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Thursday, 30 October 2014

STALKING A BOOK REVIEWER: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Creepy sexist dick authors...
   WHAT.
   THE.
   FUCK.
   DID.
   I.
   SAY.
   EARLIER?


FUCK.


*

September seems like a fucking lifetime ago. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. There was a change in the weather, and a winter wind crept up from the sewers to trouble the streets.

   I wrote about creepy sexist dick author behaviour. If you missed it, HERE'S A BLOG POST ABOUT THAT. I'll wait for you.


*

Okay. (It's very far from being okay.)
   I waited for you, as there was a link, inside that burrow, leading to another warren. All the regular and irregular authors I've spoken to? Yes, we've all joked about stalking.
   Some of my author friends joke about stalking me. (Too many of them. Most of them. Virtually all of them.) I joke that some of my author friends are my stalkers. Making fun of stalking is always couched in the same terms...
   We recognise that clicking a link on the internet carries the feeling, the sensation, of stalking. Even if it is done in the interests of legitimate research. (More on that, later.)
   That's just the way the internet feels. Our actions are separate from the feeling. Researching something doesn't turn us into stalkers. Stalking makes people stalkers. Clicking a link is not the same as standing on someone's garden path after clicking a link.
   We joke, nervously, on many topics. Stalking is one of those scary subjects. We don't stalk, and we hope we aren't stalked. Are fans, or other writers, lurking in the bushes?
   For starters, if you know whether or not there are any bushes...
   See. It's easy to joke about stalking.
   Stalking is wrong. It's a whole world of wrong. As authors, we joke about it with one eye over the shoulder looking to see if we are being stalked as we talk.
   Blogger sites with good advice on internet interaction often use humour to tackle serious subjects. HERE'S AN EXAMPLE OF THAT. Work your way through the BLOGGER SUPPORT NETWORK entries at your leisure.
   (No lie. HOW TO CONTACT YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR is a must-read.)


*

So. If you read my September blog post on creepy sexist dick authors, and then went further down the rabbit-hole to a humorous take on dealing with stalkers...

   For you, the tone shifted in a potentially jarring way. Consider the posts in chronological order. We are nervous, and can't help but joke about stalking. What we can help is...not stalking, and not standing on some stranger's garden path for real after, oh, taking exception to that stranger's book review.
   All through this year, I've been in receipt of author-related stories on stalking, trolling, and cyberbullying. People on the receiving end of this bullshit still have a sense of humour about it.
   The sense of humour is necessary. It enables us to shrug off the pettiness and multiple inadequacies of these...
   Stalkers/trolls/cyberfreaks.
   Mostly, this crap carries the inconvenience of the fart. We catch a whiff, and we are on the lookout for that stench thereafter. A breath of fresh, and we are okay. We can laugh about it.
   Mostly.


*

That's what the blog post was about on the 1st of June, 2014. Mostly we can laugh about it. Then there's the blog post from the 13th of September, 2014. Bleaker territory.

   I stick to what I wrote there. If I am walking down a street and a woman ahead of me signals she is uncomfortable, I must turn down a side-street.
   It is not cool to run up to her and explain that everything is okay.
   This is not about my perception of how I am doing - it's about the other person's perception. So I don't run up out of a scary place to show that I am safe and harmless. (More on this, later.)
   Hell, when I've returned dropped cash to someone, I've always tried to avoid looking like a mugger coming in on the final run. It's difficult. How do you NOT look like a mugger?
   You'll have to insert your own witticisms there.


*

This is not one of those lighter pieces. You knew that, coming in.

   A story came to my attention. It's the story of a writer who stalked a woman, blogged about it, and turned his obsession into a novel. Later, the book was reviewed by a woman in Scotland. The book was not well-received.
   We are in the dying seconds of October as I type, and, believe me, September feels so long ago it might as well be part of another geological era.
   This month, the Scottish book reviewer was assaulted. It is believed that the assault was in response to a review she made.
   Ah cannae gie oot ony mair detail oan ma blog, fur, if ah dae, ah'll be huckled by rah polis ower contempt o' coort.
   The first thing people question when they hear stories like this on the internet?


   EVERYTHING.

   Absolutely everything. The main question that has been asked? Why have we heard nothing of this in the media? There is an obvious answer. The matter is now before the court, and standard reporting restrictions are in place. Nothing unusual in that - this is the norm.

   Even for a detail-devoid blog post of this nature, I researched the hell out of the story before commenting on it. And so...


*

I know the name of the alleged assailant.

