Thursday, December 01, 2011

Today Feels Like a Thousand Days Before

December 1 is never a good day for me. Never.  Today is World AIDS Day and a day when not only do I remember, but I sit back and think about how things are different now.  If they are.  And since today is the 24th World AIDS Day in a year in which it's been 30 years since the first reported case of AIDS, it's a day for people of my generation to reflect.

And reflection for me is not easy.

When AIDS first came to my notice, I was a teenager.  In the early days, the media called it 'gay cancer' -- straight up, on television news programs and magazines.  And as a kid in Tennessee, the concepts involved were at first hard to understand.  When I graduated in 1984 from a still-small Tennessee high school, I was unprepared for what the next few years would bring.

At first, AIDS and HIV were problems in the cities with big gay communities and freer moral standards.  I learned about it like many kids my age did--through the media.  But as I matured and moved into professional theatrical work, AIDS was no longer so remote.  Insidiously, it crept into my world--first by rumor, then by implication.  Then kids started getting sick, and straight women and then all of a sudden there wasn't any more talk about the 'gay cancer.' All of a sudden, there was a lot of hatred. Bigotry. Torture--mental and physical--and while the government and the generations ahead of mine tried to ignore the growing crisis, my generation could not. Would not. 

And the gay community, which had been in hiding and underground, mobilized into an army.  And I, and other people like me, who skirted along the edges of it because of occupation or relationships, mobilized right along with them.  

Being a youngster in the AIDS fights made me stand out on many levels--not only from within the community, where I was an anomaly by benefit of gender and orientation--but from without.  It's hard to understand now, probably, but the fear and hysteria surrounding the crisis tainted everyone involved. The pressure was incredible.  And I, who'd joined up with this events almost passively, buoyed by some sense that I, a straight girl, could somehow shield my friends from the horrific punishments they faced from the general population, found myself supported from within--by the people I, in my arrogance, had though to 'protect.'

We all learned a lot about ourselves. And about others.  And hatred, pure and vicious, that whipped along every move we made.

But worst of all, more than anything else, there was fear, coiling under the foundations of what we tried to build. Always fear--and part of that fear was split off from everything else, because while we preached testing and knowledge there's still the part of every human being that's afraid to know.

I'm not going to talk about the young people, men and women, I know who died.  I'm going to talk about the young people, men and women, who were left behind as survivors.  Those memories are  raw still, and probably always will be.  Sometimes being a survivor was worse.  So many lovers, upon the illness of their partners, were shunned by the families who had 'legal' responsibility for them--the same families who'd turned their sons out for being gay in the first place. How many parents who only months before had disowned their sons showed up before the end to snatch him away from the people who cared for him in their stead?  How many partners were shut out of the mourning process, forbidden to "intrude" upon the family's wishes? How many victims were hidden away after their deaths, buried without ceremony or notice, so his "shame" wouldn't reflect upon his parents?  I witnessed this too many times in too many hallways--a second death without closure, eviscerating the one left behind.  That's what I'll never forget really--the blankness of that moment, the stare, the absolute stillness of the one left behind.  And there was always someone left behind.

A few times, it was me.

It's hard, I think, for my kids' generation to understand what the period from 1985-1995 was really like and how hard millions of people, gay and straight, worked--not only to fight the disease itself but its complications--hatred, prejudice, ignorance, shame, and terror.  My daughters know more than most of their peers.  I've told them of the bedsides I sat at in hospices, reading out loud to victims who had no one else who cared about their condition. My girls are smart and are blessed with natural compassion. They know. But they don't know how many deaths I actually saw.

Please God they never will.

In 2011, AIDS has touched almost everyone's life in some way.  I know HIV+ patients who have lived long, productive lives with the virus because of medicine, safe practices and sometimes just sheer, stubborn determination and a burning need to tell the rest of the world to fuck off.  (And good for them!)  Now, because the hysteria has calmed because of the ceaseless, amazing work of the gay community to educate the rest of the world about AIDS, most people accept it as just another fact of life.  Something unpleasant to be aware of, but for someone else to deal with the actuality of.

While we are hopefully getting closer to a cure, the fact of the matter is that AIDS is not for someone else to deal with.  WE must deal with it.  WE must continue to fight, to educate, to research. WE must always remember that the only cure for the complications of AIDS rests with us and not some nebulous other.

The responsibility is ours. Still. And until the day comes that the last victim of AIDS is cured, we cannot ever lay down the burden or rest from the battle.

But today, when I think back on twenty-four years of World AIDS Day, I can't think of slogans or catchphrases.

All I see are faces. Hundreds--thousands of faces.

And I know them. All of them.

And so do you.

But today, I think, I'd like for you to meet someone else.  Meet the one who was left behind.  Until this country's willing to grant every American citizen the same civil rights, there will ALWAYS be someone left behind.  Today, I want you to look, to really look at them. The forgotten victims of AIDS.

The ones left behind.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks--It Ain't As Hard As You Think

Let's see--what am I thankful for this year?

I could go through the whole usual litany of "things Celina is grateful for in 2011" but I'm sure you'd be bored.  The list is short and...well, quite frankly, you guys don't read my blog to see what I'm being nice about.  You want to see what's pissing me off.  So let's head to the top of the list, shall we?

I hate divas.

Now, I realize that's strange coming from a girl who worked in theater AND in drag shows for a long time, but it's the God-honest truth.  You know all the awards show speeches that thank the "little people?"  Well, who are the "little people" in publishing?

The cover artist. The content editor. The line editor. The proofreader. The book designer. The marketing people. The bookkeeper. The review coordinator.  The list goes on and on and on.  A whole lot of people go into creating a book.  Sure--the writer is responsible for the lion's share of it; after all, they WROTE the book.  But the steps of the publication process mean that a lot of different people touch that manuscript before it becomes a BOOK and makes it to readers.  

There is a growing trend I've noticed lately, one that I find more than a little disturbing: authors who feel they have the right--and the power--to treat the crew that works on their book disrespectfully.  Authors who talk out of their asses, criticizing...say, a cover artist, for example, for creating a cover based on the author's OWN DESCRIPTION of the theme and plot instead of reading the book and pulling an image directly from the author's brain and regurgitating it onto the page. Last year, as a matter of fact, an editor who is a dear friend of mine was told by an author that he would SUE HER for copyright violations if she "dumbed down" his manuscript by correcting his very (very,very) horrific use of the English language.

At least I assume it was English. It might have been Tagalog for all I know.

In fact, earlier this year PM (pre-Musa) I retracted a contract offer to a writer who took it upon himself to correct the CONTRACT (one that I did not write and didn't have anything to do with) and then expressed concern over the level of editing he would receive if the contract was any indication of the company's standards.  But what made THAT encounter resonate even more strongly (and heads up!  herein lies the lesson) happened a couple of months later, when the same author submitted the same manuscript to the same editor at a different company. 

Guess who didn't get a contract offer from Musa?

And you know what?--it's a damn shame.  The book was well-written, funny, timely--and with a good, strong editor and the proper platform could have done very well.  But that book lingers with the author as far as I know, and probably will for some time.

You see, all those "little people?" They are working on multiple books from numerous authors at varying levels of proficiency.  That artist is making five or six more covers this week.  The content editor has her next two books already lined up.  The proofreader just got done working with the best-known author in the house, who treated her with kindness and respect.  And THAT'S why the best-seller is loved by the staff--because courtesy and professionalism go a long way to greasing the gears of the process. 

So my Thanksgiving post this year isn't about turkey or family or Pilgrims. My Thanksgiving post is about the actual giving of thanks to the people who work with you on your book.  Be courteous. Be professional. Speak to these publishing pros like equals. You don't automatically assume god status when you sign a publishing contract. 

Don't demand. Ask.

There are enough divas in the world as it is.  In the publishing industry, we don't really have divas.  Instead, we have asshats--and that's the last title you want dangling from your name.  Because usually right behind it, there's another tag that's even worse.


Monday, November 07, 2011

What To Write, What To Write...?

I just spent fifteen minutes looking for an appropriate quote for my blog today.  

Unfortunately, every quote I considered had something to do with not being able to write. Probably not the best thing to write about--not being able to write--and yet, a strangely familiar thing for me at the moment.  

I've never had any problems sitting down and putting words on paper.  Sometimes, those words even made sense. Frequently, those words formed themselves into sequential stories.  And in the end, no matter whether I have my writer's hat or my editor's hat on, the stories are what drive me in all aspects of my life. 

Which makes my life pretty damn cool.

Except that right now, I'm finding it difficult to make the time to write.  All those 20 hour, 20,000 word days are now 20 hour, 20,000 (slight exaggeration for literary effect) email days. My editing time has taken away my writing time, save for...well, now.  Three a.m.  The house is quiet, my inboxes are clean-ish.  I open up my WIP and...

I've lost the thread of the story.

So I have to take some time to read back through the last pages I wrote, so I can pick up the thru line.  Fortunately, that doesn't take long.  And then...and then...

It's seven in the morning and everyone's alarm clocks in the house start to go off.  

*So, Celina, what's the point?*

The point is that writing is not always some bolt of inspiration.  A Muse doesn't descend from the Olympian heights to inject 100,000 brilliant words in the correct order and then drops a wall to block the same writer from ever producing another coherent sentence. 

