Rapists and Abusers

I’ve been reading various discussions about the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl in California and the aftermath. (Warning: the article is intense and potentially triggering.) One constant, as with almost every such conversation, has been the mindset when it comes to rapists and abusers.

There’s a strong sense of us vs. them.  How could they do this? How could the bystanders just watch? I’ve come across various theories–they were poor and desperate, they were in a gang, they were drunk…

We want our villains to be easy to identify, like on TV.  We recognize the bad guys the instant they enter a scene, complete with foreboding music. We cringe as the poor victim is attacked, but we rest easy knowing we were smart enough to recognize the villain for what he was. He’s one of them. Because humanity is broken into two distinct groups:

 

There’s a clear boundary between the groups. That works for me, because it excuses me from having to worry about my own behavior.  I’ve never gang-raped a girl.  I’ve never beaten my wife.  I’m safely in the “normal” circle.

It’s comfortable. The evil rapists and abusers are over there, and us normal folks are over here.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work like that. People don’t fall neatly into categories. I’ve found it more helpful to look at behavior, like so:

There’s no “us” vs. “them.” No neat boundary separating good guys from bad. We all fall somewhere on the curve, and that position isn’t constant. Do you think the guys who gang-raped that girl woke up one morning and decided to be rapists? In most cases, it’s a behavior that changes over time, moving further and further to the right side of the curve.

One day it’s a shouting match with my girlfriend. Maybe I use body language to intimidate her into backing down. Eventually, when that doesn’t work, I grab her. Not hard enough to bruise, just enough to let her know who’s boss. A month later, I’ve stopped being quite so careful about the bruising. Step by step, my behavior becomes more abusive.

Likewise with rape. Maybe it starts by trying to pick up a girl at the bar. Trying to talk a woman into going home with you is just part of the game, right? If that fails, I can buy her a few more drinks to loosen her up. Then maybe a few more–it was her own choice to get drunk, right?  Or maybe I just spike the drinks to speed things along…

Our society has strong attitudes about what it means to be a man. Real men are strong and in control. We go after the things we want. We’re assertive, even aggressive when necessary. We’re determined, and we don’t take no for an answer. Given all that, do you think it’s coincidence that men commit 95% of rapes?

How could they stand by, refusing to call 911 while a girl was raped in front of them? We’ve all stood by and done nothing at one point or another. Every one of us has heard someone making sexist comments and failed to call them on it. We’ve wondered if someone was being abused, but kept silent because we didn’t know what to say or how to ask.

If your response to all this is “But I’m not a rapist,” “All men aren’t rapists,” or the ever-popular, “Why do you hate men?” congratulations–you’ve missed the point. It’s not about you. It’s about recognizing that the “me” vs. “those people” approach doesn’t really work for understanding or ending rape and abuse.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Book Roundup

I picked up a copy of Kelly McCullough‘s Cybermancy [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], in the dealer’s room this weekend and read it on the plane ride home.  I reviewed WebMage [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], earlier this year, and Cybermancy was even better (which is how it should be).

Basically, if you liked the first book, you should definitely pick up the second.  Cybermancy brings back magical hacker Raven/Ravirn and his webgoblin companion and throws them into even more trouble than last time. It’s got the same fast pacing, the same humor, but McCullough also shows a more serious side, taking an unflinching look at the story of Persephone.  I really appreciated his take on that one. Ravirn’s relationship angst felt a little too predictable, but nowhere near as bad as your average sitcom, and overall I really liked this one.  Book three is already on my wish list 🙂

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Other new books to check out:

Bitter Night [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Diana P Francis.  Book one of the Horngate Witches Books.

Indigo Springs [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by A.M. Dellamonica.

By the Mountain Bound [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Elizabeth Bear. This is the prequel to All the Windwracked Stars.

So, anyone have any thoughts or comments on these?  If not, what else is out there that we should all be reading?

  

Icon, Part 1

• Garden Ninja is holding a sale–30% off everything, including Goblin Quest miniatures (as well as their nifty new Schlock Mercenary mini)!

• I’ll be at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids tonight at 7:00 (the Alpine Ave. location) reading my muppet werewolf story and signing copies of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] and anything else you’d care to buy or bring.

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So I survived my first Guest of Honor experience at Icon, and I’m still processing the whole experience.  I had a wonderful time and came away completely wiped, which I think is exactly the way it should work.  How cool was this weekend?  Let me put it this way: they brought me a shrubbery.

