The Ladies Room

Smallcover  My super-talented and creative sisters Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, authors of the wildly acclaimed, bestselling VISUAL CHRONICLES and JOURNAL REVOLUTION, have just published a new art book, which is sure to please their droves of devoted fans, who seem to idolize "the seesters" (sadly, the brothers, Tod and myself, have no such following). 

The book is called Meeting In The Ladies Room: Reflections Of Women In A Room Of Their Own and its a collaboration of photos and essays by a wide variety of creative women, including Rosie O'Donnell, Jann Arden, Amanda Palmer, Jen Foser and SHeDAISY. Here's the scoop:

What do you see when you look in the mirror?
What do you think about when you are alone?
What's the best ladies room you've ever been in?
Whether you are an idolized celebrity or a struggling single mother, the ladies room is where you create your make believe, and where you face your reality. Join 68 brave women from around the world for an empowering look in the mirror and a meeting in the ladies room.

My sisters' fearless, humorous, no-rules approach to life and art has been featured on THE VIEW, in  magazines and newspapers nationwide, in other people's art books, and at every single one of our family gatherings. They don't go anywhere without their cameras around their necks…not even to go take a pee, as this gorgeous and remarkable book proves. Sisters2  

The publisher is offering a special $10 discount off the cover price until December 31st. To get the savings, enter the code below at check-out.

Orders from the US (using US $):   GREATGIFT
Orders from UK (using UK £):   
Orders from EU (using EU €):   
Orders from AU (using AUD $):   

Be sure to check out the book preview!

Flop Pilot Bonanza

Warner Brothers is making some hard-to-find busted pilots available for sale on DVD exclusively from their site. The $19.95 titles include Irwin Allen's CITY BENEATH THE SEA, Gene Roddenberry's GENESIS TWO and PLANET EARTH, and  Andy Griffith's two "Sam McNeill" movies – WINTER KILL and DEADLY GAME (the concept was later reworked in two, one hour-long, ADAMS OF EAGLE LAKE flop pilots). They've also got some cool stuff like the pilots for the short-lived series MAN FROM ATLANTIS and THEN CAME BRONSON.  It's a real bonanza for TV geeks like, well, me.

Preying on Dreams

Author Laura Lippman, who will be MWA president next year, commented on her blog about the reaction among self-published authors to MWA's decision. She wrote:

As the incoming MWA president, I have no voting rights, no role in policy-making. I am the happiest little figurehead you ever did see. But I served two terms on the board and I know how much work board members put into the organization. I also feel genuinely sad that so many self-published writers feel slighted by MWA's policies.No, it's not about merit. It's about professionalism. And while being paid for one's work isn't the only way to be professional, it's an awfully good way to start.

[…]I can't persuade people that MWA's policies are not the equivalent of censorship, that MWA isn't trying to prevent anyone from publishing, much less trying to block their right to self-expression. I'm not sure I can even persuade folks inclined to think differently that self-publishing is not synonymous with vanity publishing. No matter what I say, there are going to be some self-published writers — differently published? — who insist that I belong to MWA because I'm scared of a true free market, in which I would have to compete with all writers, not just those chosen by the — take your pick of adjectives — insular, out-of-touch, arrogant mainstream publishing industry.

This much I can say: MWA didn't change the game. Harlequin did. All the organization did was apply its existing policies to Harlequin's changing business model. And if you can't see how Harlequin's pay-to-publish program is designed to prey on writers and their dreams — well, then I'm not really sure that you're cynical enough to write crime fiction.

Mr. Monk and the Strong Start

MM_in_Trouble.revised The hardcover of MR. MONK IN TROUBLE and the paperback of MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP were both off to very strong starts in sales last week. TROUBLE hit #9 on the Barnes & Noble mystery hardcover list and #35 on the Borders hardcover bestseller list. Meanwhile, DIRTY COP hit #38 on Borders mass market mystery bestseller list,  #3 on the B&N mystery mass market list, and  #31 on B&N's overall mass market bestseller list. Thank you so much, Monk fans!

Yes, Standards Exist

Author Sandra Ruttan has blogged at length on numerous sites about her problems with the MWA taking an ethical stand against Harlequin's business practices. She writes, in part:

However, in all of this, do you notice what isn’t discussed? What is and is not eligible is determined by guidelines involving advances and ethical treatment of authors.
Nobody’s talking about the caliber of writing, the quality of the books.

