Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Story Removed By FurPlanet

FurPlanet has decided to retroactively delete an old story of mine from their book “Dogs Of War II: Aftermath”, less than 24 hours after a negative review on DogPatch Press focused on how the story is terribly offensive.

I disapprove of the decision, disagree with the review, and warn other writers that they’re next. That is all.

The way you were treated in that review is very slanderous and unfair but it’s fur planets decision that’s really disappointing. They had no problems with the story when you submitted it to them and didn’t see any islamaphobia contained in it then but instead of standing by their decision they are now trying to claim they don’t actually read what people submit to them.

How spineless can you get?

See the review and discussion on Dogpatch Press. Be sure to read the comments.

If you want to have a discussion of the reasons why you disagree with this (other than the obvious “it’s my story so I think it’s great”) I’m down. I went and read the review, and I think there’s things that could be argued on both sides of this particular story/decision.

But “warning” us that publishers can decide to not publish something? Really? Really? That kind of fear-mongering nonsense is borderline offensive in and of itself. I haven’t read Fur Planet’s contract, since I haven’t sent them a story yet, but I’m pretty sure you signed a document giving them the right to do exactly what they’ve just done when you agreed to let them publish the story. There’s no crime, abuse, or anything else of that nature going on here. There’s just a decision they had the right to make, and you have the right to disagree with.

It’s funny how someone giving their opinion in a detailed and well explained review is “slanderous”, yet stereotyping a whole set of people is supposed to be “Well that’s you’re problem if you’re offended”. What a double standard.

Of course a publisher doesn’t read every word submitted to them by an editor. That’s the editor’s job.

Now the publisher is withdrawing their support with a thoughtful statement to explain why.

Yet you think they should shut up and just let themselves be used as a platform for something they don’t agree with. As if they had no spine. Good on them for putting principle first.

Stereotyping? You do realize that these children shows where they teach Muslim kids to want to kill every non Muslim are a REAL thing right? You can find this stuff that they broadcast daily to Palestinian kids on YouTube. It’s there, it’s real.

I will be interjecting here. If you want to talk about the story being pulled and such, that’s fine. Please do not get into harping on other cultures, otherwise that will not be fine. This is not the place for such things.

Said children’s show is directly mentioned in the story being debated. Did any of you actually bother to read the story and form your own opinion or are you just okay with having been told that you should feel outraged?

The only outrage I’m seeing is from the people insisting that Fur Planet taking down the story is an outrage. Can you point out any other outrage here?

I don’t think reading the story is necessary in order to find somebody screaming about how Fur Planet is coming for all of us, watch out! a little bit over the top, to be honest.

It’s a story about a controversial topic (genocide) that’s presented in an even more controversial way (focusing on the deaths of children.) No matter how you write a story like that, it has the potential to spark controversy from somebody. I don’t have to read a word of it to know that. A company deciding they don’t want that controversy in their anthology isn’t the end of the world, it’s business as usual.

The point still stands, and that’s the end of it. I don’t care if the show is mentioned in the story. I don’t care if it’s in some way real. That part of the conversation is over.

The publisher, like pretty much all other indie publishers, are private organizations. You sell them the story, and they can do whatever they want with it as so outlined in the contract. Removing a story is always an option.

So a couple observations.

One, I think it’s important to assume good intentions on the part of everyone concerned. Fred, Tieran, and presumably others read the story as a critique of American power, with the presumption that the narrator is essentially the story’s villain, and readers are meant to recognize that what he’s doing is horrible. I presume this is what Kris meant as well.

I also presume good intentions on the part of the reviewer. This was Dwale’s honest reading of the story. The story presents an extremely stereotyped, mean-spirited view of Muslims, of the sort that’s often used to justify committing atrocities against them, and to him, the text fails to challenge that viewpoint in a robust and convincing fashion. Because this viewpoint is held by the POV character, if the text doesn’t challenge it, it effectively becomes the viewpoint of the story.

“But Chipotle, both Dwale and Fred can’t be right!” Well: yes and no. Dwale saw a flaw in the story that Fred did not. Fred’s reading was almost certainly the intended one, but we can write stories that give insult or even cause genuine harm without meaning to. It’s easy to point to stories from a century ago with what now look like glaring, objective flaws. Good intentions are not a get-of-criticism-free card.

