Books: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

I went into this one thinking only that it was mostly about the Harvey Weinstein case. But it’s actually about a lot of things. While the first two-thirds of the book does focus on Farrow’s investigations regarding Weinstein’s sexual assaults, the underlying current is about how NBC squashed the story, forcing Farrow to take it to The New Yorker instead.

There are apparently any number of reasons NBC News behaved this way. 1. Because Weinstein threatened legal action. (The reason many other news agencies had dropped the story at various times in the past.) 2. Because Weinstein was a friend of a few of the upper management guys. 3. Because NBC had its own history of sexual malfeasance that it didn’t want exposed, and by reporting on Weinstein it may itself come under scrutiny and be accused of hypocrisy.

Bottom line seems to be that supposedly objective journalism was buried by a wave of unethical, biased behavior.

There’s more, of course. The fact that Weinstein paid for surveillance of the journalists pursuing the story as well as the women being contacted to come forward. Not your typical PI stuff, but black ops-level with ex-Mossad agents and the like. The book also addresses the breaking of the Matt Lauer scandal and NBC’s continued scrubbing of things like Wikipedia. But the title, Catch and Kill, refers to American Media, Inc. (AMI) and The National Enquirer‘s practice of buying rights to people’s stories and then never publishing those stories, thereby protecting powerful men *cough*Trump*cough*. Basically, you catch the story, buy the rights, and kill the story. So, for instance, someone who wants to sell her story about being sexually assaulted by Big Name Guy has the rights bought by AMI and then AMI never runs anything about it. Meanwhile the woman has no recourse because she has signed something that promises she won’t give the story to anyone else.

Overall, this book is about how unethical journalists protect bad people. Which in turn keeps those bad people in power so that they can continue to profit from their bad behavior. And, by trickle down, so do those unethical journalists.

As someone who started out in journalism, the moved on to film, and finally ended up in publishing, this is a very engaging book. It reads like a thriller. But I can’t say whether the average person would find it interesting or truly understand the implications. I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that Farrow’s ego is too big, that he’s painting himself as a hero here, that he should have left NBC sooner when he realized what they were doing… Maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t read the book that way, but I can see why some might. And his ego doesn’t change the basic facts of the story.

It can be difficult to find good, unbiased news coverage these days. AMI and FOX seem to be hard right, and there are a number of outlets that lean the opposite direction. In a world of increasing noise, sussing out the truth gets harder and harder, and a lot of people don’t have the time or energy, or maybe aren’t interested enough. They want to be spoon fed. They want to read about celebrity breakups rather than about sexual assault. Or maybe they only care about assault if it’s salacious and/or involves big names.

In any case, I wonder if I dodged a bullet by leaving the film industry. I was lucky enough to work for a female producer and be surrounded mostly by women. Perhaps that saved me a lot of trouble. Having been forced to resign a job because of having a baby seems like a small issue compared to what many others have gone through, though I recognize that’s a false equivalency. This isn’t about which women have had it better or worse; it’s about power being applied against women and a system that supports that. We’d like to think that system is being dismantled, but let’s be honest: even if it is, it’s a very slow process that won’t continue unless the foremen stand watch and make sure every nut and bolt comes out. And who will be those foremen? We’ve had a lot of lip service over #MeToo, a lot of token committees created, etc., but has anything really changed? I have to wonder.

It’s Early But…

I don’t anticipate much happening between now and the end of the year. Which means 2019 was a singularly unproductive year for me in terms of writing. I wrote one story that I have yet to place anywhere. (Lots of places still considering it… Here’s hoping it finds a home.) That means I didn’t publish anything this year. And I’m really no closer to finishing or publishing anything any time soon, either.

What I did accomplish this year: a house move + renovations. That ate up a lot of time and energy. Plus a new routine with the kids as now they are going to three different schools which means juggling a lot of drop-offs and pick-ups. We had a big family vacation, too. And we adopted two rats (one of which passed away) and a python. For the record, that leaves our menagerie at two cats, a rat, and a snake.

