Archive for the ‘Controversy’ Category

I just sent this to Books of the Dead Press via email and will be sending it to their last-known mailing address via registered mail.  I have also decided to post this here to ensure that the message is recieved.

—–

Dear Roy,

I’m writing to you to express my sheer frustration and bewilderment at the lack of communication over the last few months.  I’ve tried contacting you several times and have not received any response to my attempts at contact since October 1.

 I signed Suspended in Dusk 2 with you on September 12, 2015.  On July 4, I gave you a fully-edited, triple proofread manuscript of an anthology featuring stories from some of the best names in the business.  You told me that the book would be released “in a couple of months”.  On October 1 2016, you told me the book would not be released until Q1 2017. The author contracts have now expired  and publication of Suspended in Dusk 2 with Books of the Dead is no longer feasible.  The headlining authors such as Stephen Graham Jones and Damien Angelica Walters have resold their work elsewhere and they would not re-sign with Books of the Dead Press given a year has gone by and the anthology was never published. This hasn’t just tarnished your reputation, it has tarnished my reputation and credibility as a professional editor to some of the best names in the horror fiction business.  I have already emailed you about this, and it is coming up to 3 months since your last email to me.
To make matters worse, your website has disappeared too and I’ve been fielding emails from the writers published by BOTD who are trying to work out if BOTD even exists anymore and what is happening with their books which they’re not getting royalties for  but which are still being sold on Amazon etc.  

In addition to the failure of Suspended in Dusk 2, each royalty payment I’ve received from Books of the Dead for Suspended in Dusk has been progressively closer to the “no later than 160 days from the end of the period” stipulated in my contract.  It has now been 168 days since the end of Q2 and I still have not received payment, as per the aforementioned paragraph of the contract.

I have lost faith in Books of the Dead Press to adhere to and fulfil the contract for Suspended in Dusk 1 and the contract for Suspended in Dusk 2 has been made completely redundant by the lack of communication and action from yourself which has resulted in the lapse of all the author contracts and the sale of their fiction to other markets. The virtual disappearance of your presence in social media, the disappearance of your website and the disappearance of royalty payments within the contractually agreed time period leaves me no choice as to my actions. I regret to say that I am—without delay and on the basis of there being no “notice of default and right to cure” clause in the contract requiring me to grant you time to correct this—reclaiming my rights to both Suspended in Dusk 1 and 2.  I will be requesting that Amazon remove Suspended in Dusk from their site and I will send you this as a letter via registered mail to the one address that ANY of the books of the dead authors have for you:

 

Books of the Dead

c/o James Roy Daley

742 Pascoe Crt.,

Oshawa, On,

Canada, L1K 1S9

 

I will also put the contents of this letter of this letter on my blog, in the hope that you have received this message. 

I don’t know why you’ve disappeared. Maybe you’ve had some life or health problem that you needed to take care of. It happens to all of us and I genuinely hope you’re well—but I can’t do business with you and I need to take my work to someone who is visible, communicative, is paying as per my contract and who actually has their hand on the tiller.

Sorry it had to be this way,

 

Simon Dewar

 

RJ Cavender quits the HWA after people take objection to him not providing editing work they’d paid him to do 1.5 years earlier  –  

In early 2015, I signed up for the Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat and was really looking forward to attending. Jack Ketchum was going and he had written the introduction for my debut anthology, Suspended in Dusk, so I wanted to meet him, thank him, shake his hand and get him to sign a copy for me. I was dreading looking like a crazy fanboi, but was looking forward to the challenge.  I was also looking forward to many of the other attendees.

As part of the registration for the retreat, you could pay varying amounts to purchase an editing package from RJ Cavender (apparently, his real name is actually: Randy Joe Huff. Thanks Robert Wilson!) who was hosting the event.   Before I registered I was warned by a friend that RJ Cavender was extremely slow to provide edits and they would not recommend purchasing a novel edit package from him. That sounded like a reasonable warning, but as I’m not a novelist (yet) anyway, I figured I’d purchase a short story edit package. As someone relatively new to the horror genre scene, I was under the impression that RJ was some sorta, over-worked rock star editor and this would explain why he might be a little slow on the edits.

In the months that followed from when I registered for the 2015 retreat,  one colleague, a HWA member, began to confide further in me regarding issues she was having with RJ Cavender. He was not returning her novel edits. Months went by and the poor lady repeatedly prompted RJ to provide the edits and she was repeatedly assured that the edits were coming and it would not be long now.

