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The Dos And Don’ts Of Pseudonyms And Author Personas

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There is a story that has been developing rapidly in the romance world, about author Santino Hassell. Hassell has been accused of conspiring to hide their true identity and using their false persona to gaslight and catfish readers. People began to investigate the author’s personal life and background and making various information public, resulting in initial defenses of Hassell’s privacy. As more details have come to light, one publisher has canceled the author’s contracts after the allegations gained traction. This story is still unfolding, so I’m not going to try to explain everything going on. But I am going to write about some aspects of it in a post that has been a long time coming. Because Hassell isn’t the first to do this, and definitely won’t be the last.

Many of the repeat questions I get in the Big Damn Writers’ Question Box are about pseudonyms. Why do you need one, how do you pick one, how do you hide your tracks if you need to? It has never occurred to me to ask the question, “Where is the line with regards to an author persona, and a pseudonym?” So, I’m going to go ahead and lay out what should be common sense when building your author brand. Not all of these apply to the Hassell situation, and not all of these have happened within the romance genre, but they are things people have done and will probably continue to do until we as consumers and professionals make it clear that there is no room for this kind of behavior.

 

The Dos And Don’ts Of Pseudonyms:

Do: Use a pseudonym to protect your identity if you’re more comfortable doing so. If you don’t want your family or employer to find out about your writing career, a pseudonym is a perfectly ethical way to maintain your privacy.

Don’t: Use a pseudonym that will mislead publishers and readers into believing you’re a member of a marginalized group. For example, Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski fostering his early career under the name Akira Yoshida despite not…being…Japanese. Cebulski’s work as Yoshida leaned heavily on Japanese themes and style, leading many readers to believe they were supporting a Japanese writer and not, you know. A white guy hiding, branding himself as a Japanese man.

Exception: Many writers of color who find that their names are “too ethnic” use pseudonyms that sound “white”. Many women write in male-dominated genres under initials or with male-sounding pen names. This is not a case of appropriation, but a means of protective camouflage to help an author succeed in a sexist, racist industry. Cebulski could choose to be Akira Yoshida because he could become a white man again when an opportunity for advancement presented itself. Meanwhile, a Japanese author might find themselves forced to use a “whiter” sounding name to open those doors already flung wide for a white man like Cebulski. In a society where Cebulski can afford to be Yoshida but a Japanese person cannot, there is no equivalency between privileged writers hiding their privilege and marginalized authors hiding their marginalizations.

 

Do: Chose select details about your life to share with your readership on social media, within your own comfort zone. Maybe you don’t want to mention that you’re a teacher, but you have no qualms about publicizing your passion for building ships in bottles. It’s up to you what to reveal or not reveal about your private life.

Don’t: Fabricate details about your life to share with your readership on social media as a means of creating a “brand.” I knew an author once who talked about her cats nonstop on social media, even posting pictures of them. Then an author friend visited this person’s home and found no cats at all. No hair or scratches on the furniture, no food or water dishes, no litter boxes, no cats. Even though lying about having cats is harmless in comparison to, say, lying about being Japanese or having cancer, it’s still a lie. And it’s really creepy. It’s one thing to say, “I really love cats.” It’s another to make up imaginary cats and post status updates and pictures about them.

Exception: Some authors adopt personas which are clearly not based in fact. For example, Chuck Tingle, who writes parodies of M/M romances, is clearly not a widowed man whose ghostly wife torments him from beyond the frozen lake where she drowned. And Lemony Snicket is, unfortunately, not a shadowy figure investigating the many maudlin tragedies of a family of orphaned children, but is, in fact, a racist and serial sexual harasser. Both of these personas are clearly affectations to set a tone for the reader and are employed as such. Daniel Holder doesn’t deny being the man behind Snicket, and Tingle has built such an outlandish and muddled backstory for himself that he simply can’t be assumed to be real by any reasonable person.

 

Do: Feel free to use your author platform to speak about issues you are passionate about, even if you’re using a pseudonym.

Don’t: Use your pseudonym to Dolezal your way into conversations you don’t belong in. Whoever Hassell was not only presented themselves as a bisexual man within the book community, but they also gave interviews, quotes, and even wrote articles about living as a bisexual man. New details are emerging by the hour, so I’ll shift back over to C. B. Cebulski. If Cebulski had given interviews or written articles as Akira Yoshida, claiming to be a Japanese man and offering the perspective of a Japanese man on issues that affect Japanese people, it would have been a reprehensible action. It should go without saying that if you’re not a member of a marginalized group, be honest about it. You can be passionate about the rights of marginalized people. You can’t pretend to be a marginalized person.

Exception: I’m not talking here about being closeted in some way and wanting to speak your truth without revealing yourself. That’s a tricky area that a lot of us navigate constantly. But we need to be careful that when we do that, we’re not adopting a persona that harms other people. As a bisexual woman, it wouldn’t be okay for me to present myself as a bisexual man, write nonfiction articles about being a bisexual man, give interviews about what it’s like to be a bisexual man because I’m not a bisexual man and all genders experience prejudice and biphobia differently. It would be okay for me to be Erin Stevens, bisexual woman. It would not be okay for me to be Aaron Stevens, bisexual man.

 

Do: Be transparent about your pseudonym or author persona with readers, authors, and publishers you befriend in real life. That doesn’t mean you have to reveal your real name to them, but they should know what is and isn’t real about you.

Don’t: Maintain your author persona in private conversations where people are revealing real life, personal details to you. Be honest that you can’t reciprocate on that level. Saying, “Oh, I write under a pseudonym to protect my job,” isn’t something an author or a reader or a publisher is going to look askance at, and people learn to form personal relationships within boundaries all the time. Bonding with someone over your difficult childhoods while they think you’re their good friend Leslie from Pawnee but you’re really Derek in Cincinnati (who had a lovely childhood, thanks for asking) is dishonest, creepy gaslighting. You’re presenting a false reality that will cause irreversible psychological damage should that illusion shatter. Hassell engaged in this type of manipulation more than once with their readers. Another particularly terrible author I knew was outspokenly anti-LGBTQA+ in her private life (up to and including suggesting conversion attempts on a mutual friend’s sister, attending a church that preached anti-gay rhetoric, and voting for politicians who supported anti-gay legislation), but who had no qualms about writing as a M/M author, attending LGBTQA+ literature conferences, and befriending queer authors and readers under the guise of being an ally. These people trusted her when she was actually a threat to and actively working against their rights and safety.

 

Do: Ask for help from readers and friends should financial or personal catastrophe occur. If I found out tomorrow that I donated to an author’s GoFundMe for their cancer treatment but I didn’t realize they were using a pseudonym, I probably wouldn’t care. They still have cancer. Likewise, when a popular blogger who received financial support during a lawsuit was revealed to be a bestselling author, some of us weren’t angry that we’d made donations to her fund. The woman was still being sued, and the lawsuit still affected the romance community at large (although it should be noted that she also catfished some readers).

Don’t: Falsify a financial or personal catastrophe as part of your author persona to bolster sales or solicit donations. This is another big issue in the current revelations about Hassell, who claimed to be a single father struggling to pay for cancer treatments. Readers not only supported Hassell by buying books and encouraging others to do so, but they sent direct financial donations, which the person or people behind the Hassell identity accepted. Now, someone behind this persona has made a statement to say that they did, indeed, have medical bills, but they did not confirm that they had cancer. Cancer survivors especially are saying they feel cheated and manipulated.

