Stranger than Fiction: Writing a Contagion Novel during COVID-19

By guest columnist, Emily McGowan.

“I don’t know how, but I guess she carried it home. At first, she stole the telephone and shut herself in her room. That was stupid, I told myself, because it might be nothing—just a cold, the flu, anything else.”— [The Dresden Protocol, chapter 23]

I never asked for COVID-19. 

Like most of us, I learned about coronavirus in the final hours of 2019. Dozens of patients had fallen ill in Wuhan, China; by January 11th, the World Health Organization had identified a new disease which we now know as COVID-19. Fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath — the early symptoms looked innocent, but within weeks, all hell had broken loose. 4,296 dead. 119,179 infected, though these numbers grow by the minute. Italy has closed its borders, and in America, hand sanitizer is practically worth its weight in gold. Every day, coronavirus creeps one step closer to my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. Rumor has it that we may have our first patient already.

In the early days, I wasn’t too concerned. Disease is not a staple of my first world lifestyle, and last I checked, my name isn’t Nostradamus.”Come writers and critics,” Dylan sang, “Who prophesize with your pen/And keep your eyes wide/The chance won’t come again.”

I write speculative fiction. This genre isn’t magic, but it certainly isn’t science either. When I sit down to type, I’m perfectly content to tell stories about what people want, why they want them, and what outlandish thing stands in their way. I deal in fallen heroes and folklore. It feels like the most important job in the world, but at the end of the day, I’m selling you words. And behind the safety of my computer, I told myself that this threat—a real live virus—could never land on the shores of my quiet little life.

Unfortunately, that’s not how pandemics work. In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has spread to and within America, infecting hundreds of patients from sea to shining sea. 267 cases in Washington. 176 in New York. Half a dozen cases were reported in my state — and all across Savannah, people are scrubbing their hands raw. Mothers wear masks in the grocery store. Locals look at Chinese students askance. The virus is spreading exponentially, and though it’s all we talk about, nobody knows quite what to expect. Not even the writers. 
Compared to genres like romance or nonfiction, I believe that speculative fiction is somewhat unique in the wide world of literature. Its stories are founded on the premise of “what if.” What if time travel existed? What if men had handmaids? What if post-apocalyptic teenagers fell in love during a battle royale? At their best, these what-ifs are not attempts to escape our problems but to face or even solve them with a fresh perspective. In order to be effective, speculative fiction often blends this ‘what if’ with tangible details, something solid that grounds the reader in the harsh realities that our world desperately needs.

Except reality is the last thing many of us want. With every day that passes, the morbid headlines bog us down — and when given the choice between denial and a COVID-induced anxiety attack, we’d happily pick the first. It’s overblown, we tell ourselves. Any day now, the virus is going to die out and everyone who stockpiled toilet paper and Lysol will see that we were right. At best, this veers into tone-policing, and at worst, I fear that it is leading to some very reckless behavior — and not the type you might think. It’s become popular to mock people for being over-cautious, but what do we say about the people who don’t wash their hands? The ones who bring their “cold” into a crowded movie theatre? The ones who force their employees to come to work? 

African-American strippers awarded more than $3 million in discrimination case

Five African-American dancers will split more than $3 million awarded to them Wednesday for back pay and suffering while working in a Mississippi strip club. The attorney for Danny’s Downtown Cabaret in Jackson, Bill Walter, said he would ask a federal judge to reduce the award. If the judge doesn’t agree, he said he will appeal.

“Obviously, the client is disappointed in the verdict,” Walter said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the club several years ago, alleging that black dancers worked limited hours and were fined $25 if they missed a shift. White strippers were allowed flexible schedules and were not fined for missing work, the commission argued.

he agency also said the manager called one black dancer a racial slur and club owners forced black women to work at another club they owned called Black Diamonds, where conditions and security were worse and dancers were paid less.

“This case shows the EEOC will sue any employer, operating any type of business, who violates federal anti-discrimination laws, especially those who will not stop discriminating even after being given repeated chances to do so,” Rucker said. “The jury … sent a powerful message to Danny’s and any employer who thinks they are above the law.”

Americans Are Divided by Their Views on Race, Not Race Itself

It’s a crucial difference — and grounds for optimism. 

Amid the uproar over the Ralph Northam blackface photograph, a Washington Post poll asked Virginians if he should remain governor. The results were striking: Only 48 percent of whites felt that he should stay in office. That percentage was exceeded by the nearly 60 percent of black Virginians who thought Mr. Northam should remain.

In another survey, part of my own research, I asked Americans whether President Trump’s wall is racist. White Democrats overwhelmingly said it was, virtually no Republicans did — and minorities placed in the middle.

We find this pattern across numerous issues. And taken as a whole, it reveals something about the United States in the Trump era: The country is not divided by racial conflict, but by conflict over racial ideology. This is a crucial difference — and it is also grounds for optimism.

