Changes in Store for BizarroCon

BizarroCon Director and Eraserhead Press publisher Rose O’Keefe today posted an “Open Letter To The Bizarro Fiction Community”, a thorough and detailed apology for the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown at BizarroCon 11, and for failing to take appropriate steps when informed about the online conduct of some authors she publishes. She outlined a series of actions she’ll be taking.

About the Showdown, O’Keefe wrote:

On a personal note, I need to deeply apologize for things that have gone on in our community.

First, to the people who witnessed or heard about The Ultimate Bizarro Showdown performance at BizarroCon 11 and were hurt by it, and in particular to those of you who experienced PTSD responses, I’m so sorry. This should have never happened. The Showdown event is intended to be a fun, interactive, entertaining time and I deeply regret that didn’t happen this year.

These were responses to Chandler Morrison’s act at the Showdown two weekends ago (described in “A Reckoning for BizarroCon”).

O’Keefe announced many changes are in store, some already implemented:

I am dedicated to making BizarroCon, Eraserhead Press, and our online communities safe and comfortable for all. To that end, I’m announcing the following changes, in response to your concerns:

  • Effective immediately, I will step down as coordinator of the current Bizarro Writers Association, and encourage the formation of a new BWA to be run by writers.
  • Effective immediately, Jeff Burk has stepped down as Head Editor of Deadite Press and is no longer employed by Eraserhead Press.
  • Effective immediately, Chandler Morrison’s DEAD INSIDE has been removed from Deadite Press’s 2019 publication schedule, and the book contract has been canceled with all rights reverting to the author.
  • Effective February 28, 2019, G Arthur Brown’s KITTEN and GOD’S MEAN OLDER BROTHER will no longer be published by Eraserhead Press. The titles will be removed from distribution and all rights will revert to the author.

Jeff Burk, no longer editor of Eraserhead’s Deadite Press imprint, told Facebook readers that he parted ways with them “due to artistic and creative differences.” According to Chandler Morrison, one of those differences was the cancellation of Deadite’s plans to publish his book.

O’Keefe also said Eraserhead Press was dropping two books by G. Arthur Brown. Brown has been a past subject of sexual assault allegations. While Brown is not addressed by name in today’s statement, part of O’Keefe’s apology is addressed to Tiffany Scandal, whose extensive comments about BizarroCon’s latest issues included this said about “Gary” (Brown):

But this performance [Morrison’s] is just one of many events that brought people to this point. The people who have exhibited predatory behavior at past cons have never been officially banned from the con, a person [Brown] who had legal action taken against him for predatory behavior not only gets a new book out, he also got a beer to celebrate him! And everyone who has experienced something less than pleasant at this con has been told to not talk about it, to not fan flames, and we don’t, and it’s like all that happens with this shit gets swept under the rug.

O’Keefe addressed her today:

To Tiffany, I want to clarify I had no intention of maintaining a working relationship with the person who harassed you. I barred him from the convention and have had no contact with him. The reason I advised we not burn bridges with him was because I was trying to avoid creating a hostile competitor. I appreciate you calling me out over this. It revealed to me the conflict of interest in being a book publisher and also being in charge of determining appropriate action related to harassment.

O’Keefe says she will be making other changes to BizarroCon and Eraserhead Press.

Going forward, I will also institute the following changes.

  • The creation of a BizarroCon Safety & Inclusion Committee.
  • Myself, the committee members, and the staff of Eraserhead Press will enroll in diversity, inclusion, equity, and crisis management training.
  • Revisions to the format of the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown.
  • The creation of new positions on the BizarroCon Planning Committee, and clarification for the roles and responsibilities of each position including the Book Nook Coordinator, Guest Liaison, Fundraising Director, Workshop Coordinator, Program Booklet Editor, Clean-up Crew, and other volunteer positions.
  • Creation of a Social Media Policy for Eraserhead Press which will outline best practices and standards for online conduct of our editors and authors.

Meanwhile, Chandler Morrison wrote a blog entry today trying to ameliorate public reaction to his BizarroCon Showdown performance by explaining its symbolic meaning.

In light of recent events, the time has come for me to directly address the controversial performance that has now brought about the pulling of my book, Dead Inside, and the subsequent termination of Jeff Burk, head editor of Deadite Press. Up until now, I’ve been clinging to the admittedly pretentious hope that someone was going to “figure out” the message I was trying to convey with the skit in question. As I watched hundreds of people…some of whom had been at BizarroCon, most of whom had not…take me to task in dozens of various social media threads, I ping-ponged back and forth in my head about whether or not I should respond. It was tempting for me to jump in and say, “Wait, no, you didn’t get the allegory, what I meant was…” Whenever I started to type, though, I would think to myself, “No, dammit. I’m a capital-A Artist. I shouldn’t have to explain myself. I will not explain myself. If they didn’t get it, that’s not on me.”

What I’ve now realized, however, is that the fact that nobody seemed to get it…even the ones who weren’t actually offended by it…means that I failed in my attempt at creating capital-A Art. The audience isn’t the problem. I am. I was trying to make a statement about a very specific cultural phenomenon, but the statement was so obscure and mired by my own affectations that it failed to resonate. I demanded too much from my audience. Because of that, the hidden meaning (the fact that I didn’t think it was all that hidden is a sign of my own arrogance) of my “statement piece” flew right over everyone’s head like a comet on a cloudy night.

Morrison says his act symbolized his feelings about the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories bandied about in the media.

A Reckoning for BizarroCon

Chandler Morrison’s performance during the “Ultimate Bizarro Showdown” at BizarroCon 11, simulating sex with an aborted fetus, not only provoked a flurry of protests, it ignited a wider discussion of predatory behavior at the convention which one commenter says “has been insufficiently addressed for years.” (Warning: this article includes some descriptive details.)