 

Do: Form friendships with readers, if you want to! In this day and age, it’s not unusual to have online friends and not know their legal names. I was friends with one author for years before I found out that he was writing under a pseudonym. He didn’t hide it, he just thought I knew. But I don’t need to know his real name. I’m not buying him a plane ticket, and he’s not lying about his life. He just can’t have his employer knowing what he writes.

Don’t: Form friendships with readers under a false persona in order to research your books. Another accusation against Hassell is that the person or people behind the persona used the Hassell character to court long-distance friendships and even romantic relationships with readers, then later used private information about these readers’ pasts and sex lives in Santino Hassell novels.

Do I really need to elaborate on that one? These people are psychologically wounded now because someone used their personal struggles and experiences for financial gain.

 

There’s a lot more tied up in this debacle and I’d wager more will be forthcoming. But as the several examples here show (as well as prior controversies that I didn’t touch on), this isn’t a new phenomenon. Yet when another of these situations arise, the conversation will once again prioritize author privacy over the safety of readers and authors. Hopefully, this has been a helpful primer on how you, too, can maintain your privacy as an author without causing massive amounts of psychological damage on the people around you.

Unless you just don’t give a shit. Which is probably what’s happening in every single one of these incidents. Because people are gross.

86 Comments

  1. Siobhan
    Siobhan

    Could you point us to some text about this? I just googled “Santino Hassell” “Santino Hassell controversy” “Santino Hassell allegations”, checked also under news only, and I am not finding anything on this. I don’t have safe search on. Is there somewhere consistently reporting about it, or is it all on twitter?

    March 9, 2018
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  2. I would say this whole drama has lowered my faith in humanity but I’d seen it before and my faith was already low. It had left me again very genre wary

    March 9, 2018
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  3. “Form friendships with readers under a false persona in order to research your books. Another accusation against Hassell is that the person or people behind the persona used the Hassell character to court long-distance friendships and even romantic relationships with readers, then later used private information about these readers’ pasts and sex lives in Santino Hassell novels.”

    This is a don’t in the post, but I’m wondering: writers do this constantly, pseudonyms or no. I find it to be at best in bad taste, and at worst the mark of a shitty human being, but a lot of people take “write what you know” super-literally. So where is your line on this in general? I consider it to be something you shouldn’t do, but I know I’m in the minority on that point.

    March 9, 2018
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    • My firm belief is ASK PERMISSION. Someone tells you a funny story, you laugh, and then you ask “may I have your permission to include that in a future story? Names and places changed to protect the guilty, of course!”

      And if they say they’d rather you didn’t, RESPECT THAT.

      March 9, 2018
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    • Sara L.
      Sara L.

      I have a friend who shared intimate details of her life while spending time with a very well respected author, later read the author’s newest novel, and found a character, named similarly, with those exact same details. And those details were extremely specific. She felt completely violated, and hasn’t read any book since. I think, at the very least, this author should have asked permission, as you say. Can you imagine coming across a description of your own life while reading a novel anyone could buy in a bookstore? And to do that unawares? Horrifying.

      March 9, 2018
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      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        Pretty much what Jay McInerney did to Rielle Hunter with “Story of My Life.” That unfortunate woman seems to gravitate to superficially charming, exploitive men who remind her of her father. She later got involved with Seen. John Edwards.

        March 9, 2018
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        • Sara L.
          Sara L.

          This wasn’t a romantic situation, though, they were only casual acquaintances for one summer. Not that a romantic situation would excuse it, of course! I just think the idea that you could be out for drinks with some new friends, talk a little too freely, and wind up reading about yourself in a newstand bestseller a horrifying prospect. Don’t do that, people!

          March 9, 2018
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      • I got into an unfortunate romantic entanglement with a prof at my MFA program, and –years later–when I flipped open one of his books at Barnes&Noble, discovered a “stolen” scene of an intimate exchange we had. It sucks, but…whatever. Dodged a bullet, there! Also, I’m guilty of using lines I’ve heard people say which I found funny, so who am I to be pissy? *grumble, grumble, being pissy*

        March 9, 2018
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        • Dove
          Dove

          I think that’s the kicker, the intimacy of the discussion. A great off-the-cuff joke is one thing, something that would make juicy gossip is another, so you have a right to be pissy if you’ve never delved too deep.

          March 10, 2018
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        • (Different) Rebecca
          (Different) Rebecca

          You deserve to be able to be pissy. That is a monumental breach of trust, and of the ethics of his position.

          March 11, 2018
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    • Willow
      Willow

      Here’s my take on this. I think it depends on how much the fiction resembles reality. It’s fine to take details, turns of phrase, incidents etc as inspiration when creating your own characters and story. It’s another thing to lift entire conversations or personalities. If anyone who reads the book and knows the person it’s based on would recognize it, that’s too far. Or if you’re using information that was told to you in confidence or that is very personal. When in doubt, ask permission.

      March 12, 2018
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  4. Shutupshabby
    Shutupshabby

    Ive found no formalised articles with specific details but have found myself engrosed in Goodreads and Twitter reading this madness for far more hours than I should’ve. An author I adore who over the years has become a friend goes by a pseudonym. I do know her real name but she chose that pseudonym for a reason and im happy to support that so ill continue to call her that publicly.

    March 9, 2018
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  5. About a year ago I saw a post on Twitter from Santino which had a potato quality photo attached. In the post Santino was deriding the fact that so many of his followers/readers demanded to know what he looked like. So he, as one does, provided one of those sketchy “glimpse of bigfoot in the trees” shots where most his face was hidden. That waived big, red flags for me. Why post potato quality photo and then whine about your privacy? It got my spidey-sense tingling so I checked his twitter feed once in a while. I honestly thought he was pulling some Joaquin Phoenix “Performance art” scam. I didn’t buy his books or send him gifts or money despite Santino’s whole cancer schtick. I’m not cold-hearted, I flat out did not believe him. Something was “off” with this guy. Watched it all come crashing down this week. Wow, that ended worse than I thought it would.

    March 9, 2018
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    • Dove
      Dove

      I’m surprised they didn’t just steal a photo off the internet and use that, which bots do freely, but I guess they were worried that if they took anything too easy to find that people would realize it was a fake. You were right to mistrust the bigfoot though.

      March 10, 2018
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  6. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    Speaking of fraud, Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli, known mostly for jacking up the price of HIV meds 5000%, buying a Wu Tang Clan album for millions of dollars so no one else could get an exact copy, and having a smirk that complete strangers long to punch, has also allegedly made personal remarks to gay potential investors, apparently under the impression that this would make him seem sympathetic.
    ****************
    From the Daily Mail:
    Among the investors involved in the criminal case against him is ​63-year-old Steven Richardson who poured $400,000 into the fund in 2009 and 2010.

    Richardson, a retired American Express executive who later became a Retrophin chairman, testified last year that during the course of their business relationship, Shkreli made comments about having sex with male colleagues and waiters in restaurants they visited.

