Posts Tagged ‘jennie goloboy’

This is not a post I ever thought I’d be writing, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing it now, when there’s so many terrible things going on in the world. But the SFF writing and publishing community is not an island: we impact and are impacted by the world in turn, and it’s because of this relationship that I’m speaking now. This is a small matter in comparison to the ongoing protests over the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd and the egregious police brutality with which those protests have been met, but it is still, to me, an important matter, as how the SFF community responds to racism and bigotry in other contexts will always relate to how it deals with internal gatekeeping. After what’s happened, I don’t feel that I can in good conscience continue to remain silent.

Last week, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary, who lives in Minneapolis, tweeted that she had called the police about “looters” at the gas station near her house in the wake of protests about the death of George Floyd. When other people pointed out that calling the police could potentially result in more violence towards Black people in particular – the Minneapolis protests were peaceful until police turned water cannons and rubber bullets on the crowd, precipitating the riots through a series of violent escalations – Fredrick doubled down in defense of her actions. When one of her agents, Kelly Van Sant, announced her resignation from the agency over the matter, Frederick posted a statement to the Red Sofa Literary website, insisting that there were “zero protesters” present at the gas station, just “straight up looters.” (How she could be certain there was no overlap between the two while watching from a distance is, presumably, unknown.)

Since then, two more Red Sofa agents, Amanda Rutter and Stacey Graham, have likewise resigned from Red Sofa in protest, while several of Frederick’s clients have dropped her. It was only after this that Frederick published a second statement, apologising for her actions; she has also deleted her twitter account. As as a result, I have seen many members of the SFF community debating whether or not the reaction Frederick received was proportional to her offence, with some asserting her credentials as a long-standing advocate for diversity in the SFF community as a reason why she has been treated unfairly.

It is for this reason that I have decided to speak publicly about my own past experiences with Dawn Frederick.

In 2014, I signed with Red Sofa Literary to be represented by Jennie Goloboy, an agent who subsequently left Red Sofa in 2017, not long after the events I am about to describe. While I don’t know for certain that what happened with me precipitated Jennie’s decision to leave Red Sofa, the timing of her departure has never struck me as being coincidental. At the very least, I suspect that what happened to me was a factor in her decision, and while I can’t say that my relationship with Jennie ended on good terms, I do believe that, at the end, her actions were severely constrained by Fredrick.

This is going to be a longish story, but the early details are important to the later context, and so I hope you’ll bear with me.

In December 2016, I received my edits for A Tyranny of Queens, the second novel in my Manifold Worlds duology, published with Angry Robot. As my original editor was unavailable at the time, a different editor had been brought on board, one who was also, coincidentally, an employee of Red Sofa. When the edits came in, I was upset to discover that the editor had made several problematic suggestions regarding diverse themes in the novel. In particular, she wanted me to use a different pronoun for a nonbinary character, stated that a neurodivergent character was insufficiently sympathetic because of their neurodivergence (“I love seeing that in a character, but it does make them very hard to present in a warm manner… It might be nice to present a little more of his confusion about how people interact, his fear… to assist with reader sympathy”), and said that giving the protagonist a notable PTSD symptom, after her PTSD is developed throughout the first book, was “a step too far,” describing the PTSD itself as something that should “be the focus of a whole novel” rather than a small subplot”.

I’m quoting these details now, not because I want to shame or attack the editor nearly four years after the fact – aside from anything else, it has always been my belief that these comments were the result of ignorance, not malice, and that the editor has since done active work to improve her understanding of these issues – but to explain why I was, at the time, both unhappy and stressed. I wrote an email to Jennie outlining my concerns, and later had a Skype conversation with her about it in greater detail: her response was, essentially, that everyone gets edits they disagree with sooner or later, and that I should just do my best. I didn’t feel as though this addressed the problems I was having, and I was additionally concerned that the editor being a fellow employee of Red Sofa was, if nothing else, putting Jennie in the awkward position of having her client complain about a colleague, but I was on deadline, so I set it aside and kept working on the book.

