Monday, March 12, 2018

Auntie Wendy's Unsolicited Advice To Romancelandia

Wow.  So it's been an interesting few days in Romancelandia, as those of you on Twitter and other social media platforms are most likely aware.  For those of you who aren't, here's what's been going on the past few days:

1) Accusations of catfishing by author Santino Hassell.  I'll be honest and say I'm still (at least) 85% confused by this entire story.  And the more I try to unravel it?  The more confused I get.  What I do know?  Even the scratching of the surface I've done, the whole thing is really skeevy - and that's all I feel comfortable saying without doing a major deep dive into the details.  This Goodreads thread is the least confusing of the accounts I've encountered.  I'm hesitant to hash it out in any more detail than that because see above.  I haven't done a deep dive into all the various threads, accusations and accounts.

2) Accusations have been made against Sarah Lyons and Riptide Publishing.  Lyons has resigned and Riptide has issued a statement.  I'm still processing this.  I've known Sarah for many years, we follow each other on Facebook and Twitter, and I routinely interact with her when I see her at conferences.  I have friends who have published with Riptide.  This one hits closer to home for me than the SH stuff and I'll be frank: I'm still processing.

Which leads me to this blog post.  Don't worry.  I'm not going to vomit my feelings all over this blog, but I have some things to say and I think maybe some of you may want to hear them.  If not?  No harm, no foul.

Even when fandoms support giant industries (romance publishing, comic/graphic novel publishing etc.), they're still insular.  Why?  Because fandoms, by their very nature, imply an Us Against The World mentality.  It's the Ride Or Die Philosophy.  The "normals" don't "get" me so I'm going to find a tribe of people who do "get" me and hang on by my fingernails.  Because of this, we expect to feel safe in our fandoms.  We don't want to believe that people within our fandoms could possibly suck.  And that's the rub...

Fandoms are full of people and people can suck.  And when you're blind-sided by sucky people within your tribe that you considered your safe space?  The betrayal cuts that much deeper.  It just does.

This blog post isn't about me taking sides.  What it is about is to say to everyone hurting right now, I hear you.  Romancelandia hears you.  So I want to give something back to my wee corner of the community.  That corner of the community that I glommed on to back when I started this blog back in 2003: the reviewers, readers and fellow bloggers.

Handling news like this is never easy.  However I want to share one thing I've learned in the 19 years I've been reviewing romance novels and the 15 years I've been blogging - and this is me, so yes, you know I'm going to phrase it in cliches:

What hill do you want to die on?

I've been around a long time folks.  I've seen all manner of kerfuffles.  From the minor, quaint ones  to the major, people are really hurt, this is really skeevy ones.  At the end of the day, you need to live with you.  No matter what you decide, some will think you're making the right decision and some will think you're beyond the pale.  And over the years?  I've had to make those choices for myself and how I decide to conduct the business of this blog.  I haven't always publicized these choices.  I read the stories, I saw the news, I made my decision(s) that best fit me and this blog.  Admittedly easier to do since this is my blog and I'm a one woman operation.

Is this blacklisting?  No.  Let's be brutally honest, my tiny blog is not going to bankrupt anybody just because I don't promo a certain author or book on it.  This blog also isn't much of a money-making venture.  I make some pennies on Amazon affiliate links but trust me when I say it barely fills up the gas tank in my car a few times a year.  No, these are choices I make so I can sleep at night.  Because I, personally, think it's the right thing to do.  And that, as a blogger, reader or reviewer, is what you need to do.  Find your line in the sand.

Now, the unpleasant reality: once you find your hill realize that some people will think you're not taking a hard enough stance and others will think you're making mountains out of mole-hills.  There will be those that will agree with your hill and those that will think your hill is garbage.  You may lose people you consider friends.  They'll stop reading your blog, following you on Twitter etc.  You may have to accept the fact that that author whose books you once loved?  Well, it's time to break up with them because you know things now that you didn't know then and OMG this is like the literal worst.  

It blows and it's not easy.  Which is why you find your line in the sand.  Take comfort in it and know you're making the right decision for you.  I've been lucky.  There's only been a few dust-ups in Romancelandia over the years that I felt compelled to look at my line in the sand and take stock.  There are authors I choose to not promote anymore.  Publishers I couldn't cough up free publicity for (no matter how minuscule my blog audience) because of business practices I found troublesome.  Blogs and bloggers I stopped following because a bridge crossed was one too far for me, personally.  Nobody is immune to this - yes, even me.  I'm sure there are folks out there that have muted, unfollowed me and think I'm full of more manure than a pig farm.  Of course I am sorry for that - but I was a hill they didn't want to die on.  And Romancelandia, for all the good and ill, needs to be a space where people can find their joy.  I've always hesitated to offer a unilateral explanation of WHY people love romance, but I think we can all agree that one very big reason is because they're deriving some sort of joy from it.  I mean, otherwise, why bother?

When upsetting news and revelations hit our community it's OK to take your time and process.  It's OK to process these things in your own way, on your own timeline and quietly make choices that are right for you, personally.  Some will abide them and some won't.  Not all decisions are easy (mores the pity).  As a reviewer, reader and/or blogger - you make the decision that you can live with.  You decide if this is a hill you want to die on.  And if it is?  Own it.