    ‘I was gay and had a partner, and he was starting to say certain things of a gay nature that worried me a bit.

    ‘I thought maybe he was saying things to me because he thought I would want to hear them.

    ‘They just felt a bit uncomfortable to me.

    ‘He was saying things to me, like, “Maybe I’ll have sex with a guy in the office,” or we’d be at a restaurant and there’d be a waiter and he’d say​,​ “Maybe I should hook up with him.”‘

    ***************

    On the bright side, Shkreli’s also been sentenced to 7 years for fraud. Financial fraud only, AFAIK, I don’t know how the faking gay routine will go over in the Big House.

    March 9, 2018
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  7. 10 bonus points for the use of Dolezal as a verb.

    I use a pseudonym for two reasons. First, to separate my academic- and fiction-writing selves. Second, because I’ve been stalked before after participating in a writing forum, and it sucks. So for the sake of self-protection, I will sometimes conflate or flip personal info: for example, I won’t lie about where I’ve lived, or claim I lived someplace I never have, but I won’t give you dates or may change up the order of cities. I even tried to create an author-persona that was distinctly different to me IRL, but I guess I can’t hide my light under a bushel or something.

    So my point is, I cut authors/online personalities some slack about saying they did an undergrad degree at X school when they really did a master’s program, or that they have a dog named Pixie when his real name is Jones. But if the information is misleading in a way that gives false credit/accomplishments — like degrees you don’t have, saying you live someplace you don’t, claiming a specific identity (ahem*”gypsy”*) or ability/disability — that’s a problem. There was actually a woman in a group I used to belong to who we found out had fabricated everything: her name, her husband’s name, her “heritage,” her childhood and family situation, shaved 10 years off her age, beefing up friends’ activities, and presented herself as an accomplished musician and actress, when she just insignificantly dabbled in a little of it as a hobby. But the issue was when she started to try to raise money with donations for her (we’ll call it) “spiritual retreat,” much like the situations outlined in Jenny’s post. That crossed a real ethical line: using your misrepresentation for solicitation of money for personal reasons.

    Privacy is one thing. When you turn yourself into your own Mary Sue, that’s a problem.

    March 9, 2018
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  8. I’m a latecomer to the Hassell story, so thanks for breaking it down. And your use of “Dolezal” as a verb was brilliant. I just read that Netflix is doing a documentary about her for some ridiculous reason.

    March 9, 2018
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  9. Amy
    Amy

    I have a reader who’s been following my stuff for years. They comment on nearly everything I’ve ever written, and we have great conversations. But beyond what we say in the comments, we don’t email each other, we don’t follow each other on social media, and just recently I learned they’re married and have kids. Considering how LONG this person has been following me, I was super surprised by this, but I understood that it’s none of my business how much they reveal their real life to me.

    March 9, 2018
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  10. Sigyn Wisch
    Sigyn Wisch

    Thank you for clarifying the line / putting the thing into words. I think this is very important and had also had questions about this.

    March 9, 2018
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  11. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    Didn’t they have an episode like this on SVU?

    March 9, 2018
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  12. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    Oh gosh, it’s serendipity or a syzygy or both. Because I had never heard of Chuck Tingle, so I did some searching, and among his many classic titles, I found “Pharma Bro Pounded in the Butt by T-Rex Comedian Bill Murky and a Clan of Triceratops Rappers Trying to Get Their Album Back.”

    What are the chances?

    March 9, 2018
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    • Tez Miller
      Tez Miller

      Thank you for reminding me to check the latest Chuck Tingle titles. I’ve never read the books, but love reading the titles 😉

      March 10, 2018
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      • Kerry
        Kerry

        There’s a new podcast by the Welcome To Nightvale team—Pounded in the Butt by My Own Podcast, featuring performers reading Timgle’s stories.

        March 14, 2018
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  13. Hmmm…

    “Vivacia K. Ahwen” is not only my pen name, she’s a personality I do on my blog and on Twitter. The voice is completely “Gossip Girl” or “A.” At random events (and, weirdly enough, a doctor’s appointment) I’ve met a few people who read VKA, and didn’t know we shared the same meat suit until I pulled off my Clark Kent glasses and said, “Yep!” Frankly, I think it’s a lot of fun. The only things VKA and Rachel Robbins have in common is our sometimes over-the-top left-leaning politics and that we both write stories. (I don’t apologize for either of us.) I don’t share information about my family, primary relationship, friends, spirituality, sexuality, etc. under my pen name. Actually, far as social media goes, I don’t share much of that stuff under Rachel Robbins, either. My point –and there is one– I think personas are a great way to go, especially if you write ER.

    How much should the author’s “real life” and her/his writing persona have to connect?

    Also, I am troubled by issues such as that semi-recent one when an author felt pressured to come out as queer on SM in order to defend her novel…which apparently was off-putting to some people in the LBGTQ+ community who were angry about a straight lady writing about bisexuality. Writers shouldn’t have to do that. Does anyone remember this? I think it was a YA novel, maybe a year or two ago.

    But the story stuck with me. I’ve been asked multiple times about how much of the sex in my books are my Thing (who cares?) I wonder if the whole idea of the public “owning” the writers/actors/musicians lives, both public and private is all due to social media?

    This is an interesting thread.

    Perhaps I should click on some of these links before going further, so I know which writer we’re talking about.

    March 9, 2018
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    • Dove
      Dove

      who were angry about a straight lady writing about bisexuality.

      Why were they that angry? I’m bisexual but I’m mostly on the straight end of the spectrum so I could easily pass for straight if I wanted to. I would’ve assumed this person was like me but didn’t want to identify as bi. Was there something about how she wrote the bisexual character that was troubling?

      I wonder if the whole idea of the public “owning” the writers/actors/musicians lives, both public and private is all due to social media?

      I have no proof but I certainly think so. People can connect with their entertainment creators like never before and know all sorts of things about them without ever knowing them in person. Those who create are also consumed, in a way, and some fans feel that they have control or that they’re owed certain things.

      March 10, 2018
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      • Tez Miller
        Tez Miller

        Was there something about how she wrote the bisexual character that was troubling?

        Some felt that (because they didn’t know the author was bi) the summary reflected a stereotype that “lesbians haven’t met the right guy yet”. Once the author spoke out, everyone understood and moved on.

        March 10, 2018
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      A big difference I see between your persona and Santino Hassell’s person is that when someone does realize that it’s you, you don’t round up an army of bestselling authors to publically attack and defame the people who figured it out. You go, “HA HA, ‘Twas I all along!” And your persona doesn’t pretend to have cancer so people will hand you money.

      The YA I *think* you might be thinking of was Ramona Blue, but I don’t think Julie Murphy had to come out because of it. The issue was that back cover copy stated that the main character was a lesbian who fell for a guy, so a lot of readers who didn’t know that Julie was bisexual assumed it was a case of queer erasure when it was really a story about a character who doesn’t have a tidy label for her sexuality and she’s exploring that. The publisher redid the back cover copy and from what I understand, it’s a lovely book. But I don’t think Murphy had to come out as a result, she just had to re-state to people who were unfamiliar with her that she was, in fact, bisexual. Which is where I think we really fail on social media. There’s information that’s out there and that can be easily found if people slow down for two seconds, so those people who were mad about the book could have just googled “Julie Murphy Bisexual”, found the answer, and then it would have been a total non-issue.

