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I’ve mentioned time and time again how I want to visit haunted locations. In the past, I managed to visit the Paris catacombs, where I saw plenty of skulls but no paranormal phenomena, and last year I visited The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, where I caught my first paranormal evidence on video. And over this weekend, I had the opportunity to visit another one, one that’s in my home state of Ohio that I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time: The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. And wouldn’t you know it? I saw plenty of stuff that can be considered out of the ordinary (besides me, I mean).

Some context first: for a while now, my dad’s side of the family have been planning an “Ungarfest,” where the whole family gets together and hangs out. It’s a chance for all three of the families–my dad and his family, his brother and his family, and his sister and her family–to see each other now that most of the next generation are grown and there’s a chance our lives will take us all over the place. Currently all three families still live in Ohio and Michigan, so the majority of us were able to come together and see each other. And guess where the family ended up spending the afternoon after spending the morning at a nature garden in the morning? You guessed it, the Ohio State Reformatory.

Now some of you may know the reformatory, or OSR for short, as the place where The Shawshank Redemption, among other famous films and a few TV shows, were filmed. However, the OSR is also famous for being something of a paranormal hotspot. Plenty of deaths have occurred there over the years, and of course stories of hauntings have popped up over the years. With that in mind, I bought my own pair of dowsing rods so I could speak to the spirits there (the ones at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast worked so well for me).

Me protesting my guilt with a cell-door on the lawn.

Me pretending to shank my stepsister for some reason.

So once we got there, we went in (two of my sisters decided not to go in because they found the whole thing too freaky), and met JD, our tour guide, who was honestly just the best tour guide we could ask for have (I’ll get into why in a bit, but for now, just know that if you get to come here for a tour, you can’t go wrong by asking for JD). He took us around for the first half of the tour, talking to us about the history of the prison and what it was like for a prisoner during the prison’s heyday.

How can one describe the prison accurately? Well, it’s big, I can say that. Metal and drywall and brick and stone are everywhere. The paint on the walls and every other surface is peeling all over the place, and you can smell the building’s age and paint everywhere. In various rooms, you’ll see original artifacts from when it was an active prison, such as the original electric chair that was used there, products made in the shops the prison ran, and much, much more.

You also got to see a lot of the locations where The Shawshank Redemption and other films used as sets. Warden Norton’s office is perfectly preserved for the most part, as well as the door that the guard broke the window in that one scene of the movie. And apparently Brooks and Red’s apartment was filmed in the prison too. It was cool to see that piece of film history on display there.

JD (left) and his fellow tour guide Michael (right) talking to us in the room where a scene from Air Force One was filmed.

Me at the foot of the stairs where Andy Dufresne and Warden Norton talked about budget issues in getting a library.

I’m at Warden Norton’s desk. There’s a bit of “blood” still on the window.

Me doing my imitation of that guard from the movie. Also, this is my new author pic.

And so was Rami

But definitely one of the best parts of the tour was JD. He was friendly, funny, and a really cool dude with a voice that reminded me of musicians I’ve seen in movies and TV (and that description is how you know I’ve been writing for a long while). I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he was a musician, he seems like the kind of guy who would enjoy playing some guitar on the weekends. But he was also very inspiring. You see, JD was an inmate for a short time at OSR back in the 1980s. During the tour, he took us by the cell in the west block where he stayed while there, and how his experience at OSR helped him turn his life around. It was really inspiring to hear. A lot of people think of people who have gone to jail, and it isn’t usually a positive image. But JD was able to give us this personal story of how his stay affected him. Combined with his friendly and very humble personality, it really made his story all the more powerful. You couldn’t help but like him, not just as a tour guide but as a person. And on top of his personal knowledge of what it was like to be a prisoner at the Ohio State Reformatory, it just made for an excellent tour.

JD in front of his old cell, telling us how being at OSR changed his life.

