Wicked Pretty Things and the Erasure of LGBTQ Characters
Last night, my six-year-old and I had a chat. I don’t remember how it came up, but he was talking about people getting married, and how boys have to marry girls. I pointed out that this wasn’t necessarily so, that in some states and many countries, boys could marry boys and girls could marry girls.
Being six, he laughed. “That’s silly. How would they have babies?”
It’s not the first time we’ve had a talk like this. I understand where his confusion comes from. Pretty much every cartoon on TV has male/female relationships only. Every movie he watches, every book he brings home from school… Any nonheterosexual relationship is simply erased.
Last month, Jessica Verday withdrew her story from the Wicked Pretty Things anthology after receiving a note from the editor which stated that her story “would have to be published as a male/female story because a male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers.”
Wicked Pretty Things is an anthology of dark fairy romance … but apparently editor Trisha Telep assumed that meant straight romance only, going with the default erasure of any “nontraditional” relationships.
Verday later posted a response in which Telep apologized for causing offense, and said in part, “I sincerely regret the sequence of events which has led to Jessica Verday’s story ‘Flesh Which Is Not Flesh’ being excluded from the forthcoming anthology Wicked Pretty Things. This has been the result of a misunderstanding on my part which is entirely regrettable … I fully support LGBTQ issues.”
I understand and believe that Telep meant no harm. That it was a mistake, not intended to be hurtful. But it was hurtful.
Other authors such as Seanan McGuire, Lisa Mantchev, Lesley Livingston, and Karen Mahoney have pulled their stories from the anthology. Melissa Marr asked that her name not be used to promote the project (she had provided a cover blurb Correction: they were apparently describing the anthology as including stories with a “Melissa Marr-ish slant.”) Ann Aguirre pulled her story from another of Telep’s projects.
Running Press responded in an article titled The Misinformation Age, saying, “Third-party error and miscommunication went viral and led to the spread of untrue accusations of intolerance and censorship.”
Where exactly are these untrue accusations? I’m not aware of any lies in Verday’s post, or in the posts by the other authors involved. Is intolerance an inappropriate word to describe an editor who says “No gay love allowed,” even if it was a misunderstanding?
More importantly, why was this an issue to begin with? The publisher may have disavowed responsibility for Telep’s actions, but why did Telep immediately assume that a story in which two male characters were in love would be unacceptable?
Pulling a story from an anthology is scary. You risk alienating editor and publisher both, not to mention turning down a paycheck. You worry about appearing unprofessional. And you wonder if you’ll find another home for the story you worked so hard on…
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’d like to extend an offer to any author who pulled his or her story from one of Telep’s projects as a result of this incident.
- If you have not already found a home for your withdrawn story, I would be happy to read it.
- If I like the story (and knowing most of the authors involved, I suspect I will), I’ll offer $100 up front to publish it here on my blog.
- Each story will include a donations link. Once the initial $100 has been covered, further donations will be split 50/50. Half will be paid to the author, and the other half will be donated to a LGBTQ-friendly cause.
- If I publish multiple stories, I will look into putting together an e-book collection of those stories, with profits again being split between the authors and a LGBTQ-friendly cause.
I get about 2000 unique readers each day, which is comparable to (or in some cases better than) the sales for a number of the anthologies out there. That said, I’ll certainly understand if the authors choose to look elsewhere. It sounds like Verday has already found another home for her story, which is great. My offer is not time-limited.
I am not trying to poach authors from Running Press. However, I do want to support and thank those authors who’ve chosen to publicly state that the erasure of non-straight characters and relationships is not okay. One way I can do that is by offering a home for those stories.
April 11, 2011 @ 9:42 am
I’m utterly baffled by this. First of all, the reason that was given is terrible. Second of all, as I see it, there was no misunderstanding. The story wasn’t published, because of the subject matter — and the editor was then trying to backpeddle.
I hadn’t heard about this, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. And I think your offer regarding the stories is both awesome and generous.