They also gifted me with a drawing of Jig the goblin, done by Kurt Wilcken.  Not to mention the opening skit, which included three of my goblins and my three princesses. And don’t forget that jacket in the art show (pictures below). Oh yes, I could definitely get used to this 🙂

Huge thanks to my liaison and fellow CatsCurious author Catherine Schaff-Stump, who spent the weekend spoiling me rotten and pointing out those annoying little details like the fact that it was 3:02 and I was supposed to be at a 3:00 panel. (And for reminding me how to spell liaison.) Thanks also to everyone involved with the planning, as well as the folks actually making things happened.  This was one of the better-organized cons I’ve attended, and I had a blast.

I’ll have more musings on the whole experience, but I still need to sort it all out and recover my coherence, which started abandoning me about mid-morning on Sunday. So for now, here are a few pics from the weekend.  (If anyone else has pictures from the con, I’d love to see ’em!  For some reason I didn’t get much time for taking pictures.)

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Guest of Honor Tips

I wanted to say thanks to everyone who chimed in on yesterday’s post.  One of the things I love about my online community is that it’s wonderful for support and for reality-checking–in this case, the reminder that envy is human, and that in fact I’m not the only author in the whole wide world who isn’t getting the six-figure advances 🙂

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So tomorrow I fly to Iowa, where I’ll be doing my first stint as Guest of Honor at a convention. Thank you, Icon!

In order to avoid embarrassing myself too much, I’m compiling a list of suggestions for what notto do as GoH.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

  • “I’m your guest of honor, and I’ll wear pants when I’m good and ready!”
  • Guest of Honor Speech: Two hour PowerPoint of I Can Has Cheezburger pics.
  • “Oh, handler?  I would like you to bring me … a shrubbery!”
  • Insist that all filkers sing “The Song of Jig” whenever I enter a room.
  • “I’m here today to tell you about ShamWow! Call now, and I’ll throw in an additional set of ShamWows absolutely free!”
  • If any former guests of honor attend, stalk them back to their hotel room and proclaim “There can be only one!”
  • Respond to all questions with quotes from Ghostbusters, Princess Bride, and Monty Python.
  • Anyone who wants an autograph must first prove they’re not a brains-hungry zombie.

Please feel free to suggest your own.

Writer Envy

I debated whether or not to post this, but in the interest of keeping myself honest and talking about all sides of this writing thing, I decided to go ahead.

My friend Seanan McGuire’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of September.  It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled for her success. Yet there’s a part of me that compares her Amazon listing–50+ reviews, a ranking in the 1000 range, and #99 of all fantasy titles at Amazon, all more than a month after her release–to my own, and comes away feeling envious.

I hate comparing myself to other writers. A friend gets a $30,000+ advance, and while I’m truly happy for them and excited for their news, there’s also that tiny whisper asking why I’m not earning the same.

I hate it because it makes me lose sight of what I already have.  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has a month-long face-out display at most Barnes and Noble stores.  Mermaid’s first week’s sales were the best of any of my books so far.  Publishers Weekly called it “a witty, well-constructed adventure tale about powerful women stepping up with skill and cleverness.” I’m the freaking guest of honor at Icon in Iowa in two days!

But then I compare my web-only PW review to Laura Anne Gilman’s starred PW review for Flesh and Fire [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] (which looks like an awesome book, by the way), and suddenly my good news feels … deflated, somehow. Even if only for a moment.

Screw that. The fact is, I’ve got an awful lot to be proud of.  I have five books in print. The first three have earned out their advances and gone back for multiple printings. They’ve been translated into a half-dozen languages. I even have miniatures of my characters. How freaking cool is that???

The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal. It’s only three years since my first book with DAW hit the shelves; I’m still a fairly new writer. Maybe this is normal. Maybe it takes a good track record with 10 or 15 books to start earning those higher advances, and for the big review venues to really sit up and take notice.

I love what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade it. Fairy tale princesses might not be as hot as My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies*, but I love these stories, and I’m proud of them. I know there will always be more successful writers, and that to compare myself to everyone who does better than me means I’m creating completely distorted expectations for myself. I know all of this, but the emotions don’t always listen to the logic.

Fortunately, I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success. I’m happy for myself, too–happy and proud, and that will still be there after the envy fades.


*Yes, now I want to write it too.

