Saturday, May 9, 2015

A good idea?

Do you hate bullying? Of course you do- it's a nasty practice done by people who have little better to do with their free time.

One specific group, Hollaback!, is trying to take this on via their project HeartMob. They're raising funds for this via Kickstarter and I have to admit... I'm worried.

The website will give users a place to seek assistance from other people with cases of online bullying. This doesn't sound so bad until you look at some of the reports:

The problem with this is pretty obvious. How are we to know that the version of events that we've been given are the true version? What type of quality checking is there? Even if the staff has checked things, what if all that the person is looking for is a group of people to come and help fight the opposing party? In other words, what's to stop someone from going to this site and getting a horde of people to go attack another site? This would cross a very thin line where the people who are bullied could potentially turn into bullies themselves depending on the situation. 

I'd like to think that people would apply rational thought to a situation but group mentality and first impressions are powerful. If I were to read a post by someone who claims that they went to a website and were bullied horribly, I'd be more inclined to want to believe what I first read just based on that first strong impression. That I've been bullied and I'd go into this with the idea that I could be someone's superhero would also potentially prove to be a bias. 

This brings up another issue- what are the qualifications of the people who would be responding to the posters? The average person might do more harm than good because sometimes bullying needs to be very carefully approached because you need to get all of the details and know how to properly respond to someone. Sometimes telling someone to confront a bully is not the right answer, nor is giving them only sympathy. Sometimes people can give wrong information or even inadvertently say something to shame the other person or make them feel less likely to open up about everything. What's to keep this from just turning into a forum- of which there are many similar ones out there? The Kickstarter says it'll be moderated, but moderating can mean a lot of things. For example, if I remove a comment in a blog then that's me serving as a moderator right there. Will the moderators be qualified persons or just volunteers? 

I'm not condoning bullying but anonymous posts are kind of difficult to judge. Sometimes people are targeted for the stupidest of reasons and you can see this on places like IMDb where people will create accounts and target people just because they happen to like the Twilight series or because they have a differing opinion. 

However sometimes you'll have someone do something like go on to 4Chan and do something insanely stupid. Again, I'm not condoning bullying and I don't want this to seem like I'm victim blaming, but sometimes you'll get people who won't tell you the entire story- something that can be incredibly important. 

Something also important to note is that sometimes you get people who weren't being bullied to begin with. It's not insanely frequent but sometimes you'll get people who will create fake accounts in order to make it seem like they're being bullied in order to gain attention or get revenge against someone. The false rape accusations of late are a good example of how something can go very, very wrong very quickly and end up ruining someone's name, possibly for life. 

That's not even addressing the issue about whether or not someone from one of the other groups would be able to get the same sympathy on this site. What if someone from MRA was getting bullied? Would they be able to receive the same care and sympathy or would they just be told that they shouldn't support the MRA? Would the site be able to adequately monitor this site to avoid this specific person getting bullied on their website? 

Even if the website doesn't allow people to specifically identify and link to the sites they're getting bullied at, this still has several big flaws that will need to be addressed. A commenter on the Huffington Post article brought up a good point: without the support of the social media sites there's not much that websites like this can do. No social media site is going to openly say that they condone bullying, but you will have sites that say that they cannot oppose free speech- and that's how a lot of groups manage to remain on social media. That means that this website may not be able to do much more than what many of the pre-existing websites like or the various anti-cyberbullying forums offer to their patrons. 

I'm not saying that this website will fail, just that this needs to be done very carefully in order to avoid some of the pitfalls that I've mentioned here. Here are my biggest concerns:
  • What type of quality checking and verification will this site do for the posters? 
  • How will it be moderated?
  • Will they allow users to post links to the places that they claim are bullying them? 
  • Will each poster be guaranteed to have a qualified person responding rather than a random person on the Internet? 
  • What sets this apart from other similar things on the Internet?
  • Where will all the money go? 
  • How will this organization work with other organizations and the social media outlets?
  • What type of advice will they give? 
  • Will the site allow posts to go up "as is" or will they read over them first to ensure that they are appropriate? 
  • What will they do if they find that the person in question is not being truthful? 
  • What will they do if the person is not being bullied? 
  • If the person will not take advice, what will they do then? 
I have more questions, but these are the biggies and they're ones that every website or organization of this nature need to address- especially if they are seeking your money as their startup.