I was unable to attend the 2015 retreat due to family matters that arose in the lead up to October. I contacted RJ Cavender and asked him if he would transfer my registration to 2016 instead. He agreed to do this.  This was still good in my mind, I’d have a chance to meet cool and talented people like current HWA President Lisa Morton, Chuck Palahniuk [Author of Fight Club, Haunted, etc], Shane McKenzie [Horror and Bizarro author whose story Fit Camp I reprinted in Suspended in Dusk] and Michael Bailey [author and editor extraordinaire]. I did not submit a story to RJ for editing, and figured that I would do this in 2016 around the time of the retreat,  as I always have a story or two lying around or in various stages of the submission process. The aforementioned  colleague however was still experiencing delays and what really was beginning to look like the old fashioned run-around on her edits.

About a month ago now, two things happened:
1.  This colleague received a HWA mentor who began working with her to address issues with her novel, thus completely abrogating any need she had for edits from RJ.

2.  We began to ask the question of other attendees:  Did you pay for edits and have you received them?  Colleagues and friends began to confide in us as well. They were in two categories:

•  Group 1: People who had submitted work to RJ Cavender at the 2014 retreat but had not received edits. One of these people had purchased two editing packages from both the 2014 and 2015 retreats and had *NOTHING* to show. This poor writer had given RJ Cavender hundreds of dollars for edits she didn’t have. These people had been badgering RJ for roughly 1.5 years and repeatedly met with a changing of goal posts. There was never any scope to refund monies on the basis that RJ could not perform the work as expected.

•  Group 2:  People who had paid for edits from RJ Cavender but had not provided him with manuscripts because they had heard from others that he was not returning work/providing the service he’d been paid for and they didn’t feel comfortable giving their work to him.   (Note: As it turns out, their reluctance to do so was vindicated.).  In addition the feeling was unanimous that these authors did not have established careers or reputations and did not want to make waves with someone was the acquisitions editor at a respected small press (Dark Regions Press).  Kerri-Leigh Grady makes some fantastic points about THAT issue here on her blog, by the way.

In total I knew 6 people (including myself) who were in one of these two categories. There are likely more.

I’m not a HWA member, but I was very concerned about the treatment of these members. The people who had provided work to RJ 1.5 years ago were getting the run around, and the people who hadn’t provide work and wouldn’t press him for a refund out of fear, stood to lose significant amounts of money, not to mention all the time and emotional stress expended on the issue.

I was slightly less concerned about myself as I am blessed to be financially stable – but, on principle, I was not happy knowing that it was extremely unlikely that RJ Cavender could make good on the edits that I’d paid him for.  I know one of the affected HWA members has barely has two dimes to rub together at the moment and could really use the money. A few hundred bucks in the hip pocket wouldn’t go astray right now, I’m sure. As for the others, the sheer amount of money owed ($200/$500/$700 etc) made the paltry sum I stood to lose on edits by RJ Cavender look dwarfed by comparison.  It was at this point I decided that the best course of action was to do two things.

1. Refer the other people who are HWA members to the HWA Grievance Committee, chaired by Brett J. Talley.
2. As a non-HWA member, to email Lisa Morton and recount the history and let her know a bunch of grievances from actual members would be coming through.

I didn’t think that either my actions or the lodging of grievances by those affected were particularly outrageous. On the grounds that RJ hadn’t returned the work of those who had provided him some in 1.5 years and everyone else knowing that if they had, they still wouldn’t have theirs either, there didn’t really seem to be any other choice.

I don’t have firm details about what exactly transpired next.  Lisa Morton advised that she would seek a list of all those who had bought packages from RJ Cavender and advice from him as to what work was outstanding. I went to sleep that night and woke up and the HWA had severed all official ties with RJ Cavender, RJ had been removed from any role with StokerCon 2016 and RJ had quit the HWA.  I’ll take his word at face value you that he quit and was not expelled from the organisation, but the whole thing really did come across as a “YOU CAN’T FIRE ME, I QUIT!” diva meltdown.

RJ then went on to make an official statement. The TL:DR of it is that he’s sick, woe is him, he’s so fucking hard done by, he was totally gonna do that work you could all totally take his word on that, and HWA are all a bunch of poopyheads.  (Props to Paul Mannering for the last part).

As many of you may or may not know, I’ve been very ill over the last year-and-a-half. Because of my continued and chronic sickness I’ve gotten very behind on my editing work. And because I’ve had several author complaints to the Horror Writers Association Grievance Committee this week, I’ve now been taken off the StokerCon2016 event…one I’ve worked tirelessly on for the last couple of years. And while I do feel horrible that I’ve let many authors down, I am catching up on my work and I do believe my editing is the best it has ever been…I’m just working at a slower rate, because I’m not well and I’m not working at the break-neck pace I was able to over the last decade of my professional editing career. To those authors, I am very sorry…and I am working on catching up, I really am. I’ve never not finished a project, I’ve never bailed on my side of an editing agreement. I wouldn’t be working in this industry still if I had, trust me.

