Writing news updates

12 Apr

Some quick news on the publishing front:

Erin and I sold a short story called “Lake Effect” to Torquere Press for their LGBT wedding anthology, They Do, coming out in June 2014.

We’ve also launched a website/blog for our joint writing efforts. While I’ll be mentioning new releases and events here, I do hope to keep blogging about other people’s pop-culture. All the ins-and-outs of the writing process and what’s going on with our books and other projects will be over there. If you’re interested please follow that blog.

We’ve also started booking events for our upcoming releases. You can find those details on the event page here or on the event page there. Right now we have 2014/2015 fall/winter events in New York City and Bethesda, MD. We’ve got a few other things in progress for Brooklyn and Philadelphia and hope to announce those soon. We’re also looking at doing an event in Los Angeles in February 2015. If there’s another city or established event you’d like us to visit, please let us know and we’ll try to make it happen.

Finally, I’m sitting on a bunch of non-romance, non-fiction related news I hope to be able to share with you soon.

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House of Cards: Of saints and stories

28 Mar

My birthday is October 4th, which is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  I’m not a Catholic, but my father is, at least sometimes, and the talismanic nature of saints have always interested me.  Among other things, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals.

A few weeks ago, I was in Rome on a brief weekend holiday while in Europe for my day job.  Rome, however, was a research trip for a writing project, and I anticipated being tightly focused on documenting things once remembered about the city in preparation for a project that is set mostly in Rome and Southern Italy. To a certain extent, I was successful.  But I was also distracted by the things that always distract me in Italy: Great food that is surprisingly often gluten-free, and the gloomy, less visited churches that are barely even footnotes on the tourist maps.

One of the things the eclecticism of my religious upbringing (if you missed it: Dad changed religions a lot, my mom is Jewish, and my childhood was a sea of hippie oddities) is actually really helpful for is pulling apart pop-culture.  And so sitting in a church so blackened with soot that the interior was nothing but ominous, I started turning over House of Cards‘s Francis Underwood — his name, his faith, and the structural function of each in the narrative both of the show and his own life — over in my head.

And I came back, in that dark church, constantly to saints.

Because Francis Underwood is, absolutely, also a patron saint of animals.  When we first meet him, he puts a dog out of his misery, with his bare hands, and doing what is possibly the right thing has never seemed quite so unsettling.  It’s one of the great moments in scripted media ever.  It jumps off the screen, because of how spectacularly it jumps off the page.

But the motif of animals, blood and murder, certainly doesn’t end there.  Not with the way Francis makes a bloody x by swiping his finger across a newspaper photo of a rival after eating ribs, and not when there is so much discussion of in S2 of who is whose dog .The hacker Gavin Orsay, goes to his knees and barks to both show he understands and loathes his place, while businessman Xander Feng is essentially held hostage in what becomes a slow death by politics not-unlike the slow, illegal, bleed supposedly performed on the pigs served at Freddy’s BBQ.  Everyone is an animal in House of Cards. As one of the key promotional lines of S2 constantly reminded us: Hunt or be hunted.

The thing is, there are a lot of saints named Francis. St. Francis de Sales, for example, is the patron saint of writers and journalists.  Our Frank Underwood puts some of those out of their misery too, doesn’t he?  And his victory at the end of S2 is won, quite significantly, by his writing a letter to the president on a typewriter that bears his other name, Underwood.

It should be unsurprising.  After all, Frank Underwood says in S1, “I pray to myself for myself.”  It is perhaps one of the most shocking moments of the show thus far, at least in a nation that places so much value on religiosity both in politics and pop culture. This statement of Frank’s, however, is, I believe, less atheistic than it first appears and more gnostic or Thelemic in nature.  If it reads as a rejection of, as opposed to a oneness with a god, it does so largely because we’re supposed to consider Frank Underwood a very bad man.

While he is no villain I ever wish to be, and I view his schemes as a constantly cautionary tale (never come up with a plot that is dependent on the other parties involved doing what you think they are going to do; people will always surprise you and you’re never going to be as smart as you think you are), I find a great deal about Frank, and his wife Claire, profound and useful to me as I navigate my own relationship with the world.

