Life sucks when you’re held accountable…

Moving beyond the wank to actual intelligent discussion… or trying to!

You’re all probably as tired as I am with this whole topic. It broke with such a fervor but then the waters got muddied and nasty and everyone kind of wants it to go away. I get that and even agree to a certain extent as the level of discord and nasty behavior has reached disgusting proportions. It makes me question this genre and the people in it.

With that in mind I’ll be as brief as possible (ok I tried but this was hella long, sorry).

When this whole scandal first broke, I was definitely a part of it. I don’t deny it and furthermore have taken responsibility for my part all over. I’ve written numerous posts lately that I never actually published because it seemed someone was always beating me to the punch.

I try very hard not to beat a dead horse so I supported those other posts, spoke my mind often, and let that be my “piece.” I never apologized for being a part of this scandal nor will I. I did what I thought was right and furthermore, I did what I thought was honest. I believe that if everyone’s going to whisper about it – say it outright, come clean, and stand up for the accusations or behavior you’re calling out.

I get that not everyone is the same way, nor should they be. It’s also hard when telling the truth is often going to hurt someone. You have to weigh your truth against someone else’s hurt. Then factor in your own pain because when you hurt someone, even in pursuit of doing the right thing, they are going to hurt you back. It’s because of this and this alone that I’m sorry people got hurt and that the issue became so convoluted and nasty. I am sorry that innocent people got caught up in this and ended up feeling insulted or marginalized.

What I’m not sorry for is helping to expose this because the heart of the matter is very, very important in this genre. It’s not about gender and it’s never been about gender, of any kind. It’s not about outing someone’s sexuality or their self identity. It’s about exposing lies and bullying behavior. There are numerous, extremely eloquent and intelligent posts about why this isn’t a gender issue but still an issue and I encourage you to take the time to read them:

  1. http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/705444-author-s-gender-does-it-matter?page=1#comment_39677307
  2. http://www.womanist-musings.com/2011/11/there-is-no-excuse-for-glbt-or-cultural.html
  3. http://krisngoodbooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/well-what-to-do-then.html
  4. http://logophilos.net/blog/index.php/2011/11/why-i-hate-fakers/
  5. http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/tuesday-midday-news-aj-llewellyn-admits-adopting-male-persona-despite-being-female
  6. http://www.sparkindarkness.com/2011/11/on-using-marginalised-psuedonym.html
  7. http://www.reviewsbyjessewave.com/2011/11/11/faking-it/

What I want to address are a number of erroneous arguments used, why this issue is important to our community and where we can go from here.

The first point I want to talk about is one that is so hypocritical within our community. One of the most oft used arguments is that only the writing and the craft matter. 

This is so blatantly untrue that it’s almost sad to see it continue to be used.  In fact the most hypocritical statement I saw was from someone that posted “only the writing matters, I love you anyway but I’m sure as hell not going to read or buy anything of that bitch who attacked you.”

Oh so only the writing matters when you’re trying to support an author but it’s ok to boycott an author for expressing an opinion opposite of yours. This statement typifies exactly why behavior DOES matter. Why what an author writes in their bio, their blog, their twitter, facebook, etc does matter. If the writing was the ONLY thing that mattered then why do authors cultivate such an extensive and more so, careful, online presence? Authors are told constantly by everyone from publishers, editors, and other authors down to readers, reviewers, and random people on the street to never comment on a bad review, never get involved in political discussions or online drama.

They’re not told this so they can focus on their writing. This is a long held rule because an author’s online behavior matters. It matters to readers who stop reading authors due to their behavior. Call out a reviewer for being snarky and the author potentially stands to lose readers. Say you’re a supporter of a certain political party and you potentially alienate readers. This extends so much that authors are pretty much hog tied to do or say anything that doesn’t relate directly to book promotion or the occasionally funny life twitter. Be funny, personable, and informative without giving too many details. This is what author’s are told because their behavior and their words, OUTSIDE of the fiction they create, matters. Trying to pretend otherwise is simply foolish and disingenuous. When someone perpetrates a long time lie that goes to pretty extreme lengths, this matters as it always has for readers.

The second is that this community shouldn’t care what people say online because it’s online and you have to assume everyone lies so it doesn’t matter.

Um, excuse me but that’s probably the worst defense of bad behavior I’ve ever heard. This community is very small and it’s intimate and frankly, the genre celebrates that fact (even as it bemoans it often). In fact the authors and readers support the close connection between the two so much they had an entire retreat just so the two groups could hang out and talk on a more personal level. If ONLY the writing mattered or it didn’t matter if people lied, then these types of retreats would be ghost towns and worthless.