Four months later, in April 2017, fellow nonbinary writer JY Yang wrote a twitter thread about editorial pushback they’d received for using the singular they as their pronoun of choice for nonbinary characters, while also talking about how the personal blindspots of editors around issues of diversity is an element of gatekeeping in SFF publishing. Recalling what had happened with the editing on A Tyranny of Queens, and acting under the (as it turns out, incorrect) belief that Jennie had passed on my concerns to my editor back when I’d originally made them, I decided to chime in, piggybacking off Yang’s thread to share my experiences. I was careful not to name the editor, though I reiterated my belief that she was well-meaning. I hoped that my speaking up would help to further the conversation about diversity in publishing, and left it at that.

At this point, it’s important to note that, whereas Red Sofa Literary is based in Minneapolis, in 2017, I was living in Brisbane, Australia, meaning that Jennie and I were operating in very different timezones. As such – and as I’m a habitual night-owl – it wasn’t unusual for me to hear from Jennie in the evening. Even so, I was surprised and stressed to receive a DM from her after 1am my time, when I was already in bed and noodling around on my phone, saying that she wanted to talk about my tweets, which I’d posted earlier that day (my time). Our subsequent conversation went as follows:

jg tweets 1

jg tweets 2

 

At this point, I got out of bed, got dressed and went to Skype Jennie. I stated that, while I was sorry for causing upset, I didn’t think taking the tweets down would help, as traditionally, deleting tweets in the era of screenshots only tends to make an issue blow up. Jennie replied by saying that, to her, my tweets read like I was dissatisfied with Angry Robot and the final version of A Tyranny of Queens (I wasn’t), and that this was what she thought needed addressing.

And then my four-year-old stopped breathing.

More specifically, he started wheezing desperately, frighteningly for air, so loudly that I could hear him several rooms away. It woke my husband, who dashed in to look after him, and I have a very vivid memory of the last thing I said to Jennie on that call being a panicked, “I’m sorry, I have to go, my son isn’t breathing.” I shut the laptop on the Skype conversation and ran into my son’s room. He was terrified and struggling to breathe. We called an ambulance. The ambulance came, and determined the issue was serious enough to merit a hospital visit. I carried my son out to the ambulance at nearly 2am, and as I ducked my head to lift him in, I badly wrenched my lower back.

The EMTs injected him with steroids on the way to the hospital, and this did a lot to help his breathing. (He had croup; he’d had it before more than once, but never so badly, and not while he was old enough to understand what was happening.) Even so, we had to stay at the hospital for several hours to get him checked out properly. It was stressful and exhausting, both emotionally and physically, and sitting in a hard hospital chair made my back pain even worse. Still, there is not a lot to do in a hospital, and once the immediate danger had passed, I checked twitter to see what was happening. To my surprise, I found that the editor had replied to my tweets, identifying herself as their subject, apologising for her blind spots, and promising to do better in future. I was touched and pleased, and thanked her for her words, which I believe were sincere.

Eventually, at around 5am, my husband insisted I get a cab home and go to sleep, as he’d had several hours of rest to my none, and it looked like our son wouldn’t be discharged for a while yet. I did so, tweeting in the cab that I’d been in hospital and hurt my back, but that my son was okay. When I got home, I took some painkillers and got into bed, but before I fell asleep, I used my phone to send a quick email to my then publicist at Angry Robot, asking if the publisher was unhappy with me, apologising if I’d caused them any difficulties and offering to tweet a clarifying statement if they wished. Then, exhausted, I fell asleep, and stayed asleep for most of the day. I woke up a couple of times and glanced at my phone when I did so, but I was loopy on pain medication and didn’t really process anything beyond “shiny screen have words.”

It was late evening by the time I woke up properly, and when I did, I found I had an email from Dawn Frederick, head of the agency. The only other time I’d emailed with her directly had been when I signed my contract with Red Sofa. The tone of the email was blunt and aggressive. It read as follows:

Foz,

As you know, we’ve been trying to get ahold of you with the situation of the Tweets you wrote over 24 hours ago.  Jennie has tried to reach out to you repeated times, but alas it seems you’ve not gotten back in touch with her.