      I don’t think it’s a problem of people feeling like they need to own authors, or authors feeling like they have to expose their entire lives in this case. This was clearly a couple who knew that male romance authors quickly become darlings, and Santino Hassell, the queer single dad who beat drugs and now has to fight cancer, was their marketing gimmick. I think after this we’re going to see a lot of readers no longer trusting the authors who divulge a lot of their personal lives, and that’s gonna be a bummer.

      March 10, 2018
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      • Dove
        Dove

        The YA I *think* you might be thinking of was Ramona Blue, but I don’t think Julie Murphy had to come out because of it. The issue was that back cover copy stated that the main character was a lesbian who fell for a guy, so a lot of readers who didn’t know that Julie was bisexual assumed it was a case of queer erasure when it was really a story about a character who doesn’t have a tidy label for her sexuality and she’s exploring that. The publisher redid the back cover copy and from what I understand, it’s a lovely book. But I don’t think Murphy had to come out as a result, she just had to re-state to people who were unfamiliar with her that she was, in fact, bisexual. Which is where I think we really fail on social media. There’s information that’s out there and that can be easily found if people slow down for two seconds, so those people who were mad about the book could have just googled “Julie Murphy Bisexual”, found the answer, and then it would have been a total non-issue.

        Oh, okay. That situation makes a lot more sense. I’m glad it worked out in the end if that is who was being referred to. 🙂

        March 10, 2018
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  14. Stina
    Stina

    Fun Fact: My bestie called me last night after I’d read this to tell me about it because apparently back in the day both she and Santino were active in the Gundam fandom when Santino was on LJ w/ the handle iammagnus (I could be remembering that wrong, but it was close to that.). She got into flame wars with Santino on more than one occasion until Santino ragequit by faking some drama. So she was like “omg I KNOW this chick and this is exactly what she’s done before like I am not AT ALL surprised”. She used to post Gundam fanfic that she’d ripped off, too, which was the root of the arguments.

    March 10, 2018
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  15. Anónimo
    Anónimo

    Hi Jenny, long time reader though Inseldom comment. I am going to say something that is probably not going to be well received , but I am fine with that. I think that referring to Handler as a “serial sexual harrasser” is ridiculous. As a victim of sexual assault and sexual harrassment I feel that while we should call out ALL problematic behaviors we should also be more careful with language. Daniel Handler made off-color jokes. Nothing less, nothing more. He should NOT have made them, specially in a profesional setting, but the way some people are reacting is a absurd. We should be able to tell the difference between an actual abuser of women and someone who users sexual humor at innapropiate times. Btw I don’t think Handler should ever make one of those jokes ever again, specially now that he knows how they made some people feel. But to casually refer to him as a “serial sexual harraser” is dishonest and callous. The man is a survivor of sexual violence for fuck’s sake. Yet we are fine painting with the same brush as actual predators instead of you know… stating clearly what he said and why that was wrong.
    I was sexually assaulted by someone I loved and trusted. I was made to feel unsafe in my own home. What Daniel Handler did was… make some stupid jokes. They were not okay, and he should apologize and change his behavior, but they are people out there calling for him to be excluded from certain conferences and comparing him to actual abusers. I mean… really?

    March 10, 2018
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    • Black Knight
      Black Knight

      Something like inappropriate sexual humor, especially when done repeatedly, meets the legal standard for sexual harassment, though. It creates a hostile work environment. (I’m a manager, so I’ve gone through training regularly on this.) As such, Jenny is correct in labeling him a serial sexual harasser. This wasn’t a one-time instance; he offended multiple times with multiple women.

      There’s also nothing unusual about conventions having a standard of behavior. If he cannot behave appropriately at conventions, and he has a long track record of not behaving appropriately, then he shouldn’t be present. It’s on him to prove himself, because his repeated offenses means he doesn’t get to have the benefit of the doubt extended him anymore.

      You might want to read the article Jenny linked to with her phrase of “serial sexual harasser” as it lays out the work environment aspect quite well. It also acknowledges that there is far worse behavior.

      Being a survivor of sexual violence is irrelevant in the context you bring it up in. Survivors of sexual violence can behave just as badly as anyone else.

      March 11, 2018
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      • Anónimo
        Anónimo

        I read the article. I also read the blog where he posted his apology, as well as the original posts by the women accusing him. And I agree with you that it meets the legal definition of sexual harrassment. I understand how those kinds of jokes make for a hostile work enviroment. In my first job I had to deal with a co-worker who thought it SUPER FUNNY to constantly ask me graphic questions regarding my sex life and my genitals, since she knew how uncomfortable I was discussing sexual matters. As a rule I don’t make those kinds of jokes. But she was obviously was doing it as anway to hummiliate me, and Im not sure that is what Handler was doing.

        I think that you are assuming a lot about his motives. You seem certain that they all come from a place of trying to undermine women. And while some of them could certainly be seen in that light, Im not sure you can come out and say that his jokes’ main purpose was as a way to exert power over others. One of the jokes they criticized him for was making a joke about having only one testicle, which he made in front of children. Is this part of the pattern you speak of?

        Yeah, I would not have made that joke, but… are we really gonna pretend he is what? A secret pedophile getting off on discussing his genitalia in front of children? Isnt it the more likely explanation that he just made a stupid joke in the style of toilet humor he thought some children might like?

        He also made a joke about how a convention was gonna turn into an orgy. A really juvenile, edgy joke. Again I joke I would not make myself… but I really don’t think he was secretly trying to undermine women or try to make them uncomfortable. He still made them uncomfortable, and he should apologize for that, but I think it hardly constitutes bullying, as I saw someone describe it. He joked by telling a woman she should make out with some guy. Completely innapropiate, but not an unforgivable crime that should have him branded forever or banished from conventions. I am not seeing this pattern.

        This reminds me of this ridiculous incident: https://jezebel.com/5991792/woman-in-tech-tweets-about-sexist-dudes-in-tech-dude-get-fired-internet-meltdown-ensues

        Two guys made a joke about big dongles. A woman heard them and claimed they were creating a hostile environment, everybody got fired. I mean… really?

        Legally speaking a man who urinates in public and gets caught and prosecuted can be clasified as a sex offender and be put in a list. Legally speaking speaking he qualifies as one. But I think we both know it would be pretty disingenuos to introduce him as “oh this is Larry, he is a sex offender”. Language is important, and Im pretty sure Jenny of all people (being a writer) knows this. So yes, I think that introducing Handler as a serial sexual harrasser is wrong. It is misleading. When I first read Jenny’s description I was horrified. I thought he had done something horrible, ruined women’s lives and abused his power and was prepared to abandon his books forever… and then it turned out he had made innapropiate jokes. I felt deceived.

        I think intent matters. And Im not going to brand someone forever as a predator or a serial abuser over something like this. Im sorry.

        March 11, 2018
        |Reply
        • Jenny Trout
          Jenny Trout

          You are the only person who has brought up pedophilia or any accusation that Handler is a pedophile. No one here has made that accusation. Don’t concoct accusations no one has made so you can defend him from them. I’ve called him a serial sexual harasser because that is how he has chosen to behave. The onus is not on us to ignore it to make you feel nice, just because that’s what you’ve chosen to do.