Personal interactions online matter and furthermore their truthfulness matters. Imagine meeting an author you admire and respect, getting their autograph, shaking their hand, and basically getting the opportunity to tell the author how much their book or blog or twitter mean to you. This may be something the author gets all the time but it’s special to you. Perhaps it’s even special to the author, or so we can hope *g*. Then imagine getting told that wasn’t actually the author. Oops, no harm done.

Friendships and relationships are formed online and many, many people choose to trust those interactions. Hell I went to New Orleans to stay with 6 strangers I’d only met online. I met 6 incredible, wonderful women but for all I knew I’d never make it back – though I did send a thorough email with all possible aliases and information to my mom should I not make it back… that’s just smart. I choose not to question the truths of authors and people I meet online. I’m not naïve but I choose to believe in people until I get evidence that I can’t. I want to participate and enjoy this genre and community, not stay on guard for the next lie. I don’t want to be cynical and angry so I choose not to be.

As a community, each one can choose to be cynical and expect everything is a lie or actually try to contribute in a positive way. It’s important to identify those elements that hurt the community, to expose the lies that tear apart people’s trust and move on. We don’t need to vilify either side but we also shouldn’t pretend this isn’t important. It impacts us as a community so hopefully when this happens again (because it always does) we can have thoughtful, intelligent discussion that strengthens our community and genre instead of tearing it down. People on BOTH sides of an argument have a right to their opinions without being ridiculed, demeaned, dismissed or ignored.


18 responses to “Life sucks when you’re held accountable…

  • vjsummersandsmut

    I, too, have followed this “conversation” with a great deal of interest – for a couple of reasons. First: I write using a pseudonym. My day job would be history if my RL identity got out, and since I don’t want my cats to starve to death, I keep on the D-L. My partner when I write as “Violet” is “out and proud”. Hell, she pimps our stuff at her kid’s PTSA meetings! I *wish* I could do that. So, pseudonym aside, I’ve NEVER misrepresented who, what, where or how I am. I’m a snarky, insecure, FEMALE bitch. Love me or hate me. There’s a difference between protecting your private life and family and deliberately and directly lying. And writing advice and autobiographical NONFICTION in a FICTIONAL persona.

    Ethics, anyone?

    Because that’s my second beef: Honesty. Hide your name. Hide your gender. Dodge questions with my blessing. But if you’re going to answer them, answer them truthfully. If you don’t want to reveal your gender, don’t cultivate an online presence in which your gender is integral. Don’t write about your life as a gay man if you aren’t one. It demeans you, the readers who feel a connection to you, the people who are buying your books and supporting your lifestyle and in my opinion, it demeans those gay men who have fought to live beyond stereotypes and have fought every damned day for the rights and privileges that this woman can take for granted.

    Hypocrisy, anyone?

    This is my third and, for the moment, final beef. One reason I’ve been so interested in following this saga is that the author in question called me a homophobic bigot. Yes, I carry a grudge. I love m/m fiction. I *write* m/m fiction. I lobby for equal rights under the law, and am sickened at the double, triple and quadruple standards I see imposed on my gay friends. I work in an inner-city public educational job field. I am routinely the only white person in the room (not that this other author would know it – for all she knows I’m a gorgeous, black-velvet African American woman). While I often hate the hell out of my job, I love the hell out of my co-workers – the majority of whom are different colors than I am. So, you call me a homophobic bigot while you are hiring a man to pose as you at book signings and in numerous photos on your web page and in various interviews. Really? Because that’s the height of hypocrisy to me.

    Kassa, like you I’ve avoided blogging about this (aside from “outing myself as a bitchy female” on my blog, which doesn’t count because only three people follow it, lol). I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist airing my personal resentment, and didn’t want to lower myself to the level of slinging pig-shit. I hope I managed to at least stay at the level of primate feces, since my unwritten blog post appears to have written itself here…

    Anyway, thank you for being forthright, open and honest. I wish everyone was that brave.

    XO

    • Kassa

      Very eloquent reply and I totally agree. I think you got to the heart of the matter in fewer words than many who have tried. While I agree on your first two points, extensively, and have said such many times its always gratifying to hear others summarize the issues so well.