Suffice to say, I’m saddened by this decision on the part of the HWA. Not only because I won’t get to see so many of my friends next month in Vegas, but also because I’ve put my blood, sweat, tears and fears into StokerCon2016 from its early plotting phases with Rocky Wood, to the creation of Horror University (my idea), The Scholarship from Hell (mine, too), and The Lucky Thirt3en Horror Short Film Competition (ditto.) I’ve organized the pitch sessions, I’ve secured guests we’ve never had included at any HWA event or World Horror to date. I’ve created local authors events via the HWA at a book festival here in Tucson and I’ve been very involved with the organization for many, many years now. So punishment of this sort, at least to me, seems unfair and unjust treatment, especially when I’ve not even been told who the authors are who are lining up to complain about me…as the Grievance Committee is operating under some code of secrecy I cannot figure out. I mean, how do you take care of clients who are pissed…if you don’t know who they are? And how can I be expected to catch up on work when I’m being overloaded with more of it via the event and all this needless back-and-forth with the organization and this pointless committee?

So that’s why I’ve decided to leave the Horror Writers Association. They’re a good organization and they do a lot of great things in the community, but they didn’t have my back when I needed it most. Perhaps I’m not ‘sick enough’…or perhaps they just didn’t believe I could get caught up on my overdue projects by next month and were afraid there would be some backlash at the event. Which, let’s face it…they don’t really want/need or know how to handle at this point. I’m not sure.

But taking an event away from me like this is unacceptable punishment. I’m not a child who needs to be ‘taught a lesson.’ And I feel not only let down by the organization but betrayed and bewildered and goddamn upset, if you want to know the truth. Somehow I’ve become the worst thing to happen to the horror genre…when what we’re dealing with here is a person who’s had some very personal, physical, painful issues just functioning and getting out of bed each day…but an editor who is also quite determined to make right with my authors, finish up overdue projects in turn, but has had nothing but harassment and stress from the HWA over the last few weeks, additional stress and anxiety I did not need at this point. The sort of treatment that no one should tolerate or suck up, no matter who they’re working for (or in this case, volunteering for) under any circumstances. So, I’m through with the HWA. Again…I’m sorry to any authors I’ve let down, I’ll have your work finished to my standards as soon as I’m able to send them out. I’ll have plenty of time now, as I won’t be included in the event next month.

And to the HWA, I’m sorry…shit happens sometimes, people get sick, life’s a bitch. But if this is how you treat one of your biggest supporters, someone who has stood by through the good and bad, been a cheerleader for the organization, helped create  content and events and scholarships…then I don’t want to be part of that sort of organization. People aren’t disposable, and I was of a lot more use within the organization that as an outsider. I still think you do good things, but I also know you can turn on a dime…and when someone is no longer of use to you, when the shit gets real…you’re going to bail, because you don’t really care at all. Because avoiding public scandal, embarrassment, or ridicule is much more important than taking care of your own. And in an organization of 1300 people, I know I made a difference. And I’ll continue to do so. Just without the HWA. Thanks for listening, guys. I’ll be seeing you around…

I’d like to address some of the points the points made in his farewell speech.  I’ll comment on what I can comment on, but will not comment on the internal workings of the Grievance Committee or on HWA’s discussions with RJ because I’m not privy to either:

  1. Admission he was “very behind”  on his work

RJ Cavender: As many of you may or may not know, I’ve been very ill over the last year-and-a-half. Because of my continued and chronic sickness I’ve gotten very behind on my editing work

Look…. I have chronic Illness.  I have chronic psoriasis and, as a result, have arthritis through much of my body . I live on various immunosuppressant medications to treat it (fantastic drugs they give to cancer patients) and an array of anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications.  On top of that I have mental health issues (not exactly rare these days either) and take various medications for those issues.  I understand chronic illness and I understand chronic pain. What I don’t get is anyone using it as an excuse for not providing a service to someone who PAID THEM 1.5 YEARS AGO.   For many professionals, a couple of weeks is ‘very behind’. A couple of months is ‘very behind’. Almost a couple of years is beyond the pale. When someone pays you large sums of money for a service, you either perform the service in a timely fashion, you subcontract someone to perform the service to the same standard or you return their money.  It’s that simple. I do not consider chronic illness an excuse.  Sorry Randy – you can’t pull that card with me, asshole.

Beyond that, I don’t believe RJ when he says that chronic illness was his actual excuse.  If he was so far behind in his editing from the 2014 retreat no less,  Why did he take on editing customers from the 2015 retreat as well? Why did he start additional retreats (Winchester Mystery House) and take on additional editing customers from that retreat?  Why was he, only a week or so ago, advertising on the StokerCon Facebook group soliciting new freelance editing clients?

RJ Cavender

2.  Several Authors had complained and HWA took action

And because I’ve had several author complaints to the Horror Writers Association Grievance Committee this week, I’ve now been taken off the StokerCon2016 event…one I’ve worked tirelessly on for the last couple of years.

5 authors complained, which, I understand, was in addition to existing names that the grievance committee already had.

