2020–The year in which everything was harder than I thought it would be.

I don’t usually do these year in review posts, but this year I’m going to, and it’s because it’s been, well A YEAR.  I suspect this is a year I’m going to want to look back and have some kind of record of, because living through history, while thoroughly miserable at the time, is something we’re all curious about in retrospect.  Also, because as I was reflecting about 2020 to myself, I had to admit that, while it was clearly a mire of suck that we all had to trudge through that feels like it has gone on FAR too long, for me it was also a really, all around, pretty good year.  But also a year I can sum up in one sentence: that was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Here are the highlights.

Professionally, I had a really phenomenal year.  It didn’t feel that way going through it, because, well, every single thing I worked on this year turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.  But it doesn’t change that, at the end of the year, I am in a far, far better place than I was last December. 

Last year in January my business partner Megan and I sat down and had a reckoning about how our business model was not working.  We’d been publishing our flagship series for about eight months at that point using a free first in series model, and we just weren’t seeing the read through we needed to justify our ad spend.  We weren’t making a profit, and none of the tools I had available were going to make us make a profit.  We needed to switch up our model and try something entirely different. 

Folks, when you have eight books out, making a pivot like that is not easy.  It required us to add books to our schedule, rearrange everything, change all the backlinks, redo our ad strategy…everything.  We spent months doing it.  But our new strategy (Kindle Unlimited with a free magnet book that is related to, but not in, each series) is now making us a profit.  We paid ourselves for the first time in 2020.  Sales fluctuate, but we are continuing to turn a profit now, even in the low months.  We still have a little ways to go before we will have paid back our investment, but we’ve found a model that works.  Last year around this time, I was facing a massive failure (we spent a lot of money proving that model didn’t work) and unsure if there was anything I could do that would work.  This year, I’m staring down the daunting task of learning to scale.  BUT WE HAVE SOMETHING TO SCALE!  I cannot even tell you how exciting that is.  It has taken me years and years and years to get to this point, and I’m excited about it, even if it means 2021 is going to be a whole lot of work. 

Megan and I (and our friend Lauren) also launched our epic fantasy series this year.  We put out six books in four months over the summer (including two in our rom com series), and had a week-to-week schedule that was (apparently) doable, but also a little soul-crushing.  I knew epic fantasies were harder to write than romances, but we already had them written.  What I did not expect was how much harder the production on them would be.  I knew they were *longer,* but they are only twice as long as our romances, and yet still managed to be about five times the amount of work.  The continuity was a big part of that.  There’s a lot to keep track of in a world that big, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to make sure all the right things are capitalized, all the distances were calculated correctly, and how to get our characters across that river we forgot was there until we got to the galley stage and weren’t going to rewrite the chapter now.  It was, as they say, a hell of a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.  But we did it!  And those books started profiting (modestly) right out of the gate.  Megan and Lauren had been working on those books for decades, and I’ve been on board for about six years.  Having them finally published (and doing well!) is a triumph.

Because we are crazy, Megan and I ALSO thought it would be a good idea to launch our paranormal romance series this year.  We were hoping to ride a wave that might follow Midnight Sun.  If that wave exists, we did not catch it, but that’s the danger of chasing trends, I suppose.  We put out Sinking City, a book Megan wrote and I revised and I’m really, fantastically proud of.  We then started work on the sequel in November and, well, friends, it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be.  It’s single-handedly managed to be the hardest thing either Megan or I have ever written, and we’ve written some really hard books.  It’s kicking both our asses on a regular basis.  We’ve been working on the outline for months, have produced a lot of words that won’t be in the book, and some that I dearly hope will, because this book has a deadline.  We won’t release it unless it’s good.  I’m not worried about that.  But what it’s going to do to us over the next few months trying to make it good is its own question.

I quit ghostwriting back in the spring, partly because I was pretty burned out, and partly because I couldn’t do that and launch all this other stuff and I thought taking a gamble on myself was worth the risk.  I put all the time I would have put into ghost writing into my personal projects.  I thought when I quit I had maybe four months before I would have to go back to it.  Eight months later not only have I managed to stretch this far, but I’ve also secured income which means I have another whole YEAR to get my stuff going (barring personal financial catastrophe) so that I don’t have to go back to writing other people’s stuff.  That’s something I didn’t think I could do, but I did, and I’m thrilled about it.