If it’s not obvious, I highly recommend JD as a tour guide. On a scale of 1 to 5, a definite 5. If you get him as your tour guide, you won’t regret it.

Of course, you’re curious about the paranormal stuff I witnessed. First off, the dowsing rods had an excellent first time out. I got a lot of communication from spirits, some of which made it onto video and then onto YouTube. One of the first places we visited was solitary confinement, where the spirit of Frank Hanger, a security guard who was murdered by three inmates in that area, is said to hang out. Here’s the video of that particular encounter.

Something you should know: that question Jay threw out about the electric chair was a trick question to make sure we were actually talking to a spirit and it wasn’t random movements on the part of the rods. Turns out it wasn’t random movements: those three convicts committed suicide, so Officer Hanger’s “no” was a point for the I-was-communicating-with-spirits side.

The other major spirit I spoke to was that of James Lockhart, an inmate who killed himself by immolation. His cell is notoriously haunted. I got to speak with him as well, and learned some interesting things.

Sorry about the vertical filming. You can only do so much with your cell phone.

I also had a lot more communications, some of which I got on video. But these are the best quality, so I wanted to make sure people got to see them. You can draw your own conclusions on what happened while at OSR that day (just don’t leave vitriol-filled comments for me to read), but I like to think that I got some communication from the other side that day. And a lot of people who witnessed me using the rods, including this one family I kept seeing around the east cell block (they’re the ones asking me to ask Lockhart if he burned himself), probably believe me now (I think they took video footage of some of my communications. There may be footage of that floating around the Internet somewhere).

Oh, one more thing I want to mention. This isn’t so much explicitly paranormal as it is weird, but it’s worth a mention. You remember that photo of me at Warden Norton’s desk? Well, this may have just been an issue in the transition from my camera to Instagram, but it’s still weird and kind of freaky.

I have no idea what happened here. The photo of me at the foot of those stairs seems to have been overlaid with me at Warden Norton’s desk. Not sure how that happened, but it is pretty cool. Even if it isn’t exactly supernatural.

All in all, the Ohio State Reformatory was an amazing experience. It is a beautiful building, filled to the brim with history, pieces of culture, and a few spirits. I’m so glad I got to go, as well as to test out my dowsing rods in such a great venue. And now that I have my driver’s license, I may be able to go up again someday very soon and perhaps get some more proof of the paranormal. In fact, you should bet on that happening (Zak Bagans, call me). Until then, definitely consider making a trip to the Reformatory and seeing the history and hauntings yourself. Guaranteed you won’t regret it.

And thanks to JD and the folks at OSR for hosting my family this weekend. We enjoyed ourselves immensely while there. I hope you’ll see us (or maybe just me) again soon.

The Ungar clan, AKA 40% of the reason I’m as messed up as I am.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue. I’ll be seeing you all again very soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

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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!

I’ve heard everyone from Stephen King to members of Facebook groups I belong to raving about this book. Heck, some of the latter were raving about it months before the book came out (how they were able to do that well before the book came out, I have no idea). I remember listening to the audio book of Tremblay’s previous book A Head Full of Ghosts a few years ago and liking it, though I didn’t find it scary (see my review for my full thoughts), so I thought this was worth a try. And I’ll agree with His Royal Scariness, this is definitely Tremblay at his best.

The Cabin at the End of the World centers on Wen, a young girl and her two dads, Andrew and Eric, who are taking a vacation off the grid in the deepest parts of New Hampshire. At the start of the novel, a man named Leonard appears before Wen and attempts to befriend her. He is soon followed by three others who claim that Wen and her family are the key to saving the world. But to do it, a price must be paid. Thus begins a tense story of belief, insanity, and violence as Wen and her dads are held captive in their own cabin and given an impossible choice.