In short, my life is largely focused on the domestic these days. On the up side, I read a ton of books this year. My goal was 18, and I’m at something like 76. Of course, a lot of those were manga, but I regret nothing.

I was looking at my personal year for next year. For those who don’t know what that means, in numerology one can calculate a Life Path number using one’s birthdate and then a yearly number using the month and day of your birth plus the year. My Life Path number is 6 and my personal year number for 2020 is also 6, so that should be interesting. A 6 year focuses on (again, some more) domestic concerns. Which means I may not do much writing next year either… If you’re curious about your personal year or Life Path numbers, there are many different calculators online to help you. Just Google “personal year calculator” or “life path number calculator.” It’s entertaining if nothing else.

Yeah, in terms of my “career” 2019 feels like a waste. But I moved myself and my family into a better overall situation, so I think that’s totally worth it. Next year I have a couple vacations to look forward to, and any house stuff will be relatively small by comparison. And while the first half of the year will be more of the crazy juggling of kids’ schedules, the next school year should be much more manageable. The kids will still be at three different schools, but at least one of those schools will be much closer to home, meaning all three schools will be within a 10-minute drive. (Right now, one school is 20 minutes away, meaning I’m in the car at least 80 minutes a day, not counting any other driving.)

The only thing I’m really hoping for as far as my writing goes is to find a place for this story. If all else fails, I suppose I can self-publish it… Maybe combine it with a couple other stories for a mini anthology. Sometimes stories seem more doable than bigger works, though I’ve always found short pieces harder to write in general. Maybe this will be a good exercise for me and help me hone my skill. Who knows? In any case, I don’t plan to push things. Forced writing is usually not very good. Here’s hoping my muse finds my new address soon so we can get back together and get to work.

Television: His Dark Materials, “Lyra’s Jordan”

Yeah, yeah, I’m a week behind because I hadn’t realized the show had already begun airing. Lovely think about television these days is that if you miss an episode, you no longer have to wait for a rerun. I’m old enough to remember a time before that, a time when if you wanted to record a show you had to have a blank tape and VCR. Yeah, I’m old.

First things first: I did read The Golden Compass once many years ago and it left very little impression on me. I never even bothered with the subsequent books. I don’t know what it was about that book that failed to grab me; I remember almost nothing about it except the big bear and a vague sense of not liking any of the characters, which is probably why I didn’t want to spend any more time with them. So I won’t be comparing this to the books because I remember so little of the one I read, which is actually kind of nice because I’m coming at this relatively fresh and unbiased.

This episode, which is the first of the series, begins with a lot of title card reading. Stuff like that always gives me pause because if the screenwriter and director couldn’t accurately convey the world in the, you know, actual film part, maybe they shouldn’t be adapting this material? Any movie, or even book, that requires that much information before it even gets started… needs to be rethought. Viewers (and readers) aren’t entirely stupid. They can figure things out without you having to bury them in pre-info.

That aside, I did find this a relatively engaging series premiere. James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, an explorer who leaves a baby named Lyra in the care of Jordan College in Oxford. (Note that this is an alternative dimension to our world, meaning some things are familiar and some things aren’t. For instance, everyone has a “daemon,” which is basically their soul, but in the form of an animal outside their body.) There seems to be a prophecy around Lyra, because of course there is. She grows up none the wiser and at around age 12 is selected to become the assistant to Ms. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Meanwhile, children have been disappearing, including Lyra’s friend Roger. Ms. Coulter promises Lyra that once they reach London she will help find Roger (and, possibly by extension, other missing children as well).

Before Lyra leaves with Ms. Coulter, the Master of Jordan College gives her an alethiometer, a device that—once Lyra can figure out how to work it—will tell her the truth. It’s something she must keep hidden because it’s illegal to possess without permission from the Magisterium. Of course, the first time that Lyra tries to use it, it doesn’t work. Why the Master couldn’t tell Lyra how to use it is unclear. Probably because he wanted to be sure there was more tension in the plot.