The annual BizarroCon, held last weekend near Portland, OR, celebrates the work of various small press publishers of “bizarro” fiction, described by some as transgressive surrealism and associated fantasy/crime, and by Eraserhead Press publisher Rose O’Keefe, the Director of BizarroCon as something that “clearly wasn’t horror, science-fiction, fantasy, or even experimental fiction. The only real way to describe it would be: weird,” and as “the literary equivalent to cult movies. Our books are quirky, campy, freaky, funny, lewd, rude, and just out there.”

The “biggest event at BizarroCon” is The Ultimate Bizarro Showdown:

[The] banquet hall is transformed into Bizarro Thunderdome! 20 authors enter, only one leaves victorious. Each author gets 2 minutes to tell the weirdest story they can come up with to a drunk and impatient crowd. After 2 minutes, if the story entertains the audience enough they are allowed to continue. If their story fails they are fucking decapitated! The distinguished bizarro judges will choose the top three readers. Winners will receive fabulous prizes and bragging rights for a year.

Author Chandler Morrison spent more than three minutes simulating sex with a doll covered in fake blood to look like a recently extracted fetus, using a dildo positioned adroitly enough to lead some to believe he had used his penis.

Morrison is a young writer who thinks of himself in these terms:

In today’s overly sensitive snowflake society, in which art of a transgressive nature tends to be derided and scorned, Chandler brazenly dares to speak truths that others are afraid to even acknowledge to their innermost selves.  He sees the writing on the wall, and transcribes it for the world in a language as breathtaking as it is blasphemous. 

Brian Keene, a BizarroCon guest of honor and one of the event’s judges, wrote on Facebook:

Personally, I did not care for the performance.

It wasn’t because of the prosthetic penis, or because of the baby doll (the view from the judges table was that the doll looked dead and bloody — which mirrored the dead fetus of the story in question. It wasn’t until the next day, in listening to the privately shared concerns of others, that I understood that some interpreted the doll’s color as a skin tone).

The reason I didn’t care for the performance was the same reason I have never watched A SERBIAN FILM — sexual violence against children is something I abhor, and I don’t care to be exposed to the imagery, even if the imagery in question is in the context of a fiction, be it film, prose, or performance art.

My other personal issue was that, as a parent who lost three children before birth, I don’t dig dead baby jokes.

In addition, Keene now feels compelled to apologize for not putting a stop to it:

Watching the crowd from the judges table, I saw people who were clearly entertained by the performance in question. But I also saw people who were clearly upset by it. And seeing the looks on the latter group’s faces, I thought to myself, “I should stop this.” But I didn’t, and for that I apologize. I didn’t because I thought, “You’re 51, Brian. Maybe you just don’t get it.” I also think that I — quite stupidly — mistook the uneasy laughter by some in the crowd as complicity. In hindsight, it clearly wasn’t. I can’t speak for all the judges, but I echo what Gina said above about sitting there sort of stunned. I kept thinking, “Okay, this is going to go somewhere. There’s going to be a truth, or a twist, or maybe just a punchline.” But there wasn’t.

I thought perhaps the crowd would speak up at the 3-minute mark. When they didn’t, I again mistook this for “Well, they are into it, Brian, and you’re just an old mainstream guy who doesn’t get it. You speak up and vote no, and it’s just going to be another case of, ‘Brian Keene was an asshole and ruined BizarroCon’. So I didn’t.”

… I hope that the dialogue and conversation will take precedence over the finger-pointing and blame game. If anyone still needs someone to blame, then blame me. Like I said, I should have spoken up…and I didn’t, because of my own personal insecurities.

Since the convention Facebook has played host to discussion threads with hundreds of comments protesting and defending Morrison’s performance, while raising wider implications for the BizarroCon community.

Author Jennifer Robin wrote on January 21:

The realism of the performance is an issue here. The performer said he was having sex with an abortion as part of his narrative. The doll was a full-grown baby shape, not a cluster of cells. The color of the doll was a darker brownish color, not a bright blood red. Several people were taken aback by the uniform brown color of the doll and assumed that it was a racial statement meant to be shocking. As for the dildo, even men close to the stage have said it was hard to tell whether it was real or a prosthetic, and the same with the eventual cum. So I’ll shift the question to this: If the performer didn’t want to say “brown skin” he should have put more care into picking a red fake blood to cover it, because many audience members saw brown. If the performer wanted to say “abortion-fucking” and not trigger PTSD or other violation-related reactions in the crowd, a full-blown baby doll is not how to say it. How many ways can there be to say babyfucking is not a good thing to show with these props at a literary convention? The number of audience members who have condemned it should be bringing the organizers to seriously consider what damage has been done, and what they want to encourage as free speech in the year 2019.

And in case that sounded inconsistent with what people are used to from her, Robin explained:

How can I, who regularly has explored surrealist and dadaist and cathartically ritualistic performances over the course of my life, who has almost ALWAYS played devil’s advocate for free speech, how could I suddenly make a declaration that shocking for shock’s sake is low, is crass, is a form of sadism?

Well, I did. And I haven’t gone soft at all. It isn’t soft to talk about consent of an audience, or about whether the artist’s intent is to dominate a crowd and hurt them—versus illuminating concepts about the barbarism and strangeness of the human psyche.

… After a century of artists exploring actions like this, it is no longer innovative, no longer something that enhances our awareness of taboos, or starts up fresh conversations about “what the human race really is.”

It’s no longer an innovation to be naked, or cut your chest open, or have an orgy on stage, or do anything regarding blackface or incest or involving suspension or projectile vomiting or threatening to cut off an audience member’s hand. For a lot of performances like this, the idea that you are “SHOWING PEOPLE” what fear or darkness or reality or a soul is made of…is…expired.