   The victim is also known.
   And I am aware of the time of the attack.
   I know the location of the town where the attack occurred.
   An appeal for witnesses was made by a named Detective Inspector of the polis.
   The weapon was a blunt/sharp implement - a wine bottle.


*

No, I didn't stalk anyone to learn this stuff. Details were willingly put on the internet. I cross-referenced. The story was confirmed via two separate sources. I could then blog about that story. Not comfortably, but you know what I mean. This was no hoax, spoof, or scam.
   Ordinarily, I wouldn't be able to gain so much data on an event like this. Regrettably, the book reviewer placed too much information about the incident online. She then had to backtrack for all the usual legal reasons.
   Caution. The book reviewer posted photographs of her injuries. She was photographed in her work clothes, confirming, by separate means, that she was the woman mentioned in the news report.
   Her story is true. She is a book reviewer. And she was assaulted in her place of work, by a man wielding a bottle of wine. In the interests of trying to find confirmatory detail, I looked at the photos.
   The phrase BOOK REVIEWER WINE BOTTLE ASSAULT is enough to take you to the story, if you desire more news. Digging deeper into that data is not for the squeamish. You were warned.
   This was a story in reverse. Once drawn to my attention, when researching it with a view to blogging, I tried to go straight to a news item on the event.
   That news item was a story about an unnamed assailant wanted in connection with an alleged assault on an unnamed victim. It was the last piece of data I found.
   The first piece of news I wanted was the last item I reached. I didn't stalk my way to that part of the story. Regrettably, I found out too much info on the tale.
   It was the book reviewer's choice, acting as a warning, to post photos of her hospital treatment for assault. And it was my choice to click the link.
   Nothing in my investigation turned me into a stalker. The internet's seeming default setting makes us feel that, though, in any case.
   Or does it? Do genuine stalkers feel like stalkers when they are marching up a stranger's garden path? Somehow, I doubt it.
   What to say of the incident?


*

The wheels of justice do grind, eventually. From charging to trial, and verdict, it is best to say little of exactly who did what, where, when, how, why, and to whom.

   In the interests of justice, the victim has asked people not to report details on the internet for fear of twisting the story. This is to avoid prejudicing legal proceedings and to steer clear of contempt charges.
   Let justice run its course, and we'll have one of the three verdicts in time.


*

I've already written about creepy sexist dick authors. Is there an alcohol test for the internet? I think the web would be arrested most nights and some mornings.

*

People like to discredit these stories. Poke holes in them. Where's the evidence? Well, right now it's in storage awaiting its court date as a production at trial.
   Do not be surprised at the lack of media coverage right now. The story was reported in the Scottish media. A man was arrested. As the legal process unfolds, more detail will emerge.


*

Time to talk about book reviewers. Is it ever okay to stalk them? Or, indeed, anyone? No. There. That was easy. How hard was that?

   It's not okay to be a stalker and lurk outside someone's house.
   Easy.
   It's not okay to be a stalker and turn up at someone's workplace.
   Easy.
   It's really not okay to stalk someone by getting a job at the same place just to be with your Immortal Beloved. That's stalking. Not feeling the love in the room? There ain't any.
   Creepy sexist dick authors...
   WHAT. THE. FUCK. DID. I. SAY. EARLIER?
   I recall holding the view that creepy sexist dick authors were unlikely to be swayed by a blog post. Also, I doubted that a few days in jail would make much difference either.
   Now, at the callow distance of no time at all...
   There's this deeply disturbing incident, aimed at a book reviewer. I'll deal with some questions.
   Is it okay to stalk? No.
   Beyond that, is it okay to defend stalking?
   There is a deep answer to that, set out in well-reasoned argument using all the powers of rhetoric you'd ever hope to display in making a point, and, for the purpose of clarity, I'll summarise that answer:


FUCK OFF.

   Glad we cleared that one up. (More on that, later.)

   Now I'll move to book-specific points. Is it ever okay for an author to leave a comment on a review?
   I've seen comments left on Amazon movie reviews. Want to buy a movie on sale at Amazon? Chances are, people left reviews. Other people likely posted comments on those reviews.
   There's nothing wrong in any of that. People comment on movie reviews for all sorts of reasons. Discussion of technical aspects of movie-making, requests for further info, purposes of comedy, showing fan appreciation, the inevitable trolling...
   What of books? Looking at Amazon book reviews with comments attached, chances are high that you're staring at comments by the author in question.
   Is this okay?
   So far, I've seen two examples that were okay. The rest were very far from being okay. I'll mention the two examples.


