You may have heard a story that broke nationwide over the weekend about Patrick McLaw, a middle school teacher in Maryland who was supposedly basically disappeared by the authorities for writing a pair of novels under a pen name that involved a school shooting. A school shooting in the 2900s. Nine hundred years into the future.
Maybe you’ve noticed: I’m a middle school teacher who writes novels under a pen name. Now, granted, none of my books have ever involved a school shooting, but… yeah, this kinda hit close to home, and early mental drafts of this post involved some reflection on the Columbine shooting; as someone who spent large chunks of high school and college in a black trench coat, I could identify with those kids too.
Long story short: I could write the hell out of a school shooting story if I wanted to, guys. For any number of reasons. I get alienation. I get violent thoughts. And while I was never close to a Klebold/Harris type kid in high school, a big part of the horror of the Columbine massacre, to me, was the “there but for the grace of God go I” aspect of the whole thing.
But anyway. I didn’t get the post written yesterday because the story was too insane. I couldn’t find any information that was useful beyond the horrifyingly badly-written and borderline libelous local news article about it, and that article was clearly written by a fearmongering moron. There had to be more to the story.
Well… yep. I’d seen a single comment on one article alluding to some sort of letter he’d sent to school authorities that had attracted their notice, but it hadn’t been picked up or followed up on anywhere else. My wife pointed out that, at 23, he was at exactly the age where (and it should be made perfectly clear that this is pure speculation) issues with schizophrenia tend to manifest themselves. And while the article doesn’t use that word, that’s certainly what it feels like.
It is decidedly odd to be relieved that someone has turned out to be schizophrenic, but… fuck, I’m not prepared to deal with a world where your boss can get you locked up for having written a book, three years ago, where you describe a fictional bad thing happening nine hundred years in the future. I was begging for there to be more to this story and for it just to be insanely shitty journalism. I’m not glad I’m right, but I’m glad I’m right, if you know what I mean.
The lack of genuine government insanity also makes it a bit easier to say this: I didn’t buy his books, because $14.95 for an ebook is more than I’m willing to spend, but I did download a sample chapter. And I’ll be honest even though it makes me an asshole: I said right away that I thought the dude wrote like someone with mental issues. Here’s the first few paragraphs, from the Amazon viewer:
This transcends bad writing, guys. Also, the book is supposedly set in the 2900s but the kids are described as watching televisions a few pages later. Is it okay that I don’t want someone this bad at writing to be a poster child for free speech?