Monday, May 29, 2017

Music Mondays: "Know Your Name" by Mary Lambert

Know Your Name (Official Video) by Mary Lambert on VEVO.

OK, first, I want to find out where they are in this video and go hang out there.

Second, how do I get in on this Street Fighter tournament?

Third, why is everyone in this video so cool? How does Mary Lambert find such awesome friends? (Probably by being super awesome herself...)

Fourth, I like the song, too!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Five Years on Kiva!

I got an email notification this week telling me that I've been on Kiva for five years!

Kiva is a nonprofit organization that aims to help people around the world get small, low-interest loans that help them start businesses, attend school, make needed renovations, etc. You can see explanations on Kiva's website.

I first joined Kiva in conjunction with the publication of my novella, The Six Swans, through Coming Together. All books that Coming Together publishes go toward some sort of charity project. In this case, proceeds from novellas that come out through the Coming Together: Neat line go into Kiva accounts.

You can see my Kiva lender profile here. Over the years I've used royalties from The Six Swans, along with other money I've added to it at times to make 61 loans!

If you'd like to get involved, it's easy to make your own account on Kiva. Or you can pick up The Six Swans, Giselle Renarde's Tangled Roots, or any other book in the Coming Together: Neat line.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Trouble With Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 a couple weeks ago, and since then I've been rolling stuff over in my mind about the Mantis character. My reaction during the movie was discomfort—I felt I was watching a portrayal that played to certain racial stereotypes. As often happens, though, I hesitated and questioned myself a lot, worrying I was being "oversensitive" or reading something into her that wasn't there.

The feeling persisted, though. I thought other people might write about this for me, but I haven't seen a lot along those lines, so I'm going to write about what stood out for me.

To properly discuss this, I'm going to use spoilers whenever necessary, and generally I'm going to talk like you've seen the movie. Be warned.

Here are the ways I felt weird about this character:

1) She "helps Ego sleep."

Let's talk about Ego. If you think about what he does, he is literally an exploitative sex tourist (he travels to one planet after another impregnating people). I can't tell you how many of those types I've met in real life who are obsessed with/fetishize the idea of obtaining (possession word used intentionally to describe this mindset) an Asian wife or mistress, usually because he thinks this woman would be some combination of submissive and exotic.

When I saw Mantis with him, I immediately read her as a woman filling that role, either in a sex worker way or in a mail order bride way. There's a clear power imbalance between them, and she seems cowed by him. The references to how she helps him sleep fit into a sexually suggestive framework, to my mind.

Okay, but isn't Ego the villain?

I wondered if that somehow mitigates this portrayal of Mantis. Can the movie be read as a story of her escaping Ego's clutches and finding her own voice in some way? But I don't think so, and that has everything to do with how Drax treats her.

2) Drax mocks and belittle Mantis and she seems to love it

The interactions between Drax and Mantis are coded as a romantic B-plot (her attractiveness is discussed, she seems to be a part of his moving on from the loss of his wife, and toward the end of the movie he both princess-carries her and compliments her). I found this relationship sinister, though, because it reinforces the image of Mantis as exotic and submissive, playing into the same qualities that Ego the sex tourist seems to see in her.

Mantis does take action to go with the Guardians—specifically, she gives them key information about Ego's true motives and actions. She also delays Ego for a key amount of time during the climactic battle. This does earn her appreciation with the Guardians.

I don't think it earns her enough or the right sort of appreciation, though. The main kudos I recall her getting come from Drax, who grudgingly tells her that she is beautiful after all—on the inside (implication being that she is actually physically ugly). At the theater where I saw the movie, this line drew laughs, but it's an ugly, backhanded compliment. Mantis's "obvious" beauty and Drax's personality quirks are supposed to mitigate how this lands, I think, but in context... they don't.

Pro tip: Insults that say something "obviously" false about someone else... are still insults. (See all the times terrible insults have been justified as humorous for this reason. For example, the debacle around The Onion's disgusting and crude tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis).

Mantis seems to take Drax's insults as deserved and complimentary, and that's not sweet, especially when I'm already seeing her as a possibly traumatized victim of sexual violence from Ego.

3) The way she is cast

Mantis is an empath. I think her casting illustrates the way artistic projects can work with stereotypes or against them.

There's nothing wrong with having a character who's an empath. But when I see the way Mantis is portrayed, I think OF COURSE they chose to make her a woman. OF COURSE they chose to make her an Asian-coded woman. (Actress Pom Klementieff is French, and her mother is Korean). The idea of the empath works entirely with the stereotype of the Asian woman as receptacle for the hopes, dreams, and penises of straight white men. I'm disappointed to see it played that way.

To cast an Asian woman as an empath without falling into this trap, the character, frankly, has to be written better and with more depth. For more automatic stereotype resistance, cast someone else who doesn't "fit" the idea—and don't play that for laughs. Imagine if the Mantis character was played by someone like Idris Elba (again, not for laughs about the "contrast"). The whole thing would feel very different.