Sorry if any of this seems rambling (because it is) but stuff like this always concerns me a little since sometimes some of these sites can do more harm than good and sometimes they can just perpetuate stereotypes of what a victim looks like, what a bully looks like, and what constitutes bullying. 

It also doesn't help that a little searching about the organization asking for money (Hollaback) came under fire last year for editing a street-harassment awareness video to remove a lot of white men that were harassing women. They may not have meant to make it appear that a white woman was mostly getting harassed by non-white men, but this is what I mean by sites sometimes doing more harm than good. The comments in the Jezebel article are especially appropriate to what I'm talking about. This sort of thing needs to be done very carefully and be very transparent from the get go to avoid stuff like this whenever possible. 

Further reading

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Patrick McLaw: An update

This is a little late coming, but I notice that when you google "Patrick McLaw", many of the hits tend to fall along the lines of "he was victimized for writing a book". I think that it's important that I write this, even if it's fairly old news.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the reason for McLaw's suspension came from mental health issues and not because he'd published the works. Apparently the school and the police had been aware of his books for years and as they hadn't arrested him back in 2012 it seems like they weren't anything they'd arrest someone over, which is contrary to what some of the newspapers had been printing.

In my previous post I'd written that someone had claimed that McLaw's suspension and police investigation had been due to a letter he had written- which ends up being a truth. McLaw did write a letter that gave the school system and the police reason for concern. The reason we know about that is because the state decided to release parts of the letter to show justification for their actions. They didn't want to do this, but the growing pressure of the various blogs and news articles pushed their hand. I have yet to find any of the letter's contents, but one news outlet has stated that it contains "suicidal tendencies" and another stated that the police were involved mostly because they were concerned for McLaw's own well-being. If I can find the letter, I'll post what I can.

Now I've saved this part for last, as it's kind of a little muddled. In a September 6th article via CBS Baltimore, McLaw says that the police have been taking things out of context. It may not apply to the books, but I'm kind of thinking that this may be implied. I wish he'd clarify his point in all of this, as this sort of thing can really, REALLY backfire if/when more information comes out that proves beyond even a reasonable doubt that he wasn't targeted because of his books. What is also concerning is this statement:

“Within hours we received information of perhaps an inappropriate relationship involving a student so we had some concerns,” 

So... does this mean that McLaw was having an inappropriate relationship with a student? Did that factor into anything at all? Was it even about him? I dislike this sort of thing, as it's entirely possible that the relationship wasn't related to McLaw and/or that it was an innocent relationship. The article also mentions that he did in fact have a model of the school in his shed and that he is still at a mental institution, receiving treatment. (Although in all fairness, this could be something he's doing at the recommendation of his lawyer as showing that he was willing to cooperate with mandated treatment will work in his favor in court- especially if the doctors say that he had no pressing mental issues.) This sort of opens up some more questions, but it does seem that the "was he targeted for his books" question has been answered for the most part.

And the answer is no- he wasn't. I'm still not sure of the exact reason for what happened to him, but it appears that it wasn't because he was an author. Whether he did or didn't do anything that would be reason for concern, we need to stop holding him up as someone who was victimized for publishing controversial books because that seems to be far from the truth of the situation.

Further Reading:

Damnation Books: Authors and Readers Beware!

Over the past few years we've seen a lot of independent publishing houses pop up, something that is good for the most part. Some of them are good and have gone on to become fairly well known publishing houses in their own right. Others end up closing or just sort of dwindle into obscurity for various reasons. Then there are the ones that become legend for all the wrong reasons.

I'm sure that some of you have heard the name "Damnation Books" before. Some of you may have heard about it by way of book recommendations on various internet sites like Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Nobles. Some of you may have heard about it because of the rather bad reputation they're getting from multiple authors that have previously published with the company.

What has the company done, you might ask?

One thing that the publisher has done is hold authors' books even after they (the author) has cancelled out their contract with them. Author Tim Marquitz has been fairly vocal about his interactions with Damnation Books, as has Mark Edward Hall.  Hall has gone so far as to say that the publisher is little more than an author mill and that he had to file a legal suit against them because they tried claiming that they own the legal rights to books when they don't- Hall does. They even got Amazon to pull Hall's books that he uploaded, claiming that they were the rightful owners. This leaves a pretty big stain on Hall's record, as Amazon pretty much called him a thief when he was publishing his own works. He's not the only person who has had this happen to him either. Terri Bruce had similar issues and even had to file a temporary restraining order in order to stop Damnation Books from publishing works for which she owned the legal rights.

