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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.

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.

Book Biting Day

1. It’s official. Comparing my web stats to my royalty statements, it looks like more people have read my list of 20 Neil Gaiman Facts than have read my actual books. (Thanks in no small part to a link from StumbleUpon last week.) This is why Red Hood’s Revenge shall include the following cover text: “From the author of Goblin Quest 20 Neil Gaiman Facts!”

2. I’m going to be chatting over at Bitten By Books today. This is not a fixed time event. Stop by any time during the day or evening and leave your questions and chat. Click on over to check it out, say hi, and get in on the prize drawing (anthologies aplenty and a set of goblin minis): http://bittenbybooks.com/?p=11707

3. Finally, check out mcmorran’s LEGO Dr. Who Flickr set. He built a LEGO Tardis and Dr. Who, and added them to various exhibits at a LEGO con. Click the link or the pic to see the full set.

Quick Updates

Got back from ConClave late last night. Crashed, only to be awakened by my son, who was in the midst of the nastiest asthma attack he’d had in a very long time. He’s doing better this morning, but we’re operating on about 3 hours of sleep. Whee…

Contest Winners: The caption contest was close, but the winner by a handful of votes was tygerversionx. I also drew a winner from the one-question interviews, and the random number generator came up with b_writes to win a copy of Strip Mauled. Could the two of you please contact me with your mailing addresses, and tygerversionx, please let me know which of my books you’d like.

Bitten By Books Interview/Contest: Bitten by Books will be doing an interview/chat/contest event with me starting 10/12 at 10:30 am Central Time. RSVP here and get extra entries into the contest to win one of 12 DAW anthologies or the grand prize of a complete set of painted goblin miniatures.

 

ConClave: was fun. I had only been there an hour when albogdan invited me and fairmer up to his room. Not only that, but he videotaped the whole thing! (Don’t worry, I’ll post a link if he puts it online 😉 I also got to do a reading of “The Creature in Your Neighborhood,” my muppet werewolf story from Strip Mauled. For anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of stories, just look what this tale did to one listener:

State of the Jim

Well, I’m surviving Mermaid Week pretty well.  The whole week has been a bit of a blur.  Book stuff, family stuff, work stuff … it’s the perfect storm of craziness!  Here are some of the highlights.

Not Related to Jim, but Read it Anyway: At one point, I was asked to talk about how to get an agent.  I still plan to do this, but in the meantime author Kat Richardson has beaten me to it.

Radio Interview: I did an interview last night with the Michigan Literary Network and didn’t make a complete fool of myself–Win!  Even if they did introduce me as Jim Chines.  (You can listen here if you’re bored and have 15 minutes to kill.)

Book launch partytonight at Schuler Books is good to go, and should be a lot of fun.  Cake is ready, and I’ve printed out a copy of “Creatures in Your Neighborhood” to read.  Now I just need to make sure I have a working vehicle, since my car went into the shop last night for brake work.  Eep!

Amazon ranking for Mermaid has been hovering around 4000-5000 for several days now, with three reviews posted so far.  Not bad.  (And yes, I really need to break that obsessive Amazon-checking.  Is there a support group or a 12-step program for this?)

Red Hood’s Revenge:On Monday, I talked to Sheila at DAW about revisions for Red Hood’s Revenge.  She liked the story!  HUGE sigh of relief here.  I’ve still got pages and pages of notes and changes to work on, but I’m feeling better about the book.  My goal is to have that turned in by the end of the month.

Red Hood Artwork:  I’ve learned that Scott Fischer will not be doing the cover for the third princess book.  Instead, we’ll be getting artwork from Mel Grant, who did the goblin books.  I really don’t like the idea of changing artists in mid-series, but having seen Mel’s work, I trust him to do a good job.  Hopefully he’ll be able to stick pretty close to the style of the first two.  Needless to say, I’m veryanxious to see what he comes up with.

Current Contests: I’ll be announcing winners tomorrow.  One of my one-question interview folks will win an autographed copy of one of my books, and there’s also the caption contest.  The winner of that one will receive a copy of Strip Mauled, assuming I can buy one at the bookstore tonight.