          You’ve also conveniently nominated yourself the final judge of what is and isn’t sexual harassment based on whether or not people are experiencing things that are “as bad” as what you went through. This is not the victim Olympics. I’m sorry for your experiences, but don’t come in here and swing your personal history like a club to discredit and silence people who’ve been wronged just because you admire this particular author.

          March 11, 2018
          |Reply
          • Anónimo
            Anónimo

            Perphaps I should have been clearer on what I meant by that. I didn’t mean to imply you were accusing him of pedophilia, clearly you are not. What I meant to illustrate was why we should not attribute to malice or ill-intent what can be more easily explained by stupidity. Just like someone could take these jokes from Handler to mean he secretly desires to undercut the women around him and purposely make them uncomfortable, one could also take his inappropriate jokes in front of schoolchildren and take them to mean he gets off on talking sexually in front of children. If one wants to see malice one can easily see it anywhere.

            I don’t think Im using my experiences as a club to silence anyone. Trust me if I thought I was competing in the victim olympics I would have mentioned much worse experiences. Nowhere did I say “oh please, I went through so much worse. You should toughen up”. I explicitly said that what he said legally constitutes sexual harassment. I said those women were made to feel uncomfortable, and he should be held to account for that. But I simply do not think that means we should now refer to him as “Daniel Handler, serial sexual harasser”.

            If you, Jenny Trout, urinated in public and were arrested and prosecuted, would it be okay for me to refer to you as “Jenny Trout, convicted sex offender”? No it would not. It would be misleading. Phrasing matters, and it is very easy to deceive while *technically* telling the truth.

            Im very disappointed in Handler’s behavior, I am not “ignoring it” as you said, but Im also not gonna pretend its something worse than it is. For example he made a pretty disgusting racist joke. Im not black, but I am a person of color and I was disgusted by it. But Im not going to start referring to him as “Daniel Handler, white supremacist”. Amy Schumer made a joke a few years back about latinxs beings rapists. It was disgusting. She has since apologized. But as a someone who is latinx I feel it would be unfair for me to refer to her from now on as “Amy Schumer, virulent racist bigot”. If we are willing to acknowledge the different degrees of severity when it comes to bad behavior (as the author of the article does) shouldn’t we also acknowledge there are different degrees of names we can use to describe those who engaged in that bad behavior?

            I don’t think people deserve to be tossed into the pit of hell, banished from conventions and branded forever as a result of a bad joke. I do think they should be taken to account if they step over the line, they should be called out and they should apologize to the people they have hurt and that is precisely what has happened in this case.

            March 11, 2018
        • Dove
          Dove

          When I first read Jenny’s description I was horrified. I thought he had done something horrible, ruined women’s lives and abused his power and was prepared to abandon his books forever… and then it turned out he had made innapropiate jokes. I felt deceived.

          I think intent matters. And Im not going to brand someone forever as a predator or a serial abuser over something like this. Im sorry.

          I know you’re not trying to, but it sounds like apologist behavior designed to pacify and distance. And I agree that language is important, but what would you call him? Workplace serial harasser?

          Also, how can you know his intentions for certain? Especially when this is all that is publically known. Can you be positive there isn’t more which simply hasn’t come to light yet? I think you’d be more upset if you talked yourself into believing his errors were ignorant privileged bravado, only to find out he actually has performed sexual assault… It’s also possible to rape someone with the vague intention of gaining implied consent. All it takes is blind ignorance and control of the situation, while the other person is afraid of saying no aloud. The lines can be muddied and a sexually abused person is still capable of abusing others. There are many potential situations and gender can change many of the circumstances.

          And… well. Predators are wicked, most of them never find a change of heart, but they’re human and it’s not impossible for them to change. Even white supremacists can change if they remove their hatred, repent their mistakes, and stop blaming other people for what’s wrong in their lives. And then they also lose the label or get “former” attached to it. So, I wouldn’t fear the label, but I’d pay close attention if you truly care about Daniel Handler’s behavior. Hopefully, he is just incredibly ignorant and will change his ways but he seems savvy enough to do PR work so I’m personally a little skeptical that he knows nothing at all… especially given his comment about the sea monster book, which seemed more like a knee-jerk reaction to me, at least based on how it was described. More importantly, he used the go-to impression of a woman to explain his feelings on the matter, so he knows what is inappropriate in the most obvious context. Then juxtapose that with him telling a woman to go make-out with some random stranger to prove her bravery. Again, I’m just skeptical.

          I hope the future proves you right. I would rather it be horrible jokes.

          March 11, 2018
          |Reply
    • Black Knight
      Black Knight

      Perhaps another way to explain it is – what is the purpose of his “jokes”? It’s not to be funny, because there’s a constant pattern with his humor; he’s repeatedly used these comments to cut down women. Again, read the link, which recounts his racist joke and then compare to his sexist jokes. The purpose is the same, to cut down these women, to reduce them.

      So it’s a lot more insidious than just “oh, an off-color joke” “oh, inappropriate humor”. He didn’t say those things to be funny. It’s a mean-spiritedness, born out of wanting to assert power over others. (Which is one of the hallmarks of sexual harassment by the by.)

      March 11, 2018
      |Reply
  16. small jar of fireflies
    small jar of fireflies

    I had something like this happen to me once, small-scale. I wrote about a personal experience in a private setting and had my phrases repeated by another author, in fanfic. My words, taken and respun to apply to a fictional experience.

    I don’t think it’s just plagiarism, either. I think it’s a kind of trophy hunt, a demonstration of what the abuser can get away with. I think it’s a brute-force move of ego and control. And based on the vengeful reaction when I objected and distanced myself, and the social punishment turned on people who spoke up… well, the author is trying to force real people to be minor characters in the story of their own life.

    March 11, 2018
    |Reply
  17. the-great-dragon
    the-great-dragon

    Ah geez, I used to be a fan of Daniel Handler too. That’s really disappointing.

    This is a good post and illustrates a lot of problems that seem to be happening in the writing industry. I hope these come to light more and that marginalized authors get more protection and support as a result.

    March 11, 2018
    |Reply
  18. Heatherbell
    Heatherbell

    Yo, so I really don’t want to get into the whole “is Daniel Handler a sexual harasser or isn’t he” debate (because for real he totally is) but the article Jenny linked to kinda got me wondering whether he might be a high functioning autistic/Aspie?

    Just to reiterate that has nothing to do with the sexual harassment thing because those ‘jokes’ were clearly inappropriate, but there was an autistic guy at uni who would make similar inappropriate comments during high-stress (read: social) situations as a way to fake being confident. From our perspective, there was no genuine malice so people just ignored the comments and his behaviour never escalated so no one felt marginalised.

    The above is all just speculation at any rate but thought I’d put this out there.

    March 11, 2018
    |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      The above is all just speculation at any rate but thought I’d put this out there.

      Maybe? I hate to armchair diagnose because people can differ in all sorts of ways and some would still be assholes regardless of that fact. In particular, you mentioned that your acquaintance never seemed to upset others, so it brings some uncertainty about the anecdote’s relevance: is it personality or placement on a spectrum that made the difference between these two? And if so, how innocent does that make Daniel Handler? To be honest, I think this speculation might be futile unless he explicitly states that it’s a factor. Perhaps he wouldn’t want to reveal such information, and that’s fine, but I’d think he’d like to explain things as much as he can if it would benefit him.