If you don't think that this is all that bad, take into consideration that Damnation Books has tried to use the termination fee as a reason to hold onto the rights for the books and in the case of Marquitz, where they demanded that he pay them $1,000 apiece for each of the books he published through them. Now Marquitz requested the end of his contact in 2012 and as of February 2013 (when this blog was published), the publisher made over $4,000 on both books. There was no good reason for them to try to retain the books' rights when they'd already made their money and then some... no good reason other than the publisher wanted to continue to make money off of the books.

Bruce (and many others) have also said that their books were published with multiple errors in them, which also harmed their image as an author because let's face it: how many of us have stopped reading a book because it had too many errors and other formatting issues? I'd say that all of us have had at least one of these in our past experience as a reader and it never reflects well on the author... or the publisher. What this tells me is that even if the books were run through an editor, Damnation Books ignored their advice and published them "as is" in the expectation that they could make a few bucks off of the author before discarding them for a new patsy. Bruce's experience with Damnation Books shows that she did ask them to fix these issues before publication, only for the publisher to completely ignore her requests.

To add insult to injury, when authors have complained about the low sales and other issues, Damnation Books tried to place the blame entirely on the authors' shoulders, as is the case with Naomi Clark when she tried to talk to them about the low sales and what she and the publisher could do to improve them. She went to them for advice and they blamed her for everything. To rub salt into her wounds, when Clark did write about her troubles with Damnation Books, they wrote the Twitter response "LOL" and sent her an e-mail with only one line in it: a link to a blog entitled "Ten Things I Wish I Knew Then". It was obviously done with the intent to shame Clark and try to cow her, which I find absolutely disgusting and appalling. (Read more about it here.)

There's a lot more to this story and I'll try to write more about this as I can, but let me just say this: Damnation Books is a terrible publisher and they treat the majority of their authors very, very poorly. I'm sure that they have one or two that may say otherwise, but most of them seem to have had terrible times of it and I can't help but get the impression that there are a lot of authors who are trying to quietly ride out their contract and not make waves.

If you're an author, don't work with them- if you sign up with them, odds are high that you will also be taken advantage of- Preditors & Editors even lists them as a "not recommended" publisher. If you're a reader, don't patronize them. I know, I know- you may see things there that you want and would love to read, but just wait it out and buy the books when the authors get the rights back. It appears that most of them are waiting for their contracts to expire so they can self-publish the works themselves, so it'd definitely be worth waiting. Not only will the author have more editorial control over the books, but they'll get a larger cut of the profit since they're self-publishing. More money for the author means that it'll be more likely that they'll write more- something that I'm sure we all want!

Further reading:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Martyr? Villain? The case of Patrick McLaw

If you've been listening to some of the buzz lately, odds are that you've probably heard of Patrick McLaw, also known as K.S. Voltaer and Patrick Beale. If you haven't, then here's the story as far as we know it:

A week or two ago Maryland educator Patrick McLaw was picked up by the police and taken in for an emergency medical evaluation to see if he had any psychiatric issues. They also checked his house once to see if there were any guns, explosives, or any similar items in his house, as well as performing two similar sweeps on his school, Mace's Lane Middle School. At some point in their searching they discovered that McLaw had written two books about school shootings, both of which were set in the future (2029, I think.) Afterwards, McLaw was put on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.

What's interesting about this is that almost all of the news stories put the focus on the fact that McLaw wrote two books about school shootings, which is probably due to the fact that the public has been given little to no information about why any of this has happened. Until the news broke, McLaw was apparently a model teacher and was even featured in the news for helping one of his students publish a book via Amazon. As you can expect, the reaction from the general public has been outrage, as many believe that McLaw was singled out because he was a black author that wrote about school violence.

Is this true? Honestly, there's no way to really tell. A post on one article by "Jessie" (who appears to be a citizen in the area McLaw teaches) alleges that McLaw was not singled out for his books but because of a four page letter that contained disturbing content that worried its recipients, the local Board of Education. She also claims that the police found floor plans for not only Mace's Lane Middle School, but also a previous school that he worked at. Another post on the same article by "Groldak" seems to back this up, saying that the police did not single out McLaw because of his books and that apparently McLaw did pose a viable threat because of other evidence. Of course, the issue with this is that we have no way of knowing if either poster is actually telling the truth or if they are, if they aren't going off of faulty information. In another article (I'll try to track it down) someone alleged that McLaw was no threat and that this all stemmed from a jealous co-worker who was angry that McLaw was receiving more public acknowledgement and praise (including a teacher of the year award) than they were.

