This is a guest post by Ann Sterzinger. Ann attempted to post this on Trigger Warning’s own front page, but Rachel Haywire deleted it.
At Ann’s request, I’ve re-posted the article here.
This is where the rabbit teaches the eagle a lesson. With his Smith and Wesson.
This is Ann Sterzinger, and I would like to apologize to everyone we pestered for the Trigger Warning Indiegogo campaign.
After running a crowdfunding campaign in which we explicitly and primarily begged for funds to pay our writers and editors, Rachel Haywire has, out of over $20,000 collected, finally—grudgingly—paid a few of her writers a paltry sum. After an even longer battle, she paid her editor a sum total of $1,500 for several months of 40+ hours of work per week.
I’m that editor. I’ve put out two issues for her now. My entry into the magazine caused a several-thousand-percent spike* in readership, a spike which she, textbook narcissist that she is, chalked up to her own genius.
She should really be a case study; unfortunately she’s on the loose, and I’m not the first person she’s burned. My ambition is to be the last.
I’ve given up thousands of dollars in freelance work and all of my free time to be Rachel’s pack mule for the past few months. She bullied me into doing so much unpaid work that I got behind at my freelance job and was let go. She destroyed my ability to make a living with her 24/7 demands on my time. And yet she balked at compensating me with anything substantial, saying the money needs to go back into “the company.”
Her company. Which she built upon my labor and talent and reputation and that of several sycophants who continue to be willing to work for free, God help them.
She has admitted to me—and I have it recorded—that out of the over $20,000 collected, she doesn’t have enough money left to pay me the $3,000 she’s been promising for over a week she would “pay in full” for my services. Instead, she gave me $1,500 now, and will allow me to “earn” the other half by granting her an indeterminate amount of labor for an indeterminate period of time in the future.
In other words, I’ll get paid for the work I’ve already done if I keep working. For God only knows how long.
But enough about my employment situation. Where did the rest of the money go?
For the record: don’t ask me. She’s given me an incoherent explanation involving web design; she also pays some $900 a month for her own personal office. She cites postage on the little prizes we offered for donors, but we charged extra for postage. Who was she paying to do web design? The ghost of Steve Jobs?
At this point I’m terrified that she is embezzling and will try to pin it on me, so as distasteful as it is, I’m going to have to tell my side of the story first before she smears me.
Rachel Haywire, Virulent Narcissist
In case you hadn’t noticed, there are monsters among us, free-floating egos with eyes who prey upon the human race for their narcissistic supply. They’ll seduce you and cheat you, not because they like sex or money, but because they like feeling sly and sexy.
They prefer to work in shadow and in secret, which is why there are no comments allowed on this blog; Rachel, for no good reason she can articulate, forbade it. (I’ve spoken to another blogger—Matt Forney—who offered to interview Rachel on his podcast, and she demanded he disable the comments on his blog for her interview.) Narcissists want to keep their dirty work secret so new victims won’t be forewarned and current food sources can be kept isolated from one another.
No doubt Rachel and her “network” of the sycophants she hasn’t yet alienated will scream and cry at my cruelty in exposing the poor vampire to the sunlight. But damn it, real human beings need to start taking a stand. No more saving what’s left of your own hide and leaving the next guy to get bitten. It’s time to shine the sunlight all up in this bitch.
We need to, as the Canadian novelist Jamie Mason puts it, start preying on the predators.
After the fundraiser, Rachel turned Trigger Warning into an LLC behind my back and in her name, thereby arrogating all future profits; she then proceeded to lecture and guilt-trip me for not caring about “the company.” (I signed on for a website, not a Rachel empire, but in her mind that’s now beside the point.)
I wish I could kick myself like the pack mule she made of me. Why am I so bad at spotting virulent narcissists till it’s too late? All I can do is warn others not to deal with, work with, or give money to this monster.