I strongly value the existence of ritualistic theater, avant-garde art, horror and gore and darkness, but I feel that in 2019, the “edges” aren’t what they once were, and that we are facing the deepest global and existential crisis a sentient species on this planet has ever had to face.

Yes, everything we took for granted is going extinct, as are we.

Meanwhile, Morrison is not without his defenders. Monica J. O’Rourke, an author published by Eraserhead Press’ Deadite imprint, wrote on Facebook:

This is NOT directed at anyone specific. And for those who don’t know me, I’ve been around for decades and have either organized or participated in (or both) gross-out contests at several major conventions, some of which i’ve chaired or co-chaired.

Sorry, and maybe I am SOOOO not PC on this one … but if you go to a horror convention, and a gross-out contest (or even an open mic — what do you believe you’ll get at a horror convention???? especially a bizarro convention), why do you get to pick and choose what’s considered offensive? You seriously go to a gross-out contest and have triggers? Really? Were your legs broken, sweetheart, that you couldn’t get up and walk out? Have you not seen a gross-out contest before? Jesus.

O’Rourke also commented:

Censorship is censorship, regardless of the topic. This was about feelings and sensibilities being hurt in a venue where people could have walked out. BTW, some of the people in that thread complaining the loudest about that performance either 1. weren’t even in the room during the event or 2. congratulated the author at the end on his performance. Suddenly they’re all offended. And in another juicy bit of irony, these same people decrying censorship are calling for the author to be banned from future conventions and are even trying to get his book pulled. Sure doesn’t sound like kneejerk overreaction!

In contrast, Chandler Morrison has now publicly apologized:

I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I hurt with my performance at the BizarroCon Showdown. I have remained silent until now because I was listening and reflecting. I made a lot of new friends over the course of those very special few days, and I am deeply troubled that some of those friends were hurt by an act that was clearly in poor taste and insensitive to the audience to whom I was presenting. It was truly never my intent to inflict mental harm or emotional distress, but that’s no excuse, and I am genuinely sorry.

And Brian Keene offered:  

One final thought on the young author in question. I’ve seen some characterizing him as an “edgelord”. Having met him, I don’t think that is a fair characterization… From what I know of him I think this young man has a good heart, and I hope he learns from this and is given that time.

However things play out for Morrison individually, the lid has come off a much wider discussion about BizarroCon’s handling of antiharassment issues.

Michael Kazepis wrote on January 23:

There’s never really been a scene like bizarro before—genre literature that often overlaps themes of violence, fetish, fantasy, sex, and the grotesque, while encouraging people to let out their inner “weirdo/cult” selves without being shamed for what they’re into. But it’s also a scene that’s got almost no firm boundaries for what’s acceptable, for consent and respect, because all scene performances or art/literature exists in the name of free expression. And that’s what’s at the heart of all this, right? It does require noting that Rose O’Keefe, after endless criticisms of the bizarro scene being a “boy’s club” over the years, did make great effort to bring more women into the scene and largely succeeded. But with the arrival of more women, also came the arrival of some predatory shitbirds. I won’t list them here, but it’s become a thing. A similar compliment can be made of Rose reaching out for more diverse voices, LGBTQ authors.

That in mind, there is an institutional problem (and now a proportional backlash to that problem) that’s only grown over the past five or so years. Both are reinforced by those infirm boundaries, as well as inadequate responses to inappropriate conduct and a tacit enabling of the accused. Also, shutting down concerned voices as a first response has been the worst possible move this week. I realize that folks want to defend the scene from any attack, and there have been needless ones in the past, but now an outcry over a performance has become an outcry over trending sexual impropriety and is on the verge of becoming an exodus of those concerned voices etc etc etc. On a long enough timeline, no one benefits but predatory shitbirds. This seems a conflict of “Do you try to keep the peace?” or “Do you take major corrective actions?”

BizarroCon Director Rose O’Keefe has answered with her own apology and told what she’ll do to heal the community and keep the con viable:

What I understand is that people are feeling unheard and are dissatisfied with my response and/or lack of response to past as well as to present grievances related to their experiences at BizarroCon and in our community. I am truly sorry. Especially to my fellow women and to anyone who has felt harassed in any form. I let you down.

…I acknowledge that I have made mistakes and that there are problems in our community. Actions such as establishing an anti-harassment policy, appointing a trained counselor to handle issues that arise, recruiting the assistance of security professionals and military veterans from within our community to help during the event, banning offenders and unwelcome individuals privately rather than publicly and making unilateral decisions on who to welcome into our scene have not eliminated the sense of unease that many are expressing. Moreover, they haven’t sufficiently prevented instances of harassment and trauma from continuing to occur at our event. Therefore these things are insufficient and are in need of improvement. I am deeply regretful for this and it is my greatest wish to continue to work together to find meaningful resolutions to those problems and develop actionable plans to improve our future.

…Additionally, effective immediately, I would like to establish a Safety and Inclusion Committee for BizarroCon. It could be a group of 3-4 people whose responsibilities include fielding any complaints pertaining to our anti-harassment policy and creating very clear and specific protocol for handling and addressing these complaints. They may also audit panels for diverse panelists and topics.

I will also be expanding and improving the BizarroCon committee, establishing clear lines of responsibility, and delegating some of the roles and responsibilities that are in the best interest of the community. There is a lot that goes into running this thing and I know I am not alone in my desire to see this genre expand and improve and its level of professionalism increase. I see this moment as an opportunity for change and I am ready to embrace it.

…For now, one thing we can share is that in addition to the creation of the Safety and Inclusion Committee we will be crafting changes to the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown that will fully empower the hosts, the judges and the audience. I’d also like you to know that I have sent a letter to Edgefield apologizing to the staff who were on-duty at the Showdown last week.

