When I first started writing professionally about three years ago (January 2010), it was just me and my cat, Tommy. I didn't write for the masses and I didn't encourage a fan base. I wrote for the pure joy of it, as a welcome release for all the words stuck in my head begging to come out. That first year was a time for reconnecting with the writer within me...to see what I was made of...and to measure my words against what was already published.
I started gathering great books about the craft of writing and read everything I could get my hands on. I was introduced to the blogosphere and on December 6th, 2011, I created my blog ON THE WRITE TRACK because I felt I was ready to connect with others. I wrote inspirational posts about what writing meant to me and began to reach out to others through online groups. One day I realized I was beginning to generate a fan base. Every person who commented on a post would get a reply from me. I would return the favor and began reading their blogs. I went in search of blogs which appealed to me and expanded into the world of Facebook. All along the way I made sure to connect and respond to every person who reached out to me.
By January 2013 I had celebrated my first year anniversary of my blog by achieving over 300 followers and over 175,000 views so far. Last year was a huge learning curve for me. I learned about LinkedIn, and Twitter, soon adding them to my platform. I joined critique groups, created a FREE author promotion event as my way of giving back to the writing community which was hugely sucessful (doing it again this year), entered contests, submitted stories (and had one accepted for publication), and made great strides in strenghtening my skills as a writer. I also dealt with a hacker who tried to destroy my life by lying to my friends (no, I never was stuck on some island resort with no way to get home) and erasing all my contact information within Yahoo and Facebook. The person from Africa, whom I originally befriended, had nothing better to do than to interfere with my little life. He decided to erase all my archived files of my stories and more than a year's research I had stored online.
It was hard at first to believe such a thing happened to me, but I am that way...honest, trusting, believing the best in all people until proven otherwise and even then, still giving second chances sometimes. Fortunately the stories were saved elsewhere but my research was gone. I can't say I wasn't upset by the turn of events but I eventually looked at it as a lesson to be a little less trusting when dealing with my online persona and my writing.
Maybe that is why when I received this note last night, warning bells started flashing in my head:
Hello Ms. Donna,
I am not sure whether or not you are the one who wrote the wonderful story "Shortcut to Peace," from the 'Angels Among Us' book of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The story, however, touched my heart and soothed my soul in a very positive way.
"Shortcut To Peace" is my first published piece and who wouldn't be thrilled to think it touched the heart of someone half way across the world? But something just didn't feel right and despite the fact I am so used to immediately replying to comments sent to me, I did a little research on Mr. Balol first.
It appears that Hamza Balol not only gets around but can change age and gender. Googling the name shows he is not only a very young girl who appears to be the chief executive officer of a large company but also a middle aged man. I'm not sure what his fascination is with following these types of stories but he has posted basically the same "touching" message on a number of other blogs and Facebook pages of writers submitting to Chicken Soup and like publications. Unfortunately others have mistaken Hamza's comments for an invitation to begin a online conversation with him and that is when the scam begins.
I pray none of my REAL online friends and fans are ever taken in by someone like my buddy, Hamza, and in my research I even managed to locate some other Hamza Balols who might be taking a beating to their own integrity by having their name associated with a scam artist. My heart goes out to those other Hamzas.
While I would like think my words may one day inspire others and touch their hearts, today is not the day and so I will let Mr. Balol's "heartfelt" note to me float off into the vast unknown of the Internet...maybe one day HIS poor soul will get the validation it so desparately needs so he won't feel the need to unnecessarily try to validate MINE. Don't worry, Hamza, I'm doing just fine without you...;~)