For the past week, I’ve been talking publicly about my time and experiences with ChiZine Publications a great deal on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re just catching up on the long overdue divulgences of CZP’s nightmarish internal structure, culture of abuse and harassment, and financial malfeasance, I suggest you start here with this post that’s being updated as events unfold:
High Fever Books: Controversy Erupts Around ChiZine Publications
(ETA 11/16/20: This link appears to have been taken down. I’m leaving it up for preservation purposes, but please see Jason Sanford’s Genre Grapvine column “My Thoughts on ChiZine Publications and the Genre’s Troubling Wall of Silence” instead. Jason’s work is thorough and should provide the same overview. If not a better one.)
My own posts on the matter (the most pertinent ones) can be found here:
- My first post in reaction to finding out what Brett and Sandra had done to Ed Kurtz, detailing a touch of what my own financial experience had been and reasons not to trust CZP
- A Twitter thread on a few points in response to CZP’s initial public statement of “No wrongdoing, we paid Ed, all is fine now”
- My first statement on financial mishandling/poor financial management at CZP
- My second statement on CZP’s financial mishandlings, CCA/OAC/other arts grants, advances and print runs, with numbers where I had them
Other former staff have also talked about their experiences:
- Kelsi Morris on Facebook
- Samantha Beiko on Facebook
- Beverly Bambury on Facebook and other points on Twitter
- Kerrie Seljak-Byrne on Twitter
- Feli Law on Facebook
Others have not come forward. They may, they may not. Do not judge them for their choices, but know that their experiences, spoken and unspoken, are valid and often painful. There is little to gain for coming forward, and much to lose. Especially in this field and this community.
I worked for CZP for 2-3 years, depending on how you count it. I started working for Chiaroscuro Magazine back in 2012, but didn’t come on board the press side until 2013. I quit in 2015.
A lot has been said in the wake of people finding out what CZP did to its staff, its authors, its vendors, and others in its owners’ circle. Much surprise has been expressed at these revelations – at how fast and how furious all these tales are now spewing forth. How shocked everyone is that nothing’s come out until now, how unaware so many people were.
I am not surprised.
We tried to tell you. No one was interested in listening.
Relevant to this, and to why I am posting today are, alongside all the shock, two points that keep coming up publicly on social media and on less public places like the SFCanada listserve (I haven’t been a member of the latter for years, but others who still are or who have since quit that org have talked publicly about conversations going on there):
- These are conversations “too intimate” to be had in “public pile-ons”.
- That no matter what CZP, or presses like them, have done, we need these presses in the field.
I disagree on both points.
To the first:
All those of us affected tried talking about this quietly and carefully for years. For my own part quietly because I had been locked down with an NDA rider on signing my employment contract. As it turns out, I’m apparently one of the few people at CZP who was offered a contract, let alone made to sign an NDA.
In whispers, picking carefully who we felt we could trust to tell what had gone on, we tried to warn people away or bring to light ongoing wrongs being perpetrated by the press and people in its orbit.
No one listened.
Oh, there were a few who looked at us with puzzlement at our non-specifics and general warnings, didn’t sign up with CZP, and went on their merry way.
But more generally was a response of: “You’re blowing this out of proportion,” “That’s just how they operate,” and “I’ve known these people for years – I trust their word over yours.”
When talking about how abusers do not show all sides of themselves to everyone and that they carefully show only a cultivated face to those they’re not harming yet, we don’t often take that to the next necessary step of understanding: you didn’t see who they really were not because they liked you, but because they weren’t done getting what they needed from you.
Those of you finding it hard to reconcile the people you think you know with the people the rest of us have already seen, are flinching at the perhaps not yet fully realized understanding that you were being cultivated. And the equal realization that had it been a little longer, they might have turned on you too.
Sit with that feeling a little while. Understand the ugliness of the spinning dime on which your fate waited, not yet toppled to rest.
No one wants to hear Word One against their friends, let alone a whole tale. Especially when years are invested in those friendships.
Understand, also, that given those friendships and their long cultivations, and the protections they afford abusers, that I could have shouted all these years at the top of my lungs from the rooftops about my own sexual assault at the hands of one of the core “CZP crew”, and no one in the press’ orbit would have cared.
I have spent years softening that incident to sexual harassment, for my own peace of mind. But it was not. And, again, had I come forward to publicly name a cherished member of that community:
No one would have cared.
