Friday, January 11, 2013

Publicly Private

By Peg Brantley

I have always been one of those people who will tell anyone just about anything about me because I truly love to connect. I think the more we know and share about each other, the more we'll find common ground and will be able to build a lifelong relationship. The ideas of keeping secrets and holding your cards close to your vest have been very difficult for me to incorporate into my daily routine. In fact, I generally don't. Just ask my husband.

This is a scary world. I was shocked to hear that in the two years since Gabby Giffords and the others were shot in Arizona, there were eleven mass shootings in the United States! All of our radar is up and functioning more than it would ever have been earlier in a different age. At least it should be.

It's important to recognize that there are a lot less publicly violent ways to assault a life. There's identity theft, slander, malicious one-star reviews, and stalking, to name a few. There's nothing much we can do about people who slam our books. They're out in the public domain, after all, and our skin should be thick enough by now to absorb the punches. But we need to try and be smart about the rest of it.

I want to interact with my readers. From them I receive affirmation and support and encouragement and all of those amazing things I thought were just there for the "big guys" like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Readers who enjoy my efforts are the ones that make me say it's okay not everyone likes my stuff. That they like it is sufficient. But I have found a few places where the boundary lines have been drawn. And they're not drawn just for me. They're drawn for my family.

It's important to note that even having drawn these lines, it's impossible to maintain absolute privacy any more. My goal is to have enough elements in place that I'm not an easy target if someone is targeting people, while at the same time being able to talk to readers in a meaningful and personal way.

Here are three things I've done:

  • my online accounts will show my birth year as 1903. Even on my worst days, I don't look like I was born in 1903
  • I recently obtained a post office box. Beginning with the postcards I mailed out for THE MISSINGS, my PO Box is the one I use for all things that are not personal.
  • I post on Facebook about where I've been after the fact, if my home is likely to be open and vulnerable. 

Authors, what about you? Have you considered you might be vulnerable? What kinds of things have you done to give yourself a sense of privacy?

Readers, does it bother you to see a kind of roadblock between you and your favorite authors?


  1. I do the same things, Peg, and use a PO BOX for mail. I also never have my birthday posted publicly, and if I talk about places I go, someone is always at home manning the forte. you're right about the thick skin - I've learned not to worry about the slanderous remarks and 1* reviews - they are inevitable. It's a weird world.

  2. Before I published The Sex Club, my editor said, "I'm worried for your safety. The crazies might come after you for this one." So I got a PO Box back then. But I'm currently judging a contest, and they used my street address, and everyone submitting knows what it is. Plus, with Google maps (and the labels), anyone can find you. It's a little scary. But like you, I never post about trips I take with my husband until after the fact, if at all.

  3. Jenny, traveling internationally as you do, do you take any additional precautions?

    L.J., you're increasing your visibility constantly. Do you think you might get another PO Box?

  4. There is always someone at home when I'm overseas; family, friends, house-sitters. I haven't encountered anyone threatening or unstable - hopefully, I won't. It's tough because you never know if what you write has touched a raw nerve somewhere or just might set someone off. The feedback on my next release is that the content is much darker and it is. I'm a bit concerned, but it's the way the story had to be written.

    1. My next one deals with Santeria and drug cartels. I feel exactly the same way—the story is the story.

  5. It's really sad that all this should be necessary, but I agree with you, Peg, that we need to be a lot more cautious than we would have been 20 years ago. Thanks for bringing up the topic and the concrete advice. I'm definitely going to take some of your advice to heart.

  6. I am very glad you are covering this much needed topic. When you read in America's Most Wanted's web site about how many unidentified bodies there are just in one's own area it is a reminder we always needed to be quite careful.

    I am a mix of cautious and out there, always have been really. Living alone as a very, very young single made me better realize some of what cautions were needed & my dad helped somewhat in a couple of ways. BTW I figured out who one stalker was when I worked in retail by the fact that he didn't know my first name & as a manager trainee only my last name was on my badge. (But I was the ONLY listed one of that last name in the phone book though I was listed under my dad's name as a protection. I realized which customer it was and was shocked, told him I had thought better of him (which was true) during one of his harassing phone calls, the last one. He was a regular, only appeared once more in the store -- looking at me sideways from the crossbows). What was most frightening was how amiable and pleasant he had seemed, would have likely been one I would have asked about my stalking situation had I not eyeballed everyone as a suspect.

    I am not yet on Facebook -- get worried about it and postpone every time I plan to do it "next week" and struggle with how much to use my whole name in various venues.

    Remember too that Twitter will tell everyone where exactly you are if you don't watch that on your settings, Facebook too as I understand it. If you have a smart phone there are settings to watch for I understand.

    In 1975 (March if memory serves) Cosmopolitan ran an interesting and helpful article by someone named Frederick Storaska on personal self defense and possible ways you MIGHT be able to extricate yourself from really bad situations.

    My question: Do you think one HAS to do Facebook as an author and how do you set up your personal and writer pages for maximum protection?

    Again, thanks for raising what I think is an important subject for all of us. I am thinking of taking a personal self defense class next time one is offered in my area.

    1. I'm not sure one HAS to do anything. But writing a good book isn't always enough. For me, Facebook and other online groups helped me connect with people before I had books to offer them, and then afterwards, to enhance the relationships via those books. I would have a terrible time ever giving those up.

      Again, on those pages, my identifying information is vague. I'm not lying (well, other than my birth date), but I don't have a neon sign flashing whether or not we're home (even if it's just a movie) or a telephone number or anything like that.

      There are no absolute secrets any longer. If you think that because you put NOTHING on the Internet your privacy is protected, you're fooling yourself. It's the world we live in.

      Thanks for you thoughtful comment.

  7. One more thought: The upside of modern social media (besides getting to know some really nice people we wouldn't meet otherwise) is that there are written records of problem people.

  8. My husband being a retired federal agent, we've done a lot of security things over the years, and continue to do so. No mail at the house. Unlisted phone. Motion sensors on the house and security alarm on doors and windows. I don't discuss the weapons. Light timers. We have certain habits we exercise. Some people have asked me if I think it's overkill, but over the years it's come to feel comfortable to me. It's a shame to me sometimes that we have to think of security in this manner, but freeing at other times because I know it's in place. This was a good discussion! Made me think.

    1. Ah… I didn't mention our alarm system. Yep. Timers and weapons, yep. Those too. Probably one of the most difficult is Twitter. If you're away with your SO leaving an empty home, but have experienced something most excellent, a natural inclination is to share it with your "friends." I've never done that, but it is one of those things you have to think about.

      Somehow our unlisted phone did not spare us from mass political calls a few months ago. Both parties. A swing state. They obtained our number somehow.

  9. Very perceptive of you to notice that random acts of violence are increasing in the US and in some of the other more "civilized" areas of the world, as well. And of course, personal security is a must. However, it is naive to believe that any and/or all of these measures will protect you.

    I operate on the basis that the best defense is a good offense.

    Realize the increase in violence is NOT an accident, or some unintended consequence of modern living. It is purposefully perpetrated. Seems almost too horrible to be true, doesn't it? Fear & incredulity are the tools used as shrouds. No question, real evil is extremely difficult to confront. And therein lies its power.

    The only long-term solution is to root out the source(s) of such evil and expose them to view. They shrivel under scrutiny and lose their power in the light of day.

    Be wary, certainly. But be active in exposing the real truth behind the violence. As a people, it's our only hope.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.