Writing is work--difficult, painstaking, solitary work.  The best way to cure writer's block?  Write your way out of it.  Instead of sitting there waiting for the heavenly choirs to hit a harmonized high "C" that hefts you over that block, make yourself write.  It doesn't matter what you write. You can write an extremely creative grocery list.  Just go to your writing place, sit in your writing chair, and WRITE. You may have to rearrange your mind from whatever it is you do when you're not writing--I certainly do--but once you've managed that, then write.


Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time...the wait is simply too long. -- Leonard Bernstein

Thank God for

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Journalist And Newspaper Gone Bad

The reporter that was bugging me for details about AMP? The one that Teddi Pig posted the contact details for? His article went up at the Aurora Sentinel newspaper. The title of his "article?"

Battle Among Local PORN Authors Heats Up on Facebook As Aurora Publisher Goes Mum.

Porn?  PORN?  What the HELL?  I don't write PORN.  I don't edit PORN.  In fact, during my tenure at AMP, I never saw a PORN book go through the pipes.  PORN and EROTICA are two entirely different genres, types of book, and markets. AMP didn't publish PORN.  AMP published science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance w/o sex, romance w/sex, erotica, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, action/adventure, paranormal romances.

And yet, this "journalist," Brandon Johanssen, didn't mention that in the title of his article.  Oh no--instead, he compounded the misery of AMP authors by calling them all PORN authors.  


Dude--are you really SO ignorant that you don't know the difference between erotica and PORN?  Are you really throwing it out there that I, who writes fantasy, science fiction, and horror am a PORN writer?  Really?

You know, I think that's called LIBEL.

Or, at the very least, yellow journalism.

What happened to journalistic ethics?  What happened to double checking your facts?  Heck--one of the authors quoted in the story, Charles Sanders, wrote a HORROR book that didn't get anywhere near a PORN.  Charles is probably not real happy to be called a PORN author.

I know I'm sure as hell not.

This is why I didn't talk to that cretin when he kept pestering me for information about AMP.  And despite the fact that in the ARTICLE, he states that not all AMP writers wrote PORN--it doesn't really matter.  The TITLE is what will remain online. So for the eternity that is Google-fu, when my publishing credits come up online, PORN author is what people will think.  No one will remember that I write vanilla spec fic, or that I edited books from all genres and build a no-sex-allowed tradtional Regency romance line.  All they'll remember is the PORN.

With complete unconcern for the victims of the AMP debacle, this "journalist" and the Aurora Sentinel newspaper discarded all the ethics of their profession and threw all AMP writers under the bus on top of the financial and emotional hardships they are already undergoing.  And while I'm really damn pissed at Sandra Hicks right now, the fact that she's been labeled a PORN publisher in her hometown is absolute bullshit.

But the Sentinel and Johanssen don't give a rats' ass about that.  As long as they sell papers, they are quite willing to trample to work and reputations of over a hundred authors and staff into the dirt. Right now, that PORN label is hovering over every single victim of Aspen Mountain Press.  And that "reporter?"  The one that lied to AMP authors and staff about wanting to get their stories out?  

He lied.

Let's look at my correspondence with him At first, he contacted me because of my blog and mentioned that an AMP author (who most assuredly does NOT write PORN) had contacted him about AMP.  In my return email, I confirmed that I did work at AMP (and yeah, that was a big DUH on my part since I'd been raging about it on my blog. Cut me some slack. Even I can pull a DUH.) and asked what he intended to write his story about.  He indicated he wanted to do a business story, and wanted details about why AMP fell, how much I personally was owed, how many books AMP published and WHAT KIND OF BOOKS AMP PUBLISHED.

I talked about the offer with the ladies of Musa, and we arrived at a decision together that what I'd said on my blog was enough to serve as Musa's statement about our dealings with AMP, both within the company and as a separate entity.  I informed Mr. Johanssen of this in a formal, if cordial, reply:

Dear Mr. Johansson,

After discussing your request with my colleagues and considering it very carefully, I'm afraid I don't really want to comment further on the Aspen Mountain Press situation.  My blog posts are already up and impacting the situation. I don't feel that participating in such an interview is the best choice for me at this time.
Celina Summers

His response? He wanted more background information for the story. At that time, I replied that I would be happy to reply to his questions via email, but not via a phone call.  I never heard from him again.

Now I know why.

The article came out the next DAY.

He didn't have any interest in the facts of the story.  The facts are pretty boring. What he wanted was the sensationalism of screaming PORN!!!! into the quiet little community of Aurora, pointing to a member of that community as the PORN Queen who stole from her writers.  

So thanks for nothing Aurora Sentinel.  Appreciate all the "help" Mr. Johanssen. My situation is SO much better now that I've been branded for my involvement with a company that produces PORN.  

Anyone who is outraged by this article--like pretty much every writer that's been born?--can leave a comment at the Aurora Sentinel story page (linked to above) or send an email to  As writers, we know the power of the written word. The truth pales next to it.  And this is just another example of how to exploit the writers who have already been exploited by their publisher.  

Yellow journalism should never be supported, particularly when a journalist and the organization he writes for are content to lie in order to sell more copies.  Perhaps the Aurora Sentinel and Mr. Johanssen will be surprised to realize that a simple writer of non-porn PORN has a greater understanding of journalistic ethics and scruples than they do. 

You see, when I was working toward my degree in Communications, my professors always pounded home the fact that a reporter had to be sure of the FACTS before he went live with a story.  I guess Brandon Johanssen slept through that part of the course.

But his editor?  His editor knew better.

For shame.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Breaking My Word About Aspen Mountain Press

Yeah, yeah--I really thought I was done.  There are a lot of things I could be blogging about, but this one is sticking in my craw.

Since all this mess started, Sandra Hicks has been maintaining a low profile.  The splash page on the AMP website reads:

The Aspen Mountain Press web site is temporarily suspending operations.Over the past five years we've demanded high standards in all areas of the company from authors to editors to administrators.  Due to the current health of the owner these standards have not been met.We'd like to thank you for your support and patronage over this past half decade and apologize for any inconveniences this decision causes.

Due to the current health of the owner...

Makes it sound really bad, doesn't it?  Like the situation is dire?

Well, then let's take a look at the owner, Sandra Hicks, and her personal Facebook page. Her personal Facebook page tells an entirely different story.  This Sandra Hicks doesn't seem to have many health problems.  According to her posts, she is shopping to finish decorating her son's bedroom, going to concerts, baking pumpkin pies and...quoting Bible verses. A lot of Bible verses.

And yet, this is the same woman who just a few weeks ago in an  open letter to her unpaid and rebelling authors and staff claimed, "I can only work about two hours a day."

Obviously, if one is shopping, decorating, baking and going to concerts that doesn't leave a lot of hours in the day.  And, curiously, while the AMP authors and staff remain unpaid, Ms. Hicks can miraculously afford to redecorate her son's room?

Amazing recovery on her part--both financial AND physical.

I've canvassed the AMP authors and staff over the past few days.  Despite a minuscule trickle of rights reversion letters 10-14 days ago, no one has been paid or received their rights back since then.  I know since I had the 'latest betrayal in a long line of betrayals' voice message (ironic since apparently me not getting paid the royalties she owes me is now some kind of betrayal of her?) I haven't heard a peep from Sandra Hicks or Aspen Mountain Press.

We are now into November. I have not received any pay from Aspen Mountain Press since June.  That means that on November 15th, we'll be at the FIFTH consecutive month without receiving pay.  And yet, Sandra Hicks apparently feels holy enough to purchase the makings of pumpkin pies, to pay for concert tickets, to redecorate her son's room--and all with the royalties that AMP authors and staff members didn't get paid for.

How easy it is to steal someone else's money and spend it on yourself. And so, despite numerous articles and blog posts about the thievery ongoing at Aspen Mountain Press, including from Writer Beware and sites of that nature, Sandra Hicks apparently feels well enough--and safe enough--to spend the money she has illegally withheld from the authors and editors who actually EARNED that money.


The time for excuses is past.  The time for spurious claims of ill health or some other incapacity to follow through with her sorely abused authors and staff and to rectify her mistakes is long past.  At any time in the past five months, Sandra Hicks could have made even a tiny effort to recompense the well over a hundred authors and staffers for the over four hundred books that were published by Aspen Mountain Press.

She has not.

Instead, while claiming poor health, she's engaged fully in her new AMP-free days: spreading the word of God, baking pies, redecorating her son's room and attending concerts, sharing the joys of her life and the bounties of God's grace with her new pals from church, none of whom appear to be aware that she is responsible for financial hardship across multiple continents and blithely unconcerned with the suffering she's left in her wake.  She's not responding to emails, or phone calls, or registered letters, or text messages.  Nothing.  Nada.

And yet I am the betrayer for spilling her dirty little secrets, despite the fact that I almost lost my house while she redecorated hers?


Allow me to make myself VERY clear.  If Aspen Mountain Press and its owner, Sandra Hicks, do NOT respond in a clear cut fashion and make an effort to make amends to the writers, editors and staff who've been stolen from, I will release every single piece of correspondence, every financial record I was provided or had access to, and every single word of the transcripts I have for the multiple staff meetings I attended/ran as the managing editor at Aspen Mountain Press on this blog, other blogs, and whatever sites want to have them.  I will provide those materials to each and every author at Aspen Mountain Press for their legal cases. I will give that information to the journalist in Aurora, CO who's been asking me for an interview and whom, up to this point, I have refused.