*

In a review of a historical non-fiction book, WWII-era, one of the participants was mistaken for another combatant in a photograph.

   A relative reviewed the book, and reviewed it well. He was in a position to make a correction on behalf of the man in the photo. So he did.
   There was a comment. By the author. Glad to hear the old fellow was still alive. Happy to correct the entry in the next edition of the book.
   Obviously, it would've been better to get it right first time. But that comment was reasonable. It provided a bit of banter. And it made the people in the story come to life.
   The example I just gave was exceptional.


*

Here's the second example. Fiction. A thriller. Self-published. The review was okay. Mainly, the reviewer's criticism hovered around the typos.

   There was a comment by the author. He'd gone back in and fixed the typos for the updated edition, and he was glad to have any shortcomings pointed out to him.
   Further reviews noted the author's comment, and confirmed the updated version was typo-free.
   Obviously, it would've been better to get it right first time. But that comment was reasonable. Again, that's the exception.
   In both cases, these matters could have been dealt with away from the arena of the review. A letter to the publisher, or e-mail to the self-publisher...
   Two examples. Out of the many examples I looked at. The others? Train-wrecks, viewed through fingers. I don't want to look, but I can't look away.
   Is it ever okay for an author to leave a comment on a review? Answer: hardly ever, and probably not even then.


*

Should a reviewer ever be taken to task over a review? I mean specifically, by the author in any arena - whether in a review comment or elsewhere.

   If a defamatory statement has been made in the review, there are legal remedies available. Otherwise, an emphatic NO is the answer.


*

Is there anything worse than embarking on a one-man or one-woman crusade against a reviewer?

   Yes. Don't involve friends, family, or anyone you are fucking. There's one thing worse than a reviewer being picked on by hordes of deranged loons who all turn out to be the author in disguise.
   And that's a reviewer being picked on by hordes of deranged loons who all turn out to be members of the author's family.


*

What is my review policy?

   I do have one, even though I don't review books here or on Amazon. That is my review policy. If you are an author I've engaged in contact with, I won't review your books and you are barred from reviewing mine.
   Oh, I may plug your book, or show off your book cover, or, hell, even invite you onto the blog so that you can waffle. But I won't review your book. I may question your culinary taste.
   My friends and family are all banned from reviewing my work. Professional commercial sites bar that sort of nonsense.
   Amazon doesn't allow friends or family members to post reviews on the author's behalf. Of course, low trickery is employed by people who should know better. Book reviewers and book bloggers are savvy, and expose that nonsense. Quite right, too.
   I don't add comments to reviews of my work.
   And I was going to say, I just don't review books...
   Then I remembered something. A ghastly experiment.


*

Yes, goodreads.

   I don't like the site for one rather obvious reason. It's technical. I would probably manage piloting an Apollo spacecraft more easily than I can navigate the slurping mess that is goodreads.
   That's right. The user-interface clearly isn't.
   There you go. My view of the site is ill-tempered by the site. I can't say just exactly what the hell is wrong with it. There's a feel to the site that isn't a feel.
   When you sense that you are using a site through fire-hardened clay gloves, you are using a site that was probably designed by people who knew they'd never have to use the site themselves.
   I found signing up to the site so bad that I promptly unsigned. Then I relented and signed up all over again, only to find the signing-process was radically different.
   What had changed in the intervening hours? Probably nothing. This was merely another symptom of the ill-defined problem. Anyway, that's the reason I don't like goodreads. The site should be more, er, readable.
   However, in my attempt to experiment with writerly stuff, I made a go of it. The one appealing factor was the ability to rate a book without leaving a review.
   Why? Time. The site drains time as though the concept of the black hole went out of fashion. So the quick click process is a good thing.
   Still, I thought. It is better to have a go at leaving reviews.
   As I type, I've reviewed eight out of around two hundred books. That makes me a book reviewer. Well. Damn. Do I live in fear of being stalked?
   Fucking right I do.


*

In reviewing The Human Factor, by Graham Greene, I left myself open to being stalked by a decidedly deceased delineator of tales. No one is coming after me for leaving a review.

   And I'd like to say no one is coming after you for doing same. But I can't guarantee that.
   A stalker, published or otherwise, will go to extreme lengths. In the case of the Scottish book reviewer, I understand that her alleged assailant travelled from London.
   London to Glasgow by bus is at least nine hours of coaching hell. By rail, the journey takes half that. You can fly the distance in a little over an hour, but time reaching Heathrow, and hanging around in the terminal pre-flight, takes the hours spent back up to the equivalent of a train-journey.
   Who would invest the time and money heading from London to (A PLACE IN SCOTLAND), just to confront someone over a book review?
   Fucking hell.