Upcoming Contest: On Monday the 12th, I’ll be doing an interview and contest all day with Bitten By Books.  We’ll be giving away a dozen DAW anthologies, and one winner will receive a complete set of painted Goblin Quest miniatures.  I’m excited about this one, and will post more details and links soon.

ConClave: I’ll be at the con tomorrow night, but for a combination of reasons I don’t want to go into, I don’t think I’ll be there Saturday or Sunday.

And this is why, come Sunday, I intend to sleep in until noon with the covers pulled over my head.

How to REALLY Help an Author Out

So The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is one day old.  At this point, a lot of authors will talk about the things readers can do to support the book.  You’ve probably seen lists like:

  • Review the book in your blog, at Amazon, at GoodReads, or wherever, because word of mouth is the biggest factor in a book’s survival in this cold, cruel world.
  • Buy books right after they come out, because the publisher and the bookstores pay attention to those early sales.
  • Ask your library to get a copy in stock.  Better yet, tell ’em to get two!
  • If you like the book, recommend it to your friends, family, and that guy down the street with the weird lawn gnomes.

Those are decent suggestions, I guess.  But you want to know what most authors really want?  How to truly support your favorite writers?  Read on, my friend.

  • You see that guy carrying the huge manuscript and jogging after our author friend?  That’s Bob.  Bob doesn’t actually know our author, but he’s nonetheless going to fling that manuscript at the author’s feet and demand a critique, a blurb, or a referral to the author’s agent.  If you could run Bob over with your car, that would be very much appreciated.
  • Authors aren’t supposed to respond to bad reviews.  It’s tacky, and it just leads to more bad publicity.  But there’s no rule against you tracking down the person who posted that review, following them to their house, kicking down their door, and screaming “Nobody expects the Goblin Inquisition!” as you beat them with a dog-eared paperback.
  • Mow my lawn.  (I know it’s a long shot, but I thought I’d throw it out there.  I despise lawn mowing, and it’s going to be a few years before my kids are old enough to take over.)
  • Accept the crazy.  Authors are nuts.  Peek inside my brain right now, and you find me wanting to refresh Amazon (even though I checked the rank 30 seconds ago), an ego that’s simultaneously huge (I am Published Author) and fragile (Why isn’t my book selling as well as Random Author’s? I must suck!), and the emotional scars left from 500+ rejection letters.  Just smile and nod and slip the meds into our drink when we’re not looking, just like Murdock and BA from the A-Team.
  • Finally, taser anyone who asks the following questions*:
    • When’s the movie coming out?
    • When are you quitting the day job?
    • Where do you get your ideas?
    • Can I have a free book?

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!


*I don’t actually mind when people ask most of these, but the questions come up so often they start to show up in my dreams.  I lay there in my sleep mumbling, “Can’t quit.  Need benefits and steady paycheck.”

Contest Voting

Thanks to everyone who entered the latest caption contest with me, Vader, and the Stormtrooper. It’s been a stressful few weeks, and I very much appreciate the laughs.

I meant to open voting up on Saturday, and it completely slipped my mind. I blame the zombie raccoons. But I’ve gone back and picked my favorites, and threw in a few randomly selected wild cards just because. Please vote for as few or as many as you like, and I’ll contact the winner later this week after the voting has died down.

I’m trying to keep the voting in one place, so you’ll need to head over to my LiveJournal to see the finalists and cast your ballot. If you don’t have an LJ account, you can contact me with your vote and I’ll add that into the final tally.

DAW’s Zombie Rabbit Cover of Doom

Yesterday, Mr. Coke Zero himself, John Scalzi, took my publisher to task for the cover of Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Others have offered up alternate covers, or just chimed in about how bad it is.

Disclaimers up front: Zombie Raccoons is the latest DAW anthology.  DAW is my publisher as well.  I was invited to write a story for this one, but the editor decided that my tale (“Mightier than the Sword”) fit better in her other project, Gamer Fantastic.  So I’m hardly unbiased.