A brand new countdown clock has just started. I would have been happy to deliver this message to Ms. Hicks in person and privately, but she's not answering her mail OR her phone these days.  But I'd damn sure be willing to bet that she's watching her Google Alerts, or that her husband, Jeff Hicks, the owner of 1PlaceForRomance (Mr. Hicks was also involved in an unsavory situation last year when AllRomanceEbooks sued him for copyright infringement and the third party site cancelled AMP's ability to upload books to the ARE site, naming Sandra Hicks as a co-respondent in the lawsuit) is.  As a matter of fact, judging from the undeniable truth that the only time Ms. Hicks has contacted me since my departure from AMP had to do either with getting money from me (the Aurora Regency deal) or to accuse me of betraying her as the result of a blog post, this is probably the ONLY way to get the warning to her ears.

Close the doors permanently, Sandra.

Give the authors their rights back.

And then pay the people you owe the money you owe them instead of going on about your business like there's not a thing in the world wrong with what you're doing.

There is something very wrong with what you're doing.  You have become what you once preached against--you, the leader in the fight against the scam publishers that burned you and your rights back in the day.

No matter how many Bible quotes you regurgitate, you have become a scam publisher yourself--an electronic pirate garbed in the spoils you've earned from the labor of others.

Just get it over with.

There's not a person in the world stupid enough to believe that you're at death's door when you're spending your energy, time and OUR money redecorating your son's room.  Seriously.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Breaking News from Musa Publishing

Musa Publishing is proud to announce our acquisition of the entire collected works of American pulp fiction author and a pioneer in America speculative fiction--Homer Eon Flint. Best known for stories like The Emancipatrix, The Devolutionist, The Blind Spot (co-written with Austin Hall), The Lord of Death and The Queen of Life, Flint was an influential and popular writer who amazed readers with his flowing prose, his incredible vision, and his ability to create credible and vivid imagery that rolled out just like a film-which is good since he was doing film treatments as well.

At Musa, we believe that electronic publishing has value and uses other than just publishing. We believe that the archival ability of e-publishing allows us to better the literary world in general. These manuscripts have been stored away for almost a hundred years. Now they are going to see the light of day for the first time in some cases--and Homer Eon Flint's bibliography will increase accordingly.

The Homer Eon Flint collection will be published in its own Musa Gold line through our Polyhymnia short fiction/collections imprint. Dr. Matt Teel, the head editor at Urania, will be working with myself and Vella Munn on the collection, which Musa will publish bi-weekly throughout most of 2012.

Musa invites you to join in this gradual revelations of this amazing author who helped to lay the groundwork for our genre nearly a century ago--and let whose words read smoothly, whose voice is still fresh and original in the kind of world that he actually DID imagine with a great deal of prescience. Stay tuned to the Musa website and blogs for more information and release schedules for his books.

And congratulations. The entire world of Homer Eon Flint is about to be laid at your feet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why That Won't Work

To the individual who keeps spamming my blog with the same comment:

I, and everyone else involved is, well aware of what our options are for the AMP case.  I have already clearly stated in my blog posts, had you bothered to read them, that this was the case.  I do not need multiple postings of the SAME COMMENT to understand what my rights and options are, thank you very much. 

Probably a bit of a nasty surprise to find out my blog is moderated, yes?  But, since you seem intent on posting the SAME COMMENT even more, I'm terribly afraid I have marked you as spam. 

To the rest of the world:

We're going to try this one more time.  I WILL NOT DISCUSS legal issues on this blog.  I WILL NOT COMMENT FURTHER on AMP and the case around them. I WILL NOT PERMIT anyone to use this blog as the weapon for their own personal vendetta. 

I trust I have made myself clear?

We now return you to your regular NON-AMP status. Have a very nice day.

Updates 10/28/2011 --  To the commenter who doesn't want to take the advice above:

The owner of AMP is not MY Sandra Hicks, so quit acting like I'm trying to protect her. I'm going to try again and use very small words so you can understand this--

1. I am the one who blew this story wide open.

2. I already TOLD you politely that I won't discuss legal actions being taken on a public blog.  So let me be more blunt--it's none of your damn business what we are doing legally and we're not obligated to tell you or anyone else what those actions are.  Why is that?  BECAUSE WE DON"T WANT AMP TO KNOW, you moron.

3.  Chances are good that if I didn't publish your spamming comments on my blog last week, I wasn't going to publish the new one--you know, the one where you insulted me and acted like I was protecting this publisher?

4. If you keep broadcasting your legal intentions to AMP in public, then their attorneys will be prepared for you.

5. There are multiple uses of your energy that are more effective than trying to piss ME off.

Have a nice day. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Let's Talk About Writer Etiquette...

I'm not the nicest person in the world.  In fact, there are times that I'm one of the most foul-tempered people on the face of the earth.  But there's one thing I always am.


Never underestimate the Pavlovian tutorial that is growing up in the South.  I still say yes ma'am, no sir, thank you and please to anyone that might conceivably be my elder.  I hold doors open for people.  I moderate my language around people I don't know well. It's just ingrained in me. That courtesy is necessary for success in the publishing industry.

For example--last year one of my editors came to me with a problem author.  At first I couldn't understand what the problem was. Then I opened the manuscript.  If the writer disagreed with the editorial change or suggestion, he left snide, nasty, rude comments in the margins. I mean REALLY rude comments.  This author had a bachelor in the 1880s American West living in a 'pioneer' cabin with running water AND a sofa. So because it was that editor's first book with us, I took over the edits, letting the author know that his ability to go through the editing process like a mature adult was the thread upon which the publication of his book hung. 

Guess who didn't stay with us when we moved the imprint to Musa?

Writers should inherently understand the power of the written word.  After all, words are the tools we use daily.  And yet, every time I see an author behaving like an asshat online--bashing their agent or their publisher, whining about their edits, or worse--responding rudely to a legitimate review or critique--that author's name goes onto my mental "Do NOT Publish" list.  You know--I can't remember my phone number half the time--but I sure as heck remember the name of an asshat writer.

So think carefully before you hit 'send'.  Make absolutely certain that what you say can't come back and bite you.  The best response to a vicious review? None.  Tweet about your cat or your word count or your favorite football team, but don't be stupid enough to bash your publisher or editor or agent in public.  Take that energy and funnel it into something productive.  

My trick for that?  I create a character in my WIP that's mentally tagged as whoever has pissed me off.  Then, I kill them in the most cruel, vicious, disgusting fashion my fertile and evil little brain can cook up.  Then, when I see that asshat anywhere else online, I can just smile quietly and move on. "Thank you" and "Please" and "I appreciate it" will get you a heck of a lot further in any business.  Employ those words and the intentions behind them frequently.

Trust me when I say that--if you're on one publisher's DNP list, you're probably on quite a lot of them. It's never a good thing when the only thing between a writer and success is the writer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking My Silence on Aspen Mountain Press--Part 3: Epilogue

I had to take a few days off and NOT think about Aspen Mountain Press. After all, I have my own business to think about and my own writing career.  But now, at the conclusion of a hellish week, I've decided to follow the links to my blog all over the internet and see what people were saying and thinking about what's happened at AMP.  As a result of that trek, there are a few things I want to discuss.

There seems to be a common thread among the comments that the AMP authors and staff are sitting back doing nothing.  That's about as far away from the truth as you can get.  

Stop and think for a minute. Would it be prudent or wise to discuss LEGAL actions on the internet?  Of course not. Why would anyone exploring legal avenues discuss their plans online, where not only people who are not involved can see them but the party against whom such actions would be taken?  Several of the AMP authors are attorneys, and an attorney had seen my documentation before I ever said a word.

On top of that, the AMP authors have been anything but passive.  Unlike previous small press implosions, this group of authors banded together and worked out a concrete strategy for dealing with AMP.  (And no, I wasn't the one who did that. I and the other staffers who'd walked were keeping our noses out of it as much as possible, in the hopes that our departure would galvanize the owner into rectifying some of the more serious breaches of contract.)  They managed to get AMP books taken down from third party sites pretty much across the board.  A few sites still carry AMP products, and they are now the focus of that group of authors.  

Anyone who's not involved can proffer advice to contact the FBI, the DA, the IRS, etc etc.  That's not a problem. What IS a problem is the assumption that these authors were too stupid or too scared to do that.  Whatever is posted on these blogs by AMP authors and staff is just the merest surface of what's going on.  

In the end, though, there are lessons to be learned here--lessons for every writer out there.  First off, there is NO SUCH THING as a contract that can't be negotiated.  In our eagerness to sign on the dotted line and get our works published, there are sections of the contract we rarely pay attention to.  The first publishing contract I signed, I never even THOUGHT about taking a look at the breach of contract section.  I just never considered it likely that the company would fall apart. I never thought to make sure there was an out clause for me if the company disintegrated.  I was naive. Many new writers are. 

Second, as soon as communication starts to become a problem--and particularly with a sole proprietorship--you need to address that issue IMMEDIATELY.  That seems to be the number one symptom of imminent implosion.

