The interwebs have been abuzz this morning with talk of the attack on agent Pam van Hylckama, allegedly by a writer whose work she'd rejected. (Pam is an agent-pal and I have no reason to doubt her story, btw, but I say "allegedly" because obviously we don't know all the facts in the case and presumably the investigation etc is ongoing and nobody has been found guilty, so. ANYWAY....)
Scary stuff, for sure. My initial reaction is, thank god Pam is ok, and seems to have no more severe injuries than a bruise (and some shattered nerves!) -- and her little dog deserves a huge reward. Hugs to Pam and family.
My second reaction is more selfish. How could this have been avoided? How, indeed, can I personally avoid a situation like this?
It's true that agents do get a lot of crap. I've had authors show up outside my house, authors drop off notes in my home mailbox or at the bookstore (with no postmark - in other words, delivered by hand) authors come talk to me while I am at an event or show up while I am working at the bookstore to ask for advice, authors follow me way too closely in conference hotels, and authors call me on my cell phone. All of which very much freaked me out, but always ended up just being genuinely nice but clueless people who I could explain "look, this is inappropriate" and they get it, or if they don't get it, they at least go away.
I've also certainly gotten my share of thoroughly weird queries and responses to rejections. The query for a thriller about a dude who kills literary agents comes to mind. (eep!) I do not respond to such queries, and I save them in a "In Case I'm Murdered" file. Yanno, to be on the safe side. I've had people snap back and accuse me of being racist or hating men, etc, when I reject them. But I myself have never gotten actual threats, thank god. And 99% of the many, many authors I interact with on a daily basis are delightful and non-freaky.
Let's be clear: The dude who attacked Pam is not a "disgruntled author." He's a CRIMINAL. I'm trying to avoid the obvious word, because I hate when people just say "he's crazy" - (is that a diagnoses, Doctor Internet?)... but the behavior is certainly crazy, whether or not the person is. If the allegations are true, he didn't attack Pam "because she rejected him" -- he attacked her BECAUSE HE HAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM. And, though I don't know him personally and I am not trying to diagnose what that "something wrong" is, it's safe to assume he has emotional and/or psychological disturbances of some kind. This isn't really a case of "authors behaving badly" as it is "unbalanced individuals behaving erratically."
So what to do? Like most people, I try to keep my personal address and phone number off the internet (though strangers still find them with disconcerting regularity). I don't have phone or address on my business cards or website. I don't use 4Square or Facebook "check-in" apps. But still, like many people, I live my life online. I tweet or facebook about places I visit and things I do. And as a semi-public figure, where I work is common knowledge. Because I work all the time, it is easy to figure out where I am, pretty much all the time. Even if I unplugged completely, I still live in a small village, and if you know the name of the village (which is no big secret), you can find me - because I am usually visibly standing somewhere near the center of it! (Of course it is also no big secret that I have a dog who craves the taste of human flesh and would love to bite a stranger on my behalf, and honestly I pity anyone who breaks into my house, so I have little fear on that front.)
I guess the point is -- writers, agents, anyone who lives part of their life in public (which is an ever increasing number of people) -- ALL OF US need to be vigilant. ALL OF US need to watch how much info goes online, and use a certain amount of discretion.
Also, ALL OF US need to be considerate about personal space bubbles -- just as you wouldn't ask a stranger to examine you in line at the supermarket if you found out he was a gynecologist, don't creep around a literary agents house and wait for her to go outside to water the plants so you can ask her questions about your work. There's a time and a place. Don't be a creep.
But you can't really predict or protect against a stranger snapping on you. And you can't live your life in fear. I guess the most we can do is just be as nice as we can to each other?
What do you think?