The Strange Tale of What Happened to My Book Deal
I woke up to the best news in the world on January 1, 2021: British publisher Close to the Bone offered me a contract for my novel, Magic City Blues. Included in the offer was a publication date of Feb. 25, 2022. I was, as you can imagine, walking on air.
Less than four months later, I pulled my book from the publisher because of what I perceived as deeply unethical and deceitful practices that could potentially harm their authors. Almost all writers dream of getting that book contract, so you can imagine the sheer agony of making that decision. I went into the Spring not knowing if MCB would ever be a ‘real’ book, toying with the idea of self-publishing it, and sending the manuscript out to multiple other publishers in the hopes that someone would rescue my languishing book.
Here’s what happened:
Later in January, a Twitter user [whose name I am redacting so as to hopefully cause her no further drama] accused someone at CttB, in a now-deleted tweet, of harassing her. She named the person as either Christopher Roy or Roy Christopher, and it was really unclear who she meant. While I couldn’t grab a screenshot of her tweet, a friend of mine copy/pasted that tweet into a chat:
“Stay away from Close to the Bone & Roy Christopher/Christopher Roy. Since mentioning CTTB yesterday, they have had their minions send me DMs & then had Christopher Roy/Roy Christopher who is a felon who writes rape fantasy send me a follower request. These guys are creepy af.”
So here’s where things start to get weird: №. 1, I don’t encourage, approve of, or condone online harassment. But I knew one of the guys she mentioned. Roy Christopher and I actually went to high school together many years ago down in southeastern Alabama. Like me, Roy had a book scheduled for publication with this same publisher. So I did what anyone with a journalism background would do: I started digging. There is a Christopher Roy who is in prison in Texas, convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Roy Christopher — a totally different person — also lived in Texas for a while, and was a faculty member at the University of Texas for a time.
Confused yet? A lot of people were. And it got weirder.
CTTB, meanwhile, had assured its authors that they did not have a person named Chris Roy on staff, and that it was all — at worst — a big misunderstanding. The publisher knew Chris Roy, and had published work by him, and he would never be the kind of guy to harass a woman online.
While I was looking all of this up, another name came to light. Maybe the alleged harasser was Henry Roi, who was on staff at Close to the Bone and was in charge of public relations/outreach. I could find no information about Henry Roi other than a very few mentions online. Despite allegedly running a PR office, Henry Roi’s only client appeared to be CTTB.
I took the publisher’s assurances at face value. I had never heard anything like these accusations against them before, and because of the way the accusation fumbled through a series of names, I thought that it was specious enough that I could continue with the publisher.
Then, in April, a man named Chris Roy popped into the Twitter group DM for writers signed to contracts with Close to the Bone. Here’s what happened next:
Do what? Read it again.
THIS Chris Roy isn’t the sex offender. He’s a convicted and currently incarcerated murderer serving a life sentence. (Link to a brief news story of when his trial started: https://www.wlox.com/story/509380/murder-trial-begins/) … he also escaped prison at least twice, once getting as far as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, my old stomping grounds. This story is so weird.
So it turned out that Chris Roy DID work for CttB under the name Henry Roi, and the publisher KNEW it. This caused several authors to consider pulling their books.
First, there is the idea that “Our guy would never harass someone. He’s in prison for murder.” The sound you heard wasn’t a sonic boom. It was me slapping my forehead in awe at the audacity of that argument.
One writer in the author DM said “There’s about to be a shit storm.” Gee, you think? Another author, who also headed up the poetry division of the publisher, encouraged the writers who were considering leaving to try to weather out the storm, that the people “out to get” the press were just haters who wanted to see Close to the Bone fail. I find that claim to be patently ridiculous. Writers want publishers to succeed. We want magazines and websites and anthologies where we can place our work, so we want all of those kinds of places to succeed. In my opinion, keeping my contract would have been the easiest thing to do. I had worked hard to get a book deal. Like almost every other author on the planet, I’d suffered rejections from agents and publishers for years before finally “breaking through.” My instinct was to hold onto my contract like a drowning man holds onto a wrecked piece of the ship … even if the wreckage pulls him down with the rest of the boat.
Then the press began a pre-emptive argument in the author chat, spurred by the then-poetry editor: Yes, Henry Roi/Chris Roy is a convicted murderer, but the publisher is giving him a chance at rehabilitation by employing him.
So … if it’s rehabilitation, why hide his identity? That question has never been satisfactorily answered. But the spurious argument of rehabilitation didn’t need an answer anyway. It was clear that the publisher had hidden Chris Roy’s identity, even to the point that it could have affected a completely innocent bystander in Roy Christopher or other writers associated with the press.
The issue, despite the press and its remaining authors’ statements, remains that the publisher purposely obfuscated the identity of someone working for them, and that unethical behavior could have had dire consequences. And in fact, it almost did. Here’s an example: an author who had multiple books coming out with CttB had to pull his books because his day job does not allow him to work or associate with an incarcerated felon. Hiding this guy’s identity really could have harmed multiple writers signed to the press, and the LEO, specifically, would have never pursued a contract — much less signed one — if he’d had that knowledge beforehand.
I’d seen enough. I sent the following email to the publisher on April 27:
Some of my fellow authors were pretty angry with me. I got some fairly heated DMs. But here’s my thing: If you, as a company, treat me in what I perceive as an unethical manner, how can I ever trust a royalty statement from you? How can I believe you’ll hold to any and all promises made in a contract?
The next step was to be up-front with the writers in the Twitter DM group. I consider a lot of these folks my friends, and it really hurt to see how this was splitting us. Here is what I posted:
I lost friends and followers because of this. I voided my contract because of this. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I was, I felt, back at square one. Or maybe even farther back than that.
Here’s the bottom line: Close to the Bone should have disclosed the fact they had a convicted murderer on their staff. That they kept this information hidden puts the lie to their rehabilitation argument. If they truly believed in rehabilitation, they would have been up-front and proud of what “Henry Roi” had accomplished. Instead they treated it as shameful, and then got angry when other people followed their lead. Chris Roy is in prison for murder. That’s a fact. If you’re trying to go with the idea that he’s not that person anymore, then say that.**
A couple of days after I pulled the manuscript, I started sending Magic City Blues out to other independent publishers. Ron Phillips at Shotgun Honey agreed to take a look at the book, even though it’s longer than what they normally publish. He already had a different manuscript of mine under consideration — Living the Gimmick, a crime novel set in the world of professional wrestling — and he agreed to consider MCB on its merits, with no promises of anything.
That was fine. All I’ve ever wanted was a puncher’s chance. Shotgun Honey is a damn good house, with a terrific reputation … its products are well-edited, with excellent covers. I’m not alone in considering them one of the very best indie crime publishers.
Yesterday, June 26, the puncher’s chance hit home. Ron emailed me and essentially said “Welcome to the family.”
There wasn’t a book contract attached to the email. There were two.
I was so stunned that I burst into tears. Mostly, it was relief. Magic City Blues is going to be a real book again. So is Living the Gimmick. I let go of a dream earlier this year, with no guarantee that it would ever come back. Now here it is again. I don’t have release dates yet, but I will. Latter half of 2022 for one, 2023 for the other.
Pulling my book from Close to the Bone was a brutally hard decision, but it was one I knew I had to make. I’m thankful that MCB got a second shot at life through Shotgun Honey, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.
**The one good thing that I think came out of all of this for Close to the Bone is that they have finally put Chris Roy — under his real name — on their masthead.