Jim C. Hines
April 11, 2011 @ 9:59 am
Re: the misunderstanding, I was at a school presentation a little while back talking about my princess series. I was asked about romance, and explained that I have two romantic relationships: the marriage between Cinderella and her prince, and Sleeping Beauty’s love for Snow White. I was asked if the publisher included any sort of warning, or if this was made clear on the books, because she wouldn’t want to let her kids read something like that.
So I get that there are people who believe any LGBTQ content at all is inappropriate for children … and maybe Telep just wanted to play it safe, or assumed the publisher would want to do so. I obviously can’t read minds, and I don’t know the reasons. I just know that I’m not okay with that choice.
April 11, 2011 @ 10:00 am
As someone who writes LGBTQ literature because hey, write what you know, I’m utterly appalled. Given the subject matter of the anthology, I’m pretty surprised too. There’s nothing wrong with editing, or requesting changes, but ye gods! In this kind of context, switching up the genders of main characters is a total rewrite in spirit, if not deed.
Good on the other authors for showing solidarity and withdrawing from the project, and good on you for offering to help them out.
April 11, 2011 @ 10:03 am
Just to clarify, and not to side with Running Press, but here’s what Running Press perceived as “untrue accusations”:
1) That a “male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers” (http://jessicaverday.blogspot.com/2011/03/being-gay-is-okay.html). (It was Trisha Telep as editor, and not Running Press, that made that call.)
2) Nitpicking here, but Verday’s claim that Running Press has a direct association with Trisha Telep (http://jessicaverday.blogspot.com/2011/03/wicked-pretty-things-running-press-and.html) (or rather, denying that they don’t have a direct relationship).
3) Also the issue was spread over three blog posts (of Verday’s), and the publisher’s response was only posted later, in the second blog entry.
That’s not to say Running Press’s Publishers Weekly article isn’t without its own biases and shortcomings (I tackle that at http://charles-tan.blogspot.com/2011/04/essay-clarifying-issue-of-wicked-pretty.html) but that’s where they’re coming from when they say “untrue accusations”.
April 11, 2011 @ 10:06 am
You’re a true gentleman, Jim. I’d more than happily donate to any stories posted here.
Jim C. Hines
April 11, 2011 @ 10:07 am
Re: #1, I think I see what they’re saying … but that statement also accurately reflects what Verday was told by the editor. Untrue, but that untruth came from Telep, so I don’t know that I’d accept their characterization of “untrue accusation” there.
Nitpicking or not, I see what you’re saying with #2. I don’t know the details, but it sounds a bit like when DAW contracts anthologies through Tekno as a packager.
Reading your article now, thank you for that link. I’d somehow managed to miss your post on this.
Jim C. Hines
April 11, 2011 @ 10:10 am
I love when editors help me to change a story to make it better.
But yeah … this would not have been such a change. It would have made the story “safer” to a certain subset of readers. The hell with that.
Jim C. Hines
April 11, 2011 @ 10:11 am
Thank you, Elaine!
April 11, 2011 @ 10:17 am
Hi Jim. Yeah, #1 is caused by what Telep told Verday, but by the time the correction was made (Telep’s comment and Verday updating her first blog entry to include Telep’s comment in the body of the post), it was “too late” as opinions were already formed about the publishers–or so it seemed to Running Press.
For #2, not quite identical as Tekno –> DAW (since that’s a US –> US transaction, whereas this is a UK –> US transaction) but close enough.
April 11, 2011 @ 11:12 am
That plot point in your series is, honestly, one of my favorites. Because I didn’t expect it. It was original, and I liked that I was surprised.
I get your point, though, that there are people who think LGBTQ isn’t appropriate for kids. But, like you, I’m not okay with that choice. (Cassie Clare’s series dealt with LGBTQ brilliantly, too, in my opinion — and that’s YA.)
I think my problem with Telep’s response to first qualify her reasoning (instead saying something like, “This isn’t a good fit for the anthology”), then to claim it was a misunderstanding. I guess that’s because the publishers didn’t actually have problem with the story?
Anyway, I feel as if I’m rambling. More coffee…*smile*
April 11, 2011 @ 11:47 am
Thank you so much for bringing this to attention.