Third, I believe all writers at small presses need to have the mysteries of royalties eradicated.  When we started Musa, one of the key points for us was developing a database for our authors to be able to track their sales in real time.  We want our authors to know exactly what they're getting paid and when.  As far as I'm concerned, there is no reason to keep writers ignorant of how they're going to be paid.  Not one. 

Fourth and finally, if the unthinkable happens follow the example of the AMP authors.  Band together with other authors in the company.  Determine a set strategy. Follow through on that strategy absolutely.  When a retail giant like Amazon pulls a company's books due to complaints from that company's authors, you know the strategy will work.

This blog is the absolute last word I have regarding Aspen Mountain Press, its owner Sandra Hicks, and the resultant actions. Ever. And while I am still really pissed off that matters have come to this, I am also grieved as well.  Sandra Hicks was my friend and mentor. The health problems she is experiencing are very real.  Does that excuse her actions in my eyes? No, it doesn't.  She's not been ignorant of my opinions regarding sending checks out without royalty statements or her lack of communication. There's a year's worth of correspondence to support this contention. 

There are still questions that I and the rest of AMP need answers for.  Are our royalties/salaries going to be paid?  When?  Is AMP reverting all rights to the authors and closing down?  If so, when?  Are we going to be provided an accounting for the royalties we received--or didn't receive--over the past 15-18 months?  If so, when?

My opinion is that only a certified CPA can untangle the AMP accounts enough to make that accounting to the authors.That's not what bothers me.  What bothers me the most is that while AMP authors weren't getting paid their royalties, that money was being used by the owner for things that it shouldn't have been.  

That, my friends, is the cold, hard, unpleasant truth.

This week, I was asked by a journalist in AMP's home town for an interview.  After much thought, I decided that these blog posts were going to be my final statement about Aspen Mountain Press. I discussed this with the remainder of the senior staff that walked with me from AMP, and as one of them put it: "I think that is hitting below the belt.  You were trying to protect authors and help them.  Writing about her in her home town is a witch hunt."

That's a sentiment I agree with entirely. 

Let's be frank here--we're not talking about a multi-million dollar company here.  We're talking about a small publisher who, quite frankly, got overwhelmed at a time when her inexperience cost her dearly.  Once in the trap, she kept digging herself deeper until she couldn't find her way out.  To be honest, her biggest mistake was getting into the publishing business at all.  She understood the publishing--not the business. What needs to happen now between AMP and its authors/staff can be boiled down to the following:

1) The immediate and unequivocal release of all books and contracts still held by the company.

2) The immediate audit of the AMP books by an accountant who is not involved with the situation.

3) The immediate accounting of all royalties due to each author.

4) The remuneration of any and all unpaid royalties and salary to each unpaid author and staffer.

That's it. Period.  Once that happens, everyone--including the owner--can move on to a new chapter in their lives.  And then, AMP can be held up as another cautionary tale on the gate of the bone yard where small presses go to die. 

And THAT, my friends, is all she wrote.

No more Aspen Mountain Press.  Godspeed.

ETA--Or maybe not.  Today, my attention was brought to the owner's Facebook page--a page that's nothing but Bible quotes and updates about things like going to a concert.  So the owner is too ill to right the ship and two hours of work saps her energy, but she is still well enough to post on Facebook and attend concerts?

On top of that, an AMP author (book lost in limbo) contacted me today claiming AMP had written to HIM. asking him if he wanted his rights back OR if he wanted to publish with AMP.  Due to this new turn of events, I have to reluctantly conclude that AMP's owner has no intention of closing and will reopen the AMP website for business before the sixty day window stipulated in the contract has passed.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interesting Developments

This morning, I woke up to a threatening message left as a comment on my blog.

Now granted, there are several people I can think of right off the top of my head who might feel compelled to leave such a comment on my  blog. Obviously, considering the nature of my past few posts I would have been an idiot not to change my comments over to moderation. I tend to NOT be an idiot--at least, not all the time--so I was fortunate enough to weed that comment out in the skimmer.

*shrug*  I'm really only an idiot about silly things, like forgetting to turn the heat on last night when I knew the temperature was going to get down to the low forties. (in other words, it's damn cold in here this morning). But one thing I'm most definitely NOT an idiot about is how people behave.  Years of bartending kind of wean you off the surprise thing.  But even then, strange reactions are kind of acceptable in a way.  Someone can have a few too many and shoot off at the mouth without really meaning to and BAM!  Bar brawl.

This is different.

I have to ask myself--who wants me to keep silent? Who thinks they can scare me into shutting up?  The list of suspects is fairly small; pretty much limited to the posts on my front page.  I figure it's someone who either wants me to keep quiet about Aspen Mountain Press, someone who didn't appreciate me outing self-plagiarism, or someone who has a strong reason to want to scare me from a personal situation. And since I'm reasonably certain that the only person who is involved in the latter can neither read nor spell, I have to look at the other two.

Let me make myself perfectly clear: I don't respond to threats. I don't really give a crap about anything a coward hiding behind an Anonymous handle might think about me, about my decisions, or about my right to speak out. I really, really don't.

That being said--

There's been some movement on the Aspen Mountain Press debacle.  Authors are starting to get rights reversion letters, which is great.  The website is down, with the following message:

The Aspen Mountain Press web site is temporarily suspending operations.
Over the past five years we've demanded high standards in all areas of the company from authors to editors to administrators.  Due to the current health of the owner these standards have not been met. 
We'd like to thank you for your support and patronage over this past half decade and apologize for any inconveniences this decision causes.

Also, checks of third party sites reveal that there are very few AMP books to be found for sale.  Even Amazon, apparently, has taken many AMP books down.  

All of this is good news.  When the AMP website was pulled, a new countdown clock started up.  Contractually, (Section XIX) if AMP suspends operations for sixty days, all rights revert to the authors immediately.  So this is great news, particularly when paired with the authors who had their own countdowns started over thirty days ago with notification of breach of contract.  Those countdown clocks are 90 day clocks. So right now, the authors who have not received rights reversion letters are keeping a weather eye on the AMP site.

However, I've not heard of any authors or staff getting paid.  Indications are that AMP is getting rights reversion letters out first and then turning to the salaries and royalties still owed. For the time being, therefore, while there is progress many AMP authors are not satisfied.  Latest word from Ms. Hicks, the owner, has reverted once more on the subject of having enough money to pay AMP authors and staff and now says she has the money for back wages and royalty payments.  

So hopefully, the small signs of progress are indicative of real progress and not just good intentions.

I have hopes that AMP and Ms. Hicks are going to do the right thing.  As I've said before, I've known Sandra for years, and she has been a friend and mentor to me. I don't believe she ever set out to deliberately harm her authors, staff or company; I think she was just overwhelmed But in the eyes of the law, and the people who are suffering as the result of this debacle, intent counts for little when set against the reality of the AMP staff and authors' very real and legitimate complaints. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Just When You Think You've Seen It All...

...some doofus comes along and convinces you otherwise.

After a couple of VERY hectic weeks dealing with Musa's launch and subsequent releases, all the AMP horrors, working on my own manuscripts and getting ready for World Fantasy Convention in San Diego next week, my sense of humor has pretty much evaporated.  Add in the fact that I turned forty-five a couple of days ago (quel horreur!), that Aurora the Regency line turned one, Aurora the toddler turns two tomorrow and my husband's birthday is Friday and it's no wonder that the only thing I laughed at today was a very unworthy thought that flitted around my mind about someone who wasn't there to defend themselves.  (Never fear--I jotted down the notes so I can incorporate that thought into a Jack the Ripper story coming soon near you!) 

At any rate, when I'm in a non-humorous mood I usually end up reading submissions.  Somehow, I've convinced my subconscious that I am less likely to contract a mediocre book when I'm foul-tempered.  Fortunately, that philosophy has been working out fairly well so far.  

As I was going through requested fulls, I came across a story that struck a chord with me. I was actually pretty excited by it.  So I put the story on the to be contracted list and moved on to the next.

But the story wouldn't get out of my head.  Normally, this is a GREAT thing.  When a story keeps pestering me while I read other submissions usually means I've landed on something really great.  But that's not really why I was obsessing on this story.

No--I had the feeling I'd read that story before. 

I use Firefox Thunderbird to coordinate all my various email accounts.  So I ran a search on the book title and came up with nothing unusual.  That should have been the end of the matter, but it wasn't.  I pored over the correspondence the author and I'd had and couldn't find anything to explain that niggling little feeling at the back of my mind that had been pestering me all night.  I pulled the story back up and read it again.  Yep. I had read that story somewhere before.  I double-checked the query letter to make sure that wasn't a rights reverted book.  No indication of that.  I was about to give up when something made me run a search on the author's email address.

And I hit pay dirt.

I had read that story before! In fact, I'd read it at Aspen Mountain Press a few months ago.  But--strangely enough, the story had had a different title. Different character names.  The author's name was slightly different.  Now I was even more curious.  The story was good; not outstanding, but a nice, easy edit and could be turned over quickly.  So why were all those alarm bells sounding in my head?  Just to set my mind at rest, I googled the original title and author name.

Everything became clear.