Postscript: In case you wondered what artistic achievements are ordinarily presented at this event, author Zé Burns’ (“BizarroCon 11”) conreport describes 2019’s winning entries:  

Then came the highlight of the convention: the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown. Each participant was allotted six minutes to perform their weirdest story or sketch. These ranged from amusing monologues to such depravity that I dare not soil this page.

Cameron Pierce won, rapping humorous poetry under the moniker “Young Stepdad.” Danger Slater sang “Rainbow Connection” in a Kermit the Frog voice, wearing a green bodysuit and face paint and strumming a cardboard banjo, while Karl Fischer gave a pitch about teaching horses to ski, stopping here and there to moon the audience who in turn pelted him with oranges.

Update 01/26/2019: Dropped the comparison to the WHC “gross-out” contests after further comment from Brian Keene: “The Showdown was inspired by the old World Horror Gross Out contests, but they have always been separate things. Sometimes there has been some crossover content (Shane Mackenzie’s The Aristocrats, for example) but by and large, very different material for very different audiences. Only reason I compared them was to illustrate the Showdown’s origins. Didn’t mean to imply they are similar.”

Dan Wells To Keynote Utah Writers Conference

Wasatch Writers Fellowship  will host their third annual writers conference over the January 25-26 weekend in Kaysville, Utah.

“Writers from along the Wasatch Front are invited to join with us for multiple seminars and panels to improve their craft, hone their stories, and get published,” said Christina Re Anderson, founder of the Fellowship.

Dan Wells

The conference will feature best-selling author Dan Wells as the keynote speaker, a Utah writer who has made the New York Times Bestsellers list. He has written a variety of young adult novels in the horror and science fiction genres, including books like the Partials series, where a war and a baby-killing virus have devastated the population, and the Mirador novels about a teen cyber hacker in a futuristic Los Angeles.

The conference will be held at the Hopebox Theatre in Kaysville, Utah, located at 1700 Frontage Road. Tickets are currently on sale for $25 through the Fellowship website www.writersfellowship.com, and will be sold at the door for $28. Writers in any medium are encouraged to attend and the general public is also welcome.

The conference’s program is online here,

The Wasatch Writers Fellowship was started in 2015 as a Meetup.com writing group and has grown to include over 500 members, over 40 of which are regulars at the meetups. “I started the group to find other writers who could give me, and each other, encouragement and support in working on our projects,” said Anderson. “Our overall goal is to help writers to improve their craft, finish projects and ultimately get published.”

More information can be found on the group’s website, and on social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Meetup.

Two Site Selection Votes to be Held at 2019 NASFiC

Voting for the location of the 2020 NASFiC and 2021 Westercon will be held at in July at Spikecon, which is the combined Westercon 72, 13th NASFiC (2019), and 1632 Minicon.

Spikecon’s Westercon/NASFiC site selection administrator Ben Yalow has shared the latest procedural information:

Since this upcoming Westercon is also the NASFiC (since Dublin is non-NA, there was a NASFiC selected), then the WSFS and Westercon rules mean that since the 2020 Worldcon is also non-NA, there will be two site selections at this year’s Westercon/NASFiC. And, since a few deadlines have passed, we know a bit more about the races (which should be reported soon on the convention web site).

Columbus (OH) Only Filed 2020 NASFiC Bid: For the upcoming NASFiC race, there is only one bid filed, for Columbus, OH. The filing deadline has passed, so there will be no other bids on the printed ballot.

Westercon Bids Can Be Entered from Any Region: For the Westercon race for 2021, since no bids have filed before Jan 1, then the zone restrictions have been lifted, and all three of the Westercon zones are now eligible. So we’ll be taking bids from all of the Westercon region, not just North and South. The filing deadline for getting on the ballot is April 15.

There’s more information on the convention website about how to file, with links to the various Constitutions. As ballots are settled, they’ll also be on the convention web site, and in the various PRs (note that, as always, since the Westercon filing deadline is April 15, that ballot won’t be out until shortly after that date).

If there are questions on the rules, I’ll be glad to explain them, and help people with their filings.

Loscon Statement from Isabel Schechter

[Since LASFS distributed a statement by Gregory Benford as its determination about the code of conduct issues at Loscon 45, published here as part of a report about the incident, I have agreed to host Isabel Schechter’s statement about the outcome as well.]

By Isabel Schechter: It is unfortunate that I have to make a statement regarding the incident that happened last week at LosCon 45, but there has been lack of information, misinformation, and deliberately incomplete information being put out, and given Loscon’s lack of communication, I feel I need to set the record straight on some things.

The comments made by Dr. Benford at the “New Masters of SF” panel have been discussed elsewhere, and I will not address them or the reasons for my report of them further. However, the actions of the convention and the LASFS board, and my connection or lack thereof, to those actions have been confusing, and that is what needs to be made clear.

To begin, right after the panel, there were several people who spoke with the Programming department head, Justine Reynolds, about Dr. Benford’s comments. After that, various concom staff members sought me out regarding this incident. First, Justine followed up with me to let me know that Dr. Benford had been asked to not be on programming for the rest of the convention. Later, the con chairs sought me out to tell me that they had removed Dr. Benford from the convention. The third time I was approached, it was by Ops to ask me to make an official report of the incident. Each time concom staff sought me out, I thought that was the end of it.

Apparently, that was not the end of it. It was only after the convention that I found out that Dr. Benford’s removal from the convention had been reversed. It was only after reading social media posts about the incident that I found out that Dr. Benford’s removal from the convention was not actually because of my or anyone else’s report of his comments on the panel, but rather because he didn’t follow the concom’s directions, used foul language, and referred to one of the con chairs as “honey.”

I was not informed that the con would be issuing a statement about the incident on social media, nor was I informed that they would be publicizing Dr. Benford’s statement or asked if I would like the opportunity to do the same. In addition, contrary to what at least one concom member stated, Dr. Benford and I did not have contact of any kind after the panel.

