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!

What do you think of the cover for City of Ice and Dreams?

I’m so excited to show you the brand new cover for City of Ice and Dreams, the second full-length novel in my dystopian thriller series, Tales From A Warming Planet. I’d also like to offer you an Advance Reading Copy of the novel, available free and securely through Instafreebie and Bookfunnel. Download now!

book cover

Here’s the new cover for my next novel, City of Ice and Dreams.

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Download from Instafreebie

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Download from Bookfunnel

City of Ice and Dreams is scheduled for release February 1, 2018. Here’s the blurb for the novel:

What if the key to your past lay at the South Pole? In 2261, Sento, a beautiful, intelligent, tormented young woman, is obsessed by Isorropia, a city in Antarctica that is half-myth, half-legend. Surviving a shipwreck, Sento resolves to trek south with immigrants on a suicidal one-way journey across the melting ice. She leads the pilgrims across a raging river, weeps beneath a massive natural sculpture draped with blue ice, and defends an endangered fur seal. Meanwhile, in the secretive city, First Citizen Elita Soares watches the growing threat of the pilgrim train. She wants no more climate refugees within the city walls. When Elita learns her half-sister may be among the immigrants, she vows to stop the newcomers at all costs. Will the pilgrims reach the fabled city before Antarctica’s harsh climate kills them? And why is Elita afraid of her half-sister?

I’d like to thank my designer Christian Bentulan for his wonderful work. He also designed the covers for the first and second books in the series, The Mother Earth Insurgency, and Carbon Run. Check out the great reviews for both books on Goodreads and Amazon.

Thank you so much for all your support of my series. Look for more announcements soon on City of Ice and Dreams, as well as deals and giveaways for my other work. And there’s still another novel to come in the spring of 2018. Whew!

Comment on my book covers below.

At last! The Mother Earth Insurgency is on sale now at Amazon.

Mother Earth Insurgency cover

The Mother Earth Insurgency, the first release in my Tales From A Warming Planet series, is available now on Amazon for only $0.99.

I’m happy to announce that The Mother Earth Insurgency, the first story in my series Tales From A Warming Planet, is now on sale exclusively at Amazon for 99¢. After nearly ten years of work on this series, it’s thrilling to see it out in the wild. I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

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If you were one of the lucky readers to download a free copy of The Mother Earth Insurgency over the past month or so, please consider writing a review of the book on Amazon or Goodreads. You’re under no obligation to do so, but reviews are very important to the success of independent writers, such as myself.

Also, I’m still on track to release Carbon Run, the first novel in the series, on October 21. Watch this space for information about an upcoming Goodreads Giveaway of the print book.

Thank you so much for your support!

Carbon Run cover reveal! And check out the novel’s official release date

Carbon Run cover

Tales From A Warming Planet: Carbon Run

I will release Carbon Run, the second story and the first novel in my series Tales From A Warming Planet, on Saturday, October 21, 2017. Woohoo! To celebrate, I’m giving you a sneak preview of the cover, created by Christian Bentulan. He’s done an amazing job.

At launch, the 327-page novel will be available in paperback and exclusively as a Kindle ebook. Here’s the description from the back cover:

What if your father had to run for his life? Carbon Run is an exciting thriller set in a dystopian world ravaged by climate change. Fossil fuels are banned, pirates smuggle oil, and governments erase citizens’ identities. Anne Penn dreamed of saving an endangered species of birds. When a fire destroys the birds’ last home, her beloved father Bill is accused of starting the blaze. Fanatic officer Janine Kilel comes to arrest Anne’s father, but Bill escapes, because in the 22nd century, destroying a species means execution. How will Anne find her father in a Russian city where the difference between good and evil is as murky as the choking smog?

Reminder: The first book in the series, The Mother Earth Insurgency, is still available as a free download from Instafreebie. The ebook features the first ten pages of chapter one in Carbon Run. However, the giveaway won’t last much longer. Soon, I’ll start selling it on Amazon, so don’t wait if you want it for free.

By the way, I’m also offering Insurgency as a free download in partnership with dozens of other independent writers. Our Thriller & Mystery Giveaway runs through September 9. Don’t miss out!

Thank you for your continued support of my work!

A Tale of Disappointment and Two Endings

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You killed my favorite character in your book. It’s like you killed my favorite bunny.

Spoilers ahead, including details of book endings

You’ve invested days, maybe weeks of time in a relationship, but at the end, you’re disappointed. It happens in real-life relationships, and it happens to readers invested in a novel’s characters. Fortunately, the latter is a rare thing, but when it happens, it can be a gut punch. I was stunned by the ending of a book by one of my favorite authors, John le Carré, who’s best known for his espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carré has a storytelling style that reminds me of peeling layers off an onion while blindfolded. It’s a labyrinthine journey of discovery.

