Friday, April 29, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011 Links and Plugs

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News
 The eBook is out:
Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine

Friday, April 22, 2011

Essay: The Impact of Tokyopop on Western Fandom

Brigid Alverson (of the indispensable MangaBlog fame) has a post on Robot6 detailing how Tokyopop changed the (Western) comics world. (And if you're not up to date on the latest happenings, she also has a compilation of links relating to the demise of Tokyopop here). I'd like to think that this blog entry is more of a supplement to that piece.

I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Tokyopop, but the influence it has in the Western manga--and comic--industry is huge. A lot of people will interpret influence as "success" (especially commercial success) but that's not necessarily the case. Any retrospective on Tokyopop should view it from the lens of a scientist, a pioneer that experimented with various mediums, methods, and marketing. Some worked while others didn't. But what's more significant for me is how other publishers have learned from Tokyopop and refined those same techniques or eschewed some of their practices.

A lot of today's manga fans might remember Tokyopop for its impact in the 21st century but for me, the real innovation started as far back as 1996. Back then, at least as far as English-translated manga was concerned, the only major players in the market were Viz (especially with their Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball titles) and Dark Horse. Moreover, the focus of both companies tended to be on the Shonen ("boys") and Seinen ("men") respectively (although series like Ranma 1/2 appealed to both genders). It was a time when manga was sold either as pamphlet (much like most of your weekly US comics) or expensive graphic novels/trades ($15.00 and upwards--more when you start factoring inflation). Tokyopop--then known as Mixx--would release its bi-monthly manga anthology Mixxzine, which is not-quite patterned after Japan's massive "phonebook directory mangas". To set the record straight, Mixx wasn't the first one to do so: that honor belongs to Viz and it's monthly Manga Vision anthology. What did set Mixxzine apart was its content, as two of the four serials were drawn from Shojo titles: Sailormoon and Magic Knight Rayearth. Now the Sailormoon franchise was a milieu into itself, while Magic Knight Rayearth was a popular title during its time. (It's also interesting to note that the other title featured in the original Mixxzine launch, Parasyte, would later be picked up Del Rey.) other titles that would eventually be part of Mixx's pre-2001 stable include Gundam Blue Destiny and Gundam Wing, as well as Card Captor Sakura.

Now Mixx wouldn't escape 2000 unscathed. It had its fair share of failures (a foray into gaming for example) and Stuart Levy was already a controversial figure back in the day. You can read more about Mixx's early history in Anime Fringe's "Full Circle: The Unofficial History of MixxZine". But aside from introducing female-oriented manga titles to a Western audience, there are some important highlights I want to mention. The first is how Mixx released its "pocket Mixx" line, which is pretty much the predecessor of today's cheap but small manga volumes being released by nearly everyone else. The second is how Mixx started a division and website named Tokyo Pop, which would later be the title that Mixxzine and Mixx would adopt.

It's interesting to note how the magazine anthology format always struggled. Right now Viz is the bookend--the alpha and the omega so to speak--of the medium and while Tokyopop couldn't solve the long-term feasibility in the US market, it did help shape the contents of such magazines (and how Viz's magazine anthologies are specialized [i.e. group into "shonen" and "shojo" categories] as opposed to being diverse).

One of the slogans of Tokyopop would be "100% Authentic Manga" (whether that's true or not is a different matter altogether), most notable for its right-to-left manga orientation. Again, they're not the first one to do so--Viz's Dragonball actually was published right-to-left (at the behest of Akira Toriyama himself)--but they're one of the first to implement it to their entire line. Not that it's entirely altruistic of them as "flipping" is an extra expense in the production process, but it's a trend that carries on to many of today's English manga.