Frank’s moment in the church, and his saints names, remind me, in spite of all his sins, the we each carry within us remarkable power, terrifying resilience, and peculiar affinities that allow us, if we’re paying any sort of attention, to write the story of our own lives through the living of them.  These possessions of Frank’s also suggest tantalizing clues as how the series may progress through S3 and perhaps beyond.

Because without House of Cards morphing into a totalitarian horrorscape, Frank does not have much more to achieve.  Other than reelection as president, he now can only fall. But as a saint of animals and writers, and as his own god who writes himself into being (praying to himself for himself), he must necessarily also write his own fall and achieve it too as a victory.

To that end, I would suggest keeping your eyes on Claire.  Frank is in so many ways her mentor and in so many ways she is surpassing him.  It is my very strong suspicion is that Frank’s final victory can only be his own written and wished for demise at her well-trained hands.

Starling, and now Doves

27 Mar

Since I anounced that Starling will be out from Torquere on September 10, 2014 there’s more news! Its sequel, Doves, will be out on January 21, 2015 also from Torquere.

While working frantically on more projects (seriously, I have a lot coming at you in multiple genres, I’m just waiting for the okay to speak to several of them) we’ve just started to plan some promotional stuff around Starling‘s release.

Erin and I will be on The Hummingbird Place, a romance novel podcast on August 18, 2014; we’ll be talking about characterization, which is the theme of the episode, which will feature several other great guests.

We’ll also be doing an interview with Raine O’Tierney at The Hat Party on September 10, 2014.  We’ll have giveaways around both, and I can tell you that the one for the The Hat Party will involve an actual hat crafted by Erin like the one that serves as a plot point in Starling.

For those of you that are members of Romance Writers of America’s NYC chapter or thinking about it, I’ll be the author of the month at their meeting on October 11, 2014. The topic will be collaboration.  As an aside, I can’t recommend the group highly enough.  They’ve been a huge asset in helping navigate this very fast moving process.  Meanwhile, I have a quick piece up on their blog about Velvet Goldmine, writing, and stardom.

As we move towards a cover reveal for Starling (this summer), Erin and I are putting together a joint blog for our coauthored work.  We’ll announce that soon, once we populate it with some content.

In the meantime, Glee‘s back, I desperately need to catch up on Vikings, and I need to do some serious processing with you all about House of Cards and various patron saints.  I know all the content right now is like “New content soon!” but truly, New content soon!

Upcoming dates

11 Feb

Two quick items:

1. Starling now has a release date, and will be out on September 10, 2014 from Torquere Press

2. I’ll be in LA over the coming very long weekend, enjoying some decent weather, a couple of meetings, hiking (apparently), and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll — all while occasionally skulking around Gallifrey One. At 3pm on February 15th, I’ll be speaking on the “Experiences on Demand” panel with Barbara Hambly, Jesse Alexander, Kim Rogers, Justin Olson,  and Sarah Mertan; we’ll be talking about the changing structure and delivery of screen-based entertainment thanks to game changers like Netflix.  Will I have slept or will I have watched all of S2 of House of Cards?  If you’re there, come say hi.

Obligatory SF/F Awards Season Post

5 Jan

It’s awards season again, which means I’ve a lot of screeners to watch before voting in the SAG-AFTRA awards and that it’s that time when those of us in the SF/F author/artist/writer community make posts about their eligible projects for the Hugos and other awards.

While technically I had two essays published in 2013 which are now eligible, it’s really the two volumes they’re contained in I’d like to remind you of.

The first is Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas.  It is what it says on the tin and a cousin of the Chicks Dig series from Mad Norwegian Press. Essays range from personal to somewhat academic and come from people of a wide variety of genders, orientations, identities and experiences, both with queerness and the Doctor Who universe.

The second is Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012 (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy), edited by Dr. Gillian I. Leitch and is from McFarland.  It’s academic in tone, but fairly accessible.  I had a great time meeting several of the contributors to this volume at a release event in Toronto last year, and I think the book itself does reflect the lively and diverse nature of that particular group.