Bona Caballero said...

I agree with you. As I see it, you have to do whatever is the right thing for you and expect that some people is not going to agree with you. That's something very useful not only in Romancelandia but in real life, as well.
I read romance just for fun. If some author behaves badly, it detracts some enjoyment from my reading so I don't read him/her anymore.
The most surprising thing for me in this affair is to discover that some people give money and gifts to their favourite authors. That's something I'd never do and frankly I just don't understand that. It's an idea so foreign to me. If I have money to spare, I give it to a NGO.

willaful said...

Very sound advice. I'm rather grateful at the moment to have no dogs in any fight, so I don't have to consider career or money or any of those complicating factors. It's bad enough without them.

Bona -- I know, this whole paying for access thing is not something I expected to find in our community. It's like we're in an episode of "Entourage" and didn't even know. (I say this without ever having watched "Entourage." :-) )

S. said...

I only got to know this two or three days ago in one of the news topic in a newsletter from BookRiot. Why would people need to lie about this I have no idea.
As for the money giving, very, very weird. If one doesn't know the person/entity well, can we really trust our money is going to be well used...
And what a dilemma if the books are/used to be something the reader really enjoyed and loved... (I haven't read any so I can't say)

Barb Wallace said...

Excellent advice. We are such an insular community that drama hits every day. This is not to slight the people who are upset right now (everyone has a right to pain) but we do have to to decide when to dismiss drama and when to speak out.

That said, the Sarah Lyons story is extremely troubling. No one - NO ONE - in the industry deserves to be mistreated, harassed or forced to endure anything they find uncomfortable.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this Wendy. I’m not on Twitter, so I missed most of this - I became aware of it when I started getting notices on GR that people I follow were changing their reviews of Santino Hassell books. And then I started trying to figure it out and it became this huge, confusing time-suck. I have a lot of betrayal buttons and this scandal keeps pushing them.

This hits me a little closer than a lot of romancelandia scandals have, in that I’ve read and enjoyed Santino Hassell’s books - he was hit or miss for me and was becoming more and more miss, but he co-wrote one of my favorite reads of the last few years, a book that I guest reviewed at SBTB. And I preordered an anthology that came out this week that SH was in (their story was removed before the release date).

The accusations that SH befriended fans under false pretenses and used their confidences without permission in their (SH’s) books are the most disturbing to me - i think it crosses the line from inspiration to exploitation. And I really liked one of the books in question. Which leaves me feeling kind of gross.

I appreciate your wise words about choosing one’s hill to die on and how no matter what, some will disagree with it. I’m pretty comfortable with my overall philosophy of judging an author primarily by their writing until or unless they do something really terrible irl (as SH did), although I get why others don’t - some of my preference comes from teaching art and design for 16 years (had to learn to grade my students on their work and not on my feelings about them), some of it is just my basic curmudgeonlyness (I don’t really want to know about my favorite author’s bad day so I don’t follow the ones that share personal info) and some of it is my bad memory - I can’t usually remember who behaved badly over what.

Which means that I doubt I’ll be re-reading any of my SH books in the foreseeable future, but I’ll probably keep reading and buying some of SH’s writing partners and collaborators.

And I don’t even know what to say about Sarah Lyon. I read her reviews written as Sarah Franz on DA and they convinced me to try m/m romance (and now I pretty much only read queer romance). Her behavior sounds unacceptable and I’m glad she’s gone, but I’m not quite sure how to process it.

For anyone wanting more details on SH, this tumblr lays it all out, with links and screenshots -

Lynne Connolly said...

Yes to that. Especially draw your own lines in the sand. Then, when someone crosses it, you know where you are, and you either quietly walk away, or speak up, whichever is most appropriate. But that way you know when you are done.
Otherwise you can drift on when you know you shouldn't, when you should cut your losses. I did that with Ellora's Cave, and made the announcement that found its way into court. But I told the truth, and anything that was my opinion was marked. I was a bestseller with EC back in the day.
I've had editors who have undermined me, and looking back, I think it was deliberate, to get me to be amenable. My very first editor, way, way back, rewrote my first book. I was heartbroken. But I went to the senior editor who said, "we bought your book, not hers," and reassigned me. So there's often good to go alongside the bad.
But it can be nasty, vicious and lonely at times. When you start seeing how many authors have just quietly walked away and never came back, it's also scary.

Wendy said...

Bona: Yeah, I'm much more likely to support an author I enjoy by buying their books, reviewing them online, recommending them to friends.

Willaful: I'm still trying to unravel the whole money thing. I have complicated feelings about sites like Patreon - but it sounds like there was more going on than just that...

S: It's the worst. You read the author, you love their books, and then all this "stuff" comes to light. I'm lucky in this one instance as SH is an author I hadn't gotten around to reading yet.

Barb: Agree with you 100%.

Cleo: Thank you for posting that link to The Saltminers. I didn't stumble across that until after this post went live. The use of confidences without permission as book fodder - OMG, yeah, that's so wrong (and gross and just SO WRONG!). Like you, I try my best to judge the work separate from the creator but there's always that bridge too far. And thank you, in general, for your thoughtful comment. I'm still processing the Sarah news as well. Still. Days later. It's going to take a while.