The book was already published--had just BEEN published, in fact, by another company.  I went to the sales page for the book and pulled up the excerpt.  Then I entered the first five or six words of the excerpt into the *Find* box of the manuscript and--lo and behold!--the excerpt on the sales page began in the second paragraph of page five in the manuscript in my hand.

The author was a self-plagiarist.  By changing the names and the title of the book, he was trying to sell rights to a manuscript that he no longer had to sell.  On top of that, the original manuscript had been contracted by AMP.  So two publishers already owned the publication rights the authors was trying to sell to me!

I wasn't the acquisitions editor who'd read the original manuscript; I'd found the manuscript in the AMP email accounts when I took over and skimmed through the story then.  

Now, let me be frank: the author is a good writer.  The story was well-told. But just changing character names or titles does NOT make a manuscript new intellectual property.  Save for the name changes, the two manuscripts were word for word identical. 

I'd heard of self-plagiarism. I'm guilty of snatching scenes from trunked novels fifteen years ago and making them work in some new story.  But I never would have thought of retitling The Reckoning of Asphodel or Bride of Death and submitting them to a different publisher while they were still under contract.  After all, I would get busted. No one kills an Elf like me. But also, I think a bit more logically.  Why take the risk? Why publish a competing version of a book already on the market?  Why not...write something new?

There just wasn't a way to give this writer the benefit of the doubt.  One doesn't mistakenly change the names and title and submit an already and recently published book to a new company--one where the chances of discovery were slimmer.  But in the end, how could the writer ever have guessed that the editorial director at this new house had actually read the manuscript before? 

These days with the caching capabilities of computers and internet search engines, you'd have to be really...well, stupid to think that no one would catch on.  It's not like this book was near the end of the contract either--the other publisher had released the story under its original name in June of this year.  And yet three months later, the same story was submitted to Musa?  

No, I don't think this was any kind of accident. As much as I'd like to find a way for this to be accidental, I just can't.  And now there's a writer--a darn good writer too--whose work I will never be able to trust as original.  

In the end, that's just another lesson I needed to learn. I informed the author's publisher of what had happened, forwarding the manuscripts I'd been sent and filed the correspondence away in what my husband not-so-jokingly calls my jackass folder.  And man, oh man am I grateful that I listened to that niggling little voice in my head. 

Shame that little voice was silent all through my twenties.  I'd be a lot richer today if I'd listened then.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Breaking The Silence on Aspen Mountain Press Part Two

Today's post will be much shorter.  The past couple of days have been very wearing on me. And I do have a business to run instead of forever worrying about what's going on with Aspen Mountain Press.

Here are Aspen Mountain Press's and owner Sandra Hicks's responses today.

1) Today the Aspen Mountain Press website went back online.  None of the out of contract books were taken down.  The site has not been updated.  AMP authors believe that after being served with a DMCA notice and having the site taken down, AMP has just moved to a new host.  

2) After her post of yesterday morning (that you can see here on my blog) where she assured the authors that she had the money to pay the authors, today she told an author that she actually has NO money to pay the authors and that she isn't worried about criminal charges because she hasn't done anything wrong.

3) One author received a rights reversion in the mail today, but when the site went back up all of her books were still on it and still offered for sale.

Okay, let's just be blunt here.  I'm not sure what happened to Ms. Hicks to such a degree that yesterday, she claimed there was money for all the authors but today, she claims there is none.  Unless I get a sizable check in the mail in the next couple of days for the salary and royalties I'm owed, I'm going to assume the funds that AMP should be holding for its authors in a standard royalties arrangement, money that does NOT belong to AMP but belongs to its writers and editors who are owed money, has been used for purposes other than what they are intended to be used for. 

This is October.  Third party sites usually pay 45-60 days after the end of the quarter for those quarterly sales.  So AMP was paid in May for the first quarter; August for the second quarter; and should be paid in November for the third quarter.   AMP authors and staff should receive royalties 45 days after the end of the month that is the pay period.  So July should have been paid in September, August in October and so forth. So at this moment, in addition to all the AMP website payments--also paid 45 days after the end of the pay period--AMP authors are unpaid for one quarter and soon to be TWO quarters of third party sites, THREE months of AMP web sales and Amazon sales, PLUS any unpaid royalties from previous pay periods.

Where exactly DID those thousands of dollars of sales go?  The last quarter I did editor royalties for before we took over, a royalties quarter missing over a hundred already-released titles on third party sites, the sum of AMP royalties for the quarter were substantial. The months of June and July, the senior staff put all those books up for sale on the third party sites (hours they never got paid for) and AMP posted an average sales increase for that month in the double digits. Significant double digits.  I can put together a fairly accurate estimate of royalties for both those quarters and probably low ball it in the process.  If I were really ambitious, and I may be, I could just go through the AMP sales records in my possession from my tenure as managing editor this summer and figure out EXACTLY how much AMP got paid. 

I think there needs to be an accounting for those funds IMMEDIATELY.  We are NOT talking about small change here. We are talking about six months of sales on third party sites, three months of sales on Amazon and the AMP website and for the first of those two quarters I have the figures sitting right in front of me. So, let me reiterate: I KNOW HOW MUCH ASPEN MOUNTAIN PRESS WAS PAID FOR THE SECOND QUARTER OF 2011.  I can hazard a VERY good educated guess about what AMP was/will be paid for the THIRD quarter of 2011. Actually, I know how much Aspen Mountain Press was paid for all of 2010 and half of 2009 too. 

And if the owner of AMP does NOT have the money--then where is it?

We may never know. 

Regardless of what happened with the money issues, these facts are patently clear:

1) AMP authors have still NOT been paid the royalties due them.
2) AMP staff members have NOT been paid the royalties due them.
3) The AMP website miraculously returned to the Internet today, which couldn't have happened if the owner  was incapacitated.
4) When the site went back up, AMP still had the out of contract books still offered for sale.
5) Even authors who received letters of rights reversion in the mail today are STILL seeing their books offered for sale on the AMP website.

AMP authors need to know and follow through on this one major, unavoidable fact: Aspen Mountain Press is CONTRACTUALLY REQUIRED to present each author a royalty statement for each month's check with the reasonable measures of available technology.  Even if you did not make any sales, Aspen Mountain Press is CONTRACTUALLY REQUIRED to send you a royalty statement for that month. The contract clause regarding this reads as follows: 

XIII. Payments and Statements
Publisher shall pay Author royalties in accordance with a schedule to be determined at Publisher’s discretion but in no event shall payment be made later than forty-five (45) days from the end of the month royalties are collected.  Royalties will be calculated from the first of the month through the last day of the same month.  Payment shall be made by Paypal, or corporate check, to Author or Author’s authorized agent.
Author understands that royalties will be paid in the following month copies of the Work are paid for by consumers, distributors or vendors, not to exceed forty-five (45) days after the end of the payment period.  If distributors or vendors delay payment to Publisher, Publisher is not obligated to pay the royalty until it has been paid by the distributor or vendor.
Publisher agrees to take such reasonable measures as Publisher’s sales technology permits to obtain and include, in royalty statements, information about the number of copies created, shipped, sold, and if appropriate, returned for each Digital / Print Format edition of the Work whether sold from Publisher’s website or through other channels of distribution.

Let me tell you what reasonable measures you have to take to show the sales for a specific work in a given month.  I'll work with one of my books. You go to the spreadsheet, you select the row of the book, you copy and then you--:

   Metamorphosis *editor name* 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0.00 0.00

--paste the numbers into another document.

I timed myself; that took two seconds,

The 'reasonable measure' you need to take, the 'reasonable measure' of technology you need is the following: a spreadsheet, provided by the vendors; a new document or email to paste into; and a computer.

If you want to get REALLY fancy, you paste a line up top that has the column names in it.  Here, let me show you:

Title Editor Amazon-May Sales FW-1stqtr Sales Bookstrand 1 qtr Sales ARE 1st qtr Sales 1PR 1st qtr Sales AMP-May Sales New Release Other CK AMT      
Metamorphosis *editor name* 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0 $0.00 0.00 0.00       

(On a wider screen it lines up better. But this is still not incomprehensible.)

For editor royalties, all you have to do is copy and paste ALL the books/lines under that editor's name--a task I made much simpler and easier by putting BIG RED LINES in between each editor on the spreadsheet.  You don't even have to use a calculator, because I set up the spreadsheet with the formulas needed so the program did the math for you.

 But even without the royalty statements, AMP is in breach of contract for NON PAYMENT OF ROYALTIES for over TWO months at midnight.  Three months is...ninety days, give or take.  AMP will hit that ninety day mark with almost every author and staff member on November 15.

AMP  has resurrected its website and kept for one purpose and one purpose only: to continue to sell books as long as possible. The owner believes that the 90 day clause to address breaches of contract is protecting her--that NONE of these complaints are really problems because she has that ninety day clause.  That is NOT how it works.  The 90 days clause is there to protect the owner against ACCIDENTAL breaches of contract, not flagrant violations of every contract in the company.  And, it seems like she will go on intentionally refusing to release authors who have not been paid in well over 90 days. Here, too, is where the certified and registered letters piling up in her mailbox comes into play.  She seems to think that if she personally does not sign for a certified or registered letter, then the 90 period outlined in the contract for breaches has not been triggered.

