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Dan Mallory, as a New Yorker article revealed, is a pathological liar who manipulated people to rise in book publishing and secure his ambitions. He lied on a college admissions essay that his mother succumbed to breast cancer; the article’s author found her Instagram account and encountered her while visiting Mallory’s “dead” family. His father is also alive, and his brother did not commit suicide. Mallory also claimed that he had to take time off for brain tumour surgery, yet seemed to have recovered without suffering health complications. He received a two-million-dollar book deal for his novel The Woman in the Window, from his current publishing company HarperCollins, where he also works as an executive editor.
We people of colour are furious. Mallory has told a series of lies to get time off work and to win over people’s sympathies. People commenting on the story have identified signs of gaslighting, which is often a red flag for domestic abuse.
Writers want to succeed in publishing. We want to share our worlds and words with other people, and prove that these stories have value. In science fiction and fantasy, we want to prove that we can add wonder and fantastic elements to an already established repertoire of the supernatural and logical.
Why the Dan Mallory Issue Sucks
According to The New Yorker, everyone at Mallory’s former employer—Little, Brown—knew that he was a liar. The publisher dropped out of bidding on The Woman in the Window when they found out the author’s true identity. One ex-employee there received an anonymous nasty email, and his “brother” Jake would email updates on how Mallory’s “brain tumour” surgery and recovery were going. No one confronted him on missing work afterward, even though in most industries you have a limited amount of sick days.
Mallory has admitted that the allegations are true; he lied about everything, including the cancer and his mother’s death. HarperCollins seems reluctant to make Mallory face consequences as of February 5, 2019. Its imprint William Morrow’s released a statement:
“We don’t comment on the personal lives of our employees or authors. Professionally, Dan was a highly valued editor, and the publication of The Woman in the Window—a #1 New York Times bestseller out the gate and the bestselling debut novel of 2018—speaks for itself.”
Morrow has pretty much said that they don’t care that Mallory lied about his life to gain sympathy points and climb ahead. No one in charge seems to care. Mallory couldn’t even lie right because a Google search easily reveals that his mother is alive. We know why no one cares: because he’s white. That’s the same reason why people are protecting him.
We Work with the Truth
When the New Yorker’s author went to talk with Mallory’s family, they were surprisingly calm about the fact that their son lied about their circumstances. His dad kept insisting that his son was a good kid, who was merely acting under “misapprehension” and was good with dogs. His mother went “nope” metaphorically on seeing said journalist and walked into the house.
My dad did die from cancer, in 2001. He was an oncologist, and would not have approved of any child lying about cancer death after seeing so many patients that he helped or comforted. My mother would be furious if we lied about her dying. She’s very alive, and would call any of us out for manipulating the system and fabricating pain. So why is Mallory’s family surprisingly lenient on him?
The consequences of lying at work tend to be high for most Americans. Glassdoor has an entire blog post on why you shouldn’t lie on your resume, and that’s just the start. In most American jobs, we get an allotted number of sick and vacation days, with doctors’ notes. We have to verify if we need to take time off for surgery. Mallory lying about his mother’s death should have been the first red flag for his employers.
We also question why we work as hard as we do to get into publishing. On my personal front, I know a handful of Indian authors in the States who publish science fiction and fantasy regularly, and they are wonderful. Even so, it’s been conditioned into me from a young age that these stories aren’t wanted except for token representation. Mallory’s story makes the odds seem more unfair, and less encouraging. He isn’t the only one.
The Black Witch Showing an Ugly Face of YA Media
The Black Witch fiasco illustrates the irrational need for white authors and media to protect each other from legitimate criticism. Having read the book, I can say that it is awful. My issues are not just with the racism issues that Bookstore Babe reviewed; the main character is supposed to be a violinist but she doesn’t practice that much during the story and it sounds like the author has never picked up a violin in her life. I’ve been playing violin since I was six, so there are certain things that you remember, like how to release all the tension so you don’t squeak.
For context, the story is about a “strong female character” orphan who is the token human Chosen One in a world of sapient fairy creatures. She doesn’t want to get married, or “wand fasted,” but her aunt wants her to secure a wealthy match. An arranged marriage does not need magic to be terrifying; Jane Austen wrote about such arrangements, in the 1700s. And her aunt has a point; Elloren has no inheritance, or fallback. She goes to attend magic school, with catty fellow humans and many biases against the sentient magical creatures she encounters there. Elloren’s language is not nice; it’s about her learning not to be racist, but she is so racist.
The worst part is that the people with influence didn’t listen. Kat Rosenfield, one of the meanest journalists that a person can encounter, led an organised attack on Bookstore Babe. The author has attempted to rebrand the story as one of Resistance, which we know is nonsense. As Bookstore Babe astutely put it in her review, The Black Witch is for white people who don’t want to learn and grow.