In the past decade, manga was one of the more visible comics in bookstores, and Tokyopop has to take credit for that. It's not just about the concept of bookstore distribution--which other comic publishers like DC and Marvel were discovering--but the fact that at one point in time, Tokopop was releasing a lot of titles, hence occupying a lot of shelf space. Fans need to remember that the Viz of today, with popular franchises like Death Note and Naruto flooding the market, wasn't the same Viz that started out where its flagship manga titles was solely Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball. Now-defunct manga publishers like Del Rey and CMX didn't start out until mid-2004 while Dark Horse had a stable but modest lineup (Oh My Goddess! and Blade of the Immortal).

A controversial issue--at least among purist fans--is Tokyopop's Original English Language (OEL) line (and to a certain extent, non-Japanese manga like Manhwa). Whether you love it or hate it (and it's certainly not a new phenomenon: in terms of fandom, it's a never-ending debate between subtitles vs dubs or non-Japanese anime), one can't deny the impact Tokyopop has in the proliferation of OEL. Although again, to clarify, OEL didn't originate with Tokyopop (that honor goes to Viz), but rather they popularized it.

In the past few years, Tokyopop has had a mix of failures and successes. There was their website's attempt to create a social media network slash online comics reader for example. Or how it lost its license to some of its popular or ongoing titles, in addition to those that went to competitors. Or its foray into the Initial D multimedia franchise and subsequent whitewashing. For good or for ill, many in the industry have took note of Tokyopop's progress and demise.

April 22, 2011 Links and Plugs

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There's also a contest from Small Beer Press...

The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Essay: Depression Through the Lens of a Geek

As a blogger and a writer, writing about the negative aspects of your life is tricky. On one hand, you want your post to be relevant and not merely an outlet for whining, complaining, and sulking. On the other hand--and this varies from blog to blog--you also want to share personal details about your life, showing that you're human and not invulnerable (and boy, have I made many mistakes!). Depression is a subject that occasionally crops up in my online life, but it's not a subject matter I tackle with depth mainly because it's complex and can't be explained in a tweet or status update or brief email. So there is this blog entry which is one part catharsis, one part personal writing exercise, one part confession, and hopefully one part relevant to my regular readers (although it doesn't directly deal with all things geeky so if personal stories don't interest you, you can stop reading now).

First, I want to preface that no one chooses to be depressed. It is, at best, a confusing experience that's full of mood swings and extreme emotions. I have a friend who has clinical depression and she has to take medication for it. I don't suffer from clinical depression so to put things into perspective, as bad as my depression is, it's nothing compared to my friend's. I'm usually a stoic person (as evidenced by the cold, efficient, and personality-less daily link list in my blog) but this is the one chink in my armor. Depression has many causes but in my case, it's always romance: the lack thereof or outright rejection. I don't have a "depression soundtrack" but two bittersweet short stories I keep coming back to are "Little Gods" by Tim Pratt and "L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)" by Dean Francis Alfar.

I've had this obsession with romance mainly because I always feel out of place and rarely developed deep relationships (platonic or otherwise). High school, for example, was a horrible experience for me. I was what you'd expect from a geek: interested in reading books and comics and anime and manga and video games. That wasn't the norm in the all-boys school I attended. Finding someone with similar interests was difficult but even when I did, they didn't necessarily accept me. My class had this clique of geeks but no matter how hard I tried to penetrate the group, I was, at worst, ostracized, and at best, reluctantly accepted in the same way that you're down to the last two people in Dodgeball, and there was thankfully someone else worse than you to pick. So most of high school was spent, ironically, with geeks from a higher batch, or social circles from other sections (and as much as I'd love to cultivate long and deep relationships with them, the distance of not being in the same class was too much of a barrier). Now I'm not blaming everyone else for my predicament: I was young then and I had my own set of shortcomings such as being selfish, clingy, and socially awkward.

