Doublespeak, constant surveillance, alternative facts, the pursuit and maintenance of power at all cost… Of course, I’m talking about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. These books are just flying off of the shelves.
Animal Farm is one of my favorite books. It’s a tale about animals who revolt against the farmer who is oppressing them (forcing them into labor, killing them, etc) and what happens after they win. Driving off the humans is one thing, creating new rules to run the farm is another. In truth, it’s a story about the Russian Revolution (Lenin, Trotsky and the gang) but the allegory does not depend on your knowledge of Russian history to work.
If you are in an Orwellian frame of mind, here are some other media suggestions:
David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and The 1980 Floor Show
At one time, David Bowie wanted to create a musical based on 1984 but the Orwell estate wasn’t interested. Those songs were incorporated into Diamond Dogs, an album that cast a very dark image of the future.
While the musical itself didn’t happen, you can get an idea of what Bowie was going for in The 1980 Floor Show (recorded over 3 days in October 1973):
Can you imagine what would happen if Monty Python got their hands on Orwell’s 1984 and made a movie? You don’t have to imagine–it kinda happened. In 1985, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame directed Brazil – a film that’s a spiritual cousin of 1984. See, a worker – a cog in the wheel of a totalitarian government tries to correct a mistake and all hell breaks loose:
*An alternative title for this post: They’ll Split Your Pretty Cranium And Fill It Full Of Air
Going into the school for the first time, Mary Jackson makes a shocking discovery…
Hampton High School was a dilapidated, musty old building.
A stunned Mary Jackson wondered: was this what she and the rest of the black children in the city had been denied all these years? This rundown, antiquated place? She had just assumed that if whites had worked so hard to deny her admission to the school, it must have been a wonderland. But this? Why not combine the resources to build a beautiful school for both black and white students? Throughout the South, municipalities maintained two parallel inefficient school systems, which gave the short end of the stick to the poorest whites as well as blacks. The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interest of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different.
–Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, p 145
A collection of previously published stories, The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales is an eclectic mix of black lesbian fiction. These are stories of love, lust, desire, mystery, and revenge—with a touch of humor here and there.
There are two stories of “pure” erotica; sex is the engine driving the plot. In The Souvenir, a woman riding the subway gets a front row seat to a live sex show. In Just Desserts, the erotic potential of chance comes into play when a couple is stranded at an airport.
Several tales delve into the up-and-down nature of relationships. When Narcia loses her lust interest to her best friend in The Next Girl, long held resentments rise to the surface. After a disastrous day, lovers in The Getaway take an impromptu trip and reaffirm their commitment to each other.
In Losing Michelle, a horror writer wishes her partner would leave her alone—until the woman goes missing. Originally published under the pseudonym Evelyn Foster, In Remembrance of Her finds a woman negotiating with dark forces in a quest to save her lover. Despite rumors, Chante is drawn to the mysterious Diana in The One Who Got Away.
Themes of community and forgiveness are also explored. In Operation Butch Ambush, rival factions come together to save women from a nefarious group that reprograms butch lesbians who have strayed from strict gender roles. Aria comes home from a hellish week at work to a nasty surprise in Cat and Mouse. In The Homecoming, it’s a funeral that prompts Melanie to revisit the past and her fractured relationship with her family.
Also included are flash fiction pieces with bite. Famished and Witness are about different forms of hunger.
Spanning a decade, these pieces reflect the political and social realities of their times. For example, before same sex marriage or civil unions, a lesbian couple who wanted their union recognized in some legal capacity could get into a domestic partnership (if their municipality offered it).
I enjoyed writing these stories; I hope you enjoy reading them.
My story, Karma Suture, is one of 13 horror tales in Forever Vacancy – a brand new horror anthology featuring characters of color – out today, Friday the 13th.
Get a taste of the terror in the excerpt below.
Karma Suture excerpt:
“No photography allowed.” The husky voice came from the tall woman behind the front desk. She polished the mahogany wood, pausing to admire her reflection.
“I’d just like to take a picture of the fountain,” Stephanie said. She was annoyed at herself for not noticing the clerk before.
Stephanie approached the desk, sizing up this new obstacle. Was this woman with warm, cinnamon-colored skin dressing too young or too old for her age? She imagined that the black head wrap concealed a tangled mass of unkempt curls. When the clerk tilted her head down to meet her gaze, the silver hoops lining her ears clashed and clinked against each other. Her eyes, black and pupil-less, revealed nothing.