      March 11, 2018
      |Reply
      • Heatherbell
        Heatherbell

        All valid and good points, I suppose I’m wondering the same things as well. In the wake of #MeToo, how should we treat those perpetrators with spectrum disorders or mental health issues? IMHO if he was on the autism spectrum those comments would still be offensive but my reaction would be different (at least in a case of verbal sexual harassment). But that’s just me and it wouldn’t necessarily change the harm that has actually been caused.
        Ok I’m literally just musing aloud now, I’ll stop!

        March 11, 2018
        |Reply
        • Dove
          Dove

          I think it’s like this… if it was a compulsion, like a Tourette tic or a seizure, that would be one thing, but if they have enough awareness and capacity to control unfortunate impulses, then it’s best to approach them as you would anyone else. Obviously, there’s some leeway but the vast majority should be held accountable for their actions and they should treat other people with all due respect. Unless a psychologist deems them unfit to maintain their composure in public, they aren’t exempt from reproach, and so far no one has suggested as much about Daniel Handler.

          March 11, 2018
          |Reply
          • Siobhan
            Siobhan

            As a person who suffers from 2+ mental illnesses, I say with confidence: mental illness is not an excuse to be an asshole.

            May 12, 2018
    • Maria C
      Maria C

      Cutting in to say – I don’t think being an Aspie comes into it as much as is often assumed. An Aspie person may find it harder to read from someone’s affect that they were offended or upset by something, but if the other person says ‘look, that thing you said made me really uncomfortable,’ they will generally be apologetic and modify their behaviour so they don’t continue to make people uncomfortable (they might not get the modification right first time, but they will make the effort).
      My own rule of thumb is that if you tell the person straight that their behaviour is not appropriate and you want them to stop, and they stop, yep, they may be an Aspie having socialising issues. If, on the other hand, they keep doing it in full knowledge that it’s upsetting others, then you’ve got yourself a common or garden asshole. Given that this was a pattern of inappropriate behaviour, my money’s on A-hole.

      March 12, 2018
      |Reply
    • Alana
      Alana

      This is so inappropriate. It’s ableism (which is wrong), but also misogyny and rape culture. No one ever worries about the autistic women and enbies and how the normalization of behavior like Handler’s harms them (well, us) (and “what if he can’t help it because [armchair understanding of an ableist stereotype of a highly stigmatized and highly gendered disorder]” is normalization. If this were an actual Disability Rights discussion, it never would have picked Handler as a jumping off point), but every time potentially autistic/MI women #MeToo an ostensibly neurotypical man, suddenly everyone wants to compound our pain.

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
    • BitterAlmonds
      BitterAlmonds

      Oh my god, please don’t do this. If I had a fucking bingo card every time one of these sexual harassment cases became public, “maybe he’s autistic” would be the free space.
      Asperger’s doesn’t completely preclude knowing what is and isn’t appropriate work behavior. People who purposefully, intentionally make others feel uncomfortable and unsafe aren’t doing it because they don’t know any better: they’re doing it because they want to. When well-meaning people like you imply that “maybe they can’t help it”, you do their work for them, because that’s one less step that they have to take to convince the world that “it’s okay for me to treat people this way, I don’t know any better”.
      My patience is lower than usual, so I’ll have a very honest tangent here: I’ve also had it up to fucking here with the psychology diagnoses in the comments on recent entries. (I don’t mean to single you out specifically because you’re not the only person.) I wish that Jenny could put a message near the comment box reminding the commentariat not to make comments like these. It may be more comfortable to think that the ‘rational reason’ behind someone doing something like this is sickness, but it’s also deeply unfair to the victims/survivors. Does it really ‘make it better’ to think that a disease is the cause? The damage is done either way. No, it isn’t comfortable to know that people can be shitty for reasons that are beyond your imagining (and that they can be shitty in your direction), but the price of your public self-soothing? Is that every person who’s been on the receiving end of something like this sees you adding to the Greek chorus of ‘Have you considered that maybe he just couldn’t help it?”. KINDLY REFRAIN.

      March 14, 2018
      |Reply
      • Heatherbell
        Heatherbell

        Ok, I really didn’t plan on responding but honestly I found your response to be completely uncalled for, given that you seem to suggest that I dont find it “comfortable to know that people can be shitty for reasons that are beyond your imagining”. In fact I am shaking with anger, even though I can understand the frustration you are feeling because I have felt it too. In short, you don’t know me. You don’t know what “shitty” behaviour I have been on the receiving end of. And yet, from one question, which was as respectfully put as I know how, you have taken it upon yourself to attack me as if I don’t know anything about Aspergers or what it is to be sexually harassed and assaulted. If I said something out of turn or offensive I apologise but I will not allow you to take out your anger on me. I also never said or implied he “couldn’t help It”. You said that.

        Just like you, I’m sick of all the armchair diagnosing in the comments to previous posts, and I would also add that I’m sick of people taking out their frustrations with our world on those who are doing their best to understand diverse points of view. Like if a guy asks me about feminism, damn right am I taking that chance to tell him about women’s experiences, I’m not going to yell at him. Dove and Maria were able to give their points of view without attacking me, and I learned something. You might have a bingo card of times autism has come up but I literally haven’t heard it come up once. Anyway, I don’t even know what the point of posting this was other than I can’t not stand up for myself.

        March 14, 2018
        |Reply
        • BitterAlmonds
          BitterAlmonds

          Then there’s a clear disconnect here between what I wrote and what you’re reading. I didn’t slander your character or make any kind of comment about your history, which is what you seem to be reacting to. I even explicitly stated that the second half was venting that wasn’t directed at you in particular. I thought it was pretty obvious that it was about the waves of comments of ‘maybe this person has x diagnosis’ that keep coming in and not a personal slight against you. (If anything, it was a cry for help directed at the comment moderation.)
          That said: you DID wonder, in a public forum, if a person’s serial sexual harassment was related to a mental illness. I think other people have also gone over why that’s wrong and offensive. You seem to be a person who posts what they’re thinking as they’re thinking it. Maybe this is a time to consider that not all topics and not all discussions lend themselves to that. And also, that it’s possible to be a person who wants to be good and kind and still say things that are hurtful and have unintended consequences.

          March 15, 2018
          |Reply
  19. Good post. Some authors might use nyms to overcome obstacles, especially due to gender.

    I personally am a male author but began writing under a female-sounding pen name about two years ago. This was because I felt that male authors in my genre are frowned upon and do not get the regard or respect as their female counterparts. (I wanted to test my theory, and it was proved correct based upon the significant difference in sales, reviews and general reception.) I also had issues with false allegations and attacks from a small but connected faction of “mean girl” type bullies in the community, and rather than defend myself against high-school nonsense every day, I gradually began releasing my work under the new nym. Ironically, some of the same bully-types who labeled Dylan as some sort of antichrist actually raved over writing from the new pen name, on more than one occasion, sharing teasers and blog posts, even participating in a cover reveal takeover at one point. To me, it’s like when your kid claims to hate spinach, then discovers that his favorite dish contains spinach. Comic relief to an extent.