(A brilliant example of casting that pushes against stereotypes is Andre Braugher as Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Captain Holt. The show brilliantly toys with stereotypes to force viewers to see Captain Holt as an individual. In particular, it accomplishes this by forcing tension between the stereotypes of a tough, no-nonsense black man and the stereotypes of a gay man. Because the character is both, no stereotype can settle.)

4) Her use of language and the jokes about it

Mantis speaks, to my ear, with an accent that seems to mock the typical sound of English as spoken by Asian people who've learned it as immigrants. She also, inexplicably, seems not to know certain words. I feel she's coded as an immigrant and non-native speaker, which plays into the way her character embraces Asian stereotypes.

For example, listen to the way she responds when Drax tells her she's disgusting. She proudly announces, "I'm disgusting," to Gamora, and the way she says it reminds me of the way Asian people sound when they don't speak English well.

In other words, Drax's abuse feels even meaner because it takes advantage of a character who doesn't seem to speak the language—and the movie plays this for laughs.


Given these things, the movie left a bad taste in my mouth (though I will laugh forever about looking desperately for tape, even in the future).

Here are a couple of links I've found that discuss issues with Mantis, though not quite from the same angle.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Turned Mantis Into the Butt of a Joke
by Charles Paul Hoffman
"Intentional or not, Mantis’ portrayal feels very much like the trope of the wife a soldier brought back to the United States after the Vietnam War."

A Good Chunk of Guardians of the Galaxy Is Devoted to Calling This Character Ugly by Morgan Baila
"Why, in a film promoting a misfits gang full of a diverse range of characters, with varying levels of skill, intelligence, and attractiveness, is this female character being singled out for her looks? It's a cheap and lazy plot line, and it almost ruined the movie for me."

Friday, May 26, 2017

#ChechenRainbow Update

Dale Cameron Lowry sent out an update about the Readers and Writers for LGBT Chechens Auction, which I posted about several weeks ago. The online auction raised $2,709! If you're interested in a breakdown of where the money went and how organizations are using it, you can see that information here.

But even if you missed the auction, there's still a chance to help. Some authors and publishers are still donating book proceeds to the Russian LGBT Network and Rainbow Railroad (most of these offers end by May 31st, so now's a good time to make your purchases if you're interested!) Follow this link to see a list.

I'm going to particularly call your attention to Ultimate Wired Hard, published by Circlet Press. This book is huge! Forty-three stories for less than $6. It's an amazing deal even before you consider that all the proceeds are going to charity. If you're interested in making sure the largest possible donation gets made, buy the book from Circlet's website—the charities will get a bigger cut.

I'm amazed and inspired by the work going into this effort, and I invite you to support this project, if you're able.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Cover Reveal: Journey to the Center of Desire

Begging, my friends: It pays.

Behold the cover to Journey to the Center of Desire, edited by Jen Blackmore, coming soon from Circlet Press. After spotting SUBTLE CLUES (translation: a background on the editor's blog) suggesting this cover is a thing that exists in this world, I excitedly begged to get copies of those pictures, too, and the Aetherist herself kindly obliged.

It's cool, yeah?

My story is called "Journey to the Disappearing Sea." It's about a dude who doesn't realize how irrelevant he is. No, wait, that's not quite right. It's narrated by Axel, the hero (and whiny center) of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. In the original, Axel loves to talk about "his little Gräuben," so I decided to talk about her a whole lot more. In short, I decided to make her the much cooler star of her own adventure.

Was I fantasizing? Well... yes. But hopefully I'll make you fantasize, too.

I'll share more details (like a release date!) when I can get them. And I might also post a few paragraphs to whet your appetite...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Coming Soon: A Beastly Affair

Hey friends! I don't think I remembered to tell you that I signed a contract for a story in Jen Blackmore's Beastly Affair, a Beauty and the Beast-themed erotic anthology coming soon from Circlet Press.

I had a really great time writing my story, "Bête Noire." It's set in the Weird West, with a beast who's a former debutante, and a gun-toting, revenge-seeking Beauty.

When I finished the story and looked it over, I saw it had... drifted quite a bit from the fairy tale as told by Disney. That's what you want when writing, of course, because you need to make a story your own. I'm always fascinated by the process, though. To me, each step feels clear and logical, as if I'm just making minor adjustments. Then I hear myself describing the story to someone, and I realize it's radically different, and radical.

Like, why the Weird West? I'm not sure, but it made perfect sense to me at the time. I think I was looking for a time and place in which I thought a curse-giver could be passing through, and I didn't want to do the vague medieval England setting that one falls into so easily.

