Ebola and the “good victim” narrative

17 Oct

When I write here,  I am almost always writing about entertainment content and rarely about news content. But analyzing the news is what I do in my desk job, and we’re all lying when we say the news isn’t entertainment anyway.  Information is entertainment.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I am rather engaged with this Ebola story. Because news content in general behaves in a viral way (stories spread from nodes of information), it’s particularly interesting in an abstract, science-driven way when the news content is actually about a virus.

But quite outside of that very academic, numbers-driven interest, I’ve noticed something else: The emergence of the “good victim” in the Ebola narrative.

Since Ebola arrived in the U.S. (which was always going to happen the second it reached a major city anywhere in the world in significant numbers), the media has become very interested in telling us how well-liked, church-going, or family oriented individuals who have been infected who get media coverage are. They assure us the first nurse in Dallas to get infected “did all the right things.”  They show us cute pictures of her with her dog.

Meanwhile, the second nurse, and the original man diagnosed with the disease here get a lot less coverage. They are blamed for travel, although they either did not have symptoms at the time and/or were given the go ahead by CDC employees. No cute family stories or dog pictures for them, nope.  Little coverage on how the man helped a dying pregnant woman who may have been the source of his infection (and whom he may have not known was infected).

There’s a clear racial component in this.  The African and African-American victims in the U.S. have received less overall coverage and more critical coverage when visible, much like the thousands of people dealing with the disease in western Africa itself.

The “good victim” narrative also interests me, because it — much like every overheard discussion on the New York City subway system for the last week — recalls the early days of the AIDS plague years. Then there were “innocent” victims who were such heroes because this never should have happened to them. They were largely straight, white, female, and young.

AIDS should never happen to anyone.  Neither should Ebola.  And yet they do.  And the good and bad victim narratives — which I thought might be avoided this time around because of no overwhelming focus on a sexual component of the disease — is incredibly dangerous because you can’t stop an epidemic when you only care about protecting some people from it.

Case in point? AIDS rates amongst blacks in the U.S. and AIDS rates in Africa. For lots of people the epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere but on and on and on. And how we talk about people with AIDS is part of how that has happened. We’ve never had the same urgency for everyone. And it’s resulted in a lot of deaths.

It is reasonable and wise for the news media to use personalization to cover Ebola. People often connect to stories better when they can engage with them as they affect singular individuals. But coverage that suggests only some people deserve that personalization increases danger, both from the epidemic itself, and from the hideous fear-based non-solutions that people start shouting about when there are “good” and “bad” victims of a disease.

Travel bans, camps, euthanasia. We’ve heard all that and more out of politicians’ mouths in the last week. For those of you who weren’t there, we heard the same things in the 80s about AIDS.  We even made miniseries about some of those ideas. And that they were talked about so seriously, that they were so terrifying to me in my childhood, is why I name none of the people diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. here.  I’m not a news source and I don’t wish to contribute to risks they face from stigmatization of those with Ebola (although I also acknowledge that not naming names may actually increase stigma; it’s a hard choice).

But clearly, that cautionary entertainment in the 1980s (and fictional media about epidemics is entertainment no matter how cautionary, just as news is entertainment no matter how fictional) has taught us nothing. A recent spate of period pieces about the plague years haven’t reminded us of past mistakes either.

Instead, we’ve got a media banking on fear and an overly frightened American populace being taught that only some people don’t deserve to get sick (being female, light-skinned, and godly seem to help individuals get placed in this category), and that it’s perfectly fine to ignore everyone else. Even if it’s a lie, and even if that act of ignoring is what helps epidemics spread.

While it’s likely there will be no further transmissions in the U.S. from this set of cases, and despite all sorts of actions being taken out of an “abundance of caution” — some of which have made no sense at all; can we really sustain national panic attacks over every case of morning sickness or food poisoning? — it’s fairly likely that another case will show up in the U.S. because of the current nature of global travel and the incubation period.

So right now, the news media needs to make the choice to be one of the tools that helps to contain Ebola in America and globally.  Dispensing with “good victim” rhetoric is a key part of that.

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Pop-culture, witches, and fame @ The Bell House, October 13, 2014

9 Oct

witches

This coming Monday, I’ll be one of the presenters at  BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES, a live podcast recording and variety show at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  I’ll be talking about American Horror Story: Coven and what is has to say about notorious women, witchcraft and fame.  (Hint: Fame is the worst).