Disappointment with Le Carré descended on me while I was listening to the last few minutes of an audiobook version of Our Kind of Traitor, the author’s 22nd novel. It’s the story of a young Oxford academic and his barrister girlfriend, who vacation on the island of Antigua and meet Dima, a Russian millionaire who came by his wealth by less-than-honest means. The plot focuses on a plan to rescue him and his family from the Russian mafia by giving him a new life in England. In exchange, he promises to tell investigators everything he knows about his money-laundering ways, betraying his criminal colleagues. 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.

Review: Why aren’t ‘serious’ writers writing about climate change?

Cover for Anthropocene Fictions

Why aren’t more literary realists getting real about climate change?

Policy wonks, eco-alarmists, and right-wing denialists dominate the climate change conversation with boring reports, deafening polemics, and forgettable op-eds. The mound of non-fiction reaches to the moon, and we’re no closer to a collective response to a warming world. In contrast, the number of novels written with climate change themes might not reach the top shelf in your living room.

Where are the novelists, author Adam Trexler asks? Where are the imagineers using story to organize, illustrate, and give emotional meaning to the nearly invisible fact of a heating planet? They’re out there, he says, but they’re lurking among the paperback thrillers in airport newsstands and on science fiction shelves in mega-bookstores. With a few exceptions, the “serious” literary world is completely ignoring the most important challenge to Homo Sapiens in 10,000 years.

Trexler builds the title of his book, Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change, published the University of Virginia Press, on a relatively new argument: humanity is the most potent geological and ecological force on the planet since the last Ice Age. The Anthropocene Era started with the invention of agriculture, but it picked up steam in the 18th century with the burning of coal to fuel industry, which turned the atmosphere into a dump for waste carbon. When a real-life “greenhouse effect” was first identified by science in the mid-20th century, intrepid sci-fi and thriller writers found fertile ground for storytelling. Continue reading

Review: To get at The Truth, dig deeper

Cover image for The Truth

The Truth, by Michael Palin

You can read a book through different lenses. Most reviewers of The Truth, the second novel by ex-Monty Python comic Michael Palin, read it as mainstream literature. I read it through a narrower lens, as a writer interested in how fiction makers work with environmental themes. Seen in this way, Palin’s book is about hero-worship, and how emotional closeness to a subject can obscure the truth.

Protagonist Keith Mabbut is a divorced, middle-aged writer personally and professionally adrift. In his youth, he won an award for an investigative piece exposing an industrial polluter, but his career stalled out, and now he’s writing histories of oil companies to make ends meet. Mabbut is an intelligent, if easily manipulated man naive despite his years, and when he’s offered a chance to revive his journalism career, he falls into the trap of believing he’s found the truth when, in fact, he asked the wrong questions. Continue reading

Review: A Being Darkly Wise

A Being Darkly Wise Cover

A Being Darkly Wise, by John Atcheson

Environmentalists share a kinship with devotees of religion the former prefers to ignore and the latter enjoys lampooning. Extremists in both camps have a matching emotional commitment to their cause an anarchist or Taliban mullah would admire. Both have a mystical attachment to an idea, one an invisible spiritual value of nature, the other a devotion to an unseen God. Except for Jake Christianson, the antagonist in John Atcheson’s self-published psychological thriller, A Being Darkly Wise. Christianson brings both traditions together into a megalomanical monster, while another monster worthy of Greek or Norse mythology lurks nearby.

The protagonist, Pete Andersen, is a middle-aged, mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sick of the insularity and unresponsiveness of Washington D.C. politics. He’s disillusioned by his careerist colleagues, whose drive for power leads to watered-down policies on combating climate change. And he suffers a guilt complex over the murder of his brother, which prevents him from taking on K Street lobbyists working for the coal and oil industries. Andersen is the cubicle drone ordinary people fear becoming. Continue reading

10 omens that auger self-publishing for your novel

Crystal ball

Look into my crystal ball and learn if self-publishing is for you.

Authors new and established face a question unthinkable a few years ago: Should I publish my book myself? Some writers finish a novel and go right to self-publishing. Others go the traditional route to see if an agent or publisher will take a chance on their work. For the latter group, here’s 10 omens that auger self-publishing your novel.

  • The volume of rejection emails from publishers and agents forces your email provider to suspend your account.
  • The pile of hard-copy unpublished manuscripts on your desk falls over and crushes your cat.
  • On your 54th birthday, your mother asks you if you’re ever going to make something of that masters in English you got in 1983.
  • You’re the only person in your writing group who hasn’t had his/her third novel published. Or second. Or first.
  • You measure success by the ratio of actual rejections by agents and publishers to no-response whatsoever.
  • Your royalty checks fail to cover your checking account’s overdraft fees.
  • You realize that three of your unpublished novels have the same ideas as A Time to Kill, Wool, and Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • The rejected manuscript the UPS guy delivered was typed on the IBM Selectric you owned before you bought the 1999 iMac you use now.
  • Your collection of rejection letters would paper the outside walls of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum combined.
  • A museum curator asks to use your early rejection letter for an exhibit on obsolete publishing models.

What signs and portents foretell self-publishing for you?