Weird Tales, Ann VanderMeer, and Utter Stupidity

Jeff VanderMeer • August 20th, 2012 @ 8:23 pm • News, Uncategorized

Many of you may have seen the disappointing and sad and just plain stupid post by Marvin Kaye, editor of Weird Tales today—except wait! It was deleted (screen capture here). You may also have seen N.K. Jemisin’s great post about it.

Of course, there’s also an apology, including this really blithe and stupid comment from the publisher (yeah, this is all hilarious, John):

John HarlacherReply08-20-2012
Also, the website was hacked and he didn’t write that.

No, that’s not true.

Ann VanderMeer, my wife, was the editor-in-chief before being forced out by Marvin Kaye and his financial backer John Harlacher. She tried to be a team player because they offered her a role picking one story by a new writer every issue. This appealed to her because of her ongoing commitment to up-and-coming writers and new voices—it seemed like she could still do some good work. But ever since a meeting with Kaye and Harlacher in New York in June, it had become obvious that she would be extremely uncomfortable working with them. Although they did not consult with her on editorial decisions, they did mention during that encounter that they planned to publish an excerpt from a YA novel written by the wife of a film director about “the last white person on the planet trying to survive in a world of black people.” This seemed deeply problematic on the face of it, and Ann was kind—perhaps too kind—but adamant and firm in saying that they shouldn’t do this. Ever. During this meal, a startling lack of understanding about international fiction and other subjects was also evinced, to the point that afterwards both Ann and I wished we had not stayed for the entire meal. It was one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had. Still, Ann believed that John Harlacher had gotten the point and that perhaps a lesson had been learned. Clearly not.

Ever since that evening, Ann has been planning her departure, complicated by a few previous commitments to writers. Kaye’s plan to go ahead with publishing this excerpt has led to this statement of resignation on Ann’s part. I know from talking to her today that she is deeply upset about this entire situation—that it troubles her greatly and it also is personally devastating given that the new vision for Weird Tales seems to be so against everything that she envisioned for the future of the magazine. I am just quite frankly livid and utterly enraged.

We are also sickened by the fact we all didn’t just walk out of that dinner, the situation complicated by the fact that no one could hear what everyone else was saying and so none of us had the full picture until afterwards. We are clear on the fact that such a situation will never happen again.

This is Ann’s statement in leaving Weird Tales in any capacity.

Due to major artistic and philosophical differences with the existing editors, I have resigned from Weird Tales as a senior contributing editor, effective immediately. This resignation has been in the works for several months, ever since I was removed as the editor-in-chief, but was delayed by my commitment to writers whose work I had accepted for the magazine and to whom I felt a responsibility. I will, as always, continue to be an advocate for exciting new writers at Weirdfictionreview.com and my various anthologies.

68 Responses to “Weird Tales, Ann VanderMeer, and Utter Stupidity”

  1. Mike Allen says:

    Jeff, thank you for speaking up.

  2. Jason Sanford says:

    Thank you for posting this. If John Harlacher and Marvin Kaye were both warned about this months ago then they both must take full responsibility–as it is now, Harlacher’s apology implies he wasn’t truly at fauly. I can’t believe what these two fools have done to this once-great magazine.

  3. SMD says:

    Bloody hell. That sounds like an absolutely awful experience. I’m sorry you two had to go through that and that Ann had to resign for these reasons. The good news, at least, is that the community seems to be rallying behind you. Hopefully something positive will come out of this all…

  4. Phil says:

    I’m embarrassed by the whole ordeal. That last quip from John is the icing.

  5. kameron hurley says:

    Dear lord.

  6. Dan says:

    I am so sorry this happened. I am incredibly disgusted that they did this knowingly. Ugh.

  7. Save the Pearls, Weird Tales, and Racism « Urban Phantasy says:

    [...] Kowal and the team at Shimmer are taking in defense of weird, wonderful fiction. Edit: another view, giving some insight to the inner workings of WT following its change of ownership courtesy of Jeff [...]

  8. Hilary B. Bisenieks says:

    I was already appalled at the way Harlacker et al were handling this before I read this. I’m deeply saddened by Weird Tales’ decline, and I’m especially sorry that you’ve had to go through this. George Scithers was a good friend and mentor to me and my father, and while I’m sorry that he’s no longer with us, I’m glad that he doesn’t have to see how low WT has sunk.