We have to ask: Is he a threat? Did he post a letter to the BoE that illustrated that he would be a clear and present danger to everyone around him? Did he have the school plans because he was planning on doing something, even if it was something that he wouldn't ultimately act upon? (IE, revenge fantasies.)  Or is he just some well enough meaning schmuck who wrote a very, very poorly phrased and angry letter to the BoE, who took it as a threat? And he only had the school plans for writing research purposes? It's not that far fetched, after all- especially if we take the jealous co-worker angle into consideration. I've seen people sabotage people for less. The "valid threat" scenario might seem more likely, but then I can honestly see the "schmuck singled out by coworker" scenario as well- especially if McLaw is very into the idea of rebelling against the system. (IE, he would not dislike a government or organizational structure, but actively dislikes the ones currently in place and would prefer a system that allows for more personal freedom.) Given that there has been a surge in people who follow this viewpoint, paired with McLaw using a pseudonym based on Voltaire, it makes this scenario seem even more likely.

What bothers me about this is that we're not being told all that much about this guy and people are drawing definitive conclusions about him. Many are holding him up as a martyr for the cause of freedom of speech and racism, especially in the wake of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. But... what if we're wrong? What if he really did do enough to pose a threat to those around him? This is one of those unfortunate situations where we really haven't been given enough information to know what is or isn't true. People have singled out their peers for abuse for various different reasons that have nothing to do with justice (jealousy, boredom, anger, etc) . I don't know the media reporting on this is a good thing or not. If he's innocent, then this does need to be addressed but if the police did have reason to suspect McLaw was a threat, then reporting on this with limited information does the entire scenario a very real disservice.

So.. all we can really do is report on this as we go and try to keep in mind that we don't have all the information about this. That means that we keep an open mind for both sides, meaning that either side could be in the right. I'm kind of suspecting that it's somewhere in the middle. Or at least I'm somewhat hoping that it is, because the alternative is far, far scarier: that we're starting to go more and more into an Orwellian society where our freedoms are becoming fewer and far between.

Further reading:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shameless promotion: The Summer Job by Adam Cesare

Hey all! I'm here to let you know about a little promotion that author Adam Cesare is holding for his book The Summer Job. It released back in January and while it initially did fairly well, sales for the book did fairly poorly after its initial release. I've read the book (wrote a review too!) and while it may not appeal to everyone, I felt that it was a pretty interesting enough read.

So basically Cesare's thing is that if you purchase the ebook and genuinely don't like it, he'll give you the option of either returning the book for a refund (which he'll send to you snail mail) or swapping it out for another one of his works. The offer is good until the end of August, but I believe that this only applies to Amazon purchases. 


I've spoken with Cesare and he said that he's willing to honor requests from any merchant site, as long as you have your receipt. I'm expecting that few, if any, will actually take him up on this though. I've also posted a link to Cesare's blog entry that gives further details on the offer itself. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fated: The Vampire Plagiarism?

So... there's a new "Author Behaving Badly" in the neighborhood and her name is Alexandra Anthony.

Recently it was brought to light that Ms Anthony had plagiarized the True Blood fanfiction Pretty Kitty by fanfiction author ficlit78. Ficlit78 had published Pretty Kitty on in February 2011.

A little over a year later, Anthony published Fated, the first book in the The Vampire Destiny series, in May 2012. She continued putting out books in the series until June 2013 and was set to release a fifth book entitled Rapture in April 2014, but this never came to fruition. During this time the series not only got a mention in USA Today, but also apparently won a few awards as well. I cannot find any records of the books actually winning any awards, although I did find where Ascend was nominated for a Book Junkie's Choice Award.

Her plagiarism went fairly unnoticed until a few days ago when ficlit78 posted a blog article entitled Plagiarism for Profit, where she described finding that Anthony had been plagiarizing her work and demanding that Anthony remove any and all copies of TVD series from any storefronts she'd been publishing through.

