June 20, 2013

Writers: What Would the Government Uncover?

Woman looking through a magnifying glass with text: Would the Government Find You Interesting?

Writers have a long history of joking about what government agencies would find if they investigated us. We’re known for researching the bizarre and the suspicious in the pursuit of accuracy for our books. Recent news about the PRISM program and others like it across the globe have made this long-running joke more real than before.

This isn’t a political post about the right or wrong of such programs. However, this news did get me thinking about what any government organization really would uncover about us if they started analyzing our internet usage. *smile*

  • Writers are more likely to have blogs than other internet users.

Government agents excitedly follow this lead, expecting to find a grass-roots organization for anarchy. Instead, they find diatribes on the usage of a controversial secret weapon called the “Oxford comma” and admonishments for their fellow cell members to put their devious plans into action with the motto, “show, don’t tell.”

  • Writers are more likely to use multiple forms of social media than other internet users.

Government agents follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest, hoping to get the inside scoop on our next attack. However, they’re soon inundated with “Buy My Book” spam. With titles like JimBob and the Space Alien, they decide these must be poor translations of the original documents.

  • Writers are more likely to maintain email lists off their websites or blogs than other internet users.

Undeterred, government agents sign up to receive our newsletters, where they receive secret documents called “book cover reveals” and “sneak peek excerpts.” They become frustrated by their inability to crack the code embedded in such communications.

  • Writers are more likely to befriend strangers online than other internet users.

The agents decide to engage in conversation on social media. Their targets never break protocol, however, and their Twitter and Facebook conversations consist of “My muse finally told me what to do next! #Happy” and “Yay! I’m going to make my deadline. How is your word count going?” Agents scramble to understand the deadline implied by the code phrase, “word count.” The supreme leader, known as The Muse, rises to Public Enemy Number One.

  • Writers are more likely to form “street teams” than other internet users.

Finally! Government agents have been invited to join our inner circle. The “street team” messages beg all members to take to the streets and spread the word on the release date. Release of what? Chemical weapons? More references to JimBob and the Space Alien are the only clue.

  • Writers are more likely to publish books than other internet users.

Stymied, the government agents decide the answer must lie in JimBob and the Space Alien. The agency puts its considerable investigative powers behind the mission to find The Muse by purchasing copies of JimBob and the Space Alien for every available agent. Yet, despite thousands of extra eyes reading the code book, they’re no closer than before to understanding the threat.

  • Writers are more likely to care about book sales figures than other internet users.

The ominous-sounding “release date” comes and goes with no attacks occurring. What did they get wrong? The agents see only wild celebrations about bestseller status in our communications. But just as they begin to relax, they receive another message: JimBob and the Space Alien Strike Back will be released soon!

Ah-ha, phase two is about to begin. That explains everything. They gather the investigative team once more.

There you go, a story plot free for the taking. Just send me a copy of the finished book and we’ll call it even. *smile*

Somewhat seriously, over the course of several books, I’ve researched plenty of bizarre and suspicious topics:

  • bus schedules of faraway cities
  • gun laws and manufacturing
  • forging of documents
  • the Albanian mafia
  • the immunity granted by diplomatic license plates
  • the security of a Tiffany’s jewelry store
  • blacksmithing
  • jewel thievery
  • money laundering
  • using satellite phones for complete anonymity
  • the gold currency market
  • shell corporations
  • firebombing buildings
  • the decomposition process for human bodies
  • funeral customs
  • the “No Fly” list
  • how to charter a private plane, and
  • private islands for sale in the Bahamas.

And that list is just off the top of my head. Er, put together like that, my research topics do look rather nefarious. *shifty eyes*

Yes, with all that, I’m bound to be on a list in some country, somewhere. But I’ll look at the bright side and hope it’ll lead to more book sales. *grin*

Join the fun! Can you think of other overall behaviors government agencies would uncover about writers? Why might our behavior look suspicious? What might government agencies do about it? What would an investigation on your research topics uncover?

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Comments — What do you think?

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*winces* I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I’m on some government watch list.

Off the top of my head, in the past year, I’ve researched poisons (side effects AND lethal dosages), how to blow up a car’s gas tank without touching it, how long a body takes to start decomposing, how to make a roofie, effects of kidnapping on adolescents, how to make lye from ash, how quickly a sliced throat kills a person, how quickly a cut liver kills a person…

And that’s not including the herbs I research and use, some of which have to be used or dosed properly due to possible toxicity.

