Today, like every other day, I woke up and fired up the laptop…
I sat down to have some coffee and toast with my wife. Harvey Weinstein is still in the air, and as we prepared for the day we talked about it, about how she had experienced similar issues in the corporate world and elsewhere, about how men are conditioned to be aggressive, and about how that’s also a bullshit excuse. And then my messenger goes off.
“There’s something blowing up on Twitter I think you guys should look at.”
For those who don’t know me, I’m a writer. I write fantasy and science fiction. A few years back, I was invited to a convention in Madison—run, I might add, by an incredibly kind and talented lawyer. It was the break I’d been looking for. Much of what I write is fantasy based, and from what I could tell this was a burgeoning and promising con that I definitely wanted to be a part of. With glee, I accepted.
Only one problem: my wife and I and our dog were traveling the country in our RV. Fulltime.
Attending would be easy. Parking was an issue.
So, I posted in the Facebook group for the con, asking if anyone knew where I could park my 28’ Winnebago. Right away, I received a message.
“Why don’t you just park in my driveway?”
I was shocked when I saw who had sent it. Frank Mentzer. A legend in the tabletop gaming industry. Graciously, I accepted.
Frank and Deb were warm and obliging. Very kind people. I couldn’t believe that not only had we found a place to park, but I was sitting in the living room of a man who had been one of the most powerful driving forces behind the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon. This is the guy who wrote the Red Box (for those of you not in the know, this is a big one), as well as multiple other books and modules. He’s an enormous talent. This is the man whose powerful yet concise descriptive writing style influenced my own. And here we were having coffee with him and his wife.
I would attend that convention. And I would meet a lot of industry people, all very kind, all very nice.
About a year later, my wife and I decided maybe it was time to come off the road. We’d seen so much, traveled from Arizona to Oregon, across the entire country to New York, and then back down to Arizona for the winter. Afterwards, as we were driving back up to Oregon (our home state at the time), I struck up a conversation.
“You know, it seems like we’re running out of room for your art supplies.” My wife is a talented artist, and for her to live in such tight quarters was starting to bother me. She never said a word, so I spoke up. “Maybe it’s time we found a house.”
She perked up. “Really?” I nodded. “But homes are so expensive in Oregon.” It’s true. Even a starter home was out of our price range. So the discussion turned to all the states we’d driven through.
“Out of all of them.” I asked, “which state do you think you like the best?”
A few came up, one of which was Wisconsin. So I asked how she felt about settling down in Madison.
“I LOVED Madison,” she said. And I had to admit I loved it too. I have lots of readers in Wisconsin, and the time we spent there during the con was a great experience. So, after much discussion, we decided to move there.
Sarah got a job within a week. I, on the other hand, was having a tough time. I’d just had a big client drop off and was on the lookout for a new writing project. (Incidentally, for those who don’t know, most writers hold down day jobs. Mine was, and still is, as a ghostwriter.) I put the feelers out. One of the persons I contacted was Frank. Right away, I received a reply.
“How do you feel about writing for the gaming industry?”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wrote back, explaining that I had never done any RPG writing, but that I had grown up playing D&D, and that it had strongly influenced my novels. A few days later Frank sent me an offer for part-time work on his Empyrea project, which I gladly accepted.
I won’t get into the project, the scope, the stumbling blocks we encountered. Those are things that happen with any position, with any new company. We were struggling. Everyone knew it. But we were all determined to make Frank’s new project work. Frank was always kind, always treated me well.
Then I got that message.
I clicked on it. I read the Twitter feed. I did my research.
As a former victim of abuse, I believe the story. All of it. I know what it’s like to have people doubt you, to say it could have been prevented, to blame you for everything, to call you weak. With a heavy heart, I came to the only conclusion that made sense. I had to resign from my involvement with Frank’s Empyrea project.
I’m not going to go on and on about how disheartened this has made me feel, about how I had witnessed a legend fall flat on his face right before my eyes, about how truly disappointed I was with the way Frank handled the aftermath (there’s an ocean of screenshots out there). What I will say is this:
When anyone comes to you with accusations, they are opening themselves up in the most vulnerable fashion that a person can. They are risking everything. They are reaching out. They are crying for help. Having gone through this myself, I know what it’s like to see that brick wall of instant doubt appear in someone’s eyes, the spinning wheels in the brain, that rapid shuffle of logic to find a way, any kind of way, to turn it all around on you.
I will not doubt this woman. I believe her and I will do everything I can to stand up for her and other women (and men) who have to continually endure this brand of worn-out, deeply embedded victimization. I will not be complicit. I will not find excuses. I will not cover for someone.
So I’m jobless. Again.
I believe this woman. I’d wish her well, but she seems perfectly capable of standing on her own two feet.
As for Frank, I’m deeply saddened and disappointed. His work will have to continue without me.
I encourage Frank to come clean, to apologize and admit fault. That would be a start. It won’t erase the damage done, but perhaps it will provide an indication of some kind of personal growth, some acknowledgment that he’s handled this improperly. People can change. My hope is that Frank can muster even half as much courage as this woman has exhibited.