Meet Jackie Roberts
Who’s that girl?
Set in modern-day Toronto, Hate Story by Jeff Cottrill is a satirical novel lifting the lid on the darker, more sinister side of the Internet, particularly cancel culture and online shaming. It starts with the funeral of Paul Shoreditch, a loner and loathed individual. His funeral is mobbed by online haters and it is up to our protagonist, Jackie Roberts, to ascertain why he was despised so much.
Content warning: contains naughty words.
Who are you, Jackie? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Jackie: In a different life, I might've been a film director. But that would involve working directly with other people, and most people are assclowns. So I became a writer instead – and I write about movies. I've been obsessed with cinema since I was a kid. It might've started when my parents took me to see Snow White when I was four. I mostly love the classics (both Hollywood and foreign), but I keep up with what's current by writing reviews online. And I own an enormous DVD collection, which I've kept building even while everybody else is streaming.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Jackie: Nothing. I loathe getting out of bed in the morning.
But you do eventually...
Jackie: Well, we've all gotta work and stuff, right? And I guess the prospect of losing myself in another John Huston or Ida Lupino classic is always worth getting up for.
You seem to spend most of your spare time online. Why is that?
Jackie: Part of it is the amazing wealth of info right at my fingertips, on film and books and other subjects. But also... [sighs] I hate to admit it, but I think I just find it easier to deal with people that way. Behind a keyboard, I feel like I can say whatever I want without getting punched in the eye. It's easier to be brave and honest there.
You also seem to delight in antagonising readers of your posts who reply with negative comments. For fun, or because you feel you need to educate them and put them in their place?
Jackie: [uncomfortable laughter] ‘Antagonising’ is one hell of a stretch, isn't it? [pause] Okay... I say some mean things sometimes. But I'm witty about it. I'm smart about it. I think that's what redeems it. And yes, it is fun. It's a game to me, although it's an easy one to win against trolling morons – they're not armed with a lot of intelligence. I don't know how to stand up to ignorant assholes in real life, so I put it all online. I don't say anything that could damage anyone seriously. They can handle it. [pause] I mean... they can, can't they?
Would you describe yourself as a ‘keyboard warrior’, Jackie?
Jackie: [groans] I hate that term. Same with ‘social-justice warrior.’ They both sound like some kind of screaming fanatic trying to start a riot in the streets. I'm very progressive and liberal and so on, but I don't really have a pet cause or agenda. When somebody says something online that doesn't sit right with me, I've got to respond – that's all it is. I suppose I picture myself more as a savage roast comic than as an activist.
Tell us about your blog, JackieRoberts.com. Why would people visit it?
Jackie: If you love film, my blog is for you. Do you know Roger Ebert's ‘Great Movies’ essay series? It's like that, but not as brilliant. I post lengthy appreciations of my favourite movies from every era. There's a lot on Hitchcock, John Huston, Lina Wertmüller, François Truffaut, Frank Capra, Spike Lee, Michael Haneke... really, I'm just skimming the surface. There must be hundreds of posts now. And just so you don't think I'm some freaky art-house snob, I've even written about Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe a few times.
Your ‘proper job’ is at a call centre, as were previous ones. Are you where you wanted to be?
Jackie: No human being on this earth wants to work at a call centre. But I've had worse jobs, and I've long accepted that it's virtually impossible for much of my generation to make a living at anything they really want to do. I like some classical music, and selling tickets for a local symphony orchestra brings me in touch with music lovers, who can be fun – though I do have to deal with the occasional idiot on the line, and the manager is such a fucking fascist about swearing. I still get plenty of time to watch movies and write about them at home, so... whatever. I cope.
So what has brought you to this period in your life?
Jackie: Lack of ambition, I guess. Like Terry Malloy [in On the Waterfront] said: ‘I always figured I'd live a bit longer without it.’ I don't hate my day job enough to quit it, and I'm not confident enough in my writing ability to aim for higher professional glory (although the dumb-ass editor I do reviews for keeps telling me I'm a genius or something). I don't have the energy to grab life by the balls. Just want to do my thing and be left alone.
You live alone in an apartment. No partner to speak of? Friends? Siblings?
Jackie: I don't think my living situation is unusual as a Millennial, or even for many Gen X-ers. And I prefer to live alone anyway – you don't have to schedule your days around somebody else's habits. I was an only child, so I got accustomed to solitude and never needed a lot of friends. Haven't been interested in a relationship for years, although I still get together for brunch with Natalie, one of my exes, every month or so. I don't know why, since we don't have too much in common anymore. I think neither of us has the guts to stop.
When you first meet Kathy McDougal, you seem to experience some recognition of common traits. How did that make you feel?
Jackie: Very, very, very weird. Excuse the cliché image, but it was like looking at myself in one of those curved funhouse mirrors. And I was like, Is this person a heroine or a lunatic? She's doing exactly what I've sometimes fantasized about doing – making social change through some ballsy Internet vigilantism – but she takes it so far. With no scruples, no doubt, no hesitation. It made me question my own online behaviour: am I going too far? Am I not going far enough?
What were your initial thoughts after reading some of the nasty posts about Paul Shoreditch?
Jackie: I was shocked as shit. I had no idea what to make of it because I'd never seen anything like it before. So many people expressing such a wide spectrum of negative emotions from violent, self-righteous anger to mild irritation. Sometimes it was like a Twitter firestorm of rage against, say, Trump or Bill Cosby. Other times, it was like Mean Girls on crack. I thought, Is this guy even real? Is a person like this possible? And there was something off about it – something that just didn't feel credible – that made me need to find out more.