BUT that doesn’t mean I’m not writing in other people’s worlds.  I had some real motion on some of my not-with-Megan co-writing projects this year.  James Goldberg and I are gearing up to finally release our YA Bollywood novel, which we’ve been working on for a long, long time.  I am so excited to finally share that book with the world.  I’m really proud of what we accomplished. 

A couple years ago I was offered the opportunity to co-write the last book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series.  Brandon had written the first few chapters and run into some road blocks, and he wanted me to take his notes and his beginning and rework it and then finish it.  I was super excited about it—I’ve been a huge fan of the series since before the first book came out (on which I was a beta-reader).  I love the characters, the world, everything.  I took Brandon’s chapters and notes, re-read the series to make more notes, and then wrote the first half in about a week, then took a break of a few months and wrote the second half in another week.  I got some notes back a long while later and did another draft on it in another week.  (This is an Alcatraz tradition.  If I remember correctly, Brandon wrote the first draft of the first book in about ten days.)  The thing was a joy to work on start to finish, and remains to this day the most purely fun thing I have ever written.  The news this year is that the book is FINALLY under contract with a publisher, and has a tentative release date.  (Spring, 2020.)  Finally having something to tell people when they ask when that book is coming out feels pretty damn good.  I’m so thrilled to have been part of the series, and having a release date makes the whole thing feel a lot more real.  There have been times over the last few years when I wondered if writing that book really happened.  But it did!  And next year, you will get to read it.

The other really exciting news is that this year I was offered three tie-in “novellas” to write in Brandon’s Skyward world.  The books are directly related to the original series and follow all the side characters while the main character (Spensa) is away from them for all of book three.  The books interact with the main series in some really interesting ways, which makes them both exciting and challenging to write.  I wanted to have more time to write them, but contracts, folks, turn out that they’re a lot harder than I thought they would be, and I’m just now getting started writing book one.  (These are supposed to be done in July.  We Shall See.)  I knew these were going to be harder to write than Alcatraz, for many reasons, but friends, they are a lot harder to write than I thought they would be.  Mostly, I think, because I psych myself out too much about living up to the original series.  What I need to do is let myself write first drafts that are bad and then fix them.  And what I’ve written so far is real bad, so that’s a triumph of its own I suppose!  I’m better at fixing bad writing than I am at writing good stuff to begin with, so that’s to be expected.  It will be good before I turn it in, and if it isn’t, then I’ll get feedback and THEN make it better, long before it’s published.  These books will not see the light of day until both Brandon and I are satisfied with them.  But it’s downright terrifying, and also beyond exciting, and dealing with that maelstrom has been a hurricane and a half.  It’s a real good problem to have, though, and I’m excited to keep having it over the next six months.  (I really still think I can get it done in six months, but I’m also still grappling with the catastrophe that is the Sinking City sequels at the same time.  So.)

I think that’s about it professionally.  So on to personally.  And, oh yeah…

There was a pandemic this year, that has pretty much turned everyone’s lives upside down.  On the surface, this has affected me far less than most people.  My kids already did online school.  (Third grade and preschool this year, through K12 and Upstart.)  My husband and I already work from home.  We are used to all being on top of each other all the time.  BUT we are also used to having social support systems that became next to non-existent.  I had to quit my weekly writing group which I had continued, uninterrupted, since 2005.  We indefinitely paused our weekly roleplaying group, which had been meeting, uninterrupted, since 2005.  Both of those things, it turned out, were really good for my mental health, and not having them is . . . not.  My kids haven’t seen their friends in months, and it will be more months yet before we get to be vaccinated and the world can begin the slow slant toward normal again.  We will get there.  But when the world shut down in March, we hoped we would be there by July.

It’s possible we were right, we just were thinking of the wrong July.