October Madness

Note to self: trying to do the new book release in the same month that you’re doing final revisions on another book means twice the crazy. Add in a sick boy (finally feeling better), car trouble, daughter’s soccer season, and a host of other random encounters, and the crazy has jumped exponentially.

I did not need extra crazy. I have plenty already, thank you.

I’ll be spending today trying to box up extra crazy and return it to sender.  In the meantime, check out one of the coolest LEGO Flickr sets ever, courtesy of captainsmog: the Unseen University Library and other Discworld characters & images, all recreated in LEGO.

You know you want to click and see the full set.

Why Doesn’t She Leave?

Patrick Rothfuss is raffling a character name in his second book to raise money for Heifer International. Details on Pat’s blog.

Mermaid’s Madness discussion still going on over at my blog, and another on DAW’s LiveJournal.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One of the questions I hear most often in talking about DV is why victims don’t just leave? If you’re in a bad situation, you get out of it, right? Leaving an abusive partner is common sense, as basic as coming in out of the rain.

Yet the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1.3 million women* are assaulted by an intimate partner every year [Ref].  An awful lot of those women will stay with their partners. Others will leave, but end up returning to the one who beat them. Why?

I asked the same question almost twenty years ago, when a dear friend showed up to school with a broken nose, courtesy of her boyfriend. She didn’t press charges. They stayed together for a long time after that. Why? How could she stay with someone who did that to her?

(Notice how the question puts the burden on her–how could she stay? How about we start putting the responsibility on the batterers?)

It’s easy to judge, and make no mistake, there’s an awful lot of judgement packed into that question. We ask why she doesn’t leave because we think a “healthy” or “normal” or “smart” person (i.e., someone like us) wouldn’t stay. What’s wrong with her that she does?

Start with the fact that batterers are very good at controlling their partners. They’ve spent years learning how. Physical violence is one tool in an entire toolbox of power and control.

Economic control is a popular one. If I have sole control over the finances, where are you going to go if you leave? How will you survive? Isolation is another. Most batterers learn to separate the victim from their friends and family, slowly cutting off those outside sources of support.

Add children into the picture, and it gets uglier. If you leave, will he punish your children? If you try to take the kids–if you take them away from their school, their friends, their father, and everything they know–will you be able to take care of them on your own, with no money or support?

Other techniques are more subtle. Emotional abuse chips away at the victim, slowly persuading her that nobody else would want her, that she should be grateful to be with the abuser. And he’s not abusive all the time. He’s a nice, friendly guy in public–nobody would believe he could hurt her, let alone kill her. Yet 1/3 of all female homicide victims are killed by their spouse or partner [Ref].

And women are most likely to be killed when they try to leave. It’s easy for me to say “Just leave him!” To someone in that situation, it’s literally a life or death choice.

How many of us have stayed in bad relationships even when we knew it was hurting us? How hard was it to finally sever those ties? For me, it took three years, and that was without a partner deliberately trying to control me. How much harder would it have been had I been seeing someone who had spent their life honing these tactics.

Oh, but we’d never let someone do that to us, right? We’re stronger than that. I’m sure most of the participants in the Milgram study thought they were strong too, that they would never let another person control them.

We ask why she doesn’t leave because we don’t understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship. If you truly want to be supportive, take the time to learn about power and control tactics. Debunk the myths about domestic violence. Learn what you can do to help someone who’s being abused.

And the next time someone asks “Why didn’t she just leave?”, maybe a better question would be, “Why don’t we do more to stop this kind of abuse in the first place?”


*It’s true that men are also victims of domestic abuse, and women can be abusive. I don’t want to minimize this, but since the vast majority of domestic violence is committed by men against women, I’m choosing to write about it that way.

Mermaid Discussion Post

As requested, here is your more-or-less official discussion thread for The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

Because my blog mirrors to different places, I’d suggest going either to LiveJournal or http://www.jimchines.com/2009/10/mermaid-discussion-post/ for the liveliest discussion.

Spoilers ahoy, obviously.

If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know what happens, stay the heck out of the comments.  Otherwise, all discussion, speculation, and questions* are welcome.


*I might even answer some of ’em!

Ooh, Awkward…

• Would folks be interested in a discussion post for The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]?

• While at ConClave, Al Bogdan did an impromptu video session of Merrie Haskell and I interviewing one another. I can’t watch, ’cause I cringe to see myself on camera, but I had a good time chatting with Merrie. Interview is posted here.