What I don’t get here is his shock the HWA would expect him to service his paid customers over volunteer work in their organisation, particularly when the Stanley Retreat where these customers signed up for RJ’s services has events their sponsored by HWA, most attendees were fellow HWA members, and the HWA president was to be a guest of honour this year?

What I don’t get is why, if he cant even service his paid customers, was he even doing volunteer work at all? Surely the correct thing to do would be to say “Y’know what, I would love to help the HWA with this cool idea for StokerCon…. but I’ve already taken these people’s money… so I’m gonna do my job for them first/instead”.

3. He feels bad

RJ Cavender:   And while I do feel horrible that I’ve let many authors down,

Yes he has let many authors down.  I’m unconvinced he actually feels horrible about it at all. If it was a few months maybe. If he wasn’t doing his level best to hoover in as many new paying customers as he could find,  all the while not delivering to existing customer he’d already taken money from, maybe. So I’m calling bullshit on this as well.

4.  IT WAS ALL RJ

 RJ Cavender:  I’ve put my blood, sweat, tears and fears into StokerCon2016 from its early plotting phases with Rocky Wood, to the creation of Horror University (my idea), The Scholarship from Hell (mine, too), and The Lucky Thirt3en Horror Short Film Competition (ditto.) I’ve organized the pitch sessions, I’ve secured guests we’ve never had included at any HWA event or World Horror to date. I’ve created local authors events via the HWA at a book festival here in Tucson and I’ve been very involved with the organization for many, many years now

Apparently it was all singlehandedly RJ Cavender. Infact, I wonder why it was called StokerCon instead of RJCon.

5.  He’s not sick enough for HWA

RJ Cavender:   So that’s why I’ve decided to leave the Horror Writers Association. They’re a good organization and they do a lot of great things in the community, but they didn’t have my back when I needed it most. Perhaps I’m not ‘sick enough’…or perhaps they just didn’t believe I could get caught up on my overdue projects by next month and were afraid there would be some backlash at the event. Which, let’s face it…they don’t really want/need or know how to handle at this point. I’m not sure.

No one believed RJ Cavender could get caught up on his work within a month.  No one. Not the aggrieved parties, not the HWA. Several people complained to me that RJ would forget details of their editing arrangements and they’d have to send him his own emails. In fact, most people aware of the issue or who were aggrieved parties involved wondered if he even knew all the people who had purchased packages from him.

As for being sick enough…that doesn’t even hold water.  Refer above to Point 1.

I think Nickolas Furr made a fantastic point on Monica J. O’Rourke‘s now infamous FB post when he said:

Nickolas Furr:  If he was too sick and frankly overwhelmed to do the edits he’s already been paid for, how does he have the time to spam every single group I’m in 80-90 times a day about every single upcoming writer’s retreat… and how does he have enough time to do all this (non-editing) work? Claiming that he’s been too busy with the HWA to avoid screwing over other writers is a pathetic game, and , even though I don’t know who’s gotten screwed, it pisses me off in a big way

6.  He’s not a child to be taught a lesson and is not the worst thing in the horror genre

RJ Cavender:  But taking an event away from me like this is unacceptable punishment. I’m not a child who needs to be ‘taught a lesson.’ And I feel not only let down by the organization but betrayed and bewildered and goddamn upset, if you want to know the truth. Somehow I’ve become the worst thing to happen to the horror genre…

Taking an event away from you? It’s not your fucking event, you’re a volunteer in an volunteer organisation. You’re one cog in a machine. You play your part and you get to help out. You don’t and you don’t.

You don’t need to be taught a lesson?  How many people do you need to defraud before you do, then?  How many rounds of grievances do you have to go through at the HWA (yes, we all know this isn’t the first time), before you stop acting like a charlatan?  The reality is, you’ve been conning people and now you’ve been called on it. We all know it. No on will go to your retreats any more. No one will pay for your editing services any more.  Game over, man.

As for being the worst thing in the horror genre……….. Right now, that’s EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE.  And while I may or may not blog further about the allegations against you and the sick things you’ve done (In truth, some people would do a better job as they’re more conversant with the events that have transpired) that doesn’t change that you literally are one of the worst (if not the actual worst) thing in the horror genre right now.   Well done.

7.   Life’s a bitch

RJ Cavender: And to the HWA, I’m sorry…shit happens sometimes, people get sick, life’s a bitch.

If you were an actual man, or decent human being, you’d do the work you were paid for in a timely fashion, or give them their money back. Not whine on about how life is so fucking hard and you’re sick.  Everyone is sick. Everyone has lives. Everyone has commitments. You’re not a fucking special case.

No Randy Joe, you’re the bitch.

8. HWA is avoiding public scandal and not taking care of their own

RJ Cavender: Because avoiding public scandal, embarrassment, or ridicule is much more important than taking care of your own.

