Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The cost of the story

I have never thought journalism was a safe profession.

I remember as a child, my parents having dinnertime conversations about journalists they knew who were attacked and left paraplegic (or who had to flee the country quite literally in middle of the night) because what they had reported enraged the powers that be.

Read the rest of this in an interactive storymapped long-form piece at AL DÍA News.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Meet the Character - Anthony Cardno

Photo from Pixabay

Writer Teresa Frohock, who writes elegantly chilling speculative fiction (read about her new novella, The Broken Road, here) invited me to participate in this deceptively simple blog tour. So, here it is, meet one of my characters.

• • •

1. What is the name of your character?

Anthony Cardno

2. Is he fictional or a historic person?

Well, he’s a fictional character, but he is also a tuckerization of writer and friend, Anthony Cardno.

3. When and where is the story set?

It is set in Guatemala, mainly during the armed internal conflict which spanned 36 years from 1960 to 1996.

4. What should we know about him?

Anthony is a human rights special rapporteur who will do whatever he needs to do to secure the physical evidence necessary to produce irrefutable reports on the abuses that are taking place in the countries he monitors. He has a soft spot for Guatemala, where he has struck a deep friendship with a young journalist, John Herit, and has an enduring but conflicted friendship with Corazón, the owner of a bar he frequents. Oh, and Corazón also happens to be a monster...

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

All of the conflicts in the story are born from attempts to hide — or ferret out — the truth behind an “official story.” Countries redact their history and, sometimes, so do individuals.

6. What is the personal goal of the character?

He wants to excise what is monstrous in our world.

7. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Well, it’s not a novel, but a short story titled “The Bar at the End of the World.” Read more about it here.

8. When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

The story is part of the anthology “The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno,” which was published in July of this year as a charity endeavor to raise money for cancer research. There are a lot of well known writers who contributed their stories to the anthology including Mary Robinette Kowal, Christine Yant, Damien Angelica Walters. It also contains one of Jay Lake’s final stories before he succumbed to cancer. The anthology is available in print and as an ebook, and I encourage you to buy it both for the pleasure of reading it, and as a way to strike back at a disease that has claimed the lives of so many.

• • •

To continue the blog tour, I’m tagging three Latina writers: the incredible, seriously talented Gina Ruiz; an exceptionally promising up-and-coming writer, Ezzy Guerrero-Languzzi; and Jessica Olivarez-Mazone, who’s just getting started on her writer's journey but has many uniquely Tejana stories to tell.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dear Latinas: Are we content being mannequins?

"Flying Mannequin (3302472992)" by Christine Zenino from Chicago, US - Flying Mannequin. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the past several weeks I've written two pieces for AL DÍA News media about how the entertainment media objectifies Latinas. Hollywood to Latinas: Shut up and get naked deals with a study that says Latina portrayals in mainstream films (regardless of "attractiveness" of the character) are more sexualized than for any other racial or ethnic group. The second, Hollywood to Latinas, part II: Shut up while we ogle you, touches upon the choice of Emmy award-show organizers to put Sofia Vergara on a revolving pedestal (and her choice to comply) while the CEO of the academy of television arts spoke about the industry's advances in diversity.

Vergara, who has been dubbed "Sofia Vengüenza" (Sofia Shame) by Vanessa Smith, the VP of Marketing and Advertising of ImpactoNY, has responded to criticisms of allowing herself to be used, essentially, as a mannequin by saying her critics have no sense of humor. Other responses, often from Latino men (straight and gay), have posited that those critical of the Emmy bit and of Vergara don't understand Latin American cultural mores and more significantly, are simply jealous because they are ... unattractive. Well, no. Smith, for example, is a Costa Rican and extremely attractive. She's also smart as a whip and undoubtedly understands that Vergara's portrayal (on screen and off) as a dimwit distinguished only by her exaggerated accent and by her killer body has a real impact.