In my on-site interactions with Loscon staff, I felt that they took their Code of Conduct seriously and wanted to ensure that this kind of incident was handled appropriately. Sadly, as I have now found out from other sources more about how Loscon did not follow their own procedures and has still, one week later, not communicated any of this to me directly, I am now extremely disappointed with their disorganization and unprofessionalism.

While I appreciate that the con chairs had good intentions in taking swift action against Dr. Benford, I need to make it absolutely clear that at no point did I request, pressure, insist, or demand that Loscon bypass their policies or procedures, or to remove Dr. Benford from the convention. I was never asked by Loscon for my input or opinion regarding any actions the con took toward Dr. Benford. His removal was a decision made by the con chairs without my knowledge and only communicated to me after it was already done.

I take CoC’s very seriously and believe it is imperative that all conventions not only have a strong CoC, but to also consistently follow policies and procedures to ensure all incidents are handled in an appropriate manner. I reported Dr. Benford’s comments and spoke to File 770 about what happened at the convention because I initially trusted Loscon would properly implement their CoC rules. Unfortunately that trust was misplaced, putting me at risk. When conventions bypass their own CoC policies and procedures, misinformation and confusions result. CoC policies and procedures exist to not only protect the convention, but also to protect attendees, including those who report problems to the convention. Failure to follow procedure can often lead to those who made reports leaves them vulnerable as targets for retaliation and threats, including some I have seen encouraging physical violence against me that have made because of the unclear and conflicting statements and actions taken by Loscon. Convention attendees need to feel safe enough to report incidents, and when failures like this occur, they can discourage other attendees from reporting issues because they don’t want to expose themselves to harassment and threats for doing the right thing.

Loscon did not handle this incident well to begin with, and has made it worse with their lack of communication. I hope that they will learn from this incident and do better going forward, and that other conventions will take note and strengthen their own procedures to prevent a similar situation from occurring.


Update 12/02/2018: The formal address in this post has been corrected to Dr. Benford. Isabel Schecter explains: “I was unaware the he was Dr., and would have used the proper address if I had known. I apologize for my error.”

Loscon 45 Incident: What Happened, and the Committee’s Update

“New Masters of Science Fiction” panel at Loscon 45 with Mel Gilden, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Gregory Benford, and Brad Lyau. Photo by Kenn Bates.

Over Thanksgiving weekend at Loscon 45, code of conduct violations were alleged against Gregory Benford for a couple of statements he made on the “New Masters of Science Fiction” panel. Afterwards, a Loscon co-chair took the unprecedented step of removing Benford from the convention. However, this action bypassed Loscon’s incident process. The board of directors of LASFS, which owns Loscon, got involved. The issue was returned to the process so con Ops could gather information. Loscon later made an announcement that “the actions desired by the aggrieved parties have been either met or exceeded.” However, at the time Ops met with the party who reported the incident she was still under the impression that Benford had been removed, which was not the ultimate outcome. On November 28, the club posted as its final resolution a statement written by Benford himself which says the co-chair apologized and he accepted the apology.

What happened at the panel: On Saturday morning the “New Masters of Science Fiction” panelists — Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Mel Gilden, Brad Lyau, and Benford — were discussing the question: “We know the old SF masters — Heinlein, Asimov, Vogt, de Camp, McCaffrey, LeGuin — who are new masters?”

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Gregory Benford. Photo by Kenn Bates.

According to Kenn Bates, who was present, Benford said N.K. Jemisin should get her science right.  “He did qualify his comment by saying that he liked hard SF and he was sure that his opinion was biased by that. He also said that PSI powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.”

Benford later told readers of David Weber’s Facebook page specifically, “I said, not to anyone in the room, ‘If you write sf honey, gotta get the science right.’”

Isabel Schechter says, “In addition to the ‘honey’ comment, Greg also made another comment-when one of the panelists recommended a Latino author, Greg asked him to spell the name, and then asked again several times before giving up and saying that some or those ‘names have too many vowels.’ He made this comment several times.”

Schechter, who has been in fandom over 20 years and co-chaired the successful San Juan in 2017 NASFiC bid, asked to be called on and made several comments:

I said that we were supposed to be talking about new masters but instead were talking about old ones. I remember saying “old white men” at some point in that description of the old masters, but not about the panelists (two of whom are not White). I did say that there were not any women on the panel (there was one assigned, but she didn’t show up-which I didn’t know). My comment about the female authors was in reference to the contrast between the men being discussed.

I did tell Greg that his use of the word “honey” was “offensive.” He tried to interrupt me and I told him I was still speaking. Shortly thereafter, he declared, “This panel is over!” and left the room. The panel went on without him, with panelists answering several questions after that.

The process: Isabel Schechter says she contacted the committee about events at the panel, beginning with Program organizer Justine Reynolds. Other conversations followed with Loscon co-chairs Christian McGuire and Crys Pretzman, then head of con Ops Lee Almodovar, and Robbie Bourget.

After the panel, several people were talking to me about the panel and Greg’s behavior, and Justine Reynolds, the Program Chair happened to be just outside the room as we walked out. I told her what happened, as did the other people. She apologized and said she would look into it, or something along those lines. I then went about my business. At some point, maybe an hour later, I was told that Greg had been asked to not be on any more programming. I said thanks and thought that was the end of it.

Then maybe an hour later, someone (I don’t know who, but they looked like staff) told me the conchairs wanted to talk to me, and walked me over to them, where they apologized for Greg’s behavior. They said they didn’t want me to think that the convention found his behavior acceptable and that they would not allow that kind of thing there. I thanked them, and again thought that was the end of it.

What happened next is that Christian McGuire, accompanied by someone from the hotel, located Benford at his 1 p.m. signing in the dealer’s room. According to Brandy Grote, “My husband witnessed him being escorted away by Hotel Security during his autograph session.”

