Archive for the ‘Social Activism’ Category

Normally I don’t voice my opinions or make calls to actions on this blog, but I feel like I have to say something on this one. Earlier this week, my stepmother, who works for Columbus’s library system, asked if I had any opinion on a petition the library was gathering signatures for to send to Macmillan Publishers. I did a little research, and what I found shocked me.

Starting this November, Macmillan Publishers, one of the biggest and oldest publishing firms in the world, will not allow libraries to purchase more than one copy of an ebook they publish for the first eight weeks after the book is published. For those unaware, many libraries these days lend e-books to readers who prefer reading on tablets to paperbacks using technology called e-lending, during which patrons have access to the ebook file for a short access period, after which they’re unable to access it without renewing or checking it out again. One ebook file equals one book to check out, so libraries buy multiple copies, especially for more popular books and writers. If this change goes through, libraries will only have one copy of an ebook for readers for the two months after release.

Now lest I be accused of being biased, Macmillan cites e-lending’s effects on book sales as their reason for why they’re doing it. According to a memo released by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan:

It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free.

First off, thirteen bucks for an ebook? Of course people are going to go for the cheaper option! The majority of people aren’t rich, you know. We hae rent and car bills to pay.

Second, let’s take a look at print books, which are still more popular than ebooks. Libraries order several physical copies of books by famous authors* months before they’re released. Upwards of hundreds of people reserve copies of those books and wait months to read them without having to pay anything. However, this doesn’t seem to affect publisher sales significantly enough to put similar measures in place. And if a publisher dared to, I imagine they’d face riots. I mean, what if libraries could only order one copy of the latest JK Rowling or Stephen King book, and were perfectly honest about why? I’d imagine the offending publishers would be visited by mobs of angry wizards and blood-soaked prom queens.

And finally, the word-of-mouth effect should have a counter-effect to anything e-lending can do to book sales. The more people who are reading a book, the more people are likely to talk about it. The more people who talk about a book, the more people who will want to read it. The more people will want to read, the more people who will read, which will repeat the cycle. Allowing access to more ebooks at libraries only helps this effect, so Macmillan is kind of cutting off their own digits with this move.

This and other reasons is why the American Library Association has launched a petition asking Macmillan to reverse their decision, a petition which I support. As of writing this, the petition has a little over twenty-thousand signatures, but it’s going to need a lot more to change CEO John Sargent’s mind. So I wrote this article to help change a few minds.

If you would like to sign the petition, please click here, and make sure to spread the word. The more people who are aware of this issue, the more people who will be persuaded to help. And honestly, for the sake of the many people who like to read, including our work on occasion, we owe it to them.

You can also read this article from Slate.com if you would like to further research this issue yourself.

Thanks for reading, Followers of Fear. I hope you decide to support the cause, and until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*AKA not Rose and/or anything else by me, though if you want to help me change that, I’d appreciate that.

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Yesterday I came out of Avengers: Endgame, in awe of the movie I’d just seen. I pull out my phone, and see a message from a friend. The same friend, might I add, who informed me of the shooting in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, in fact. This time, it was a Hasidic synagogue in Poway in California. Thankfully, the casualties were much fewer: several people were injured, but only one person died, and she died saving the rabbi, who despite his injuries allegedly finished his Passover sermon and told his congregants that they were strong and would get through this.

Despite all these stories of strength and heroism, however, the fact that this happened again, on an anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, is horrifying. It reopens old wounds and reminds us all, but especially the Jewish people, of how vulnerable we can be.

As many of you know, I am Jewish, and I feel deeply connected to my heritage. And twice, my people and my heritage has been openly attacked in America, a country where people are theoretically supposed to be able to live free of persecution.

Reading about this, it’s tempting to think nothing can change in this country, that hate and gun violence can never change. However, remember what that rabbi was supposed to have said? Well, I found a quote by him, and while I can’t verify if he said it at the end of his sermon, I can verify it’s from what I consider a reliable source. He said,

I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.

Amen. There is an upsurge of open strains of hatred in the US, from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum. Not just anti-Semitism, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so many more. We can’t let this become the norm anymore than it has. Take a stand against hate and fear. Reach out to the people around you when you see them in trouble, if you’re able to. Fight for popular platforms to ban hatred. Facebook’s taken a stand against white nationalist and other groups, and there’s a campaign on Twitter to get similar groups auto-banned from the platform using the hashtag #JackStopTheHate, which is directed to Jack Dorsey (username @jack), the CEO of Twitter. Speak out if someone is posting or saying hateful things, because if you stand up to them, you’re letting them know their views aren’t tolerated.

Together, we can fight for tolerance and love.