As usual, please use the comments to tell me about what material you have that’s eligible.   2013 was a long year, and I may need the reminder more than usual before the nomination periods begin.

Starling

6 Dec

Some of you who follow me on Tumblr may have noticed an increase in random photos of birds, white bedrooms, and gingers.  This is not due to a new pet, a house remodel, or a sudden crush.  It’s actually because Erin McRae and I have written a novel, which we’re happy to report will be published by Torquere Press in 2014 (note: for those of you not familiar, Torquere is a long-time publisher of LGBT romances and there may be some images on that site you may not wish to click through to at work).

Our book, Starling, is a fairy tale about fame and everything that goes right, and ridiculously wrong, when you’re the kid who effectively gets discovered in a diner.  Set in Los Angeles amongst an incestuous group of friends during next year’s television season, Starling is about figuring out how to do life when it feels like the whole world is watching.

Starling is just one of many things in the hopper around here.  I’ve got a bunch of other projects at hand, some with announcements sooner and some with announcements later.  Erin’s working on a ton of stuff too.

Meanwhile, funny story for you:  Always. Check. Your. Spam. Filter.  Because if we had checked ours sooner, we would have been telling you this story a month ago.

Oooopsie.

Luckily, the team at Torquere is lovely.

When we have a specific release date for Starling we will let you know.

 

Catching Fire and the most unsettling sandwich advertising campaign ever

30 Nov

In 2012, the thing that most excited me about the then forthcoming film of The Hunger Games was the associated product tie-in advertising campaigns.  This year, with the release of Catching Fire (which is as compelling as the first film while being a lot more emotionally brutal), I’m stuck on the advertising once again.

A Cover Girl makeup collection with much higher visibility, than the makeup tie-ins of 2012 doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Nor does the luxury chocolate collection.  Sure, they’re uncomfortable, but affection for and playing at movie magic villainy is nothing new.  It’s just that the intense consumerism and reality TV horror strikes a little closer to home in the holiday shopping season and an economic climate that has been rough for a long time now.

What’s perhaps most surprising, however, is the Subway sandwiches tie-in, because while the other product connections arguably position the consumer as part of the wealthy and elite in the Capitol (regardless of what you think of the aspirational quality of Cover Girl as a brand), the Subway promotion explicitly positions the consumer as the resident of a District.

While the book series tells us some in the Districts live well and have enough to eat, the District narrative as we are exposed to it is largely one of struggle, starvation, injustice, exploitation, and poverty.  The Games are part of an abusive system that kills District children and also holds out that political ritual as a ticket to a better individual and collective life.

Everything about the Subway campaign is fascinating, however, in its sheer audacity, and at times, something that I think resembles a deeply unpleasant honesty.  That the sandwiches are touted as “What the Victors Eat” makes it clear that we all need fuel for our (possibly life and death) struggles to survive.

That’s grim enough, but that we’re supposed to be eager to participate in the restaurant-based game through which we can win our own “victory tour” is bizarre, considering how well that works out for Katniss and Peeta and the fact that Victory Tours in the book are about death and, traditionally, insincere mourning as a form of control.

That the promotion also seeks to raise money to Feeding America (by going to a Subway location, taking a photo of their Catching Fire-related promotions, and tweeting it to get Subway to “help donate a meal”) in a way where the effort/reward ratio seems unfortunate at best, also screams particularly loudly of the Capitol and coerced collaboration.

While I don’t think engaging with and enjoying marketing is innately evil even when playing at villainy, or that luxury chocolates, makeup, and unsettlingly marketed sandwiches are our biggest problems, I do think that there are ways to play in the space of The Hunger Games series that do a lot more good than tweeting photos of Subway sandwich posters. These ways include the Odds in Our Favor and We Are the Districts programs from The Harry Potter Alliance.

However, if anyone ever happens to see any industry press on how decisions were made in putting that Subway campaign together, please send it my way.  I’m desperately curious about the audacity vs. didn’t actually read the books/see the movies ratio.

Personal: Haven’t the foggiest what you will find here

29 Nov

Twenty years ago, I was a poet.  Longer ago than that even.