The fetishization of the "Latina" body has given Venezuela a curious coming-of-age tradition: cosmetic surgery. Rita di Martino (who founded a support group for the victims of faulty breast implants), told Stuff.co.bz that many Venezuelan girls receive the gift of plastic surgery when they turn 15. The article goes on to state that "in 2011, Venezuelan women had nearly as much cosmetic surgery performed as their British sisters, an industry study says. Britain is over twice as large as Venezuela — and over three times richer." In fact, according to an article that appeared in the Guardian in 2011, Venezuelans often take on debt to finance their perfected bodies. "The demand for surgery is such that banks offer attractive loans for procedures, with slogans such as: 'Have your plastic on our plastic.'"

In the United States, the proliferation of beauty pageants intended for young (and very young) Latinas points to the pervasive idea that notice comes to Latinas most readily via beauty. While there is money to be made from winning pageants, participating in them is costly. And what the pageants reinforce in terms of body image and perceptions of beauty can be reprehensible (make-up on five year olds, anyone?) and downright destructive (in 2013 the Little Miss Hispanic Delaware title was taken away from 7-year-old Black Dominican contestant Jakiyah McCoy and given to blond, light-skinned runner up Tiffany Ayala). 

A study from the American Association of University Women found that Latinas between the ages of nine and 15 already have a negative body image that further drops by 38 percent as they get older. Celebrities from Demi Lovato to Shakira have admitted to body image issues severe enough that they led to eating disorders and cutting (Lovato) and prompted therapy to help deal with them (Shakira).

While body image ranks much lower as a concern for women in general in mid-life, middle-aged Latinas who undergo breast cancer surgery have greater "body image disturbance" than their peers of other races and ethnicities (Women over 50: Psychological Perspectives By Varda Muhlbauer and Joan C. Chrisler). Is it because we're more tied to the "ideal body" (generous breasts to balance a generous booty and a slender waist between) than any other race/ethncity? Maybe. 

"Latinas ... are generally thought to be more traditional in their gender role attitudes," write Muhlbauer and Chrisler, "and that might account for part reason why they have been shown to be more distressed than Black and White women after breast cancer treatment."

I'd say traditional is the wrong word, I prefer conventional. Looking at Vergara's stint on the display stand points to a conventional gender role attitude that also finds expression in some of the defenses of it. 

If you noticed, Vergara said very little while up on the pedestal. The sense that we should beautiful and seen but not heard still infects many aspects of Latina life — from Latinas who suffer domestic abuse in silence to those professionals who are told they are impolite or "too American" when they voice an opinion. Likewise, Vergara's little jokey moments were (very carefully) not rebuttals of the objectification taking place in front of her. In fact, she dealt with them in exactly the way Latin American women have long been taught to deal with piropos de albañil (the sometimes hilarious but always grotesquely sexual "compliments" catcalled from the street), that is, to neither confront and correct but to deflect through good nature and an understanding that "boys will be boys." 

Latina "femininity," of this type is never proactive, but reactive; never challenging, ever accommodating. I'd like to think we have no desire to raise daughters like this: mannequins of a type, docile and interchangeable. I'd like to think we ourselves have no desire to be like this. But perhaps we do. I recently heard a 30-ish Latina professional brush off criticism of Vergara's choices — not because she likes the stereotype the actor has chosen to embody — but because she's made so much money doing it. It's the same justification Eva Longoria uses whenever she hears criticism of the show she produces, Devious Maids.
That's another Latina stereotype, of course. That we'll do anything and everything for the bling.


Inset photo: "ReuseumManniquins" by Kencf0618 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The treatment of unaccompanied minors on the border reminiscent of dystopia

This week someone pointed out on Twitter that what is happening at our border — the characterization of children fleeing violence or hoping to be reunited with their families as security and public health threats rather than refugees; their dehumanizing detention conditions; the proposed expedited repatriation — is reminiscent of what happens in my novel, Ink.

Ink is an immigration-based dystopia. I wrote it imagining xenophobia the scale of which I thought was exaggerated, unimaginable in today's United States.

And I have watched in horror as piece by piece, bit by bit, we inch toward that unimaginable.

In my novel one of my characters paraphrases St. Augustine:
"Father Tom says Augustine had it right," says one of my characters, Mari, "that the soul takes more pleasure in what it has lost and recovered than what it has had all along. He says, given enough time, even a nation remembers it has a soul."