At the same time, fight for initiatives to end gun violence. John Earnest, the shooter in Poway, used an AR-15, a military-grade weapon. What is a military-grade weapon doing in the hands of a 19-year-old civilian?! We can’t keep letting people get their hands on military weaponry so easily. If we do, we’re only ensuring that this cycle of violence continues. Vote for bills or leaders who will fight to keep these weapons from being used in shootings over and over.

Together, we can ensure people don’t have to worry about being shot every time they step outside.

This weekend should’ve only been about positive events: Endgame having a billion-dollar opening; She-Ra season 2 hitting Netflix; the end of Passover and plenty of pizza parties! Not this. Nothing like what happened. And it’s up to us to make sure it never happens again.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who supports me and thinks about me every time something like this happens. I can’t allow myself to be scared into submission by monsters like this. Just know that your love and kindness bolsters me and keeps me from retreating when I need to speak out on issues like this. Thanks.

My latest article from Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors has just gone live. This post talks about a serious issue that has been plaguing the writing community, particularly online. Many writers have become the target of bullying and public shaming online from their genre’s community, leading to them withdrawing their novels from publication and being publicly shunned. Often the reasons that start these attacks are taken out of context, and the “punishment” is too harsh or goes on for too long, leaving those at the receiving end psychologically scarred and unable to move forward.

That, plus a recent segment from comedian John Oliver’s TV show Last Week Tonight on public shaming, motivated me to write about the subject. Thus my latest article, Public Shaming in the Writing Community. And I hope it leads to some positive discussion and maybe some positive change in the writing community.

If you have a moment, please check it out. I did a lot of thinking before posting this, and I don’t normally talk about controversial topics on this blog unless I think I really need to. That’s how important this topic is to me.

And I realize by writing about this subject, I may be painting a target on my back. Well, as I noted in the article, I’m a Jewish, bisexual man with disabilities and eccentricities. My very existence and interests probably offends someone for dumb reasons. Plus writing horror probably offends someone who thinks all horror does is create and satiate depraved individuals. That’s never stopped me before, and this won’t either.

Besides, I BITE.

Anyway, while you’re there, please feel free to check out the other articles on the site. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site for advice on writing, editing, publishing and marketing efficiently. No matter your background or experience, there’s something here that can help you. Believe me on that. I’m not just a contributor, I’m also a beneficiary of the articles.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Unless the horde of online trolls shows up at my doors, I’ll likely see you next on Saturday with a review of Jordan Peele’s new film, Us. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, one and all.

(For those curious as to what Hanukkah is about, I gave an explanation in the comments)

I’m going to try to keep this post short, though there’s a great temptation to write a thousand words or more. And that’s because despite how crazy this past week has been, its also been kind of uplifting. Why? Because my organization really showed me how much it wanted to make sure all its associates felt included during the holidays. And that included the Jews.

Now as many of you know, I am Jewish (this will be important in a bit). And as many of you also know, I work for a supply organization in a role called an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. It’s kind of like HR, but we’re focused on promoting diversity, accommodating associates with disabilities, and combating discrimination and harassment in the workforce. It’s an important job, because a properly diverse and accepting workforce is one with a wide talent pool and a healthy mental state.

Okay, enough background. Let me get to the important part. On Tuesday, I was sitting having breakfast in my office when our Director of Operations (hereafter referred to as the DoO), a member of our regional executive staff, came to visit me. Which is pretty unusual. I see him on occasion around the building and we’ll chat, but I don’t interact much with the executives in my organization. You can imagine my surprise when the DoO came to talk to me, and understand my first thought upon seeing him: I’ve had this nightmare before, but I was naked in it.

Turns out, the DoO wanted to consult me. You see, I did a stand-up routine at a company talent show last year (yes, that happened), and it was centered around kosher cooking. Since then, I’ve gained a reputation as the resident expert on Judaism. With that in mind, the DoO wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a menorah to represent Hanukkah at the Executive Open House, one of our organization’s annual holiday events when you can go through the executive suite and schmooze with the top brass. That event usually has a lot of tinsel and Christmas trees, but no menorah. And the DoO wanted to know if including one would be a good idea.

I said yes, that would be a wonderful idea, and I gave some other suggestions of things to include (dreidels, chocolate gelt, etc). I then gave him some ideas where he could find all those. Less than an hour later, I was asked to go shopping with him at the nearest place to see if we could find a menorah. I said sure, hoping to God I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and we went shopping. We found plenty of gelt, but they were fresh out of menorahs. One thing you need to know about my organization, though, we don’t do anything partway. So I got into contact with one of the local synagogues, which I knew had a gift shop with plenty of menorahs. After work that day, I went straight there and bought a menorah, along with a ton of dreidels. Mission accomplished.

The DoO and I with the menorah. So grateful for this kind gesture.