I began writing poetry in high school, as a teenager, took the gift of the Writers Market book for poetry my parents gave me each year and sent my words out.  Sometimes, people even published them.  And when I got on the Internet in 1990, and then joined a BBS which will not be named, I wrote my words there too.

I didn’t just write them.  I used them.  When I was in pain.  When I was angry.  When I was wrathful. When I had desire I did not know how to meet the consequences of; when lovers ignored me; when the politics of friendship confused me; when the cruelties of the Internet made me certain I was supposed to stop talking and just didn’t know how, I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Some more things got published.  Some more things got rejected.  I won some contests, performed at some poetry slams, got email from people I didn’t know: the father who shared one of my poems with his son after a first heartbreak; the man who worked at NASA and sent me pictures of the sky.

Eventually, the BBS died.  And eventually, I stopped writing, not just poetry, but everything.  It was easier; boys were more willing to date me; I could pretend I was normal, and there was a lot of lucrative to be had in the office drag dot.com glory of the late ’90s.

Eventually, though, I got back to words, or admitted, more readily, that I had never left them.  The boys were gone anyway.  So were the dot.coms, and the century, and the World Trade Center.

But while I came back to fiction and non-fiction, I never really came back to poetry.  I published something in Rattle on accident because of a friend, and I envisioned a poetry project or two I never felt able to execute on.

My brain has changed, and, by-and-large, it’s not something that really bothers me.  I’ve enough to do, as arguably evidenced by my complete inability to keep up with NaBloWriMo this nearly over month.

But in April of this year almost gone, an old friend from those days of being the girl who posted poetry on the Internet, found a stack of print outs from that BBS of my work.  She asked me if I wanted them, and I said, why not?

Until today, I hadn’t opened the envelope.

Some of the work I remember.  Some of it I don’t.  Much of what I’ve allowed myself to read has made me cringe.  In many cases, I am more interested by the evolution of my signature files on the pages as my sign-off migrate from Sinead O’Connor (“there is no other troy for me to burn”) to Kristen Hersh (“’til i wake your ghost”) to U2 (“i must be an acrobat, to look like this and act like that”) to things I no longer even know the source of without Googling (“you knew how easily i bruised; it’s a soreness i would never lose”).  Apparently that last one is Erica Jong.

It’s a weird stack of paper.  A hard read.  I don’t know if it tells me I was the poet I remember, that my resume says I was; or if I really wasn’t.  So few of these things would I say now, or say this way.

But there was one thing I did, a lot, when I was sad, and that was to write on this BBS, in the third person, about Little girl (“Little girl got to be pretty for a year…. Little girl has long legs.  Little girl has useful hands”). These were not poems, they were not meant as art.  They were pain and wrath and a desperate attempt to explain my feeling of being an object and to deflect — through a demonstration of my grief and otherness — cruelty that these posts, frankly, only invited.

I thought they were lost forever.  They might well have been, if not for my friend’s printouts and her offer to send them to me.  I’m grateful to have them now, to see the record, not of the writer I was, but of the girl I was at an age when I was discovering how the things I made people feel made them see themselves and the way I allowed myself to carry, or not carry, the consequences of that.

All of this really happened.  I was a writer, in that I wrote words that sometimes meant something to someone, often not in ways I intended.  And I suppose, I am one now, essentially in the same way.  But, wow, those two things aren’t really joined in time or subject or style or narrative technology.

There isn’t really a lesson in this, for me or for you.  It’s just 50 pages of words I don’t know if I’ll ever share with anyone ever again.  But once I did.

If anyone ever offers you an envelope from your past, say yes, I think.  Open it eventually.  Recognize that even when you were silent, you were always speaking.

The title of this entry is the opening of the note my friend enclosed with the printouts.

American Horror Story: Wounds as weapons

7 Nov

Sometimes, I feel like the loneliest person in fandom.  When Tumblr asks Who in the Glee cast would you most like to have lunch with? I always say Ryan Murphy.  That’s not just about avoiding the awkward about cute boys and the intensity of various fandom factions.  I really, really am a huge Ryan Murhy fan, which is a little bit like being a Russel T. Davies fan if you watch British TV — people wonder what’s wrong with you, even as they’re all watching the guy’s show(s).

