Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Editors and Publishers

As many of you know, I had a horrible experience this summer with Cider Press Review. And as you also may know by now, Kevin Larimer, the deputy editor of Poets and Writers, wrote an article about this debacle for the November/December issue.

I've debated responding to this article for a number of reasons. For one, I'm just plain tired of the whole thing. It took up most of my summer and cast a pall over my household--and over the incredibly happy prospect of my book coming out. And given the nature of this article, and the ways in which I've been painted as a poet who just "complains" about things, I felt that offering my critique would just be playing into that portrait and prolonging this whole thing. But to remain silent is to play into his "moral of the story," which is that poets should either allow editors to do whatever they want or "self-publish." So I'll make my comment anyway.

When he approached me about writing this article, I embraced it. I don't have anything to hide. I've disclosed what happened between me and the press, and since I knew that they couldn't deny what they did, I expected that they would badmouth me and blame me and try to justify their actions, which is exactly what they did.

I knew that as a reporter Mr. Larimer would have, at his disposal, the transcript of what happened between the press and me. I knew that he would inevitably make choices about what to include and how to shape the story. And while I'm glad that the story got out to a larger audience, the ways in which he shaped it, and the way he focused it, truly surprised me.

I didn't expect him to frame this as "who has the final editorial say--author or editor?" because in our case, as in most cases for poets, it was a non-issue. According to the contract they created and we all signed, they did. Period. So they weren't obligated to do a damn thing I asked. But when it came down to it, they chose to break that contract instead of honoring it, and apparently, that's okay, as long as your "feelings are hurt" by said layout disagreement.

I was also surprised by the way in which he chose to (not) present the legal aspects of this situation--and the fact that he never touched on any of the ethical ones.

He casually mentioned that if I paid them back the money they gave me (as well as money they didn't give me), I would "get my rights back," but he never mentioned the fact that they didn't actually own my rights. Once a contract has been broken, neither party is entitled to the fruits of that contract--a little legal detail that got overlooked. And the way the discussion was framed, I just hired a lawyer to avoid having to repay prize money (and their cover art expenses). In reality, the fact that they were withholding my rights meant I had to spend almost all of that prize money just to get my own book back.

But all of this got glossed over on the way to the "real meat" of this story--the gossipy he said/she said about a back cover disagreement. The thrust of this was editorially sensationalized, with various quotes parsed so that they were taken out of context, leaving out the elements (and the facts) that made them fair and reasonable requests and leaving only the most contentious, foot-stamping stuff.

For example, Mr. Larimer chose not to include the fact that the full contest guidelines already appeared in a full-page ad for the book contest on the last page of the book. That fact made the repeated ad on the back cover redundant and unnecessary, which was the point I made to the editors at the time. Oddly, that fact never made it into the story.

If I were going to be cynical about it, I could point out his position as "Deputy Editor" at the magazine. I could focus my critique on the issue of editorialization as a whole, and on the fact that this article is a metaphor for its inevitable conclusion: poets should just be quiet and be grateful for whatever they get and however it turns out for them because in the end, the editors are the ones who get to shape and control both the text at hand as well as the ways in which this information gets presented to the larger world.

Don't get me wrong. A good editor is a blessing. The wonderful editors at my new press gave me pages of notes, comments, and suggestions within days of acquiring my manuscript, and I was incredibly grateful for their input. In the olden days of poetry, editors and poets worked closely together to create a better text. But creating those relationships now is a hard thing to do, and you're damned lucky if you find yourself matched up with people who can not only understand what you're doing but can also help you to do it more effectively.

But what about a bad editor? Or an ineffectual one? Or one who believes that because she runs a contest out of her basement, she knows more about the poet's work than the poet does (even though she never actually read my book until she was putting into layout form)? And who believes she gets to change that poet's work without her consent?

And what about the journalist who knowingly includes, in a "researched" article, a quotation that was never actually said? As noted, Mr. Larimer had the entire transcript of the four-day dispute over the back cover, and as he noted in his article, no other conversations took place.

So he knew for a fact that I NEVER wrote that going back to the blurb authors would be "horribly unprofessional." And while he covered himself by noting that Robert Wynne "claimed" that I said it, this claim was undocumented because I never did. And yet, for some reason, he included it anyway. And I wanted to know why.

I emailed Mr. Larimer the day after I read this article and asked him the following:

"If you knew there was no documentation for this quote, why did you include it? Especially when you had, at your disposal, all of the things that I did say?"

His response? "We invite you to write a letter to the editor."