Ginjer Buchanan, who read about this on David Weber’s Facebook page, commented, “Short of someone physically assaulting someone else in public, I can’t think of any reason for tracking down a person, no matter who they are, and having them do a perp walk out of a con. This strikes me as a bridge too far…”

What’s more, this step was taken without going through Loscon’s process for handling code of conduct violations. In response to my question, LASFS’ Kristen Gorlitz explained, “We do have a process for dealing with violations, but in this case, the proper channels were bypassed in favor of haste. This was thereafter rectified and the proper channels were consulted. (This is why we have an Ops team).”

Hours after Benford was led out, the committee asked Isabel Schechter to make an official statement:

Later that evening, I was asked by someone (don’t remember who) if I could make an official statement to Ops, so I went to the Ops room and gave a statement to Lee Almodovar. While doing that, [Robbie] (an older blond woman) asked me for details because it turns out that the conchairs didn’t follow convention procedures/coordinate the process with Ops. She said the conchairs overreacted or were extreme or something, and that she preferred to talk to everyone involved to try and reach a resolution, but now that Greg had been kicked out, he might not be willing to talk. She asked me if I was satisfied with the outcome or if I wanted anything like an apology. I told her I would like an apology but didn’t think I would get one. Otherwise, I was fine with the resolution. After that, I again went on about my business.

What happened to Benford led to a retaliatory petition calling for Christian B. McGuire to be removed from the LASFS Board of Directors, signed by a number of LASFS members including Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, Laura Frankos, and David Gerrold. The next meeting of the Board is in December.

What the public was told: Ops was still collecting information on Sunday morning when LASFS asked File 770 to post this announcement (which also went up on Facebook):

Please be aware that the Loscon committee and LASFS Board are aware of an issue which occurred yesterday during a panel and are conducting a full investigation to ensure that all parties have been heard and then making a final decision based on that investigation. We would request that if anyone believes they have information to approach Ops in the Board Room. We will have an official resolution within 24 hours.

Among the people who reacted to the Facebook request was Barbara Landsman, who had a different perspective.

I was at that panel and I was horrified. I actually stood up and told her that I did not want to hear her political agenda and that she should just stop. Gregory Benford caught my eye and I just made the cut it off sign to him and he just shrugged. He finally got so pissed off that he stormed out. I again made a comment to try to stop her from continuing on with her rant and she just wouldn’t give it up. So I left. If anyone wants my testimony I’ll be very happy to speak on this. She came into this panel with a notebook and made notes and took down names and she definitely had an agenda. She wanted to fight.

Two more fans said they’d been at the panel and had given statements to Ops, but they did not repeat them on Facebook.

On Monday morning, Kristen Gorlitz issued this update:

All parties have been spoken with either yesterday or today. The actions desired by the aggrieved parties have been either met or exceeded through the follow up actions by the Co-Chairs and Ops. We would like to remind everyone and also future Loscons of the importance of being fully aware of our Code of Conduct and how language can cause emotional and psychological harm.

The resolution: Convention committees usually keep confidential their internal deliberations about alleged code of conduct violations so, unsurprisingly, it remains unexplained why the Loscon leadership didn’t follow the process, or how LASFS decided the outcome. Nor does LASFS really show an understanding that it’s their process and they need to take ownership of the outcome, because at the end this what they distributed:

November 28, 2018

Greg Benford gave us permission to publish this statement, if you wish to update file770. Thanks!

Gregory Benford’s message to LASFS:

At the 2018 Loscon there was an incident at a panel where someone took exception to something I said in general—which that someone took to be about a third party, who was not there.  Things got heated.  I left the room, not wanting to continue.  Apparently that someone complained to the convention chairs and they over reacted. The chair has apologized to me and I accepted it gratefully. He and his co-chair were probably trying to do the right thing in these over-heated times.  We all are, I trust. I have been attending Loscon since it began, and my first LASFS meeting was in 1963. I respect these enormously.

People were upset by the way the chairs acted.  Many later came up to me to say they were disturbed over it.  They were more upset than I was.  Since then, I’ve received vastly many emails, calls, Facebook posts, the lot. It’s exhausting. Things are fine with me now.  I’m not upset.  And I hope people will keep cooler heads in the future.

I want to especially thank Craig Miller, John Hertz, Matthew Tepper, Harry Turtledove, Larry Niven, Steve Barnes, John DeChancie, Gordon van Gelder and Michelle Pincus for their help in dealing with this.

At risk of being too professorial, I recommend reading

https://quillette.com/2018/05/17/understanding-victimhood-culture-interview-bradley-campbell-jason-manning/?fbclid=IwAR0hPL1hJRW_ERe6hhokHE6QJL784V4qSojSR5zwLNLwMUcnoHzK08Lwkpg

This is probably the first time the subject of code of conduct allegations ever wrote up the determination for the con committee.

When Kristen Gorlitz answered my follow-up questions about the statement, I learned she was under the impression that Isabel Schechter and Gregory Benford had met and resolved things, which never happened. (Do any other LASFSians think that happened?) Schechter says —

They did not copy me on Greg’s statement. It would have been nice if they had, given that it concerned me.

As for me and Greg resolving things, I have no idea what they mean by that. I never spoke to Greg after the panel, or at any point during the convention, before or after the panel. He did not approach me, I did not approach him, no one put us together, and we had no interaction during the convention other than during the panel. I have no idea why Kristen would say this, and am at a loss for words to explain how confused I am by her comment.

Also, Greg’s statement, “someone took exception to something I said in general—which that someone took to be about a third party, who was not there,” is misleading at best-his comment was not “in general,” he specifically named N.K. Jemisin, I did not need to make up a third party.

