I wanted to explain a little more about my reaction to Jason Williams and Resurrection House. This is partially adapted from a post I made on the private SFWA forums, but also changed significantly.
A fair chunk of this is also restatement and expansion of my previous post on the subject, so don’t expect anything too new.
First off, as someone who was on the board during the Night Shade mess, I had the opportunity to hear from a lot of people about their experiences with Night Shade and with Jason Williams. Of course, I wouldn’t talk about what I heard as an officer. However, since people knew I was studying the situation, some talked to me not member-to-officer, but colleague-to-colleague. Sometimes in confidence, sometimes not. I won’t tell their stories without permission because that’s their business, but I did hear a lot.
Based on what I heard, I will probably never work with Jason Williams. I say probably–time is long, and people can radically change their behavior. However, we’re not far distanced in time from when all this went down.
Another thing that would make me feel more comfortable would be to hear a mea culpa from Jason personally, and his intentions going forward. I have worked with other people who have harassed authors in the past. My requirement for that was that they describe to me what happened, what they did, and importantly, how they have changed their behavior to make sure that it never happens again. I felt that the situation was resolved in a way I could deal with, but I would never tell anyone else they needed to work with this person; sometimes one’s prior actions just mean that you lose future opportunities, such as some authors forever refusing to work with you.
In general, I think these discussions should happen publicly when possible. I think that for a few reasons:
1) When the discussions are all whispered from person to person, new writers don’t have a chance to learn about the situation.
There have been a number of situations in my career when I’ve known from other people’s personal reports that someone had a tendency to do X (like get really drunk and start insulting authors and anyone else nearby), and so when I published with that person, I knew what I was getting into. Then later when they got really drunk and insulted everyone nearby, I wasn’t taken by surprise. I already knew how to react. I thought that everyone knew this person had a tendency to do those things, but in fact, they didn’t. I did because I was under the wing of more experienced authors. Other writers who came into the industry at the same time as I did were caught flat-footed by the phenomenon. Some of them had invested parts of their careers with this person, and suddenly things went quite wrong for them.
This is effectively the same phenomenon that happens with sexual harassment at cons. People (often women) maintain a background network — “don’t get into the elevator alone with that person” — but the new person who doesn’t know anyone also doesn’t know not to get into that elevator.
2) People complain that rumor mills can ruin someone’s reputation, but actually, I think this is much more likely to happen with things that get passed whisper to whisper. An event can be easily distorted out of true when the evidence is hidden. A joke or speculation could be misconstrued as testimony more easily than if the words are out there to be double-checked.
2) When things are kept behind closed doors, it’s hard for individuals to realize that what’s happening to them is part of a pattern. For instance, I noted in my last post that Jason Williams had sent me (and a number of other authors) a bizarre, aggressive email. That’s only one data point. It doesn’t have a lot of meaning until other data points are highlighted.
A pattern can also help corroborate things. One person’s first-hand report that an editor has a tendency to get drunk and yell at everyone could be a grudge; two could be coincidence; ten is a heavy thumb on the scales.
This isn’t going to get rid of the whisper-to-whisper. There are lots of reasons why information has to be passed that way. People fear retaliation or further harassment if they speak out about their experiences. Again, this is parallel to what happens with sexual harassment where victims can be questioned, blamed, impugned, and so they keep their own counsel. There are other reasons, too, like not wanting to harm one’s career, or to burn bridges with mutual acquaintances.
I don’t want to tell people how they have to handle their bad experiences with publishers. No one’s obligated to go public. Sometimes warning your friends is the best you can do. But these are some of the reasons why I think going public can be helpful.
So, back to Resurrection House specifically. (This is the bit that’s adapted from my forum comment. It shouldn’t reveal anyone else’s private comments, but if someone feels it does, please let me know.)
1) It doesn’t seem likely to me that Resurrection House is going to terminate its relationship with Jason Williams no matter what happens from here. Whether or not I think that’s an ideal situation, it’s the one that exists on the ground.
2) There would have been a potential reason to keep stories private if there were a strong possibility that Jason wouldn’t be working with the press. Since there doesn’t seem to be, there are good reasons for people to be public. Writers who are going to sign up for a working relationship with Jason deserve to have as much information as possible so that they can make decisions about what to do.
I don’t know what information will become public. Maybe not much more, for all the reasons I’ve previously listed. Maybe a chunk more if there are fora provided for people to speak anonymously. I don’t blame people for deciding not to share stories publicly, but I think there are good reasons for those who decide they can.
3) I will therefore help support and publicize people who want to speak.
4) However, there are also actions Resurrection House could take that I would be happy to support and publicize as well.
Resurrection House has enough information now to go forward with the types of actions that would make me more comfortable with its existence and with its association with Jason Williams. If there were a question of terminating Jason’s employment, it would probably be necessary to have iron-clad proof, and to make sure to settle important questions about prior incidents. If employment isn’t on the line, then all that doesn’t matter. It’s clear: there’s a personnel problem. That’s obvious from the number of reports. One person could be a grudge, two a coincidence, but… well, it probably depends on your personal network how many reports you’ve seen, but the number isn’t small. It doesn’t matter who is essentially in the right; the facts at hand indicate that Jason is perceived by writers to have been abusive toward them.
So, I’d like to see Resurrection Press set up a plan. I’ve made suggestions on what that plan might be, and I’m sure there are lots of people who are smarter than me who could clarify or revise that plan. It should probably include some form of training on how to prevent harassment, both for Williams and other employees.
If Resurrection House makes such a plan and makes it public? I will totally link to that. That’s the first step in me being able to trust that this house won’t perpetuate previous problems.
If Resurrection House had come out with a plan to start with, I know that I personally would have been a lot less wary. It would have been a big step. I’d have known they were aware and on the ball to start with. “Hey, we know this is a thing that happened, but it won’t again, and here’s how.”
4) I probably won’t work with Jason Williams, as I said at the beginning of this post. But you know what I’d love? Never to hear another horror story. I’d love that a lot. I bet we all would.