Interview with Marc Jordan Cohen, Writer, Producer and Creator of “Daddy Issues”

My goal in writing this was to eliminate stereotypes of sexuality (race as well) and simply have people existing as who they are in the show.

The bio from the Instagram page of “Daddy Issues” reads: “It costs a lot to live in New York. Is it worth selling yourself? As Matt struggles to stay afloat, his best friends entice him to join their newest venture.” The wonderfully talented Marc Cohen shares where the premise for the show came from, how he hopes to tackle issues within the LGBTQ+ community and what you can expect from this tale of human relationships down below.

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Tell us a little bit about the show and how it came about.

MC: I graduated from the drama department at NYU Tisch last spring and was emotionally and physically drained. I have always wanted to create my own content because I love to write and was inspired to mould characters and situations born from my own life. “Daddy Issues” is about three friends, fresh out of college (shocking coincidence!) beginning an amateur escort business. They each have their own daddy issues.  How they deal with these conflicts and how it effects their lives is revealed as the season progresses. “Daddy Issues” is a result of being vulnerable and searching for my authentic voice. My goal was to source real elements from my life and frame it with a fictional plot. 

Brian Swinney and Melanie Porras are your co-stars. Are they close friends of your?

MC: Yes! Melanie is one of my best friends and I actually wrote Destiny with her voice in the back of my head. Danny’s character is based on a combination of some of my friends, but Brian felt like the right person to execute him.

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The escort business is an extremely tight-lipped subject. How do you plan on depicting it?

MC: I’ve already received concerns from friends that I may be depicting it too lightly. This show is by no means a comedy. Yes, there are light moments, but it’s because there is a lot of darkness that shrouds these characters throughout the rest of the season. “Daddy Issues” is more about the relationships and emotional arcs of these characters than it is about their circumstances. There’s a point in the 3rd episode where Matt is violated in some way –I don’t want to give anything away, but it explores the dangers of not taking sex work seriously and how you can be taken advantage of. By no means can I speak for people, even some friends of mine, who are escorts. I am open to educating myself and talking to people particularly in the trans community and hearing their stories. I welcome input and am aware that there is much to learn. I hope to not offend in any way.

LGBTQ+ representation is sparse in mainstream media, even if it is more progressive than it has been in the past. What are your thoughts on the topic?

MC: When I began to write this show, I was very conscious of most depictions of LGBTQ+ people being stereotypical. For example, the character, Kenny, in the TV show “The Real O’Neals” is skeptically and slowly accepted by his Irish Catholic family and sings about ‘Gay Brunch’ and even makes a bisexual joke in poor taste. The people writing these characters aren’t always LGBTQ+ themselves. I feel lucky that growing up I had “Will & Grace”. Those jokes were written by gay men and it resonated with the gay community because it was us making fun of ourselves. The shows I’m seeing today feature “the gay best friend” or the “gay uncle.” It all feels like we’re the butt of the joke, and trans people are just now only tapping the glass ceiling. My goal in writing this was to eliminate stereotypes of sexuality (race as well) and simply have people existing as who they are in the show. I’m still exploring and tweaking, but that’s my intention.

What can we hope to see in “Daddy Issues”?

MC: Drama. Twist and turns. I definitely love having little cliff hangers at the end of every episode. People will be betrayed, but will also realize that people aren’t as bad as grudges would have you believe them to be. It’s about choosing friends to be your family and trying to accept the one you were given at birth. There’s a bit of role reversal where the kids have power over their parents, but I guess that’s up to interpretation.

How do you think it differs from what’s on T.V. right now?

MC: Sexuality is a huge plot point in most shows. In “Daddy Issues” sexuality is a non-issue. None of the characters are rejected for being gay, or born into a religious household, nor does the show focus around a group of LGBTQ+ people (i.e. The L Word, Queer as Folk, or Looking). It just happens that I’m writing it and thus it is told through my lens as a gay man in New York, but it includes all types of people, and I hope to include more as the show develops. However, my main goal is not to focus on labels, but rather concentrate on each character’s emotional saga.

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What’s the writing process been like so far? What kind of role do you take, production-wise?