The event has gotten some press on Gothamist and other high-traffic sites, so I do recommend getting advance tickets.  While this is not at all a book event for me, I will have a couple of copies of Starling on hand in case anyone wants to grab one after. If there’s something else from my catalog you want, please drop a comment here so I know to bring it with me.

 

BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES
MON, OCTOBER 13, 2014
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House – Brooklyn, New York
$8.00 / 21+


Tickets available online and at the door

“All Of Them Witches” is the third in a series of live variety shows by Kseniya Yarosh & Eleanor Kagan, the hosts of the Brooklyn-based film podcast, Bonnie & Maude.

Sure to boil the blood and alight the brain, join us for an exploration of witches as seen in movies, television, and pop culture. From green-skinned, be-broomstick’d villains to benevolent sources of high female power, from goddesses of nature to Satan-worshippers, to actual practitioners of Wicca…celluloid representations of witches are contradictory, to say the least. Scholars, artists, and film enthusiasts from all walks of life will toil up some trouble, and revisit favorite on-screen moments of witchcraft in Bewitched,Buffy, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, and more.

Presenters: Tom Blunt, Lyra Hill, Eleanor Kagan, Racheline Maltese, Rosie Schaap,Tenebrous Kate, Cassie Wagler, Kseniya Yarosh

Music throughout the show will be performed by Brooklyn-based chamber pop singer AK, and the 8-piece, all-female a cappella group Femme Rhythm.

Red Band Society = Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music

17 Sep

Red Band Society is basically Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music, except the music is still sort of there thanks to an absurd number of unearned montages and a dude with an acoustic guitar.

Its infuriating as a show, because it’s a brilliant concept. I mean, talk about riding a wave of tested (the hospital drama) and phenomenon (Glee and TFioS), but putting a bunch of stuff in a blender doesn’t make it new or innovative.  There’s a reason you’re told never to pitch a project with mathematical formulas based on other people’s projects.

But the biggest problem, really — and I hope this is just typical pilot problems — is that the show doesn’t trust its audience.  Instead of using Coma Kid to be hilarious, they use the character to explain things that are already obvious.  This combined with various platitudes about the soul and survival — it’s hard to take.

If it’s going to be things beloved past (Glee, because lets admit it’s largely lost the critic’s love) and present (TFioS), then Red Band Society needs to trust the audience to draw those connections on its own.  It also needs to trust the audience to draw its own conclusions about who the characters are.

Finally, and most importantly, it needs to accept that most of us took high school literature.  And whether or not we love analyzing pop-culture, we’ll likely grasp the irony of the vicious cheerleader needing a heart transplant without this being explained to us, repeatedly, in very tiny words.

Trust.  You have to trust the audience to come along with you.  Always.  Even to places that it’s scary to go or aren’t always well-illuminated.  Because if you want the audience to connect to the bravery or cleverness of your characters, you need to let that audience feel brave and clever too.

Books you can buy!

16 Sep

starling-1Starling, my M/M romance about Hollywood co-written with Erin McRae (and the first in a series of six) is now out!  You can get it at Amazon | AllRomance | Smashwords | Torquere Bookstore | Barnes & Noble and more for $4.99 – $5.99

Meanwhile, to celebrate its 11th anniversary, Torquere is offering 25% off everything in its store with code Torquere2014. That means you can get Starling for just $4.49 and “Lake Effect” for just $1.87. The coupon is valid through this Sunday only.

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-webNext up, the full table of contents of Chicks Dig Gaming has been released by Mad Norwegian Press. That will be released on November 11, 2014, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon and a host of other sites.  My essay “Castling,” about how I acquired my fairly atrocious chess skills, closes the volume.

 

Thanks for your patience with the lack of commentary here while these, and a number of other projects (some announced, some not), get underway, off the ground, out the door, and into your hands. As a reminder, you can stay up to date on my writing with Erin at Avian30; there’s been a few story sales over there that I haven’t announced here.  Additionally, I have a few pending announcements that are more suitable to this blog that I hope to be able to make soon.

Chicks Dig Gaming now available for pre-order!

24 Jun

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-webI can finally announce this!  Also, it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N!

Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It

Retail Price: $14.95
Release Date: November 11, 2014
ISBN: 9781935234180
Edited by: Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith? and Lars Pearson

In Chicks Dig Gaming, editors Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series) bring together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love.

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) revels in World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired.

Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Triffles…), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”). Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance author Margaret Weis.

About Mad Norwegian Press

Mad Norwegian Press is a Des Moines, Iowa-based publisher of science-fiction guides, novels and essay book. It was founded by Lars Pearson, a former staffer at Wizard: The Guide to Comics, in 2001.

The company has enjoyed particular success of late as a producer of essay books pertaining to women and fandom – the first being Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It (2011 Hugo Award Winner for Best Related Work), followed by Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them, Chicks Dig Comics (2013 Hugo Award Nominee), Chicks Unravel Time (2013 Hugo Award Nominee) and the related Queers Dig Time Lords (2014 Hugo Award Nominee).

Mad Norwegian also specializes in non-fiction guidebooks to TV shows, and is renowned for its books on Doctor Who (the About Time series, Ahistory, Running Through Corridors).

Exciting word related things

20 Jun

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

I wrote this thing at Salon, so I guess I should say hi

9 Jun

It’s been a busy few weeks around here.

If you’re popping over from the Salon piece, you can see near daily blogging from my co-author and I over at our shared website Avian30. We have a short story coming out next week, and are currently in edits on 4 novels (two with publishers, one on a complex revise-and-resubmit journey, one in preparation for submission), and are writing a few other things right now as well. Also, we did the cover reveal for Starling last week, so you might want to check that out.

If you are not popping over here from the Salon piece, hey, I wrote a thing on Salon about one of the less good highlights of my teen years.

Also, P.S., I didn’t choose the title, although were I in the editorial position on that, I probably would have gone a similar route.

Okay, now that everyone has read that, a few bullet points:

I have no solutions and I have no causes. If you think I was suggesting either, that was not my intent. I don’t blame stories, girls, or mental illness. What I suspect I blame is a world that makes us want to escape from it so badly and a societal pressure to keep our passions secret, which then may just warp them in the dark.

Most people I know, and strangers who have reached out to me, have mostly been really cool about the piece. I appreciate that. Of course, it’s your prerogative not to be. For the record though, I am not reading comments on Salon or on Salon’s Facebook, because I’m really busy and once I saw that thread that somehow made it about Ayn Rand and then mis-gendered her, I was like “Nope, the Internet can go on without me on this one.”

If you are someone who wants to connect with me on the Internet in response to this piece, Twitter seems like a nice choice. I’m a little weirded out by friends requests from people I don’t know on Facebook in response to a story about friendships gone weird. Right? Like I think that’s reasonable? Doing my best here, this is not a normal Monday.

Anyway, that’s it, and my Penny Dreadful recap will be up at Romance @ Random within a few hours.

The Normal Heart, Penny Dreadful, and prepping for BEA

26 May

Thanks for all the kind words about Pretty Kitty in various social media.

Now that I’ve had a week at home, it’s been an intense media week. I’m finally up to date on Game of Thrones again and am still apparently all about Littlefinger, no matter how creepy he gets or how broadly Aidan Gillan’s accent wanders.

I also have my latest recap of Penny Dreadful up at Romance @ Random. Last night’s episode was more information dump than action, which served me well, as I actually wrote that recap after watching HBO’s The Normal Heart.

If you follow me on Tumblr, you probably know I’m still in a place where I can’t really talk about The Normal Heart which basically felt like 2 hours of PTSD for me (complete with dizzy spells), even as its events are those that mostly take place right before my own stories about being a teen in New York in the 80s.

But it was interesting to watch that film (A film, in which, by the way, every performance is astounding, and regarding which I would like someone that has complaints about Ryan Murphy’s admittedly unsubtle direction to explain me how on earth you’re supposed to go subtle with that subject matter and with a script penned by Larry Kramer. Please use very small words.) and then follow it up with a Frankenstein-heavy episode of Penny Dreadful in which everyone monologues on love and responsibility and abandonment and the ways in which brutal experiences make us brutal.

Certainly, it is not news that we use SF/F and horror content to speak of the world as it is. And that vampires, zombies, werewolves, and the Creature have all been long used to tell stories about contagion and the search for love when othered. But the juxtaposition was so direct, at least on my own laptop last night, that I’m still reeling from it a bit.