The HWA isn’t avoiding public scandal and isn’t not taking care of their own.  By taking firm action against you, they’re protecting their wider membership that you have been defrauding for several years now. They’re taking action against you to protect themselves from you pattern of fraudulent, unethical and damaging behaviour.  The HWA should be applauded, in particular President Lisa Morton who was incredibly receptive and open to hearing complaints and concerned by the serious complaints that were made about you, RJ.  The HWA comes out of this very well indeed. You however? Not so much.

————————

HWA Statement:

The HWA have released the following statement regarding RJ Cavender and his activities and the grievances regarding his dodgy editing practices.  I suspect it was so long coming as, as Hal Bodner has rightly pointed out on several occasions, they probably had to receive legal counsel and then get all members of the board of trustees to agree on the text.   If he doesn’t end up on Preditors and Editors and Writer’s Beware, he should, but let the following serve as warning to avoid this guy and his “services”:

hwa

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I don’t know if I’ll write a part 3 to this series, one that goes into the Sexual assault allegations against RJ Cavender and the alleged cover up of another incident by RJ Cavender.  Most of the information about it is spread across a lot of different threads and I’m not conversant with all the traumatic details.

I highly recommend everyone check out The Horror Show With Brian Keene as I believe Brian will be talking about this in great detail and following up on this issue in coming weeks.  In the meantime I would recommend reading the thread where these serious complaints were made and I would also recommend reading Wrath James White’s statement about that issue.

In conclusion, I’m really really glad that I took a stand against Randy Joe’s unethical, predatory and fraudulent behaviour. I’m glad I reported it. I’m glad I encouraged other affected authors to report it via their channel in the HWA. And, while I knew nothing of the other issues that have been going on, I’m super glad that the action HWA took in disassociating with RJ and his subsequent leaving of the organisation appears to have given Kelly Laymon and others the breathing space they needed to bring RJ’s more serious crimes into the light of day.

I will be referring this blog post to Writers Beware and Preditors and Editors and encouraging affected authors to submit corroborating evidence. I would hope that since the HWA is a sponsor of Writers Beware, their own official statement highlighting the bad practice of RJ will hold some weight.

 

 

White Supremacist on the Bram Stoker Award Jury – #RileyGate2016

The last few weeks have rocked the horror fiction community.  David A. Riley, posted on his blog that he was a  juror for the anthologies category of the Bram Stoker Awards. This lead to the discovery by some that  he was a  white supremacist.  I believe the issue was first noticed and raised by author Daniel Braum.  The horror community came out strongly on social media. There was a lot of “this is a slippery slope” arguments flying around and a lot of “You can disagree about a lot of things, but you have to draw the line at actual Nazis”.  Many called for him to be stood down. The HWA board decided that this type of action was not within their by laws and David Riley offered to step down which was accepted.  There was a lot of talk about this, and the event lead notable writer Brian Keene to sever all working ties with Horror Writers Association and HWA members over the incident. (Brian’s boycott itself was received with varying levels of support and ire within the horror community.)

The way I saw it was:

  1. Was David A. Riley a white supremacist/nazi?  Yes. A one time chapter leader of the National Front, there was evidence as recently as 2011 of him supporting white supremacy groups and racist ideology in blog post and comments on articles. Lots of people have written about it. (Refer to some of his statements here and here, and here.)
  2. Had he repudiated his views publicly?  No. By the time he’d offered to step down he’d started issuing various “but I bought something from a coloured person once”/”have a coloured friend” statements, but no actual repudiation of fascist or white supremacist ideology.
  3. Did Riley have any influence in the awards process whatsoever? Yes.
  4. Did his views them bring into question his ability to fulfil these duties without bias? Yes.
  5. Was his presence has a juror distracting from the award itself and bringing the award into disrepute?  Yes.

Personally, I was pretty pissed that David Riley was not stood down by the HWA, rather he (according to his own words) offered to step down and this was accepted. I think that’s a subtle distinction here that is important.  The HWA should’ve removed him from his office, if not because they disagree with his politics, if not because there was provable bias on his part – they should’ve done it on the basis that his continued position on the jury distracted and detracted from the awards and thus could not be continued.  I think Nick Mamatas made an interesting number of observations about the HWA’s ability/inability to do this.

I do have sympathy for HWA President Lisa Morton and the HWA Board generally on this particular issue which came out of left field. Most people know nothing about Riley even though his repugnant views had been highlighted a year previously when he was briefly involved and then fired from Weirdbook.  I also feel that given t his kind of issue had likely not occurred in recent years there was probably an lack of understanding on the part of the HWA Board on how to deal with such an incident.  I would like to note that I while I did not officially complain about David Riley to the HWA (Daniel Braum and Allyson Byrd et al had that well in hand), I did make a number of suggestions directly to Lisa Morton. These suggestions included a “root and branch” review of the Stoker tules and the HWA by-laws, so that they’re coherent and clearly give the HWA necessary powers to remove problematic people from committees and juries etc, with a minimum of fuss.   While I agree with Nick Mamatas that its a private volunteer org and the fact that roles were conferred upon people there is an implicit power to remove them from that role, etc…. It’ll all make it easier next time if this kinda stuff is clearly down in black and white.