This is not my favorite cover from DAW.  It didn’t really work for me, and I was happy to end up in Gamer Fantastic, which had a cover I liked better.

That said, I think the criticism is over the top.  Scalzi says he’s genuinely offended that a major publisher would produce such a thing.  (He also claims it will make blood shoot from your ears, but I’m chalking that one up to hyperbole.)

Is it a bad cover?  The editor loved it.  It certainly stands out, and it’s stirred up more buzz online than any DAW anthology I can remember.  On the other hand, the raccoon’s mouth gave me nightmares, and I find myself wanting to delete the Photoshopped rabbit and raccoon and see what’s behind ’em, which seems to be a totally different piece of art.

I wanted to make a few other points, though.  Starting with the fact that, to my knowledge, DAW is the only major SF/F publisher still putting out a monthly anthology of short fiction.  These aren’t moneymakers; very few short fiction anthologies ever earn out.  But DAW continues to produce them, more reliably and consistenly than most SF/F ‘zines.

Does that excuse a bad cover?  Of course not.  But no publisher gets it right every time.  Sooner or later, no matter how good the publisher, they’re going to have a stinker.  I could fill the rest of this post with examples of bad cover art from Baen, Tor, and the rest.

That’s no excuse either, of course.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be a reminder than nobody’s perfect.  That when you’ve put out thousands of books over the years, you’re not going to hit it out of the park with every one.  It’s easy to sit around online and boast about how you could whip up a better cover in five minutes on Photoshop.  And hey, maybe you could.

Now do it 99 more times.  If you think they’ll all be brilliant, you’re sadly deluded.  Even award-winning artists produce the occasional stinker.

I wasn’t in on the meetings at DAW.  I don’t know what they were going for here.  Maybe the original cover didn’t work, so the bunny and raccoon were an emergency fix at the last minute.  Maybe they wanted to try something different, and they went for the over-the-top kitsch angle.  Maybe the artist backed out at the last second, leaving them only a week to whip something together.  Maybe, like the editor, they just liked this cover and thought it worked for the project.

I’m not saying Scalzi’s out of line in his critique; he’s not.  I like John a lot, and folks have every right to express their distaste.  No cover will work for everyone, and this one does seem to have failed for most.

But to say you’re genuinely offended by that failure?  That bothers me a little.  By all means, hold publishers to a high standard.  But people also say they want publishers to try things that are new or different, and every time you do that you risk failure.  High standards, yes.  Perfection?  I prefer my publisher to be human, thanks.

Bad Book Publicity

I’ll probably be talking about book-release stuff next week when Mermaid’s Madness comes out, which got me thinking about some of the really bad publicity strategies for authors.

I’m not claiming to be perfect.  In the past five years, I’ve tried any number of things to promote my work that make me wince to think about ’em now.  Bad home-printed bookmarks, obnoxious begging for reviews, etc.  But I’ve tried to learn, and I do my best to keep my promotional efforts in check–trying to model them as the occasional commercial break as opposed to an infomercial, if that makes sense?

Anyway, I figured this might be a good time open things up for a discussion of some of the most annoying, ineffective, or downright bizarre promo efforts you’ve seen.  Starting things off with five of my personal favorites:

  • If a bookstore isn’t carrying your work, sneak in and leave a copy on the shelf.  When someone goes to buy it, they’ll be forced to add you to the computer.  Voila!  Now you’re in the system, and sure to sell millions of copies.
  • Stick your book cover on postage stamps!  (This one comes courtesy of Writer Beware.)
  • Run around posting five-star reviews of your own work.  In your own name.  (Yes, I’ve seen this done on multiple occasions.)
  • Spam.  Including e-mail, message boards, blog comments, and so on.  ‘Nuff said.
  • And my all-time favorite, Photoshop yourself into photos of successful authors.  (Related: make up sockpuppet accounts to harass anyone who calls you on it.)

What else have you encountered that makes you cringe?  What bad advice have you come across?  (“You must spend your entire advance on promotional efforts, or your book is DOOMED!”)  What annoys you to the point where you’ll deliberately avoid buying, reading, or even being in the same room with a book?

Jim C. Hines