The key to my version of the story, though, came from research I did into the origins of the fairy tale. One old version of the story holds that the witch curses the Beast in a fit of rage after being sexually denied. It seemed to me like a person who would do that wouldn't only do it once, so I immediately envisioned a wandering sexual harasser, leaving behind a trail of Beast-cursed people. From there, it wasn't hard to imagine Beauty and a Beast teaming up to pursue the curse-giver.

I wanted the story to address the trauma the Beast has gone through. I put into it a lot of the feelings I've had myself in the wake of harassment—in particular, an urge to embrace the idea of ugliness because sometimes I see that as an antidote to vulnerability. I've also often observed that in the wake of trauma, my friends want revenge, and the things I want are much murkier and more complex.

Along with all that psychological and mythological stuff, though, Beauty and the Beast are into blood play, and the scenes I wrote for that are HOT—if I judge by my own reaction to them, anyway. ;)

I'm really looking forward to this book. I love Jen Blackmore's anthologies, both because her concepts are awesome and because she attracts great writers (I'm always honored to be in their company).

If you want to be in her next book, she has a call out right now for Golden Age Erotica (there's a link from here).

And if you want to see what I'm talking about, may I recommend Whispers in Darkness, her excellent anthology of Lovecraftian erotica?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Karate Kid Holds Up Surprisingly Well

Sometimes I get drunk and watch old action movies for fun, and I recently decided to do that with The Karate Kid. Usually, it's a hilarious exercise because the movies don't hold up all that well (ahem, Top Gun).

Karate Kid, though, was real AF, and in many ways felt more progressive than movies I see today.

For one thing, the feminism is real. Elisabeth Shue's character, Ali, is not your typical airhead love interest (it so depresses me that I have to write this). For one thing, she's always out doing stuff with her friends. She clearly has an interior life and a social life, and isn't just waiting around for Daniel. She also isn't shy about telling him that she likes him and telling him what she wants and expects. When a guy grabs her in a way she doesn't like, she punches him. Daniel doesn't see that and assumes she was cheating on him, and one of her friends sets him straight, telling him that she shouldn't have to explain something like that to him—he ought to trust that she's a good person.

When Daniel gets a new car, he rushes to show it to Ali—and wants her to drive it. I noticed myself cringing because I was so sure she would crash it and become the butt of a joke about women not being able to drive. (And what does that say about how I've been socialized?) Instead, he helps her figure out the controls (just as he had to do a few minutes before), and they drive off happily.

Also, let's talk about Daniel's mom. Lucille LaRusso is a single mother figuring it out under difficult circumstances. What's striking here, though, is that you never see her lamenting that she's alone or doesn't have a partner. You see a woman who's excited to make her own way and discover a new career. She's frustrated and struggling in some ways, but she's also forming herself in a way that you can tell is thrilling for her. She wants to be in California, and she wants to explore her job opportunities. Daniel's unhappy about it, in a teenage way, and she expresses sympathy but is also clear that she's a person and she deserves this. She's awesome, and different from the way I often see single mothers portrayed now. (She does have one of the most unintentionally funny scenes in the movie, though, when she declares to Daniel, "I could never make this much money in computers!" That, too, is telling, though—it's an artifact of the time when computers were considered women's work and were consequently devalued. Hmmm...)

I often feel like there's this idea that society gets more progressive over time, but it's all too rare now to see a love interest character who's as much her own person as Ali is. This really gives the lie to the idea that feminism has been accomplished. I feel like U.S. society has gone backwards since this movie was made, in many ways.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the drunk Mr. Miyagi scene. I remembered it from childhood, and I remembered that his wife had died and he was wrecked over it.

It was a memorable scene, and there are a lot of clips on YouTube of him singing the Japanese Blues. What I didn't remember, however, is exactly how cruel and damning his story is. If you look carefully at the newspaper clips that Daniel is reading, you'll see that Mr. Miyagi fought for the U.S. during World War II and was decorated for his bravery. At the very same time, his pregnant wife was in an internment camp, where she died while giving birth—probably unnecessarily because it seems like she doesn't get proper medical treatment. (I couldn't find a clip of this whole part, but the movie can be rented and streamed on Amazon).

A lot of people on YouTube seem amused by his drunken antics, but I sobbed through this scene. It seems like the truth about the imprisonment of Japanese people in the U.S. has only been coming out recently, but here's a very popular movie from the early 80s facing it head on.

I'm not going to say this is a perfect movie, but it's a very good movie and it held up way better than I thought it would.

I thought I would be annoyed at Mr. Miyagi's mysterious oriental-ness, but he's a real character, with a past and an arc. You see him in the movie learning to face down racism and get out and make his own life despite his grief. He and Daniel adopt each other, and that helps them both. I'm a sucker for a powerful father figure relationship, and for chosen family stories, and that's what this movie is.

Oh, and that crane scene that's often mocked these days? Watch it again in its full context. I dare you not to cry.