Could this incident have been handled better by the HWA? Yes.  There should probably some analysis and discussion within the organisation about what is the best method to address issues and what is the best method by which to deliver those addresses and statements. Is social media he best place for that?

Do I hate on Lisa etc for perhaps bungling the matter slightly, particularly with the initial statement? No. People are human, with all that entails.  Having said that, it didn’t look like the board was really aware of all its options and it did not look good for the president to issue a statement that other board members characterised as inaccurate in comments under that statement.  Do I think that the statement seemed a bit hypocritical given the fact the HWA had launched a Diverse Works committee, aimed at highlighting the work of people of colour, LGBTI authors, etc? Yeah I couldn’t shake that feeling.

Was I outraged at amount of “slippery slope” / “free speech” / etc arguments made by a lot of people commenting on the thread?  Yes. It was particularly outraged. And blocked a few of them.

Do I find it encouraging that large numbers of people raised their voices and spoke about this issue? Yes that was great. I feel these voices fair outweighed those who would harbour a white supremacist in the name of free speech.

Is there room for improvement here (change to rules, bylaws, etc) and obvious things that can be done to prevent if rom happening again or to ease the resolution of an issue like this were it to happen again? Yes, and it’s up to the board to take action on that.

Am I hopeful that this wont happen again or that systems will be put in place to allow more effective and responsive governance in such another nightmare scenario?  I’m hopeful.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part II

 

world-fantasy-awards-flickr-640x480

 

Originally I thought to write a piece regarding the change of the WFA from a bust of Lovecraft to something different, but I realised there just so much to talk about that it can’t be tackled in just a few hundred words, hence the “Part 1” in the title.  In coming days, I hope to post a follow up to delve into things a little further. I think this is a worthy and timely topic for discussion and hope that I have something of value to add to that discussion.

A couple of weeks back,  folks that run the World Fantasy Convention came out and stated that they’re no longer going to use the a bust of author Howard Philips Lovecraft, designed by artist Gahan Wilson, for the World Fantasy Award.

As first reported by Locus Magazine:

David G. Hartwell, co-chair of the World Fantasy Convention board, announced during the 2015 World Fantasy Awards that the current award trophy is being retired after this year.

The trophy, known informally as the “Howard,” is a bust of author H.P. Lovecraft designed by Gahan Wilson. In recent years, many writers, editors, and readers in the field (notably World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor and nominee Daniel José Older) have called for the trophy to be changed, considering Lovecraft an inappropriate choice for the award due to his racist views. A design for the new trophy has not yet been announced.

Indeed, on November 10, Lovecraft biographer and editor, ST Joshi released the text of an letter he sent to David G. Hartwell, Co-chair of the World Fantasy Convention board:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Many authors have spoken, some more vociferously than others, about the need to change this award in several years.. including WFA winners Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar and others.

In the field of literary criticism there is a device known as the Implied Author (as opposed to the Author).  This Implied Author v.s Author relationship was referred to by T.S Eliot in his essay Tradition and Individual Talent, as “The Man Who Suffers and The Mind which Creates“.  The Man Who Suffers (i.e the Author)is the real life human being, the guy out there paying the bills and buying his hayfever medication from the pharmacy, raising his kids and working a day job.   The Mind Which Creates (i.e the Implied Author)  is the sense that we as readers get of the author and their personality,  or perhaps their views, or even their hopes and dreams.  This is a giant bone of contention between formalists of which T.S Eliot was one (i.e literary theorists and critics concerned with the form of a text) and those who seek to view the text through a more wider biographical lense and to take into account the time and place and the circumstances of the author before and during the time the work was written.

Ever the formalist, T.S Eliot wrote:

The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.

What Eliot is getting at here is that there is, particularly in the best of writers, a separation between the person of the writer and his creative mind, so that an author who might be a miser, or a complete jerk, or recluse can write stories and characters that are generous, and loving and outgoing. And vice versa!  Sure there are obvious exceptions to any rule, … a writer who is a jerk might write a mean story full of jerk characters, which mirrors his own life and experiences completely, but there is enough truth here that we can rationally recognise it.

Notwithstanding its lack of scholarly fides, I’m using wikipedia’s definition of the implied author here because, frankly, I like it.

The implied author is a concept of literary criticism developed in the 20th century. Distinct from the author and the narrator, the term refers to the character a reader may attribute to an author based on the way a literary work is written, which may differ considerably from the author’s true personality.

Author Saul Bellow once observed that it was not surprising, with all the revision that goes into a work, that an author might appear better on the page than in real life.