  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    And later in the apology thread on the post referenced above, John H says this: “Hi Jeff, Marvin read the novel and I did not. His review was based on the novel. That is what have been saying. He did not see any of the reactions or the marketing materials. 100% true that Ann warned me against it. I had some romantic notion of editorial freedom.”

  10. Josh Jasper says:

    I’ve pointed it out elsewhere, but it bears repeating that Kaye appears to be the guy who decided that the Orson Scott Card novella “Hamlet’s Father” was worth publishing at Tor. That’d be the one where Hamlet’s father molests most of the characters as children, turning them gay, then haunts Hamlet, and finally gets to molest him in hell.

    I wonder if Kaye saw nothing bigoted in that story. Either way, he’s got a history.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I found him, just a personal impression, to be clueless, entitled, and ignorant, to be kind.

  12. Erik Amundsen says:

    Thank you for posting this. Clearly I was too charitable towards Harlacher’s apology.
    Ann gave me my first break with “Bufo Rex.” I am an admirer of her work (in fact I am just as grateful for the stories she bounced as the one she took, if in aggregate), and I can’t wait to see to what she will be turning her efforts next.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Erik: I’ve always loved your work.

    I feel sick over this whole thing and it’s kind of people to say thanks, but I don’t want thanks for doing what one should do.

  14. Rose Lemberg says:

    I know you just said that you do not want thanks, but nevertheless, a heartfelt thank you to you and Ann.

  15. Paul Riddell says:

    Jeff, I’m just as suckened as you are, partly because it’s another classic case of a Cat Piss Man with delusions of competence. Is there anything I can do to help, other than offering what support I can give?

  16. Nick Mamatas says:

    a YA novel written by the wife of a film director

    That explains it all. The Weird Tales mark has been little more than an attempt to trawl for Hollywood money for years now, and this was just one more attempt to buddy up to someone who might have something, anything, to do with the Big Time.

  17. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Rose: That’s very kind of you, and I’ll tell Ann, who deserves every good thing. Paul: It’s just another case of asshattery; we’ll be fine–I really feel weird about the emphasis being on us, or at least, one me–Ann, sure. Nick–they probably felt flattered.

  18. Danielle D.M. Gembala says:

    How utterly frustrating for Ann and you. Though it seems like Kaye and Harlacker would not have changed their asinine idea even if you had walked out, it would have been easier to deal with than this, I’m sure.

  19. A. Nuran says:

    They stepped on their shmekeles and emptied the magazine into their feet.
    They have nobody to blame but themselves for the outrage they’re experiencing.
    I’m sorry Ms. Vandermeer is no longer the editor. She made Weird Tales worth reading, but she’s well shut of those people. Any further association with them would just tarnish her impeccable reputation.

  20. Sofia says:

    Awful. Awful. WT was one of my dream places to be published–I was working up to it. I should have worked faster.

    At least now I can stop being on the fence about it and waiting to see which way it’s going to go, because it’s gone. I thought the whole “I-feel-like-buying-this-and-editing-it-so-move-over” thing was ugly and worrisome, but this is beyond my worst fears.

  21. » Weird Tales graphy says:

    [...] to publish and defend a work of astonishingly ignorant and vicious racism. N. K. Jemisin and Jeff VanderMeer sum things up [...]

  22. Seth Merlo says:

    I can very clearly remember thinking “nothing good will come of this” when it was first announced that WT was being bought and Ann was being given the flick. My condolences on having to go through this situation.

  23. Torrain says:

    I’m so very sorry you had to sit through that. (I suppose I was clinging to the ill-considered idea that it was some kind of oversight, which upon reflection was a foolish mistake on my part.)

    Thank you for posting this, and my thanks to Ann for all the work she did on Weird Tales. It was a lovely magazine, and although I only met her briefly at one convention she was kind and encouraging and wonderful to listen to.

  24. Victor Raymond says:

    One wonders if Marvin Kaye and John Harlacker really understand much about race and racism. The record so far indicates not, which is another sign that speculative fiction, its publishing industry, and its fandom, still have a lot of work to do around these issues. The fact that this is not surprising make the current latest unpleasantness just a little more bitter.

