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James Frenkel Leaves Tor

Friday, July 12th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

James FrenkelLong-time editor James Frenkel has left Tor Books.

Frenkel was one of the most accomplished editors at Tor — indeed, in the entire industry. I first came across his name in the mid-80s, when he was publisher of Bluejay books, a science fiction imprint that produced trade paperback editions of K.W. Jeter, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Connie Willis, and many others. Among many other accomplishments, Bluejay Books first began publishing Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies.

Frenkel joined Tor after the collapse of Bluejay in the late 80s, where he edited some of the biggest names in the industry, including Vernor Vinge, Joan D. Vinge, Frederik Pohl, Andre Norton, Dan Simmons, Jack Williamson, Timothy Zahn, Greg Bear, and many others.

Frenkel’s departure from Tor comes following accusations of sexual harassment, stemming from an incident at Wiscon reported by Elise Matthesen:

Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me… So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, “Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh, hell yes.”

While Matthesen did not immediately identify the editor in question, he was famously ID’d by Mary Robinette Kowal in her June 18 blog post “Why am I afraid to name the editor?” Yesterday Tor senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden made the announcement via Twitter that James Frenkel was no longer associated with Tor Books.

Frenkel currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife, Joan D. Vinge. He has not yet made any public announcement regarding the issue.

17 Comments »

  1. What did he actually do, anyway? I could not find it at either of those two links.

    Comment by Oliver.Klages - July 13, 2013 2:57 pm

  2. Hi Oliver,

    Elise has not offered details on what happened, beyond that the incident involved sexual harassment and it happened at Wiscon.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 13, 2013 5:18 pm

  3. I wondered too exactly what the specific offense was, and on further reading at diverse places learned that whatever it was, Mr. Frenkel has a history of it going back over a decade. According to numerous reports this was not an isolated incident.

    Would still like to know the exact nature of the reported harassment, though. Repeated, offensive,sexually suggestive comments? Unwanted touching? Or something that might have been in poor taste like an off-color joke? What? Whatever it was it seems to have ticked off any number of women for quite a few years and now it’s finally come to a head.

    Comment by Dave T - July 13, 2013 5:45 pm

  4. “…back over a decade”
    I read that too in the comments on Mr. Hine’s blog, though again there were no specifics on the nature of these incidents.

    What distubs me is that Mrs. Matthesen seems the first one to have *done* something about it. There were lost of comments about ether having been warned about him or warning friends, but that is not really solving the problem, that’s more like sweeping it under the carpet.
    Even worse, it makes those people guilty by proxy as they enabled him to continue whatever it is he does by not publicly exposing him.

    Finally, and this is in no way meant to demean Mrs. Matthesen, not naming his crime (including his past ones) reminds me a bit of Kafka’s Der Prozess. I just don’t like people being judged without being given a specific reason.

    Comment by Oliver.Klages - July 14, 2013 4:45 am

  5. > not naming his crime (including his past ones) reminds me a bit of Kafka’s Der Prozess. I just don’t like people being judged without being given a specific reason.

    Oliver (and Dave),

    I know what you mean. I was curious about the actual transgression itself.

    That’s been the most common reaction I’ve seen to this story. People want to know the details, presumably so they can judge for themselves the severity of the crime, and measure whether the punishment was too light or too severe.

    But frankly, that’s none of our business. Elise reported the details of the transgression to the correct authorities (his employers, in this case), and wisely kept them out of the public eye. This is a legal matter now, and it’s not going to be tried in the court of public opinion.

    Kafka’s THE TRIAL was about a man tried for a crime he never fully understood. Oliver, I honestly don’t see the parallels between that and this case, in which the details were well understood by all involved, and there’s been a scrupulous attempt by all parties to keep those details out of the public eye.

    I understand the desire to move this affair into the court of public opinion. But that’s not the way HR (or our legal system) works.