After neutralizing effects of the co-chair’s startling decision to walk Benford out of his autograph session, and, so far as the statement shows, managing to keep his good will, it is probably unrealistic to expect LASFS to speak explicitly to the original complaint and say whether its code of conduct was violated by Benford’s comments about Jemisin’s sf, or the spelling of Hispanic names. However, since they are standing behind his statement, how that blank would be filled-in should be easy to guess.


Update 11/30/2018: Robbie Bourget of Loscon Ops forwarded this additional information about their role: “Ops was not involved until the day after the issues, although we did take a statement from Isobel in which she did say when specifically asked ‘what would you have wished to have happen’ she said ‘for Mr Benford to be spoken to about his use of language’ and when I asked if she wanted an apology she said it would be nice but did not expect it. Therefore, since Greg was spoken to, twice, about his language – the requests (actual) of all parties were met or exceeded, since he was excluded from panels that he was scheduled for from the point the Chairs first talked to him and from the floor from after the autograph session on Saturday until sometime Sunday when he was finally interviewed by Ops.”

NASFiC 2019 to Host Chesley Awards; New Trimble Sponsor Steps Forward

The Utah Fandom Organization has issued an update about events, guests, and other plans for the combined Westercon 72, NASFiC 2019, & 1632 Minicon (Spikecon.org) convention to be held July 4-7, 2019 in Layton, Utah:

  • The Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA) Announces NASFiC 2019 as the location to host the Chesley Awards – The Chesleys will be held at the NASFIC in Layton Utah, July 4 -7, 2019. ASFA member Vincent Villafranca is the artist guest and we can’t wait to get involved.  There will be ways for artists to participate at the convention so please check http://www.asfa-art.org/.
  • Westercon 72 Gaming Guest Tim the GM (Mottishaw) – We regret to inform our gaming guest Tim Mottishaw had to cancel his appearance at Spikecon due to conflicts in dates. He offers his regret and apology to everyone, and is assisting us with possible candidates to honor in his stead.
  • NASFiC 2019 Master and Mistress of Ceremony, Bjo & John Trimble (and Sponsorship) -A fan, professional photographer and writer, Ctein (Kuh-TEIN), has volunteered to continue the sponsorship, and support Bjo and John Trimble in their appearance at Spikecon 2019. Utah Fandom Organization wishes to thank everyone for their support in making these combined events fun and exciting.
  • (Ctein is a professional photographer and writer. He is the co-author, with John Sandford, of the New York Times best selling science fiction thriller, “Saturn Run.” He is currently writing an natural disaster thriller, “Ripple Effect,” with David Gerrold. Ctein is also the author of “Digital Restoration From Start To Finish” and “Post Exposure.” He is best known in the SF community for his photographs of eclipses, aurora, natural and unnatural scenics, and space launches and his hand-printed fine-art books.  His photographic work can be seen at http://ctein.com and photo-repair.com.)
  • Updates to Departments – The website, https://www.spikecon.org/ , has updated forms to apply for the Art Show, Dealers Room, Program Participation, Gaming, Panel Suggestions and Membership Updates.
  • Future Announcements – Upcoming plans include a special event 4th of July breakfast with Bjo and John Trimble to discuss Star Trek(™), A filk/music guest announcement and a new progress report due at the end of November.

Loscon 45 Committee Statement

The Loscon 45 committee has posted a statement on Facebook and asked File 770 to give it a signal boost:

Please be aware that the Loscon committee and LASFS Board are aware of an issue which occurred yesterday during a panel and are conducting a full investigation to ensure that all parties have been heard and then making a final decision based on that investigation. We would request that if anyone believes they have information to approach Ops in the Board Room. We will have an official resolution within 24 hours.

Arisia Inc. Posts Apology and Announces More Bans and Restrictions

In an Apology To The Arisia Community posted November 23, the corporation broadly apologized for a large number of enumerated failings, and also announced that it has banned three people and restricted the participation of eight others, with more action possible once other incident reports are fully processed.

To our community:

We, the Executive Board (Eboard), apologize unreservedly on behalf of Arisia Incorporated to every individual who has come forward with mishandled incident reports, some of whom have asked not to be named, and to every individual who has had reason to hesitate in coming forward or has felt unsafe doing so. As an organization, Arisia has failed you. We must do better by everyone who seeks our aid. Prior to posting this statement, we extended private apologies to multiple individuals. As time passes, and we as a board develop a better understanding of the mistakes we have made, we expect to extend further apologies.

We also apologize without condition to the entire Arisia community. You trusted us as an organization to prioritize community safety. Many of you have brought forward incident reports, trusting in the process to see justice done and safety concerns addressed. Some of you, in the face of inaction or errors in judgment, have turned your back on Arisia entirely. In all of these ways, we failed you as well.

We do not expect these apologies to be accepted as a matter of course. We are not owed the forgiveness of those we have wronged. We cannot demand the trust of those who have seen that trust broken. We hold no ill will toward anyone who has had to step back from Arisia as a result of these events. All we can do is acknowledge the harm that we have done, make amends to the best of our ability, and strive to do better. We must earn your trust back through actions, not words.

As an Executive Board, we have been working to determine and articulate our actions going forward. The public process of acknowledging our errors, making apologies, and making amends begins now. In this letter, where “we” is used unqualified, it refers to the Eboard. Where “we as an organization” is used, it refers to the Arisia organization as a whole.

Over a span of years, we as an organization have mishandled multiple incident reports, putting the safety of the entire community into question, and causing grave harm to several individuals. Whatever mistakes have been made by individual officers or staff, the wider problem stems from failures in our process and our culture. Recent accounts have brought some of these errors to light. In the wake of these revelations our community – including attendees as well as volunteers, staff, and corporate members – has been widely hurt and justifiably angry. We recognize the anger of veteran Arisians, who have seen Arisia withhold vital information and allow important details to slip off the radar, leaving these individuals oblivious to and unwittingly complicit in our organization’s failures. We recognize also the anger of the community, who may not have been directly involved but now question Arisia’s worth, as well as its commitment to the safety of everyone involved in the convention.