I have to admit that I'm surprised because I want(ed) to believe that Poets and Writers took its job as being an advocate for writers at least halfway seriously. To me, that means don't include anything, in either direction, that isn't true. To this end, I did not mention anything in my correspondence with Mr. Larimer that I could not provide evidence for. And I tried my best to represent the tenor and tone of communications honestly without augmenting or omitting important details.

But the editorial decision in this article that really left a bad taste in my mouth was the way Mr. Larimer "outed" last year's contest winner. Not only did he broadcast her name and the title of her book, which were supposed to be kept under wraps as part of the settlement between her and Cider Press, but he also betrayed her as a "source."

When he asked for her comment on the situation, she wrote him an email explaining that she couldn't comment on it because of the gag order and the settlement they had reached. And instead of honoring that, he QUOTED from her email.

Let me do a Joe Biden here and say that again. He quoted from an email in which she said she couldn't comment on the situation. He created a comment from her "no comment."

All of these "choices" seem to shape this article in a very specific direction. Even though it was about the dynamics between authors and editors, no authors were interviewed for the piece. He didn't ask any poets or fiction writers for their take on having their work edited without their consent (which was, to me, the biggest issue--not the author photo BS). Instead, he asked a fellow editor for his opinion, and his take on it was not at all surprising.

What disappoints me most about this article is that it does little to further the conversations that should be happening--about the relationships between writers and publishers, about the ethics and the contest system as a whole, about alternatives to the current publishing paradigms. Instead, it just reifies the belief that the publishers are the kings of the kingdom, and poets are just peasants who should happily lap and snap up any crumbs that might get tossed our way--a dynamic that is faulty and dangerous to poetry.

While this article could and should have focused on preventing this kind of thing from happening to another poet, the main subtext is that the only way to prevent this scenario is for poets to just shut up and "be grateful" for whatever they get--and for however their book turns out. Even if the books are full of typos. Even if the editors change your language without your consent.

So I stand by everything that I wrote in that original blog post, and then some. My aim in all of this was to let poets know the facts about Cider Press Review. They believe it is acceptable to enter into contracts with poets and break them without legal cause. They'll do it and then try to get money out of those poets in exchange for "rights" they don't actually own. And after they do it, they'll badmouth the poet they dropped and blame her and lie about what she did and didn't say. And apparently, they'll get away with it.

If you want to enter into a contract with people like that, have at it. Just remember that thanks to my $750 lawyer, they now have a "new contract," and one of the clauses mandates that the communication between the poet and the editors belongs to the press and can't be shared, which amounts to a pre-emptive gag order. So if they do to you what they did to me, you won't be able to talk about it.

Me? I'm brushing the dirt off my shoulder and moving on. Again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Weight of the World

Send some good thoughts to Obama and his grandmother.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Super Obama

I know you've probably seen this picture by now, but I have to post it again, along with his quotations from the Al Smith dinner in New York:

“I do love the Waldorf-Astoria. I hear from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room.”


"I obviously never knew your grandfather, but from what Senator McCain has told me, they had a great time before Prohibition."


"The housing crisis has been 8 times harder on John McCain."


"Fox news accused me of fathering two African-American children in wedlock."

and, finally,

“Contrary to rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth."

Yes, he was. And yes, he can.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Only Palin We Want is Tina Fey

Hi, everyone.

There's a petition going around that asks Lorne Michaels NOT to give Sarah Palin any more network exposure by allowing her to appear on SNL on October 25th--just one week before the election.

The information and link are below. There is an optional donation link afterwards, but you don't have to donate in order to sign the petition. Please read it and pass it on.

From the petition:

Since joining John McCain on the Republican ticket, Governor Sarah Palin has injected the presidential campaign with a venomous tone unbecoming of the office she seeks.

In her most recent rallies, she has fueled racial hatred, riling up her angry base by questioning Barack Obama's background and suggesting he "pals around with terrorists."

Now Palin is angling to appear on Saturday Night Live alongside her alter ego Tina Fey. And rumors are circulating that she has been invited to appear on the October 25th episode of the highly rated comedy. That's just one week before the election.

We have all witnessed this year how Saturday Night Live's political sketches can affect the political conversation and sway public opinion. In particular, any candidate who has appeared on the show has experienced a post SNL bump in popularity.

Providing Sarah Palin with this televised forum to charm the American audience just one week before the election would not only be a misguided decision, it would be downright irresponsible.

So I hope you will take a moment to sign this petition urging Lorne Michaels and the other writers and producers of Saturday Night Live not to give Sarah Palin this additional network exposure. And I hope you will pass this petition along to anyone you know who might be interested in signing it.

Let's remind the producers of Saturday Night Live that the only Sarah Palin we wish to see on their show is the one played by Tina Fey.