Being a Ryan Murphy fan and being someone who struggles with the horror genre is, however, particularly frustrating right now.  Because he’s definitely doing some of his most intellectually interesting and uncomfortably confronting work on American Horror Story.  The problem is, I can barely watch it. Not because it’s gory, but because his imagination brings my deepest, darkest intrusive thoughts to visual life with far too much regularity.

I still haven’t, despite strong personal interest, watched AHS: Asylum because of the degree to which medicalized punishment for Otherness is pretty much the one narrative place I don’t quite have the endurance to go.  Mainly, because even if it didn’t happen like that, it still really happened.  It still does.

AHS: Coven, which I am watching, is by Murphy’s own admission, a campier, funnier show.  But it’s still horrifying — and again, not for the gore. This is particularly clear in the way it showcases a litany of female focused horrors: self-injury, deceitful competition between women, the non-metaphorical links between sex and death, the false redemption fame and objectification are meant to promise us.

At its heart, of course, all of Murphy’s work is, arguably, about trauma survivors.  It is as clear in Gabourey Sibide’s Queenie on AHS as it is in Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel on Glee.  It’s hardly surprising.  After all, Murphy is also working on bringing The Normal Heart to HBO.  Because while marginalized people are always, arguably, trauma survivors, the tight generational bond some of us share because of queerness and AIDS and activism is particularly illustrative.  It is one of the other things that often makes me feel lonely in fandom; I burst into tears every time I see the All My Friends Are Dead dinosaur, and yet when I try to talk about these experiences I often get the message — from myself as well as others — that I shouldn’t.

Weirdly, however, Murphy’s obsession with trauma and its transformative nature may be something he most clearly articulated during the nearly unwatchable, often annoying, and now cancelled reality TV show The Glee Project, in which contestants competed for a role on the FOX show.  With the exception of Alex Newell, the most interesting performers didn’t win (I’m looking at you, Charlie Lubeck).  But in the sea of all that, one interesting thing Murphy always seemed to ask the contestants, over and over again, was What is your wound?

Most often, this generated people talking about the things in their lives and the reception of their identities and experiences that most hurt.  It led to more than a few Tumblr conversations where people tried to identify and craft elevator pitches for their own wounds.

But last night, when I watched Queenie slash her own throat and dip her hand in a glass of acid to inflict the wounds produced on others, I finally understood.  When Ryan Murphy asks his potential actors What is your wound? what he means is How are you going to kill me?

Valerie’s Letter Day

5 Nov

It’s Valerie’s Letter Day, and so I’m posting it again, the way I always do, despite the fact that I have not reread the graphic novel in years or rewatched the movie ever.  Mainly, because I’m afraid to.

Both forms of the story hit at sort of terrible moments in my life.  The college situation, when I first read the graphic novel, I’ve talked about before to probably the fullest extent I’ll ever want to; it leaves out a lot.  The day I watched the V for Vendetta film, alone at a crappy theater in Chelsea, was the day I got sick.

At I first thought was food poisoning, what my baffled doctors suggested might be anything from gall bladder disease to cancer, and what ultimately turned out to be my far less scary but seriously unpleasant celiac disease.  But, for the first week, before all that happened, I thought I was have a psychosomatic reaction to the film’s long montage-based sequences of medicalized torture as political punishment.

When I read Valerie’s Letter, I know grace, poetry, survival, and pride.  When I engage with its larger context, however, I just feel afraid.  As much as that’s terrible, it’s also probably should be.

I’ve whispered I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot to myself more times than I really know how to explain.  I’ve wished that to be something I’ve been less needful of, and over time, it’s even been true; the world as I experience it today is, as relates to Valerie’s letter, barely recognizable from 1989.  And as glad as I am of that, that we have roses (again) and that Valerie never quite was, I am also remain so damn glad of that sentence about a place I’ve never been and a year fifteen before I was born.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

- Valerie

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