Borderlands Books, a 22-year-old indie bookstore in San Francisco that has long been revered by genre fiction readers and writers, is being boycotted by store customers, authors, and others in response to explosive allegations of violent assault and attempted rape recently made against its owner, Alan Beatts. Beatts's private comments addressing the matter, made late last week to store donors (called sponsors) and subsequently revealed on Twitter, has only exacerbated the situation in the eyes of many.
Numerous authors have tweeted that they will no longer support the store since allegations were aired two weeks ago on the weekly podcast The Horror Show with Brian Keene (editor's note: the recording includes explicit and disturbing content) that four years ago Beatts violently assaulted an ex-girlfriend and also attempted to rape his daughter in 2012 when she was 19 years old. Both women have confirmed to PW that The Horror Show accurately aired the allegations each made against Beatts. Both also declined further comment and requested that they not be identified by name in PW's coverage.
A number of Bay Area–based authors, who until now have been loyal store customers, have reached out to PW to emphasize that while they can no longer support the store located in the city’s Mission District, they also do not want it to go out of business. Five years ago, the store teetered on the verge of closing its doors before 800 sponsors came forward to kick in $100 each to keep it afloat. The store has maintained an annual sponsorship model ever since. Some sponsors have publicly denounced Beatts on Twitter, including several who have reached out privately to PW to confirm that they will not renew their sponsorships.
One of the authors expressing such sentiments was children's book author Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who has cohosted several “lovely” literary events there, including a May fundraiser with Rebecca Roanhorse and N.K. Jemisin that netted $6,000 for the store. In an email to PW, Tokuda-Hall wrote that it is her “dearest hope that Alan will divest from the store, and allow the staff and community to reclaim the space. The staff does not deserve to be associated with these allegations.”
Cecilia Tan, who is an author as well as the editor of Riverdale Avenue’s Circlet Press imprint, told PW that she has long considered Beatts a friend, and has read there many times since the store’s early days. After these allegations surfaced though, she is reluctant to read at the store or participate in any event there unless Beatts “completely” separates himself from the store, suggesting that he should sell it.
“Being an erotica author, one of the most important things I need is a safe space for my audience,” Tan wrote in an email. ”That means safe from anti-sex judgments but definitely also safe from sexual predation. I just could not ask my readers to set foot there right now. (Pandemic aside....)” She added: “If science fiction loses Borderlands as an institution, it will not be the fault of the women Alan Beatts abused, nor the people who are outraged about it, but Alan himself.”
“There were whispers about this last year,” science fiction author Meg Elison, who calls Borderlands her “home bookstore,” told PW. “But people thought that [the ex girlfriend’s] point-of-view could not be trusted.” After tweeting last week, however, that while she’s “had some of the best moments of her life inside” Borderlands but can no longer support the store due to the allegations against Beatts, Elison told PW that “multiple people” have since privately told her about their own “run-ins with Alan,” adding: “If I had any doubts he had a problem, the last couple of days with the DMs on Twitter have been an eye-opener.”
Science fiction author John Scalzi has also weighed in, blogging on Friday that the allegations made against Beatts, whom he calls a friend, “hit me like a punch to the gut” and were “close to home on a number of levels.” Noting that he lent the store a sum of money so that it could purchase a building and relocate to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood when its current lease for its 2,000-sq.-ft space is up in 2022, Scalzi disclosed that he is donating an amount equal to the funds repaid to date by the store to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). He also promised to donate all future loan payments by Borderlands to RAINN or a similar organization.
Directing his words toward the media, Scalzi added in a note that he was declining further comment, stating: “It’s easy to say ‘believe women’ when it’s about someone you have no connection to. It’s another thing when it’s about someone you know and like.”
July Virtual Event Cancellations
As word spread about the allegations last week, several authors who were scheduled to participate in virtual events sponsored by Borderlands canceled events—or their publishers did. Of six virtual events scheduled this month, four were canceled within a week of the podcast, including a July 15 double-header with novelists Mike Chen and Kelly McWilliams. “Hi friends,” Chen tweeted on July 9. “[McWilliams] and I are aware of the situation with Borderlands Books and because of it, we are postponing our 'In the Middle' discussion on pandemic books until we find a new bookstore sponsor.”