I love that last part. It’s so true. It’s like reading Orson Scott Card fiction and then reading his political views. Or listening to Eric Clapton play, before you find out he’s a big racist jerk.

Anyway,  lets take a look at HPL, shall we? Who was the Implied Author presented to us on HPL’s page?  Who was Lovecraft “the man”?

Lovecraft, the man, was a nervous recluse who, after his father died of syphilis in an insane asylyum, was raised by his mentally ill mother in Providence, Rhode Island.  He had extended periods of mental breakdown. He was an atheist and enamoured with science although was unable to pursue science as a serious academic study when he dropped out of highschool before graduation (on account of his poor mental health). He was a racist and held a lot of objectionable views. He briefly married a Jewish woman who later left him and he moved back to providence to live with his Aunts.  His views, which I personally find completely puerile and repulsive, are well known and extremely well documented owing to the fact that HPL was an amazingly prolific letter writer. He exchanged correspondence with a wide variety of figures, including notable writers of his time and those who would come along to be greats in their own right, including Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch etc. You can read more of his biography here and here.

Lovecraft viewed the Anglo-German (Teutonic) race as the pinnacle of evolution. He viewed southern Europeans and Asians as inferior races.  He held the deepest contempt for Blacks and Australian Aboriginals which he considered little more than animals, incapable of creating their own civilised societies and civilizations.  He considered America to be the Anglo-Saxon civilization transported to another continent and improved through a more democratic political environment, but sharing the same values, qualities and roots as that of its Western European forebears. HPL hated multiculturalism and insisted that only a small number of non-whites be admitted into the United States or the nation would come to ruin, although, interestingly, he held there to be some value in other non-white cultures as long as their people stayed in their own countries and separate from white civilization so as not to retard the progress of Anglo-saxon/teutonic civilization.  In various of his letters he foresaw the need to “get rid” of non-whites from America should they ever come to threaten the stability and Anglo-Saxon fabric of  the nation. One or two comments that he made were very close to, if not actually, calls for ethnic cleansing. For the purposes of brevity I’m not going to post all the text from his letters, but if you’re unaccustomed to his views, you can read about his views and read discussion of his views herehere, here, here, here, and all over the internet.

Now that we’ve examined The Man Who Suffers/Author… let’s inspect The Mind Which Creates/Implied Author.

One need only make a close reading of his works to see his xenophobic loathing for any non-white and non-western European people in fact permeate the content and form of his written work.  The Shadow Over Innsmouth, is a tale of degenerate creatures crawling out of the sea and mating with human beings, was basically just a projection of his fears about immigration, inter-racial breeding,  multiculturalism etc. In which the narrator is exposed to the degenerate invaders and, at the end of the story, learns that he has their blood too and lapses into an almost religious kind of ecstasy, in just the same way that Lovecraft accuses non-whites of in many of his tales.  See here for a close reading of some of the text.  Lovecraft almost always introduces non-white characters, multiculuralism generally, inter-racial marriage and inter-racial sex, non-English languages ,etc… in terms of scorn, derision and in a wholly dehumanising fashion.

Charles Baxter rightly comments:

Racism is not incidental to Lovecraft’s vision but is persistent and essential to it. Ethnic minorities and monsters are, for him, often interchangeable. In his stories it is not unusual for a character to undergo a transformation into a creature from whom all humanity has been leached out, turning him into a foreign-seeming thing, an immigrant, whose attributes are both unpredictable and repellent.

A classic example of this is from  The Horror At Redhook, with its descriptions  of  New York’s multicultural society and the obvious implication that non-whites are destroying the city:

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles. Here long ago a brighter picture dwelt, with clear-eyed mariners on the lower streets and homes of taste and substance where the larger houses line the hill. One can trace the relics of this former happiness in the trim shapes of the buildings, the occasional graceful churches, and the evidences of original art and background in bits of detail here and there—a worn flight of steps, a battered doorway, a wormy pair of decorative columns or pilasters, or a fragment of once green space with bent and rusted iron railing. The houses are generally in solid blocks, and now and then a many-windowed cupola arises to tell of days when the households of captains and ship-owners watched the sea.
From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of an hundred dialects assail the sky. Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing along the lanes and thoroughfares, occasional furtive hands suddenly extinguish lights and pull down curtains, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the contagion.

Other examples from his fiction compound the impression we get of his racist views.    Take the description of the black boxer in Herbert West: Reanimator as one example:

The negro had been knocked out, and moment’s examination showed us that he would permanently remain so. He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon.

There is no doubt that Lovecraft was a racist of the highest order and that his personal views he held influenced his fiction writing to the point that they (fear of the other/unknown/etc) are one of its central aspects.   He certainly fails T.S Eliot’s test for who is “the most perfect artist”, because it would seem that here was very little or no separation between his personal and creative spheres.  In Lovecraft’s case, The Man Who Suffered WAS the Mind Which Created. 