We also don’t have protection against bullshit. Rosenfield outed Bookstore Babe’s personal information as well as that of several teens, exposing them to hostile outsiders to their community. Harassing teens is a low blow that we should never tolerate, especially when the teens are correct. She’s a terrible person that thrives off the drama to get more clicks and pay for her stories. Unfortunately, Rosenfield isn’t the only bad actor in media.
The Lani Sarem Scandal
In August 2017, a new book appeared on the New York Times YA bestseller list, which didn’t even have a teen protagonist. Handbook for Mortals seemed to have displaced Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, about a high school student witnessing the police shoot her childhood friend. Nicola Yoon’s book also went off the list. Yet no one had heard of Handbook for Mortals, despite it apparently selling thousands of copies. Fascinatingly enough, Nicola Yoon and Angie Thomas are both black authors, and Sarem is white.
Phil Stamper and many others investigated. It came out that the author Lani Sarem and her publishing house fixed her spot on the bestseller list by “buying” copies of her book from stores whose data determined the list. The publishing house was only a month old, and the book already has an IMDB page with Sarem potentially playing the lead. The NYT quickly removed Handbook for Mortals, while taking no steps to prevent systematic fixing.
Sarem of course has denied that she wrote a terrible book—Jenny Trout has a detailed multi-part review on her—any fixing occurred, and also that her actions were racist by displacing two black authors. She has tried to save face by making appearances at conventions and conferences to laud her “success.” In at least this case she was caught and had to pay consequences, but that the action occurred in the first place should be damning.
Blood Heir, Jesse Singal, and Blatant Cruelty
In early 2019, Amelie Wen Zhao willingly pulled publication of her book Blood Heir. LL McKinney and Ellen Oh, both women of colour, identified internal racism issues with the story while it was in ARC form. Zhao agreed with the criticism, mind, and had a fruitful discussion with both women about the issues with the book. In short, this was the ideal scenario for when an author fudges her biases.
Then Jesse Singal, a jerk white journalist, joined the cause. Reading the End puts it succinctly: he “really sucks.” A creep about trans children, he decided the best thing to do was to send Oh and McKinney’s information to white supremacists and trolls, as well as write an article accusing them of “bullying” Zhao. No, I am not going to link to the article because he is a garbage trash person. Kat Rosenfield also joined this fray, which obviously means the trolls felt more legitimised.
Ellen Oh as a result has deleted her Twitter account, while McKinney has locked her social media. The women of colour who brought attention to the issue have paid the price. We should not see this as okay. And yet we tolerate these cruelties.
Lack of Desire to Change Internally
Publishing will not confront the problem unless they receive negative press. We have five big publishing — HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. They determine most of the publishing and book distribution. According to one 2016 Publishers Weekly article, one traditional publishing executive doesn’t want to release demographics of their employees because they consider the backlash a bigger priority. Most of the HR executives interviewed in this article want to emphasise the progress they have made.
Emphasising problems is good; ignoring problems in the industry isn’t. As Bustle outlined, women of colour struggle to make a difference in mainstream publishing. 86 percent of publishing employees are white, which means we have token representation on editorial teams. A person of colour has little emotional support when making decisions related to race or culture. One woman, Bunmi Ishola, reported that she took a twenty-thousand-dollar pay cut to switch from teaching to publishing. It’s harder to make the changes needed for publishing when people of colour have trouble earning sustainable income.
You know what happens when we have very few people of colour? We get a Black Witch situation. We get people dogpiling on critics of Blood Heir. And we get white men like Dan Mallory that can skive off work and get away with lying, because their bosses claim they earned their dues on “merit.”
We need to acknowledge that publishing has a white people blind spot, as well as defensiveness about the actual representation problems. Being racist does not mean necessarily that you’re incapable of change; looking inside yourself to find those blind spots is the first step. The people who employed Mallory have a blind spot, as do the ones that enabled his behavior. Those same people would double down on a woman of color for demanding fairer treatment.
Publishing companies also need to create economic incentives for the physical and emotional labour that people of colour perform. We need more sensitivity readers, higher-ups that are people of colour, and diversity quotas. We should understand this: pay people their fair share.
Finally, hold white people who perform nonsense accountable, regardless of status. Dan Mallory and Lani Sarem should be censured. We need white journalists to stand down on defensiveness. Instead of having Singal and Rosenfield opening their big mouths and setting prejudiced people on authors and reviewers, they should back off and let marginalised people communicate. Life is hard enough without having to worry about harassment.
We can do better. And we need to do better, to improve the publishing industry.