  25. Seriously, what were they thinking? | Tucker Cummings says:

    [...] of people have already written about this, so I’ll just direct you to Jeff Vandermeer’s take on the whole thing. His wife was the editor at WT before the editorial shakeup, and was [...]

  26. Livia Llewellyn says:

    a YA novel written by the wife of a film director

    I knew she was a former actress, but it’s this that confirms my deep pockets theory.

  27. Farah says:

    Just wanted to say thank you to both of you.

    The book crossed my awareness through children’s literature lists a couple of months ago. In a not very political community where there are often arguments about what constitutes racism, Pearls aroused astonishing unanimity. It’s a nasty piece of racist fear mongering. I was astonished when I realised it had been published by WT.

  28. Weird Tales Goes Back in Time « Genreville says:

    [...] 2: Jeff VanderMeer reports on a conversation he and Ann had with Kaye and Harlacher back in June, wherein the book was [...]

  29. Scandal la Weird Tales | Galileo Online says:

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  30. Steve says:

    Came here by way of Jim C. Hines, who offered a look at the first pages.

    Best to you both for doing what you can and keeping your integrity.

  31. Black Gate » Blog Archive » Weird Tales Pulls Novel Excerpt Following Fan Uproar says:

    [...] from fans was swift and strongly negative. In her lengthy blog post, This is How You Destroy Something Beautiful, this morning author N.K. [...]

  32. Scott Kennedy says:

    Thanks so much for this explanation of the timeline of the WT decision to publish Save the Pearls.

    I’m sure it was the film connections that led to the decision by Weird Tales to publish this. Henry Jaglom is a major indie filmmaker. Orson Welles’ last screen appearance was in a Jaglom film. Victoria Foyt, author of Save the Pearls, has starred in several Jaglom films, playing off people as prominent as Vanessa Redgrave.

    Weird Tales publisher John Harlacher (twitter handle @harlacher) is an actor and independent filmmaker . Marvin Kaye, WT editor, is a member of Actor’s Equity, the union of professional stage actors, has an extensive theater and playwriting resume, on camera credits, and has worked on outreach measures with the Screen Actors Guild.

    I’m an actor myself. While Jaglom’s films don’t get quite the attention they used to, if you’re in the business, you know who he is. It hard to imagine two people involved in the industry turning down the opportunity to help someone of Jaglom or Foyt’s prominence. Contrary to many stories in the news, theatre can be an insular and oddly color-blind place (especially in Shakespeare, especially to whites), where you literally don’t see race. Actors of color still have a harder time getting parts, but most whites involved feel themselves free of racism through long years of working alongside POC.

    I don’t doubt that Kaye thought the accusations against Foyt were groundless. His comment made that clear. I don’t doubt Foyt thinks her novel none racist. They are, of course, wrong.

    But the insular and distorted color-blindness of the performing arts doesn’t make Foyt’s novel any less racist, although it is the misguided racism of privilege, resulting in a racist anti-racist train-wreck that could have been penned by Steve Carrell’s character on the office.. And it certainly doesn’t excuse Kaye for deciding to re-publish a story so poorly written that it had to be self-published initially.

  33. Paul Jessup says:

    I’ve always followed Ann Vandermeer’s stuff even from the days of Silverweb and I’ll keep following what she (and you) are working on long after this BS. It’s just sad because Weird Tales, for a little while there, was something new and interesting.

  34. Racism row over SF novel about black ‘Coals’ and white ‘Pearls’ | Old News says:

    [...] submit to the magazine again while it was run by the current editorial staff, describing himself as “just quite frankly livid and utterly enraged”, as did the writer NK Jemisin, hitting out at Weird Tales’ “brave commitment to [...]

  35. Scott Kennedy says:

    a. Sorry for the excessive hyperlink in the above posting (bad html on my part).

    b. A brief glance at Marvin Kaye’s facebook page shows he became friends with Henry Jaglom on August 11, 2012.

  36. jeff vandermeer says:

    Scott–no worries at all. I think you’re probably right about a lot of that.