Fast forward to today (Thursday, if you’re reading this later on), I brought the menorah and dreidels in. We set it up first in the DoO’s office after he invited me up to the Executive Suite, and then later it ended up in a more public space when another associate brought in their menorah from home. And I have to say, it looked really good there too.

But through all this, I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was for the DoO and the rest of the top brass to be thinking of my people. As many of you are aware, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks lately, the worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October. These attacks on my people have been tough on all of us. I’ve been feeling an upswing in anxiety since October myself. However, I’ve been trying to fight back by staying strong and filling the world with more good and kindness than they can fill it with evil. And this simple thoughtful gesture, while small, was huge in its impact, and I can’t help but thank the DoO for helping to put a bit of good back in this crazy world.

I hope it’s part of a greater trend to make the world a nicer place.

Happy Hanukkah, Followers of Fear. I hope this brought some light into your life during the Festival of Lights. I’m heading off to bed. Until next time (possibly this weekend), pleasant nightmares one and all.

Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

I’ll admit I’m a few days late to this, so perhaps the news has already gotten around and this post is unnecessary. But for those of you who haven’t heard, it seems that the saga that has been called Cockygate has reached its resolution. And you know what? It’s really good news.

Now if you haven’t heard, Cockygate got started around late April/early May in response to the actions of Faleena Hopkins (or as I prefer to call her, Lady Voldemort). Hopkins, a romance writer who wrote the “Cocker Brothers” series, tried to get a trademark on the word “cocky” when used in book or series titles. Now this word has, not surprisingly, been used in book titles well before Hopkins applied for her trademark, but that didn’t stop her from applying for it, and then going after independent authors that can’t afford lawsuits to either take the word “cocky” out of their book titles or take them off Amazon (seriously difficult either way you look at it) or they could face legal action.

And you wonder why I call her Lady Voldemort.

Two things happened after news of this broke: several authors and companies tried to copy Hopkins, and the majority of the author community rose up against her, with the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (get it?) going viral within days. The Romance Writers Association started looking into legal action. Kevin Kneupper, a novelist and retired lawyer, came out of retirement to fight Hopkins on this and force her and others imitating her to back down. He was joined by romance writer Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson, a promoter for the CockTales anthology, whom Lady Voldemort had named in a lawsuit.

And so for about three months, this thing has been going on, with lots of authors wondering if, in a world where you can trademark any single word in a title, if it’s even worth it to write.* There have also been a slew of stories published with the word “cocky” in the titles in protest, and they’ve done quite well for themselves. And of course, everyone’s been watching the courts to see how this will play out.

Well, for the past few weeks, there’s been talk of both Hopkins either accepting a settlement or getting her butt handed to her by a judge. And this past week,  we got news. Hopkins agreed to an unspecified settlement and has withdrawn her trademark on the word “cocky.” If you go to the US Trademark and Patent Office’s website, it’ll say “invalidation pending” on Hopkins’s trademark.

Make no mistake, this is a victory for authors to be able to title their stories whatever they want without fear of legal repercussions. There are still plenty of imitators trying to get their own trademarks through, but Hopkins is the original, and this victory sends a message to her imitators and her opponents. So while there are still legal hurdles to get through with the former, us in the latter know that with enough people caring, we can overcome these monsters and get our stories out there without fear of being sued for using a simple word.

And as an author who could’ve easily been affected by this (seriously, type into Amazon the words “Snake” or “Rose.” If someone did this to me, I could be in trouble), I’d like to thank Mr. Kneupper and all the authors, lawyers, Twitter activists, and readers who lent their time and energy to putting up this fight against Lady Voldemort. You did the creative community a huge favor, and I hope we can always count on your love and strength when we need to fight assholery like what we’ve experienced this summer.

And to Ms. Hopkins herself, I hope she’s happy. The terms of the settlement aren’t known, but whatever they are, I hope she’s satisfied. Because this saga has led to her reputation being shredded. She set herself up as a bully and manipulative monster who went after authors without money or legal mettle. And during these three months, she’s only dug herself further into a hole, calling people who use stock photos after she does “copycats” (WTF?) and alleging people who call her fans and supporters stupid are equating them with having autism (um, excuse me?). Now she’s become a byword for a monster, a nasty character who tries to take advantage of other writers, of being greedy and willing to use underhanded tactics to get ahead.

And while I try not to wish bad things upon people I disagree with, I really hope that Lady Voldemort’s writing career goes like the GIF below from now on.

Thanks for reading, Followers of Fear. Hopefully this is the last time I ever have to mention Cockygate or Lady Voldemort ever again (though if I have to, I will). In the meantime, I wish you a good weekend and warn you to expect more from me this weekend.

Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*I mean, imagine if instead of proper titles like “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” getting trademarks, someone could trademark a word like “the.” Just “the” in any title, and it holds water. You run into all sorts of trouble from the get-go!