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

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

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

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

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.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Blood stories

Last night Patty and I went to see Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, which is an oddly thoughtful and sweet movie that I smiled through nearly all of it.  The quibbles I had with it were largely quibbles I have about all of Jarmusch’s work and so aren’t really of note; I am simply not quite the perfect audience for his work.

What has lingered with me however, is the film’s relationship to AIDS.  All modern vampire films have one, of course, whether they intend to or not.  And Only Lovers Left Alive‘s is troubling.

A young vampire behaves promiscuously and causes a great deal of trouble, her actions blamed on blood poisoning.  Kit Marlowe (yes, gay! atheist! spy! Kit Marlowe) also dies from drinking contaminated blood towards the end of the film in a scene I found quite moving thanks to the grief of his student Bilal (played by Slimane Dazi).  That Adam (Tom Hiddleston) declares he wants the girl (and not the boy) in a kissing couple he and Eve (Tilda Swinton) attack at the end of the film felt like another minor thread in a discomforting construction of an unnamed AIDS.

That the source of contamination is, of course, mortal humans is less interesting than the fact that they are referred to throughout the film only as zombies: We are all slow and we are all diseased. Modern zombie films also touch heavily on AIDS allegories for the “one drop of blood and you’re dead” trope that raises the specter of the early years of the epidemic in the U.S. (often referred to as “the plague years”).

Only Lovers Left Alive is a lovely film, filled with great warmth and delightful oddities. But while also suggesting uncomfortable questions and viewpoints about gentrification and colonialism, it seems very much like a throwback to a certain type of fear — and judgement — about AIDS, who’s at risk, and what the moral landscape is around sickness.

My friend Becca notes that, if you’re into astrology, we’re in a sort of Saturn return for AIDS/HIV.  If you’re not into astrology, basically, we’re telling AIDS stories again all of a sudden — because some of us have forgotten and some of us finally feel like we can talk about the trauma.  From last year’s Dallas Buyers Club to HBO’s upcoming The Normal Heart, we’ve returned to a certain narrative place lately, and in light of that, it feels impossible to exempt Only Lovers Left Alive from that particular landscape.


Writing news updates

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.

House of Cards: Of saints and stories

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

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

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

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.