There have been some really horrifically low moments, like the day I had to tell my kids they couldn’t play with their friends anymore (which I cried about and likened to being on Survivor and every week voting someone else you love off your island.)  We lost my mother-in-law in April when the shut down was tightest, and couldn’t even really have a funeral.  (Her passing was not COVID-related, but the timing made it much more difficult to grieve.  I miss her, and I probably always will.)  There was the moment back around May when my daughter earnestly asked me if things would ever go back to normal, and I sat down and explained to her what a vaccine was, and why the world probably wouldn’t go back to normal until we had one, and exactly how long that was likely to take.

But, through all of it, there have been some bright moments, too.  After that conversation, my children both started asking in their prayers for a vaccine.  They prayed and prayed and prayed for it, and you should have seen the light in their eyes when I told them that not only had a vaccine been developed faster than ever in the history of mankind, but that it was much more effective than anyone would have guessed it would be.  My kids, on the whole, have been incredibly adaptable and mature about the whole thing, and while I still hear some whining about when we’re going to be able to go to the pool again, or other such things, they do a whole lot less whining about the whole thing than I do.   When the George Floyd protests happened this summer we also had a lot of conversations about prejudice that were really good to have, and I extended those conversations outside my own house to friends and acquaintances, and with only a couple of exceptions those conversations were good and meaningful and productive.  I wish there weren’t horrible things happening in the world that necessitate those conversations, but since there are, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to talk about them.  A harassment scandal I was involved in also got kicked up again this year, and while I did not enjoy having to deal with that whole host of emotions again, I was able to engage with it in different ways than I did last time, and that was good for me, even if it wasn’t fun.

The pandemic and its general mismanagement by governments at many levels has been horrific, and in no way am I glad it happened.  But I definitely know a lot more about epidemiology than I did in January 2020, and that’s been really interesting to learn, even if I wish it was under purely academic circumstances.  I have nothing good to say at all about the election of 2020, which was horrific on all levels, except that I am very, very glad that Donald Trump will no longer be president of the United States, and that is thankfully happening very soon.

Overall, the loss of my usual life patterns have forced me to find different ways of connecting.  Last January I built a Little Free Library and installed it in front of my house.  I was grateful for the timing when the public libraries closed in March.  It’s been a wonderful way for me to feel like I’m still a part of my community without ever actually contacting anyone.  In August I was offered the opportunity to take over as admin of my local Buy Nothing group, and that, too, has given me a way to serve my community without ever having to leave my house, and has been incredibly rewarding. 

I bought a fire pit when the weather started turning cold, so that I could see some people on occasion and still be outside where risk of COVID transmission is lower.  I was a girl scout for twelve years, but it had been decades since I’d built a fire.  It’s been so fun to teach my children fire skills, and let them roast marshmallows, and sit with friends and talk in a safer way.  I never would have done that if it wasn’t for the pandemic. 

I’m an outing mom.  I’m not great at playing on the floor, but I am great at taking my kids places and having adventures.  When everything shut down, I stared in horror at a life cooped up in the house with my kids, and I knew I had to make some changes.  We usually use the heck out of our museum passes, but with all that closed, I did some research and took my kids hiking for the first time.  Turns out we love it.  It was such a respite over the summer and in the fall to get out into the mountains where we could both avoid people and explore.  We discovered some great places, our favorite of which was Dripping Rock in Spanish Fork.  We’ll definitely keep doing that even once we can get back to the swimming pool and our museum passes, but I don’t know that I ever would have gotten over the hurdles of figuring out where to go without the desperation caused by the lockdowns. 

Our holidays are usually pretty limited—we’re kind of holiday hermits and do our little, tiny celebrations with our little, tiny group of people.  We had to be even more limited this year, which was sad, but ours weren’t impacted as much as some people’s.  On Halloween, though, we decided not to trick-or-treat, mostly because at the time Utah’s mask compliance was not at a level we were comfortable with.  Instead, I made a scavenger hunt for the kids (which is on the list of things that are Mom-extra that I would never do in a regular year), and my kids loved it. They didn’t really miss trick-or-treating.  It was my personal favorite Halloween ever.  (I told my kids we could do this instead every year and my daughter, clever as she is, announced that we should do BOTH!  So I may be paying for my ingenuity next year in added work for myself, but the memory was worth it.

