Where is the line, exactly?

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So there’s a storm brewing in the world of [redacted] romance. One of the biggest authors in the genre {name withheld because drama} has been accused of catfishing – of creating an on-line persona that is substantially different than who they really are. While the last thing I need to do is throw myself into the middle of that pigpile, I think there are higher-level issues that are worth considering.

Issues around trust, and faith, and how much authors owe their readers.

I write under a pen name, because in real life, I’m a nurse practitioner (just like it says in my bio) and I don’t want anyone googling Amy D-C NNP to have to wade through a bunch of hits about vampire romance. I have two kids, a husband, and three ferrets, just like it says in my bio. (Well, the ferrets are technically my daughter’s, but…)

All that aside, I’m conscious of where I’m posting what. There are private Facebook pages where I’m comfortable identifying my kids by name, and others where I’m not. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve likely seen me tag my kids or husband in posts, or share stuff that names them, but I try to limit that kind of thing. I feel like people who are Facebook friends with Liv Rancourt get the real me, but that’s by my choice, and it’s within my comfort zone.

But what if, say, I was writing in a subgenre where it could make a financial difference if readers thought I was a man? Or anything besides a cis-het, married, middle-aged, woman?

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And what if there were other authors supporting me, vouching for me on social media, and telling readers I really was a [insert imaginary persona here]?

That would totally suck, and if I was found out, it could quite possibly ruin my writing career. (And I’d probably deserve for it to be ruined.)

Needless to say, the ongoing potential-catfishing situation has generated a whole lot of conversation. In the midst of a fairly heated enthusiastic thread, my friend Sadie framed the issue this way…

I find it interesting how much of this thread is actually about the generalities of trusting people to be who they say they are and internet negotiations of identity, not just about whether ________ is _______ or not. I think that’s part of why this situation seems to be such an inferno. Partly because there is someone willing to dig and put ‘facts’ out there for others to consider, partly because a lot of people seem willing to put a lot of emotion into it. But also partly because it hits at an insecurity in a lot of us. We all know we take chances when we trust someone to be who they say they are and scenarios like this one force us to consider where we’d fall if we found we were being duped.

Back in the day – like five years ago – most authors didn’t spend a lot of time on-line. (Okay, maybe ten years ago. Or fifteen. Something.) Regardless of the time-frame, there didn’t use to be the same demand to have a social media presence. If an author met readers at cons or book signings, it was a bonus. They exchanged names, and shook hands, and the author signed their book and everyone went home happy.

If an author was really a middle-aged, cis-het, married, woman she could tell everyone she was a twenty-something, single, ex-Marine and no one would be wiser. She might be found out – if, say, she got big enough that her agent demanded she make public appearances – but the unveiling of her real identity wouldn’t be as personally devastating to her readers.

Unless, you know, she let those readers raise money for her to treat her imaginary war injuries that she never sustained while fighting a fictitious war.

Or she played the James Frey card and faked her memoir and got called out by Oprah on national television.

There’s a line somewhere between the names on an author’s credit cards or birth certificates and the person they present in their pen names and on Facebook fan pages and Livejournals and Twitter and whatever other social media platform you’re into. Sometimes fans lose sight of that line, but sometimes authors do, too. Like Sadie said above, it’s an issue of trust.

Good writers open themselves wide, recording frank emotion on the page, but their honesty doesn’t give their readers to right to know how they think and feel 24/7. On the other hand, creating a safety net for their “real life” doesn’t give authors the right to fake the whole caboodle. I have no idea how this current kerfufle is going to shake out, but I recognize that the conversation is a necessary part of defining where that line is.

Regarding what’s expected of authors, the rules may have changed, but you know, the rules we learned in kindergarten will likely still apply.

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17 thoughts on “Where is the line, exactly?

  1. Isobel

    Thanks for this. My alarm bells started ringing last year and my post along the same lines as this got slated. Trust is hard won and easily lost. I have no clue about the truth of the oncoming storm but I hope for the sake of the readers involved – and those who faithfully donate money- that they get some clarity and honesty.

  2. Debbie G

    Excellent post that cuts to the heart of the issue. I have read plenty of authors that I literally know nothing about other than their pen name, and I’m fine with that. I would have been fine with that with this person. However, having had ‘personal information’ shared by that person in a space where I have also shared personal information, it feels like a betrayal if it was all lies. Appropriation of a queer identity by a straight person for financial gain is also very disturbing. I still don’t know if these things are true but it’s hard to ignore.

  3. Pingback: I’m only a tiny blog but here’s what I’ve done regarding “Santino Hassell” | Mirrigold:

    1. LivRancourt

      Not sure where this’ll appear, but Courtney Milan wasn’t SH’s agent. Courtney Miller-Callihan was. Thanks…

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