Race pertains to communities defined by ancestry and physical appearance. Racial ideology turns instead on race as a political idea. Questions like “Should Northam resign?” or “Is the wall racist?” divide voters today by ideology far more than race. “White” is a description of a person’s race, whereas feelings about whether whites are privileged or whether diversity makes the country stronger are part of a person’s racial ideology.

Liberal whites — not minorities — are setting the tone on these issues.

Since 2012, white liberals have moved considerably left on questions related to race, reflecting both a campus- and online-driven cultural awakening that has accelerated in response to Mr. Trump. On the American National Election Study’s scale measuring how respondents feel about a group — white liberals are warmer toward minorities than their own racial group.

The share of white liberals who say racial prejudice is the main reason blacks cannot get ahead has jumped substantially since 2014.


Richard Sherman Writes About Why It Was Wrong for the Eagles to Release DeSean Jackson


Even though DeSean Jackson signed a new deal with the Washington Redskins last night,Richard Sherman is not ready to move on and forget the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles released him late last week because of his alleged “gang ties.” Early this morning, Sherman published a new column for The MMQB that offers his take on the Eagles parting ways with D-Jax. And because the Seattle Seahawks cornerback actually grew up with the speedy wide receiver and understands what it’s like to grow up in a rough neighborhood, he was able to offer a pretty unique perspective on why the Eagles shouldn’t have cut Jackson.

“I look at those words—gang ties—and I think about all the players I’ve met in the NFL and all of us who come from inner-city neighborhoods like mine in Los Angeles, and I wonder how many of us could honestly say we’re not friends with guys doing the wrong things,” he writes. “I can’t.”

Sherman also says that if Jackson had been playing for, say, the Seahawks instead of the Eagles, he wouldn’t have been released last week because of his “gang ties.”

“Sorry, but I was born in this dirt,” he writes. “NFL teams understand that. The Seattle Seahawks get it. The Philadelphia Eagles apparently do not.”

To read what else Sherman had to say, go here. Now that Jackson is with a new team, the whole “Is DeSean Jackson really in a gang?!” story is likely going to fade. But it’s important to hear what a guy like Sherman has to say about it. Because it won’t be the last time that a pro athlete is accused of having ties to a gang.

RELATED: Twitter Can’t Believe the Eagles Signed Riley Cooper to a New Contract This Offseason But Released DeSean Jackson Today

Predictions for Day 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft

ImageThe NFL draft kicks off Thursday, April 25, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The first round gets underway at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, and the draft itself goes through Saturday. Countless predictions have been made up until this point by both fans and media—most of which will be proven wrong once the picks are announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The first day of the draft is a time of endless optimism. Every pick is a future Hall of Fame inductee as they’re whisked off to their new home cities for press conferences and media appearances. So, in that spirit of optimism, here are 10 more predictions that are sure to be right in the first round of the NFL draft.

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From NBC Bay Area : NFL Player: If You Want To Play, Don’t Be Gay

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Series of Brooklyn Billboards Put Racial Inequity on Display


Billboards are everywhere in New York City. They’re on subway trains and in stations, and on top of and inside taxis. But few, if any, have been anything like a series of anonymous billboards that have popped up on bus shelters in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. They’re not selling anything but a declaration: that racism still exists.

That’s also the name of the appropriately titled campaign. At least half a dozen billboard sites have sprung up around the neighborhood since August, with each month dedicated to highlighting racial disparities that impact Black people in America. So far, the billboards have touched on topics ranging from the entertainment industryeducationfast foodsmokingpolicing, and Black wealth. Each month’s billboard is also accompanied by an detailed post on Tumblr that provides background information, news articles, studies, charts, and statistics to back up each claim.

A brief statement on the Tumblr page says, in part, that “RISE is a project designed to illuminate some of the ways in which racism operates in this country.” But who’s behind the project remains a mystery.

For the time being, the project seems dedicated to its anonymity. Both the Tumblr page and the billboards themselves are devoid of any contact information. Similarly, the private advertising company that’s contracted by New York City’s transit agency to host advertisements and billboards said that it does not give out information about who paid for the advertisements.

Even local activists who spend their time dedicated to working on racial justice issues can’t figure out who’s behind the billboards. Nonetheless, they’re intrigued by the campaign. This month’s billboard is dedicated toStop-and-Frisk, the controversial NYPD tactic that’s drawn national criticism for its disproportionate impact on Black and Latino men. The billboard’s proactive text reads, “Don’t want to get stopped by the NYPD? Stop being Black.” On the heels of New York City’s 2013 mayoral race and the prominent role that critics of Stop-and-Frisk have taken in city politics, the billboards have become a meaningful part of local discussion.

“Bed-Stuy, and Brooklyn in general, is going through a very profound transformation and we gotta put that in context,” says Kali Akuno, an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s New York chapter, referencing the gentrification that’s drastically altered the borough’s demographics over at least the past ten years. “For many of the young yuppies and buppies, they see the police playing a positive role and trying to engage in a race neutral dialogue.