    I want to also make it clear since the Guardian is linking here that my personal anger has a very wide scope. It has to do with not just this current situation but also the months leading up to it, in which WT editorial had every opportunity to avail themselves of Ann’s advice in other areas, too–like keeping the web portal for submissions and many other things that would have been extremely beneficial to the magazine. When you observe every useful process or idea associated with a magazine being dismantled bit by bit for no good reason it tends to piss you off.

  37. Racism row over SF novel about black ‘Coals’ and white ‘Pearls’ | BizNax says:

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  38. The Weirdest Tale of All… « Laughing at the Abyss says:

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  39. PhilRM says:

    It was pretty obvious when Kaye and Harlacher fired the editorial team that had just won WT’s first Hugo award that they were determined to shoot themselves in the foot. I just wouldn’t have expected that they would then turn the gun around, peer down the barrel, and pull the trigger again just to see if it was still loaded.

    Blechh.

  40. Problematic Markets | The World Remains Mysterious says:

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  41. Paul Riddell says:

    PhilRM, I tend to quote Riddell’s Law in these cases: “Any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy.” If I didn’t know better, I’d say that our new owner and editor came up with their business plan after watching “The Producers” too many times. I haven’t seen such a determined effort to drive a successful magazine into the ground since the final days of “Science Fiction Eye”, and there was a reason why some of us smartalecks referred to it as “The Last Dangerous Magazine”.

  42. jeff vandermeer says:

    Paul: I agree.

  43. PhilRM says:

    Paul (and Ann), on that note let me add that, based on what I was hearing about WT during Ann’s tenure as editor, I was thinking of subscribing; then, after she and the rest of her staff were forced out, I changed my mind. Now I wouldn’t touch that magazine with a 20-ft electric cattle prod.

  44. Rachel Olivier says:

    This is sad news. I have always enjoyed Weird Tales, and I think most recently it was because of you guys. Ann – you gave me one of the most encouraging rejection emails ever. So, wherever you end up as editor(s), I’d love to keep track. I know wherever you go there will be quality fiction.

  45. Racism row over SF novel about black ‘Coals’ and white ‘Pearls’ | Book Reviews and Ideas says:

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  46. [Writer Post] Weird Wednesday | Rhonda Eudaly says:

    [...] It’s also appropriate for this week’s Weird Tales debacle. I appreciate all the hard work Ann VanderMeer did there as editor and editor-in-chief. The new regime is going to kill a great magazine. I have no doubt that Ann will land on her feet. She strikes me as quite cat-like in that regard. She’s also has the support of our industry behind her. And above all, she’s an all-around good person. I wish her all the best wherever she lands. I look forward to the day she edits me. It also works for the talent we’ve lost this week. William Windom, classic actor; Phyliis Diller, classic comedienne and lady; and Director Tony Scott all left this world late last week, early this week. And a writer friend/colleague of mine had a stroke on Monday. This crap has GOT to stop. … other posts by reudaly [...]

  47. Weird Tales etc argh « Karin Tidbeck says:

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  48. WWW: Weird Tales II | Unleaded - Fuel for Writers says:

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  49. Are we making any progress yet? (On Weird Tales, Marvin Kaye, and the whole Save the Pearls debacle). | A Distinguished Bird says:

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  50. WEIRD TALES: a vintage gallery, a page of rage « says:

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  51. Good News on a Couple of Fronts, and Some Inevitable Ranting on Others « A Dark and Terrible Beauty says:

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  52. Links to Chew On: Publishing, Dialog, Language, Culture, DRM, and Weirdness « The Undiscovered Author says:

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  53. How To Lose An Audience | Caught In The Dreaming says:

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  54. Angel Leigh McCoy says:

    Ann has my respect and wishes for an exciting new adventure. I can now cross Weird Tales off my list of “Want to Publish There.” And I’ve subscribed for the last time.

  55. Racism row over SF novel about black ‘Coals’ and white ‘Pearls’ | Firstpage Online UK News .co.uk says:

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  56. Tim Vermeulen says:

    I don’t know what everyone’s getting so angry about. Weird Tales is going back to Farnsworth Wright’s original model of racism and cliche bullshit.