I am a person of faith. I believe in the soul, and the mercy and compassion it enkindles in us as individuals, as communities, as a community of communities. Perhaps we've simply forgotten, as we speak with cruelty or indifference about the fate of the children on our border, that we collectively have a soul. Perhaps we have lost what is best in each us as we dismiss or disregard the conditions of their detention, conditions we would fight tooth-and-nail to change if those detained were our own children. Perhaps what calls to be recovered is the mercy that prevents adults from preparing to send children, alone, back to horrific danger.

"Don't let the future be written for you," says another character in my novel, toward the end, after they've all suffered and sustained immeasurable losses in the struggle to keep their humanity alive and recover the soul of their dystopic America.

I cannot help but think we are poised at a crucial juncture here, now. What future are we letting cynical legislators, Minutemen and haters write for those powerless and vulnerable children? What future are we letting those same legislators, Minutemen and haters write for us, and in our name?

I love the Aloe Blacc, Alex Rivera and NDLON collaboration represented by the video that follows this post. It uses distinct signifiers — in music, in image, in activism — to write a story of human connection, of solidarity, of compassion and a future of hope ...  Life's a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

My schedule at Readercon 25

Thursday, July 10

8 PM 

East, West and Everything Between: A Roundtable on Latin@ Speculative Fiction

Panel: Matthew Goodwin, Carlos Hernández, Daniel José Older, Julia Rios and Sabrina Vourvoulias 

This freeform conversation will look at where we've been, where we're going, the challenges of representing our own particular cultures within the umbrella term "Latin@," and the challenges of being Latin@ within a overwhelmingly Anglo genre. Are there insurmountable differences in regional Latinidad? Do we have to choose between being “vendidos” (sell-outs) or “pelados” (surviving—barely—by our wits)? Can we build platform in two languages (and if so, how)? How are we combatting the “Latinos don't read/Latinos don't write” fallacy?

Friday, July 11

1 PM 

Latin@ Writers Read 

Reading: Carlos Hernández, Daniel José Older, Julia Rios and Sabrina Vourvoulias 

In concert with the 'East, West, and Everything Between' roundtable about Latin@ SFF, panel participants will read from their own work and/or work of other Latin@ writers.

• I'll be reading from my story, Skin in the Game, which is slated to be published by Tor.com in late 2014 or early 2015.

3 PM 

Long Hidden Group Reading 

Rose Fox, Claire Humphrey, Michael Janairo, Ken Liu, Sunny Moraine, Daniel José Older, Sarah Pinsker, Sofia Samatar and Sabrina Vourvoulias
Long Hidden (edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older) is an anthology of speculative stories from the margins of history. Our participants will read from their stories, which dive deep into the hidden truths of marginalized people throughout history and around the world.

• I'll be reading from my story, The Dance of the White Demons, which closes out the book. Look for it for purchase as ebook or in print at the Crossed Genres table in the bookshop.

4 PM 

Rape, Race & Speculative Fiction 

Panelists: Chesya Burke, Mikki Kendall (leader), Rose Mambert and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Rape as a plot device can be highly problematic. We've certainly seen it used as the only trauma or the worst trauma that can happen to a woman in fiction. But what happens when writers from marginalized communities include it in their fiction as a way of exploring painful history that has gone unacknowledged? We will discuss Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire, and other examples. This panel will cover some very sensitive topics, so please be respectful of yourself and others.

7 PM 

Tabula Rasa Group Reading

Reading: Jennifer Marie Brissett, Justin Key, Barbara Krasnoff and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Tabula Rasa is an NYC-based writers group made up of experienced, published science fiction/fantasy/horror writers. Each member will be reading a portion of a story, published or not yet published.

• I'll be reading from my story, The Bar at the End of the World, from the anthology The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno (fresh off the press at Readercon!) which benefits the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Look for it for purchase as ebook or in print at the Lethe Press and/or Crossed Genres tables in the bookshop. 

Saturday, July 12

10 AM 

When the Other Is You 

Panelists: Chesya Burke, Samuel Delany, Peter Dubé, Mikki Kendall, Vandana Singh and Sabrina Vourvoulias. 