She appears to be unaware that the countdown on the 90-day clock started the moment an employee of Mailboxes, who is an agent for her, signed for those pieces of mail.

AMP has used up what good faith it once had.  There is no reason for anyone to believe that AMP intends to pay its authors or staff.  Whether these concerns are intentional on the owner's part or the result of some external factors that prevent her from understanding the potentially devastating consequences to her if she continues to play ducks and drakes with money that is not rightfully hers I cannot and do not know.  

But I do know this: today, AMP took a major step backwards. AMP is  now no longer a publisher. Now Aspen Mountain Press is nothing more than an electronic pirate, capitalizing off the stranded and breached contracts of authors the company is refusing to let go.

For me, in the end, this isn't about the money. I honestly believe that many AMP authors would be willing to forgive their back royalties in exchange for the rights to their books. For me, this is about the books and the authors who are trapped by this publisher.  Whether the owner's intentions are good and she just can't face up to the amount of work that's needed to rectify the problems at AMP or whether she is intentionally withholding funds and causing hardship for her authors and staff is no longer the question.

The question is: how can  these authors and their intellectual property be freed from a non-functional publisher?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Breaking My Silence on Aspen Mountain Press

Originally, I'd planned to write a completely different blog post from the one I am now putting out there.  I was going to trace the history I have with Aspen Mountain Press and the disintegration of the business, ending with how and why the senior staff all walked out at the end of July.  But after a very disturbing post by AMP's owner, Sandra Hicks, on the AMP Authors yahoo loop this morning—a loop I and other authors to whom AMP owes a lot of money were banned from because we were too outspoken—I think it's better to just cut to the chase and then to go through some of her responses.  I believe it's essential that what is happening at AMP is brought fully into perspective.   And, since I have kept every email correspondence, every royalties report from AMP and third party sites, and chat transcripts of every staff meeting with Ms. Hicks this summer, I'm in a unique position.

I'm one of the few people in the world who knows exactly what happened to AMP and has the documentation to prove it.

The disaster at AMP was a drawn-out affair, one that several people tried to address.  At this time last year, Lori Basiewicz was the managing editor of AMP and I was the head editor and solely in charge of the Aurora Regency imprints—a line I'd built and worked on myself.

My first indication that anything was wrong came when one of my authors at Aurora Regency—a writer who was in my writing group, who was a dear friend, who was someone whose integrity I trusted absolutely—wrote to me in concern because she hadn't received her royalties.  Lori and I struggled to find out what was going on, pleading with Ms. Hicks to address the problems with royalties that were starting to build up with our authors. None of the authors received regular royalty statements after August of 2010, so there was no way to determine if they sold any books or if there was an oversight.  This was resulting in an atmosphere of serious distrust—an atmosphere Lori and I bore the brunt of because Ms. Hicks wasn't answering any emails.  Eventually, last March, Lori couldn't take the lack of communication anymore.  She resigned, and I was the only visible face for the management of AMP.

To be perfectly fair and up front, Ms. Hicks WAS dealing with several physical ailments that rendered her unable to maintain the day to day activities of a publishing house. That is not in question and never has been. 

I'd been scheduled for serious surgery, one with a recovery time that was long enough that I knew I needed to make arrangements for the operation of Aurora Regency in my absence.  So, I emailed the owner, Sandra Hicks, and held off scheduling my surgery until we had agreed upon how Aurora Regency would be handed in my absence.  When over a week had passed with no response from Ms. Hicks, I got angry and sent an email to her, forwarding the message to the entire senior staff.  Here's part of it, from June 19, 2011:

Because of your inattention, you have lost staff, authors and books. And the flood is not only continuing, but growing rapidly. As a result, my income is going to drop substantially. I've lost three authors and their books in two months--*author names removed*. All three of them have devout followings and readerships. AMP can't afford the loss of any authors or books, particularly since Aurora is now responsible for roughly half of AMP's releases which was not the intended purpose of the line. I wasn't supposed to have to carry the release schedule.

As a result, here's what I expect to happen during my three months' absence, which is now effective immediately. I expect my royalties paid on time every month, both as a writer and a editor. I expect statements with those royalties so I know what I'm being paid for. I expect the Aurora releases to come out on time and in good shape, for my authors to get copies of their books upon release and for THEM to get their royalties on time and with royalty statements. If, for any reason, these conditions are not met, my leave of absence will become permanent. I will not return to a big old mess. 

I've come to the conclusion that the only way you're going to bestir yourself enough to care about AMP and its writers, editors and staff is to return to the days when you have to do it all yourself. And the fact you didn't even respond to an email as important as the first one I sent is insulting.

I demanded these things because they hadn't been happening at AMP for some time.  That email got the rest of the senior staff involved—involved to the point that Kelly Shorten, our art director, telephoned Ms. Hicks who was in a panic.  The result of that conversation was that Ms. Hicks would immediately turn over running of the company to the senior staff, that a qualified bookkeeper would be brought in to straighten out the mess of AMP royalties, and that we would have the power to do whatever it took to bring the company back. We also made a pact among ourselves, the four of us: if, for any reason, we found something that would make us consider quitting, we would all quit.  We would not enable Ms. Hicks any further. We were staying for the authors, to make sure they were paid what they were supposed to be paid on books that went out well-edited and packaged, on the scheduled release date and uploaded to third party sites. I personally would get as much done editorially as possible and stabilize the company, so that I could have my surgery and be reassured that the company wouldn't go under due to no management in my absence.

What we discovered when we took over was a nightmare: 

Hundreds of emails in all the AMP accounts, gone unanswered and unopened from authors and staff.  The customer service email account alone had over 500 unanswered emails over the previous eight months.  That took two people working eight hours to resolve—and in the process, we discovered a frighteningly large number of AMP books that had serious formatting problems for a long time.

Authors who were contracted and never heard back from the company, leaving their books unpublished and their rights tied up.  I found books from two years previously that were still stranded by AMP, the authors begging to just get a response from somebody…anybody.

The royalties were such a mess that the bookkeeper, Kerry Mand, elected to concentrate on just getting that month's royalties out and working on some of the most pressing cases before working backwards through the books and auditing a year's worth of royalty spreadsheets and reports--a course of action I agreed with.  We discovered that in previous months, only portions of the royalties had been paid at any given time.

Two weeks from the time that we took over, the only releases scheduled at AMP were Aurora Regency books—books that I was personally handling and scheduling.  Nothing else.  The last scheduled AMP book for release was on July 18.  The rest was all Aurora Regencies and one Christmas title at AMP, scheduled by Lori before she left.

The submissions account had not been opened since Lori had resigned three months prior.  I went through all those submissions and answered every single one since March of 2011, even connecting with authors who'd been contracted before Lori was the managing editor and forgotten.  I got all those lost books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

Yep. Everything was an absolute nightmare. We worked seven days a week, up to twenty hours a day. And we made positive changes to AMP.  We got over a year's worth of books uploaded to the third party sites.  We updated and improved the website.  We planned and scheduled a new imprint for only speculative fiction.  We created new emails for author concerns and staff concerns, keeping those emails out of the submissions account.  We developed a policy between the four of us that NO email at AMP would remain unanswered for longer than six hours.  We released a chunk of authors who'd been trying to get their rights back in the previous months.  The owner initially balked at that but I pointed out that unhappy authors would be detrimental to what we trying to build and eventually, reluctantly, she agreed. I got all the contracted books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

We scheduled AMP through the end of the year, with multiple releases each week—and many of those books were the ones that had dropped through the cracks.

After a couple of weeks, things were starting to look up. The authors were happy again, beginning to believe in AMP once more.  And in that first month of our leadership at AMP, we posted a huge increase in sales.

But as Kerry got further into the royalties at AMP, the more concerned we all became.  The art director and bookkeeper asked for—and were empowered to use—the AMP Paypal  and bank accounts. All four of us were working with those accounts and past royalty spreadsheets so we could try to match payments to sales. In other words, to make sure all the authors were paid for every single book sale.

Kerry had managed to get the royalties done ahead of schedule, and sent the royalties to Ms. Hicks to pay.  On July 15th, we were all so relieved.  The royalties were done and the authors would be paid on time.  But by the 18th, we started to get a lot of emails: the publisher didn't pay the darn royalties!  AMP paid only a few authors and then stopped.  So I emailed the owner. No answer. I called her. No answer.  I texted her. 

Finally, she responded.  When I asked her why the royalties hadn't been paid, she said that to her knowledge, they all had been.  We were online IN the bank account and Paypal, trying to match authors (and pen names) to amounts to see who'd went unpaid. And as I asked her about a specific author, we watched the payment go out from that account. Then she texted me back each time and said that I was mistaken, that author had been paid.

Up until that moment, I believed that all the problems at AMP were unintentional, and that there wasn't a chance of dishonesty on the part of the owner.  But that, when considered along with everything else, made me suspicious for the first time.  After that, we couldn't believe Ms. Hicks when she told us she'd paid for something. So we began to monitor the bank account.  It was essential that we knew what the financial situation of the company was before we did or said anything to the authors about their royalties.  We'd taken over and were so proud of the fact that the royalties were done—and correctly—and then the payments weren't made, which made us look like we were incompetent.  It was then that we starting noticing some peculiar activities in the AMP bank account.

The owner was using the business's bank account for personal expenses. 