  57. Phire Walk With Me | Weekly Link Round-Up says:

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  58. Galactic Suburbia 67 « Randomly Yours, Alex says:

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  59. Moving Past Lovecraft | Jeff VanderMeer | Weird Fiction Review says:

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  60. Engelbrech says:

    I’ve just stumbled across something that’s yet another black mark for Marvin Kaye in his long history of making questionable choices: He was one of the judges for the 2000 World Fantasy Award, the year in which Martin Scott’s Thraxas was the appalling choice for best novel (as per sfadb).

    Congratulations to Ann for her new role at Tor!!

  61. Race, gender, and sexuality | Brian G Turner says:

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  62. Demon Cat says:

    Don’t know about Kaye, but one thing I do know: and that is the fact that Ann turned Weird Tales into one of the most boring outlets on the planet. Weird Tales was a treasury of fantastic pulp fiction, sword & sorcery, horror, chills and thrills… and then Ann took over.

    So, yeah, forgive me for not shedding tears about her departure. Let her edit what magazien she will, but not WT. Because now, maybe – just maybe! – I may once more simple, traditional yarns like Robert E. Howard or Lovecraft were making back in the day. You know, where the main character would actually do something about his dire situation, like picking up a sword and kick some butt, instead of indulging in endless emotional turmoils and psychological perturbations?

    And about the whole “Save the Pearls” controversy… I’ve not read the book, because the topic doesn’t interest me. I do, however, wonder if the novel;s plot was reversed – about the last black woman surviving in a white society – would it still be “deeply controversial”? Or would it be lauded as a bold literary statement from a young author, who chose to expose once more the innate evil of every white man, and the oppression his mere existence imposes to the poor and helpless black people? Eh?

  63. jeff vandermeer says:

    You deserve whatever fresh hell your brain currently marinates itself in.

  64. Demon Cat says:

    You seem rather upset, Jeff. Well, that’s how things work, I suppose. Truth often hurts.

    P. S. I also think congratulations are in order, seeing you just earned a level up in white-knightery. Splendid!

  65. Torrain says:

    (Mr. VanderMeer: thank you for being so calm in the face of the initial stupidity, and the product of the aforementioned hellish marination.)

  66. jeff vandermeer says:

    Success and doing good work–being of use and paying it forward–is the best possible answer to the likes of Demon Cat.

  67. Josh Jasper says:

    This is hilarious. The best writers of contemporary Lovecraft/Howard inspired stories probably won’t touch Weird Tales either. Check the Lovecraft Unbound anthology by Ellen Datlow and tell me if any of those writers would sell a story to Kaye. Those in the TOC I know personally have, by and large, been disgusted with Kaye’s fuck-up.

    So, Demon Cat, if you wanted a quality mag that brought you stories you liked, congratulations, Kaye just doomed it. And no one gives a crap about your idiotic theories on race except your fellow stormfront members.

  68. Keith Chapman says:

    Long before the Pearls controversy, I submitted a couple of stories to Marvin Kaye, one of them set in Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne. He accepted them, describing one as “excellent.” Now in June 2013, after sitting on the material for more than a year, he has sent me the following:
    “Dear Contributor, I regret to inform you that the publisher of Weird Tales has decided to pass on quite a few stories, yours included. This is a measure to reduce our huge fiction inventory. If you have not sold your submission elsewhere, try us again in 9 months. If we have room at that time, it will be an automatic sale (but do remind us of this message!).” In a further note he commented, “I don’t like having to do this, but the pressure to reopen the submission portal has been growing and we can’t ignore it any longer.”
    I have been a professional writer and editor from the age of 18 (and the author of 25 published novels under another pen-name) and have never come across blatant disregard of a written commitment in my life.
    Kaye’s latest behavior is being called “shoddy,” “unprofessional” and “unheard-of” elsewhere in the fantasy blogosphere. It seems like the final confirmation — if one was needed — that Kaye and his partner have been a total disaster for Weird Tales.
    I’ve been urged to pursue Kaye for some sort of cancellation fee, but that would be impractical. Instead, I’ve spent a little time in assembling the two stories in an eBook (Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales) for which I’ve written an introduction giving a little more insight into the sorry story. It may well be the weirdest tale in the book! I suggest those authors of “quite a few other” dumped Kaye acceptances do the same … and that we continue to spread the word far and wide that Kaye can’t be trusted. What’s the betting that there won’t be a Kaye WT in nine months’ time?

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