Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

March 26, 2020

Space Kadet: The Twisted Tale of a Sad, Sad Internet Troll

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter warning about an amateur literary agent received a fairly curmudgeonly response.

Mistaking it for a serious (if misguided) comment, I responded with a thread about why it's, well, bad for an agent to lie about their credentials. Which prompted this:

Ooookayyyy then.

After a couple more exchanges in a similar vein, plus a not-so-subtle threat (I do give this person credit for knowing the difference between slander and libel), "Dr. Mudgett" flounced.

Soon after, several alert individuals messaged me to let me know that "Dr. Mudgett" isn't just a rando with an inflated sense of self-worth and a profile named after an infamous American serial killer, but one of the sockpuppets of an astonishingly prolific Twitter troll possessed of awesome vitriol and seemingly unlimited free time to indulge it.

The troll's real name is Gary S. Kadet--and though I'd never heard of him before he decided to call me out, he is well known in the Twitter writing community as someone who, via large numbers of fake accounts (most of which have been suspended by Twitter), hijacks popular hashtags like #amquerying, #mswl, and #WritingCommunity to launch vicious unprovoked attacks against writing and publishing people of all kinds, especially new writers and literary agents. So copious is his output--we're talking daily, even hourly tweets--that sometimes he runs out of new insults and has to recycle them. (Sample, if you can stomach it, the stream-of-invective narrative of his Dr. Mudgett Twitter feed.)

I'm always interested in the bizarro side of writing and publishing, and Mr. Kadet certainly seemed to fit the bill. So I put out a call for contact.

I got a perfect flood of responses. I heard from agents and agency interns whom Mr. Kadet had targeted for insults, mockery, and general harassment--especially if they were women, and in some cases after they rejected one of his manuscripts (Mr. Kadet is a [currently] frustrated novelist). I heard from writers he'd savaged for nothing more than posting positive comments about something, or announcing a book sale, or just for talking about writing. Much of his trolling seems to be of the drive-by variety, but I also heard from writers for whom he has conceived a deeper grudge--some of whom he has been stalking and attacking for years, and not just with nasty tweets, either. Some of these individuals told me that he has doxxed them, and made public things about their personal lives they would have preferred not to share. One of his targets was forced to seek help from the police.

Several people have written about their encounters with him (prompting him, in at least one case, to send a laughably bogus cease-and-desist). More personal accounts of Kadet encounters are here. Also here. In fact, he's so famous--at least, as a troll--that he has inspired a parody Twitter account. I guess that's some form of validation, right?

Sockpuppet accounts Mr. Kadet has used in the past (all deleted or suspended): @JohnnyRacetrack, @JimboRockfordPI, @JacktheTrippe11, @JacktheTrippe12, @GaryKDarkLord, @GaryKadet, @RealGarySKadet, @CastleMurder,  @MudgettMania, @MudgettRedux, @FrugSigmund, @Joe_Nesmith. @JoeChristmas6, @ImmortalGSK.

Socks he's using currently (that I know of): @JackMcVea, @KatzProserpine.

Mr. Kadet loathes a lot of people, but for one agent in particular, his hatred burns with a white-hot flame: Gina Paniettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services. In 2018, Talcott Notch rejected one of Mr. Kadet's manuscripts, to which Mr. Kadet took extreme offense, and he has been targeting the agency and its agents ever since. In addition to a veritable tsunami of noxious tweets, promises to sue, accusations of violating his "IP confidentiality" (apparently because Gina revealed the rejected ms.), and bogus bad reviews wherever he can place them (not always successfully, since they are so demented that they get flagged), Gina tells me that he has called her home to harass her, and that he's currently demanding that she "settle" with him--i.e., pay him off--so that he'll stop.

Here's an interview with Talcott Notch agent Tia Mele about toxic writers in general and Mr. Kadet in particular.

So who is Gary S. Kadet IRL? There's not a great deal to be found on a websearch, but he did publish a novel in 2000 with Forge, and was apparently an editor with the Boston Book Review. He has lived in Cambridge, MA and Providence, R.I. Twitter isn't the only place where he has been accused of stalking.