HERE'S THE LINK: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nopalinsnl?e

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Goodly News

C. Dale Young has some exciting news. Drop by and help him celebrate!

Friday, October 10, 2008


I don't have a link for this yet, as I can't find it online yet, but it appears that McCain was forced to defend Obama at one of his rallies today. In response to a woman who said she didn't trust Obama because he was "an Arab," McCain shook his head and corrected her, calling Obama a decent family man. Later, he said that "a President Obama" shouldn't be feared.

It's about time that he stepped up in an effort to try to curtail some of the hate-filled rhetoric that has been rising at their rallies, spurred on by his pitbull during her rallies, but the fact remains that the damage has been done. The fire has been stoked. The legions are marching, and in a show of how far out of control this has already spun, McCain was booed by his own supporters for defending Obama as a decent human being.

McCain came face to face today with the ugliness of his own creation, his Frankenstein monster, and I have to admit that I almost feel a little sorry for him. He's an obviously conflicted man--torn between trying to be someone he's not on both fronts. I think he wants to be the ethical man he purports himself to be. I know he wants to be the President. But I also think his heart isn't 100% in the ruthless, cutthroat tactics that he's been engaging in these past few desperate days. One of his biggest mistakes was in hiring an acolyte of Karl Rove to run his campaign. We watched what these very same tactics did to him in 2000, and now, he's a shell of the man he used to be--ethically and otherwise.

But the proof will be in his actions in the next couple of days--and in whether or not he puts his attack dog back on her leash. She needs to step up and disavow the violence and the epithets and the hatred, too. And if she doesn't, he needs to denounce her, too. Especially now that she's been found guilty of abusing her power (surprise, surprise).

What a day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Flow Chart of the VP Debate

In case you haven't seen it yet (and with a shout out to Kerry and Alex).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sufferin' Sarah

Don't tell my department chair, but I let my creative writing workshop out early last night so we could watch the Vice Presidential debate. Or, should I say, so I could watch it. I printed out my Palin Bingo card--and had BINGO about 8 minutes in.

One of the obvious things I noticed was the fact that even though Palin danced around questions and changed the topics to whatever talking points she wanted to hit, Gwen Ifill, the moderator, didn't follow up very much, or ask that she stay on point. She and Biden both allowed the moose-skinning mama to direct the flow of that debate, which is disappointing. As moderator, it was Ifill's responsibility to actually moderate--to keep the candidates on track, to steer them back to the requested topic when they veered away, and to ask follow-up questions whenver she tried to sing and dance her way out of something. Or play the flute out of something. It just made me miss Tim Russert all the more.

Biden, for his part, was well behaved and well trained. His coaches had obviously hammered the importance of not attacking her ad hominem, and even though he looked, as Rich Villar said, like he wanted to "piledrive her through the floor," he refrained, and his behavior, though careful and measured, was beyond rebuke. He answered his questions without being overly loquacious, and he hammered certain necessary points home again and again, which I was glad to see. I think his closing statement could have reiterated that Bush=McCain and that this call of "change" coming from more of the same is preposterous, but it was good enough.

And that seems to have been the mantra for Palin's camp. "Good enough." The playbook for Palin? "Just don't show the world that famous gaping lack of intelligence you've shown the media whenever you're off book. Stand at that podium by the creek in Sedona and memorize, memorize, memorize. Ignore Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill and the actual questions and say what WE want you to say. Bring it back to whatever talking points you remember. Try to get that 'There you go again' quote in there--people love remembering Reagan. Look directly at the camera and pretend like it's just you and the American people because without Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill, it is! Make it folksy. Throw out as many references to your 'pedigree' as possible, and mix it up with some 'youbetchas' and 'goshdarnits.' Wink as often as possible without going overboard. And above all, DON'T SAY ANYTHING YOU THINK UP ALL BY YOURSELF!"

After her part of it was over, nothing of substance had been said, no real questions had been answered, no policy differences had been cited, and only Joe Biden seemed to notice.

And when the pundits came on afterwards, they seemed to believe that since her performance in the past few weeks had set the bar so low, the fact that she didn't self-combust or implode or say one of her characteristically vapid statements meant that somehow she had succeeded. Since when does the ability to memorize and regurgitate talking points--when it's the ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO DO FOR FIVE WEEKS--equal intelligence? And the moment when she furthered Dick Cheney's agenda of having the VP have even more power sent chills down my spine. Literally. As if Cheney as the Emperor wasn't dark enough, in this sequel, Sarah Palin's Jar Jar Binks would be wrapped up in those robes, with no Jedis in sight to save us.