During my freshman year in high school, we had an opportunity to interact with the all-girls school right beside our campus. It was called an Acquaintance Party and the freshmen from both schools were supposed to talk and dance with each other. A lot of people I knew came home from the evening either with new friends or phone numbers. I, on the other hand, cried in private and promised myself that it would be the last time I would shed tears (I was influenced by Filipino machismo at the time). One consequence of that is that I currently suffer from chronic blepharitis which significantly hampers my vision (we can compare medical bills...) and more importantly, I can't cry even if I wanted to as my tear ducts aren't functioning optimally. Now while that experience was traumatic and horrible, I wouldn't call it my depression. It's an entirely different kind of despair.

I discovered depression during my senior year in high school. It was then that I realized my attraction to the opposite sex was superficial: I was only interested in pretty girls. At the time, I always wondered how monogamy could work or how someone could remain faithful to just one individual for the rest of their lives. If you're familiar with Piers Anthony's Xanth series, that was the appeal of the relationship between Bink (the male hero) and Chameleon (his wife). Chameleon was a character whose looks and intelligence (hence personality) varied depending on the time of the month. To a teenager, that kind of perpetual variety was seductive and sounded reasonable.

My epiphany came when I fell in love with someone I never considered before. My first meeting with her was actually uneventful: I met her at a gaming convention as she purchased anime merchandise from the stall I was manning. At the time, I didn't really take notice and why should I? She was short, a bit chubby, and plain-looking. It would take a month or two afterwards before she caught my interest. I discovered that we shared the same interests: anime/manga, fantasy/science fiction, video games, etc. We interacted through a mailing list and through stories from mutual friends. I even gathered the courage to ask her phone number and called her at home. It was then that I realized that what was important in a relationship wasn't their physical attributes but their personality. I could imagine that I could spent the rest of my life with her, not because she was pretty, but because she was smart and intelligent and we could hold a sincere conversation where we understood each other. I started to appreciate the concept of monogamy, and realized how juvenile Bink and Chameleon's relationship was. Since then, I was always skeptical of physical attraction: am I attracted to this girl because of her looks or is it something else?

The epiphany was euphoric. But in many ways, this is also when depression starts to creep in. The moment you realize that you badly want to be with someone, you also become aware of the possibility of failure. What if she doesn't reciprocate my feelings? What if she rejects me? The most minute of actions is assessed a hundred times and interpreted in exaggerated ways: she didn't reply to my email so that means she hates me; she said thank you so she likes me. The process of courtship was an emotional roller coaster of extremes but there was always hope. Depression starts to overcome euphoria when you realized that the other party truly wasn't interested in you--and worse, there was no way of salvaging the friendship. She wouldn't return or answer my calls, emails, or handwritten letters. When we'd bump into each other, all we managed to speak were the most basic of pleasantries before she needed to depart. In truth, I was waiting for her to be direct with me, and tell me that she wasn't interested in me. But not everyone is confrontational and not everyone receives the kind of closure they expect. And so depression limbo.

The symptoms vary. There was a point in time where I subsisted on eating once a day and only catching sleep for a few hours at most. My dreams were nightmares, not because they weren't pleasant, but whenever my crush would appear in a dream, it was a stark reminder of how different reality was. Depression wrecked whatever hobbies I had at the time because there was much overlap between the two of us. Every fantasy novel I came across in the bookstore for example reminded me of how she loved those books too. The same goes for the anime soundtracks I listened to and manga I read. The constant reminders felt like it was myself inflicting the injuries, gutting my own intestines and clawing my own eyes. I couldn't concentrate on any single activity, and I couldn't rest either as time to think meant that I would eventually dwell on missed opportunities and what-could-have-beens.

And this is where the complexities of depression--or anyone who's been rejected or broken up with a significant other--starts to pop up. The first is the quandary of whether to continue pursuit or to move on with your life and give up. No matter which you choose, it's going to be painful, and the deliberation itself is excruciating, especially as you separate your motivations from the facts (and let's be honest, in romance, there's a lot of self-delusion and optimistic assessment of reality, as well as uncompromising selfishness).