    We don’t know the details, and we don’t need to know.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 14, 2013 10:41 am

  6. I think Oliver, if I’m reading his comment correctly, just wasn’t aware that Ms. Matthesen *had* been more specific to the appropriate parties.

    But I’m completely with you John. And not just in this specific case: There have been far too many public trials lately. CNN’s HLN (formerly, Headline News) seems to be pretty much Court TV these days!

    Comment by awsnyde - July 14, 2013 1:21 pm

  7. Kafka was not the best reference and i apologize for that.

    My point was that he is judged in public for something not known to the public. I’m still refering to the linked blogs in the original article; John’s post was commendable in witholding any judgement.

    I wasn’t aware that this had moved into legal affairs which does explain the absense of specifics.

    Comment by Oliver.Klages - July 14, 2013 2:02 pm

  8. John, thanks for your latest post here. I of course agree with your take on this. BUT, there sure are a helluva lot of people on other blogs and websites acting like they know _exactly_ what the offenses are, and have their torches and pitchforks out for Mr. Frenkel.

    Do they indeed know the details, or are they just jumping on the first convenient bandwagon with their mob mentality hats on.

    Talk about judging in the court of public opinion! It’s not those of us who aren’t aware of the specifics, but those who either _do_ know the details or those who would like people to think they do and therefore somehow think they have the right to join in the condemnation.

    If it turns out that the assertions/charges against Mr. Frenkel prove to be true, and of such a serious nature as to warrant his condemnation, then you won’t find me trying to defend his actions. Far from it.

    But without specifics, and some who claim to have the specifics not telling the rest of us, I’m going to remain cautious of anything I hear from supposed second hand sources. It’s far too easy for innuendo and falsehoods to spread like wildfire these days, and almost impossible to correct any false accusation once it’s in the minds of people. I’m just sayin’.

    Comment by Dave T - July 14, 2013 7:22 pm

  9. > There have been far too many public trials lately. CNN’s HLN (formerly, Headline News) seems to be pretty much Court TV these days!

    Allen,

    Indeed. I understand the American public’s hunger for justice, and desire to see the guilty punished… but one of the requirements of an impartial legal system is that the public accept the outcome.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 14, 2013 7:51 pm

  10. > My point was that he is judged in public for something not known to the public.

    Oliver,

    Here, I think, you are exactly correct.

    Mr. Frenkel harassed Ms. Matthesen at Wiscon in some fashion, and has been dismissed by Tor as a result. End of story. I applaud Ms. Matthesen for her courage in reporting what had to be an extremely uncomfortable incident, and entirely respect her decision to keep the details private.

    Before Frenkel was dismissed by Tor, this was a very controversial topic, and I was appreciative of those who came forward to support Matthesen with stories of their own. She doubtless needed that support, and it helped to bring needed attention to the problem.

    Now that the verdict is in though, an even greater chorus have emerged to roast Mr. Frenkel for a host of past transgressions. None of these people had the courage to do what Matthesen did, but the once-powerful Mr. Frenkel has now been effectively silenced, and so the long knives come out.

    That’s the piece that bothers me.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 14, 2013 8:04 pm

  11. > BUT, there sure are a helluva lot of people on other blogs and websites acting like they know _exactly_
    > what the offenses are, and have their torches and pitchforks out for Mr. Frenkel.

    Dave,

    I think we’re in agreement on this, buddy.

    Obviously, I don’t have the details on each and every one of those complaints (or any of them, really). Until I do, I’m not challenging anyone, or trying to silence them.

    But collectively this looks a lot like a mob, going after a man who recently fell from power. And that makes me very uneasy.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 14, 2013 8:11 pm

  12. The part of Matthesen’s explanation that I found most encouraging was that publishing houses want to be formally notified if their editors (or whoevers) engage in harassment at conventions. It makes sense that they would be, but people aren’t always sensible.

