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. 

UPDATE:

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 Fanfiction.net 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 Fanfic.net 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 Tor.com 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. Tor.com 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 Tor.com piece and highlights several rather horrifying Q&As where MZB discusses her husband's activities. 
  3. Tor.com 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:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Help fund Reading Rainbow!

If you're reading this, odds are that you're familiar with the show Reading Rainbow, which ran on television from 1983 to 2006. It was a staple of my childhood and was shown in many of the classes I had while I was very young. Even if you didn't personally watch it yourself as a child, you likely heard about it from someone else that watched it as a child. LeVar Burton was a huge role model for a lot of us, as he was a smart, charismatic, handsome black man that liked books and just so happened to also be on a very popular television show (Star Trek: The Next Generation). He showed us that it was OK to read and that it can be incredibly fun. I was fairly sad when it was cancelled in 2006, despite it still being fairly popular and it still being used in various classrooms.

So when I discovered that there was a Kickstarter campaign to launch Reading Rainbow as an online app, I had to donate. I've never donated to Kickstarters before and I'm happy to say that this was my first. What's so amazing about this campaign is that they hit the million dollar goal in less than a day.






So I'm coming back on here to spread the news about this. I figure that word of mouth could help get Burton a few more donations at the very least and it'd be nice if they hit their stretch goal and then some.

Basic gist of the Kickstarter: There's a Reading Rainbow app and the Kickstarter campaign will help get the app to more people. The app will allow children to access hundreds of books as well as video field trips (sort of like some of what you'll see on YouTube, but presumably far higher production values and less chance of seeing someone photobomb the camera). Classrooms will be able to use the app and the more people who donate, the more classrooms that will be able to access it for free (presumably permanently free). Lots of schools don't have the money to pay for subscriptions as stuff like that adds up fairly quickly. They might be able to afford a computer, but not monthly subscriptions. I'm going to presume that the free versions will be given to lower income classrooms first and then up the scale for the more well funded schools. The first emphasis of the Kickstarter kind of reflects the classroom emphasis, as nowadays it's somewhat a given that a school will have a computer somewhere, if not in each classroom.


Further reading:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Long live the king? Nope! Bring down the king!

I'm not exactly sure when this started, but recently someone raised a statue to Joffrey, the insane boy king from Game of Thrones.

Now it's time to take it down!

Every time someone sends out a tweet with #bringdowntheking in it, that statue comes ever closer to being toppled. As of this blog the meter is about a third of the way towards the statue's demise, but I doubt that it'll take all that long to really get that many tweets. To put it mildly, Joffrey is quite the ass and one of those characters that people love to hate, so odds are high that this might take less time than the organizers expected. (5 days)

Further reading:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When facepalming isn't enough to show my frustration

I've largely left this blog alone, as personal family issues and school have taken up a large amount of my time over the last year or so. Once in a while I'll find something that just makes me feel the need to have an opinion about something in a public forum. You guys all know the feeling, right?

So recently author Lynn Shepard posted a blog saying JK Rowling should stop writing after publishing The Casual Vacancy. At first I was ready to see things from her perspective because of the heavy criticism the book has received. Many have called the book "mediocre at best" and a lot of people have openly wished that she would go back to Potter and Potter-esque books. I've heard some theorize that the book would have been better if she'd "let go" of the Potter world and stop trying to add to the world afterwards, as it would have allowed her to really devote herself more to what she's currently writing. Part of this is fueled by the fact that TCV seems to try to be as un-Harry Potter as it can be at times, which could be argued is JKR still allowing her Potter world to exercise its hold on her. I'm listing all of this because this is what I was expecting from the article: for Shepard to say that she wanted JKR to stop writing until she can figure out what she wants to do as an author. Sort of the whole "find yourself and then write" type of article.

No, as you can guess this is not the type of article that Shepard wrote.