Like I said, this is a tense book, and an intense one to boot. Like A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay focuses mainly on the psychological state of the characters rather than outright answering whether what we’re reading about is actually supernatural or the delusions of troubled individuals (and like the former novel, there’s an argument to be made for either one). The result is that you’re kept guessing as to which it is while getting a very personal look into these characters as they deal with the stress of the situation. It’s powerful, and makes you really connect to the characters and want to keep reading to find out how the story ends for them.

I also liked how unpredictable Cabin was. There were a couple of instances in the story that really threw me for a loop. Heck, following one of them, I kept reading for several pages sure I’d misunderstood what I’d read or that Tremblay was pulling my leg, heightening the emotional impact when this twist finally sunk in.

Add in that the novel was a great example of showing diversity in fiction without being patronizing or just showing diversity for diversity’s sake (Wen is from China and her dads are a gay married couple), and that an actual medical issue is portrayed with accuracy, rather than in 99% of other stories, and you’ve got yourself a decent novel.

I don’t have anything that I feel like saying detracted from the book. Maybe I wasn’t scared as others might be, but then again, I’ve built up a tolerance to being scared. I still found it extremely tense and emotionally powerful, and I enjoyed it for that. And that’s good enough for me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Cabin at the End of the World a 4.5 out of 5. Gripping with suspense and characters you truly feel for, you’ll have a very hard time putting it down while you read. Take a look and see why it’s one of the most talked about stories this summer (I’m hoping Rose will be one for this coming fall or winter). Believe me, you won’t regret it.

For my earlier posts on Cockygate from May 5th and May 28, click here and here, respectively.

I’m just going to skip over all the preliminary stuff and just get to the good news: the Romance Writers Association and the Authors Guild won a court ruling on Friday against Faleena Hopkins, the notorious romance author who put a trademark on the word “cocky” and then sent letters to authors who had books with “cocky” in their titles, threatening legal action if they didn’t take their books off Amazon or change their books’ titles.

Now, if you read my post from last week, you may remember that Hopkins’s lawyer had sent Kevin Kneupper, the novelist and retired lawyer who’s leading the fight against Hopkins, along with author Tara Crescent and publicist Jennifer Watson, a letter with intention to sue them, as well as filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Petition of Cancellation for the trademark. Since then, it’s also come out that Hopkins was asking for another TRO against the publication of a collection of stories called Cocktales: The Cocky Collective, which was named as an obvious protest against her trademark (Jennifer Watson was incorrectly named by Hopkins as the publisher of the book in the papers filed for the TRO).

On Friday June 1st, several things happened:

  1. Kneupper was dismissed as a party to the lawsuit Hopkins’ lawyer filed, meaning he’s free to continue fighting against the trademark.
  2. Hopkins did not get her restraining order, so the petition and all the other legal battles against her can continue.
  3. Finally and most importantly, for the moment books with the word “cocky” in the title can be published, including the Cocktales anthology.

In other words, Hopkins lost, and she lost big. And while there’s another court date in September, and presumably this is when the decision on her trademark will be decided once and for all, it’s still not looking very good for Hopkins. As stated in the article the Authors Guild put on their website:

In ruling against the author Faleena Hopkins, who claimed exclusive rights to “cocky” for romance titles, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York, stated that he did not believe that Hopkins was likely to succeed on the merits.

In other words, the judge says that Hopkins’s trademark is on pretty weak legs.

Now, there’s still a lot of work to do. For one thing, while people can still publish their books with the word “cocky” in the title, the final decision won’t be made till September at the earliest. That gives Hopkins, her lawyers, and her supporters (yeah, there are some out there) to come up with legal strategies for the trial and for any potential appeals, both from her side and the other side. And unfortunately, there are a number of copycats out there trying to get trademarks on common words used in titles. It’s a hot mess.

But this is a bright spot in the ongoing saga of #Cockygate. I’ve heard from many authors who have expressed fear over the outcome of this controversy, and what it could mean for them if they couldn’t write because they could incur legal repercussions for using an everyday word in their story’s title. Hopkins’s defeat on Friday gives us all a little bit of hope that we can continue to not only write our stories, but give them almost any title imaginable and not have to worry about getting sued for it.