    I also like to point out that I read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series as a kid. The former was penned by a male name, the latter by a female. NEITHER of those were accurate, they were collectives of authors of both genders. And I heard nobody whining about “catfish” or being “duped.”

    The bottom line here is… I write. You either like what I write, or you don’t, regardless of what name is attached to it. It shouldn’t make any difference whether I voted for Hillary or for that other guy, whether I think everyone should own an AR-15 or the government should ban them all. (It shouldn’t matter, unless the subject matter of the book in question makes a political statement for or against, in which case I’d expect Goodreads to be ablaze.) I don’t owe a reader intimate details of my personal life or any key facts about me. I owe them a STORY that falls within the genre it’s posted in, and which follows what’s promised in the blurb, because that’s what the reader paid for.

    Digressing, I write under another nym where I don’t come right out on social media and claim to be one gender or another, but 99% of readers are going to very strongly assume that it’s female. But even if the pen name openly claimed to be female, I don’t see anything wrong with this, as this is something that’s been done by authors throughout the history of writing.

    There is a huge disparity between how a male author is received and how a female author is. This was obvious from the outset of my little “experiment.” Just last week, I saw an email advertising a “female only” author expo. The week before that, a social book group on Facebook took heat for finally allowing male authors to join… as if we were going to inundate it with pics of our genitalia or sexually harass everyone in the group. It was like the end of the world. However, my female-ish nym had already been a member of the group for MONTHS and funny thing, nobody ever complained.

    I will say that the part about pretending to have a disease, allegedly to then beg for money and garner sympathy, is wrong. And is fraud. But an author representing as a different gender? We as a society now allow people to “identify” as whatever gender they wish, even to the point of entering restrooms traditionally assigned to those with “different equipment.” Why, then, is it such a big deal to put a different pen name on the cover of a book?

    March 13, 2018
    |Reply
    • small jar of fireflies
      small jar of fireflies

      Please don’t conflate trans identity and pseudonyms. People who wish to use a bathroom where they feel safe is different than choosing a name to represent and market a work.

      I found this kind of skin-crawling, to be honest. It sounds like there were some self-appointed all-female gatekeepers of a female space. Whether they should have been is a separate topic.

      Female spaces are important because they’re the equivalent if a minority space. Why is it important that you have insider access?

      In short: I’m not comfortable with your arguments or the behavior you describe.

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
      • “Female spaces are important because they’re the equivalent if a minority space. Why is it important that you have insider access?”

        Um, forgive me, but how does the “minority” card get played here? Aren’t there bound to be just about as many of one as there are of the other?

        “In short: I’m not comfortable with your arguments or the behavior you describe.”

        That’s cool. But, if you’re going on Amazon and buying loads of books by female authors, I suspect you might end up somewhat disappointed if you were to find out how many are really female…

        June 9, 2018
        |Reply
    • Jenny Trout
      Jenny Trout

      What you’re describing here is that you have a specific privilege you concealed in order to access a space you do not belong in. None of your reasons for doing so (other people have done it, Nancy Drew, it helps me sell books) are justifications.

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        I think Social Media changed everything. It wasn’t a big deal for publishers to farm out books in a series to whoever was available and slap Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon, because nobody was really corresponding with either. If someone sent a fan letter to Miss Kenne or Mr. Dixon, they’d probably get a friendly form letter with a phony signature, just as Hollywood studios did for stars.

        Somewhat later, when there was a fad of bodice rippers with names like “Love’s Passionate Pukenose” or “Love’s Bombastic Bimbo,” there were few writers with the name clout of Rosemary Rogers or Kathleen Woodiwiss, so you might get one pseudonym per author, but they were obviously fake names, with the cheesy glamour of soap opera vixens. One bestselling author was actually male; another was female, but her legal name sounded like someone who ran for student council in an apathetic stoner school and won hands-down, mostly because nobody cared enough to run against her or vote. Sci-Fi writers and Hard-boiled detective writers did something similar, only they’d pick something tougher-sounding than their legal names. Some writers published under three different names, depending on the genre for which they had churned out the latest title (Donald Westlake, for example).

        Now that authors build a more extensive public image than you used to find on back jackets, and Social Media gave authors and readers unprecedented access to each other’s lives, these things are just more problematic than they used to be.

        March 13, 2018
        |Reply
        • Cat
          Cat

          “If someone sent a fan letter to Miss Kenne or Mr. Dixon, they’d probably get a friendly form letter with a phony signature, just as Hollywood studios did for stars.”

          Those letters from my favorite celebrities AREN’T authentic?!!!

          I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life but I learn so much about the behind the scenes of authors and the community of writers from this site and the links that are peppered in blog posts and the comments. It is utterly fascinating.

          March 14, 2018
          |Reply
      • small jar of fireflies
        small jar of fireflies

        Just saw your tweets.

        Context does NOT help this one. JFC.

        March 13, 2018
        |Reply
      • Siobhan
        Siobhan

        Jenny, there is one area where I will disagree with you. Male authors who write romance are as stigmatized as female authors who write hard science fiction, and my understanding is that there are several-to-many male authors writing romance under female pseudonyms. However, I agree that doesn’t change that it’s a male author, and if there is a symposium or conference for female authors, that does not include men who write under lady names.

        Below, lucyjekyll writes:
        “A woman writing m/f rape fiction is not the same as a man writing m/f rape fiction. This is the hill I will die on.”

        This I also agree with.

        May 12, 2018
        |Reply
        • Siobhan
          Siobhan

          I should have been more clear about one thing: if there is a conference for romance genre authors that is all-female, I would disagree with that conference, simply because of the SINGULAR instance of male authors not having privilege in that genre. A conference for female writers, regardless of genre is a conference for female writers, since in almost every other space*, male writers are most definitely privileged.

          *I say almost because I’m not sure about non-PNR urban fantasy.

          May 12, 2018
          |Reply
      • “What you’re describing here is that you have a specific privilege you concealed in order to access a space you do not belong in. ”

        No, I didn’t. I sent a request to join a group on Facebook. At no point was I asked what my gender was. If someone assumed it from a highly ambiguous pen name, that’s on them…

        June 9, 2018
        |Reply
    • Pretty sure by “mean girls” in this context you mean despicable women who nevertheless persisted.

      “Mean girls” only applies to how women treat other women. Standing up to a man is something different. See also: patriarchy, rape culture.

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
    • A woman writing m/f rape fiction is not the same as a man writing m/f rape fiction. This is the hill I will die on.

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        Again, times have changed. Jennifer Wilde (actually Thomas Huff, who also published as Edwina Marlow, Beatrice Parker, T. E. Huff, and Katherine St. Clair), churned out bodice-rippers that even Rosemary Rogers praised, and he won a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Likewise, Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner wrote a series of sex-n-violence-on-the-plantation decadence-fests (one of the inspirations for Tarantino’s genre pastiche “Django Unchained”). Nobody really thought about whether they were offensive, although they were considered irredeemably trashy.