She used me to build her business, and is now trying to nudge me out over “differences of vision”—which, translated out of narcissist-speak, means I’ve shown an unexpected lack of docility, a deficiency which has become more pronounced in the past couple of weeks for reasons I shall outline below. Since I try to be nice to people unless they give me reason to behave otherwise, Rachel mistook me for a perfect source of narcissistic supply: valuable, talented, hard-working, compliant, and self-effacing.
As you can see, I’ve been a terrible disappointment.
What it’s Like Going Into Business with Rachel Haywire
When Rachel first approached me for this project, she presented it as a fun way for girls to work together—“and we’ll split the profits!” Well, neither fun nor sharing anything have panned out. Fun went out the window very early on; she began treating me as though I were an employee, and a particularly stupid one at that.
Ironically, if she had shown the least respect for my time or person I would have happily helped build the site on a volunteer basis, but she made my life too miserable to put up with it for free, especially when she was using my work to beg for money. It didn’t register when I told her that she was absorbing all the time I had set aside this summer to finally finish the novel that had been languishing under the weight of previous time drains: a narcissist is always busier and more put-upon than anyone.
As for sharing the profits: obviously she hasn’t disclosed any current financial details to me, but here is the budget she presented to a potential backer (who, understandably, declined to aid in our quest to pay Rachel more than the rest of the staff put together):
When I first met Rachel in person I mistook her for a lovable goof. But looking back, the goofiness was always spiked with compulsive self-interest.
For instance, shortly after meeting we went for a nice brunch, where Rachel got genuinely upset because I had more food on my plate than she did. We had ordered different dishes, so it likely wasn’t a deliberate snub or international conspiracy. But she fussed like a child nonetheless. I should have seen the rest of this story coming, but I just chuckled at her and gave her a bunch of my food, figuring she couldn’t talk and chew at the same time. (I was wrong.) I did a lot of wrongheaded chuckling at her nuttiness at first.
When the work began, however, it became clear that her self-aggrandizement was far from harmless. Rachel is clearly incapable of seeing anyone as her equal, much less working together in harmony on anything. Everything must be all her way, and an idea can be rejected for the sole reason that someone else came up with it. Within a week it was clear that she would throw tantrums till I allowed her to make all the decisions—and if tantrums didn’t work, she would sneak.
I don’t think she expected me to push back, not even as much as I did at first. She would bare her fangs when I occasionally took a stand against her often contradictory edicts; the more she realized I wasn’t quite as stupid as my Midwestern nice makes me appear, the nastier and more overtly controlling she became.
Still, until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t push back nearly hard enough.
At the beginning of our fundraising drive we agreed to a division of labor: I would concentrate on putting out a new issue, and she would concentrate on fundraising.
Fair enough; when it turned out I would also have to learn how the design of the site worked as well as editing the articles and looking for accompanying images, I started to feel the hands of the clock pressing around my neck; the site was fairly simple but all of this was quite time-consuming.
Still, it would have been doable, except that Rachel continually interrupted me with her fits of running around flapping her arms frantically. She changed plans so often I dreaded getting up each day to see how much of my work would have to be tossed out at her whim.
And she was angry that I wasn’t making time to do her job as well. She seemed to think begging people for money was more important than actually producing content to show them that their money would be used for something besides [whatever it is she spent 15 grand on]. As a classic narcissist, she believed people should give us thousands of dollars just for being awesome. Therefore, the work I was doing on the actual website was unimportant.
She taunted me for not bringing in donors—never mind the fact that it was impossible for me to wine and dine the wealthy the way she was doing. (This was the “hard work” she was trying to guilt-trip me over.) I don’t know anyone who has any spare cash. Rachel has devoted her life to “networking” while I was foolishly learning to write and edit. She lives in L.A., I in Chicago; she’s a virulent narcissist and loves talking people out of their last sock; and oh yeah, her parents are loaded too, so she grew up knowing how to talk to that sort of person in a way that normal people simply aren’t taught to do. Asking me to suddenly begin doing so would be like asking her to suddenly write something coherent that didn’t rely on “Screw the normies!” as its thesis.
