I am stunned and appalled about the attack on literary agent Pam van Hylckama yesterday by someone the police believe is an author who queried her and was rejected. If you are in any way involved in the writing and publishing community and miraculously have not heard about this, you can read about the incident here and here.
I have seen an online outpouring of good wishes for Pam and her family, and for her little dog who bit the attacker and scared him off. That is a GOOD DOG! Sorry. The dog part of the story makes me go all verklempt.
I've seen some great responses online, including the suggestion that a database be created that shames authors into not sending hate mail to agents and editors who don't want to represent them. It is a business decision whether an agent wants to take you on as a client or not. It is not a personal attack on you. It does not require a response of any kind, especially a hate-filled one. End of story.
I think a database like that might be useful. Harry Connolly summed up the idea pretty well on his blog here. It's a sad world we live in when agents (and anyone else, for that matter) are used to getting threatening or hateful mail. When a real live red-alert-level threat comes through, it's not a warning sign that law enforcement should get involved immediately. If authors knew that their response to any rejection might be publicly posted, they might think twice before firing off an angry, heat-of-the-moment retort. That way, any harassment that did come through could be considered a real and actionable threat.
My thinking is also this: before an agent responded with a polite rejection letter, they could google up the author's name on the database, and find out if they are the type to respond poorly to rejection. Your name is on the list? Maybe as a repeat offender? Then no response at all for you. Life is too short to deal with that kind of crazy.
Speaking of crazy, that's been one part in all of this that really gets to me. That word has been bandied about a lot over the last 24 hours. The perpetrator was described as "crazy." I frequently hear jokes about how all authors are a little crazy. I even participate in them. But I feel a little entitled to make crazy jokes. You see, I, myself, am crazy. I got a doctor's note and everything.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997. Through a lot of hard work, I live a relatively normal life. Writing is the main thing that keeps me stable, hence the title of my blog here. I write the bad stuff out of my head and on to the page. I have a feeling a LOT of writers out there are doing something similar.
I sometimes make light of my condition, because I've found that some people find it upsetting. When they see I'm not suicidal, and that I don't look or act like a crazed monster, it makes it easier to talk about. I want people to be open-minded when it comes to mental illness. I never want anyone to avoid seeking treatment because they are frightened or ashamed. Humor helps.
BUT I WOULD NEVER SEND THREATS OR HATE MAIL TO ANYONE!!! MENTAL ILLNESS DOESN'T NECESSARILY MAKE YOU VIOLENT.
Absolutely, what this person did was crazy, illogical, and idiotic. It was not in any way a normal response to rejection. 99.9999999% of people who query agents would never dream of hunting a rejecting agent down and attempting to hurt them physically. We all get it. We understand the way publishing works. We are NOT deluded into thinking that a rejection of our manuscript is a personal rejection of all that we are and all that we ever hope to be.
To be perfectly honest, I don't mind rejections. If an agent doesn't love my writing, why would I want them to represent me at all? I mean, really. LOGIC, PEOPLE!
Finally, I've been thinking a lot about my online presence. If you follow me on Twitter, or read some of my blog entries, you can probably make an educated guess as to the general area where I live. You could find my phone number with a small effort. My "author" email address is posted on my blog, for crying out loud. I'm not hard to track down. This scares me now.
When I started this blog (and even longer ago started a blog over on LiveJournal), I had no reason to hide my identity. Y'all know my real name. It's in my twitter name. No, you wit, not MittensMorgul. But for the first time ever, I've seriously wished I'd made up a different name to write under. Not to mention the fact that there are a bunch of other people named Laura Hughes running around in the world. It's not exactly an exotic name. I just don't think it's possible to change it now. I mean, the Internet remembers everything. It's out there now, and it's going to stay there whether I try to change it or not.
With all that in mind, I would like to inform the world that I am a brown belt in kung fu. I own swords, and I know how to use them. I carry a quarterstaff around in my car. I wield a mean purple pocketknife. My elbows are certified as weapons. And I know six ways to kill a man with my bare hands (that sentence is a lie, but the rest is 100% truth). I did used to work for an orthopedic surgeon who pointed out all the nerve bundles and joint spaces to hit if I were ever attacked by a madman on the streets. It might not kill you, but you'll likely wish you were dead.
Hopefully I will never need to back up the previous paragraph. Hopefully the world will be a nice place from now on. Hopefully it will be just as nice as I remember it being until yesterday afternoon, a world where writers and agents respect and learn from one another, and where the cost of running a practical business isn't the acceptance of threats as "business as usual." Us kung fu practitioners will be watching you, so freaking behave, already!