Soon after my call for contact, Mr. Kadet's @KatzProserpine sock account DM'd me this:

Ooooh, scary! Not to be outdone by his alter ego, Mr. Kadet reached out to SFWA under his own name. Of course, he couldn't resist mentioning Talcott Notch. Also note the date: more than a week before I put this post online.

Mystery Writers of America, one of Writer Beware's supporters, received an identical "complaint" on the same date. Fortunately, both SFWA and MWA know how to handle trolls.

So what's the bottom line here--other than the bigger issue of the toxicity that flourishes on social media and the inevitability of encountering it if you're active online? I guess it's really just the familiar advice: "Don't feed trolls". Starve the energy monster. The thing with trolls is that, for the most part, it's really not personal. They don't care about you; it's your reaction they need. They thrive on your distress, and draw strength from your response. Depriving them of these things may not shut them up--they can't really control themselves--but it is probably the single most frustrating thing you can do to them.

So if you find yourself targeted by Mr. Kadet--or, indeed, if any random tweet of yours receives a nasty or belittling response from an account you've never heard of--the best possible comeback is simply to block the account and move on.

UPDATE: I learned this evening that Mr. Kadet today sent his "bad writer Strauss" message to Horror Writers Association, another of Writer Beware's supporters--and for good measure, sent it to MWA a second time. He has also weighed in in the comments here.

March 16, 2020

Writer Beware in the Time of Coronavirus

My home office, with feline assistant.
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I rarely make personal posts on this blog. But, as I don't need to remind anyone, these are scary times.

My husband and I are physically fit and in general good health, but we are both 64 and he has an underlying health condition. Based on everything we're seeing and reading, we've concluded that our best covid-19 strategy is either a) not to get sick, or b) to delay getting sick as long as possible in hopes of more treatment options or at least less hospital crush.

Our social distancing began last weekend. We've completely withdrawn from face-to-face social interaction, and are ordering non-perishables and household items online. No more routine doctor or dentist visits. No more stores, library, restaurants, or gym (we're in Massachusetts, where a lot of things are shut down anyway). I'm still on the fence about careful, non-peak hour grocery shopping for fresh produce--but I certainly won't be going while shelves are bare from people's absurd panic buying (some of the same people, probably, who are still having parties and crowding into bars *eyeroll*).

Sarah, my other assistant. Kittehs are a comfort.
We're acutely aware that this is MUCH easier for us than it is for most. We both already work from home. We have decent financial resources. We don't have kids. Elderly relatives are all dead. Family and many friends are geographically distant, so we're already socially distanced there. We can still go out for walks and runs. I can still garden (one of my major passions).

So the changes to our routine are relatively small, compared to many. It's tougher for my husband than for me--the majority of my social life is online, but he is a gregarious person with a wide circle of friends, colleagues, and peers. But there's always Zoom and Skype, and he's making use of both.

For us as for many, stress and fear are daily companions. This is not the zombie apocalypse; there will be a vaccine eventually, and civilization will survive, as it survived the flu pandemic of 1918. bad will it get? How long will it last--will we have to live this way for a year? More? What will happen to friends and family? What will happen to the people who are thrown out of work by widespread (and, I'm guessing, soon nationwide) business closures? The people who have no insurance? The people in prisons and ICE jails, the immigrants packed together at the border? And what about the election? I didn't think, back in innocent December, that that could become more crucial. But, as I stand in horror before the shitshow happening in Washington, it's clear to me that it has.

These and other questions haunt me on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. I suffer from depression--have done since childhood--and one of my fears is that I'll sink into a clinical episode. I can feel that possibility stalking around the edges of everything now. I am doing my best to resist. My husband, thank goodness, is more resilient. We work to keep each other's spirits up.

At a time like this, ordinary activities--like maintaining this blog--start to feel irrelevant. But they're not. Life goes on, even in the face of catastrophe. I seriously doubt that covid-19 will put a dent in the volume of schemes and scams that target writers who will still be writing, still seeking agents, still publishing. And one of the most important strategies for resisting helplessness and depression is work, for those of us who are still lucky enough to be able to do it.

