I’ve told this story several times since the events happened in 2002, but the telling has always been fairly private. That’s how these stories move, you know. However, today is a good day to say things out loud. Increasing the number of targets for backlash isn’t the worst thing a person can do, provided they’re up for it. I’m not sure I’m up for it, but I’m not sure I can handle telling these stories in private anymore either.
It was 2002. World Fantasy Convention was held in Minneapolis that year. I was there, along with the rest of my writers group and a bunch of friends who were in another writers group. One or two people had book contracts that year. We were green and a little nervous and not so terribly mature as we turned being snubbed by big editors into a faux competitive game.
The number of details I remember seems funny, but I suppose it shouldn’t. When things that are that wrong and that disappointing happen, you either try to forget them forever or they stick with you. This one stuck with me.
On the second floor of the hotel, the floor with meeting rooms, there were a number of “converational groupings”, couches and chairs around coffee tables. One of these provided a place for our crowd to meet up in all the comings and goings. Nobody had smart phones or text plans then, so it was handy to have a place where messages could be dropped and lunch crowds could be formed. Ours was also a short distance from the bathrooms, outside the main line of traffic, but somewhere that everyone had to pass at some point. There was a wooden pillar. And a big painting on the wall.
At some point, the crowd dwindled to me, my husband, a writer friend, and his wife. Due, I think, mostly to the proximity of the bathroom, Tor editor Jim Frenkel saw us. He stopped by to talk to my writer friend. This friend had several books under consideration by Frenkel. Frenkel liked the books and was moving to present them for consideration to the folks at Tor who green-light purchases.
The conversation went on for a bit. My husband and my friend’s wife wandered off to do something more interesting than talk about the publishing business. Frenkel shared some gossip. We talked about his wife, who was having a hard recovery from the car accident they’d both been in. Frenkel enthused over my friend’s books.
Then Frenkel turned his attention to me. Did I write? Oh, yes, though nothing at that point that he’d be interested in. Just short stories. Well, Frenkel considered himself the proprietary editor for my friend’s writers group. But that wasn’t my writers group. Well.
The attention to my writing was flattering. Frenkel was focused (really not his style), leaning in.
Then he asked me to tell him about my relationship to my friend. It wasn’t one of those, “So, how did the two of you meet?” moments or “How long have you known each other?” It was a matter of leaning further in and lowering his voice, focusing even more. The words were heavy.
Jim Frenkel was asking me to confide in him about my (intuited into existence) sex life. After suggesting he would be interested in my writing. While I was standing next to the friend whose career prospects were in his hands.
There is no template for what to do under those circumstances. Miss Manners doesn’t tell you how to enforce your boundaries when someone is potentially putting two people’s careers at stake. So I went with the absurd. I leaned back toward Frenkel and lowered my own voice.
“Sometimes…we send each other…emails.”
That was the end of that bit of the conversation. Frenkel has only once, in the rest of the time that I’ve seen him at conventions, expressed an interest in seeing my writing. I had to remind him that we’d met before. On the other hand, he continued to champion my friend’s work, though Tor decided not to buy it. So I got away easy.
Other people haven’t gotten away so easily. One of them, someone I admire, was sexually harassed at friends’ WisCon book launch party by Frenkel. She reported it. She was told by Tor that it was the first official report of harassment by Frenkel. Somehow all the other reports have never managed to rise to the level of “official”. So today, people started naming Frenkel as the problem, as a long-term problem.
I can’t say that what happened to me rises to the level of sexual harassment. On its own, it’s just one bit of inappropriate weirdness. But it’s weird enough that I’ve talked about for nearly 11 years, and it’s part of a pattern that I’m told has gone on longer than that.
So today I’m telling my story.