Bookbanter Column: “Doing What’s Right” (May 21, 2011)

If knowledge is power, we live in an age where that power travels at the speed of light, or in the case of the Internet, the speed of a T1 line and a fiber optic cable.  The information superhighway has become sort of a misnomer when applied to the worldwide web, as the information conveyed now travels so much faster than an automobile traveling at eighty, ninety or a hundred miles an hour, along with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and the many thousands of blogs out there updating every minute and hour of every day.  So when a bad decision is made by an editor and then a publisher, not all the apologies and changes of heart in the world can affect the outcome once the author has made her decision, pulled her story, and blogged about it on the Internet.

Let me backtrack a little first.

Wicked Pretty Things

The young adult anthology Wicked Pretty Things was originally scheduled to come out in September of this year featuring a number of popular as well as up and coming authors including Jessica Verday; edited by Trisha Telep and published by Running Press in the US and Constable & Robinson in the UK.  Telep had pitched it as “a collection of dark fairy YA stories (with a bit of a romantic edge).”  Verday submitted a story, “Flesh Which is Not Flesh,” for the collection that featured a relationship between Wesley and Cameron, two boys.  She was then told by Telep that the story would be published so long as she made one of her characters female as a “male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers.”  Verday thought about this for a while and then made the important decision that she knew she had to: she withdrew her story from the anthology, making her stance clear in a post on her blog.  This was a hard choice for Verday, who has only published three books in a trilogy and is still an up and coming author, but she chose to stay true to what she believed and what she thought was the righting thing to do.

In a follow up post, Verday defended her decision and presented the comments and responses from the publisher, which was essentially that while the publisher regretted the decisions and actions of the editor, they were still going forward with the anthology, along with keeping Telep as the editor.  It was acknowledged all around that bad choices had been made on the part of Telep and that they would now willingly publish “Flesh Which is Not Flesh” in its original form.  But Verday wasn’t changing her mind, as the initial “knee-jerk” bad decision had still been made and to now pretend like it hadn’t happened would completely defeat the point of Verday making this decision in the first place.  Also the publisher had said that it was a case of miscommunication with the editor and that they had never been consulted in the matter, and publisher Christopher Navratil even wrote an article entitled What Happens When a Headline Goes Viral for Publishers Weekly about it; the issue here was that the publisher kept saying they did not support Telep on this decision by any means, and yet they were still standing behind her and publishing the anthology.   Running Press were essentially covering their bases however they could to save face and look good and put the whole matter to bed.  Telep was very apologetic, saying “I sincerely regret the sequence of events which has led to Jessica Verday’s story ‘Flesh Which Is Not Flesh’ being excluded from the forthcoming anthology Wicked Pretty Things. This has been the result of a misunderstanding on my part which is entirely regrettable … I fully support LGBTQ issues.”  Yet as Jim C. Hines clearly put it on his blog: “But it was hurtful.”

Much to Telep’s and the publisher’s chagrin, the matter wasn’t going to die.  Verday had spoken her mind on her blog and word spread across the Internet as more blogs and Twitter accounts and readers heard and learned about the story and then broadcasted it on their respective networking communication site of choice (including the BookBanter Blog).  Then Lisa Mantchev, Lesley Livinston, Karen Mahoney and Seanan McGuire – all authors that were to be featured in the anthology – withdrew their stories for publication, and Melissa Marr asked that her name not be used to promote the project.  McGuire, much like Verday, is a relatively new author who has gone on to win the John W. Campbell Award in 2010 for Best New Writer and be listed on the New York Times bestseller list.  In a heartfelt post McGuire makes her viewpoint clear: “I am not withdrawing from this book because I’m not straight. I am withdrawing because of my little sister and her wife, and because of my girlfriend, and because of my best friend, and because of all the other people who deserve better than bullying through exclusion.”  Each of these authors had to make hard decisions that may certainly have affected their careers, and yet they stood behind their choices and never backed down.

But there was still more.  Fantasy author Jim C. Hines made a post on his popular blog with the title of “Wicked Pretty Things and the Erasure of LGBTQ Characters.”  In the post he begins it with a conversation between his six-year old child and himself in clarifying that marriages do not have to be solely between girls and boys, whereupon his son responds with: “That’s silly.  How would they have babies?”  Hines commented with: “I understand where his confusion comes from. Pretty much every cartoon on TV has male/female relationships only. Every movie he watches, every book he brings home from school… Any nonheterosexual relationship is simply erased.”  Then he segues to Jessica Verday and lays out what happened, citing his sources everywhere he can and makes his point on that matter clear.  Then he goes one giant step further in offering to publish the authors’ stories that were withdrawn from the anthology, as well as pay them under the following conditions:

  1. If you have not already found a home for your withdrawn story, I would be happy to read it.
  2. If I like the story (and knowing most of the authors involved, I suspect I will), I’ll offer $100 up front to publish it here on my blog.
  3. Each story will include a donations link. Once the initial $100 has been covered, further donations will be split 50/50. Half will be paid to the author, and the other half will be donated to a LGBTQ-friendly cause.
  4. If I publish multiple stories, I will look into putting together an e-book collection of those stories, with profits again being split between the authors and a LGBTQ-friendly cause.

The post went on to receive a large number of comments and when asked recently how Hines’s decision had continued to be received, he responded with:

“I made my offer because I agreed with the authors. An editor has every right to decide what she will and won’t publish, but if you’re an editor who refuses to publish LGBT content or assumes such content is automatically ‘inappropriate,’ I have the right to refuse to work with you. A lot of people were writing to express their support for these authors, and I figured the best way I could show my own support was to offer to buy and publish those withdrawn stories.

I’ve spoken to several ex-WPT [Wicked Pretty Things] authors so far. Some of them have already found other homes for their work, which is great. I’m waiting to hear from a few others. I just want to make sure these authors are able to be paid for their stories, and that — hopefully — we’ll all be able to read and enjoy them.”

In my last round of researching for this column as I began to write it, I came across the announcement – albeit not officially emblazoned on their site or displayed anywhere – that the publisher had canceled the publication of Wicked Pretty Things.  It looks like enough people were making a big enough deal about this to force the publisher to make their own hard decision on the many choices that authors, writers and bloggers alike had already made.  This was the right outcome.

The bottom line is this: Trisha Telep made the wrong call in asking Verday to change her story because she thought it wouldn’t be accepted by the publisher for the anthology, even though it followed the guidelines laid out by the publisher.  But once that call had been made, the stance and point were clear and feelings had been very much hurt, and not all the apologies and regrets from Telep or the publisher could change the fact that when Telep saw it was a gay story (“a total of 3 kisses and sexually, it’s G-rated”) about two teenage boys, she said no.

And to end this column on a lighter note, while Running Press will no longer be publishing Wicked Pretty Things this year, it is nevertheless the proud publisher of the book Threesomes and Moresomes, which Nick Mamatas has kindly shown the cover for on his blog.  Nothing wrong with that book, right?

Threesomes and Moresomes

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