As sad as it is to admit, there is a certain comfort in depression. You don't want to relinquish it because doing so means moving on to territory that's unfamiliar, new, and requires change. On one level, it feels like a betrayal of what you previously felt or represented. It's not that you're addicted to pain, but that specific pain came with a certain predictability and purpose. It might evolve into bargaining where you wonder what you could have done to change things (as if everything was under your control or your decision to make) and develop a level of masochism and deathwish that you justify as suffering for the sake of the other person. I've certainly thought to myself "Maybe she'll take me back once she finds out how much I sacrificed for her" which is, honestly, an undeserved form of emotional blackmail and coercion. (I also blame epic fantasy, wherein we are trained to accept the concept of a "quest" where much is sacrificed in order to obtain a specific item or person; but real life is seldom a good approximation of such a scenario, and the McGuffin is actually a human being who has their own complex set of motivations and journeys.) And I've seen this kind of motivation in other people, whether it's wives who return to abusive husbands, or friends who cling to exes even if it's the latter who's guilty of inappropriate decisions. Intellectually, we might be aware of this, but emotionally, it's tempting to choose the path of least resistance.

What doesn't get asked often--and this is because we can be too self-centered--is how the other person feels. It can be a painful decision for them to reject you as well, and it begs the question, what's best for them? Is courting them against their wishes good for them? How much do you truly love the other person: only as so far as to give you pleasure, or are you concerned with the other person's holistic health and potential?

Choosing to move on made me question why it was difficult for me to come to such a decision. The reason was fear: fear that I blew my one chance of finding happiness, fear that I wouldn't meet anyone else, fear that I would be lonely forever. When confronted with those fears, it's tempting to revert to my depressive state and resume the bargaining process but what kind of life would I be living to be dominated by fear? I wanted to live the kind of life a Green Lantern would, a person who overcame fear instead of being a slave to it.

The healing process isn't without its own perils. I started to understand why people who just broke up don't start dating immediately. Vulnerability came in all shapes and sizes: you could be attracted to someone because they reminded you--whether physically or some mannerism--of your previous love; you could be attracted to someone simply because they show the tiniest bit of interest in you (a stark contrast to all the effort you've been expending all this time); or you could be attracted to someone because the concept of being alone is horrible and being with anyone is better than the wrenching void left in the wake of your rejection or breakup.

Personally, I got over my first crush by creating and discovering a new me. I read different books. Tried new hobbies. Explored new locations. Or more relevant to this blog, I started writing and blogging.

I wish I could say that was the only time I got depressed but it wasn't. A few months down the line, I met someone equally as impressive as my first crush (and it's pretty much the same story, someone I didn't originally pay attention to the first time I met her and only realizing then that she's a terrific person). We hit it off in the first three weeks of college but when she discovered I had feelings for her, she ceased all communication and tore my letters. I would persist for my entire college years and she actually resumed talking to me after a year or two but by the time we graduated, we were distant friends at best.

Currently, I'm straddling that wave of depression. I met someone who's intelligent, interesting, talented, passionate, and yes, pretty. Unfortunately, she's not interested in a relationship at this time as she's still figuring out her previous one. We can be friends, which is fine, and that's a significant improvement over the radio-silence treatment I got with my previous crushes. Again, I'm wrestling with my own quandaries (and I'm sure she is as well with her unique scenario). In the meantime, I send her books, comics, videos. That's what I like about literature: the other person can peruse it at their own leisure without pressure. Books can entertain, educate, or inspire, and it's not necessarily linked to me personally. I don't know what'll happen a few days, weeks, months, or years down the line. Maybe I'll eventually get dumped. Or ostracized. Or maybe we'll become close friends. But whatever happens, I recall my depression and ask the question that few people seldom ask: what's best for her? I give books to friends, not because it's propaganda or some sort of emotional leverage, but because I hope they find value in them irregardless of how they feel about me.