Do you think you and Paul could have been friends in another life?
Jackie: Jesus. That's a tough one. From what I understand about Paul, I don't even know if he was capable of making real friends. Like Travis Bickle [from Taxi Driver] without the violent psychosis. Not that he didn't try to make friends a couple of times, though. I like to imagine that if I'd gotten to know him at an early age, I'd have taken him away from his parents and other awful people who messed up his life. His passion for singers was like mine for movies, so I guess we'd be similar in that way.
Do we find get to find out any of your ‘dark’ secrets, and if so, care to reveal?
Jackie: I'd rather not answer that one. A little embarrassing. Read the book instead.
Tell us about some of the other key players in this story, what you thought of them and how they affected you.
Jackie: Paul Shoreditch's mother is the worst human being I've ever encountered in person. I don't know how I got through the interview without stabbing her in the face. If FOX News and the Trump administration and Benito Mussolini all merged and materialized into one human being, it would be Lydia Shoreditch. Then there's Angry Chuck M, a washed-up rapper (and Paul's childhood friend). Kind of a jock type. Wasn't crazy about him either. I guess he means well, and he's friendly enough, but I found him a bit shallow and lacking in humour. And Paul's old boss, Morty Bozzer... Jesus Christ, what a creep! Self-absorbed, pretentious, shady little moron. He didn't do anything too inappropriate, and I still wanted to mace him. Didn't Paul know anybody normal?
Has finding out what happened to Paul Shoreditch changed you in any way, and if so, how?
Jackie: It's changed the way I deal with people on the Internet and social media, that's for sure. Even when I get mad at somebody for saying something stupid or ignorant, I can't think of them as avatars anymore. They're not straw men and women I can attack without fear of consequence. They're living, breathing human beings with real lives in the real world.
What is the major lesson you've learned?
Jackie: Pick your battles. There's a time to rage against the machine or whatever, sure, but sometimes you have to forgive people for their mistakes or stupidities and just let it go. Even big mistakes, sometimes. None of us is perfect, none of us knows why we're here or what all the best choices are. Sometimes a little kindness and understanding is much better than trying to score cheap points.
Where has life taken you since the story ended?
Jackie: I had to get the hell out of Toronto. And for a while, I became kind of a hermit. Not that I was a big social butterfly before or anything, but I just didn't want to do anything productive anymore. The stupid pandemic probably had something to do with it, too. Just wanted to sit and watch DVDs and feel depressed. It passed, though. Now I'm just trying to figure out which direction to move in.
Do you fancy yourself as a bit of an investigative journalist now?
Jackie: Good God, no. I guess I did the best I could under the circumstances, considering my lack of experience and know-how. But I'd rather just go back to writing about film. That's where I'm a Viking, as Ralph Wiggum [from The Simpsons] would put it.
What wouldn’t we know by just looking at you?
Jackie: I cried my fucking eyes out the first time I saw Brief Encounter. I think it was all the Rachmaninov music that did it. Don't spread it around, please. [cough]
Will we be hearing more about you in the future?
Jackie: You'll have to ask Jeff. If he wants to put me in more stories, I'm sure he'll just go ahead and do it, regardless of what I think. (I just hope he doesn't make me look like such a jerk next time. Come on!) In terms of my public writing career on the Internet, though, I need a long, long rest. Everything that's happened has fucked me up so much. I'm just going to chill with my parents in Ottawa for a while, come up with a good pseudonym, and start from scratch again.
Okay, one last question. Would you survive if you were stranded on a desert island, and if so, how?
Jackie: I highly doubt I'd survive. But if I had, like, some kind of movie-watching device with me, I'd use that to keep me company while waiting for rescue or death. And I'd try to take inspiration from movies and TV on how to survive and stay sane... like Cast Away. Maybe even Gilligan's Island if I'm desperate.
Thanks, Jackie for an insightful interview.
About the Author:
Jeff Cottrill is a fiction writer, poet, journalist and spoken-word artist based in Toronto, Canada. He has headlined in countless literary series throughout Canada, the U.K., the U.S., France and Ireland over the last twenty years. His performance style is influenced by slam conventions, but subverts them with wit, ironic humour and a satirical tone.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeff has continued his spoken-word career via Zoom, which has allowed him to attend literary events in Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Lebanon and other new places. In 2021, he had poetry and flash fiction published in several international anthologies, including Paper Teller Diorama (New York), Sinew: Ten Years of Poetry in the Brew (Nashville), Globalisation: The Sphere Keeps Spinning (Sydney, Australia) and Things Fall Apart: Mischievous Machines (Leeds, U.K.).
Other short fiction and poems by him have appeared in The South Shore Review and The Dreaming Machine. Jeff was also featured in the poetry podcasts Wordsmith (Australia) and Poets and Muses (U.S.) last year. His poem “This Is Not Real Poetry” (published in the latest Brownstone Poets anthology) is currently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Jeff’s journalistic credits include OHS Canada, Toronto.com, NOW, EYE WEEKLY, Exclaim!, Post City Magazines, YellowPages.ca, Divorce Magazine, JobPostings and Digital Journal. In 2015, he was nominated for a Kenneth R. Wilson Memorial Award for his OHS Canada article “Off the Rails.” He holds a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Toronto, as well as a certificate in creative writing from Humber College. Jeff is the former Literary Editor of Burning Effigy Press.
Hate Story is Jeff’s seventh or eighth attempt at a first novel.
Jeff likes writing, movies, travel and puppies.