As winter set in, I started losing my mind a little.  We couldn’t really go hiking anymore (though I have seriously thought about acquiring snow-shoes, I have not yet braved my anxieties about figuring THAT out) and the walls were closing in.  I was having a hard time working (not helped by the stressful nature of the work in question, as I’ve been trying to nail down the plots of not one but TWO YA fantasy-action series), and generally sliding into depression, something I hadn’t felt in MANY years.  I’m used to losing my mind a little after I have a baby, but general winter depression was different.  I remarked to a friend that it felt like we were all squirrels who arrived at the winter with empty trees.  This year, friends, was obviously harder than we thought it would be.  My reserves were gone.

As fate would have it, that was also around the time that my friend Brandon released book four in his Stormlight Archive.  Folks, I love those books.  When book three came out I was knee deep in prep to put out both The Extra Series and the Five Lands Saga, and I just couldn’t commit to a book that big.  I was sad about it then, and extra sad that yet ANOTHER book was coming out and I couldn’t read it.  It had been long enough that I needed to start back at the beginning of the series, and that is a LOT of words that I didn’t have time for.

I was tired of being sad about things, so I decided I was going to read the books one chapter a day.  It will probably take me more than a year.  I’ve been at it for months and I haven’t finished book one yet, though I am getting close.  It has been SO FUN to reread The Way of Kings.  I’m catching all kinds of things on this read that I didn’t catch on the first time through, before I knew generally where the series was going.  I’ve been discussing with my husband as I read, because he remembers much better than I do, but there are all kinds of discoveries I’m making that he had also forgotten.  It’s a little spark in the dreary winter, and I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

It wasn’t quite enough to shake me out of my funk, and nothing gets me excited like a project.  I was a couple weeks into my read-through when I desperately wanted to make dolls of the characters.  Megan and I have dolls for all our characters, and we pre-write by roleplaying with them.  We have way too much fun, but I’d also always admired the doll designers who make one-of-a-kinds that aren’t supposed to be played with, which is a whole other skill set.  This would require more time and money than I had to devote to such a thing, but it quickly became apparent that if I didn’t do something to engage my creative brain, it was going to be a very terrible winter indeed, so I found the resources anyway.  Making those dolls presents a challenge that keeps my brain always going, and it’s been enormously helpful in relieving the depression, which is now almost entirely gone.  I’ve made four dolls with two more almost finished and another six acquired and waiting in my queue, and even more ideas after that.  It’s huge and ambitious and not exactly what I would have prescribed for myself in the middle of huge ambitious writing projects and a world-wide pandemic, but I’ll take the medicine where I can find it, I suppose.

Sinking City is now available!

I’ve been slow to update this site, but I wanted to make sure you all knew that my new YA urban fantasy series with Megan Walker is now available. Sinking City is now available, and we’re hard at work on the sequels, Drowning City and Rising City, which will come out later this year.

Sinking City is the story of Zan, son of the head of a magical mafia in Venice. And check out our cover quote from Brandon Sanderson!

Sinking City can be purchased on Amazon in e-book and paperback, and is also free to read in Kindle Unlimited! I hope you enjoy this new series!

Sexual Harassment, Consequences, and our Culture

I posted back in 2018 about my experience with Myke Cole at an agency dinner at the World Fantasy Convention back in 2009.  Here’s a link to that, for those just catching up.

As I’ve watched events unfold over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about what, if anything, I want to add to what I’ve already said.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that in 2018 I was speaking from a place of personal pain, working on personal healing.  I stand by what I said in that post, in that the personal apology I received from Myke was enough for me to forgive him and move on.  I haven’t felt the weight of emotion surrounding this incident in the years since.  I have no personal issue with Myke any longer. 

But I’ve also realized that I do have more to say now, because I don’t want anyone to assume from my earlier post that I don’t support the other victims, or the consequences Myke is facing now.  My personal reactions are my own.  No one else is obligated or likely to have the same personal reactions, as their circumstances are each unique.  I think it’s absolutely appropriate for Myke to receive consequences for things that have subsequently come to light.  My lack of problem with Myke doesn’t absolve him of anything he has ever done.  There should be consequences for the way he has behaved and the people he has hurt. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about something else I said back in 2018.  I argued at the time with my agency that it would be hypocritical for them to drop Myke based solely on what happened to me because the entire incident was witnessed by Joshua Bilmes, the head of the agency, who said and did nothing, and therefore it would be hypocritical of them to make a scapegoat of Myke.