Shaking off her discomfort, Stephanie focused on the woman’s t-shirt. “Dyke and The Blazers? Is that a movie?”
“Band. Way before your time.” The clerk’s smile had a touch of menace. “Can I help you?”
“My name is Stephanie Boston. I’m a location scout for Bombast Films.” She pulled a business card from her purse and motioned toward a door in the back. “May I speak to the manager?”
“You’re speaking to Sybline Kretcher. the owner.” She tapped the gold plate bearing her name.
“Is it possible for me to take a quick look at a couple of rooms, look around outside and take some pictures? Currently, we are producing a feature film and would like to consider the Kretcher for one of our sets.”
“Want a room? You have to pay for it.”
“Ms. Kretcher, I just need a few minutes.”
“Mmhmm. Get a room for a few minutes and call your boyfriend over to do your business. I know that scam. You want a room, you pay for the whole night.” She chuckled to herself. “Have as many friends over as you want.”
Rather than protest, Stephanie took note of the posted rates and took out her wallet. The misidentification amused her. When she got back to her real life, this was one of the stories she’d tell—how, despite her professional demeanor, the owner of a no-star motel thought she was a prostitute.
The reception had been more welcoming at the other motels she visited. Other managers had given her tours of the property. The men were eager to show off their southern charm to a Yankee.
Stephanie handed over cash and was presented with a guestbook. She signed it and received a silver key with the number 228 etched in it. Sybline leaned back, satisfied. “Elevator is to your right. Do enjoy your stay.”
While waiting for the elevator, Stephanie thought she could squeeze the front desk and the proprietor into a shot if she took a selfie. As she lifted her phone, Sybline appeared on screen directly behind her. She yelped and whirled around. Sybline was at the desk talking to another customer.
The elevator doors opened and Stephanie ran inside. The last picture taken was a blur of her palm.
Want to find our what surprises are waiting for Stephanie in room 228? Read Forever Vacancy.
Happy New Year! I hope you have a light-filled and prosperous 2017.
To start off the new year, I am publishing The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales. Here is where you can find most of my previously published short stories gathered together in one place.
This eclectic mix of black lesbian fiction includes erotica, mystery, suspense, new twists on old relationship drama and a bit humor.
In Pat Greene: Her Story by Anondra Williams, an elderly Pat looks back over her life and shares stories of love, loss, heartbreak and laughter.
A black lesbian in 1950’s rural Mississippi, Pat was kicked out of the house at 17 because her mamma disapproved of her nasty ways. She started out as a naive country girl trying to survive on her own. She searched for community, a family and a girlfriend. Pat talks about everything.
From the cramped house parties where you had to know somebody who knew somebody to get in–to being in relationships long after they’ve soured. Sometimes, Pat didn’t feel safe anywhere–not at home, not at work, not in her own skin. (If you are a black and/or lgbtq reader, it won’t be lost on you how some of those struggles are still present–marriage equality aside.)
Pat has a down-home, tell it like it is kind of voice. Her stories are peppered with side-tales and funny observations about life. If you are looking for a voice and perspective usually missing from lgbtq literature, you should check it out.
You can hear this review on Anchor.
Listening to Hip Hop’s History of Reproductive Justice, the 2nd episode of the Get It Right podcast, brought back to mind a song that meant a great deal to me in the early 90s: None Of Your Business by Salt-N-Pepa.
Picture it: It’s 93/94, I’m in college and thinking a whole lot about my sexual orientation. What do you do when your realize that your attractions and desires run counter to all of the religious/political/social programming you’ve received? So, I was learning a foreign language (statistics), trying to get up the courage date girls and deal with internal conflict (who am I/who I’m expected to be).
Salt-N-Pepa’s None Of Your Business helped with one of those problems. If there ever was an anthem dismissing hypocrites who get off on regulating the sexuality/sensuality of others–this is it. This song was everything to me. Starting off from the intro: What’s the matter with your life / Why you gotta mess with mine / Don’t keep sweatin what I do / Cuz I’m gonna be just fine.
Now, of course the scenarios mentioned in the song are hetero — women being judged on their dealings with men. When I saw the video and my mind exploded: “oh my God, there are gay people in this. They are talking about me too!”
Check out the cluster of folks dancing/writhing and shouting “None Of Your Business!”
