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Sexual Harassment, Apologies, and Forgiveness

[If you lack context on this post, you might check out Anna Ursu’s article on Medium about sexual harassment in publishing, and then the SLJ article (and, more importantly, the comments) on the same subject.  Also Myke Cole’s response to having been named in those comments, and his apology.  If you only read one, read the apology.]

I want to share a story in light of the recent sexual harassment accusations in publishing. I—like many women—have been a victim of harassment, and stayed silent about it. But over the last few days I’ve had the most remarkable experience. I’ve seen a person who did this to me publicly apologize. I’ve personally accepted that apology, and felt tremendous relief, forgiveness, and compassion. I’ve hesitated to post this because of the sensitive nature of the subject and circumstances, but there are some things I’d like to add to the conversation.

I need to tell you my story.

I am one of the people who was harassed by Myke Cole. It happened at an agency dinner at the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose in 2009. I have social anxiety, and at the time I was extremely uncomfortable talking to people I didn’t know. I made a rule for myself, in fact, that I had to talk to five people every day at the convention that I didn’t know, and it was extremely difficult for me to follow through.

Because of this I was nervous about the agency dinner. I wanted to make friends with people, to be part of the group, but I was scared. So I was overjoyed when Myke befriended me. We chatted on the way to dinner, we sat near each other. We were both agented but unpublished, and commiserated about the details of that. Myke was one of the cool kids at the agency, meaning that he lived in New York and hung out with agents and authors from the agency on a regular basis. I wanted to be part of the in crowd. I wanted to feel comfortable talking to people. I wanted to feel accepted, and to belong. And on top of that, the people I met that night (including Myke) were legitimately awesome. In all those ways it was a good experience.

Except that as Myke sat across from me at dinner, he made some advances that were unwelcome. I’m not going to try to recreate exactly what was said, but I do want to tell you how I felt. I was (and am) married and monogamous. I didn’t want to end the conversation with Myke, because I wanted to be friends. But I also didn’t want to encourage the trajectory of the conversation. I remember a lot of uncomfortable pauses where I tried to figure out how to respond based on what he’d said, how to keep the conversation friendly without encouraging him. I didn’t feel like I could walk away. I didn’t want to sever relationships. I didn’t want to be the girl who can’t handle this. I wanted to make connections with people, including Myke, but not like that. I felt like I couldn’t say anything, stand up for myself, shut him down, or walk away without damaging my brand new agency relationships and souring my reputation with my agent, other agents at the agency, and the other authors around us.

As I write this, I am alarmed by my own desire to minimize it. Everything that happened was in front of other people. I was not assaulted. There was no quid pro quo harassment happening. I never felt like I was in physical danger. I want to say that it wasn’t a big deal. Either Myke’s comments or my discomfort were obvious enough that at least one other author from the dinner approached me afterward and said, “I’m sorry about that asshole at dinner,” and I’ve been grateful for that comment over the years, because it helps me to remember that I didn’t make it up. That it was a real thing that happened. But it’s still hard for me to admit that it was a big deal.

But it was. I know it was a big deal because over the years many of my friends became mutual friends of Myke’s, and I squirmed every time his name was mentioned. I know it was a big deal because over the years as I read Myke talk very publicly about being a feminist and an ally to women, I did so with a pit in my stomach. I told my husband I didn’t know what to do with this. Was all male feminism inherently hypocritical bullshit? I didn’t want that to be true. I believed that Myke was unaware of the impact he’d had on me. I believed that he meant what he said when he talked publicly about feminism. I also believed that his actions didn’t always reflect his beliefs.

I know it was a big deal because I never told anyone. Until this week, the only people who knew the particulars were my husband and my best friend. I even told her with trepidation. I have friends who are close to Myke, and I listened to their stories without comment. I said, yeah, I’ve met Myke. Yeah, he’s a nice guy. I laughed at stories. I went along.

I did so while feeling sick. I was lying. I was hiding. I had a secret even though I had done nothing wrong. I knew I couldn’t tell anyone because these people—my friends and Myke’s—were going to minimize my experience. They were going to tell me Myke was awesome and he didn’t mean it. They were going to say that like it was supposed to relieve my anger, my discomfort, my not knowing what to do with this.

I knew Myke was in many ways an excellent person. I knew that he hadn’t meant it. Never did I think that Myke was a predator. But he did a thing that was wrong to me, and I was the one who suffered for it. I was angry about that. I was afraid, and I was alone. Much of this was not about Myke particularly, because I never imagined that Myke himself would come after me, or that I was in any danger from him. Now I was being victimized by the culture, which frightens women into silence, so much so that I couldn’t even name his name to my close friends. They would have still been my friends. They would have tried to make me feel better. But before #metoo, we were none of us equipped to have that conversation in an appropriate and helpful way, because of the toxic sexism in our culture.

