Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Authors At Risk

Most people think I don’t have boundaries. A bit too outspoken for my own good sometimes. And given the way I talk about my life here there’s a definite perception that I’m an open book.

There is a real difference between the perception and the person. Now, to be fair, I’ll answer just about any valid question someone puts directly to me. It isn’t like I’m trying to keep secrets.

But I definitely have my comfort zones, and I definitely don’t like some people intruding on them.

I live in a village. 800+ people. I have always kept a very low profile here. There are even guys on the fire department who call me Karen when they happen to see me outside. No offense to any Karens, but I can’t stand being called Karen. But I don’t correct them. Three years we’ve lived here.

Some of the guys on the fire department know I’m an author, but they don’t know the name I write under. They know Kevin’s last name.

So, the only two women in this village who’ve known my ‘other’ name are the two who work at the post office.

Until recently.

The ladies at the post office know my name and business because of the volume of ARCs I get and the volume of stuff I mail. I have to declare stuff going over borders. I spend a fortune on postage.

And I happened to be in there one time when this guy was, who figured out from what I said about the package that I was an author.

Turns out he’s written something and, well, in the end I gave him my business card to part ways. I live a block off main.

I do not want people I don’t know turning up on my doorstep. As it is I’m notorious for not answering the door. If I’m not expecting you, I’m not interested. And I find it hard enough going out on my own sometimes. I don’t know if that’s a residual thing from being attacked all those years ago or what, but I definitely go through prolonged house-bound phases and irrational fear is definitely involved.

I guess that makes me a bit of a recluse. It took two years of Butthead’s shit for me to say something. Trespass on our property. Steal something. Leave your garbage all over under our trees. But you start messing with my sleep and it’s the straw. I know Julia Buckley is snickering right now, thinking Sleep?! That girl doesn’t sleep! She stays up half the night and catapults out of bed at 6 am! To which I will say Only at conventions. Do you think I should have warned Toni before LCC? Oh well, too late now.

Anyway, before I get sidetracked on my sleeping habits, I’ll get back to my slightly less private life. I told someone about this incident and they said I should have given a false email address.

It never occurred to me to lie.

Now, I would disagree with them anyway. Village and all. Sooner or later the guy tries the email address and doesn’t get me he’s going to ask for it again.

But I share this little story for an entirely different reason. Authors are vulnerable. We pretty well have to maintain some online presence to market ourselves. How much varies, but even authors who don’t have websites have information about them posted online. Stores where they are doing book signings will post info, their publishers may post touring schedules.

Which means that people you don’t even know who are watching can know where to find you. And that’s a really disturbing thought.

Having been to a few different conventions now, I can say that I have heard some criticisms about standoffish authors, or authors who aren’t quite as approachable as their online persona. To which I say, “Oh wah.”

Now, I did something a bit horrid to JA Konrath at B’con myself. Before I’d formally met him I walked up behind him and put my arm around him. And understandably he was trying to put as much distance between me and him as he could until I introduced myself. It was a horrid thing to do, although Joe, I must admit it was amusing. Especially for the group of people who’d put me up to it, though they were a bit let down, as they’d been hoping I’d grab your ass.

See? I have some restraint.

As more authors feel under pressure to blog, to share details of their lives, there will be more authors who go to events feeling vulnerable. I’m mindful of every author who’s given me their phone number, their address, had me to their home, their email address if it isn’t in the public domain, told me about a future project. And I wonder how hard it is for some of them to trust people.

I mean, if I wasn’t me would I trust me?

That is the yin and yang of the blog. On the one hand, somewhat exposed. On the other hand, open. People who’ve never met me come here and feel they’ve gotten some sense of who I am. Apparently it hasn’t scared off everyone.

But it is something to think about. Particularly for those just finding their way on the blogs, be mindful of this: Before I had a book signed, back when I was just on a few forums, I already had a little cyberstalker issue. And I have definitely had some emails that have made me very uncomfortable.

One thing I think cyberfriends also have to realize is that, although you feel you know someone from online, that doesn’t always automatically transfer across into ease when you meet in person. I’ve been fortunate. I do get along very well with most people I’ve met from cyberspace. I actually feel far more comfortable (in general) meeting people I’ve emailed with, because there is a basis for communication right off. On average I’ll talk more to people I’ve corresponded with, definitely. And that carries forward over time, event to event.

If you think I’m being overly dramatic on this, a Canadian author without much of an online profile had a stalker issue and the guy turned up on her doorstep. He was charged and found guilty and sentenced.

Gives you pause, doesn’t it? And the next time someone won’t give out their email address try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment.

So, any of you got any cyberfreak or just general freak stories to share?

