My Policy On Talking About (Other People’s) Personal Things Here

On occasion, I will be having a private chat with someone, either online or in the real world, and when they come to a part that they find especially personal, they will pause, look at me (the ones in the real world, at least) and say, “now, you know this isn’t for the blog, right?” and then once assured that indeed I know this, we continue the conversation. I’m not in the least offended by this — when one has a prominent blog in which one talks about many things, one gets this a lot — but it happens enough that if for no other reason than to have it here as evidence of my thinking on the matter, it’s time for me to post my policy about things other people tell me, and whether they show up on the site.

1. If you and I are having a personal conversation, in real life or through electronic means (e-mail, IM, etc), you may assume I have no intent (or indeed no interest) in posting all or parts of that conversation online. This includes both personal and professional details and aspects of the conversation.

2. If there is something in particular about the conversation that I find might be of interest to post on Whatever (or elsewhere), I will ask you “may I write about this?” If you say yes, I will (you may of course choose not to have the conversation attributed to you). If you say no, I won’t. This does not happen as often as you might assume, however.

3. I may from time to time discuss conversations I have had with others in a very general sense as a springboard to an entry (for example, as I did in the opening paragraph here). When I do that I leave out any identifying trace of those to whom I have spoken.

4. Conversely, because I do assume all personal communication is off limits to public airing, if there is something you would like me to note online, it’s best to tell me so explictly.

Now, you ask, what about conversations where it’s more than one-on-one? It pretty much falls out the same way as the above. My basic rule of thumb is that any discussion of personal matters or business matters relating to the specific parties in the conversation are out of the ambit of sharing online, and as a general rule I don’t spread gossip, so that’s out too. That said, if the discussion is in a publicly accessible space where others can join or listen in (say, at the bar at a convention) general discussion is fair to be noted. So, for example, if I were having a group conversation, I might mention online that the group discussed, say, the typical sad level of book advances. What I won’t tell you are the amounts, if any, that the people in the discussion listed for their own advances.

When do I feel fine about posting news about you, without your permission? When you have made such news available in a way that’s publicly accessible, or the news is otherwise available. So, as an example, if you post “Hey! I sold a novel!” on your blog or LiveJournal, I may blog about it. Alternately, if I read in the news that you won an award, I may blog about it as well. I do try to use my judgment on these things, however; I tend to value news sites and sites of people I know/trust over random blogs and journals. When I have doubts about something I’m likely to ping you first.

Basically: I’m not going to talk online about what you tell me unless you tell me you want me to, or I ask first.

21 Comments on “My Policy On Talking About (Other People’s) Personal Things Here”

  1. I’m a briefs guy, not a boxers guy. This is totally not for your blog.

    (Yes, it’s been a long week, that’s the best snark I could come up with… sigh)

  2. If you and I are having a personal conversation, in real life or through electronic means (e-mail, IM, etc), you may assume I have no intent (or indeed no interest) in posting all or parts of that conversation online.

    Wait. Are you telling me, John, that you DON’T want to talk about me on your blog? WTF?! I am so outta here!

  3. So we’re cool about that incident in Miami, right? Because I spent a fortune getting my record expunged, and really, that restraining order was just between us and the Cuban hookers I promised not to mention in a public for-


  4. I get this a lot in my journalist role. Not to do so much with personal information, but people being very nervous in general that I’m going to write something that makes them or their company look bad. It’s surprising how often I hear, through the grapevine, that a certain company or individual won’t talk to the press at all. (Thereby shooting themselves in the foot.) People are very nervous about writers and journalists. It’s a reminder of the power we wield, as well as the fact that in times of violence and social upheavel, journalist is one of the most dangerous occupations.

    I try to reassure people that I will be as fair as possible. Unfortunately, I can’t promise to make them happy all the time. (I believe I have at least one billionaire totally pissed off at me). But I do concur that one shouldn’t be afraid to be friends with or confide in a writer. We are not totally stupid and insane.

  5. I had sorta assumed that was your policy, since that seems to be the way you roll here on Whatever, at least from my observation.

  6. My policy is that anonymous mail is fair game; signed mail I keep off the site. If it’s really good hate mail, I might ask for permission to post it, or excerpt a fair use-sized portion without naming the guilty party. Because I admire the craft, you see. But I get so little of that.

    Anyway, I don’t get that much hate mail anymore. It all seems to go into the comment threads now. And there I delete all but the most amusing.

  7. I always ask permission – although my family have got used to me wanting to blog about silly things they do, so they tend to pre-empt me and ask if I’ll blog (or twitter).

    When it comes to email, I have a policy on my blog about pitch emails. If they send me silly pitches I’m more likely to write about the silly pitch and silly PR company than the product. But I give the PR people fair warning!

  8. Jeanne – I'm a reader, a writer, a mother, a wife, an ailurophile, a Writing Center Director, and a PhD in English Literature (specializing in Rhetoric and Composition and literature of the Eighteenth Century).

    Are you consciously following in the footsteps of David Sedaris, whose family will evidently no longer talk to him, lest they end up in one of his books?

  9. I strongly suspect that if David Sedaris’ family will not speak to him, the fear of showing up in his books is only a contributing factor.

  10. “Anyway, I don’t get that much hate mail anymore. It all seems to go into the comment threads now. And there I delete all but the most amusing.”

    Do I detect … wistfulness?

    Maybe we should organize an “Amuse John with Hate Mail a-thon.”

  11. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Highly Awesome Yogic Chang

    You’re an asshat.

    Now, you know this isn’t for the blog, right?

    Uh oh.

  12. My family have not quite become accustomed to me asking “Can I publish?” when they tell me interesting news. At random intervals or for unexpected reasons the answer is a no, so I continue to ask.

    It’s somewhat akin to calling people on their mobile/cell phone and always opening with “Can you talk?” It’s kind of fun watching 21st century etiquette evolve.

  13. Last year I got grief from a coworker because I said that Roy Blatty dies at the end of Blade Runner. BLADE RUNNER! The movie is damn near 30 years old unless you are sixteen years old and just starting to watch classics, the statute of limitations is 25+ years gone. Good grief.

  14. csdaley – C.S. Daley was born in California but has spent most of his life in his imagination. His first short story written in third grade, the now classic "Close Encounters of the Turd Kind," was sold to his next door neighbor for a quarter. The neighbor promptly demanded a refund. An unhealthy obsession with the writings of Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, and Terry Pratchett have left his mind warped and broken. He spends most of his evening swilling down coffee while tapping at a keyboard under the watchful eyes of his kittens. They are there to make sure he doesn't snap. He likes to write fantasy for adults and teens.

    I just recently started blogging about my life. While I have nowhere near the readership of John, (He is the solar system, I merely a grain of sand) I have already had family members ask that question. As of right now I have been trying to stay away from anything touchy, that’s going to change and I have began asking permission from some friends and family. I hope no one says no.

  15. ytimynona – FLORIDA – I'm a big wannabe. Wannabe a truck driver, PotUS, scientist, writer, and teacher. Well, I already am a teacher. :-)

    Ooof. I blog about friends (all good things) and don’t ask them. But nobody reads my blog, so it’s okay, right? But I suppose I shall now have to ask in the future… I never really thought about this before!

  16. While I’m glad to see that THIS is your policy, and while I’m glad to see that this IS your policy… I’m kind of sad that it should be necessary to clarify it, because it seems to as though it should be a very basic piece of etiquette. No different really from sharing personal information with others directly.

    I wish this were as contagious as LOL-speak.

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