MC: I wrote every day starting in December of 2016 and had 5 episodes complete in about 3 weeks. Of course, I went back and did a lot of editing for another month or so until it was flushed out. I am currently writing the second season. It has slowed down some because I’m still figuring out how the plot will continue. Production wise, I am the main producer. I had the generous help of two very good friends: Sage Kirwan and Ysabel Jasa who helped me cast, send emails, organize shoot times, locations, logistics, etc. I am forever in their debt. The three of us created this pilot on our own, and on my own dime. Hence my need to launch a Kickstarter in order to finish the season.  

It’s still early but do you hope to be picked up by a network or are you happy being a web series?

MC: Yes and no. Doing this on my own has caused quite a few anxiety attacks. I’m very lucky to have supportive parents who will answer my calls and friends who will volunteer their time and talent to help bring the story in my brain to life. It would be incredible to have funding, and support, and access to equipment that a network could provide. I’d also love to have a team of people to support my vision, but I am cautious because I don’t want to lose my control over the show. It’s a pros and cons situation.

A lot of LGBTQ+ shows shy away from a lot of issues within the community, like the glorification of white twinks, bisexual erasure, over-labelling, racism, etc. Do you plan on tackling these issues?

MC: I hope to. Bisexual erasure is actually something I explore in the first season, I won’t say how, but I’m working on making sure it’s appropriate because I have a lot of bisexual friends who are offended by how the media constantly fails on including them, so I’m making sure to consult my friend, Eliel Cruz, a bisexual advocate, before I release anything on the matter. Racism is something I start to explore lightly in the second season, and I’d love to have more conversations with people who have lived these stories and incorporate them appropriately into the show. Just know I want to do it all, I want to include everybody because this isn’t my story anymore, it’s all of ours. And if it does seem like I shy away from these issues in the first season it’s because I focused on laying the ground work of who these characters are and eliminating stereotypes, as I mentioned earlier.

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What kind of audience do you hope will watch Daddy Issues?

MC: I hope everyone watches! Obviously some of the content is not appropriate for children. It’s about relationships. Fathers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, friends, lovers. It’s about human connection. Loving and accepting each other regardless of where we came from, who we love, and the mistakes we may continue to make. (Fun fact: I watched Sex and the City when I was 7 years old with my mother).

Do you have any underlying message(s) for the community that you want to get across with this show?

MC:  I want people to think before judging someone, and recognize themselves in others. At the end of the day, we all have pain and a past. Viewers may have felt the same way as one of the characters or made similar mistakes. Maybe they don’t relate to something specific but can still acknowledge that we all have struggles even if they are different. I think that’s a huge necessity given our political climate: Can we hear each other without shutting each other down? Can we see beyond an opinion through to the reason why someone may have that opinion? I just want more kindness and acceptance in this world. 

How would you describe the show in fifteen words or less?

MC: Escort service made up of three friends navigating paying bills, choosing family, and facing consequences.

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Click this link to go to the Out article, which features the exclusive pilot and the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the rest of the season.

Interview with Cheyne Gallarde, Ex-Drag Queen Turned Illustrator

Mainstream media needs to celebrate them and all LGBTQ artists! We’ve got a lot to bring to the table and we know how to entertain beautifully!

Cheyne Gallarde, Hawaiian artist famous for his pop art illustrations, caught my eye on Instagram when his work was featured on the accounts of the top four drag queens of this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. He’s talented, funny and definitely on the way to big things so I decided to reach out.

What, to you, is the definition of art?

CG: That’s a huge question! In my opinion, art should challenge the viewer. They say that if all your friends love your art, it’s not good enough. Art should never be safe, it should always prompt some kind of reaction – be it love or hate.

Are there any artistic styles or artists that you draw inspiration from?

CG: The look of my art is inspired by a lot of old comic artists like Jack Kirby, John Romita and Will Eisner. I love their use of shadow and line work.

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How important do you think social media is to the world of art today?

CG: Social Media has become more of an art museum where you can browse and experience new art at your own pace. For an artist like myself, living all the way in the art void of Hawaii, social media has been essential in reaching an audience.

What do you most dislike about the world of art?