It didn't take long for people to discover this via book review sites like Goodreads and some, like reviewer Chrome, posted comparisons of the two works and links for readers to see the comparisons themselves. In one link Anthony posted a book snippet that matches up with chapter six of Pretty Kitty. Anthony has removed the page, but I was able to pull up a cached copy (which you can find here). It's pretty clearly plagiarized and I've taken two specific sections from the cached webpage and Pretty Kitty, chapter 6. (I took the text directly from the page.) While Anthony changed a little here and there, it's still pretty obviously taken directly from Pretty Kitty. 

I can't help but be reminded of a similar thing that happened a few years ago with How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. The author of that work lifted heavily from several authors and tried to claim that she did it subconsciously. (eyeroll) I wonder if Anthony will try claiming the same thing. Either way, it's always infuriating to see someone try to gain fame from someone else's hard work. It's not only an insult to the original author of the work that Anthony (and others) don't think that they will be caught, but it's also an insult to anyone who reads it. Not only do they assume that you (the reader) won't pick up on the plagiarism (ie, they think that they're too slick, the source material might be too obscure, and you're too dense to know otherwise), but they're also telling you that they don't think that you're worth the hard work it takes to write an original work. They're not publishing this for you to enjoy and they're not thinking of you at all. They see you as nothing more than a money tree that they can shake down for dollars and the occasional ego boost. It's absolutely disgusting, in my opinion.

So far the book has been removed from several different sites, although I do note that Barnes & Nobles is still selling ebook copies of Fated and Illusion. I'm going to hope that this is only because the website is slow at removing items from their shelves.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The horror of Marion Zimmer Bradley (some graphic content)

Earlier today I read some stuff about Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB) that's pretty difficult to read. I'm familiar with her work, as I'd cut my fantasy teeth on many of her works. I want to state outright that she contributed a LOT to the fantasy world. Nobody can deny that, but she did some pretty awful stuff that I hadn't heard about for the longest time because when people spoke about her, they spoke about MZB in these hushed, reverent tones.

What did she do, you ask?

First off, she was married to a convicted pedophile and by all accounts, she was fully aware that he was molesting several children of varying ages during their marriage. Apparently she knew that he was taking children into his bed but told people that she didn't think that he was molesting anyone because he was supposedly impotent. Part of me wishes I could go back in time and strangle her for that statement because MZB was a highly educated person and would be fully aware that molestation does not begin and end with the molester to achieve an erection. Or at least be aware that there are acts that one can perform on someone that does not include penile penetration or contact of any sort. MZB defended him in court and eventually divorced him, but it's fairly clear that she knew about everything even if you want to ignore part two of this.

Secondly, MZB's daughter has come forward and said that her mother was fully aware of everything and even moved one of her husband's victims to another apartment because her daughter complained. Her daughter also said that she was molested by MZB. Her mother began molesting her when she was three years old and continued until she was twelve. She only stopped because her daughter finally took action to stop the molestation. Her daughter also said that she was not her mother's only victim and that there were many, many others and that her mother had both male and female victims.

I'm more than a little horrified at how little attention this has received. I know that people are likely afraid that this will impact MZB's fanbase negatively and I can understand that. I know that despite loving her works as a child, I'll probably never read her stuff again. Her stuff got me through some dark points in my teenage years and I'm grateful for that, but we still need to acknowledge the allegations made against MZB. If we don't then we're essentially sending out the message that you can do whatever you want if you have enough fame, talent, and power (even in death).

This was all sparked by a post on about MZB that has since been removed due to the criticism. There's a good timeline here and I'll post more links about it below. I just figured that I should write about this because it's so important that we recognize molestation and rape when it happens and we don't cover it up out of "respect for the dead" or because someone is very talented or powerful.

Here's the basic timeline:

  1. posts a blog post about MZB's contributions to fantasy, but mentions nothing about her husband's molestation and how she essentially enabled him. Some people posted in the comments section, criticizing the article for not mentioning this, if even briefly. 
  2. Deidre Saorise Moen (DSM) posts an article about how important it is to discuss child molestation and rape, even if it is unpleasant. She is very critical of the piece and highlights several rather horrifying Q&As where MZB discusses her husband's activities. 
  3. takes their blog post down. A few blogs and websites post about this. 
  4. DSM gets in contact with Moira Goldin, MZB's daughter. She talks with her about everything and learns that MZB molested her daughter for several years, along with several other victims of different genders. 
  5. DSM gets permission from Moira to post her letter. Jim C Hines discusses it on his blog. A few more websites pick the story up, but nowhere near the amount that we got for say, some of the author meltdowns along the lines of Candace Sams or Jacqueline Howett. 

Further reading: