While I was away, an upsetting thing happened.
As you probably already know, I sold a Hungarian folktale retelling to Eggplant Literary, to be included in Spellbound, their Kickstarted middle grade anthology that was (I thought!) supposedly diversity-themed.
The guidelines bothered me, but then again, practically all guidelines bother me. I had a cool story in mind and I figured I could sell it elsewhere if it didn’t sell to this one. The fact that they insisted on Aarne-Thompson tale types was something I’d seen at other folktale venues previously. It always confuses me, because there are a lot of folktales in my traditions that do not really have an easy Aarne-Thompson correspondence. For this one, I spent a long time trying to pick an A-T category, but the closest I got was “Supernatural Adversaries”, which is as broad a category as to be practically useless.
When the table of contents was announced, I was surprised I didn’t know any of the other names, but since this was my first middle grade story ever, I thought it was simply a different crowd writing middle grade than adult fiction. I know from experience reviewing short SF with a focus on diversity that names and sometimes even author photos can be very misleading as to ethnicity and race. A quite extreme but 100% real example: a social justice activist once yelled at me online for promoting Colson Whitehead as an author of color, and I literally had to explain that despite his name, he was not white.
So I didn’t do much of anything. I figured the anthology would come out and I would read the stories and bios, probably find a few interesting people to add to my Twitter feed.
I also didn’t bother much because most major SF venues that exist now have had their egregious racist / sexist / etc. moments. If you followed my short story reviews back when I was still doing them, you know this for a fact. You can search my archives.
So I shrugged and moved on.
Then I was pointed in the direction of a set of Tumblr posts by Shweta Narayan and Serena Mauren – I don’t use Tumblr because I find the interface extremely confusing, so I was late to the party.
Tumblr user ArachneJericho looked into the lineup in detail and found that despite the declared theme of diversity, most of the stories were by white Americans. She then asked Eggplant Literary for a refund of her very sizable donation – as far as I’m concerned, perfectly reasonably. The project was advertised as a diverse anthology and she did not get what she paid for.
Editor Rachael Henderson not only refused to refund her, but went on to say things that I personally found very upsetting.
Here is ArachneJericho’s very comprehensive blog post and Shweta Narayan also has very telling TL;DR highlights.
I did exactly what backers wanted from this anthology, as far as I can tell: wrote a non-Western folktale retelling based on my own ethnic background. (I’m making no claims on the awesomeness of the story.) The story I retold is one I remembered from childhood, and it’s so little-known that I couldn’t find it on the Internet; I finally managed to locate a print version in a collection of folktales from my home region.
But I very much do NOT want to be the token diverse person. Especially not on more counts than one, and at the expense of others:
“I never represented it as being such, there are two other components to Spellbound & Spindles: disabled and LGBT characters. These two anthologies were never meant to be solely about PoC or non-Western European settings.”
I actually am a non-Western European, visibly trans person who’s also queer; as stated here on my website, on Facebook and all over the place. I haven’t been very open about disability topics as they relate to me because of discrimination in my native Hungary, but I had actually intended to talk about that upon the release of this anthology, since my story has a disabled protagonist. So this is doubly hurtful.
I really don’t want to see any argument like “this is a diverse anthology because it has this queer person in it, nevermind that it has no people of color” (or the same with characters instead of authors). People are not supposed to be pitted against each other in this fashion. Especially not when intersectional oppression is a very real thing that also impacts my life.
My first thought was to just withdraw my story. I have withdrawn pieces multiple times over faily behavior; including from a pro venue, and conditionally from another pro venue, who then gave in. So I’m not particularly afraid to do that, I get published frequently enough and so far I haven’t alienated most editors… I hope.
Then I realized I’d already signed my contract with Eggplant, so there was a very limited amount of things I could do.
Then I was moving to a different continent for my PhD and had very little internet for a prolonged time.
By the time I came back – ie. nowish – I was greeted by the news that Eggplant Literary was closing. I still haven’t been informed by the publisher about this. I have no idea what’s going to happen with the anthology, whether backers will be refunded, anything. They seem to have emailed at least some of their writers, but they certainly haven’t emailed me.
The person in charge of my (former) company finances tells me Eggplant never paid me, despite the signed contract stating Eggplant would pay upon the receipt of contract. They did state that they had received my contract. There is a small possibility that maybe the transfer was misplaced (we got quite a few transfers from unexpectedly named Paypal accounts over the years), so I just emailed Eggplant to ask what happened.
The issue of delayed payment is extremely problematic in my case, since I’d explicitly told Raechel Henderson on May 29 that I would not be able to receive any payment after my arrival in the US (July 13), because it would be against my student visa terms. She’d assured me on Jun 03 that I would receive my payment well in advance.
I emailed her just now that since Eggplant seems to be in breach of contract with me, I request them to return my rights I signed away or I will be forced to take further action, unless they can prove that they really did pay me.
I am waiting, and I am greatly disappointed regardless of the outcome.