CG: I hate how art has become so serious and lacks humor. Humor is an essential element in my art and I hate how artists (and art-lovers) have put a greater value on more mindblowingly beautiful art than something that makes you laugh. 

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If you had the opportunity to collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?

CG: It would be amazing to collaborate with some of my favorite authors/directors like David Sedaris or Joss Whedon. I think we could make some amazing and hilarious works of art together.

Your work varies from Disney to comic book characters to drag queens – which are your favourite to draw and why? 

CG: Don’t make me choose! Haha! That’s one of the joys of my life, I get to draw what I want. Some days I feel like drawing Ursula and some days I feel like drawing Bianca Del Rio. I’ve learned to not follow trends and just draw what you want. If you pursue things you’re passionate about instead of what you think will get likes, you’ll be more successful. All my clients have found me via my passion projects and not my projects I did for commercial clients. Do what you love. 

Have you had any personal experiences with drag queens?

CG: Yes, I used to be one! I had a short career as a drag queen and even ran my own drag show. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me like getting to perform for Latrice Royale, hosting Mardi Gras to name a few. I loved it, but for now my drag persona is retired while I focus on my art. 

Have you ever used your real life experiences to inspire you?

CG: Indeed! A lot of the bitchy pop art I make come from how I feel or sassy thoughts I have. There’s a reason I draw side-eye sassy bitches — it’s because I’m a sassy side-eye throwing bitch haha! I embrace it because I feel like people can relate to it more than if I was creating a gorgeous renaissance painting, especially in this day and age. 

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Can you tell us a bit more about your personal life?

CG: Like most artists I have a dayjob that pays the bills. Thankfully, it’s doing Graphic Design so at least I get to say I’m a full-time artist. After work, I work on my personal art. I have an art studio where I go to paint. 

What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

CG: I LOVE hearing what fans think about my work, but the most memorable responses have to be from the queens themselves. Sasha has called my work brilliant and Peppermint and Trinity have both used my art in their official merchandising. I am both honored and gagged at the same time!

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you can tell your fans about?

CG: A children’s book I illustrated is being turned into a play and I was hired to design the sets and costumes. That’s opening in November. I’ve also been hired to create some original art for a makeup brand featuring some of the drag race queens and that’s all I can say about that so stay tuned! 

What’s been your proudest moment to date?

CG: When I passed 10K followers on instagram! It seems trivial, but as someone who started from 0 followers and organically grew my followers 3 years ago (!) that’s a huge accomplishment!  

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What art do you most identify with?

CG: I love anything with a good story, so it can range from Sin City to the Injustice game/comic to Stranger Things. 

How do you think art has evolved in contemporary society?

CG: Art has evolved to become more accessible. It’s anywhere and can be made my anyone and that’s both scary and exciting! 

What are your thoughts on LGBTQ+ art and artists? Do you feel they’re overlooked or exploited?

CG: I love my fellow LGBTQ artists like Hey Rooney, Travis Chantar and Glen Hanson! They know their audience and embrace it. I think they’ve definitely achieved success but much like myself, they’re still on the fringe. Mainstream media needs to celebrate them and all LGBTQ artists! We’ve got a lot to bring to the table and we know how to entertain beautifully!

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Do you think art has helped tackle issues that are typically seen as taboo like nudity, sexuality, etc.?

CG: Yes and I love it. If someone looks at one of my pop art paintings and it releases their inner diva and inspires them to do something brave that would be amazing! 

I assume you’re watching the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Are you #TeamTrinity like me?

CG: This really is the toughest top 4 to single out! I think they all are strong and have something that the other person lacks. Don’t make me choose! Whoever wins, I’ll be more than happy and whoever loses, I’ll be happy to see them in All Stars!

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You can find more of Cheyne’s art on his Instagram, his Facebook and you can order from his online shop on his website.

Interview with Gaby Dunn, Writer & Co-Creator of “Just Between Us”

Sometime at the end of June, New Form Digital is going to release my pilot I wrote, starred in and created called LOVE ME DO, which is the autobiographical project I’ve been hinting at. It’s a show about my relationship with my dad, who’s an alcoholic. But it’s a comedy. I’m very excited and nervous for people to see it because it’s very close to real life.