Any authors who’re brave enough to pull based on this definitely will have my support.
April 11, 2011 @ 12:32 pm
I second this. The entire thing. Thanks for being awesome, Jim.
April 11, 2011 @ 1:31 pm
You have my bow!
April 11, 2011 @ 2:11 pm
Thank you for doing something concrete to support LGBTQ literature. I will link back to this from my LiveJournal.
Also, for age-appropriate presentation of a gay couple, I recommend Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street — though I don’t know what the current rendering is, so you might have to look up older episodes. One of my favorite episodes involved Bert ragging on Ernie for eating cookies in (Ernie’s) bed. So Ernie climbed into Bert’s bed to eat cookies there.
April 11, 2011 @ 2:27 pm
I’m not a professional, but I’m willing to donate my time formatting the ebook version if it happens. Still learning the tools for e-manuals but I should have a pretty good handle on it by then…
Jim C. Hines
April 11, 2011 @ 2:32 pm
Thank you, Jeff! Very much appreciated.
I’ve got one other offer along those lines, so when and if we get to that point, I’ll figure out where to go from there.
April 11, 2011 @ 2:44 pm
Right, because there aren’t any gay children out there who might benefit from this kind of story. I’ll be sure to tell my gay friends that no, they really WEREN’T different their whole lives. 😛
April 11, 2011 @ 2:47 pm
Jim, I applaud your portrayals of honest romance/relationships in your stories, in all varieties. LGBTQ, while not accepted in not enough places, does exist in the world. My daughter is celebrating the third anniversary of her marriage to a loving, beautiful woman who makes her happy, and what can be wrong about that? Censorship and intolerance should not be sponsored, and I applaud the authors who were willing to stand with Verday! I have noted the authors you named, and added them to my Favorites list, so that I can watch for their forth-coming works and support them!
April 11, 2011 @ 3:03 pm
Once again, Jim, you prove that you are an extraordinary human being – you see a need and you make a plan.
Will link on my sites, and I hope you find yourself with a FLYING success with this project.
April 11, 2011 @ 3:45 pm
I was already a big fan of your work – which I had discovered through your writing about another issue that I can no longer recall – and now I am also just a big fan of _you_ in general. As a writer of GLBT fiction (and non-fiction) and a huge fan of YA, I will also happily donate towards the stories if authors choose to go that route.
April 11, 2011 @ 3:56 pm
I appreciate that your post includes action to support authors who are taking a stand which could hurt them financially. I’m also willing to help with that support as well. Please be sure to let your readers know if and when this project goes forward, so that we can put our money down on that line.
April 11, 2011 @ 4:48 pm
Running Press publishes gay fiction, etc., so I’m inclined to believe that they had no idea what was going on. They hired a book packager/sub-publisher to do the anthology who has worked with this editor before. So either this editor, as Verday seems to feel is the case, or people at the book packager who hired her and refused to fire her from the project, thought it would be a good idea to keep gay fiction out of the anthology. And what this may signal to publishers is that if they are going to work with a book packager, then they may need to keep tighter control over those projects. Gay fiction is doing fairly well in YA right now, so this editor not only caused an embarrassing controversy, but messed up the financial prospects for the anthology as well just from the YA audience perspective. Which is hurtful and a shame as it sounds like a nice anthology idea.
My daughter also was confused when she was five as to why our gay friends, who gave her a Barbie and taught her to salsa dance, did not have wives and were instead a couple. But when she was only a bit older, she understood it. And when she was old enough, she became a big gay rights advocate watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her generation — very different from ours. It would be nice if people got that, that they understood that YA has to stop whitewashing covers, only occasionally dallying with non-white authors, stop making female authors go by their initials to supposedly appeal to boys, and being leery of gay themed material despite a number of gay YA bestsellers like Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Because the majority of these kids are perfectly fine with non-white, female, gay, etc. material and if they are initially confused when they’re young, they get used to it real fast. (That is, after all, what anti-gay activists most fear — that gays will seem as normal as straights in society.)
April 11, 2011 @ 7:55 pm
Wow, thank you for sharing this.
