THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN, originally in the holiday anthology AMID THE WINTER SNOW, will be out March 12! If you didn't grab the anthology - or if you did, but want the standalone, too - you can preorder now. It's the same story, either way - the continuation of Amy and Ash's rocky romance in THE TEARS OF THE ROSE, and fitting in the timeline between THE EDGE OF THE BLADE and THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE.
This week at the SFF Seven is a topic of our choice - whatever is on our minds. So, I've decided to tell a story I haven't publicly told before. There's been a lot of conversation in publishing this last month about sexual harassment in the industry, largely springing from this article in the School Library Journal and the followup survey by Anne Ursu.
I spent some time yesterday catching up on the source materials - though I'd been reading lots of the ensuing conversations and fallout. Which included reading the comments, something I normally protect myself from but felt I should survey this time.
In talking with a friend about it, I said something about a parallel of when it happened to me. She immediately replied that she had no idea it happened to me.
Of course she didn't, because I never went public. There were good reasons for that, which I'll share.
It happened to me at a convention, only a few years ago. I was already an established author, with awards and a good record, bright future. My agent parked me with a male editor we hoped to dazzle. We were in the bar, with a bunch of people, drinking. And he started touching me. Knee, thigh, arm. And he wanted to talk about my writing! Oh, but he *really* wanted to know about the erotic stuff. By the third time he asked about my erotic writing, while touching my bare knee yet again, I became profoundly uncomfortable.
And I didn't know what to do.
For those of you who know me, that's pretty unusual. I'm not a shy person. In fact, "confident" is a word people often pick first to describe me. I have good boundaries and I'm firm and decisive in guarding them. I am not shy or at all hesitant to speak my mind.
But, sitting there in that bar, surrounded by people I knew - none of whom noticed anything - I felt suddenly powerless. Because this guy could influence my career. My agent wanted me to please this editor, not piss him off - though my agent had disappeared and was nowhere in sight.
For the first time in my entire life - at a fairly ripe middle age - I understood how this kind of thing happens.
I got up to go to the Ladies Room. On my way back I whispered in the ear of a female agent friend. I simply told her I needed to be extracted. Thirty seconds after I sat down, she got up, swept over and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry to interrupt your meeting, Jeffe, but I just found out [important person] is unexpectedly free - can you come meet her?"
And that was that.
I wanted to leave it at that, but my agent argued with me to report it, at least to the editor's boss. My agent offered to handle it and I accepted. The boss was livid, spoke to the editor. Days later the editor offered an apology via my agent, along with the news that he was on performance improvement and would no longer be drinking at conferences.
That satisfied me. I was ultimately glad we handled it that way, because - as my agent argued and convinced me - other female writers in that position would not necessarily have an agent friend nearby to rescue her. Or might not have the same confidence in her writing and career. It was important that I take action, not for myself, but so it wouldn't happen to someone else.
Because that's something I see a lot. Many guys who get pointed at are shocked that anyone saw them that way. Myke Cole was pointed to in the comments of that SLJ article and took a long, hard look at his behavior. I respect him for posting about it and taking decisive action to correct himself. I like to think that editor did, too.
This is why #metoo is important - because we have to bring these behaviors into the open, or they won't change. In reading those comments, I see a lot of people casting accusations of lying or attention-grabbing. I didn't go public with what happened to me because I didn't want to be that year's scandal at the conference. The conference organizers never knew, because we handled another way.
That's fine, because I had the personal power to handle it, and the strong backing of my agency. Not everyone has that. Not everyone has agent friends who happen to be sitting nearby and who can respond without question with such grace and effectiveness.
(That, by the way, is why I argue that harassment policies should include a provision for reporting to an industry friend to intervene. Firmly telling the person to stop never felt like an option for me, because of the power imbalance. Which is why it happened in the first place.)
One thing I'm leaving out is how shaken I felt at the time. With the buffer of years, I'm no longer bothered. But at the time, I wondered at how badly I'd handled that. I really felt I should have been able to tell him to knock it off. It was very instructive for me to be more compassionate when others tell their stories about feeling powerless in a situation.
I also thinks this speaks to the power of networks, friendships, and collegiality. We can all watch out for each other. And if you ever need to be extracted, just whisper in my ear.