Rhenna Morgan

The first “weird” search I did was “Best vein to slash for slow bleed out.” Yeah, I worried about what big brother might think…

Christina @FaerieWriter

This post had me in stiches. Thanks for the laughs! 🙂


Ha, I love your list (and some of those have popped up on my own research list). If they could look through my internet cache from the last few years, they’d find:

synagogues in Seattle
the Japanese mafia
Google street images of Sarajevo
Russian terms of endearment
attorneys in Ireland
obsessive compulsive personality disorder
the cats of Recoleta Cemetery
auto dealerships in Ardmore, PA

I think if they put it all together they’d convince themselves there’s some far-flung crazy scheme to take over the world, a la Pinky and the Brain. And if they were to check my email…they’d find me correcting one of my beta readers on how to properly slice the veins in your wrist so you’d actually die. THAT I learned in school. Seriously.


Hilarious! … only, some poor chump in the basement of the ‘agency, really is sifting through our searches! … so we probably should research how to ‘off’ poor chumps in ‘agency’ basements, just to mess with their minds! … bwhahahaha

Marcy Kennedy

This is a running joke between my husband and I. My most recent searches have been on undetectable poisons, how much blood there’d be if you cut off a toe, and how human trafficking rings hide from the police 🙂

(P.S. I tried to share your post via the sharing buttons, but something wasn’t working. Not sure if it was on my end or yours, but I thought I ought to let you know.)

Taurean Watkins

I haven’t read all of this post yet, Jami, only because I have enough issues battling paranoia in other areas of my life, I don’t need another thing keeping me up at night (Aside from writing my WIP, which at least doesn’t make me paranoid like this government stuff), and I say that not to be stuck-up, but for my personal sanity, you know? Besides, Still, I think it’s a good time to remind everyone, we all make mistakes, and as much we career-minded souls harp on “You only get one chance to make a first impression” don’t let that make you stiff as a board, afraid to do ANYTHING. that’s neither fun nor productive. Since it’s becoming ever more mandatory for most of us career minded authors to have an online identity, you might want to consider a warning when doing posts like this (For newbies and folks prone to paranoia) who can use this as an excuse to never interact online because of these kind of issues, whether true or not, you know what I mean? Maybe something to the effect of, “Potential issues aside, remember like in real life, common sense still applies to 95% of life online, the internet is as good or evil as the users of it make it to be, and there’s a lot that’s good, don’t let the bad stuff that does rear itself at times turn you into a paranoid killjoy freak, blinding you to the good stuff.” You’ll put it…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

Well, I don’t like to joke about these things, not to say anything bad about how you did it in the post above, and yes for me, absolute avoidance is better for my sanity.

I still think you’re brave for doing these posts, whether you’re being serious or not. But I have to do what I must for my sanity. Hope that doesn’t sound mean.

I still feel when you do get serious about this topic or others like it later, that warning will be helpful. We don’t want to turn off future authors over this stuff.

Melissa Swanson

My search history is far more interesting than my real life! “Undetectable poisons” and “blood spatter patterns” ought to raise a few eyebrows…

Jeremy Duley

Thanks Jami for putting a very humorous spin on a political topic. Great post!!

Melissa Sugar

Great article, funny while also terrifying. I’ve often thought about what crazy conclusions law enforcement and the government would leap to if they searched my internet browser. I remember discussing this very topic with my husband (also a lawyer) while were glued to the tube during the Casey Anthony murder trial. The prosecution made a huge deal about certain search terms allegedly used by Casey (or her mom, if you found her mom’s testimony credible); the government focused on terms such as “duct tape” and “chloroform” and others as circumstantial evidence of Casey’s guilt. I remember my husband making remarks (with a smile and a laugh) about some of my bizarre search terms. We both concluded that I not only fit the profile of a murderer, armed robber, illegal guns and narcotics trafficker, but I’d probably already landed myself on the top of Homeland Security’s “persons of interest” list. We laughed, but if you truly think about it, it’s far more scary than humorous. I’m not yet published so I haven’t posted release dates and target dates yet, but here are some of my searched words and phrases that I’m sure would be enough for the government to secure a search warrant if they decided they wanted to. Undetectable poisons; ways to delay body decomposition, untraceable poisons, countries without extradition treaties with the U.S., best way to purchase a handgun without a background check, states who sell weapons at weapon shows without required identification, obtaining fake/false U.S. passport, anonymous web…  — Read More »

Cindy Dwyer
Cindy Dwyer

Awesome post! And so true. I love how you poke fun!

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