It was recently Gaby Dunn’s birthday and I reached out to the gay icon to chat with her about bisexuality, the future of the media and her exciting upcoming projects.

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You’re a strong advocate for bisexuality but bisexual representation remains lacklustre. Media today in contemporary society is more diverse than it has ever been but there’s an unmistakable focus on gay male characters. What are your thoughts on that?

GD: I mean it’s very true. Especially on cis white gay male characters, who are wealthy. I think it’s because media in general is selling a fantasy rather than being committed to portraying real life. For instance, those gay male characters we do see are also very fit, or sexually active, or “fierce.” When it comes to bisexuality in particular I think people are scared of using the word because they think viewers won’t get it but part of being a creator is trusting your audience to understand gray areas.

Queer shows on mainstream networks, like MTV’s Faking It, ABC Family’s The Real O’Neals and even Netflix’s Sense8 have all suffered a very similar fate despite being progressive and positively representative. What do you think the cancellation of these shows means for the future of television-oriented media?

GD: I would hope it means the same that the cancellation of thousands of shows about straight white dudes does but I know it doesn’t. The good news is there are many more platforms for inclusive shows to live on so hopefully creators find their audiences in more than just mainstream places that weren’t going to appreciate them anyway. 

The way you’ve described bisexuality in the past has been something along the lines of open to all genders. How would you say that differs to polysexuality?

GD: I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about polysexuality. I assume they’re similar? I think it really just depends on what word you’re personally most comfortable with, and less on the exact definitions of every label. 

YouTube has restricted LGBTQ+ content and been criticised in the past for promoting heteronormative and ethnocentric content. How have your experiences been on the platform?

GD: The LGBTQ+ restriction is the worst. Our most popular video, which is called Your Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, and features me dating a woman, is demonetized. It makes queer kids feel like their ability to make money being themselves is limited, it makes them feel ostracized from “normal” content, and it’s just a bad look all around. When you purport to be for creative freedom but start cow-towing to advertisers the way networks might have in the past, then how can you say you’re looking toward the future?

I’ve been a long-time fan of Just Between Us for some time now and you’ve recently announced the release of your book with co-author Allison Raskin. Walk us through the process of writing with your best friend. In one of your videos you mentioned how trying it was on your friendship but that you’re closer than ever because of it.

GD: Yeah, we fought a lot about the book because it’s two very different characters and we each had intense visions for what our characters would be and go through. But the conflict in real life is what became the central conflict of the characters in the book. So it was actually really beneficial! And we love each other, so we know when we fight it’s just us getting our ideas out and trying to communicate. It’s never a bad, real fight but collaborating on anything artistic is going to stress both people out. You have to be really clear about what you want and compromise on what they want.

What’s next for JBU? And what are some projects that you’ve been working on independently that we can look forward to? You’ve posted to your Twitter and Instagram about an autobiographical project – can you tell us about that?

GD: Well, we have a development deal for a half hour comedy with YouTube Red so we’re excited to see what happens with that. I’m working on a Bad With Money book for 2018 or 2019, not sure yet. Sometime at the end of June, New Form Digital is going to release my pilot I wrote, starred in and created called LOVE ME DO, which is the autobiographical project I’ve been hinting at. It’s a show about my relationship with my dad, who’s an alcoholic. But it’s a comedy. I’m very excited and nervous for people to see it because it’s very close to real life. I’m also going to start writing a column for Marie Claire, which comes out in August. And a million other things. I wrote a movie with my friend Lauren Garroni that we want to make.

How did your podcast Bad With Money start? It’s a seemingly niche topic but your argument is that people don’t talk about it enough – which is true, and especially interesting when you factor in the fact that your Internet fame (which is still a mystifying subject for many) is a large part of your revenue. 

GD: It started with me talking about how much I make as a YouTuber which apparently people weren’t doing before. And when that article went viral, I was approached by Panoply to turn that into a podcast. I’d thought about doing a sexuality podcast but I figured a lot of that topic was covered on JBU so I thought a money podcast would be a great way for me to learn about something I don’t already know about. Instead of doing a sexuality show, which would be something I do know a lot about. I wanted to learn with the audience, rather than teach.