The article is pretty much just Shepard asking Rowling (and arguably by extension, all major league writers, thereafter referred to as MLW) to stop putting out books because it makes it harder for smaller authors to get sales and attention. There are so many things wrong with that concept that I couldn't help but think of that John Cleese gif:



Now the thing is, Shepard isn't entirely off base with that remark. A lot of publishers will choose to ignore new, small, unknown, and/or independent authors because they want to stick with their known commodity. And an author is very much a commodity.  The average publisher sinks a lot of money into even the smaller authors, so they stand a lot to lose even if the author is e-book only.

However the idea that a publisher would automatically pick up various other authors if a MLW stopped writing is a very faulty one. They might look for something to fill the gap, but odds are they'll just lean a little harder on the other authors they already have in their stable.

(Any excuse for a Futurama picture, right?)

The reality is that while publishers do want to stay with the "tried and true", the existence of MLW in any given genre makes it more likely that a publisher will want to publish similar works by various other authors. This doesn't mean that the publisher is going to pick up every author or even your work, but it does make sense. After the urban fantasy market boomed years ago with the output of various MLW in the field, multiple publishers rushed out to snap up every Sookie and Anita clone they could find. You can also see this in the cozy mystery genre with just about anything involving recipes or the supernatural. The lack of a MLW in the field that consistently brings in money will just make the publishers assume that the genre is "tapped out" and will likely stop looking to sign new authors while cutting a few other authors loose from their contracts.

Now if you're talking about how the media covers authors, then sure- there are a few arguments someone could make about that as well. Some outlets just don't want to cover too many of the same types of authors at a time unless they're doing a compilation piece about various authors in a specific genre and/or that are similar to a MLW. They don't want to be boring or lose the idea that they're about all things entertainment or news, so they try to mix things up. However a lot of those places tend to be fairly major, so we could also apply the arguments above: there's no guarantee that they'll decide to write about other authors in the genre for the same reasons publishers won't look for new authors.

This is also overlooking the obvious: if JKR really loved writing then why should she stop? As a coworker of mine said upon hearing about the story, "Wouldn't someone who really loved writing want to keep writing? Why would they stop?"

Ultimately a MLW deciding to bow out of writing entirely wouldn't have any true positive effects on the world of writing as a whole. It's not like it's a position at a business where the office manager or company president steps down and there has to be someone there to fill his or her shoes. Sure there might be something new that someone could find, but lets look at it this way: JKR hasn't written a new Potter-type book in a long while... yet you don't really see a huge and overwhelming flurry of people getting published. People like to say that Twilight was the replacement Harry Potter, but the thing is... Twilight was published in 2005 and was already wildly popular by the time the HP series ended in 2007. Meyer may have gained a few spillover readers after the HP series ended, but odds are that a lot of the people who were reading HP probably picked up Twilight because they'd enjoyed the whole reading experience with JKR and wanted more.

In the end, that's why MLW can be so beneficial: they make it more likely that someone will read something and want to read something similar to it, thus enabling them to find your book. Sure, JKR and SM aren't really similar in ways other than both are supernatural but the work did come up in a lot of "if you like... " searches. Trust me- my Amazon feed was filled with recommendations for various authors, both independent and well known. Having MLW in the field only heightens the chances someone will find your book.

And as for someone else going into another genre... the same rules apply. If a MLW publishes in your field, regardless of how good the book is, odds are high that it'll bring new readers in. They might hate the MLW's book, but then they might think "I liked the idea of this, so let's check out something else to see if there's anything better out there". Some might toss the MLW's book aside and never read anything from that genre again, but then those readers were unlikely to have picked your book up anyway... so you're not really losing a reader.

Plus think of it this way: there will always be a bigger writer than you. While you're praying that ____ stops writing, someone else may be wishing that you'd stop writing so they could have "your job" as an author. By this definition everyone published by a major league publishing house should stop publishing after one book so the next one can have their turn. Needless to say, I don't think anyone wants to actually do that.

Further reading:
*If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It