Review: New novel tackles sexual assault on campus amid the #MeToo debate

Yes Means Yes cover image

Yes Means Yes is a new novel exploring the meaning of mutual consent in sexual relationships.

One of the most compelling scenes in the downfall of producer Harvey Weinstein was a secretly recorded dialog between him and a young model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. In the audio, Weinstein pressures the young woman to follow him into his room. In a grotesque framing of the “Will she or won’t she?” trope, the dialog encapsulates the struggle of women against the power of men.

It’s a pattern as old as human history, and it repeated this week with the resignation of Sen. Al Franken.

Except this time, it’s different. After the New Yorker expose of Weinstein’s abuses, women by the millions—counting those who’ve used the #MeToo hashtag on social media—have lifted the veil of secrecy over their fear and shame. Americans are adjusting the power balance between men and women, though the road to a new landscape is far from straight and narrow. For one thing, the nation refuses to address Weinstein-like behavior by Donald Trump before he was elected President of the United States.

The novel is at once a seminar on the law concerning sexual assault on campus and the story of a young woman discovering its complexities at a personal level.

Since the early days of the feminist revolution, the cultural and legal issues around sexual harassment and sexual assault have clouded the never-crystal-clear relations between men and women. College campuses are often the crucible for change, as young men and women navigate a dynamic society’s mating rituals. The latest iteration stems from the meaning of mutual consent, that is, how do you know when it’s okay to move from mere attraction to a passionate kiss to a romp between the sheets?

Author Steven M. Wells explores the issues in a fictional narrative that is at once a seminar on the law concerning sexual assault on campus and the story of a young woman discovering its complexities at a personal level. The novel, Yes Means Yes, takes its title from a 2014 California law that defines sexual consent. The statute goes beyond the traditional “no means no” standard, which places the boundary of consent at the point when one of the partners says, in effect, “No further.” The California law says the partner must now explicitly says “yes” if the other partner wants sex, or else the initiating partner risks a charge of sexual assault.

In Yes Means Yes, new graduate student Katie Russell arrives on the campus of Colorado University ready to study philosophy. Facing a mountain of debt, she takes a job that makes her a kind of bounty hunter for sexual assault. The prize? $50,000. When her neighbor is raped, all evidence points to the all-star captain of the football team, who happens to be the worst kind of lout. In the meantime, Katie falls for a assistant professor who is the essence of the Western gentleman: thoughtful, handsome, ethical to a fault, and a rancher. Trouble, is, their relationship probably breaks the university’s code of conduct, threatening his career.

What follows are multiple Kafka-esque journeys that leave the reader wondering if fear of lawsuits will overwhelm the desire to mate. How could a man ever be sure that his lover really wanted him, if she happened to forget to say “Yes” during that romantic weekend alone? How could a woman be sure that her memory recalled “No” when a selfie turns up showing her and her partner apparently enjoying themselves? Suddenly, the rule is, there are no rules, as if there were ever rules in the first place.

Wells tells his story with the appropriate complexity, though it sometimes reads like a legal brief than the mystery it tries to be. That said, it’s a timely novel that gets underneath society’s confusion over the evolving roles of men and women in private and in public. A nation of laws expresses its values through its statutes and court decisions, and the country appears to be on its way toward another reset of the power balance between the sexes. Yes Means Yes is an excellent and well-written addition to the debate.

The author provided a copy to me in exchange for an honest review.

Carbon Run small image

My new dystopian thriller, Carbon Run, is on sale now!

Available now: Free, limited-time download of my first TFAWP story!

Mother Earth Insurgency cover

The Mother Earth Insurgency, the first release in my Tales From A Warming Planet series, is available for a limited time as a free download.

Today is the official launch of my new dystopian thriller series, Tales From A Warming Planet. I’m celebrating by offering a free novelette, The Mother Earth Insurgency. It’s available for a limited time only via Instafreebie and Bookfunnel. Set in the future when climate change has taken hold of our planet, The Mother Earth Insurgency tells the story of Nick Sorrows, an agent of the Bureau of Environmental Security.

Instafreebie logo

Download from Instafreebie

Bookfunnel logo

Download from Bookfunnel

Nick infiltrates a terrorist organization opposed to corporate monopolization of wind and solar energy companies. Led by Jon Janicks, the Mother Earth Insurgency believes the takeovers harm the planet, and it’s planning a major action. Nick must stop Janicks before he kills thousands and destroys the tallest structure on the planet.

Instafreebie members can download it as an ebook. If you’re not a member, signup is easy, and costs nothing to join. Bookfunnel downloads include online support if you have trouble loading it into your reader.

Bundled with The Mother Earth Insurgency is a free sample of the first ten pages of Carbon Run, the first full-length novel in the series. Carbon Run will be released in the fall on Amazon as a print book and an ebook.

Please let me know what you think of the Mother Earth Insurgency and my Tales From A Warming Planet series.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me during this amazing journey, including my editor John Paine, my cover artist Christian Bentalan, the South Seattle Writers Meetup, and my wife, Edith Follansbee.

I plan to make The Mother Earth Insurgency available on Amazon in the fall. Watch for the cover reveal for Carbon Run in the next few days! Update: The giveaway of The Mother Earth Insurgency ends September 12.

How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting

James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that. Continue reading

Despite Trump’s denialism, 2017 could be a bright spot in the fight for planet Earth

global warming illustration

2017 may be a bad year for climate change policy. Or maybe not. Image courtesy Earth.com.

I’ve taken inspiration from climate change. As a writer who loves speculative fiction, everything from Star Trek’s optimism to Margaret Atwood’s dark literary visions, I see global warming as fertile ground for storytelling. You might even say I’m taking advantage of the worst crisis to hit planet Earth in three million years.

That only counts in fiction.

When it comes to real life, it’s hard to be optimistic about the fight to fix the crisis, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a denialist of the first order, calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The claim is ludicrous, resembling a post-truth, fake news story.

Virtually all his major picks for high-level posts in his administration reflect a similar view. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, uses the three percent of scientists who question climate science as a reason to ignore the 97 percent who know it’s human-caused. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State designate, while acknowledging increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, says its impact is “very hard for anyone to predict,” despite the solid record of predictions going back decades. Of all Trump’s selections, Rick Perry is the worst. “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said. That’s simply a lie.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice. When you look at what states and localities are doing, I come away with hope that all is not lost. Continue reading

YouTube: A War Beyond War, And I Am The Only Soldier

Here’s the third and the last of my “vaudios,” my author-read stories on the YouTube platform. A War Beyond War, and I Am the Only Soldier was the first (and so far only) fiction story I published in an anthology. It appeared in Satirica: An Anthology of Satirical Speculative Fiction in 2009. It’s not part of my Carbon Run series, so I’ve given the story its own playlist, Weird and Wondrous.

In the 13th century, Dominic de la Traversée is a young monk in a French monastery who undergoes a frightening transformation as he fights for the existence of our perceived universe.

I had some extra fun with Adobe Premiere’s special effects filters, mostly in the beginning of the video. Let me know what you think.

YouTube: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run story

In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home.

I’ve been experimenting with alternate ways to present my fiction, and I’ve created what I call a “vaudio.” It’s intended for listening more than viewing, while offering a way for me to reach the huge YouTube audience with something unique. Others have tried an audio track with an image, but what I’ve seen on YouTube uses a single still image.

For Zillah Harmonia, in which roses play a prominent role, I took a brief video of a rose in my neighborhood with my smartphone, downloaded it to my laptop, and combined the video with the MP3 file I built for SoundCloud. Using Adobe Premiere Elements, I added the “facet” special effect to soften the image, slowed the original image down by 75 percent, put in a couple of simple titles, and voilà, a vaudio.

Are you trying anything like this? Let me know what you think of my experiment. I’ll be posting more of these soon.

Review: The appropriated world of The Guild of Saint Cooper

The Guild of Saint Cooper cover

The Guild of Saint Cooper, a novel by Shya Scanlon

Good artists copy. Great artists steal. — attributed to Pablo Picasso, among others

Discussion of cultural appropriation has surged in the last few years in the context of race relations. White culture has borrowed and stolen from black culture for decades, particularly in entertainment, usually without enough credit to the origins of a style of music, dance, poetry, or performance. What happens then, when a writer creates a fictional world wholesale out of another fictional world? Is he borrowing in order to comment on that world, or stealing from it because he can’t come up with a better idea?

Author Shya Scanlon appropriates shamelessly from a realm created by another artist, director David Lynch, to manufacture a post-apocalyptic Seattle in The Guild of Saint Cooper, published by Dzanc Books in April 2015. Lynch is best known for Twin Peaks, a quirky, strange, and beloved television series that aired just two seasons’ worth of episodes. The first season, the better of the two, focused on a murder investigation by Dale Cooper, an FBI special agent with his own methods and approach to detective work. Cooper’s character combines the calm certainty of a Zen monk with a fascination in the unseen anticipating another fictional FBI agent, Fox Mulder, who appears in a different TV series, The X-Files, which debuted two years after Twin Peaks ended. Continue reading

‘Bet’ now at Seattle Public Library; Poll: Change Joe’s name

Bet: Stowaway Daughter cover

Bet: Stowaway Daughter, my self-published novel, is now available for checkout from the Seattle Public Library.

Getting into the local library is one of the biggest challenges for the self-published author. I’ve leapt that hurdle with my one self-published novel, Bet: Stowaway Daughter, which I released as an e-book in 2009. It’s now available for checkout at the Seattle Public Library and the King County Public Library. Download it to your Kindle! (Oh, yeah, you can buy it on Amazon.) To find it at the libary, simply search the catalog on my last name, Follansbee. Here’s the blurb:

During the Great Depression, Lisbet “Bet” Lindstrom is the 13-year-old daughter of a sea captain convicted of theft and sent to prison. Bet is convinced her father is innocent, but she has no way to prove it. Desperate to free her father, she visits his old fishing boat, and spots a horribly scarred sailor who might know the truth about the crime. Ignoring the warnings of her friends, she secretly jumps aboard the ship, and sails to Alaska. She braves huge storms, performs daring rescues and faces the man who threatens everything she loves.

I’m still hoping an agent will pick up Carbon Run, my first science fiction novel. In case no one bites, the manuscript is ready to be self-published. Lately, I’ve been thinking my author name, “Joe Follansbee,” is a bit weak, and there’s evidence that author names without a gender get more traction for certain subjects or content. (Would you buy a Regency romance novel from someone named “Joe?”) I’m conducting a poll, asking what name you prefer. Help me change my name (or not) by picking one of the options below.


Any other thoughts? Let me know.

What is the role of a writer as climate change creeps up on us?

Conference

People in suits gather in Paris to decide the fate of a climate-change world.

It’s a ripe scene for satire. Twenty-five thousand bureaucrats and another 25,000 hangers-on are gathered in Paris at COP21 to exchange climate change jargon over sustainable wine and cheese. It’s hard, however, to ignore the seriousness of their effort, especially as a pall lingers over the city three weeks after the November 13 terror attacks. The spectacle of so many people in sensible shoes working as one reminds me that most problems are solvable with elbow grease and cooperation. Best to leave them alone to do their jobs.

Maybe I’m a little jealous. It must be exciting to be part of an effort that could save the planet while exchanging tips on the best places in France for glamping. Instead, my head is buried in my laptop as I try to tell stories about survival in a future that no one can predict with any certainty. Even if COP21 is wildly successful, the planet will still warm by a couple of degrees, and millions of mostly poor people will have to cope with the changes. Continue reading

Review: Gold Fame Citrus is tangy, acidic, and tasty

Gold Fame Citrus cover

Gold Fame Citrus is as tangy and acidic as a California orange.

Climate science encourages the public to imagine global warming as a decades-long desiccation, a slow transformation of liquid water to vapor locked in the atmosphere, turning the planet into a wasteland of deserts, as if everything is dropped into a saucepan over high heat and cooked into Nevada. In speculative fiction and fantasy, the image often plays out in the planet-girdling sand dune, whether it’s Frank Herbert’s Dune or George Lucas’ Tatooine. Claire Vaye Watkins finds the metaphor useful in her debut novel Gold Fame Citrus, in which the Amargosa, a dune sea that covers much of the Southwest, is central to her dystopian world of prophets, prostitutes, survivors, and assorted characters at home in a Mad Max movie.

The Amargosa Desert is a real place, which Watkins knows, having grown up in the Mojave Desert and in Pahrump, Nev., a stone’s throw from Death Valley. Her intimacy with these landscapes puts her prose on a par with other great Western writers, such as Edward AbbeyJohn Steinbeck, and Ivan Doig. Almost no other writer captures the utter desolation of these places without a hint of romantic disrespect; Watkins loves and fears the desert in the same breath. Continue reading