Whenever I tell one of my stories about dealing with fanboys on the make, passive aggressive fakers, or nebbishy pros hoping to raise their cred at the bar by claiming they get chicks they really, really can’t get, someone pipes up to wail, “Boy, Colleen, you are such a weirdo magnet!”
No, I’m really not. I just talk about it.
Look, I have worked on books that have sold millions of copies, have thousands of fans, and if I have one serious problem per year, it’s unusual.
However, I have a career that spans 25 years. In 25 years, 25 people add up to hundreds of incidents.
Hundreds of incidents due to 25 people out of the many tens of thousands of people I may encounter in a year. I’ve barely mentioned most of them. And some of them are just so disturbing and creepy, I don’t even want to talk about them.
Most are due to a half a dozen people doing crazy shit year after year. It looks like a flood of awful to an outside observer.
Usually, unfortunate people go away on their own with no prompting from me after about a half dozen attempts to get my attention, and I never hear from them again. I can barely remember them after, and I have no hard feelings.
But some go on and on for decades.
Last year, a long time fan had some kind of psychotic break and went from being a devoted admirer to wishing me and other fans on this board dead. Didn’t see that one coming! This was after my fan circle went to great lengths to raise money for her and get her a job. None of us had any idea that her real issues were internal. I spent days on the phone with social services and the police trying to get her into care.
Some women online complain of frequent death threats, rape threats, etc. I rarely get that sort of thing. But, I had serious issues with a tech website that wrote an inflammatory article in 2010. It stated I supported some kind of “censorship” legislation because I am pro creator rights. The article was a lie, and I never got a retraction. However, I did have to deal with the fallout of the harassment for about a year.
Almost all of my problems are from people who have romantic notions who are angry when rejected.
One woman believed she could channel my characters. She would call me up and speak in voices because she wanted to have phone sex while pretending to be Rieken, a character from my graphic novel A Distant Soil. For obvious reasons, I haven’t blogged about her in detail, but I’ve mentioned her obliquely several times as a frustrated creator who went from being another devoted fan/admirer to hating my guts when I did not want to participate in her fantasy.
People often fixate on young, vulnerable women on whom they can project their fantasies and expectations, and that fixation can last for decades. I have not had a major problem with anyone I have encountered for the first time in the last twenty years.
Recent problems are short term and annoying more than anything else, like the impersonal fallout from the tech website article, people who are nothing like the needy, smothering intimacy seeker, or the resentment stalker who is sure you ruined their career. Tech weirdos are just random dudes looking to vent and whatever their tech guru says they should do, they do. They couldn’t care less about you as a human being, and their attention span is short. ADD rage, and there’s always a bunny.
I attract people who “love-bomb”. It’s hard to describe exactly what this is like, but it’s this overwhelming, instant intimacy bid from someone you don’t know really well. I’ve always been afraid of offending someone by not responding to their affection with affection, but fans can be very effusive. They don’t mean any harm, they’re just happy to meet you. You learn ways to respond to that warmth while not letting people get inappropriately close. And anyone who responds badly to personal boundaries is the sort of person for whom personal boundaries were invented.
I can usually spot a “love bomb” quickly in a man, but I’ve been fooled by a few women.
In the case of every woman with whom I had issues, each was a struggling creator, and each was an associate on some level with a publishing company I had a bad experience with back when I was getting started.
The big mistake I made with each of them: “misery bonding”. Feeling a kinship with people who were relative strangers over a bad experience with a mutual enemy. I believed that made them good people, because the enemy was bad.
They may very well be good people, but none were in a good place.
“Misery bonding” combined with their “love bombing”, and I stepped right in it. Because they were women, I assumed they would not be a problem like men, which is how I ended up having one of them try to have phone sex with me while speaking in an English accent.
You want to be open, friendly, helpful. But your gut screams: She’s trying to friend me on FB. Better not add her. She just wrote on my blog that she’d send me something if I sent her my address. Nope, not going to give that one my phone number, remember what happened with the last one. Hm, I never met her…well, we’re not friends, we’re friendly acquaintances. But she’s telling everybody we’re the bestest buddies ever, she’s telling people she’s going to write a novel with me, she gossips about every phone call with everyone on the continent, I loaned her money because she said she was going to be homeless any minute now.
I think I’m in trouble.
People who have poor boundaries have no understanding of the term “friendly acquaintance”. If you talk to them, share some emails, chat on the phone once in awhile, give them any attention whatsoever, God forbid you actually do help them, you are the BESTEST BUDDIES HAVING A RELATIONSHIP OMG WE’RE TOTALLY FRIENDS 4EVER and what the fuck do you mean you won’t follow me on twitter?!?
And there is absolutely nothing you can do about some dude who is writing you letters about the conversations you have with him in his dreams.
As I said, I first encountered all of the people who would be serious problems in the 1980’s or 1990’s. It’s 2014, and I’m still dealing with the fallout. All ended up being extremely demanding, both personally and professionally, huge time and money drains, obsessive and destructive.
But…it’s just a handful of people.
I meet thousands of people. Thousands.
I try to be friendly with a few. I avoid a few others. I’ve made genuine, life long friendships with some, and don’t regret trying to be open with strangers. The problem is not being friendly, the problem is being friendly with the wrong people. And you don’t make friends by being afraid all the time.
The problem is not with me, it’s with people who have problems.
And whether I am friendly or whether I ignore them, the result is the same.
They get really pissed when I don’t fulfill whatever need they think I’m supposed to fulfill. Make the pro dreams come true, be their girlfriend. Whatever.
It only takes one or two a year to create a ripple, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a Nerd Culture Butterfly Effect.
It’s like dating.
Thousands and thousands of dates.
A few of them are going to be just awful.
But you don’t actually have to date any of these people for them to be the worst date you ever had.
And they will tell everyone you dated them, especially if you didn’t.
Which is what makes them especially awful.