*

As a Scottish writer, I'm shocked at the attack on a Scottish book reviewer. I'd be shocked were the book reviewer located in another country. And I'd be shocked if I weren't a writer at all.

   There are people out there who are very quick to blame the victims in cases like this. Too quick. To that sort of sneering, I can only say there is no protection against the dedicated attacker.
   If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president's.
John F. Kennedy.
   
*

You do nothing wrong. An opinion is yours to express, free and clear, without let or hindrance. Provided no law is broken in the creation of your opinion, go right ahead and opinionate.

   It's illegal to stalk people. As a writer, I sit here and think it is beyond creepy to stalk a book reviewer.
   Without naming names, speaking of another case, it is lunacy to take exception to a book review, gain the book reviewer's physical land address through a third party, pay for a background check based on that info, travel to the book reviewer's house, and then spin the experience into an article published in a national newspaper.
   The phrase STALKING A BOOK REVIEWER TO HER DOOR will lead you to more news on that topic. I make no mention of the stalker's name here, as, frankly, she's had enough publicity. Plug her on my blog?
   Hell, no.
   Yes, there are people who defended the stalker's article. Is it okay to defend stalking? I refer my audience to the summarised answer I gave just before the phrase GLAD WE CLEARED THAT ONE UP.


*

Incidentally, I once had an author's address foisted on me by a third party during someone else's bankruptcy case. By coincidence, the author was someone whose books I'd recently read.

   Did I take advantage of this coincidence to contact the author? He was a writer who influenced me for about five minutes. I was probably into the sixth minute of that phase when the address flopped through my letterbox.
   No, I had no interest in writing to that author.
   I may be right in misremembering writing to two authors in the time-honoured fashion - through the publisher.
   These days, authors are contactable through blogs, the Twitter, Ouija Boards, and other arcane forms of communication including, though not limited to, smoke-signals, Ectoplasmic Writing, and heliography.
   Stalk an author? Hell. Stalk a book reviewer? Fucking hell. Stalk anyone? For fuck's sake, what a twisted reality. Seek help, Universe, before you end up in jail.


*

All authors are colleagues, and have my support, unless those authors cross the broad line into malice. At that point, those people cease to become colleagues.
   It's a broad line. Writers must trek many a mud-caked mile to cross that really broad line. Don't kid yourselves. There's no thin hazy blurred line or grey fucking area.
   I want you all to think about that massive fucking line that you should not fucking cross. Crossing that banned band sends you out of sight, and it's a long way back from that. The sickly green mud you pick up on the way sticks to you, even if you manage to return.


*

Writing is populated by characters. We are all tuned to our own particular frequency that no one else can see or hear. And there are always going to be people who are tuned to a dangerous frequency. It is deeply saddening to see that book reviewers risk their lives over honest opinions given freely.

   This is not what writing is meant to be about. Did you not like my typing? I won't be killing you over it. But I can't speak for others who may feel insulted at your reviews of their stories. So take care, folks.


*

Stalking someone to that person's home and/or workplace, whether you are a writer or not, is CREEPY. We're talking about whole levels of creepy down in the creepy bunker.

   This stalking of book reviewers is on a level so creepy that it has ten levels of creepy to slosh through before you reach the bunker's creepy heart.
   The creepy bunker is in a park called Creepy Park, and you must cross five miles of spooky shrubbery to reach the rusting wire fence.
   Before you even contemplate that, the first thing you see on your journey is a sign warning of CREEPINESS AHEAD. That sign sits at the start of a hundred miles of creepy wasteland you'll stumble over before you even reach Creepy Park.
   Don't stalk people to their homes, their relatives' homes, workplaces, or, when you get right down to it, anywhere. It's creepy. Don't do it, and doubleplusdefinitely don't turn it into an article for a national newspaper.
   Just do not record your stalking experience in an attempt to portray yourself as the victim of an evil book reviewer. Try not having a stalking experience, and save yourself the bother of writing about it. Don't write it.
   Not in a blog post, not in a personal diary, not in an article for a national newspaper, not even in shit daubed across a wad of toilet roll in the privacy of your own bathtub.
   Don't expect people to defend you if you do that, and, I implore you, take not one crumb of comfort from the news that some misguided fools did step forward to defend your article.
   Just don't, don't, don't, don't, don't stalk people home.
   Fuck. I thought September's blog post was a real low for writers. How wrong could I be? Scarily wrong. That's how wrong.
   I blogged in September about walking along a street and turning aside when my ordinary behaviour caused a stranger discomfort. The wrong thing to do is run up and say all is okay. It's not about how non-scary you think you are - it's about how scary the other person thinks you are.
   And I never thought I'd make a reference to that again. Certainly not in the next effing month, FFS.
   In the case of the woman who wrote the article on stalking, she persisted in the belief that she could still have some form of contact with the woman she stalked once the whole mess blew up.
   Yes. This author ran up from a scary place to say that things were okay. But things were very far from being okay.
   I've used a paid-for document research service. There was a piece of family history in need of settling. No documents were available, and I had a conversation with officials about why that was. The matter was settled to my satisfaction. Case closed.
   The only other time I considered using a paid-for tracing service was to locate a friend all my other friends keep asking about. That friend disappeared. By this, I mean fucked off and left. So that friend knows where to find us. For that reason, I let it go and never paid to find out more.
   I would never pay to hunt down a book reviewer.
   Now I'll run out of words. I'm just about done. Fucking hell.

