So faithful readers will recall that a couple years ago, the woman who started vanity press success story Winepress Publishing, Athena Dean, had announced the business had basically been taken over by a cult, and was being run by a guy who had bullied her into handing over her business to the church — you can find her story at www.tinyurl.com/nx6sulx
It’s fascinating reading — a seemingly normal woman sucked in by a group of true believers, she lost her family and business over it, and eventually woke up to the fact that she was the victim of a manipulative group of religionists. I made one comment on it on Facebook (my exact words were: “Holy cow. I mean… WOW! This will blow the socks off of anyone who’s been involved in CBA publishing in recent years. Wow…” ) and that was enough to earn the wrath of the guy in charge of both the church & the publishing company. They sent me a cease and desist letter, complete with really cool bible verses and a laughably funny “thou shalt not” tone that sounded right out of a 1950’s biblical epic movie with Charleton Heston. Bullying and obfuscation is their stock in trade, so of course I blogged about it (you’ll find my post here: www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/conspirators-r-us/ ) — I figured if they were doing this to ME, they were doing it to others in publishing, and somebody needed to say something.
Sure enough, it turns out those wacky folks at Winepress had been threatening and cajoling people with their legal letters and threats for a long time. But a funny thing happens when you shine a little light on darkness — people begin to see the problems. And LOTS of people saw the problems at Winepress. Authors started leaving them in droves, not wanting to be associated with a cult (and let’s define a cult as a group of people with beliefs outside of orthodoxy, usually secretive, almost always exclusive, who tend to see outsiders as dangerous, and are led by one charismatic and authoritative leader who has a unique interpretation of truth, but who commands nearly every aspect of the lives of the followers). Soon after the church created blogs that existed only to trash the company’s founder, Athena Dean, though I was lucky enough to get a mention here and there. So I followed up my first post with another, offering details from the stuff I was sent from their lawyer, Dumas (feel free to pronounce that however you want). That second blog post is here, and I offer it because it’s the single most read post we’ve ever had on this blog: www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/the-wine-press-follies/
In response to all the unwanted attention, a new guy was put in charge of Winepress, so that the senior pastor of the church wouldn’t be seen as being both the church’s authoritative leader AND the publishing house’s prez. Instead, it was turned over the church’s associate pastor, Malcom Fraser — who was once described to me as “an evil little troll.” In what can only be described as “a really bad bit of news for a Christian publishing house,” Malcolm was promptly arrested for raping a child, and led out of the Winepress offices in handcuffs. It turns out The Evil Troll, in his role as a pastor at the church, had been doing some very nasty things while staying with members of his congregation. He was convicted in a Washington state court, and sentenced to a long stretch in prison. (Note: Instead of asking forgiveness for foisting this guy on the congregation, the church’s response was to start a website criticizing the judge, the arresting officer, the district attorney, and the jurors. Oh, and Athena Dean.)
I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my years in Christian publishing, but never anything like The Winepress Follies. They kept up the “We’re So Holy” act for a long time, and included a good bit of “We’re Also Not Being Treated Fairly,” but one quick look at the websites is all most normal-thinking people needed to see what they’re like. Check out the Sound Doctrine Church and what people have had to say about them over the years, or look at their “HardTruth” website, or at the laughably slanted “news reporting” they’ve created at Enumclaw.com. (And WHAT is HSBC thinking by advertising on that rag?!) I’ve never done business with Winepress Publishing, so I’ve got no agenda, no dog in this particular fight, but seeing how they were responding was a revelation — I thought they looked like crackpots. And I was clearly not alone, since I started hearing from a bunch of their customers who wanted to know how to get away from them, or who had stories of paying a lot of money to them for things like book storage fees. (For the record, I didn’t give any of their customers advice. I would always say that I didn’t do business with Winepress, so I had no firsthand knowledge of their activities — but that they should check out what other customers were saying online.)
It got weirder, if that’s actually possible. Carla, the wife of the senior pastor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Normally I’d say that’s the sort of news I wouldn’t want to throw out on the blog — I’ve lost three friends to brain tumors in the past year, and there’s nothing funny about it. But leave it to her hub to politicize it (or theocratize it, I guess), by announcing that she was dying because of the negative words people were saying about Winepress. I’m not kidding. He took to task the police and the judge at The Evil Troll’s trial, Athena Dean, of course, and several others who had said negative things he didn’t like. I don’t know if I made the list. But I’m not trying to be funny — he actually accused people of using WORDS to kill her. Um… this is where I wondered if the guy actually had gone off the deep end.
Anyway, Winepress Publishing has closed their doors. Not because they couldn’t find more suckers to pay them money to publish their books (from all appearances, business was still good). Church members are telling whoever will listen that the company shut down because of all those evil attacks from nonbelievers. But word has it that a couple weeks ago their landlord asked the senior pastor of the church to sign something that clarified he was the head guy at Winepress, and thus put up his personal assets to support the company. He wouldn’t sign it, according to reports online. I’ve been told the guy’s name isn’t on any of the Winepress or church loans, or on any of the incorporation papers, either, though I’m not able to verify that fact. Still, it looks like he’s able to convince other people to put their assets at risk, but he won’t do it with his own money.
So Winepress Publishing is gone — though if you go to their site, there’s still time for you to catch them making one last stab at attacking their founder, Athena Dean. I used to think Winepress served a useful role as a vanity press helping speakers and authors who needed a few copies of their book produced. Later I came to see them as nothing more than a funding vehicle for a weird separatist religious group, led by a vindictive oddball intent on destroying the woman who started the company, while defending a convicted child molester. No tears being shed here, other than those for the victims of these people. It’s closing time, Pastor Tim. Empty the ashtrays, sweep up the floor. You won’t be missed.