We need to talk. Not tomorrow. Today. I would appreciate 15 minutes of your time, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Thanks in advance,

Dawn

Startled, I checked my twitter DMs and found that Jennie had sent me several messages while I’d been asleep:

jg tweets 3

At this point, I was starting to feel extremely anxious. Having already established both in writing and verbally with Jennie that I wouldn’t be taking the tweets down, I didn’t know what the rush to “resolve” things was, especially as she was aware of the trip to hospital. I emailed Dawn a reply, explaining why I hadn’t been available, but stating that I would get dressed and come to the computer if she wished to speak to me. When Dawn didn’t immediately reply, I hopped back into my DMs with Jennie, where we had the following exchange:

jg tweets 4

On the basis of this exchange, I stayed awake, believing that I would be skyping privately with Dawn. Instead, I ended up on a call with both Dawn and Jennie that ended up lasting nearly an hour.

And for almost the entirety of that hour, Dawn shouted at me.

It was the worst experience of my professional life. When I opened the call by trying to explain, once again, that I hadn’t been available because of the hospital incident, Dawn said, “This is not about [your son] right now.” (She did not ask if he was okay, though she made sure to tell me that, as Jennie is a mother and because Dawn likes kids, I couldn’t accuse them of being unsympathetic.)

At any time when I tried to talk, either to ask questions or to defend myself, I was shouted down. Jennie said very little, chiming in only once or twice: overwhelmingly, the person speaking (shouting) was Dawn. She told me that my professional conduct in tweeting about my editor was the worst she’d ever seen; that she had Trump-voting relatives in Tennessee with whom she managed to get along, so therefore I had no excuse for criticising my editor in public. She repeatedly claimed that what I done was bullying; that I was a bully. Over and over again, she said I had “thrown her [the editor] under the bus.” When I tried to say that the editor had apologised on twitter, she exploded at me that of course she had, what else could she be expected to do, when everyone knew she was being talked about? I expressed surprise at this, as I hadn’t identified her; Dawn claimed that “everyone knew”.

When Dawn said how unacceptable it was to raise the issues I’d had in public, out of nowhere, without giving the editor a chance to reply, I was baffled, pointing out that I’d clearly raised them with Jennie months earlier. Jennie said yes, but she hadn’t passed them on to the editor, as I hadn’t expressly asked for that to happen. (I’d assumed that, as my email had essentially culminated in me saying I didn’t want to work with that editor in the future, this would happen as a matter of course.)

Dawn then proceeded to tell me that Angry Robot was “furious” and wanted the tweets removed – so much so that they were considering pulling my book a week before it was due to launch. She said that Red Sofa was one of the most author-friendly agencies in the business, “and if you can’t work with us…” she said meaningfully, leaving the sentence hanging so as to imply that, if they dropped me, I would have no future in SFF at all. Dawn accused me repeatedly of lying about the fact that I’d been asleep earlier in the day, saying that she “knew” I’d emailed Angry Robot and therefore had clearly been awake and ignoring Jennie’s messages. Any time I tried to advocate for myself, I was told to stop speaking or risk being dropped by Red Sofa , as she “[didn’t] want to represent that.”

At one point, she tried to frame my criticism of the editor as an un-feminist act, something I should’ve known better than to engage in, “because we’re all women here.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “but I’m genderqueer.”

Dawn made a scoffing noise. “That’s not what this is about.”

(It kind of was, actually, what with the editor wanting to change the nonbinary pronouns I’d used, but when I tried to mention this, Jennie asserted I’d never brought them up with her at all. Ironically, though I’d originally mentioned this as one of my issues while drafting my December email, I’d ended up taking it out of the final version, worried at being seen as hypersensitive about gender identity. Instead, I’d raised it with her verbally when we’d Skyped about the email, which she said she didn’t remember. I tried to argue that being genderqueer was part of my lived experience, something might know less about than me in this instance, but Dawn became angry at the implied criticism. “Of course we believe in diversity! We wouldn’t have signed you otherwise!”)