So what do I think?

I’m honestly so damn tired of people being outraged about everything all the time. So sick of everyone having some cause to champion. It sets my teeth on edge, even when I agree with why they’re outraged. (Largely because I don’t like people generally, and I’ve got enough of my own problems and can rarely handle worrying about the problems of others). My inner misanthrope, who may also be my inner privileged white misogynist, sometimes wishes everyone would just shut the the hell up. I try very hard, however, to recognise this as a character flaw and as objectionable and pray the better part of myself and logic prevails.  Therefore, I understand that things that don’t affect me or that I could care less about, do affect others and they do care about those things.  I can put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I’m white (anglo-celtic stock with a spattering of Western European)  but my lovely wife is of an arab background. Our inter-racial marriage and our three beautiful daughters would probably be the kind of “hybrid filth” that Lovecraft mentioned in The Horror at Red Hook.  So I can sympathise with Nnedi Okorafor when she said:

Anyway, a statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head  is one of my greatest honors as a writer. A statuette of this racist man’s head sits beside my Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and my Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award (an award given to the best speculative fiction by a person of color). I’m conflicted.

I can also relate to Usman Tanveer Malik who mentioned in one Facebook comment words to the effect that Lovecraft is hardly representative of “World Fantasy” and that awards should be something that is inclusive of people if wants to market itself as the “World Fantasy” award.  Which, ultimately, is probably the most important aspect here. In my opinion, the World Fantasy Award should be an award that should not be anglo-american centric.

Indeed, as Lenika Cruz mentions in The Atlantic:

On some level, Joshi’s frustration is understandable. The nebulous field of weird fiction wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t imbued with the spirit of Lovecraft’s strange, dark creations. And the question of how much to separate a cultural figure from his or her personal beliefs has always been an uneasy one. But Joshi’s claims are myopic. Lovecraft’s removal is about more than just the writer himself; it’s not an indictment of his entire oeuvre. The change is symbolic but powerful—it’s a message to the next generation of writers, artists, and editors that they belong in the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

With this in mind, I largely support the move to change the WFA from a bust of Lovecraft to something different. I don’t think Lovecraft is representative of world fantasy, even if I do love his stories ..(if not for him, Jack Ketchum [who’s mentor Robert Bloch was actually the protege of HPL] and Stephen King, I may not even be a writer). If Lovecraft’s bust had been the World Horror Award, I may (tentatively!) have been less supportive as he’s clearly a towering figure in horror genre, even if he was an odious racist. But fantasy? No way.  As the shit-stirrer par excellence (yet amazingly talented and knowledgeable author and editor) Nick Mamatas mentioned recently, while we view Horror as a distinct genre (which leads many of us to question HPL’s suitability to be linked to the award), if anything, it is more appropriately  a sub-genre of Fantasy in general. I can’t help but feel that if we follow this line of logic and view HPL’s work as part of a Fantasy sub genre, he’s still a just single author from a sub-genre and hardly, in my opinion, representative of the genre as a whole.

I suggest we all take a collective chill pill. Whether you think the so-called “Social Justice Warriors” are not worth Lovecraft’s literary fingernail or not (like Vox Day), changing the appearance of the award doesn’t take away from the achievements of Lovecraft.  Nor, does it change his effect and stature in fiction. Nor will it mean less people will read Lovecraft.  It doesn’t take away from fans, authors or editors who like Lovecraft of write or edit Lovecraftian fiction — most of you are great people and those writers and editors amongst you are extremely talented individuals. Beyond that, you can’t insult the dead. HPL seriously doesn’t care (he’s dead) and his place in literary history is assured.  Those who want the change have their opinion (which is a legit concern to them and many others), and you have yours. You can lobby the World Fantasy Convention with your own views on the matter if you want, as can authors or fans of any other persuasion.

So, I say, let’s just make the award an elf, or a dragon, or a unicorn or make it a plaque and not a bust or idol of something at all — and then can we just get on with the business of writing, reading and enjoying new fiction. 

Update:

Since I drafted this post a whole bunch of stuff has gone down, including ST Joshi’s wife yelling at an author and saying he’s now blacklisted from any press where Joshi works, not to be over-shadowed by Joshi coming out and saying Ellen Datlow is immoral and that she’s opportunistically released lovecraftian works while backstabbing his corpse by seeking to get the “Howie” replaced as the WFA bust.    You can find some of this on Joshi’s website.  As far as I’m concerned, this is beyond the pale and I think ST Joshi owes Ellen a public apology.  Wow. You crossed the line, dude. Sit down.

I am writing a supplementary post delving into greater detail regarding some of the issues surrounding this current furor which I believe to be quite pertinent to the discussion, namely that of free speech, tradition, privilege and his legacy and effect on current race discourse.