“What the billboard is doing is kinda opening up and exploding this myth that [stop-and-frisk] is taking place in a race neutral light — it’s making people confront it in a very real way.”

Akuno added, “I applaud the effort. If the intent was to shake things up, I think they did their job.”

It’s no accident that of all of New York City’s neighborhoods, the billboards have targeting this one. A historically Black neighborhood, Bed-Stuy has become one of the most contested spaces in New York City. A 2012 study from the Fordham Institute found that Brooklyn is home to 25 of the country’s most rapidly gentrifying zip codes. That’s created a stark contrast between those in the neighborhood who have more upward social and economic mobility than others. Several high profile media accounts have recently noted Bed Stuy’s so-called “hip” transformation and “resurgence”, but the borough’s medium per capita income in 2009 was just $23,000, which was $10,000 below the national average.

Read it at Colorlines.

2012’s Biggest News Stories

NYT2008121512593046C2012 will be remembered as a year that saw both great progress and reminders of how far our country has yet to go. Take a look back at 10 of the year’s biggest news stories (in no particular order.)

Gun Violence: On December 14, an armed maniac went on a shooting rampage at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. Twenty children and six administrations were killed. Newtown became the latest mass shooting this year and has “reignited a debate over gun violence.” Shootings and gun violence have become as American as apple pie. Each year roughly30,000 Americans die from gun violence.  Unfortunately the escalating numbers of Black and Latino youth killed in gun violence rarely makes headlines. More than 270 school aged children have been killed in Chicago in the last three years.

President Obama’s Re-Election: Americans voted to extend Barack Obama’s historic presidency by another four years. Obama managed to hold on to every state he won in 2008 except for Indiana and North Carolina. Republican Mitt Romney infamously described Obama as the candidate of the “47 percent” of Americans who are dependent on the government. Romney ultimately finished the campaign with only 47 percent of the vote. Poetic justice.

Hurricane Sandy: The hurricane made landfall in New Jersey and New York on October 29 and became the largest and one of the most expensive hurricanes ever. At least 253 people were killed in seven countries. The price tag is estimated at $63 billion in the United States. The devastation was fiercest in New York City and New Jersey, washing away homes, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power. The storm devastated  the city’s most vulnerable populations—low-income people, people of color, and the elderly— living in waterfront high-rise public housing developments.An investigation shows the city was unprepared to help those residents.

Supreme Court Upholds “Obamacare”: The signature achievement of the Obama Administration’s domestic agenda has been the Affordable Care Act, which “expands [health insurance] coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans.” The Supreme Court upheld the landmark act’sindividual insurance mandate by a 5-4 decision last June. Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, joined the liberal wing of the court to uphold the law.

The Death of Trayvon Martin: The unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in a gated Florida subdivision last February.  The shooter, George Zimmerman was finally arrested in June. Martin became one of an escalating number of cases of unarmed Black men who have been brutally shot down. Seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis, also unarmed, was killed in late November by a 45-year-old White man who disapproved of his loud music.

The Republican “War on Women”: The weeks leading up to the November election were dominated by Republican attacks on contraception, abortion and state funding for Planned Parenthood. The GOP lost two Senate seats they were once almost certain to win—in Missouri and Indiana—after their candidates made outrageous comments about rape, pregnancy, and abortion. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” said Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.  Many women across the country had apparently heard enough and were indeed ready to “shut it down”—dealing “historic blow[s] to the religious right and helped put a record number of women in the Senate,” notes The Daily Beast.

Historic Support for Gay Marriage: Voter-approved referendums banning same-sex marriage have been upheld 32 times in a row. That was until this year when voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington upheld their state’s new same-sex marriage laws. Voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Maryland results were even more significant because many of the state’s Black voters supported equality—probably taking a lead from President Barack Obama’s historicendorsement of marriage equality last May.

HIV Prevention Pill?: The antiretroviral medication Truvada became the “first medication ever to be approved” to reduce the risk of HIV infection in uninfected individuals. The prevention strategy is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP … but you have to take a pill once daily for the rest of your life and the meds cost up to $14,000 per year. Meanwhile, the epicenter of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic remains in Black America. The 1 million-plus Americans living with HIV/AIDS or at risk of infection are disproportionately Black and low-income.

Susan Rice: United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was harshly criticized by GOP senators after her initial reactions to the terrorist attacks at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The critical tone and drumbeat from FOX News grew harsher after Obama nominated Rice to become the next Secretary of State.  Rice would have become the nation’s second Black female in that position. Rice was eventually forced to withdraw her name from consideration.

The Economy: Some good news on the economy—the national unemployment rate finally fell below 7 percent. But the bad news: The official Black unemployment rate is almost twice that at 13.2 percent. New research also shows Blacks have been hit hardest by layoffs across the public sector, which historically had become a pathway for Blacks into the middle class.