      What means to the most to me personally is point 3. This has happened to more than just you and the fact that this author throws stones at others with immunity it simply galling. This author can go around lying, bullying, and generally exhibiting horrific behavior but is suddenly above the consequences of such behavior? I think people on both sides have made enormous and wrong assumptions but you’ve really hit the heart of the matter. In the guise of a fictional identity, this author did some horrible things. They should be accountable and we as a community should be allowed to talk about it. IMO.

  • Tam

    Hmm. Maybe I should have left that comprehensive list when I came to NOLA. LOL But I’d already met Kris and Tracy and Chris and bunked with them in SF so I figured they’d back me up if you were a serial killer. :-)

    I tend to be trusting as well of on-line people to a point. I’m a little cautious when I first “meet” someone on-line, but by interacting over a variety of mechanisms (blogs, twitter, FB, etc.) you start to get a good picture of that person and their trustworthiness. I don’t necessarily assume people are lying off the bat, but I don’t invest too much of myself too quickly until trust is built. It’s sad that some people will automatically assume the worst about on-line people now, because I think most people are pretty truthful, as much as they can be given personal circumstances. I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.

    An no, it’s not just the writing. Behaviour counts, like it or not. It counts for anyone trying to sell a product. It counts for little authors with only one book and it counts for big corporations like Walmart. People buy, or don’t buy, their goods based on their behaviour and whether we perceive it as good or bad given our own personal values.

    • Kassa

      Well you already had protection. I was pretty sure I’d be ok but yanno, a backup plan that initiates unless I check in every 10 minutes with a revolving password is just good sense. Everyone does it.

      I think you hit the nail there. Perception matters. In fact AJ even said that they were cultivating a male persona initially to sell books. Perhaps that was the “norm” when this person started but it hasn’t been for some time. Either way this is a cultivated lie for money. To sell a product and giving an image that helps sell that product.

      I think trust online is fluid and very tentative. Some trust easy, some never trust but the majority of people will believe what others say. That doesn’t mean the majority of people online are idiots. It’s just that online has evolved from a hotbed of lying to a legitimate resource for friendships, relationships, advice, etc. Yes there will always be liars but this isn’t the same atmosphere where 99.99% of everyone were liars.

  • Chris

    You are so eloquent! And you definitely have a gift for putting things into perspective.

    It actually took me a while to read your post, because it started to remind me of my MS thesis, so I ended up going back to read part of that. My thesis (from 2001, so somewhat dated) was about how people construct ethos online – how they establish their character, then establish that character as credible to others. And also about how people determine that others are credible through online interactions…

  • Josephine Myles

    Well said, Kassa. Authors do have to be careful how they interact if they don’t want to damage their careers, and I’m sure that’s why most of us have refrained from publically commenting on this issue.

    The more I learn about the history behind this, the more I understand about the urge you have all had to reveal the truth. It’s a shame those issues ended up being buried in the ensuing melee…

    So, you’re right. It makes no difference to me if the person writing is male or female, and whether or not they’re telling the truth about that in their bio. However, if someone is engaging in online bullying of reviewers and other authors, I can’t possibly condone it. I don’t really think gender is at the crux of this either.

    • Ann Somerville

      “I’m sure that’s why most of us have refrained from publically commenting on this issue.”

      As someone who’s broken the accepted rules about this since forever, I’m aware that life would be so much easier and more profitable if I’d done as the rest of you had from the start of what I laughingly call a career.

      But…as Thomas Jefferson said “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” That’s as true for bullies in a small community as it is for governments and wider society.

      If we, as authors, don’t speak out against authors who bully, who deceive, who behave unethically, then we’re throwing an unfair burden onto our readers – who we expect to love our books and like us – to be the bad guys every time. Being the messenger in these situations sucks – oh boy does it suck – and as Kris has found, I have found, and others have found this time as every other time, you get a lot of abuse and hate for doing it. Yet *someone* has to do it, if bullies and liars and cheats are to be rooted out and stopped.

      I don’t believe readers should have to do this alone without the support of authors. We depend on readers – so why don’t we have their backs?

      So I don’t think I’m going to be staying silent in future either. I no longer care about my career, so that frees me up. But if more of you more successful and popular authors spoke up, each and every time, no one would have to pay any particular price for it. It’s because it’s the exception, not the rule, that the bullies and their enablers can so easily pick off those who put their heads above the parapets.

      • Kassa

        Support goes both ways. Authors expect and want reader support (which is naturally and honestly I think a good idea) but then when this comes out readers are told they deserve nothing and should expect nothing.

