Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guest Post by Genevieve Valentine

If you follow the blog then you know that Genevieve Valentine's Persona has been pretty high up on my must have list. It was one of the launch titles for Simon and Schuster's new Saga Press and just the third full-length novel from Valentine, whose work I actually discovered first via various short story collections. Her prose blows me away and I highly recommend her work to anyone looking for something completely unique in genre fiction. (You can check out my review of Persona here on the blog later this afternoon.)

Today we're lucky enough to have Genevieve herself posting to the blog and without further ado I'll hand things over to her:

Persona and Paparazzi

The first time I got hit by a bike in New York, it was the usual way – by bike messenger – and I was prepared to deliver the usual rejoinder – several rounds of enthusiastic swearing and a vague arm shake to wrap it up. 

But I realized as the guy tried to disentangle himself that he hadn't gotten caught off-guard: he'd been pushed. There were three photographers rushing each other, all khaki shorts and elbows, taking pictures of someone who was walking down the street slightly ahead of me. I took two steps backwards, instinctively not wanting to be in any of those shots; everybody in New York knows paparazzi are inevitable bad news; the comparisons to roaches aren't just because they're hard to get rid of, but because even the city's fanciest neighborhoods can't shake them. 

This time they were out for Peter Dinklage, who was walking down the street. (That's it; he was walking down the street. I saw some of him, later, carrying his child as if to lift him from a flood.) Maybe six, maybe eight. And as I stepped back and flinched in sympathy with Dinklage, who did not look pleased but looked equally determined not to make a good story by reacting, I thought about Daniel Radcliffe, who had recently been vocal in interviews about how unsettling it was that he hadn't seen any particular uptick in paparazzi presence when he turned eighteen, but Emma Watson had had to fight off her first upskirt shots on her eighteenth birthday, the second it was legal. 

These photographers didn't do the usual calling – I didn't know if that was some New York law, as if it's more protective of one's privacy so long as it's quiet – but somehow it was just as unsettling to watch a cluster of men shoving at one another in utterly focused silence, as a man tried to walk down the street.

The snaps in Persona, of course, are not nearly this bad. Partially this is out of plot necessities; what they're doing is technically illegal, and though everyone suspects that some press are selling candid shots on the sly, actually belonging to a snap organization is clearly a clandestine business, and so Daniel works hard not to be seen – and then, when he's too decent to help himself, at least tries hard not to be made. Partially, this is because snaps operate in a moral gray area rather than a purely celebrity wheel; while spying on public figures is still fairly creepy, the implication is that it's a more noble profession than it may seem – the regular press is more or less in the pockets of their publishers, so snaps are as close as the public comes to transparency, and every so often, important stories are broken via snap photographs. (It's definitely a clear and present danger for the delegation that runs him out of the country simply for taking a candid shot, even without ulterior motive.) And partially, snaps are a more discreet version of celebrity photographers because to recreate the paparazzi as I've seen them in person – both here, and since – would end up more like than any other sort of thriller.

There's also a deliberate divide in Persona between the seething public friendships of the diplomatic Faces, and the snaps who have a much more easy and open inner circle – largely because it's hard to have secrets when you're recording 24/7. But there's also the weird thrill of the thing: at most, they think they're able to mete out some semblance of justice when it matters; at worst, they're exposing only those Faces who don't have the skill to avoid surveillance (which is fair enough, in its own way, since plenty of Faces fly under the radar).

Celebrities have begun to speak more openly in recent years about paparazzi; Kristen Bell has fought for a "no kids" policy in major magazines to prevent publication of paparazzi photos of celebrities' children, and actors like Keira Knightley have spoken about the often violent tactics that can be used (she's been spat on and called a whore, among other things, in hope of eliciting a response). For now, I'm happy to keep my fictional paparazzi a slightly more subtle kind.

Image Courtesy of Ellen B. Wright
About the author: Genevieve Valentine is the author of Persona and of the critically acclaimed novels The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won the Crawford Award for Best Novel, as well as nominations for the Nebula Award and the Romantic Times Best Fantasy of the Year. 

Valentine is also the writer of DC’s CATWOMAN and her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Journal of Mythic Arts, Lightspeed, and the anthologies Federations, The Living Dead 2, After, Teeth, and more; stories have been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, and have appeared in several Best of the Year anthologies. 

Her nonfiction and reviews have appeared at NPR.org, The AV Club, Strange Horizons, io9.com, Lightspeed, Weird Tales, Tor.com, LA Review of Books, Fantasy Magazine, and Interfictions, and she is a co-author of pop-culture book Geek Wisdom. She lives in New York City.

Big thanks to Genevieve for being here today and thanks to the folks at Wunderkind for arranging the post!

Persona is out on shelves now. For more on Genevieve and her work (including links to online shorts) you can check out her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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