April 21, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Now available as an ePub!
Weird Tales #357

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #50

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Matt Hughes Giveaway Contest

The awesome Matt Hughes just sent me this email:

"To promote my foray into contemporary, urban fantasy, I'm going to give away a free copy of The Damned Busters, the first in the To Hell and Back series, to the first twenty-five people who send me their address and promise to blog about the book.  There is no requirement to blog positively about it -- publicity, as Sam Goldwyn is said to have said, is good;  good publicity is better.

Send an email to himself@archonate.com with "I promise" in the subject line.  It's more binding that way.

They won't be signed copies.  They're in warehouses in the UK and the US, and I'm in Italy.  They're my author's copies, but wandering the world as a housesitter precludes accumulating stacks of books."

April 19, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Ephemera by Paul S. Kemp

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 Links and Plugs

I'm guest-editing the first issue of the new, online Philippine Genre Stories and the first short story is out, "What You See" by Ian Rosales Casocot.

Interviews

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Not speculative fiction (at least I don't think so) but by a Filipino author:

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Friday, April 15, 2011

Essay: Book Hunting

When online bookstores debuted more than fifteen years ago, some people speculated that bibliophiles who enjoyed scavenging books from large, unsorted piles would become extinct. After all, search engines were faster and accurate. But these type of consumers didn't really disappear, at least where I'm from. Secondhand bookstores and book sales are alive and well, and they draw a crowd of customers who are willing to put time and effort in searching for bargain books and specific titles. Now the truth is, I'm not one of those people. I'm allergic to dust (and old books) and I prefer spending my time actually reading rather than rummaging. I am easily distracted and navigating through a huge selection requires concentration and mental fortitude. Yet every so often, I find myself in the situation of visiting various bookshops all over the city, all in the hopes of locating a specific book or two. There is, admittedly, the thrill of the hunt, the acceptance of the possibility of failure, and the satisfaction of success. This isn't endemic to bibliophiles but other hobbies that involve collecting.

If book hunting is such a chore, why do I still bother with it? Because I need a specific book given my limited resources. Unfortunately, services like Amazon is a first-world privilege. The main culplrit is shipping as it takes weeks for a book to arrive (the same is the case with the much-lauded Book Depository). That's the value of mega-bookstore chains for me: they have a wide selection and I can get the book immediately instead of waiting for weeks. Of course it also depends on the book. If it's rare or out of print, locating a reliable copy on the Internet is a scavenger hunt in itself and requires the same tools and mental resources.

The other reason is that the book isn't for myself. Many of my scavenger hunts are borne from a desire to procure a book for someone else: a relative, a friend, a crush. IIf you're just looking for a book for yourself, it's easy enough to set expectations: you exert all your effort and you either find the book or you don't. When you're searching a book for someone else, it's an entirely different matter altogether. It's establishing a relationship with them, even if it can be pretty one-sided. The other party for example will never know the adversity you encountered and the sacrifices you made in order to acquire a specific book--unless you tell them (and we don't). But it creates a memorable experience, in addition to finding satisfaction in giving the book to them. I want to give books because, hey, I love books and it's something I can relate to. It's simple enough to reduce everything to financial terms in which case you can just give someone else cash but it's usually a cold and hollow experience that's devoid of personality (unless you're giving me one million in which case I'll be your best friend forever).

Book hunting is an adventure. It's not life-or-death, or the fate-of-the-world-is-in-your-hands, but it follows the pattern of a quest, with its own set of obstacles to overcome. It can be a tedious process if every book you purchase requires that level of effort, but in small doses, it breaks the monotony of convenience shopping and gives the book an additional story. Of course whether the recipient of the book appreciates all the effort that went into it is another matter...

April 15, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Happy anniversary!
Goblin Fruit Spring 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    April 12, 2011 Links and Plugs

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    Signal boosting (and there's a pre-sale discount too):

     Historical Lovecraft edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    April 11, 2011 Links and Plugs

    I'm personally excited on this year's Eisner nominees. Can you count how many Filipinos are on the ballot?