How did you start your writing career and what’s some advice you’d give to aspiring writers? 

GD: I started writing as a little kid and I won an award in second grade for a short story I wrote about breaking my glasses. That was my big break. My advice would be to not undervalue yourself or work for free when writing is a job and should be treated as one.

Female sexuality has always been oppressed, while hegemonic masculine identities are encouraged and seen as the “norm”. More recently things are changing with the “New Man” and social awareness of gender inequality but where do you think these traditional ideals come from? And how/when do you envision it ending?

GD: Oh, it’s the Trump administration. I don’t have high hopes for it ending any time soon! I really wish I had a better answer for this but I’ve been super depressed about that very question for months, haha.

You’re very politically active and involved, which is something that’s much-needed in this political climate. What’s something that you desperately wish will change sometime soon and what’s the first thing you’d do if you were in office for a day?

GD: That’s a great question. I think I’d start with disability and health care and how terrible we are at taking care of the people in our society who need it that most. It should not be so difficult and emotionally exhausting to get help if you need help. We desperately need an overhaul of the healthcare system for the poorest and most vulnerable among us particularly the disabled community and the trans community.

Up until college you described yourself as mousy and you’ve talked about the sexism within the writing/comedy community that you experienced. Was that what made you change your style and appearance?

GD: Not really! I just realized that women are allowed to be both hot and smart at the same time. I spent a lot of time worried that if I was pretty, I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a comedy writer — and if I was smart, no one would want me to act in anything. But once I realized that wasn’t true and I could just be whatever I wanted as long as I was talented and confident and (shock of all shocks) boys didn’t make the rules? I was so much happier.

You’re well-known for your graphic tees and bleached hair now. Who are your fashion/style inspirations and is it as high maintenance as it looks to keep your blonde hair?

GD: I get it bleached once a month but somehow it stays strong! My hair’s very thick so it can withstand all the dying I do to it. In terms of fashion, I really like gender-bending so I like people like Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, Rain Dove, Bowie. I like looking more masculine or tomboyish now. 

And lastly, when did you decide to become polyamorous and what would you say to people who think they might want to pursue polyamory? What would you say are the best/worst things about it, compared to monogamy?

GD: I think I’d always been more inclined toward non-monogamy just in terms of having an inkling about it when you’re dating the same way i did about my sexuality. I would say the best advice is not to try and talk anyone into it. To find people who are already poly and test it out with them rather than convincing a monogamous partner to do something they don’t want. The best is the intense communication and how I never feel like I’m being lied to. The worst is time management and not sleeping enough.

Make sure to keep up with all of the exciting stuff Gaby has coming out soon, the second season finale of her podcast is out, “I Hate Everyone But You” comes out 19th September 2017 and Just Between Us has videos out every Monday and Thursday.

Interview With The Creators Of “In A Heartbeat” – The Sweetest Gay Animated Short Film

We definitely think that there is a lack of LGBTQ+ characters in films and the amount of response this film has gotten, without it being out yet, hopefully shows media executives that people are ready and hungry for more content like this.

Esteban Bravo and Beth David are the creators of “In A Heartbeat”, a gay animated short film that has been making waves before even being released. It features a closeted boy who risks being outed when his heart jumps out of his chest to chase down the love of his life. It’s tooth-rottingly sweet and bound to be a global success. Take a look:

I contacted them recently in hopes that they would answer some questions, and they were kind enough to respond.

Thanks again for doing this, the film has garnered so much attention before even being released! Did you expect it to gain this kind of attention and recognition when you started making it?

EB & BD: No problem, we’re happy and excited to answer your questions! We didn’t expect this kind of attention, at least not before releasing the film! However, we did get a glimpse at how the film was going to do after our kickstarter garnered much unprecedented attention.

What was the process of beginning such a demanding project like this and how did you cope with it being just the two of you?

EB & BD: We started on this project on our preproduction class for our thesis films at Ringling College of Art and Design. On the first day we have to pitch four ideas for our thesis and from the very beginning we knew that this was the story that we wanted to see through. Thankfully, the faculty greenlit the idea and so we started the process of fleshing out the story and the visuals for it. After having worked on that for a semester, we started production during the summer of that year. From there on out it was a matter of working day and night to bring this film to fruition, which took in total a year and a half. We honestly don’t know how we would have been able to make it our senior year had it not been for our love for this story and the characters. Some other things did help to cope however haha, like coffee breaks at 2am and watching shows from time like Parks and Rec.