As far as your son, props to you for being open about this; it makes it much more likely that he WILL come to understand one day. As he’s only 6 I imagine he doesn’t really understand why straight people get married yet, so is operating off the portion he understands. (At a similar age I told everyone that I would never get married, as I did not want to be a mother; I was going to live with my best friend so I wouldn’t be lonely but obviously I was missing some other key peices of the puzzle. I celebrated my 7th anniversary with my wife this year, so I grew out of that, though I still don’t want to be a mother!)
I think the situation kinda sucks all the way around, but it also gives me a lot of hope.
Sucks that Ms. Verday’s story was rejected, with such a 1950’s response. Sucks that Ms. Telep thought, for whatever reason, that the publisher would take this attitude, even though she says she is supportive of LGBT rights. Sucks that the publisher was misrepresented. Sucks that this makes both ms. Telep and the publisher look bad, when neither of them seems to have meant it. Definitely sucks that the project has been canceled.
But I find it AWESOME and amazing and inspiring that not only would Ms. Verday stick to her guns and stand by her story as written, but that other authors would pull their own stories in protest of apparant homophobia. I think that’s a noble response, and I think it’s great that this sends a message that homophobia Will Not Be Stood For Anymore. That gives me such hope that one day this won’t be an issue or a consideration anymore.
April 11, 2011 @ 9:26 pm
You sir, are a complete and total sweetheart for doing this.
April 11, 2011 @ 10:47 pm
“I was asked if the publisher included any sort of warning, or if this was made clear on the books, because she wouldn’t want to let her kids read something like that.”
You know, I’d heard that pretending hard enough made gayness go away . . .
What it actually does is create artificial barriers to love, alienating publishers from good authors, sisters from brothers, parents from children, and friends from each other. Each of these unnecessary losses is a travesty.
Props to each of the authors who pulled their story from the anthology, and props to you for providing an alternative venue, regardless of what happens from here!
April 12, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides
April 12, 2011 @ 3:31 am
[…] Jim C. Hines on Wicked Pretty Things and the Erasure of LGBTQ Characters. […]
Jim C. Hines
April 12, 2011 @ 7:52 am
Will do, and thank you!
April 12, 2011 @ 10:21 am
Which is true as far as it goes, but Verday accurately reported what happened to her. I think part of the problem is that, while they admit Verday was told what she was told, they still call her to task (third paragraph from the end) for POSTING ABOUT IT TO THE BLOGOSPHERE as if SHE were in the wrong. The editor told her the publisher did not want “alternative” romance. It is not then Verday’s fault that she believed the publisher, in fact, did not want “alternative” romance. She did publish additions and corrections as they occurred; unless she has a time machine, that was the best she could do.
Welcome to the internet, where things can, indeed, snowball quickly. Certainly, Running Press can and should lament what happened and set the record straight (knowing that Telep is a contract editor is important to understanding the kind of control they did and did not have, for example). But to place blame on Verday instead of Telep is nasty, and disingenuous, and for people who are already upset about the treatment of Verday’s story and rallying to her support, it is a sign the publisher is acting in bad faith, even if they weren’t before.
Without that blame-game, the rest of the article as it stands is a fairly reasonable analysis – and they’re definitely right that they ought to be monitoring things more closely, both in terms of watching the internet and making sure their contract editors are on board. I’d also suggest that they may want to have a LONG discussion with that particular contract editor before allowing her to be used on any future project, but that’s theirs to do or not do.
April 12, 2011 @ 6:05 pm
Late to the party as always, but I just had to chime in– Jim, I love you so much~! Thank you for going beyond just verbally supporting the brave authors who took a stand beside Verday and the LGBT cause and organizing this opportunity for them. I hope they can find other anthologies to take their stories in, but failing that, I’m glad they have your kind offer of help to fall back on. I, for one, will be sure to read and donate to any of the stories that end up appearing here!
Jim C. Hines
April 12, 2011 @ 6:12 pm
Thank you! And from the ones I’ve spoken with so far, it sounds like the authors are exploring their options, and I’m hopeful that most of those stories will find homes 🙂