Emily: Why are you taking my picture _again_?
So Writer Beware will go on. I'll continue to be active on Facebook and Twitter. As much as possible, I'll post here as I usually do--not always weekly, but as often as I find things to write about. And I urge you to continue to email me with your questions, concerns, reports, and complaints. Please, keep the emails coming.

And: wash your hands.

Don't touch your face.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow,.

Keep your distance: 6 feet is optimal.

Stay home if you can, especially if you're sick (I know this is tough for many to do).

Check on your elderly neighbors (from a distance).

Resist panic buying.

Don't share health information unless you're sure it comes from a reputable source (Facebook, oh my God).

Be safe.

I'll be seeing you.

March 13, 2020

Beware: Pigeon House Literary / Druella Burhan

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

The internet and social media have transformed writer/agent/publisher interactions in many ways, one of which is the proliferation of Twitter pitch events, such as #PitMad, #DVPit, and others.

While no online innovation has (so far) managed to supplant the traditional query-and request route, these events do attract plenty of reputable agents and publishers--unlike other purported shortcuts (*cough*Publishizer*cough*). However, inevitably, they are also stalked by marginals, amateurs, and even scammers.

For instance, Eliezer Tristan Publishing, which charged a $500 fee and went out of business just months after opening up, haunted #PitMad. Ditto for GenZ publishing, which charges authors $2,500. Burchette and Ferguson, a brand-new publisher staffed by people with zero relevant experience, participated in pitch events before they even launched (and went out of business shortly thereafter).

Then there's this:

I've gotten many, many other questions about approaches by dubious companies and individuals as a result of pitch events. All in all, therefore, it pays to be careful, and if you haven't heard of an individual or publisher who approaches you, to research them before responding. (You can contact me; I may have heard something.)

Which leads me to the subject of today's post. I might not normally devote an entire blog post to one marginal agent, but this one is such an egregious example, and seems to be so active on social media--including #PitMad--that I think she's worth a special feature.

Pigeon House Literary Agency launched just this past February. It's run by Druella Burhan, whose resume includes none (zero, zip) of the relevant background experience you typically want to see from a new literary agent--such as a professional writing resume, or having previously worked for a reputable agency or publisher.

The lofty claims Burhan does make are either unverifiable, or provably false. For instance, here's Harvard Medical's publication on its 2011 MD-PhD graduates. Surprise! There's no mention of Druella Burhan.

Here's some of Burhan's agenting philosophy:

The logo (for lack of a better word) at the top of this post provides a preview of the rest of the Pigeon House site (a Wix freebie), which is amateurishly formatted and clearly not proofread (several pages have fully-justified text, with words cut off at the end of lines--I mean, it's a Wix freebie, it's not like you have to be an expert to get it right) and rife with typos, grammatical errors, and bizarre word use. For instance,

That's bad, but here's what it originally looked like. Burhan changed it shortly after I tweeted about it:

There's more: the Who We Are page, which bafflingly proclaims that the agency will "strive to bring a supreme appealingness and picturesque style of books from darkness to life"; the Foreign Rights page, which erroneously cautions writers that "If a literary agent does not agree to take you on as an international client/author, you will not be able to sell books overseas"; the Referrals page, where Burhan bizarrely invites other agents to send her clients. And here's the contract she is sending out, which includes the same formatting/proofreading errors as her website, and is really just an embarrassment.

It's a perfect carnival of amateurism.

Am I being mean here? Maybe, but before you whip out the "everyone has to start somewhere" argument, consider Burhan's false claims about herself and her aggressive use of social media to recruit clients despite her obvious ignorance and complete lack of relevant qualifications (I first heard of her because she was trolling on Reddit, and she is actively inviting queries on her Twitter feed).

The damage an amateur agent can do is considerable--squandering clients' chances with substandard submissions, submitting to disreputable or incompetent publishers, inadequately understanding publishing contract language and therefore not capable of effectively negotiating it. An amateur agent may not drain a writer's bank account the way a scammer would, but the bottom line isn't that different: no sale, and lots of wasted time.

Writer Beware.
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