    Interviews

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    The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

    Friday, April 08, 2011

    April 8, 2011 Links and Plugs

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     Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    April 7, 2011 Links and Plugs

    Interviews



    Advice/Articles




    Teeth: Vampire Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    Essay: Introvert in Real Life, Extrovert on the Internet

    I was reading this fluff piece in Slate, "Love in Bookstores" by Emma Straub, and this reminded me of my younger--and very geeky--years. Now I'm the type of person who currently has as lot of online friendships (*waves at the Internet*) but few in real life. One of the reasons is that I'm a really shy person. Why, just the other day, I was asking on Twitter how to ask girls out (17 years in the academe taught me how to ask girls out in the context of a school setting but not really outside of it). And that pretty much sums up the story of my life as far as romance is concerned.

    I was hoping for more in "Love in Bookstores" but the concept has a strong resonance because I once did try to look for love in bookstores. (While I've never actually worked in a bookstore, the local atmosphere is entirely different so I doubt that customers would ask me out even if I was a bookstore employee.) I am a geek so there are certain shelves in the bookstore that I "patrol". Science fiction and fantasy wasn't as big as it is now (this is before Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings) so finding a girl browsing the SF&F section was a rare sight, not because she might be pretty, but because she shares the same interest. To a certain extent, the Internet feels safe to me--and I had a couple of Internet friends at the time--because we gravitate towards places that share our interests. When you pop into a mailing list, a forum, or a chat room, they tend to be classified under a common theme or subject so you know that the people there are part of your tribe (in the same way that I know readers of this blog are fiction readers).

    Going back to the bookstore, I'd like to think that there's a lot you can tell from people's browsing habits. For example, if I see customers making a beeline for all things Tolkien and ignore everything else, I know that they're not necessarily hardcore genre fans but the casual reader. There are also what I classify as "gamers" as they purchase a lot of the media tie-in fiction like Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Warhammer (although a lot of readers who buy these books don't necessarily play the tabletop counterpart). Back in the day, I'd probably consider someone picking up a Robert Jordan novel as "my crowd" as Jordan didn't exactly have mainstream appeal although he is popular by genre standards.

    One day, I was going to the bookstore, shopping for a copy of A.N. Roquelaure's The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy for a college blockmate (which, I might add, was a challenge to my machismo, but was a welcome change from  buying multiple copies of Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano's The Dream Hunters which I gave to friends), when I snuck back to my habit of stalking other people browsing the SF&F bookshelves. There were a pair of girls, clearly friends, browsing various Dragonlance titles. They soon became aware of my presence but continued to peruse the shelves. There's a certain care when you linger around a particular shelf, a thoroughness that can't be faked. I knew these were die-hard readers, but what clicked in my mind was that I knew one of these people--someone I had met online (and this was with dial-up modem so people didn't exactly post their photos in public nor did we have Facebook back then).

    Again, I want to reiterate that I am a shy person, so introducing myself seemed like the worst thing to do. I was running risk vs. reward scenarios. I mean if I got it right, no harm done and it would make a great story. If I was wrong, it would be a terribly embarrassing situation--and the death of me. Worse, there would be another witness, the friend who was with her. Somehow, courage won out, so I started some chitchat, making dull, obvious statements ("So you're interested in Dragonlance huh?") and biding my time. Somehow, talking to complete strangers in a bookstore was disarming, but it can only take you so far. Eventually, I gathered whatever ounce of confidence I had.

    "Is one of you *name redacted*?" I asked.

    The girls looked at each other. "No."

    And there you have it. My embarrassing mistake.

    "But she's my sister."