This is what it was like to be a woman and to be harassed, even in a relatively minor way, in professional setting, in our current cultural environment.

Then there was the SLJ thread. Myke’s name was mentioned, not by me. Then it was mentioned again. I looked at those anonymous comments. I watched as all around me people rationalized them. It could be an anonymous troll. It could all be just one person. It could be false.

What the other accusers were saying about Myke matched exactly with my experience. I knew it wasn’t one random troll. I knew it was true, because it happened to me.   I felt an obligation to the women who were speaking up, because I saw that the names that were coming up again and again were the ones people were (rightly) taking seriously.

I sat in front of my computer and I agonized. People in the thread were saying they’d seen the site code, and that it wasn’t tracking IP addresses. They said it was safe to speak, because we couldn’t be tracked. I never even considered making a comment that was not anonymous. I would never have made a post, even anonymously, if I knew it could be tracked. My default is to assume that everything on the internet is tracked.   I sat and I thought—what will happen to me if they are wrong? Will I be attacked? Will I be doxxed? Will I be found and crucified in a public forum? Will I be made to explain, to tell the story in public to prove that I wasn’t a random troll when I wasn’t even comfortable doing so with my close friends? Would I otherwise be accused by people who are my professional peers and superiors of trying to malign Myke unfairly?

In the end, I decided that posting was the right thing, so I did. Mine is the +1 comment far down the thread. But even believing this was the right and honorable thing to do, I very nearly didn’t.

That is what it was like being a woman in publishing who had been harassed.   I watched people discrediting the women who spoke up on the basis of their comments being anonymous. If it was true, why would they need anonymity?

I knew why. After Zoe Quinn, women in my position all know. We are all one internet post away from being Zoe Quinn.

And then Myke apologized. If you haven’t yet, take a minute and read what he wrote. What he says describes my experience exactly. It’s a damn good apology. He admits to what he did, in specific terms. He expresses that he was unaware that he did it, but he doesn’t treat that as an excuse. He addresses his victims directly and says he’s sorry. He expresses additional sorrow. He talks about both what he’s going to do to make reparations and also how he’s going to address his behavior going forward.

Reading that changed the whole world for me. I had been watching the cultural shifts in our post-#metoo, post-Weinstein-scandal world, but for me, this was the final piece. In that moment, I went from a scared woman with a difficult secret to a woman who could speak authentically. Who could tell the truth. No one could jump on me in any kind of credible way anymore. It was true. It happened. Myke admitted it was true. He saw the hypocrisy in his feminism. He owned it.

He set me free.

I never imagined that I could live in a world where I could go to my friends and tell them what happened. Now I have. I never imagined I could live in a world where I could talk to Myke on the phone, tell him what he did in simple terms, receive a sincere and heartfelt personal apology, and then talk about the events of recent days as friends. But that’s exactly what happened. Days ago I agonized over an anonymous forum post that I thought probably wouldn’t be tracked. Today I can write the whole story on the internet.

I cannot overstate how much this changes for me. I’ve accepted Myke’s apology completely. I bear him no ill will. I have nothing but compassion for the situation he finds himself in, even though it is his responsibility to own.

I can’t speak for what kind of person Myke is. I’m not defending him against any other accusation that has or might come out. I’m not speaking for any other victim of him or anyone else.

But speaking for myself, I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for the apology. I’m grateful for the experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak—not without fear, because it’s the internet, but with so much less.

There are men (and women) who are predators, who have committed assault and other things that cannot be made up for by a mere apology. There are those who need to face consequences in their workplaces, who need to lose their jobs, who need to face legal consequences, who need to be ejected from organizations and institutions to keep others safe.

But there are also a lot of men who have absorbed, unintentionally, a culture of misogyny. A culture that not only accepts and encourages but celebrates toxic masculinity and the degradation of women. These men make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones. These mistakes have consequences, sometimes terrible ones.

But we cannot (and, I believe, should not) jail and fire every man who has ever victimized a woman by sexually harassing her. Because it’s nearly all of them. Because what we need is not punishment, but change. What we need is sorrow, and remorse, and acknowledgement, and repentance.

Guys, this is how it’s done. If a woman tells you you have wronged her, admit that you did it, and apologize. If a friend tells you you have wronged another person, admit that you did it, and apologize. Do this even if you think it’s being blown out of proportion. Do this even if you feel defensive. Do this especially when you feel defensive. Do this without qualification. Do it as gently and politely as possible. And above all, do it sincerely.