So with the trial not till September, what can we do now as authors? Well, we can continue to show our support for Kneupper and the legal team fighting Hopkins, as well as the RWA and all of the authors who’ve been affected by Cockygate (remember, if you’ve received a letter from Hopkins, contact carol.ritter@rwa.org for assistance and guidance). This can be something as casual as sympathetic messages online, or buying, reading, and reviewing the books of those involved/affected (a single sale and review can do an author a ton of good, believe me), or even donating your time and skills to the legal battle.*

You can also spread the word on Cockygate and any developments in the scandal. The more people who know what Hopkins is doing, the more we can rally against her or anyone else trying to copy her. The louder our voices, the stronger we are, and the better positioned we are to affect positive change.

And finally, if you’re a writer, continue writing. Don’t let fear get in the way of telling the stories you were born to tell. Like the people behind Cocktales, when we decide to put something out in defiance of bullies, we make a statement that we’re not going to take this sitting down.

That’s all for now, everyone. If there are any other significant developments, I’ll post about them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

UPDATE 6/3/18 @ 7:18 PM EST: Erica Unsophisticated Blood Thirsty Wolf Fisher (@monet5280) informed me over Twitter that both Ms. Crescent and Ms. Watson’s lawyers are working on a motion to dismiss, which will be due in on June 22nd. In addition, Ms. Hopkins has to respond to the Petition of Cancellation from Mr. Kneupper no later than June 23rd. So it looks like things will be heating up longer before it starts to get cold again. Here’s hoping the end of June brings more good news like what we saw on Friday.

*Just be careful before you donate to any legal fund for those affected or claiming to be for any legal teams against Hopkins. There are a ton of people out there who have no qualms against taking advantage of those suffering in order to make an easy buck.

My copy of “The Creepypasta Collection,” as edited by MrCreepyPasta

A couple of years ago while I was in Germany, I became acquainted with a growing genre of horror known as creepypasta. Creepypasta, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are horror stories, images, videos, music and games that originate on the Internet and are meant to be spread around as memes. Sort of like viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories (see my original post from 2015 if you’d like a more in-depth explanation).

While I had to end my acquaintance with the genre rather abruptly (job searching and then landing a busy full-time job, as well as trying to write my own stories, doesn’t leave that much time for perusing the Internet for horror stories), I never forgot about this strange world of creators making and sharing these scary stories, sharing characters and creating entire mythologies out of some of them (Slender Man, anyone?). So when I found out there was actually a couple of anthologies of creepypasta available in book format, which meant I could read them on my lunch break, I decided to get a copy and dive in to see back in.

What did I find?

Well, like every anthology I’ve ever read, there were some stories that spoke to me more than others. A few I didn’t find that scary at all, but others definitely filled me with that feeling I get from good horror, and even set my imagination alight at times. There are writers in that anthology who would and have done well writing commercial fiction (in fact, some of the contributors listed in the back of the book have published or self-published stories). My favorites in the collection were “When Dusk Falls on Hadley Township” by TW Grim, which reminded me of a Stephen King short story; “Smile.Montana” by Aaron Shotwell, featuring the infamous creepypasta character Smile Dog; “Bedtime” by Michael Whitehouse, a classic of creepypasta fiction that really got my imagination going; and my top favorite, “She Beneath the Tree” by Michael Marks, a Lovecraftian tale that I loved from start to finish.

So yeah, if you’re curious, you should give the collection a read. 4.5 out of 5. As the cover promises, these are stories you can’t unread. And I’m not sure you’d want to.