Kerry worked backwards through the bank accounts and spreadsheets, arriving at the amount of back royalties an author was owed, the owner would go behind our backs and tell the author that WE were wrong and the author had already been paid most of that amount.

In the meantime, we were seeing these personal expenses—for food, souvenirs, car payments, doctors visits—coming out of the AMP account.  We decided to confront the owner about this in our weekly Skype conference—a system I preferred to use because we could keep transcripts.  When we pleaded with the owner to separate her personal expenses from the company's, to set up a monthly draw account that would be a percentage of profits—so that we wouldn't have the appearance of impropriety—she refused.  She also implied that we had used her Paypal account without her knowledge to pay a long overdue bill for advertising—when we'd mentioned multiple times during that conversation that we were doing so AT THE TIME. REAL time.

We were all so angry at that time that Dominique suggested we stop the meeting, take a deep breath, think things through and meet again the following day when everyone was calmer. 

Unfortunately, even though we tried, the owner would not budge.  She apologized for what happened the day before, assuring us that she didn't mean to question our use of the Paypal account to pay an advertising bill as dishonest or inappropriate.  But she wouldn't budge off the personal expenses. She said the income of AMP was too irregular to establish a draw account for a percentage of the income. 

At that point, I made an offer to buy AMP. She replied that she wouldn't sell for less than a quarter of a million dollars.  I tried to purchase the two imprints I'd built—the Aurora Regency line that was nearly a year old and the Aura speculative fiction line that was scheduled to launch in October.  She refused.  So there was nothing left to do but announce our resignation from AMP to the authors, turn over everything we'd done to AMP, and leave.

As a result of all this, we decided to open our own publishing house, Musa Publishing, where we would address all the issues we had with AMP in advance. Ms. Hicks had assured us she was going to close AMP because we had left, so we wanted to create a haven for AMP authors—a house where their books could be reissued as soon as possible.

Once we'd left and were building Musa as fast as we could, Ms. Hicks contacted me again to offer me the chance to buy the Aurora Regency imprint and AMP.  We agreed on Aurora and she dropped the price for AMP down to a more realistic but still high number.  The four of us discussed the amount and refused the offer.  We had put our financial resources into Musa and couldn't afford to take on AMP with all the lingering problems there.  She then offered to sell us individual contracts/books.  So we considered it, added up the amount of back pay and royalties AMP owed us, and offered an exchange: we would forgive our entire back salary and all my future earnings as an editor who'd done 75% of the books released by AMP the previous year in exchange for approximately 65 book contracts.  Our plan was to immediately release those authors from their contracts.  We would offer contracts to Musa to each author—an offer they were not obligated to take.  The four of us thought it was worth forgiving the money owed to us in order to free as many authors/books as we could.

But as soon as Ms. Hicks  received our check for the Aurora Regency imprint, she abruptly decided against the deal we'd been working for the individual contracts—a deal that was HER initial plan. She cashed our check for AR immediately, and then proceeded to breach the remainder of the contract.  The website was not turned over by the agreed-upon date. The books were not removed from the third party sites; we ended up doing that ourselves.  Aside from the communications with us, which she terminated as soon as she got some money, she made very few attempts to communicate with the authors in her company.

Until today.

Today, Ms. Hicks finally answered a post on the AMP Authors loop from a stranded AMP author—an author I contracted as managing editor, an author who has no editor, no cover art, no publication, and has had no answers.  His post--minus his name—and Ms. Hicks' replies are below. My comments are in between each section.


 Author) Do you intend returning answering queries, letters etc? What is the time
span involved so we know when to expect an answer from you?

 Ms. Hicks) In all fairness, I can't tell you what sort of time frame to expect an answer
in, except to say that I am working on them. It takes time to respond to
THREATS such as the one Wells made and take care of other business matters AND
attend to my health needs and the work that must be done in raising my son
The *threat* Ms. Hicks is referring to occurred when the author in question, Charles Wells, served a DMCA notice to the domain host and the AMP website was taken down temporarily.  The website that, by the way, AMP has not paid the designer for. AMP authors have served similar notices to AMP's third party distributors.  AMP books are coming or have come down at many online retailers, particularly the large number of out-of-contract books that up until now, AMP has not removed from their home website or third party retailers despite numerous attempts by the affected authors.

 Author) Do you intend returning rights to authors who have asked for them? 
Ms. Hicks) Not in all cases. All who've asked will be getting a personalized letter from
me through the mail system explaining what I am deciding and why.

A personalized letter through the mail system would have to go through her post office box, where scores of unaccepted registered letters and snail mailed demands to take out of contract books off the AMP sites or notices of breach of contracts have been accumulating dust and not been answered. That address is a Mailboxes storefront a few blocks, I understand, from the owner's home. 

Author) If YES,when can we expect to have the documentation? 
 Ms. Hicks) When I get to the requests, I am writing a letter and mailing it to the authors.

Author)  If NO, can you please use this Loop to advise who yes and who not? If NO, can
you please explain why you intend holding on to authors that have lost faith in
 Ms. Hicks) Losing faith in a company does not void a contract. Any business matters are
between the author and AMP. If the author wishes to make those matters public,
they will. I won't violate their privacy in that way. It is their own
Additionally, I'd like to tell the members here that this is not a business
MEETING loop. I've posted a few announcements in the past, and participated in
some general chat, but I don't use this for meeting purposes.

"Losing faith in a company does not void a contract."  And yet, let's take a look at the breaches of contract all AMP authors are experiencing.  Unpaid royalties. No royalty statements. No books published in nine weeks and only two since the end of July—and they were late. A website that is out of date (and not paid for). No web presence, since one needs to actually participate in conversations to be considered a presence.  No response to emails, snail mailed letters or registered letters.  Out of contract books still being sold at AMP and on third party sites while the authors don't get paid for them.  No editors. No art staff. No signature pages signed by the publisher for contracts. 

Those things DO void a contract.

And after months of not responding to communications by email, text, phone call, or certified letter, why wouldn't the authors bring up issues regarding the publisher at a Yahoo loop designed by the company to discuss issues within the publisher? 

Author) Do you intend paying royalties AND supplying sales statements in toto as per the contract? When can those owed money expect to be paid? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes, I will be paying royalties and statements, but as of the moment they are on
the back burner
as I deal with all the other threats to the company, and the
requests to relinquish contracts.
*bolding mine*

Wait a second—paying royalties that will be three months past due on October 15th is on the back burner because of threats to the company and all the reversion of rights letters?  So what Ms. Hicks is saying here is that as long as the AMP authors are in active rebellion against her, she will continue to NOT pay royalties. Paying authors and staff the money due them should be the TOP PRIORITY here, regardless of whether the author/staff member is speaking publicly about what happened as AMP.  She's holding authors' money hostage, the same way she's holding their books hostage, until they shut up and sit down.

That's my take on the situation, at least. I could be wrong. If someone can put a different interpretation on this for me, please do.

Author) Do you intend removing out of contract books from the AMP web site and
within what time frame? Bear in mind many third party sites have already done so
on request from authors who have provided documentary evidence of the end of
 Ms. Hicks) Yes, but again, I can't provide an exact time frame. Interestingly enough, some
of the authors who have sort of provided evidence have also negatively affected
authors that wish to remain with AMP. Any of the threats that are coming from
in force contracts can cause issues for the authors. This especially is true in
light of the clause to redress breaches. A scanned copy of the clause with the
authors signature eliminates the DRM violation claims.

What authors wish to remain published by a company that doesn't pay them royalties? I'd like about a hundred of those--with bestselling books of course--to submit to me.  

Smart comments and pipe dreams aside, the clause in the AMP contract to redress breaches reads as follows:

A). Breach of Contract
If either party breaches this Agreement, the non-breaching party shall provide written notice by certified mail to the breaching party of the alleged breach.

Upon receipt of such notice, the breaching party shall have ninety (90) days to cure.  At the expiration of such ninety (90) day period, upon failure to cure, this Agreement shall terminate, except as otherwise provided herein or otherwise agreed in writing by both parties hereto.

 Author) Do you intend continuing business with AMP? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes. I put a lot of love and time into AMP. Am I ill? Yes. Is AMP ill, yes.
This situation has certainly given me a load of things to consider. What if I'd
had a heart attack or ended up in a coma? I have to develop a system to provide
back up for such scenarios.

She used to have a staff to provide back up for such scenarios—a staff that resigned en masse when she refused to remove her personal expenses from the company's. And now, it's going to be very hard to find a new staff when the old staff is owed thousands of dollars in back and future pay.  Why would anyone think that AMP would pay a new staff when they don't pay the old one or the authors? And, to be honest, the other staff members and myself were the ones carrying the load of AMP for a year before our resignation.  Lori Basiewicz, the managing editor before me, and I were carrying on without guidance or even assistance from Ms. Hicks for months. We weren't doing that for her, but for the authors who were relying on AMP's integrity with their intellectual property and income.

Also, let's be perfectly frank here.  Ms. Hicks hasn't had a heart attack or a stroke. Her health permitted her to make this statement today without any trouble or turmoil.  Her health permitted her to drive to the bank and cash a check. Her health permits her to do many, many things--but not, apparently, to answer an email, cut a check, type out a royalty statement, or anything that might benefit her authors and staff.