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I stopped by the local B&N today to sign stock, and as I was browsing the shelves, it struck me how many of these authors I’ve come to know either in person or online.  Wonderful people, (well, mostly wonderful), and I wish I had the time to keep up with all the great books they’re putting out.

But every once in a while, I’m reading a friend’s book and I find myself unable to get into the story.  I have to force myself to turn the pages, and soon I’m reading out of guilt and looking forward to the end for the sole reason that it frees me to read something different.  (Note to Jennifer and Lisa, since both of you know I’ve been reading your stuff lately: I’m not talking about you here.)

If the author is a stranger, it’s easy to toss the book aside.  But if it’s someone I know, even just from chatting online … yeah.   Awkward.  Uncomfortable.  Serious Oh-God-please-don’t-ask-me-what-I-thought-of-your-book moments.

Since Mermaid just came out, I figured this was a good time to say to anyone who’s as neurotic as I am about this stuff … it’s okay.  I don’t expect everyone who hangs out and chats here to be rabid fans of my books.  Some of you have never read my stuff, and that’s okay.  Others have, and weren’t impressed.  That’s okay too.

Any author who expects everyone to love their work is a damn fool.  Mermaid has been out for little more than a week, and already I’ve read comments calling it the perfect book and others calling it a disappointment. C’est la vie.

I obviously want people to enjoy the books I write, and I’m delighted when they do.  I do hope, if you like the blog, that you might check out a sample chapter or try one of my stories, but I don’t expect it.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s picked up one of my books and given a still-relatively-new author a shot.  If they turned you into a goblin or princess fan, that’s awesome.  But if you found my writing wasn’t to your liking, no worries.  We’re still cool.

Quotas in the ToC

I came across a post yesterday telling folks who complain about the lack of gender/racial/etc. balance in anthologies and ‘zines to shut the hell up.  The author has since removed the post and apologized, but the whole thing got me thinking and trying to understand where this reaction comes from.

So imagine you’re a reader, and you’re enjoying your copy of The Year in Zombies, Volume XCVIII, when someone goes online and complains that of the 20 stories in that anthology, only 2 were written by women, and 19 of the authors are white.  Others join in the now-familiar chorus of racism and sexism. But … you were enjoying the anthology! The editor picked good stories!

I can understand feeling defensive.  If you like the book, does that mean these people are accusing you of being racist or sexist?  It probably feels that way.  You might start to wonder what they want to do to fix the problem.  How many women writers would it take to make this book acceptable? How many writers of color have to be added to quiet the anger?

But then, who gets cut out of the book? Does appeasing the anger mean removing that awesome steampunk zombie tale from Whitey McHairychest? Would we lose that delightful alternate history squid zombie story from Paleface Manlyparts?  More importantly, would these great stories be excluded from the book purely based on the race or gender of the author?  Not cool, angry internet mob!  We want good stories, period.  Choosing stories based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on is bull!

I agree.  But I think the problem is that we’re already choosing stories based on these factors–that we’ve been doing it for decades.  When I complain about the latest Mammoth Manthology of Manly SF, I’m not saying I want a quota system to ensure equal representation.  I’m saying I’m tired of the quota that already exists–the one that seems to require a majority of white men in so many ToCs.

Yes, editors should pick the best stories. But if some editors are consistently choosing stories by mostly white and/or male authors, what does this mean? Should we assume that women and nonwhite authors just aren’t good writers? Or does it mean these editors are deliberately and maliciously trying to keep the White Man in power?

I don’t buy either explanation. Sure, there are sexist idiots out there, but I believe most editors choose stories they enjoy, based on what they’ve read.

Looking at my own reading growing up, I read mostly books by white authors. I never deliberately tried to exclude nonwhite writers from my bookshelves; I just read what I was exposed to, and what I enjoyed. Good books all, and if you asked me who my favorite authors were, I’d have given you a list of mostly white folks.

It takes deliberate effort to read outside your learned comfort zone. It takes zero effort to sit back and perpetuate the trend of a certain privileged minority of writers dominating the genre.

If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?

I don’t see anyone asking for quotas. Nobody’s saying good stories by white men should be excluded in order to allow minorities into the table of contents. I think the anger comes when good stories by those authors continue to be excluded because some editors don’t make the effort to look beyond work by white men.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Jim C. Hines