I still believe this in part.  I think it would have been deeply hypocritical for them to scapegoat Myke without admitting their part in it.  Now, though, seeing more clearly around my own personal pain and recovery, and having a greater understanding of the ways that systemic sexism functions and persists, I believe what I said was incomplete.

What I should have asked for in 2018 was that both Myke and the agency be expected to answer for their actions.  I love JABberwocky.  I am proud to be a JABberwocky client.  I have been universally treated with respect by all of the agency’s employees to the best of my recollection.

Except that time.  I don’t think in 2018 I was ready to deal with just how much the culture surrounding the harasser supports and permits the harassment to continue uninterrupted.  To me, this is no longer about Myke.  It’s about the culture and the system that invites and supports abusers and harassers.  It’s about a culture that needs to change, including but not limited to the culture at my own agency.

I have reached out to my agent and asked, as I wish I had back in 2018, that they admit publicly to the cultural problems within the agency that contributed to Myke’s behavior going unnoticed and unchecked.  Holding Myke accountable was an important step, but only a first step.  I’ve asked that they hold themselves accountable as well. 

If the cultural problem were limited to my agency, I would end the post there.  But unfortunately, given the vast array of circumstances within the publishing industry in which women have been inappropriately treated, the problem is obviously spread far and wide.  It’s not enough for my agency to own up for their part in the cultural problem.  We all need to take a long look at the ways in which we contribute to the culture.  Expelling harassers from conventions, canceling their contracts, and dropping their representation are all good and necessary steps.  But until we have a culture that rejects rather than protects these behaviors, there will always be another harasser stepping up to take their place.  Personal consequences are good and right, but they only hurt the perpetrator, and do nothing to protect the current and future victims. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about a phenomenon I’ve observed, in which harassment can happen in a room full of people, and the observers don’t even realize it’s happened until after the fact (if they ever realize it happened at all).  It feels as if some of us are in one parallel dimension while the others inhabit another.  In one dimension, everything is fine.  In the other, things are terribly wrong, and no one in the “fine” dimension can see it.  It’s the stuff of nightmares, really, but it’s reality for those of us who find ourselves on the end of treatment that seems to be invisible even to those who are witnessing it. 

Until all members of our community can see harassment for the hurtful behavior it is and step in to intervene at the moment it’s happening, nothing is going to change.  More victims will be hurt.  More perpetrators will be punished.  But the problem is cultural, and if the culture doesn’t change, the result will remain the same.

To me, that change has to start with truth.  Until people who have observed harassment and done nothing can look back, see what they have done wrong, admit to it, and make a plan to behave differently in the future, nothing will change. 

Everyone in the culture needs to look at themselves and see what they are doing that ignores the pain of victims.  If you witness an interaction that makes you uncomfortable, you can say so at the time.  If you are wrong about what’s happening and feel stupid, that pain will be temporary compared to the potential pain of a victim who is left wondering for years if she imagined what happened.  If you witnessed inappropriate treatment but failed to speak, you can go to both the victim and perpetrator and call it out as soon as you realize that failing.  If you failed at it years ago, you can still do this.  It’s never too late to do the right thing, even if it’s always better to have done it at the right time.

The victim may tell you everything’s fine.  In fact, they probably will, even if it isn’t true.  This is the human brain’s desperate attempt to make things be okay when they are obviously not.  You never know who will look back at moment differently because someone saw the pain they were in, the pain they couldn’t even admit to themselves existed in that moment.  In 2009, there was one person who saw what happened to me.  He approached me after the fact and said, “I’m sorry about that asshole at dinner.”  I told him it was fine, even though it wasn’t.  That has meant everything to me since, though, because I knew it wasn’t in my head.  Someone saw.  Someone said something.  Other people should have and didn’t.  We’re all learning and growing, and we all need to step up and change.

