case different?

What lessons does this case teach me as a writer? Besides not to blog about my day job.

Say What Happened...

In most of the books in the True Story genre that I've ever read, and if the author has a story that might reflect unflatteringly on the people involved, The writer is generally careful to state the facts and leave it there. Sure the writer might mention that they laughed, were sad, felt hurt, were confused and such.

...Let the Actions Speak for Themselves...

These authors also don't resort to name calling. They don't say or imply that the folks involved were rude, stupid or anything else. The facts of the story are enough for the reader to make up their own mind.

Now I'm not saying that the Bitter Barista did or did not resort to name calling. I don't subscribe to his tweets and I really don't have the time or energy to do so. So I have zero idea. However it seems likely that he may have according to what I've read elsewhere.

...Don't Indulge in Fantasy...

Obviously if your intent is satire, ignore this one. However if you're writing true stories about your life, then it's unwise to go on about how you wanted to spit in their coffee. Or suggest that you actually did spit in their coffee. (Disclaimer once again: I don't have any reason to suspect that Watson spit in anyone's coffee or even said he did, this is JUST an example. However I did know one waitress long in the past who actually did spit in someone's food, and I was horrified.) Unless you're also willing to chastise yourself in the story for being a horrible person.

...Leave Out Suggestions of Rape, Violence and Cruelty to Animals

This one should be a no brainer. (Here's that disclaimer again. I don't know what the Bitter Barista said, I only know what Sprudge said he said.) Some things are just beyond the pale. Fantasizing about giving someone the wrong coffee order is one thing. Fantasizing about rape, violence and animal cruelty are just straight out! If you do, and you say you do, then expect that you're going to lose readers, tick people off and quite possibly lose your job. Unless you're a sociopath and the purpose of your book is to write about being a sociopath. These things are not funny. At least not to me.

I may or may not ever write a book about the true story of my life. For now I'll stick to fiction. But if I ever do, I've learned how to write it without getting myself in trouble or upsetting people whose worst crime was to be human.