If not, Kevin Wignall has another interesting publishing industry post up that is worth a look at. This time he’s touching on some of the secrecy in the industry.


anne frasier said...

this is a topic dear to my heart. :D

internet stalkers.

i recently had an experience with a major weirdass that made me think a lot more about what i put on my blog. and the internet itself makes it so easy for a person to find out where you live. they can even get an online aerial view of your house, updated every few months so they might even know what kind of car you drive if it's parked in front.

this guy sent me a link to a PDF file, asked if i'd read just a few pages of his book and let him know if it made sense. it was nonfiction. i did read it, and even glanced through all of the chapters, told him it made sense to me. thought that was the end of the story. he starts sending me massive email tirades about how i was such a poor, pathetic, insecure woman. how pitiful i was, and how sorry he felt for someone who was so lacking in confidence and so insecure about herself that she had to lie about opening his material. (i could almost see the guy foaming at the mouth as he typed) he said he knew i hadn't opened the file, when in fact i'd actually opened it twice. i told him to fuck off, but the email tirades kept coming. i didn't respond to them, but i put them in a file. the last one was an apology where he asked for my address so he could send me a gift. :O right.

according to this weirdass, he was also in some nasty battle with ms snark -- but that could just be a lie.

after that experience i really cut back on what i said on my blog, and even cut back on blogging.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow Anne, that's scary. It reminds me of someone...

But seriously, I think some people have no idea how they come off. I forget that myself. I can be such a cheerleader for things I love and maybe a bit enthusiastic. I mean, if you were a certain Scottish author, would you talk to me? I wouldn't. I'd be thinking this chick's wacked.

In a way it makes Spinetingler a bit of a blessing. There are definitely down sides, but the reality is that I really am so busy with that, and so I'm very careful about reading things for people.

It may get to the point where I'm also careful responding to people.

Seems sad it has to be that way, but you have to protect yourself. You really do. Even when I mail packages to my friends (authors) I won't put their phone number on the slip. As I told the women at the post office some of these are internationally known best-selling authors. Addresses are enough, phone numbers in the wrong hands can be a bad thing. And you just never know. One time we got mail that had been opened. It came in plastic. It was just some photos my father-in-law sent us when we lived in BC. The mail had been stolen and recovered from a dumpster.

Leaving me mindful that you can never be too careful.

JamesO said...

Round where I live, 800+ is a small city;}#

The thing about blogging, is it gives us a feeling we are in control, which in turn leads some to revealing just a little too much about themselves than they might in a face to face conversation (though after a few beers, and depending on who you're face to face with, conversations can get pretty weird).

The downside is, of course, that people who might be too timid to approach you at a conference feel perfectly entitled to be rude and abusive on-line. I find it quite astonishing the things people do, and expect of other people, in forums and blog comments. The best attitude is to try and stay a bit distant, but that can rile the madmen just as much.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You're right about that James. I've seen people criticize authors who don't make their email addresses available. And to me, it's ridiculous. Every person on the planet has the right to make choices about their privacy and what they do and do not want to be public. I completely respect authors who choose not to make their info available. Sometimes that means I can't interview them for Spinetingler, but it doesn't change the fact that they have the right to make that decision.

angie said...

There are some seriously wacked folks running around the internet. Stalkers aside (never happened to me, but I know a few who have had problems), I'm mostly appalled by the trolls. The little blackboard equation you posted a while back about anonymity pretty much sums it up.

Anonymity is a double-edged sword. I understand why some folks don't want to post their full names, but the truly wacky made up names make me a little nervous. Who exactly am I talking to?!

Sadly, true privacy is pretty much a pipe dream. There's a search engine that can find just about anybody and provides current addresses, and in some cases phone numbers. And for the techno-savvy, it's usually pretty easy to figure out where someone's IP is coming from, what kind of computer they have & what operating system they're running. It can sure get creepy fast.

Anonymous said...

I usually write erotica, in which I have a strict penname where I've managed to maintain my secrecy. Because of the topic matter, I can usually be fairly honest about the emotional and sexual topics that come up, without really divulging and personal details.

After I started a "regular" blog, it's been much more difficult to find that line. My goal was to be more real and honest and open, but ... I'll have to keep a lookout for that line. Thanks!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Spyscribbler, I can only imagine that this must be a very delicate balance for you. I think it would be a very difficult position to be in.

Angie, yeah, I know what you mean about wondering who some people are. You just never know in this day and age...

Amra Pajalic said...

I can relate to what Spyscribbler was saying. I started a blog with the intention of being open, blah, blah, but froze up as soon as I knew there were people reading and about consequences to my life. I don't talk about anything relating to my job, even though there are some stupid things, cause I need to pay the mortgage and you can get fired.

I did a anonymous blog for a while and did some pretty out there posts but that got old news. I don't have the energy to maintain two blogs, plus sometimes we get caught too much in the trap of the confessional mode.

Since I've written my latest book I've pulled a bit on the personal in the blog context cause so much of me is in my writing I need something of my own left. It's a funny line and one we all define the way we want, even if it is with many contradictions.

Anonymous said...

It's strange how the anonymity of the internet can turn mild mannered people into complete psychopaths. I suppose all it's doing is bringing it out in them.

Damn, Anne. Sorry to hear about your experience. Makes me want to get together a posse of crime writers and go do what we do best.

Type. Type until the guy can't stands it no more!

JA Konrath said...

I didn't find it horrid at all, Sandra. I knew who you were, and simply assumed you were holding a weapon. ;)