I want to address one more sentiment that I’ve seen floating around on Twitter, the idea that these accusations stem from a mob mentality.  “Who is going to hold these women accountable?” they ask.  “How do we know they aren’t doing it for attention?”

For the purposes of this post, I am going to treat these like serious questions.  I can tell you from extensive personal experience that no one wants this kind of attention.  I don’t want it.  I never did.

But, in answer to the first question: I am the one who holds me accountable.  What happened wasn’t my fault.  I didn’t ask to be in that situation.  I don’t owe any individual my time, my energy, the days of my life I’ve spent drafting these posts and dealing with the emotional fallout. 

But I am a member of this culture, and I am responsible for the footprint my actions (or lack of action) have on the people and culture around me.  I hold myself accountable, and so I speak anyway, even though the internet is forever, even though on some random Thursday morning I can be trying to play Animal Crossing with my eight year old and discover that all this is back, and I have a responsibility to try to use my influence again to make things better.

We all have an influence on the culture around us.  This is my accounting for my own influence.  This is the way I’m trying to change. 

Please join me in taking an honest stock of your own influence, your own mistakes, your own failings.  Be honest about the way that you’ve hurt people, even if by your silence.  Especially by your silence.  Make specific plans to change. 

There will always be serial abusers.  We can’t count on them to take responsibility for their actions.  We need to take responsibility for our own culture, and stop protecting them, even with our silence.

Only then will things begin to change.

What I’m Working On

I get asked a lot if I’m working on anything new.  You guys, I am working on all the books, but they’re all at in between stages, so it’ll be a little while before I can share them with you.  Here’s the rundown:

Epic Fantasy!

For the last three years, I’ve been working on an adult epic fantasy series with my friends Megan Grey and Lauren Janes.  You guys, I am so excited about these books.  We have three books done, and three more in late stages.  These are on submission now to publishers, so we’ll see if they get picked up.  (The market, guys.  It’s rough.)  If they don’t get picked up, we’ll start publishing these in 2019.

Contemporary Romance!

Megan and I have also been working on a contemporary romance series that’s also out on submission to publishers.  We have four books done (including one novella) and two more polishing up in the next couple of months.  If these don’t get picked up, we’ll also start putting these out in later 2019.  (It’s going to be a big year, either way.)  I am so excited to share these books with you.

The Bollywood Lovers’ Club!

Ten years ago my friend James Goldberg started a brilliant book that I was in love with.  Seven or so years later I finally got so frustrated that I couldn’t read the end of it that I offered to co-write.  It’s been so amazing to work with James, and finally get this book finished.  It still needs to go out to publishers, so we’re at least a year out from being able to share this with you, but it’s going to be amazing.

Ghostwriting!

I’ve also taken up ghostwriting in my copious spare time.  It should come as no surprise that money is scarce in publishing, and it’s pretty awesome to write words and be immediately paid for them.  I’m having fun writing various books for other authors (mostly romance).  No, you won’t ever know who I’m writing for.  I’m not even always sure.  Call it selling out, call it a mid-life crisis, but I call it doing what I love for money, and I’m comfortable with that.

Assorted projects that are waiting for me to get to them!

As if that isn’t enough, I also have a number of YA books waiting for me to revise them, both single-author and co-written.  These will have to wait until some of these other projects get to later stages, because right now writing two extended series plus promoting my existing books plus revising the Bollywood book plus writing copy to pay the bills and oh, you know, taking care of my kids and doing homeschool and making sure my house is only a slight total disaster and also GMing my gaming group until my campaign ends and I can hand off that responsibility…that’s basically all I can handle.  But there are stories I love in there, so I’ll get to them.  Eventually.

So yes.  I am working on all the new things.  Thanks for asking.  And I’m thrilled to be able to share them with you, possibly as soon as next year!

Long Dark Night Now on Audible!

I’m pleased to announce that my vampire novel, Long Dark Night, is now available in audio on iTunes, Amazon, and Audible.com!  Plus, if you’re not yet an audible member, you can get it for free if it’s the first book you download after setting up a membership.

The narrator, Katherine Billings, did a fantastic job.  (You may remember her as the narrator for Everything’s Fine, also available now.  I love this story, and I’m happy to be able to share it now with you in audio book.

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.