But I found more than just stories in this collection. I also noticed some things about the genre, especially the pieces in the anthology, that showed me just how different they were from more “mainstream” horror stories. For one thing, the narration in the stories struck me as being more…realist in nature. Not like Realist fiction, which is set entirely around stories that happen in the real world, but like they really believed that the things they depicted in their stories could actually happen. In a lot of horror fiction, even by the greatest writers out there, you get the sense that, except for maybe stories involving serial killers, the authors don’t really believe that what they’re writing about could happen. But creepypasta writers seem to feel the opposite. I got the sense, even with some of the more supernatural or strange stories, that the authors really believed that what was happening in their stories could happen in the real world, and treated it as such. And this shown through especially with the first-person narrators.

When something like Smile Dog can be treated as if it’s real, you know you’re reading something different.

This is something I really admire in creepypasta, because it just gives these stories another layer and gives them the power to really make you wonder if some of what happens in these creepypastas could happen. Some of my own stories are based on my own beliefs of what could be out there, and I like to think that gives them this quality of strange realism to them. Seeing that quality brought out so well with these stories is a great guide for me personally as a writer, so I’m glad I exposed myself to them.

Another thing about this anthology is that it made me realize something: the creators of creepypasta are not too different from self-published and hybrid authors. The latter try to recreate the quality and success of books published by traditional presses without having to go through all the hoops that come with the traditional method and presses. They’re trying a new way to achieve an old goal. And a major component of this is through the Internet to reach readers and advertise. Basically, to spread the word.

Similarly, creepypasta creators are trying to recreate something as well. When I called creepypasta viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories, that was a really apt description. They’re recreating the feeling of telling scary stories around a campfire, and spread it farther than any campfire could. And their chosen medium, the Internet, is perfect for that. Spoken word can be used on the Internet, but so can the written word, images, video, music and so much more. They use the Internet to advertise terror as well as any self-published/hybrid author can to advertise their books. Is it any wonder that one can so transition easily into the other?

Overall, I’m glad I took this dive back into the world of creepypasta. It opened my eyes to things that I’d never realized before, gave me ideas for stories, and caused my respect for creepypasta creators to grow immensely. And while I may never write true creepypasta, I can see creepypasta-esque stories or ideas infiltrating my future work. Just like creepypasta, you never know until it happens. And by then, it’s likely too late.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’d love to talk a bit more on the subject, but a hole in the fabric of reality has appeared in the fabric of my carpet, so that either means something really pleasant, or something really bad. I’m going to go find out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I wasn’t planning on writing another post about this subject, but I got so many updates about the subject, I felt I should chime in. And I would’ve published this post earlier, but I had a family thing to attend, so that took up a bit of time. Well, no time like the present. Let’s talk Cockygate.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, or don’t have time to read my last post on the subject, let me give a bit of background: Faleena Hopkins is a romance author who writes a series of books called the Cocky Brothers series (though apparently it’s gone by several names in the past). Recently she applied for a trademark for the word “cocky,” with somehow got approved by the Patent & Trademark Office. Technically speaking, this only allows her to have control of the word using a particular kind of font on her book covers, but she’s taken this to extreme levels, and has sent cease and desist letters to authors who use “cocky” in the titles of their books, telling them to either change the names of their books, take them off Amazon, or face legal action. The authors targeted are mainly self-published writers who can’t afford a legal battle, and changing a book’s title is hellishly hard (imagine the insanity that might come from trying to change the name of the Harry Potter books, for instance). This puts them in a really difficult position.

As you might expect, when word got out about this, things escalated quickly: authors quickly called out Hopkins on this move, calling it extortion and bullying; the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (ha! that’s still funny) started trending on Twitter; the Romance Writers Association asked anyone affected by Hopkins to send proof to them and started consulting with an IP lawyer; and Hopkins, who apparently once said that anyone who uses stock photos after she uses them is copying her (that still boggles my mind), posted a video online trying to defend herself and instead dug herself deeper into a hole.