        A recent novel focusing on the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings raised many questions, but Barbara Chase-Riboud’s 70s novel “Sally Hemings” was criticized only as pseudo-historical hogwash, not for its depiction of an unequal relationship with a woman who was not in a position to give or deny consent. As LP Hartley famously said in his opening of “The Go-Between,” “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” That goes not only for the historical periods writers use as their settings, but also for the conventions of fiction-writing.

        March 13, 2018
        |Reply
        • In my opinion, those things were also not okay. That nobody objected in the past does not make something okay.

          March 13, 2018
          |Reply
          • ViolettaD
            ViolettaD

            Response below. Saw your post in my email before it showed up on the page.

            March 13, 2018
      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        I can’t find your last post to me on this website, although it showed up in my email, so I will just say that what you said was exactly my point. There are many things that were accepted in the past that are not now, not only in terms of history but in terms of publishing conventions.

        March 13, 2018
        |Reply
        • ViolettaD
          ViolettaD

          The above was a reply to Lucy.

          March 13, 2018
          |Reply
    • Amy
      Amy

      “…as ifwe were going to inundate it with pics of our genitalia or sexually harass everyone in the group.”

      YES! That’s literally what happens!!! don’t you undestand that???? I’ve been to women safe areas and when men walk by, they purposely flash us, give us rude gestures, mouth things to us, if only to prove there’s no such thing as “safe areas” for women!!! Because when men get angry or feel like women have wronged them somehow, they PURPOSELY make us feel uncomfortable. The fact you don’t understand that, that you mock the idea of safe spaces, of lgbt safe spaces, tells me you prefer to speak over the marginalized instead of LISTENING TO THEM. Your “experimentation” has not, will not, nor will it ever give you the full scope of what poc, LGBT, and women go through in the written world, and yet you act like it has. The gall on you…

      March 13, 2018
      |Reply
    • Thank you for showing us exactly *what* you are.

      wow.

      March 14, 2018
      |Reply
  20. Have you seen the TV show Younger? I watch it because it stars Broadway goddess Sutton Foster, but it deals in depth with many of these subjects. I would be interested to hear your take on the show.

    March 13, 2018
    |Reply
  21. anon
    anon

    Okay, I’m not gonna read all the comments, so sorry if someone already brought this up, but uh… I agree it’s pretty gross for an author to use a real person in fiction without their permission, but how is what you’re doing with the Cathy posts not worse? You’re not even pretending it’s fiction.

    March 19, 2018
    |Reply
    • Tez Miller
      Tez Miller

      -Jenny isn’t making money from the Cathy posts.

      -The posts are about JENNY’S experience. Not just all about Cathy.

      March 19, 2018
      |Reply
    • Jenny Trout
      Jenny Trout

      Because it’s not fiction. It’s about something that happened to me. I own that story, much in the way if she wrote a series of blog posts about me, she would own her story. There’s a huge difference between “This is a real life thing that happened to me and now I’m telling it,” and “This is a thing that someone else told me in confidence after gaining my trust solely for the purposes of mining my life for intimate details they could use to write their books.” I didn’t befriend her while pretending to be someone else, specifically so I could one day write these posts. It’s weird that you don’t see the difference.

      March 19, 2018
      |Reply
      • anon
        anon

        no, I see the difference, I just don’t think it’s as big as you seem to think.

        The problem I have isn’t that the authors tricked people. I think it would be gross for an author to use a real person regardless of whether they initially intended to when they got close to that person. If an author got genuinely close to someone with good intentions, and only later to decided to use them in fiction, it would still be wrong–even though I could easily see them saying (and believing) “This is a real life thing that happened to me and now I’m telling it.”

        The fact that it’s fiction is also not the problem. People write about real experiences through fiction all the time. And at least in fiction, the connection to the real person is probably invisible to anyone except that person and the author (unless the author gets called out or confesses or something). Changing Cathy’s name in your posts doesn’t make the connection invisible. And while you may not be getting paid for it, you’re writing those posts to entertain people, same as fiction.

        The problem I have is that the writer used a real person in their writing without consent. And you’re doing that. I don’t think that you have sole ownership of anything you’ve experienced with other people–those other people have ownership, too. I’m not trying to vilify you, I’m just interested because this is an issue I’ve been thinking about anyway, the ethics of publicly saying certain things about certain of my own family members. What good can it do?

        March 20, 2018
        |Reply
        • the-great-dragon
          the-great-dragon

          I don’t think that you have sole ownership of anything you’ve experienced with other people–those other people have ownership, too

          I’m sorry, that must be very uncomfortable for you. It must be really hard to find media you like.

          March 20, 2018
          |Reply
        • BitterAlmonds
          BitterAlmonds

          I think that you’d have a point if any particular telling was the only chance for that story to be told. Writing a story down doesn’t pin its Platonic ideal to paper. The people who read it aren’t beholden to your interpretation. So yes, other people do have ownership of their own narrative, but they don’t wholly own yours too. It’s not fundamentally unfair to other people to share your story because most people understand that personal experience is subjective, and they understand where the lines are with retelling. That’s part of the social contract and that doesn’t necessarily change with having a wider audience.
          On a much stickier and specific level, always having to get consent when writing about other people means that there’s no moral way to write about abuse. As an example, I think most people would say that it’s perfectly moral to write about your personal experience with being abused, even if you’re being paid. Your line of thinking argues that it is not unless you ask the abuser first for their permission, because they own part of your experience of being abused. Getting this permission would be contingent on how closely you conform to their narrative of events and probably endanger you in some way. So the only option that is both moral and safe is to never write about it. What good does that do, exactly? (There’s a lot of nuance to be had there for specific situations but I think the overall point still stands.) Consent is important but it’s not the end-all be-all of morality. And giving consent isn’t protection against other kinds of wrongness.

          March 21, 2018
          |Reply
          • anon
            anon

            What worries me isn’t so much that the writer’s version of events get locked in as the only available interpretation (though I think you too readily dismiss the issue of a wider audience), but that the writer, by sidestepping consent, is disrespecting other people’s privacy. Maybe the others would prefer certain events not be publicly known at all, in any version. Sure, consent isn’t the end-all be-all of morality, but all else being equal, it’s a pretty good baseline for how to be a decent human being.

            And yeah, the complication of abuse (where all else is not equal) hasn’t been far from my mind. Of course victims of abuse have the right to write/speak about what they’ve been through, in whatever level of detail or directness they choose. And doing so could do plenty of good–could be cathartic/healing for them, and could get the abuser to face justice or or keep them from abusing others in the future. But victims also have the right _not_ to make their experience public.

            So say, now, that you’ve witnessed or become aware of abuse, but you’re just a bystander, neither the abuser nor the victim. To hell with the abuser, but is it ethical to write about it without the _victim’s_ consent? If it’s still going on now, then there’s a strong argument for _yes_, as long your writing is meant to call out the abuser and help the victim get out (and isn’t just for entertainment or profit). But if it’s over and done with? Then, I think that writing about it without the victim’s consent is wrong. So there are substantial moral differences between, for instance:
            –Jenny writing about neutral things about Cathy, without Cathy’s consent (questionable, to me at least)
            –Jenny writing about Cathy being an abusive friend to Jenny, without Cathy’s consent (fine)
            –Jenny writing about Cathy being an abusive mother to Martin, without Martin’s consent (really not okay)

            March 23, 2018

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