At one point, Dawn’s shouting was loud enough to wake my husband, who was asleep in the other room. (It was approaching midnight our time by then.) He wandered in, an appalled look on his face at what he was hearing, but he was just as tired as I was, so I gestured for him to go back to bed. At another point, I tried to suggest that there was a conflict of interest in Dawn and Jennie advocating so strongly for the editor, who was also a Red Sofa employee, despite the fact that I was a Red Sofa client; Dawn became absolutely furious at this, denying it completely, and yelled me back into silence.

In the end, Dawn gave me an ultimatum. I had twenty-four hours to post an apology to the editor, or Red Sofa would drop me as a client.

When the call ended, I was numb and shaking. (I’m shaking now as I write this.) I rested, inasmuch as I was able to rest, and then I wrote the apology. Posted it. Received confirmation from Dawn and Jennie that they approved, and that I could keep my representation.

I was still deeply shaken, but by that time, I’d calmed down enough to realise that I still hadn’t heard anything directly from my then publisher at Angry Robot. The publicist I’d emailed, however, had responded, and their (friendly, courteous) email implied Red Sofa had been the ones to contact Angry Robot, and not the other way around. This was confusing, as it seemed to go against what Dawn had told me on the Skype call, so after consulting with an excellent, level-headed writer friend, I tentatively reached out to the publisher to get their take on things.

To my relief, the publisher happily agreed to speak to me. Unlike the call to Red Sofa, my Skype with Angry Robot was calm and professional – and extremely enlightening.

According to the publisher, it was indeed Red Sofa who reached out to Angry Robot about my tweets, something they apparently did before I ever received my first DM from Jennie. Not only that, but Red Sofa also didn’t tell Angry Robot about my December email, letting the publisher believe that my comments about the editor had, indeed, come out of nowhere. The publisher’s understanding of things was that Dawn and the editor were Facebook friends: having seen my tweets, the editor had posted privately to Facebook about how upset she was, as she’d been proud of her work on the book (it was also, apparently, her birthday, which I hadn’t known). Dawn had been so incensed on the editor’s behalf that she’d gone straight to contacting Angry Robot, reassuring them that she would “get to the bottom of it.” The publisher also confirmed that, while they’d been a bit miffed about the tweets, they hadn’t asked for them to be taken down, nor had they ever been going to pull A Tyranny of Queens. I thanked the publisher for taking the time to talk to me – they were gracious, calm and forthcoming – and we ended the call on mutually good terms.

It was at this point that I looked back over my original DMs with Jennie and noted, with a certain painful irony, that almost the first thing I’d said to her was that I didn’t want to be shouted at. I hadn’t actually thought that Jennie would shout at me; I’ve just had enough hot-tempered, unreasonable bosses in my officeworker life that my anxiety wanted me to make sure it wouldn’t happen. My mental health, at the time, was garbage, something I’d also discussed with Jennie in the past. I felt vile: maybe Jennie hadn’t shouted at me, but she hadn’t stopped Dawn from doing so, either – but then, Dawn was her boss, and had clearly given her little to no say in the situation, either.

Up until this incident, I’d never had a single negative experience with Red Sofa, which was part of why the whole thing was so jarring. It was the first time I’d done anything to make the agency unhappy with me, and Dawn reacted so violently that even now, years later, just seeing her name crop up when I’m not expecting it gives me a sharp adrenaline spike and leaves my hands trembling.

I’m still not sure how much I blame Jennie for what happened, because the truth is, I don’t know the extent to which Dawn, as her then-boss, was dictating her actions. But knowing that they’d lied to me about Angry Robot’s role in things, and feeling strongly that Jennie hadn’t been advocating for me as a client, I didn’t feel I could trust either of them going forward. As such, I dropped Jennie as my agent and Red Sofa as my agency, though it still remains the agency of record for my Manifold World duology.

Three years later in 2020, I still don’t have a new agent. I’ve got plenty of works in progress, but I don’t have anything finished that I can shop around, and part of the reason for that – aside from yet another international move, parenting a small child, and dealing with a series of health issues, both physical and mental – is that, ever since my experience with Red Sofa, I haven’t felt as though I’m welcome in the SFF industry. I’ve been demotivated, struggling to push myself to finish a first draft, because what’s the point? How can I belong in an industry that doesn’t want me to speak up when I encounter something terrible?