Two, there’s a term we use in technical writing, “subject matter expert,” and we also use SMEs for fiction writing in practice. Nobody thinks that it’s a bad thing to talk to a real soldier if you want to write about soldiers, or a real astronaut, or a real computer programmer. If we don’t do that, in fact, we’re likely to hear from actual soldiers, astronauts, or computer programmers about what we got wrong. Well: when you hear a term like “sensitivity reader,” instead of going all argh pc sjw cthulhu fhtagn at it, realize that what it really means is just another kind of SME. If you’re not transgender and you’re writing about a transgender character, it behooves you to have a transgender beta reader or two. The same is true for women, or black people, or, yes, Muslims. This isn’t a guarantee that you won’t offend somebody somewhere, no; it never is. But it’s probably going to help you tell a better story.

Also, there are some implicit uncomfortable truths in that last paragraph. You may not like the idea that criticisms from SMEs matter more than criticisms from others, but if your story is explicitly making a moral argument involving the subject matter they are expert in, they do. You’d better consider those criticisms, even if they piss you off. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, or take the action they want, but again: it behooves you to understand them.

Three: I don’t want to get into the whole can of worms around the word “censorship”; the common argument that it can’t be censorship if it’s not the government doing it is not really accurate. But I also don’t think this qualifies as such. You can disagree with FurPlanet’s decision here. But this is, as far as I know, the first story they’ve retracted in their operation, and I don’t buy that it represents some kind of ominous slippery slope.

Last but not least, bringing up the real pro-terrorism children’s show mentioned in the story (which, incidentally, was addressed explicitly in the review) seems awfully close to me to defending the story not on the grounds that the review misreads its intent, but on the grounds that it’s okay for the story to intentionally be anti-Muslim because some Muslims do objectively horrible things. If that’s not the defense of the story you want to be making, which it should not be, then I suggest dropping it pronto.

There’s a really important term here that gets thrown around a lot in postmodernist circles, which I’m sure by now folks are sick unto death of hearing, from me at least: death of the author. I don’t want to drag a hundred years of leftist literary theory into the conversation all at once, but I do want to point out that, at least in a lot of literary schools, the author of any given text is not the sole or even the final arbiter of its meaning. This is a very fancy way of saying that the author doesn’t get to decide for others whether or nor their work is offensive, hurtful, or even discriminatory. Every author is free to say “this is what I am intending to say in my work,” but that statement itself is a text and it’s open to the same interpretation and analysis as everything else. And it’s important to note here that the author may not be lying to us, so much as simply being unaware of the ways in which their own unconscious beliefs and attitudes influence their creative processes.

To illustrate this most clearly, I want to point out the character of Michaela Banes in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Rather than go through the whole thing here, I’ll link to Lindsay Ellis’ feminist analysis, which disambiguates the text of the film, in which Michaela Baines is intelligent, clever, skilled, motivated by a backstory that meshes with the main plotline of the movie, and self-actuating… and the subtext in which she is a piece of meat only present to be appreciated the male lead and, by extension, the audience. This incongruence between what the film says about the character and how the direction and the camera frames her creates space for there to be multiple interpretations of the work. In one of these, Megan Fox’s character is a strong female protagonist. In another, she’s little more than a prize. I really would encourage everyone here to go watch that video, and in fact everything in her “The Whole Plate” series. It’s an excellent example of application of film and literary theory.

Both of these interpretations are accurate, within their own frames of reference. They aren’t the same frame of reference, but we aren’t all the same people and we don’t all come to the same text from the same place. An atheist reading the Bible is going to get a different set of messages from a Christian reading it, even if they’re the same book, same edition, same everything. A statist and an anarchist reading Bookchin’s Conquest of Bread are going to come away with two very different interpretations of the same work. Encapsulating and encoding meaning in text is, it turns out, a hard problem. We all come to the world from our own unique places, and we all bring our own context, our own frames of references and internal communication encoding maps, with us wherever we go. We will never universally agree on what texts mean, because we aren’t all the same people and we don’t all share the same connotative value maps. This will always be a matter of debate and interpretation.

And, as it turns out, fiction is no different. Dwale’s interpretation of the text is not wrong. It is not the reading that the author, the editors, or the publishers originally had of the work when first they agreed to include it. It sounds as though the publishers, having read Dwale’s review, have decided that they agree with it, and with the frame of reference it suggests, sufficiently so that they’re willing to pull the story from future editions.

Whataboutism and two-wrongs-make-a-right isn’t a defense.

Reliance on harmful stereotyping, and failing to pass muster with the publisher on reappraisal are valid criticisms.