On November 11th, following the resignation of five members of the Eboard, the membership of Arisia, Inc elected new officers. That same day saw the induction of over 100 new voting corporate members, more than tripling the overall size of the corporate body. These new corporate members, together with veteran members, staff, and volunteers, are now working to make Arisia safer, to make amends to those injured by the organization’s actions, and to regain public trust. The current members of the Eboard have the specific mandate to drive this change.

In accordance with this mandate, we have taken multiple actions, with a particular focus on community safety at Arisia 2019. A brief note: when we speak of banning someone from Arisia, this means that they are banned from the convention as well as Arisia, Inc. sponsored events, and that they are not allowed to staff or volunteer in any capacity, including pre-con work, post-con work, and remote work.

– In addition to Noel Rosenberg, two other individuals have been notified of permanent bans from Arisia, through our existing incident process. One of these individuals has been the subject of multiple incident reports, both new and reopened.
– Five additional individuals have been the subject of serious incident reports that we cannot fully investigate in the time remaining before Arisia 2019. Due to the nature of the reports and the information we have received so far, we have decided that we will not allow these individuals to attend, staff, or volunteer with Arisia 2019, to allow time for further investigation.
– Three other individuals will be restricted this year, again allowing time for a full investigation into their reported behavior. These individuals will be restricted from participating in any capacity beyond that of a standard attendee, including staff or volunteering for the convention.
– There are additional reports on which action requested by the reporter and/or the target of the behavior has been taken, and still more reports that are under investigation.

In all cases of disciplinary action, we reserve the possibility of further measures in accordance with our published Disciplinary Processes (https://corp.arisia.org/DisciplinaryProcessInformation).

While we recognize that it may be difficult to trust Arisia as an organization with incident reports at this time, we ask that you report unwanted or unwelcome behavior at or outside of con – including but not limited to Code of Conduct violations – to incidents@arisia.org. We will do our best to respond and investigate as swiftly as we can.

Lastly, we can announce that the Convention Committee has created a dedicated programming track at Arisia 2019 that will provide opportunities for reconciliation, discussion, and community healing. The Eboard is actively encouraging and consulting on this task under the leadership of the Arisia 2019 Programming Division.

We will announce more changes and further actions in the weeks to come. We look forward to working with our corporate members and engaging the wider community to drive policy and process changes which will make Arisia safer and more welcoming as a whole. If you are willing to help in this process, we welcome your participation. Please contact us directly at eboard@arisia.org, or via the anonymous feedback form at https://www.arisia.org/feedback.

Humbly and sincerely,
The Arisia, Inc. Executive Board
– Nicholas “phi” Shectman, President
– Alan Wexelblat, Vice President
– Kris Pelletier, Treasurer
– Sol Houser, Clerk
– Cassandra Lease, Member-at-Large
– Andy Rosequist, Member-at-Large
– RaShawn Seams, Member-at-Large

posted to https://corp.arisia.org/News November 23, 2018

Arisia Changes Hotels in Response to Strikes

The Arisia Eboard announced November 16 they are moving Arisia 2019 from the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, as a result of strikes affecting the hotels they were planning to use. The dates of the convention remain January 18-21, 2019.

The Eboard explained on the Arisia Inc. Facebook page:

An ongoing labor dispute between the Marriott Corporation and the UniteHere labor organization has resulted in strikes at Marriott properties across the country. The strike includes both the Westin Boston Waterfront and the Aloft Boston Seaport, the hotels where Arisia 2019 was to be held. The consistent message that we’ve heard from our members – attendees, staff, and corporate – is one that aligns with Arisia’s values: that we must take seriously the very real concerns that have driven these workers to strike. As a result, we cannot cross a picket line and support a corporation that is in serious dispute with its workers.

A Park Plaza Move FAQ page has been added to the convention website with additional background:

Why now?

Moving a convention of Arisia’s size in just two months is a major undertaking. We gave the Marriott management as much time as we felt we could. We hoped for a quick settlement to the labor dispute, but we also have to be realistic about the time, travel, and money commitments made by our community. We could not wait any longer. When polled on the question of whether to cancel the convention or move, Arisia Corporation members indicated by nearly a 4:1 majority that they preferred the convention move. Our Hotel Search Committee was able to find another host hotel that enables us to have an Arisia with most of the amenities and programming our attendees have come to expect in the last decade, on our target weekend dates, without requiring a drastic cut in attendance.

What is the effect on Arisia convention activities?

We do not know the full impact yet. The Park Plaza offers us sufficient space that most of the usual types of programming (panels, games, LARPs, dances, etc.) can occur, though some things will be downsized. Some event organizers and panelists had already indicated they could not attend this year, and we are likely to reconfigure some things to fit into the different spaces of the Park Plaza.

The Arisia Innkeeper team will cancel all Westin and Aloft reservations made through their booking links. They will announce when reservations open for the Park Plaza, and have assured fans, “We have a room block large enough that we do not expect to sell out.”

Arisia 2019 will have a lower membership cap in the new facility. What that number will be is not yet known.

The Eboard’s general announcement noted that the hotel situation is just one of the critical issues on their plate:

We also understand that the strike is not the only or overriding concern for our community. We acknowledge concerns around the safety of attendees, and around our ability to handle incident response in ways that meet our standards and goals. On Sunday, November 11th, the corporation elected new members of the Eboard with the implicit directive to correct the mistakes made by the previous board and move forward with initiatives to improve our culture, our responses, and our processes. The Eboard will have much more to say on all these subjects in the days to come.