    And that was the icebreaker. I soon explained how I attempted to guess who they were based on their browsing choices (thankfully the sibling shared the same interests as her sister). We had a brief conversation then which is probably best described as "Filipino Serendipity" (and I mean that in the odd coincidences which Filipinos find themselves related to other people less than six degrees apart). The sister for example was actually friends with one of my college blockmates. I could apparently send books to *name redacted* by passing it on to my blockmate, who would in turn give it to the sister, who in turn would finally give the books to *name redacted*. (I would lose the first four hardcovers of Harry Potter this way.) There was some banter, such as the other friend commenting on how I was buying A.N. Roquelaure's books and disbelieved when I said it was for someone else. I never saw the two together after that incident, but it's one of my memories that lingered. Never found romance (nor was I intending one at the time), although from time to time, I still haunt bookstore shelves.

    ***

    It's not quite a bookstore (I sold manga, does that count?) but I did once work in retail over the span of two summers. I'm an omnivoracious geek so I worked in a shop that sold Magic: The Gathering (and other Collectible Card Games) in one branch and various anime merchandise in the other. Much like the bookstore scenario, there's always this fantasy that one of your customers would ask you out on a date (never happened). Although if it did happen, I was personally wondering the ethics of such a scenario.

    Having said that, my Junior Prom and Senior Prom dates were people I regularly saw at the store. The former was someone I met on the Internet (seeing a pattern here?) and the store was a safe place to meet (there's something to be said about an eyeball and guessing who was who). The latter was a complete stranger when I first saw her but somehow, I managed to establish a friendship (and for the record, I didn't get her phone number, but I did get an email address). No romance happened in either case, but the friendship was more than welcome.

    All that happened more than a decade ago and I'm in a different place right now compared to back then (although I am still single). So how about you, what are your stories that involve books?

    April 5, 2011 Links and Plugs

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    80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Karen Joy Fowler and Debbie Notkin

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Essay: Clarifying The Issue of Wicked Pretty Things

    Two weeks ago, there was a controversy when it came to the YA anthology Wicked Pretty Things. Jessica Verday has expounded on her side multiple times (1, 2, 3) although there are a few points I want to clarify. Recently, Running Press, one of the publishers involved in the controversy, just published its side of the story. Again, there are also points in that essay that I want to clarify or point out.

    Jessica Verday:

    First off, Verday did nothing wrong and took a large risk:
    1. She declined editing a story to fit one editor's guidelines (possible income loss and chance of publication).
    2. She made the issue public (which could be taboo and make her the target of unwarranted criticisms).
    3. She was the first one and all eyes are on her.
    Other Contributors:

    Again, they did nothing wrong as well. It's a difficult decision, deciding to pull out of the anthology or to stay in it. There are compelling reasons for both sides. And yes, while we should encourage and support the authors who did pull out of the anthology, unless they made their reasons public, the authors who remained aren't to be condemned either. We don't know their motivations. It could be anything from something as positive as maintaining the relationships they have (such as those still involved in the book) to something as negative as implicitly supporting the LGBT bias--but as I said, we don't know their motivations, so I won't judge.

    Editor Trisha Telep:

    Okay, here's where Telep drops the ball. She made the following significant mistakes:
    1. She has an LGBT bias (whether consciously or unconsciously).
    2. She didn't coordinate effectively with her publisher (Constable & Robinson) on their guidelines and their stance on the issue.
    3. Her response was awful, especially the aside of "wrestling a gay man in Glasgow." It's not the worst response (that would be denying that she did anything wrong) but it's not the best either (a sincere, serious apology).
    Constable & Robinson:

    Here's where Constable & Robinson has room for improvement:

    They didn't coordinate effectively with their freelance editor. (Yes, this is the responsibility of both Trisha Telep and Constanble & Robinson.)

    Running Press:

    Before I continue with what Running Press got wrong, let me clarify one point that Verday mentioned:
    I also find their statement troubling to say that "Running Press has no direct association with Trisha Telep, the editor of the anthology" (which, as Lisa Cheng at Running Press repeated numerous times to me, they have worked with Trisha again and again and they stand behind her 100%). My contract clearly spells out in paragraph 1 that it was being made between the editor (Trisha), the publisher (Constable & Robinson), and Running Press. Considering all of this, it seems a bit contradictory to say that Running Press has no direct association with Trisha Telep.
    I do believe that Running Press has no direct association--at least in this instance--with Telep. This is how the relationship works (at least from my interpretation): Running Press commissions work from Constable & Robinson. Constable & Robinson in turn commissions work from Telep. (And then Telep commissions work from Verday.)