Among other things. Yeah, this is one screwed up situation. And this has not only people angry at Hopkins, but afraid of the future: if you can trademark any word in a title, it’s possible no one will want to publish stories because they’re afraid they could get sued by a trademark owner for using a common word.

However, people have been fighting this, and keeping the story alive. And as time has gone on, there have been further developments in this case. Here are just a few:

  • A novelist and retired lawyer named Kevin Kneupper has come together with a bunch of other authors/lawyers to try to get the Patent & Trademark office to toss out Hopkins’ trademark using a petition for cancellation, which I applaud them for doing and hope they are successful.
  • The creator of the font Hopkins uses for her books came out and stated that anyone who uses his fonts isn’t allowed to apply for trademarks using his font. So, Hopkins is telling people they’re infringing on her trademark while at the same time breaking the rules of usage for the font she uses. Someone needs to read the fine print before telling someone else to do so.
  • Amazon has stated they won’t kick books off its website that have been targeted by Hopkins while they wait to see how this whole thing unfolds.
  • A company called Rebellion Games tried to get a trademark on the word “Rebellion,” (just the word, as far as I can tell), and Mr. Kneupper apparently convinced them to reconsider (and suddenly I want to interview him for my blog and/or name a character in my next novel after him).
  • Hopkins uploaded a video that’s since been taken down (but this is the Internet, so nothing ever goes away), where she said people were calling her and her fans stupid, and then said that meant they were calling her and her fans autistic. Um, say what? As far as I can find, no one brought up autism being mistaken for stupidity before you did. And as someone who’s on the spectrum, would you kindly leave my community out of this? IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DOING!!!
  • In the same video, Hopkins also said someone had insinuated that she was part of the KKK (proof please?), and said she would never be a Klansman, as she’s descended from a slave. Again, what does that have to do with you trying to trademark a word? And from what I’ve been hearing, some of the authors that have been targeted by the cease and desist letters are writers of color. And you’re not immune from criticism just because one of your ancestors was a slave. Heck, some of your critics may also be descendants of slaves.
  • Hopkins’s books have apparently slid from the bestseller lists. Apparently there are consequences to doing something like this. Who knew?
  • And most recently, Hopkins’ lawyer has sent Kneupper, along with fellow authors/lawyers Jennifer Watson and Tara Crescent, a letter stating that he’s going to be filing a lawsuit against them and seeking a Temporary Restraining Order against their Petition of Cancellation.

Now, this last one happened on Friday apparently, so with a three-day weekend, I have no idea what might develop before Tuesday, if anything. The legal process for this sort of thing can be frustratingly slow. However, this latest development just goes to show just how far Hopkins will go to try to keep her trademark and the power she feels this has given her. She’s determined to make herself seem like an innovative businesswoman who’s being victimized by a mean gang of authors trying to protect her brand.

Well, let her. She may have some supporters (some, but not many), but the longer this drags on and the more she tries to make herself seem like the victim, the more we’ll see her for the bully she is. And with the movement against what she’s doing growing and gaining allies every day, even if God forbid she does succeed in getting her copyright, she’ll just find herself isolated and hated. And in the end, that’s a victory no one wants.

I would like to applaud everyone who’s come forward about Hopkins targeting them. Your bravery is a true testament to your resiliency and spirit. Remember, if you’ve been targeted, email carol.ritter@rwa.org and share your story. Together, we can protect your hard work from what’s happening.

I’d also like to applaud all the other authors and readers out there who have said they won’t stand for this chicanery, and are fighting it every day, on and offline. And I’d like to give an especially big hand to Kevin Kneupper, Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and the other writers/legal experts lending their talents to this case. Words cannot express what you’re doing to defend authors and fiction writing in general. Thank you for all you’ve been doing.

When further updates come along, I’ll likely put out another post. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for more chicanery, and remember, we do have the power to fight back against this. We just have to be brave enough to use it.

I’m sure that a lot of people are going to be confused by that title, and probably find it funny. Unfortunately, this is a serious topic that requires some discussion, so I thought I’d take a couple minutes to spread the word on what’s been going on.