Lynne: And honestly, we'll never know how many quietly walked away. That's the sad part. Voices we're missing, stories we'll never read. God, it's depressing. It can be a brutal business.

Unknown said...

Thanks Wendy.

I keep telling myself I’m done following this story and then I see something new and can’t turn away. The flood of authors leaving Riptide is really something

Christina Karnes said...

I had read my first SH book just a week or so before this stuff all hit and I loved it. I would have been unaware of any of this except after reading the book and loving it I joined his FB fan group which is now defunct. I spent way too much time trying to figure the story because a lot of it's just bizarre....i.e. people deciding to send him gifts etc. I was bothered that most of the allegations I saw were anonymous. I'm a lawyer so I'm picky about proof. I don't doubt that there is some wrong doing in all this but what exactly really hasn't been proven for me at this point. Also, there are some people who are very aggressively pursuing putting him out of the writing business from pushing all his publishers to drop him, Patreon to drop him, blogs to pull reviews and interviews, mainstream media to pull prior reviews etc. Clearly he made someone really angry. I definitely don't approve any of the alleged bullying behaviors by him against people who criticized him but some of the stuff being said and pursued from the other side of the equation falls into bullying too. I especially don't like how they are pushing at blogs etc to pull their reviews. If people want to pull reviews, not read books, etc that's their decision and I don't like the mob mentality of we've all decided he's bad so you have to pull your review, etc. I like your analysis of the situation as far as where your personal line in the sand is. I bought the book I had read and liked via the library plus the next book in the series and the books he cowrote with Megan Erickson before they were pulled. Hoopla still has some of the other books that have been pulled so I've been reading those before they go away. I'm not supporting the Patreon thing. If he self published I would possibly buy. But I might change my mind on this if there was a level of proof that was convincing to me on particular allegations.

The Sarah Lyons thing is easier because the screen shots etc were much clearer plus Riptide admitted she did those things. I wonder if all the authors jumping ship will put them out of business. I don't know that her sexual harassment of people can be attributed to the company unless there had been complaints and they failed to investigate. The stuff that Lyons said about not putting people of color on covers because they wouldn't sell was the egregious thing as far as the company goes. They didn't admit to it but they didn't deny it either.

Unknown said...

did the author really pretended to be a lgbt person ? that would be pretty terrible i think?


Dorine said...

Very well said. It's hard to explain this to anyone who isn't a part of Romancelandia. These things are very painful. It really helps to remember how much we love romance, and why we're here. I've been around since 2003 as well and it's the people who keep me coming back and drawing my line in the sand. God Bless you for trying to help, Wendy.

Wendy said...

Cleo: Yeah, the Riptide fallout has been something. I'm still processing that as well. Sigh.

Christina: Which has made this all so confusing to follow and unravel! I'm not plugged into that corner of the romance community, then you add in the anonymous he said, she said and it makes deciphering the whole thing that much more complex.

Canada: From what I understand (very little, because this thing is so confusing!) - the author claimed to be a bisexual man but is actually a straight woman? Someone help me out here!

Dorine: Anytime something like this happens in fandom it's painful. There's so much of that "us against the world" mentality. I've made some really wonderful friendships in Romancelandia, but I've also seen some unpleasantness. This definitely ranks up there as one of the more painful episodes since I've been kicking around.

Unknown said...

@Wendy and Canada - as far as I can tell, the author claimed to be a bi man (also a single dad with liver cancer) and turned out to be a husband/wife team - maybe she wrote the books and he played SH in person? - and neither of them have cancer, plus they have a different number of children.

Some of the accusations are that a straight woman was writing as a bi man but I'm not comfortable making that claim (speaking as a bi woman who's often assumed straight because I'm married to a man). I honestly care more about the accusations that SH lied about their situation to get money from readers and manipulated people to get fodder for their writing than I do that a possibly straight person possibly pretended to be bi

And this is gleaned from secondary sources - I don't have a good way to evaluate it.

Joy said...

This whole thing brings up a larger issue--the emphasis on the "story" of the author adding to its sale and marketing. There have been a number of mainstream writers whose appeal and their publisher's marketing was enhanced on who they were rather than what they wrote. When this biography was questioned, when some was suspect or false the backlash has been fierce.

In the modern business of writing and publishing everyone wants a good "story" even if it isn't the one written down. They want to feel that knowing the author's thoughts/opinions/traumas, etc. makes what they wrote better or more valid somehow, I cringe.

Is writing becoming a more like conceptual art where the idea is more/as important as the execution of the vision?

Wendy said...

Trying to catch up on blog stuff today - can you tell? LOL

Cleo: Right there with you. Authors creating personas (especially a persona from a marginalized group) is icky - but the money angle here and the accusations that they used people to get fodder for their books is just...ugh. So wrong.

Joy: OMG - this. Exactly. It's not a new concept (this idea that the artist has to LIVE their art in order to create it) but as publishers and authors increasingly look for ways to "stand out" from the crowd, we're seeing it more. Author as product.