Author Jim C. Hines on fighting harassment in SF&F and writing librarian heroes

A black and white photo of Jim C. Hines, smiling with his arms crossedJim C. Hines is the author of several fantasy series. He also posed for a series of gender-flipped book covers, seriously endangering the health of his back. His latest book, Codex Born, is about a secret society of librarian magicians working to save the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @jimchines.

The Ada Initiative asked Jim about why he created a list of resources for reporting harassment in science fiction and fantasy (SF&F), the upsides of being named an official “PC Monster” by disgruntled fans, and why he chose librarians as the heroes of his Magic Ex Libris series.

[Trigger warning: Discussion of reporting sexual harassment and violence]

In 2010, you started collecting and publishing a list of resources for reporting sexual harassment in the science fiction and fantasy community. What inspired you to do this?

I’ve been writing about sexual violence and harassment for a long time, but what triggered that particular blog post was attending [SF&F convention] WorldCon and talking to three different women who mentioned having been harassed by the same editor. These were separate conversations, and I wasn’t actively seeking out stories of harassment.

Basically, that post came about because I was pissed off. I strongly believe everyone gets to make their own choice about reporting, and not having witnessed anything first-hand, I wasn’t in a position to report this guy anyway. But I wanted to do something that might help those who chose to do so.

One of the first things you say in that document is “If you’ve been sexually harassed, it’s your choice whether or not to report that harassment.” Why did you emphasize this point?

I emphasized it because so many people seem to not get it. I am so tired of hearing people say, “Well, if you didn’t immediately report it to the police, then you have no right to complain about it now” or “You have to report it or else it’s your responsibility if he hurts someone else.”

Bullshit. The responsibility falls on the person doing the harassment. And there are so many valid reasons someone might choose not to report. Have you seen how our legal system treats victims of sexual violence? I think it takes a great deal of strength and courage to report harassment, and I’m glad when people choose to do so, but the instant we try to take that choice away, we become part of the problem. Instead of trying to force victims to report, maybe we should be working harder to support people who choose to do so, and to address the problems that make reporting so difficult.

One of the reactions to the movement to end sexual harassment in SF&F was the creation of a Twitter account called PC Monsters of the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Besides creating a handy list of feminist SF&F authors to follow, what other effects did it have?

A green card with a picture of N. K. Jemisin looking at a small green monster, with the text "N. K. Jemisin, PC Monster, Writes amazing, critically acclaimed, award-winning fiction despite being neither white nor male!!! Uses Guest of Honor platform to brainwash audience with her radical-socialist-fascist-PC message of treating all people as human beings. +5 cloak of Not Taking Any of Your Sh*t.

Card for author N. K. Jemisin

Aside from bringing laughter to the folks on the list? I’d say it served as a reminder that there are still some very hateful people in our community. It also prompted someone to create PC Genre Monsters cards for some of the folks on the list, which was tremendous fun.

From what I’ve seen, everyone on that list also got a significant boost in Twitter followers. I think it’s safe to say the original account did not have the effect they intended.

How does your work opposing sexual harassment and assault inform your writing, and vice versa?

I try not to preach or lecture in my fiction. I’m telling a story, and that’s always the priority. With that said, I try to be aware of and avoid the multitude of sexist tropes, clichés, and stereotypes that permeate the genre. I absolutely refuse to use rape as a random plot twist or a way to motivate a female character to go out and seek vengeance. I’ve written about rape in a few of my books, but I try to do so with an understanding of rape and recovery, remembering that rape is traumatic, but it doesn’t define who someone is.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to write different kinds of strong women characters. They may not all be strong enough to go toe-to-toe with a wendigo, but they’re all people. They’re not plot devices or rewards for the hero or helpless damsels to be rescued.

Basically, after working against sexual harassment and violence for so long, I’ve come away with the radical notion that women are people, and should be written as such.

What advice would you give to other communities looking to put together a list of resources for reporting sexual harassment?

Reach out to people and ask for help and suggestions. I was amazed at how many publishers responded to my emails asking for contact information. They took it very seriously and seemed to genuinely want to help. They were also able to offer suggestions and information I hadn’t considered.

Also, a project like this will need to be updated. Companies change policies, individuals move from one job to another, and so on. [Editor’s note: We created a publicly editable list of contacts on the Geek Feminism Wiki.]

Book cover with the words "Codex Born" and a smiling woman standing straight and holding a sword

Magic! Librarians!

Your new book, Codex Born, features librarian magicians saving the world. What inspired you to write about librarians?

I wanted to write about a character who was passionate about books and magic and genre, one who was well-read, and who would be able to use research and intelligence against the bad guys. Along with laser guns and light-sabers and whatever else he pulls out of his books, I mean.

And also because librarians are just cool. I hung out with some of the library students during grad school, and they were some of my favorite people in the world. Even if they did always whup my ass in Trivial Pursuit.

Do you like attending conferences with anti-harassment policies? The Ada Initiative was a leader in the fight for strong, enforceable anti-harassment policies at geeky conferences. We need your help to keep doing this work! Donate now and support the Ada Initiative’s work fighting sexual harassment at conferences and in Wikipedia, fan fiction, and open source software. Our fundraising drive ends August 30th, 2013.

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