She's absolutely right. Because no professional writing or performing organizations bases their membership on subjective judgments on the quality of a person’s work. The MWA, SFWA, RWA, Horror Writers Association, Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Authors Guild, etc. all use a set of objective criteria to determine who qualifies for membership and which companies qualify as approved (or, in the case of WGA, SAG, DGA, as signatories). The only time they use quality of the work as criteria is in bestowing their awards…all of which are for work produced, published or performed by individuals and organizations that met their criteria.  

Her beef, and one echoed by many self-published authors (which she is not, btw),  seems to be that professional organizations have professional standards and not everyone can meet them. That’s true. It’s also true of professional organizations in every other field. She went on to say, in the comments to her initial posts:

It’s the authors who had no part whatsoever in this business decision, who a week ago were “legitimately” published who are now no longer with an approved publisher, when not one single thing about the writing, contracting, editing and production of their book has changed that I’m thinking about.

Those authors are unaffected. They remain active members and their books are eligible for Edgar consideration. Only those novels contracted with Harlequin after Dec. 2 are affected by the decision. 

If Sandra is truly concerned about the welfare of authors, I would hope that she would be as troubled as MWA, RWA, SFWA, and HWA are by the unethical conflict of interest inherent in the integration of Harlequin’s traditional publishing program and their pay-to-publish venture.

Sandra casually dismisses ethical concerns as irrelevant and something that the MWA, SFWA, RWA and HWA shouldn't be bothering with. I think she's wrong.

It’s my belief that the strong stand taken by these organizations will be a wake-up call to other publishers considering pay-to-publish ventures to avoid unethical conflicts-of-interest and to keep their traditional and pay-to-publish operations separate (as Random House did with Xlibris). If publishers maintain this separation, it will be far less likely that writers will be taken advantage of…and will go into pay-to-publish agreements with a more accurate view of what they are getting for their money. In the end, isn’t that good for everybody?

Sandra goes on to say that she feels that the quality of the books should be the one and only standard across the board.

And when it comes to awards, damn straight the number one concern should be quality of the books, not who published them.

Let’s take that thought one step further. Not every movie that's produced is eligible for an Oscar. There are very strict rules regarding which films qualify for consideration and which don’t (for instance, direct-to-DVD movies do not qualify, even if they are better than anything in the theatres). Should all movies, regardless of who makes them, where they are screened, or any other consideration, be eligible for an Oscar?

The same is true of Emmy awards. There are very strict rules about eligibility there, too. Should everything shown on a television screen, regardless of whether it was on a major broadcast network or not, be eligible for an Emmy?

The WGA awards are only open to scripts written under WGA contract. Does she believe those awards should be open to anybody who has written a produced script for anybody?

I'm sure you can see what I am getting at. The MWA is not alone. Professional organizations have professional standards…for membership, for approved auspices, and for their awards. That’s the way it is.

As if Harlequin Wasn’t In Enough Trouble

Pardon  Harlequin seems to be tripping over itself lately with one public relations blunder after another. First, they start up a vanity press program and use the editors of their traditional publishing imprints to recommend it to all their rejected authors. As if that wasn't bad enough, they've just re-released a series of vintage pulp paperbacks from their archives…but edited out anything they thought might be too sexist, racist, or politically incorrect for a contemporary audience.  The editor of the project, Marsha Zinberg, says:

Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership.

Naturally, this idiotic censorship hasn't gone over well, especially considering how sexually explicit, violent and sexist Harlequin titles can be nowadays. Vintage paperback collector Steve Lewis, a well-known historian of old pulps, was justifiably outraged. He wrote:

This business of sheltering our eyes from things you think might offend us now is absolute nonsense. Who do you think we are, a bunch of weak-kneed sissies? Even if it makes us uneasy every once in a while to look at our past, history IS history, and it’s ridiculous to try to cover it up.
Please do us a favor, and keep publishing your X-rated romance novels, and leave the mystery and noir genres well enough alone. You say you’re delighted to have been able to reprint these books. I think you should be ashamed of yourselves, trampling on the work of others, especially when (as far as I can tell) it’s been done without their permission.

Another collector of vintage paperbacks wrote:

Are these slap-happy bitches kidding? So I suppose it might be fine to edit out, or even re-shoot, scenes of guys smackin’ dames and dolls in The Big Sleep or a Robert Mitchum classic? How about The Big Valley, that S/M TV western?
Does this also include spanking? Do no Harlequin romances contain rough sex where women like to be slapped during a hard bang, or have rape fantasies in the dark hearrt of the urban sprawl?

