I don't like controversy or conflict. I'm an introvert who prefers solitude, and I'd prefer to mind my own business and let other people go their own way.
However, a series of events happened last week that led to my name being in an article that was just picked up by the AP wire service.
In light of that, I want to tell this story from my perspective.
On Tuesday, my publisher offered me a contract on the third and final book in the Middle School Magic series. I was elated. I've wanted to write a series ever since I was a little boy devouring series by L. Frank Baum, Lloyd Alexander, C. S. Lewis, and others.
On Wednesday, I became aware that a dispute between my publisher and another author had blown up, drawing attention from local media, as well as from blogs by and for writers. From there it got covered by major outlets such as Jezebel, MSN.com, the Huffington Post, and the International Business Tribune.
The dispute involved the allegation of some really ugly things said and done by the owner of the publishing company (you can read about them here). What I read carved a terrible pit in my stomach and really upset me.
I was extremely disappointed in what reportedly happened. It was just wrong on so many levels. First of all, a person, another human being was treated badly. And that's just wrong. Period. It made me so sad.
I was also frustrated at being put in a position where I needed t0 disassociate myself from harmful remarks. However, I definitely felt the need to respond since my books carry both my name and the publisher's. We are connected and what they do reflects on me. I feel confident that if an author did something that garnered significant negative publicity, a publisher would wish to clarify that they did not condone that behavior.
Moreover, there were elements of this dispute that I felt put an unfair and negative tint on my faith. Many of these stories identified the publisher as a "Mormon publisher," rather than a publisher who happened to be a Mormon. As a Mormon, this bothered me.
Consequently, I claim the right to publicly define my perspective on this issue.
My church takes stances that are not always popular with everyone. But one thing the Church has repeatedly taught is the need for civility and respect, especially when we disagree. This has been emphasized over and over, especially in recent years. Civility and respect were sadly lacking in what the owner allegedly did.
And so, I felt compelled to explain that I did not agree with what had happened--as an author, as a Mormon, and as a human being.
I talked with some other Mormon authors. Politically and religiously, some of us are very liberal, some are very conservative, and every gradation in-between. However, we agreed that what happened was wrong enough that we needed to express our disapproval. We drafted a letter and published it on a website. The letter refers to this specific case but is also a statement of what we believe should happen in a perfect world. In an interesting twist, while drafting the letter, we heard from Mormon authors who published in the national market and were told that they had to remove any references from their bios that betrayed their religious beliefs. I think this is wrong, and it's equally wrong when you substitute any demographic group.
I believe books, like people, ought to be evaluated based on what's inside. However, I acknowledge that publishers have to appeal to markets, and there are times when tough choices have to be made. Still, I think that there's a right way and a wrong way to do that. The right way would involve candor and respect from the start. It does not involve last-minute changes, threats, and name-calling.
I think the letter speaks for itself and you can read it here.
I let my publisher know I disagreed with how this had been handled, but that I still wanted to publish with them. I feel loyal to them since they've taken a chance on my books, but I also thought it important that they knew where I stood. The response was very positive and we agreed to move forward.
Let me say something about my publisher. First of all, they gave me a start and I appreciate that. The staff I've worked with have been wonderful. My editor and current and former publicists are all fine people. This situation put the acquisitions editor in a particularly difficult position and my heart goes out to her. I have always found her to be professional, courteous, and straightforward (I also think it's important to note that employees have an obligation to follow the direction and policy of their employer).
Based on these factors, I decided the right thing to do was publicly express my disapproval, and then move forward with the contract. That way I could take a stand I thought was important and also fulfill my contractual obligations.
Then, the press picked up on our letter. A Salt Lake City newspaper carried the story on Friday. I had not planned on saying anything about this beyond having my name on the letter and didn't plan on blogging about it. But on Saturday, it hit the AP wire services and is all over the country. My name is listed in many of these stories.
This is not what I bargained for on Tuesday afternoon when I got a contract. But I did what I thought was right and important and I stand by everything I've said or done this week.
I believe that my publisher made a mistake, and I believe I was right to speak out and disassociate myself from that mistake. I believe I have the human duty to do that morally, and the professional right to protect my name.
But I also believe that we are all flawed humans who need grace, understanding, and forgiveness. We need these things not when we are at our best, but when we are at our worst. I have said and done things in the past I regretted, and the only thing I can say about the future with any certainty is that I will do so again. Knowing I have needed forbearance and forgiveness before reminds me that I ought to show it to others.
So, it is in that spirit that I plan on moving forward with my contract on Book 3 and going back to a (relatively) drama-free life.
I'm closing the comments on this post because, while I wanted to explain my perspective, I really don't wish to discuss it any more.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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