Being part of an underrepresented group and trying to write our experience into our work can be tricky. We might have internalized some prejudice about ourselves, we might not have the craft to get our meaning across perfectly, and even if we depict our own experience totally accurately (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie observed in her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story"), we do so while struggling against the expectation that our experience is or isn't "representative" or "authentic." How do we navigate the pitfalls and responsibilities of being perceived as spokespeople? What potentially pernicious dynamics allow us that dubious privilege in the first place? Which works make us cringe with their representations of us, and which make us sigh with relief and recognition?

7 PM 

Solo reading 

• I haven't decided yet whether I'll read from my novel, Ink (Crossed Genres); or another story that will be published in 2015 by Tor.comThe Way of Walls and Words; or one of the stories or novellas for my planned collection of short stories, Sin Embargo; or perhaps even a section of my work in progress, a Sci Fi space opera, tentatively titled Tierras Huerfanas/Orphan Lands

You can, of course,  purchase Ink as ebook or in print at the  Crossed Genres table in the bookshop, but for the other, you'll just have to wait.

Anyway, help me make the decision about which to read. Let me know in comments which sounds most interesting to you. You'll have my eternal gratitude, because I really, really, really can't seem to decide on my own.

And if you've never been to Readercon, what are you waiting for? I'd love to see/meet you there!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Competing fandoms: Philadelpha Comic Con vs. the World Cup

RB Silva & company at Philly Comic Con

Sometimes fate conspires to pit two interests against each other. Since June 13 I’ve been watching every soccer match in the undisputed king of world soccer tournaments — the World Cup. But even beyond the matches and surprises (Ghana matching Germany? Costa Rica beating Uruguay and Italy?) is the spectacle of fandom, and the creative ways it shows its love and support for the national teams. There’s been everything from face-paint to full-on costume, and I love it.

On Saturday, June 21 there were three World Cup matches: Argentina vs. Iran (1-0); Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (1-0); and the aforementioned Germany vs. Ghana stunner (2-2), and I didn’t see even one match. That’s because I was at another event that is all about the spectacle of fandom and creative ways to show love and support for  the world of comics, sci fi/fantasy/horror and gaming — Philadelphia Comic Con.

It’s funny, because there is probably not a whole lot of overlap between the two fandoms. In fact, the individuals involved in each often hold deprecating views of each other — the antagonism between geeks and jocks is standard in television shows and coming-of-age literature and films. And yet, the expression of fandom is indisputably the same.

Marvel’s Ironman fan vs.  Spain’s La Furia Roja fans
Ironman at Philadelphia Comic Con
La Furia Roja fans before Spain's second match
Nintendo’s Attack on Titan fans vs. Japan’s Samurai Blue fans

Attack on Titan cosplayers at Philly Comic Con
Japanese national team fans at the first match
Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier fans vs. Chile’s La Roja fans

Two sets of Captain America: The Winter Soldier cosplayers
Chile's La Roja fans before the second match
Dr. Who fan vs. Costa Rica’s Tico fan
Dr. Who cosplayer at Philly's Market East station.
Tico fan at a friendly preceding World Cup play
Marvel’s Captain America fan vs. United States’ Stars & Stripes fan

Captain America cosplayer at the PA Convention Center
U.S. national team fan in face paint
Sometimes, of course, the twain do meet in more ways than costume amd custom.

At the Philly Comic Con booth of artist R.B. Silva, who draws DC’s comic book Superman, we talked about the stunning Brazil and Mexico draw of last week. Silva is from Santos, Brazil, and we did a little trash-talking — me extolling El Tri’s vigor, Silva and his cohort minimizing everything but Mexican keeper Memo Ochoa’s ability to shut down Brazil’s prodigious striker Neymar.

And, on the way home from Comic Con — on a train with tired fans full of Dr. Who and Captain America: The Winter Soldier cosplayers — the first thing I checked? The scores of the fantastic three games of the day.

We are all part of communities within communities within even larger communities.

For me, much of the joy of attending an event like the Philadelphia Comic Con or following the World Cup, comes from the unpredictable and the wonderfully predictable. No matter who we are rooting for every four years, or dressing in tribute to every year, we come to celebrate our affections — creatively and unabashedly — together.

Cosplayers at Philadelphia Comic Con