In the last few days, as I have been sharing this story, I have had multiple male friends ask me, in all sincerity, have I ever done anything like this to you? They have sincerely listened to my answers. They have accepted my feedback. They have made no excuses. It has been one of the most hopeful experiences of my life.

Please. Go to your friends who you trust. Ask them if they have ever seen you act inappropriately. Tell them you won’t be defensive. Be sincere. Do not go in a spirit of wanting them to reinforce your positive self image. Go wanting to know what you’ve done wrong unintentionally, in the spirit of knowledge, to be enabled to stop.

Listen to what they say and believe them. Ask questions and believe the answers. We are not enemies. All the feminists I know want men to partner in the change. They are not the adversary. They are your best source of information.

Don’t stop with one friend and feel good about yourself. Ask as many as you can. If the answers differ, accept that different people may have had different experiences with you, and that all of the experiences are true. Accept that people are complex, and can be more than one thing. Cut yourself some slack on the shame, but none on the responsibility. Own it.

And then apologize with sincerity, and do what you can (if anything) to make amends. *For another example of an appropriate reaction, I recommend Dan Wells’ post on the subject. He also did a fine job of listening and addressing the concerns.

We need to expand our definition of what makes someone a good man. Good men are not perfect because no man is perfect. Good men make mistakes, even terrible ones. But when good men make mistakes, they own them, they admit them, they apologize for them, and they make restitution where possible.

This is the path to healing, for all of us. It’s the way forward. For some the consequences will (and should) be more extreme, but speaking to the smaller offenses that despite their size can have great impact—an apology doesn’t undo it, but it can make the world of difference. I cannot even fully express the difference it has made for me.

One of the victims of the recent harassment allegations made this statement to the New York Times: “‘I would love for us to be able to reach a place of full transparency: where people who harass others can publicly admit to their behavior, publicly seek treatment or rehabilitation, and then—maybe—publicly be welcomed back into the industry. But it takes a very big, very humble person to be able to do that, and I’m afraid that because of ‘rockstar’ culture (and egos), driven both by society at large and by the economics of publishing (in which one blockbuster book often pays the bills for the entire slate of books being published in a given year), that is unlikely to ever happen.'”

I don’t think it has to be unlikely, but I do think it becomes less likely if we stone and flog those who do come forward and appropriately apologize, especially when their actions were the sorts of things that, honestly, most men have perpetrated at one time or another.

My biggest fear coming forward with this is not for me, but that Myke could face punitive consequences professionally. In my case (and I speak for me alone), I find those unnecessary. I don’t want my agency to take action. I don’t want anyone to take punitive action toward Myke as a result of what I’ve written.  Others who have been accused have faced different consequences, and I in no way question the validity of those consequences.

But there’s not just one kind of harassment. Not all perpetrators are rapists. We need to deal with these things in proportion to the crime, and with consideration for the personal response. Opinions on what exactly that looks like will very, and I don’t have all the answers.

Just this one. Let’s all listen and believe and apologize and heal and have compassion for each other. Let’s take appropriate responsibility for our actions—both intentional and not—and hold others to the same standard.

It’s the only way for the culture to change. It’s the only way for us to progress.

Strange Magic

This year for Valentine’s day, what if you could dive into a reading experience guaranteed to be like nothing you’ve ever read before?  That’s a promise I can make about Strange Magic: A Choose Your Own Romance.

 

You guys, this book is strange, wonderful, hilarious, and most of all, totally unique.  And it was written…er…edited by my friend James Goldberg, who is brilliant in just about every way.

I highly recommend you check it out. 

A Billion Echoes Now Available!

You guys!  After a LONG wait, the third book in my trilogy, A BILLION ECHOES, is now available on all e-book platforms, and in print on Amazon, and other outlets.

This means the series has gone wide! You can also get the other A THOUSAND FACES books wherever you like to buy e-books.  See links on the sidebar to your right.

In addition to that, A THOUSAND FACES is now FREE on all platforms.  So if you haven’t tried the series yet, you can do so risk-free.  (And tell your friends.  Because who doesn’t like to try series for free, amiright?)

And, if you want the whole thing in one go, the omnibus edition is also now available on all e-book platforms.

So excited to share this series in its entirety with you.  It’s been a long time for me, and almost as long for readers of the first book.  And guys.  Now it’s DONE!

 

Cover Reveal: A Billion Echoes!

Check out the gorgeous cover (design by Melody Fender) for the third and final book in the A Thousand Faces series.  The book is finished and will publish near the end of the month!  So excited to share this with you.  Cover copy below!