Author)  If Yes, please state when we can expend within what time frame it will do so
and also do you intend doing so with authors who no longer wish to be identifies
with it? 
Ms. Hicks) The first thing I am doing is reading and responding to authors. Each is
individual, case-by-case. Just because some authors no longer wish to be
identified with AMP does not negate their contracts. I and I alone will make
that decision, on a case-by-case basis as I look to the future.

What negates their contracts is months without royalties.  And when the author sends the registered letter as specified in the AMP contract, the publisher evades activating that 90 day period by refusing to accept the certified letters.

Also, these complaints have been ongoing for over a year. Is she saying that in all that time, she is only NOW reading authors' emails?  

Author) If NO, when can we expect the return of rights letters, payments, etc, that
will avoid legal action on the part of those owed money? 
 Ms. Hicks) As stated before it is one thing at a time. Having been an author, I know the
return of my intellectual property is more important than anything else. That
said, I would seriously consider how much attorney fees cost and weigh them
against what I believe I'm owed. Aspen has the money to pay its authors, but
being one person at this time, I have made the decision to handle the rights
requests first.

*bolding mine*

In other words, Ms. Hicks is threatening the authors, implying that it would be more expensive and a more lengthy process to force AMP to pay royalties than it would be to just shut up and not make too much noise about this, and that since they're complaining she's just going to work on the rights issues on a case by case basis, therefore delaying any attempts to pay the royalties. Aspen Mountain Press probably does have the money to pay its authors, seeing as second quarter royalties from the third party sites were just paid out.  She is electing, however, to ignore those royalties as a punishment for bad behavior.

And as an author who knows the return of intellectual property is more important than anything else, AMP's owner, who suffered as an author from the Triskelion debacle, is proving stubbornly resistant to returning anyone's intellectual property despite the numerous and egregious breaches AMP has committed on every single contract in the past 14 months. 
Author)  At this stage I think these are the main themes authors are worried about and
I  ask, on behalf of all of them to give answers as soon as possible. 
 While we all know about your personal problems and many have wished you the
best for them. You should also be aware that this situation have caused all of us to suffer anziety(sic), depression, and other problems caused by stress. Do you truly believe that it is fair, or worse still, legally defendable refusing to face up to this situation?
Ms. Hicks) Actually, yes, it is defendable as I have sought documented treatment for my medical issues as well as the depression. It is not a refusal to face the
situation, it is an inability due to depression. And for those that are
suffering anxiety, and depression, then I would surely expect them to be more
compassionate of the anxiety and depression I am suffering. Do I believe it is
fair? Of course not. I don't believe it is fair for a person to suffer cancer,
lose a loved one, get laid off from a job they've worked at for 20 years. Some
thing just have to be handled one thing at a time, one day at a time. Seems tome like there was a boatload of people who got paid just last month (and no,they did not get their statements, they are sitting in my flash drive) And as a clarification to many of you, right or wrong, I made the decision that it was better you got your money than the statement. Cutting the checks actually took less time than attaching the document and emailing it individually. Now, that said, some of you think I owe you money that I actually
did pay--you did not cash your checks. There is ample proof of that in the bank account. Will I send statements? Yes. When, not until I can get people paid.
Have I not answered emails? Yes. Why? Bad news upon bad news only deepens depression, doesn't help it at all. For those who have known me since the very early days of our writing careers and the beginning of this company, you knowthat I don't speak ill of others, and that I haven't treated you badly. Am I coming out of this? With professional help. I don't know what sort of time frame to expect for that either. Some days are better than others. Right now I've upped my work quotient to about 2 hours a day. Upped. Is that great...depends where you are. Right now for me it is-two years ago-I was
putting in twelve to fourteen hours a day and editing as well. I was also writing. Now compared to then? Bad. Perspective has a lot of power. 
 Even answering this post has zapped a lot of the energy I had for the day. Again, to all of you who've put in requests, watch the mail. You are getting signed hard copies related to your requests.
*bolding is all mine—not the author's or Ms. Hicks*

When I was sent this post this morning by multiple authors, I literally felt ill. Ms. Hicks actually thinks that she is in the right!  That NOT paying authors and staff is defensible! That a 'boatload' of people got paid just last month! 

That two hours is day is somehow work, when a few months ago AMP had people working 16-20 hours a day to try to save the company.

That due to her personal illness and her documentation of treatment, she has a legal defense NOT TO PAY THE AUTHORS TO WHOM SHE OWES MONEY?  I've never heard of a court anywhere that lets a contract employer refuse to pay people who have fulfilled their end of a contract because the employer is ill. Never.  And usually, if a legal entity like a company refuses to or cannot pay its employees, the doors are shut and all contracts are immediately terminated.  If I'm incorrect, I'd love to see a post from an attorney pointing out where my logic is wrong.

In the end, I don't know who got paid; I know who DIDN'T get paid—I know I didn't: either my regular author royalties, my editor royalties, my percentage of sales for Aurora Regency or my percentage of sales for my role as the AMP managing editor.  I know that Kelly Shorten, the web designer and art director, did not get paid the back salary and contracted labor (website building, maintenance and design, the database, shopping cart system) AMP owes her. Not a dime, when it's impossible to run on online business without those things—things AMP is still using even now I know that Kerry Mand, the bookkeeper we brought in to fix the AMP accounting didn't get paid the hundreds dollars AMP owes her.  I know that Dominique Eastwick didn't get paid the full amount of money owed to her for promotions, formatting and uploading books to third party sites. 

And yet, when our company bought the Aurora Regency imprints, we paid AMP  immediately. And despite her illness, Ms. Hicks was certainly well enough at that time to drive immediately to her bank and cash that check, but was not well enough to fulfill the remainder of the contract OR to pay any of us, authors, editors and staff, some of the thousands of dollars she owes us.

This is what I know.

There may be some authors who got paid; I can't say that they didn't.  But I know for a FACT that the authors who have been the most vocal about AMP issues have not been paid. Not a penny.  Not since the royalties the senior staff sent out when we were running AMP. These are the same people Ms. Hicks banned from the company yahoo loop along with me, people who were unwilling to keep quiet about the  concern they felt for their books, their publications schedules, and their money.

In the end, the senior staff left AMP because we could not have our names and reputations associated with a publisher who put her personal needs above the needs of her authors and staff, who thinks it's acceptable to contract books and then either not publish them or not pay the author royalties on those sales, who believes that somehow SHE is the victim here and not the scores of people who've been left without income, who thinks that just by ignoring emails, phone calls and registered letters everything will just go away.

This publisher, once a leading ebook house with an owner/publisher whose integrity was accepted without question is the selfsame publisher now holding books and authors alike hostage, threatening to continue to NOT pay them if they speak out publicly against AMP because her two hours of work a day will be spent dealing with "threats" to the company.

I once said on this blog that I would never discuss the reasons the senior staff resigned at Aspen Mountain Press.  Now I have to consider that one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made.  But I—and the other staffers who left—had hopes that the publisher would do the right thing: reverting all rights to the authors, paying out the royalties due, and closing up shop.  In fact, we were told that was what would happen at our last meeting at AMP, the same meeting where we were told she would not sell AMP for less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

I have empathized with Ms. Hicks's personal situation. For a long time, I protected her because of it.  In other words, I enabled her to do exactly what she is doing right now.   For that, I've borne a terrible sense of responsibility when I listen to the authors at AMP and their distress and anger toward the publisher.  People are at AMP who would never have been trapped if I hadn't encouraged them to submit to MY publisher, the one publisher in the world I was certain would never cheat or deprive her authors and staff.

I hope this is all unnecessary. I hope that Ms. Hicks, who meant so much to me as a friend and mentor, will still manage to do the right thing.  But I don't condone holding authors' books and royalties hostage contingent upon their good behavior.  This is business, not a preschool. My money doesn't go to timeout because I acted out. There are a lot of ugly, legal terms one could use here—terms that I'm certain will be used in multiple court cases already peeking over the horizon.

So I think it's time to break the silence on this matter, time to let the world know once and for all what's really happened at AMP in my experience, in the hopes that somehow this knowledge might help to break the hold Aspen Mountain Press and its owner currently has on its authors and staff. I have documents to verify everything I've said.

 Publishers need to be held accountable for their actions.  It is time now for Aspen Mountain Press to pay what they owe.

 Give the authors their rights back.

Give the authors an internal audit of the books.

Pay the authors and staff what they are owed.

And shut the doors on a one-time great little publisher that is now the biggest cautionary tale of all.

And a special note to AMP authors, editors and staff--please post a comment on this blog detailing exactly the breaches of your contract.  Tell us the last time you were paid, the last time you got  a royalty statement. Let us know how you tried to contact Sandra Hicks, the owner of AMP, and how many times.  Let us know what she has said in response to you.  And I will continue to compile my articles and blogs about Aspen Mountain Press, complete with documentation, for publication at a later date.  I also encourage you all to report Aspen Mountain Press directly to watchdog sites and blogs.  Go to Preditors and Editors, or Piers Anthony's e-publishing blog.  Absolute Write has an active thread detailing the disintegration of Aspen Mountain Press.  Go to any writers guild you belong to, like SFWA or RWA.  

It's time for you to break the silence as well.