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Sexual harassment allegations against ‘Maze Runner’ author James Dashner set off ‘earthquake’ in Utah writing community

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File) In this July 11, 2015 file photo, James Dashner, author of "Maze Runner" attends the 20th Century Fox press line at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Dashner has been dropped by his literary agent. In recent days, Dashner has faced allegations of sexual harassment.

Utah author James Dashner, whose young-adult series “Maze Runner” has been adapted into a film trilogy, was dropped by his agent Tuesday after Dashner was accused of sexual harassment.

Allegations against Dashner appeared Monday in the comments on a School Library Journal article about abuses in the children’s literature industry, where multiple anonymous posters claimed that they’d been harassed by Dashner, or seen him harass aspiring female writers or first-time novelists.

Michael W. Bourret said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday that “under the circumstances” he could no longer represent Dashner.

“I couldn’t in good conscience continue working with James, and I let him go yesterday,” Bourret said.

Fans of Dashner’s books and movies reacted strongly on Twitter — some disavowing him while expressing love for his characters, and others saying they were withholding judgment, hoping he’d issue a statement.

Dashner’s publisher, Random House, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The allegations against Dashner and reports of widespread harassment in children’s publishing have spurred members of Utah’s close-knit children’s writing community to examine how the industry’s culture enables abuse.

Award-winning Utah author Shannon Hale declined to discuss the specifics of allegations against Dashner, but said they have set off an “earthquake.”

“There are so many women that the male authors have this sort of rock-star status,” she said. “When people are treated as more special than other people, that can breed harassment and abuse.”

Men who write children’s books have “a greater chance of being promoted and valued,” she said. They are sent on more book tours and to more conferences. And while men might be in the minority at a conference, the keynote speaker is often a man.

The result is that men are seen as more interesting and important, she said.

“There’s an inequality of power there,” Hale said. “So when a woman is harassed or abused, her voice already matters less in that culture — so who is going to believe her over the man?”

And successful authors often are besieged with requests to read manuscripts or arrange introductions — a dynamic that can easily be abused, Hale said.

“That male author who’s on the inside can use his position to make a woman feel like he could help her if he gets what he wants out of her,” Hale said. “It’s the manipulative, ’Oh, I’ll read your stuff, why don’t you come up to my hotel room and we can talk about it?’ ”

Best-selling Utah author Ally Condie said that “The reason you’re seeing these [allegations] happen in the comments is because it’s costly and scary” to come forward.

“I want us to have better policies in place at all writing conferences, and be open about these issues,” she said. “We need to acknowledge that harassment does happen, and has happened in this community, and we want to do better at preventing it and having ways to report it if it takes place.”

Young adult author Brodi Ashton — who also writes a column for The Salt Lake Tribune — said she’s been disheartened by some knee-jerk rejections of the allegations.

But for the most part, she said, the response has been “a call to action” to support those in Utah and nationally who’ve come out to share their stories of being harassed — and those who have yet to find their voice.

Ashton hopes it will cause “a lot of change that’s long overdue,” she said.

“People brush off the consequences of harassment,” Hale said. “But there is a real emotional toll. And there are real career consequences for women, there are monetary consequences.”

Some women who’ve felt unwelcome — or that their only value is how they look, or what they can do for a man — have said that it caused them to stop writing and leave publishing, Hale said.

“Sometimes we hold up artists to say, ‘Well, maybe he’s not a great guy, but look at all the great stuff he produces.’ But that’s not enough,” Hale said. “What great things could all these women have been producing if they hadn’t been chased away from their careers?”

Dashner’s dystopian science-fiction series has been a national best-seller and adapted into a film series — the third movie, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” was released in January. It was announced in fall 2017 that he was working on a novel for adults, though a release date has not been announced.

Jay Asher, author of the massive best-seller “Thirteen Reasons Why,” was accused of harassment in the comments of the same School Library Journal article this week. The AP reported that he has been expelled from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and dropped by his agent.

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