Because that’s the real crux of it; that’s why my experience with Dawn and Red Sofa has felt so catastrophic. It’s not just that I encountered a horrible person who treated me badly in a professional context; it’s that the culture of silence in SFF is such that, when I spoke privately to colleagues about what happened with Dawn, even when people were horrified by her actions, their overwhelming consensus was that speaking about it publicly would risk me being seen as a problem author, someone nobody would want to represent in the future, and that I’d be setting my career on fire – in other words, making myself exactly as unrepresentable as Dawn had said I was, because if you can’t work with us… 

Since leaving Red Sofa, I’ve spoken to and heard about other former clients who have also had negative experiences with Dawn, and who have likewise been advised to keep quiet about it. And perhaps I would’ve stayed quiet, too, but after this past week, I feel it’s important to make it clear what kind of person she can be behind the scenes. I have no evidence for the claim that Dawn’s treatment of me resulted in Jennie switching agencies, but I suspect it was a motivating factor, and on that basis, knowing how willing she was to muscle in and take over from one of her own agents, I’d be deeply unsurprised if it turned out that Van Sant, Graham and Rutter all had additional, pre-existing reasons for wanting to leave Red Sofa in addition to Dawn’s tweets. I don’t say this to take away from the significance of three white agents choosing to depart on the basis of their support for the Black Lives Matter movement – that is a powerful statement, and something to be applauded. But as I’m already seeing their actions described as hypersensitive and disproportionate, I think it’s important to consider that, when something like this happens, it’s never just about a single thing said publicly, but about everything that has preceded it in private.

I don’t know what the future holds for Red Sofa Literary, but I wish Van Sant, Graham and Rutter all the best in finding new agency positions, and hope likewise that Dawn’s former clients find new and better representation. In speaking now, my intention isn’t to take attention away from the protests over the death of George Floyd, but rather to add my voice to the conversation around how real-world politics and actions continue to impact gatekeeping in SFF publishing.

Update, 1 June 2020, 7:00pm: 

Since publishing this piece, I’ve been privately contacted by another former Red Sofa agent, one who was with the agency during the period when I was represented by Jennie. With their permission, I’m sharing the message they sent me:

Hey, I wanted to say thank you so much for writing about Dawn. I’m horrified you had to go through that. I’m not sure if this is worth adding to your account, but both Jennie and Dawn, separately, communicated to me that your tweets had come out of nowhere (with no mention of the email), painting you as unreasonable, over-sensitive, and maybe even unstable. They didn’t even tell me about the Skype call. Only about a “polite ask” and you blowing up at them. I apologize for my part in this, in accepting their stories a face value. If there’s anything I can do to help and support you, please let me know. You’re brave and strong and you belong in SFF, and have more friends and power in the community than dawn ever did. One thing I’m certain of is that they didn’t tell people beyond the agency their version of events, so I’m confident you weren’t smeared anywhere.

In other words, not only was I lied about to Angry Robot, but also to other members of the Red Sofa staff. During the Skype conversation I had with Jennie following my original December email about the editorial issues, it was clear that she didn’t take my complaints seriously; that was frustrating at the time, but it’s even more so now to learn that I was being characterised as potentially unstable for raising those issues in the first place.

Update, 1 June 2020, 7:30pm:

Also with permission, I’m sharing this additional account of Dawn’s behaviour, which was sent to me privately by another former Red Sofa author:

I am so sorry Dawn put you through that. I had my own, but not nearly so awful experience with her. Shortish version: I had a different Red Sofa agent. Things started off fine, but a couple months into submission, the agent seemed to zone out. She’d give me contradictory info about editor replies, or she simply dropped into a black hole. When I got a R&R from Harper Voyager, I sent my agent the revised ms. but she never replied. I told her I needed her to be better about communication, and if that wasn’t possible, we needed to talk. The next thing I knew, Dawn emailed me, all shouty, saying the agency policy was to give updates only twice a year, and if I didn’t like that, she’d fire me as a client. I bit my tongue because…middle of submissions and all that. The book and its sequel sold, but my agent got more and more flaky. I finally parted ways with them, but Dawn was also a major part of my decision.