I felt so affirmed. This song wasn’t the only thing that helped me figure out that it was okay to be myself but it felt really good to have media/entertainment from black artists reflecting that too.
(See also: The Woman to Woman episode of Living Single.)
*Get It Right is a podcast that analyzes pop culture through the lenses of justice, and particularly reproductive justice.
Over the past week, I’ve been reading I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi and Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack.
I’ve been a fan of Luvvie’s blog, awesomelyluvvie.com, for a while; she’s a fun, witty writer. Even when she’s tackling hard and potentially draining subjects like racism, sexism, homophobia etc – she releases some tension with a zinger or two. The essays cover everything from hygiene to culture to social media etiquette and beyond.
The chapters on social media and internet fame should be required reading for teens/young adults before they are given free reign to interface with the internet. They would probably discard these words of wisdom at first–because, no matter how many signs, some people don’t know the stove is hot before getting burned–but it would be nice to have it to come back to after a troll is gloating and gleeful about their trauma.
Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism is a great introduction to the subject. It’s written for a general audience and covers the history and development of Afrofuturism in the US. It explores the concept through art/music/literature and cultural thought. This book isn’t an end–it’s a beginning. With every chapter, I’m jotting down notes about artists/thinkers/past conferences etc that I need to learn more about.
It also introduces ideas and questions that I’m still turning over in my mind. For example, the challenge of creating and envisioning a future in a world/society that wants desperately to erase your (and it’s own) past…
Both books highly recommended.
I need to treat new horror movies like iOS updates – wait a week and see how it all shakes out. But, alas, I have wasted my money. Don’t waste yours.
Anyway, the lessons:
- Don’t go camping with strangers.
- Don’t go camping with people who make you feel uncomfortable.
- Don’t go into haunted woods were people have been murdered, have disappeared etc without some kind of plan for survival. Don’t treat it like you are spending the night at Jellystone. True, the plan probably won’t work, but at least have one.
- If you get hurt at the beginning of the trip, go back to town immediately. Don’t let people convince you to keep going. They aren’t your friends.
- LOUD NOISES ALONE DON’T MAKE A MOVIE SCARY!
- Don’t write sequels to movies and have new characters act as clueless/naive as previous characters.
- Don’t go camping. Play the Blair Witch Games instead.
- This is the 2nd movie I’ve seen this year with a sibling going into the woods to find a sister. I enjoyed The Forest more.
- In addition to Blair Witch, yesterday I also saw Iced (1988) and Island Claws (1980). The other two movies were more entertaining/fun.
- One character mentions the house at one time was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Blair Witch was “active” during the pre-civil war-maybe she was an accidental abolitionist? Whatevs.
(Disclaimer: Not a review of the new movie.)
I was excited to learn a few weeks ago that a horror movie called The Woods was actually a new Blair Witch movie in disguise. The first lucky folks to see it walked into a film festival expecting to check out The Woods. They didn’t realize it was a new Blair Witch the movie until it started playing. When the movie was over, all of posters in the theater had been changed to Blair Witch. This kicked off the marketing machine and a franchise that people thought had died in 2000 was back.
In prepping for the revival, everyone is talking about the first 2 movies. What I learned this week is how the success of the first Blair Witch did not trickle down to the original trio lost in the woods: Heather, Josh and Mike. A movie with a $75K budget, made $250M. They got to go on a few talk shows to promote the movie and fruit baskets.
Because the actors used their real names in the movies and those characters belong to the studio, any/all kinds of merchandising could be done without the actors getting a cut…
Heather Donahue recently wrote about the experience in The Guardian. Beyond not getting a share of the wealth, the trio got little credit for their part in making it a success:
It’s a strange thing to get no credit where credit is deeply due. By strange I mean shitty. We were supposed to be really scared, so we weren’t actors (all of us are formally trained). We improvised all dialogue from an outline, but we weren’t writers. We shot it and independently provided the impetus for many of the scenes you see in the film, but we were not directors. While this work became record-breakingly profitable, what we were was dead.
In other BW news, I didn’t realize that Blair Witch 2 – Book of Shadows started out as a decent (or at least better) film. The 1st Blair Witch was done independently and then picked up for distribution. The studio was involved with Book of Shadows from the beginning–and made a mess of it:
The whole Exploring Series done by GoodBadFlicks is pretty good.
Well, I’m off to the movies.