    Some years ago, a friend who keeps trying to persuade me to come to Wiscon–it’s the airfare that stops me–mentioned “that creepy guy from Tor who always behaves badly.” In my brain’s database of editors, I now had a temporary question mark next to the names of all the male editors I knew of at Tor: creepy harasser?.

    Had the conversation ended there, I might have kept that question mark next to all those names indefinitely. Instead, I asked for a name, and my friend said, “Jim something. I’m blanking on the last name.” At that time, there were two editors named Jim at Tor, and the only one whose full name I remembered was Jim Minz.

    If I hadn’t asked my friend whether Minz was the name she was having trouble remembering, I might have kept that little question mark next to Jim Minz’s name in my mental database for the past decade. But my friend said, “No, it’s Frank-something. Frenkel! That’s it. Frenkel’s the creep. Dodge him, and you’ll probably be fine at Wiscon.”

    At the time, I didn’t expect any SF/F convention to be a harassment-free environment, so it didn’t occur to me to be surprised that he was still permitted to return to Wiscon. What did surprise me was that Tor put up with Frenkel muddying their name. And that’s a question mark I can finally expunge from Tor’s entry in my mental database. Good on them.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - July 16, 2013 1:56 am

  13. > Some years ago, a friend who keeps trying to persuade me to come to
    > Wiscon… mentioned “that creepy guy from Tor who always behaves badly.”

    Sarah,

    Wow, what a story. (And — ugh! Sorry you had to deal with that).

    I keep trying to give Frenkel the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been to half a dozen Tor parties (at Wiscon, and other places), and of course I’ve talked to him many times.

    My own run-ins with him have been… let’s say less than pleasant (he’s the only person, ever, that I’ve listed in those “Name people you DON’T want to appear on a panel with” forms when I’m a con guest), but I’ve made every attempt to remain impartial in reporting this incident.

    But I keep running into stories like yours, and the evidence keeps mounting. So thanks for sharing that tale. It reminds me that ultimately this isn’t a story about the fall of an accomplished editor, it’s the story of how fandom (and the entire genre) is becoming more aware of intolerable behavior, and taking real steps to make things better.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 19, 2013 10:11 am

  14. For full disclosure, I’m a friend of Jim Frenkel’s and not a fan.

    I have heard Jim make comments at Cons that I considered off color, perhaps sexist. My interpretation is is this was him trying act macho or trying to get a conversation going. Clearly, a fair number of people he didn’t know found this creepy.

    Now, he is going to pay a really high price for his politically incorrect conversations.

    Comment by jcarter2013 - August 5, 2013 11:36 am

  15. > My interpretation is is this was him trying act macho or trying to get a conversation going. Clearly, a fair number of people he didn’t know found this creepy.

    J,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve never seen Jay Frenkel make an off-color joke or sexist comment at a con personally, but I’ll grant you my experience is limited.

    But based on what I have seen, your explanation is plausible.

    > Now, he is going to pay a really high price for his politically incorrect conversations.

    Here, I think, you’re jumping from your assumption about Jay’s general behavior to making a conclusion about this specific incidence.

    If, in fact, you’re correct that this was no more than Jay’s awkward attempt to get a conversation going with a crude joke or something similar… then you’re right. He’s paid (and will continue to pay) a very high price for it.

    On the other hand, we don’t really know what happened. What we do know is that the details were reported to his employer (Tor), and they thought it serious enough to take action.

    Honestly, it doesn’t seem to me that a crude joke or non-PC comment would be enough to trigger an action this serious. I’m making my own assumptions now, but what I assume is that the punishment fit the crime. If what Jay did was serious enough to result in leaving his postion (voluntarily or otherwise), it probably wasn’t something as simple as an off-color reference.

    But I don’t know for sure, so I have no intention of smearing Jay’s name on the BG blog. He’s a legendary editor who contributed an extraordinary amount to this genre, and I hope he finds a way to continue to do that outside Tor.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 5, 2013 12:50 pm

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