 

It’s said that no one escapes from the Carmines, but Jory is determined to find a way to take down the monsters who killed her father and destroyed her life. With her friend Damon and her boyfriend Kalif by her side, Jory’s painstaking plot unfolds piece by piece beneath the Carmines’ever watchful cameras and tracking devices.

This task stretches Jory’s skills to the limit, and every aspect of her life begins to buckle under the strain. Jory thinks she’s found the key to taking down the Carmines and escaping from their influence once and for all—

But following through may cost Jory everything she has left.

The Mommy Writer Makes Sacrifices (but probably not enough)

[this is part of an ongoing series about how I get work done with kids]

I posted on Facebook yesterday about being sad about not having time to do the catch up reading for Oathbringer.  Well-meaning responses suggested that I listen to the audio books, that I just read it anyway, that I read it slowly over time.  I have wonderful friends.  They were trying to be encouraging.  But instead I felt discouraged.  I knew I couldn’t do those things, but I couldn’t really articulate WHY.  I did a lot of thinking, and now I think I’m ready to try.

Let me tell you what my life is like.  This is not a pity party.  My life is awesome. But here are the facts about how I spend my time and prioritize:

I spend about 45 hours a week as the principal caretaker of my children, and another 30 or so as the backup caretaker.  That’s 75 hours a week, not counting any of the hours in which my children are asleep, and therefore all I have to do is send them back to bed if they wake and generally make sure the house doesn’t burn down.  I’m lucky that my husband does 50% of the principal caretaking, and is home to also play backup caretaker nearly 100% of the time I’m playing principal caretaker.  I literally could not do as follows without him in those roles.

That said, right now I have a one years old who is even now climbing on my desk and playing with my air purifier, and I have to keep lifting down, so the parenting hours are heavy lifting in this stage of life.   And oh yeah, 13 or so hours of this time I am homeschooling my daughter, a number of hours that will nearly double next year.   Family outings also happen in here, both just me and the kids, and me, the kids, and my husband.

I write about 20 hours a week.  Some weeks more, other weeks (usually due to sickness or excessive prewriting) less.  These are the hours that I am physically typing or revising words.  Sitting at my computer.  Giving it my full attention.

I spend at least another 30 hours a week in partnership with my critique partners (mostly Megan).  These are NOT hours where either of us are writing.  What are we doing?  We’re texting about the characters/ideas/plot problems.  We’re doing prewriting (yes, this means playing with Barbie dolls.)  I’m reading for her and giving her feedback; she’s reading for me and I’m listening for feedback.  We text feedback in real time.  We’re talk talk talking about revisions and fixes and upcoming stories.  We’re looking for dolls/sets/props for upcoming prewriting, or building said sets.  We’re writing down the ideas we’ve gamed; we’re turning those ideas into outlines.  We’re talking about business decisions and communicating with our agents or other people we work with.  Really, I think this is probably more than 30 hours a week, but I know it’s at least that.

I spend another five hours a week in business maintenance that doesn’t involve my co-writers.  I’m responding to emails.  Checking on audiobooks or edits or covers.  Doing social media (not reading it; composing posts, etc.)  I’m going to the post office.  I’m ordering books.  I’m organizing and planning promotion.  I’m doing accounting, taxes, and paying bills.

So that’s 55 hours where I’m engaged in creating the worlds and characters and the words that will carry them to readers, and dealing with the business trappings that surround that.  Plus 75 hours of kid stuff, either as on-duty parent or backup parent.  Plus 50 hours (ish) of sleep.  (This often gets cut short, but is usually compensated for by sleeping in on the weekends lest I die.)

There are 168 hours in a week.  I have already spent 180 hours doing these three things.  This means, in case you haven’t guessed, that I’m doing the child thing and the writing words or writing prep during many of the same hours.  This is why I say that I couldn’t do it without my husband to play backup when I’m on duty and to be on duty so I can be off.

Some writers say you should count all the time you spend THINKING about characters or stories or plots as work time.  To which I say HAHAHA that’s the majority of my waking hours—at least another 30 hours a week.  Probably a whole lot more.

So now we’re up to 210 hours in which my brain is filled with child things or work things.  This means in practicality the GRAND majority of the time I am doing BOTH these things already.  Even while driving, I am generally parenting (and fielding a million questions and listening to a million stories) and also thinking about my characters and my books. (Yes, please, let’s listen to an audio book on top of that.  HA!)