Jo Walton, another author scheduled to participate in a virtual event on July 9 for her new release, Or What You Will (Tom Doherty), told PW that her editor and publicist at Tor had both contacted her to inform her of the allegations, which prompted her to cancel the day before it was scheduled to take place. Mary Robinette Kowal, who is the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, told PW last week that a Tor representative called her and asked if she wished to cancel a scheduled July 23 virtual event for her new release, Relentless Moon.
“If your publisher comes to you and asks if you still want to do an event…maybe not,” Kowal said, adding that she was not “100% convinced” that she had made the right decision. “I don’t like the ripple effects,” she explained: canceling the event also “punishes” the store’s general manager, Jude Feldman, and its four other employees. “The decision an author has to make is a lot messier than the decision an individual customer has to make,” Kowal added. “It’s the thing we’re doing because it’s the only tool we have.”
Kowal disclosed that she sent an email to Beatts before Tor canceled the event, writing that “I needed him to step back from the store and to address his drinking.” Most of the other sources PW spoke to also referred to Beatts’ drinking habits; a former employee described the store to PW as having a “heavy drinking culture."
In her capacity as SFWA president, Kowal said that it would be “inappropriate” for the organization to address these specific allegations, but that it has been discussing “the larger problem” of how to report unethical or abusive behavior within the science fiction and fantasy community. SFWA has recently implemented a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, which will, among other tasks, explore ways to deal with such situations in ways that are “sustainable and safe.”
Tokuda-Hall is adamant that the industry has to take a strong and public stance in these kinds of situations, despite any emotional and/or financial repercussions incurred in withdrawing support from, in this case, an indie bookseller who is well-known to industry movers and shakers.
"Personally supporting other people is essential in publishing, and also, notably, often the only way women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color are set up to succeed," she wrote in an email, "We've seen that, systemically, particularly Black voices are not supported as aggressively by publishing. The answer to discovery of allegations of predation is not to be extra leery of lending support, but rather a readiness to take a stand against it. We have to speak up for one another."
Beatts Responds to Allegations
Beatts and Feldman both declined comment on the allegations when contacted by PW on Thursday afternoon. That evening, however, Beatts posted comments on a private server for the store’s sponsors in which he stated that he was not going to defend himself, before casting aspersions on the motives of the ex-girlfriend and his daughter for coming forward. He also stated that his relationships with each had ended badly several years ago, though the two women remain close. He asserted that Brian Keene, the cohost of The Horror Show, had misrepresented his prior relationship with Beatts as being more collegial than it actually was, as he hasn't considered Keene a friend since a falling out many years ago.
Beatts dismissed the suggestion that he divest himself from the store by transferring ownership to Feldman. “I cannot see any way in which Borderlands can possibly operate without me,” he wrote. “I’ve discussed this with Jude and she agrees. That is not an option.” Feldman, in addition to being the store's general manager for 19 years, has been Beatts's significant other for about 20 years. According to Beatts in his communication with the store sponsors, as well as the ex-girlfriend herself in an email to PW, the two were involved for 10 years in a sexual relationship that included Feldman; it ended in 2018.
Responding to PW's query on Monday afternoon, Beatts confirmed that his comments were made "in a private context" to Borderlands sponsors, and were later made public without his knowledge or consent. He again declined comment on the allegations.
Na’amen Tilahun, who once worked as a bookseller at Borderlands, publicly expressed sentiments similar to what a number of other authors either tweeted or privately relayed to PW over the weekend concerning Beatts’s July 9 statement. “Sly implications, talking around the accusations, playing on misogyny and power and hiding behind your partner,” he tweeted. “How many fucking abuser bingo squares is that? The whole damn card?”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Jude Feldman is a co-owner of Borderlands Books. Alan Beatts is its sole owner. This error has been corrected.