V for Vendetta: Please believe

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

I post this every year. Every year, I think perhaps I should not.  I think of the need to explain to Americans that Guy Fawkes Day is not about supporting revolution. I think about how the V masks get used in American politics. I think about the binary nature of this incredibly effective and affecting piece of writing makes it irredeemable and cruel for some.

And then I post it anyway.

Because I don’t ask it to speak for or to anyone but me.  But it’s become more and more personal to me over the years, wound in with my history, with my anxieties not just about politics, but with the medicalization and institutionalization of the marginalized.  My celiac symptoms developed the day I saw the V for Vendetta film.  I spent at least a week thinking the movie had merely traumatized me into illness because I trusted a story more than I trusted my own sense of my own body. This is what we are taught, that we are not our own.

So the cadence of this piece is, always, my posture and my grief.

That it is a backstage story is always less-remarked on than I think it should be.  All lives are backstage stories, after all.

It is strange how all its dates live in the past now. They didn’t once. And it was terrifying.

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Talking about American Horror Story

For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Bonnie & Maude’s “All of Them Witches” at The Bell House, my talk on AHS: Coven is now available as a podcast. The rest of the presentations from that evening are also in the process of being rolled out and you can and should grab them all (there are two up right now and more are coming).

Meanwhile, I spent a little bit of time waxing poetic about my surprisingly emotional response to AHS: Freak Show. One o the things I didn’t have a chance to talk about there was the genius of the anachronistic song choices the show has been using. Freaks — as used in this show to represent a range of marginalizations through camp, queerness, and disability — are, as the show frames them, the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to art both art and violence as consumers, victims, and perpetrators. This is one of those shows audiences are going to have radically different responses too, but it hits me — despite the horror elements which are the least interest to me — in a place of sorrow and wonder and loneliness like I’m still struggling to describe.

Ebola and the “good victim” narrative

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.

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

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

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!

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!

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).