    Constable & Robinson has a direct relationship with Telep. Running Press has a relationship with Telep, but it's not a direct one. (If this were genealogy, Running Press is separated by one generation [Constable & Robinson] from Telep.)

    That's not to excuse Running Press (which I'll discuss in a bit), but it sheds light on their side of the story. And to be fair, Running Press cannot micromanage Telep; that defeats the point of delegation. Running Press should micromanage Constable & Robinson, who in turn should micromanage Telep. Telep should not be directly reporting to Running Press; that's increasing the red tape and ultimately inefficient. Of course having said that...
    1. At the end of the day, Running Press should claim responsibility. They entered a partnership with Constable & Robinson--there's a trust involved there--and they're responsible for Constable & Robinson's mistakes as well as their successes (even if Running Press had no control over it). It also entails disseminating their mission and vision (their guidelines) through all their channels.
    2. The bigger issue, which is wholly in their control, however, is still siding with Telep after everything that's happened (and it's omitted in the Publisher's Weekly article featuring their side of the story). That's not to say it's a black-and-white issue. On one hand, they could easily disavow Telep. Would you want to work for a company that suddenly abandons you due to a mistake? On the other hand, they acknowledged that Telep screwed up and is willing to give her a second chance (I don't think they told her "you did nothing wrong") and shows the willingness of Running Press to stand by the people it hires (ironically even if they didn't have a "direct association"). I'm not saying Running Press made the right call--or that I would have made the same decision either--but it's an agenda (their stand on LGBT fiction) vs loyalty (supporting their editors) argument.
    It's understandable why Verday would, to a certain extent, be incensed at Running Press (although she notes that her "intentions throughout all of this have never been to disparage Running Press/Constable & Robinson"): after everything Telep's said and done, Running Press is still standing by her side. Now based on Running Press's actions, is this a company I'd like to work for? Probably. Is it a company whose moral choices I agree with? Probably not.

    There's a lot of insightful statements in Running Press's side of the story: the importance of effective communication, the need to react immediately, and how erroneous info can quickly spread. But again, as much as I understand the side of Running Press, its side of the story also omits crucial details. I can understand their fault when it comes to 1. which can be considered sheer human error and unfortunate circumstance. 2., however, is a choice: after everything has been revealed and clarified, they still decided to stand by Telep (again, I can understand their reasons, but it's something people should consider).

    Edit: I forgot to point out the options (aside from the one they chose) of Running Press/Constable & Robinson with regards to Wicked Pretty Things:
    1. Don't push through with the anthology. From a business standpoint, this is a significant loss in time and money. There is also the problem of escaping out of your contract (contracts are there for the benefit of both parties). It can also be a disservice to the contributors (it's not just about money, but getting your fiction published, and published in a specific kind of anthology).
    2. Push through with the anthology but change the editor. For all of Telep's mistakes, she nonetheless did the work of editing the anthology. She deserves to have her name on the book and compensated for it. And if you were the replacement editor, how would you feel, having your name on an anthology in which you weren't contributing significantly? There is also the issue of the contract and it might not be possible for either publisher to just "replace" Telep (although Telep can voluntarily bow out of the picture but that's her choice, not the publisher's, and doesn't solve the situation of an editor-less anthology).
    3. Kill the anthology and start a new one with the same themes. This is just a variant of 1. and faces the same problems. And costs even more time and money.
    Other options might be some combination of 1. and 2.  And honestly, they're not solutions as much as damage control. No matter what their decision, Running Press & Constable & Robinson will end up hurting someone.