        Sadly what this does is perpetuate that authors and readers are two separate entities that should have nothing to do with each other. This way whatever drama happens amongst readers is amongst them and what happens amongst authors is between them. So readers never have to hear about publisher bad behavior and authors never have to worry about reader backlash.

        That way neither side can care or worry about the other and the focus can truly, totally, and fully be ONLY on the writing.

        That is what this kind of response (not here but in general around) is lobbying for, they just don’t know it.

      • Josephine Myles

        The difficulty with this, though, Ann, is who should be exposing the bullying? I’ve never interacted with AJ online, so I don’t have any first hand experience of bullying. I’m not willing to condemn someone on hearsay, no matter how reliable and honest I might believe those informers to be.

        If someone attempted to bully me online, I’d be most likely to tell them to back off in private. If that didn’t solve the problem then I’d consider reporting them to their publisher, complete with evidence. Only if the publisher took no action would I ever consider making their behaviour public knowledge. This seems like the right way to handle things. I’d rather try and solve a problem behind the scenes than drag someone’s name through the mud.

        Perhaps you can afford to be fearless in these matters. I can’t. I’m relying on my writing income to be putting food on the table and clothes on my daughter’s back. I can’t afford to have publishers label me as a rabble-rouser and someone they don’t want to deal with.

        • Ann Somerville

          “I’m relying on my writing income to be putting food on the table and clothes on my daughter’s back. ”

          I sympathise. I’m lucky enough not to *need* my writing income, though it does allow me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to avoid. Full time writers are rare. I can’t think of any that don’t have a day job as I do.

          “I can’t afford to have publishers label me as a rabble-rouser and someone they don’t want to deal with.”

          I accept that this would be a bad thing, and given your situation, I understand your reticence. But on the other hand, authors like Courtney Milan and Stacia Kane regularly weigh on serious issues without backlash from their publishers. In the m/m genre, there are a number of authors who have loudly taken what I would consider ill-advised stands on highly contentious issues, and not a single one of them has been dropped by their publisher.

          You write for Samhain. Samhain didn’t drop *me* and I’m the mouthiest author in anyone’s stable.

          Besides, there’s a difference between what Kassa calls ‘my tone’ and making a calm, considered statement in support of honesty and ethical behaviour. It would be nice to have seen a few more M/M writers publicly state on their own blogs that what Llewellyn did was wrong. The silence – where it hasn’t been replaced by accusations of witchhunts and panty sniffing – has been really rather unedifying.

          As I said in my first comment, the more it becomes usual for authors to take a stand – politely and calmly – against unethical behaviour, the less likely it is for any one author to pay a price for it. As it is now, authors only speak up when they perceive their own self-interest to be affected, and that reinforces the impression that readers aren’t actually of any importance to them.

    • Kassa

      Unfortunately gender has been used as a scapegoat for bad behavior. This also has been used as a scapegoat for any discussion. Suddenly disagreeing with someone is now bullying them. Sure sometimes strong language is being used but let’s differentiate strong language and bullying. They’re not the same thing. If someone is intentionally trying to intimidate, then ok. But unfortunately now there are all kinds of claims being made about bullying, bad behavior, witch hunts, and so on. What is the truth anymore?

      This is the most tragic part about all of this. That this came to light specifically due to the behavior of ONE person and that behavior, and that behavior alone, was exposed. Now it’s become a larger issue with the words “transphobia” being thrown around. I think people need to step back and really think. The author in question actually never self identified as trans at all. So everyone needs to stop labeling and using this person either as a martyr or a villian. They’re neither. They may be a liar and a hypocrite but that’s not a villian, merely a bad person.

      We need to stop the emotion, esculation, and furthermore assumptions so the real purpose of all of this can be dealt with and hopefully learned from.

  • Ann Somerville

    Excellent post, Kassa, and I agree with every word of it.

  • Lyn Gala

    I was browsing and found this. I started on one side of the fence (hey, everyone has a right to their own secrets) and then I got more uncomfortable the more I read. When someone starts telling “stories” of their life and pretending to go through discrimination, that’s hard for me. I am closeted because of my work. I do struggling with a homophobic work environment. I had to struggle with coming out, which confused my mother more than anything. But these are/were fearful, hard experiences in my life, and I know that as a gay woman, I haven’t suffered one-third of what gay men go through. To have someone lay claim to those experiences is hard for me to take… but then I wonder how much his/her sexuality and a lack of comfort with it played into it, and at that point, my brain shorted out and I just backed out of the whole mess. I don’t have answers, but I do respect the hell out of you for speaking your mind and standing up for what you believe.

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