Rachel likes to complain that people “discriminate” against her because she has rich parents. I’m beginning to understand why: because she starts it, by treating you like shit if you don’t. Well, kids, I’m ending it by warning you: don’t work with her.
As the new issue came together, she also wasted hour upon hour of my time by storming into editorial and changing her mind incessantly over which articles she wanted me to edit and post. I would spend hours formatting and editing one article only to have her casually toss it out in favor of another, usually worse, piece. Her mind seemed to be working like a hamster being chased by a cat, and I was a spider tied to the hamster’s tail.
You may be asking yourself, since I was doing the editorial labor, shouldn’t I get to curate the issue? Nay, I had to fight tooth and nail to keep even the biggest names I’d corralled. Why wouldn’t a fledgling site want Nick Mamatas and Tito Perdue drawing hits?
I was truly perplexed by this… ’til it came time to pay the writers, as we had promised our financial backers we would do.
The Final Straw
As it turned out, Rachel preferred her rank (and I do mean rank) amateurs to professional writers because her amateurs were so eager to write for her that they didn’t want to be paid. Quality was less important to her than keeping everyone on her narcissistic supply train happy. And since she enjoys weaseling free labor out of people as a sort of sport, paying someone is scored in her mind as a terrible defeat.
Speaking of money… while running me ragged and cutting off my income flow, she carefully safeguarded her own freelancing and moneymaking time. While she did her day job, I worked on Trigger Warning. When I tried to do my day job, she would send me nasty messages about how she had to do everything and I should get on Twitter instead of earning my rent. She was stressed out, after all, and needed time to relax and go on a short vacation. Again. (Somehow, though she’ll always tell you she has no money, Rachel Haywire is ALWAYS on vacation somewhere.)
At the end of the campaign, when the issue was out and the money rolling in, the battle wasn’t over. Exhausted—and unemployed—as I was, I had to fight, of all the things in the world, a protracted battle with her to get the writers paid. Even though, lest you forget, paying the writers was the top reason we gave in our Indiegogo campaign copy for the public to give us donations.
Basic ethics are something that must be very carefully explained to narcissists, with a wink: “I’m giving you free information on how to pretend to be a normal human!” She became paranoiacally convinced that I was obsessed with nothing besides stealing the money she had “earned” (“begged”) to pay the writers. Never mind the fact that we had run our campaign on asking for money to pay the writers.
Meanwhile, my Sisyphean labors weren’t over: she had promised a short rest after the campaign, but instead began haranguing me to hurry up and get copies of my books printed to give away to her backers as rewards, along with other sundry tasks. This is when she formed the LLC, I believe, stripping me of any right to “split the profits.”
This is the embarrassing part; but for the good of other potential Haywire victims (puts on pious face) I must confess: in her name, I shotgunned an entire bottle of bourbon in hopes it would kill me.
This wasn’t the first virulent narcissist who had gone at me this year, you see. It seemed the world teemed with monsters, and I had no more interest in living as their food.
Unfortunately, my constitution is stronger than my swallowing reflex, and I eventually awoke to a quite deranged central nervous system. Matt Forney happens to live in the building next to mine, and he had been worried about me… well, when Matt came over and saw me he was even more scared.
Partly out of kindness, and partly out of a desire to prey upon predators—a desire that burns in an increasing number of the real people I talk to these days—Matt took a lot of time and effort to put me back together… meaner.
I had hit rock bottom as a nerdy beta female and was learning to send my hate outward instead of in. So much for Matt hating strong women. (People don’t get satire, as was demonstrated by the reaction to Rachel’s and my “Child Abuse: Pros and Cons” piece.)
When I came up from underwater I found Rachel had finally paid some of the writers, after sending out a vaguely threatening email asking whether they would rather be paid or donate back to the company. No pressure there.
She had not, however, paid me. I suppose just paying the writers was strain enough on her. Or she was just trying to teach me a lesson. She didn’t teach me the lesson she intended, however.
