Writers aren’t their Characters, or their Plots

I read a news story last week and brushed it off as some sort of misunderstanding, prank, or click-bait. Today I saw another one. In short a man in Maryland was detained and forced to have a psychological evaluation, then suspended from teaching English in a grade school. All because he’d published a Science-Fiction book about the worst school shooting in America, he published this book under a pen name in 2010. This was before he was hired.

The police apparently closed down the school and swept it for guns and bombs, they did the same to his house. All despite the fact that he had no police record, had no red flags in his public records free for anyone to check, and didn’t have any firearms registered in his, or his alter ego’s, name.

This is by far the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

I will allow that maybe we don’t have the full story and there’s maybe something that we haven’t heard about yet but I wouldn’t be surprised that this is the whole story.

It reeks of a bad movie plot and is scary for anyone who’s ever written anything violent. It also makes you wonder if the fact that he’s African American has something to do with it. (It’s sad that this article makes a little more sence in a racial context. Really sad.)

The book looks like a bland YA mystery novel with some science fiction aspects thrown in. From what I’ve read it looks a little derivative but that’s still no reason to put a man in jail or the psych ward.

In high school I published several stories in the newspaper that were murder mysteries, written from the point of view of the murderer instead of the investigator. I thought it was clever. The worst that happened was one teacher asking me if I was ok and that she was willing to talk if I needed it. Who knows what would happen to me now.

If a writer is criminally responsible for writing something that makes the authorities worried, we’re about to live in a very bad world.

The idea that someone could be mentally unstable or violent because they wrote about it in fiction isn’t new but that doesn’t me its ok.

Fiction is supposed to be a safe way to explore our feelings and our world. It’s an exploration for both writer and reader. It’s a way to work through difficult themes and emotions. It’s no more a barometer for mental stability than the kind of cereal someone eats.

This kind of overreaction isn’t new. It often seems that in an effort to make everyone feel safe we’re attacking everything that may be dangerous.

It’s not a far jump from, “He wrote a book about school shootings, let’s investigate every part of his life and keep him away from the children,” to “He wrote about a banned subject, let’s throw him in jail for subversion of people.”

And it’s not just the “Man” or police. We live in a world where “SWATTING” is a thing. Sometimes my faith in humanity wavers.

What do you think? Was he violently investigated for being a writer, being African American, or is there something else going on?

Éric