For those of you who don’t check in regularly at Avian30, where Erin and I blog together about our co-written works, there’s a bunch of new content up. Of the most interest to readers here is the Paley Center event I went to featuring Ken Burns and Beau Willimon.

Meanwhile, BEA starts Wednesday, so it’s another business and seemingly endless week around here.

What are you watching? What should I be watching? And what books and booths must I absolutely track down at BEA this year?

Pretty Kitty

20 May

prettyMost people who know me on the Internet, know me, to some degree, as that chick that writes about death.  I write about a lot of other stuff too, but the death stuff increasingly tends to be how people first encounter me. It also tends to be a mix of my best stuff and stuff that gets me, rightfully, in trouble for not letting the ideas or feelings get all the way cooked or considered.

And, like everyone else on the Internet with cats, people tend to know my cats.  Alas, currently, that’s just Cricket, because Pretty died at 18 1/2 earlier today after an awesome and dramatic fight with cancer.   So, as much as I actually try not to write personal stuff on this blog anymore because I’m an exciting pop-culture thinky person or something, right now, you’re getting a eulogy for my cat, who was the awesomest pop-culture diva of a cat ever.

Three days after I got her as a kitten, someone I knew tried to drunkenly steal Pretty at a party.  She ran away from home several times — once being gone for days before returning (and this for an in-door only cat). Another time she hid in the bottom of a box for 36 hours before we noticed.  Being half-siamese, she screamed constantly.  She also liked to climb on top of the refrigerator, and sit creepily on the chests of her napping victims.

In fact, I can name at least half a dozen people who have had nightmares about her stealing their soul, and another two dozen more who would swear up and down she had a human trapped in her and you could see it.  That someone eventually figured out that her odd and very human gaze was the result of her being near-sighted is entirely besides the point.

Despite efforts to give her a non-embarrassing name (Aziz), Pretty Kitty was what she liked, and what stuck.  She also insisted on sitting between Patty and I whenever possible and was a ridiculously powerful presence for a cat that was rail thin and deeply eerie looking.

I had Pretty from the time she was 11 weeks old.  She saw a lot of boys, a lot of girls, and a lot of apartments.  She went from being a cat that hid under my bed for so long, so often that she was only referred to as “the other cat” to being The Cat.  Cricket is Cricket.  Little was Little.  But Pretty is The Cat, a sort of stand-in for all of cat-kind everywhere.

All pets are special.  But Pretty was otherworldly, and not right, and sometimes very beautiful and sometimes sort of ugly to some eyes.  She was a weird cat.  Spooky and neurotic, and she did this thing where she slept with her eyes open all the time. People also always pointed out how much alike we were all to an extent that’s hard to be comfortable with right now.

While it’s far from atypical, I am doing a lot of death work right now. Projects you do and don’t know about. Pop-culture interests that are obvious if you tend to see me around social media.  It’s all weird and somewhat comically tangled in my head right now.  Literally, I don’t even know why I’m sobbing at this point in the day — plenty of good reasons, but I’m a Libra and choices are hard.

Anyway, RIP Pretty Kitty, September 1995 – May 20, 2014.

Thank you for any kind thoughts in advance. It may be a few days before I can respond.

Penny Dreadful: Dicks not tits

12 May

I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that.

So…I’m now writing a weekly recap of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful for Random House’s romance and pop-culture blog, Romance at Random.

The show is interesting in a very unfunny Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolfman sort of way: Every horror trope/monster you can think shows up in one surprisingly well-constructed universe. It has some problems — a few scenes that don’t go anywhere and casual racism that’s, as you’d expect, offensive and tedious — and it may not be for everyone. There are a lot of spiders and the gore is pretty intense.

But one thing that really sets it apart is that the pilot contained no female nudity whatsoever.  However, we were treated to a man’s bare ass during text, and full frontal nudity on several male cadavers and Dr. Frankenstein’s creature.  In a cable media landscape where we’re still talking about the rape-factor in Game of Thrones, this is a completely unique viewing experience.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up, and how it impacts the narrative, the viewership and the reviews.

Please go check out my first recap and get yourself caught up for next week’s episode.  Penny Dreadful‘s first season is only eight episodes, so it’s not a huge time investment for you to play along.

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