There is also a plot involving Lord Asriel’s explorations into something called “dust,” and the fact that the Master of Jordan College tried to poison him… This seems fundamentally to be a disagreement between the Magisterium and science/academia. Which is to say, a fight between religion/faith and hard facts.

Bottom line is that Lyra is a chosen one and the fate of the world as everyone knows it seems to depend on her choices. *yawn* I’m so over these kinds of stories, AND YET… I did really enjoy this, surprisingly so. It’s nicely done, and while I don’t love any of the characters, I don’t dislike them as much as I did when reading them. If that makes any sense? There is a real sense of dread around the kidnappings, and the central mysteries are set up well, designed to draw the viewer along. I’ll definitely watch the next episode at least.

Getting Genders “Wrong” in Writing

I saw a pair of Twitter polls today about “What do you think male writers get wrong when writing female characters?” and vice versa. The responses were multitudinous as might be expected. But the question is flawed, I think. It’s generalized, both in its assumption of writers being bad at writing opposite genders and in the assumption that each gender has a “correct” way of being written.

For example, many of the responses about men writing women were about the writers’ focus on breasts. I’ll admit I’ve seen my share of really bad writing when it comes to female character description. But it occurred to me, when reading these answers, that writers come from two different places when forming characters. When dealing with one’s own gender, we come from a place of experience… and sometimes a bit of wish fulfillment, which is why so many women write kick-ass heroines. But when writing the opposite gender, authors are usually coming from a place of desire: an idealization of what we want that opposite gender to be. It’s not quite the same as wish fulfillment, since it’s not about what we, the author, want to be. Though in romances, uniting that couple is often a wish fulfillment of finding and landing the ideal partner.

This is assuming these authors are heterosexual, mind.

The truth is, however, that both male and female authors can write bad characters—of either gender. Whether it’s because the character is just eye candy and has a cardboard personality, whether it’s because the character is abusive yet held up as desirable, whether it’s bad dialogue or unrealistic behavior… And at the same time, we have to remember that men don’t only behave one way, nor do women. So to say, “Men write women who are too much like men”… Well, yes. I’ve seen that too. But there are women in the world who are masculine in demeanor. Now, if every woman in a book is that way, I’d say there’s a problem. But one or two? ::shrug::

I also read a complaint that the male:female ratio is often imbalanced. Well, I think that has a lot to do with perceived audience for a book. Books marketed to men will usually have more male characters, and books aimed at women will have more female characters. That said, I’m certainly guilty of writing more men than women. I’ve often asked myself why I do that, but I’ve yet to find a reason.

I’ve read novels by women who make all their sex-positive female characters into villains. Do they know they’re doing that? Men write them as sluts, women write them as evil sluts?

I guess my point is that, while I can understand the notion that one gender can struggle to write the other well, I think each gender can equally struggle to write itself well, too. Characterization can be difficult regardless of writers’ or characters’ genders. Add to that the fact that there is no “correct” way to characterize a gender because we’re all individuals… Yes, I understand the outrage when men write women as only sex objects, but those men are usually bad writers all around. And I’ve read books by women who write men as mere sex objects as well, so… Again, so long as not every character of a certain gender is written this way… Though, if they are, it says a lot about that writer and his or her lack of skill. But it only speaks for that writer, not for an entire gender of writers. Just because a few men write women badly, or vice versa, doesn’t mean “men” make mistakes when writing women. Or vice versa.

IWSG: November 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

What am I insecure about these days? Everything. I haven’t done much writing this year, and it’s the first year since 2015 that I haven’t published anything either. My sales and page reads have plummeted. I just can’t seem to get up any kind of motivation or interest. I’m plenty busy with other things in my life, and I just don’t know if or when I’ll get back to writing.

Question of the Month: What is the weirdest thing you’ve Googled when researching a novel?

I really don’t know. Probably something to do with death or bodily injury? Also a lot of little historical details, like about gloves in Regency England. I have so many bookmarks for those things!