The next time she contacted me it was to bitch me out for disappearing on her and abandoning her. She ignored me when I told her I was absent because I was very busy trying to die, probably because she pretends to have health crises whenever she wants something, and she assumed I was doing the same thing.
I’m pretty mean to begin with, and after hitting rock bottom I wasn’t about to take any more shit. So when she got me on the phone I started yelling at her. Note to beta females: You should try this on whichever female bully has decided you’re her favorite. It feels excellent. It’s hilarious. And it gets results. At least momentarily. She shut her damn mouth.
After pretending to cry and invoking our nonexistent friendship, she finally said she would pay me. I asked for a measly three grand for all my time, labor, and losing my job.
She may have been frightened by my anger at the time. That was a week and a half ago. The moment she thought she had me calmed down she started machinating again. She promised she would pay in full yesterday. As of late last night she has finally paid me half of what she owes me, after arbitrarily changing the deal and pretending that’s what we agreed on (classic move, Captain Personality Disorder).
(Meanwhile she’s trying to make up for my income loss by having her friend offer me a parking-assistant job—an hour and a half from my home by train and bus—that pays 50 bucks for a 3-hour shift. That is a generous boon of $50 for six hours of my time, folks. Well, it’s several thousand percent more than I got paid working for her. And meanwhile I’m trying hard to figure out how somebody blows 20 grand in less than a month. Bottle service? She is in L.A., after all.)
Anyway. After another protracted struggle, she’s finally sent me $1,500 out of the mere $3,000 which was to be my compensation for months of 40+-hour weeks, putting up with all of her shenanigans, my editing work, my technical work on the site itself, learning how the site works, the publication of three pieces of my writing, building an intellectual property in which I was to be given no future share, losing thousands of dollars in paid work (for much nicer bosses), putting off all of my own projects, and my various expenses (including paying for her to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house when she visited me in Oak Park because she claimed she was broke).
For this, she expects me to be so charmed by her that I will continue providing free labor as an editor for an indefinite period, till she can afford to pay me the second $1500. I don’t believe for a second she intends to pay me.
With what, after all?
Once again, where is the money?
I don’t know. I’m afraid she’s done something shady that she’ll try to pin on me, as she has declined to show me any financial records. I feel bad for the donors, but my main concern now is setting up warning flares so that no non-maniac ever goes close to this creature again.
Malignant narcissists are a plague upon the modern world. The sheer size of the population makes predatory behavior enticing, since there’s always a new victim to move on to. Corporate culture is a perfect training ground and breeding ground… well, at least it seemed perfect till the Internet came along and topped it.
The Internet runs on boastfulness and image. Rachel isn’t the only one who believes in fabulousness over content. And there’s always fresh meat to be found if you alienate your current narcissistic supply; just join a really cool group on Facebook and flatter people with your charismatic attention!
For real human beings, it’s a nightmare.
We need to stick together, warn each other, and not join in any vampire games.
Sorry, Rachel, but… actually, no, you’re still the one who should be sorry.
But you never really will be. You’ll go on blaming your “autism” for your narcissistic predation till the day you die (thereby insulting actual people with autism). You tried to use me as a free employee to build a business to keep for yourself. You’re still successfully using more naïve specimens the same way. Your dishonesty and viciousness must be exposed to the sun.
Your malignant species needs to be on the run, starting now.
Note: last night, aware that she was nearing the end of my long fuse, Rachel began a too-little-too-late attempt to placate me by hawking my Patreon account on her Facebook page. Although she only means to guilt-trip me out of striking back at her, donating to me would not actually be a terrible idea at this point; working for her has put a Rachel-size crater in my finances.
You can find a donate button here, with my apologies.
Although I would prefer real, paid work; yes, I am hanging a sign around my neck that says “Will edit for food.”
- Chart showing reader stats (the first issue I was involved with came out in, I believe, late April):
Ann Sterzinger blogs here.
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