BUT WAIT!  I’m not done.  I also have a house to maintain (badly).  I also have a writing group that I’m responsible for.  We meet weekly, and I’m generally the one who sends out the first submission email and checks up on people to see who will be coming, if we need to add more people, etc.  Plus the reading.  This is another 3 hours or so a week.  (Because we are crazy efficient, people!  We have to be.)  I also have a Thursday night roleplaying game (also weekly) that takes up another 4 hours…except I’m running the game this year, so I also need to prep/think of ideas/have the energy to be the game master.  This, for obvious reasons, gets to take about 20 extra minutes of my week.  Because really.

I also go to church (for three hours) and have a church assignment that takes another few hours a week.  I also like to play games with my husband occasionally for another couple hours a week.  I also have to, you know, grocery shop and run errands.  And cook and eat (sporadically, at best.)  Oh, and I got a dog in the hopes of getting exercise, who I try to run with 20 or so minutes a day.  And sometimes I am sick, and my capacity shrinks drastically.  This happens a lot, actually, because I have a kindergartener who brings home all the germs.  (But she’s homeschooled, you say!  Yes, but she has bunches of neighborhood friends who are not.)  And sometimes my brain craps out and I scroll through facebook for two hours because I don’t have the brain capacity or sustained attention span left for my children or to read more than two paragraphs on any given topic.

This means that on top of the two things I am doing most of the time (writing stuff and parent stuff), I am frequently ALSO doing one or more of those other things.

Multitasking makes you stupid, guys.  This is why I didn’t answer your email/go to your party/remember your birthday.  This is why I have dropped off the planet.  This is why I can’t listen to an audio book.  It’s not even the matter of hours in the day.  It’s the amount of STUFF GOING ON IN MY BRAIN that makes me literally incompetent to add anything else.

There are things I do a lot less of than I used to, but still do some: read, play video games.

There are things I don’t really do at all anymore, but will do again someday: yard work, watch TV, paint minis, sew.

I know what you’re thinking.  Janci, do less.  Definitely do less.  For heaven’s sake, work less.

Here’s the thing.  This is my life pared down to just what I absolutely love the absolute most.  My kids. My husband.  My writing.  My God.  My closest friends.  (I am not a person who can function without my closest friends.)   I’m kind of in love with my job.  I am dedicating my life to the things that are most important to me. With the exception of the housekeeping stuff, my life is fun and awesome and fulfilling.  But it’s also FULL.  The words there will not be room enough to receive it come to mind.

So when I say I don’t have room for that and I’m sad, I’m not having regrets, except that my hours and energy are not limitless.  I’m happy with my choices, but occasionally wistful about the ones I could have made or hope to make someday.  And when I decide to give myself moments to do what I want and screw the consequences, right now I’m choosing to spend time working on my stories and hanging out with my best friends, not reading enormous tomes, no matter how much I love them (which is a lot).

Now excuse me while I go happily (though wearily) do four or five vitally important things I love at once.

 

BOYLESS is now available in audio!

Boyless is now available in audio on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. The narrator, Jessica McFarland, did a fantastic job, and I’m so happy with how the production turned out.  I hope you’ll check it out!

Everything’s Fine now available in audio!

The last book in the A Thousand Faces series is off with my editor, and expected back in the very near future for the first (and always biggest) round of edits.  But, in the meantime, I’m happy to announce that Everything’s Fine is now available in audio from Amazon, Audible, and Itunes!

It’s narrated by the talented Katherine Billings, and she nailed the voices of the characters.  I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.  So if you’re an audio reader, check it out!

(I’m also thrilled to say that all of my books are now in audio production, so look for more very soon!)

LONG DARK NIGHT release day!

My vampire novel, LONG DARK NIGHT, is now available on Amazon, in both e-book and print.  I’m so pleased with it–with the book, with the cover, with finally being able to share it with you. It’s one of those that has been waiting for its day for years, and I almost gave up on it many times, but April needed to have her story told, and now she finally has.

Here’s the cover copy:

Sixteen-year-old April is trapped behind the blinds in her apartment, beholden to the schedule of the daily blood deliveries from the local Red Cross syndicate, waiting for Vance—well-respected director of the local hospital by day, vampire lord by night—to finally descend on her and finish turning her unlife into a living hell. From the day he raped her, infecting her with the STD that turned her into a vampire, he’s been watching her, stalking her, trying to make her his, body and soul.

Until the day April seizes the opportunity to choose her own course.  Now on the run in the California desert, April must find the will not only to survive, but to fight back.

SKIPPED now available in audio!

Today I’m happy to announce that SKIPPED is available in audio, narrated by the talented Madonna Lucey!  Find it on itunes, Audible, and Amazon!

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