Yet another collector wrote:

Had Harlequin finally decided not to reprint material it deemed offensive, I wouldn't have minded – more adventurous publishers might have taken the relay and it was just fine.
But this is not what Harlequin chose to do, instead they decided to butcher books from another era to make them palatable to modern readers deemed too stupid or too sensitive to tackle "hot stuff" from the past.

Why bother reprinting vintage paperbacks if you are going to butcher them first? Isn't the charm, popular appeal, and historical significance of the books that they do reflect that grammar, writing styles, and social attitudes of a different time? Did they really think that censoring the books would be a selling point? Oh, wait, I get it.. they were hoping to tap that vast, under-served audience that has been waiting for somebody to publish censored, vintage paperbacks.

Between the vanity press venture and this censored book line, I have to wonder… is Harlequin truly oblivious about why people object to censorship and unethical conflicts-of-interest? Or are they fully aware of the the issues… and just don't care?

Widespread Positive Reaction to MWA’s Action

The reaction to MWA’s delisting of Harlequin has been overwhelmingly positive. I wish I could share with you the dozens of emails I’ve received from authors, many of them published by Harlequin, expressing their support for the MWA’s action. But here’s just a small sampling of the positive reaction from authors around the blogosphere… 

Author John Scalzi wrote:

Good on the Mystery Writers of America for keeping Harlequin’s feet to the fire on this.

Author Jackie Kessler offered an excellent analysis of Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes’ letter to the MWA…

DellArte Press is still a Harlequin imprint — one that **Harlequin is steering rejected authors toward**. You are still telling these rejected authors that even though their manuscripts are not good enough for you to pay them, they are good enough for them to pay you.

….and Kessler applauded the MWA’s actions.

bravo to MWA, which is standing behind its authors. The group spells out very clearly exactly why Harlequin’s actions have gotten it delisted — and further kudos for the organization making it extremely clear how Harlequin broke the rules

Author Maya Reynolds was also bothered by the ethical issues raised by Harlequin’s pay-to-publish operation.

It simply is not kosher for Harlequin to reject writers while at the same time referring them to its self-publishing arm. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for Harlequin to imply that their editors will be “monitoring” the self-published releases with an eye to possibly offering a contract with a traditional Harlequin imprint. This is not an arms-length relationship. It offers false hope to writers while benefiting the Harlequin bottom line.

Author Nick Kaufmann writes:

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) has stepped up as the first to put its money where its mouth is over the Harlequin Horizons/DellArte Press debacle […] It’s interesting to note that MWA’s actions, quite appropriately, offer protection from consequence to Harlequin authors who signed contracts before this nonsense began.[…]It’s a ballsy move, taking the delisting of Harlequin from threat to reality, and I applaud MWA for it.

On Twitter, author Stacie Kane wrote:

I applaud the MWA for this; not because it doesn’t effect me but because it DOES effect ALL OF US

Author Laura Kinsale tweeted:

HQ’s reply to MWA splainin self-servin “shiny innovative new book industry, where YOU pay US” makes me ill. Truly ill.

Prior to the MWA’s decision being announced, literary agent Kristen Nelson says that she voiced her concerns about the pay-to-publish program directly to Harlequin editors:

one editor did try out the spiel about how publishing houses need to shift models in this bad economy but I wasn’t having any of that.
I said vanity publishing was predatory—plain and simple and that needed to be understood. That Harlequin had a reputation that they are now putting in jeopardy and that the writers organizations had every right to speak out strongly as their whole purpose is to protect writers.

Not surprisingly, the strongest criticism of MWA’s action has come from self-published and vanity press authors. For example, Henry Baum writes:

What’s so troubling about this is that the traditional publishing mindset has won the “battle” this week. And there shouldn’t even be a battle. The move by the MWA to drop Harlequin from its roster is particularly infuriating. It’s like they see the creeping influence of self-publishing and want to bat it down.

The MWA, SFWA, RWA, and HWA — all of whom strongly condemned how Harlequin’s pay-to-publish venture is integrated into their traditional publishing business — aren’t threatened by writers who’ve paid to be published.  What these organizations are concerned about is a vanity press industry that preys on the desperation and gullibility of aspiring authors and publishing companies that engage in unethical and predatory publishing practices.