The story seems to be reprehensible, but I think it has a fundamental right to exist. Also ironic that those who are defending their homes are castigated as those initiating the violence. Yes, I think it is islamophobic, but it has a right to exist and to retcon it out of existence is not professional.

Thing is, the publisher erred in this regard by not proof-reading the material. The withdrawal may be the prudent way, but that would also make it prudent to reimburse the author with a modest compensation, regardless of the moral content of the work, since the author hardly can be blamed for the inadequate proof-reading.

The author has already been paid (I am assuming here, having worked with FP in the past and knowing how their payment process works, but I could be wrong. Assuming and all that…) so they have already been compensated for their time and work. Further compensation makes no sense. All they are missing out on by being pulled is exposure.

That’s a point. I hope they’ve received an apology letter anyway.

As the editor of Dogs of War II: Aftermath, I can assure everyone that I read the stories submitted to it carefully, edited them, and approved those selected for publication – including Kris Schnee’s “Red Engines”, which I still think is a strong piece of “war is no good”, “everyone suffers in war”, and “war demonizes the enemy” fiction; not of anti-Islamic fiction – although in retrospect, I see how it can be interpreted that way by some readers. It uses the example of the actual 2007 Hamas children’s TV program Tomorrow’s Pioneers, which showed a plagiarized Mickey Mouse saying roughly, “Hey, children, let’s go kill the Jews”, so I think that’s a valid target for criticism.

I as the editor accepted the story. I assumed the publisher had read it at the time it was proofread and formatted into the anthology. I have assumed that this is the time when, if the publisher has any objection to any of the stories I’ve approved, we – the publisher and the editor – will discuss it, and if the publisher decides to reject a story, it will be before publication of the book – not afterward, resulting in the story’s removal from the published book.

All of the authors of all my FurPlanet anthologies have been paid – at least, I haven’t gotten any complaints that they haven’t. I have gotten complaints when contributor’s copies have been sent late.

FurPlanet has sent Kris Schnee and me apology letters, saying roughly, ”Sorry, but we’ve decided to remove “Red Engines” from the book.”

I disagree with Spark over the “publishers can decide to not publish something” argument. Of course publishers can decide not to publish something. This is what the rejection of a submission is all about. But when the editor has accepted it, and the publisher has put it into the book without saying anything, I feel that the publisher shouldn’t later remove it over the objections of the author and the editor.

Hi Fred, I’m curious if you anticipate needing more elaboration besides simple disagreement once.

To pick this apart, it seems like there wasn’t pressure on FurPlanet. The issue became public but they acted for their own sake without being asked.

Apart from you and the author, isn’t it worthy to affirm respect to their other audience and contributors like Dwale even if it involves a flexible process?

Should they not have power to change their mind, and be tied to mistakes they don’t like instead of showing they’re willing to evolve by their own choice and explain why? If this isn’t a frequent thing and hasn’t happened before, it will happen sooner or later if that’s part of their standard. Isn’t that good if you personally want to make a revision and want their help?

I would count a difference of being at fan level, you just can’t do that with a big company contract, isn’t that the point of running your own thing? FurPlanet seems to be run as a labor of love more than just a business, the publishers don’t really make profit. That involves a personal value commitment besides money and being “value driven” is often welcome in other business.

Fan/indie publishing has many other options and free sites, so access to the work isn’t taken away. As far as the importance of staying firm on publication, it seems quite different from something like being a newspaper of record. This is a piece of fictional interpretation (no matter if it has a tenuous connection to a single data point) and primary source info isn’t affected. Other media like film and TV gets edited with stuff like director cut vs. theatrical cut.

Personally I think all of the above doesn’t fit with an unreasonable message that “you could be next”. If any of this doesn’t make sense I’m curious if there’s anything else to say beyond just disagreeing.

To me, it looked like Dwale posted its (I don’t know whether Dwale prefers to go by “its” or “their”) personal opinion as a post on Dogpatch Press, and it immediately became a point of discussion between Dwale, the FurPlanet publishers, and the public. Neither Kris Schnee, the author, nor I, the editor, were given an opportunity to present our opinions or to discuss this before FurPlanet decided to remove the story.

You are correct as far as I can tell. FurPlanet decided publicly to remove the story before the matter escalated into a larger public debate that might have resulted in considerable public pressure, both pro and con, on FurPlanet to “do something” about the story; again, before either Kris Schnee or I could say anthing.