*

I have no great point to end on. There wasn't anything profound to start on. Just don't follow book reviewers to their homes. How hard is it to simply not be a serial stalker or serial killer or...
   Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
   Book bloggers and book reviewers do what they do out of the kindness of their kindness. They are almost always unpaid for voicing an opinion. I feel that they should not pay a high price for doing something they like doing as a service to others.
   Reviews are for potential readers. Not for potential stalkers.

*

My blog comment policy is straightforward. Comments are almost always posted. I don't post spam comments or defamatory ones.

   If you wish to comment on this post, in the interests of a fair trial, please refrain from naming names in your thoughts about this particular story.
   You may be scribbling and typing away in America, but the court case is happening along the road a good bit...and I have to live here without the polis kicking in my door.
   As for the other case. I'm not naming her here, and I'd ask you not to name her in the comments.
   There will, sadly, inevitably, be other cases in a similar fashion. I make no apologies on behalf of stalkers - but I will add that some of these people must have mental health issues that need to be addressed. There's no desire to stigmatise those with mental health problems. Tolerance, sadly, is tested.
   With that in mind, here are some links...

SCOTTISH ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH.


END MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA.


*

Scottish-themed links to anti-stalking resources:


ACTION AGAINST STALKING.


ABOUT THE LAW.


STOP IT NOW.


VICTIM SUPPORT.



*


THIS ENTRY WILL HAVE A FOLLOW-UP POST,
PENDING THE OUTCOME OF A COURT-CASE.
IN THE MEANTIME, SEE THIS MINI-RANT.

2 comments:

  1. I agree with you completely and am glad you sprinkled some curse words into your post.

    I'm thinking about blogging about this stuff as well now that I've read your blog, but don't know if I will.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Swearing is effing important.

    I wasn't going to blog about this stuff, as I believed I came to it a little late. Then I thought it didn't matter to me that my response wasn't current, up-to-the-second, right here, right now.

    The theme under discussion is universal and will outlast any particular case.

    What mattered to me was the need to say something when this came to my attention. But not too much, as it's going through the legal process as I type.

    Everyone can Google the hell out of these incidents and get to them without names being named. I'll be naming names when the assault case plays out in court and I do that inevitable follow-up blog post.

    Stalking is illegal. If you have a lot of time on your hands, and even basic ability when it comes to stringing sentences together, you are not automatically a stalker. You are not automatically a writer, either.

    Sadly, the writer-stalker exists. I'm no apologist for that type of person, but I recognise that in some cases there's an underlying mental illness which should be addressed.

    For the malicious, no sympathy. It isn't that clear-cut, which is why I listed a few mental health links, at the end of the post, in addition to the anti-stalking links.

    If you want to write about writer-stalkers, go ahead. I wasn't going to, but I changed my mind and I am glad I wrote that post. Did I make a difference? My blog post won't stop stalkers. But to all the reviewers out there, it was a way of saying...

    We, as writers, have a powerful tool at our disposal: time on our hands. And we should never use that to chase reviewers along their garden paths, into their places of work, or their homes. Because there are laws against that sort of nonsense.

    But, beyond the legal aspect, it's industrial-strength fucking creepy.

    Hardly any writers are like that - actually willing to appear on a reviewer's path.

    Those who need help with mental illness must be given assistance.

    And those who are plain downright malicious should just fuck off and die unread in a far-flung corner. I feel more ranty swearing coming on again, so I'll end on that profound point.

    ReplyDelete

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