Recently, it’s come to light that a romance writer named Faleena Hopkins placed a trademark on the word “cocky” (as in…you know), and has allegedly been sending cease and desist letters to authors who use the word “cocky” in their book titles. Of which there are many, and according to the letters, this is a form of copyright infringement, and authors should change the names of their stories or face the consequences. From what’s been going around, most of the authors who have received these letters are not big enough to actually take on a legal battle with other authors, rather than any big names in the romance field.

This is some grade-A bull. You can’t just copyright a single word and tell people they can’t use it in their book titles. You can copyright a specific word or words using a specific font (like nobody can use the word “Potter” with the Harry Potter-title lightning bolt script or the words “Star” or “Wars” with the Star Wars script without incurring the wrath of JK Rowling or Lucasfilm’s representatives), which is normal business practice. However, you can’t just copyright a single word, no matter the font, font size, or context, and say anyone who uses it in a story’s title is committing plagiarism or copyright infringement. Which is why nobody can sue me for naming my novel Snake, or why when Rose comes out, nobody can sue me for naming it that way.

And you know who else agrees with me? Lots of other authors, apparently. When I saw this trending on Twitter, I got curious and found plenty of other writers who were willing to explain to me what was going on and point me to links which went further into detail about this issue, which has been dubbed Cockygate, and who have also made the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (get it?) trending topics. Thanks to them, I was able to find this article from Pajiba, as well as this video from author Bianca Sommerland, one of the first to break the story open. And the consensus seems to be the same as my opinion of this situation: it’s grade-A bull, and kind of sounds like bullying or blackmail.

I mean, imagine if this was allowed to happen. We could copyright all sorts of words, and anyone using those words would owe me money. I mean, imagine if I trademarked the word “the.” So many people would owe me money, it would be ridiculous! I’d have good friends and big names who would be liable to legal action for a commonly-used word. It’s ridiculous.

And apparently the Romance Writers’ Association is getting involved now, because they’ve been consulting with an IP lawyer and are asking anyone who’s received one of these cease and desist letters to send information and screenshots to Carol Ritter, their Deputy Executive Director (carol.ritter@rwa.org). That’s how seriously this is being taken.

Hopkins herself, who in the past has also claimed that anyone who uses stock photos (so everybody, basically) after she uses them is copying her (say what?), has taken to social media to defend herself. She hasn’t denied that she’s trademarked “cocky,” but has said that she’s done it because some of her readers have downloaded ebooks with the word “cocky” in the title thinking it’s related to her Cocky Brothers series, only to find out it’s someone else’s book. She’s also called those calling her out as “bullies.” First off, you can return downloaded ebooks and purchase the right one. And I’m sure the majority of your readers are generally intelligent people. They can figure that out for themselves. And second, if you really are doing something shady, then the people who object to it aren’t bullies. They’re legitimately upset.

In a way, this reminds me of Lani Sarem, the author who tried to game the New York Times bestseller list and fell hard (you can read my articles on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors about that little incident by clicking here and here). She too engaged in something that rang of dishonesty in order to ensure the success of her work. People online found out and started investigating and spreading the word, leading to her book being removed from the NYT bestseller list, and her name becoming something of a joke. We’re seeing something similar here, only what Ms. Hopkins is allegedly doing is even worse, because it affects the most vulnerable authors out there by threatening them with legal action.

As this is still the early stages of this controversy, we’re bound to see further developments. And whatever happens, I hope a message is sent far and wide. We authors are usually a supportive bunch. But if we find out one of our own is doing something awful for the sake of money or fame, we will not take that sitting down. We will push back, and the offenders will not like that. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, is it not?

Please contact Carol Ritter at carol.ritter@rwa.org if you or someone you know has received one of these cease and desist letters. You don’t have to live in fear of legal action. You can take the power back.