Such was the culture in place. Of protection, of silencing, of dismissal and ostracism.
We told you of our wounds and our abuse in quiet, clandestine tones. We tried to warn you how bad things really were. And no one wanted to hear it.
As always, it had to come down to money before anything concrete in this industry happened.
Which brings us to my rebuttal of the second point:
I do not believe that careers should be built on the bones of victims made stepping stones.
Much of Canadian genre publishing does not, from the evidence, agree with me. Oh there are always reasons why people choose to work with publishers who have harmed others.
Perceived career advancement seems to be a big one. Not that many Canadian authors have ever managed to have large careers by working solely in Canada, but…
Money, sometimes, is another reason. Though Canadian genre publishing has precious little of that. No solo genre Canadian publishing house pays pro advance rates, and there have been exactly two pro paying Canadian solely-genre mags:
- Chiaroscuro Magazine, back when Leisure Books was footing the bill.
- Augur Magazine. Which now pays a rate almost twice as high as any other Canadian genre mag has ever managed.
And when not about career advancement or funds, illusory though both are in this context, what else then is perceived worthwhile cause for ignoring those harmed by presses we know, or at least whisper, harm those they work with?
Sometimes prestige. Or the appearance of it. Reputation is a big thing up here. For what little it is worth without action to support it.
But truthfully, most of Canadian genre publishing publishes, and is published by, a core of people who are majority white, very straight, often older, usually men, and who began or have drifted over the years centre to right in their politics — though much of the community does a good show at playing left-leaning it’s rare to see that in more than name. Even where once there was radicalism at work, that too can fade in the tempering of self-assurance and closing ranks to ensure continued success. It is the demographic publishing as a larger enterprise was built to promote and empower, and in international terms.
(Watch: that prior paragraph is going to be the first thing people malign me for out of this litany. I could set an alarm by the screaming that’s going to happen about it on closed lists and across email chains. Always easier to be affronted than to take action, or acknowledge culpability.)
And here in Canadian genre publishing, what are the lives and wellbeing of littler people, more marginalized people, when Great White Men must have their platforms from which to expound, in stentorian tones and supporting upon their humble, much-burdened shoulders the weight of the world?
Money and prestige and pride are why no one listened.
It’s why when I and others talked over the years about how ChiZine Publications harmed its staff, its authors, and was damaging the field by shutting out other voices through conscious and unconscious bias, no one listened.
It’s why when I and others talked over the years about how EDGE Books couldn’t be bothered to pay its people, harassed its authors, and terrorized some of them at conventions, no one listened.
It’s why when I and others talked over the years about how Exile Editions cheated its authors, was misogynist and queerphobic to its editors and authors, and harassed them at length via either emails or sometimes by phone (its owner preferring phone calls to minimize records), no one listened.
No press is more important than people. No product of any press is more important than people. No work of staggering genius is more important than the people harmed in its making.
Presses, like people, suffer the consequences of their actions. When presses cause harm, they fall. And where they fall, others rise. Often better than what came before.
Because when behemoths (by Canadian genre terms) like ChiZine stop sucking all the air out of the field, you find room for other, more agile, more dedicated, more mindful and considered and inclusive publishers to take their place.
We do not need to maintain, support, or prop up harmful publishers, harmful practices, or work with harmful people because we are afraid that without them there is nothing else.
There is always something else.
The younger generation of Canadian genre writers, publishers, and honestly the vastly more diverse array of CanSpec and CanLit people publishing genre solely or in concert with Lit material on their publishing schedules are daily, living proof of better publishers and mags. And an excellent future for this industry if we’re willing to grab hold of it and build it up from the rightly-razed ashes of what came before.
Right now? The majority of Canadian genre publishing needs to stop living in fear. All that’s done is ensure that we’re happy to fuck each other over for pennies a page.
That’s one of the most galling tings about this whole sordid mess. ChiZine were predators, but at least they are now predators in the process of being burned to the waterline. But there are all those others you spoke of: the sycophants and the hanger-son who’d respond to the warnings with “Well they haven’t done that to me…” and continue to post endless pictures of CZ garden parties on Facebook.
I’m still waiting for those people to drop a line and say Whoa, did we ever fuck up. So far all I’ve seen is one opportunist praising Sam Beiko for her “courage” in speaking out– the same person who told Beverly Bambury to keep her mouth shut back before the tide turned.
Very well said, Michael. I am in awe of your courage and sensitivity.
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