What were your influences and where did this sweet story come from? Did your own personal experiences play into the story at all?

EB & BD: There were several films we watched as we were developing the film – some of them being LGBTQ+ films. Here’s a list with a few of them: The Way He Looks, The Imitation Game, High School Musical, Get Real, Hidden Away, School Ties, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Blue Neighborhood Trilogy, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A big influence on the appeal, charm, and feel for the film were The Peanuts Movie and Flipped

We have to say that developing the film was therapeutic for us in some way. Though thankfully we were never in the position in which our identity was in absolute danger of being exposed to our crush or the entire school (like Sherwin is in the film), much of the story came from both of us having a heart-to-heart about how it was like to grow up being gay (pun intended). 

Did you purposefully make the characters younger to appeal to a certain audience? Animated films – and blockbusters alike – generally don’t feature LGBTQ+ main characters, what are your thoughts on that?

EB & BD: The main reason why the characters are that age (13/14) is because it’s at that age when you start to notice that something is different and begin a process of self-acceptance. After having decided that, we hoped that our film would reach younger audiences going through this stage and hopefully let them know that “it’s okay”. We definitely think that there is a lack of LGBTQ+ characters in films and the amount of response this film has gotten, without it being out yet, hopefully shows media executives that people are ready and hungry for more content like this.

You changed Jonathan’s ethnicity and as a Portuguese gay man, representation is so important. Do you feel the same about portrayals in media and was this kept in mind while producing the film?

EB & BD: Yes, the more we worked on the film the more we realized how important representation is, so we thought making Jonathan Latino would be perfect. It also added an extra personal touch to the film since Esteban was born and raised in Mexico. We’re excited that so many people are positively responding to this and it just shows how people want to see themselves represented more in media. 

What are your plans for the future? I know the film isn’t out yet but you’ve been submitting it to film festivals, so what can we expect as an audience and as fans of your work?

EB & BD: Now that we’ve just graduated, we’re breaking into the industry and starting jobs at different studios. We’ll be jumping on projects for television and feature film that we’re both really excited about. In a Heartbeat for now will live as our student short, but we’ve definitely talked about the possibility of making it into something bigger. It’d be a dream of ours to work together on a project like this again in the future.

And finally, what do you hope to continue to do and what impact do you hope this film has on the future of animation and as a whole? What do you hope audiences take from it?

EB & BD: The responses we’ve gotten prove to us that this is something that a lot of people really want to see, and we hope that means studios and production companies will open up more to projects with LGBTQ themes. We never really expected our film make the impact that it already has, but we hope that audiences can watch it and feel more accepting of themselves or a loved one going through a similar experience. If it helps one person feel a little better about who they are, then we’ll have done our job.

Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my initial reaching out. This film means so much to so many people – including me. Often times LGBTQ+ characters are sexualised and for straight people to see this change to show a more innocent side of gay romance is a big step in normalising homosexuality.

Esteban and Beth were lovely to talk to, their Instagram accounts are linked above and you can find In A Heartbeat’s Tumblr page here and its official Facebook page here.

Interview With John Corey Whaley, Author Of Highly Illogical Behaviour

We need to talk about it more, like we talk about any disease, and we still have so much stigma to fight against.

Having recently finished Highly Illogical Behaviour in one intense sitting, I was astounded by its raw emotion and powerful message. I knew I had to reach out to the author and express how deeply this story had touched me–and so many others–who relate to what the book says at its core. He was kind enough to answer back.

SOURCE: http://johncoreywhaley.com

Where did the whole idea come from? Your own personal life?

JCW: I’ve personally struggled with anxiety for many years, so I wanted to explore my own relationship to mental illness and the way that those without mental illness treat and talk about it. I’ve never been agoraphobic, but it’s always been an interesting form of or cousin to anxiety that I’ve wanted to examine through writing.

How did you go about writing such a sensationally unique book? What was the process like, considering how closely you relate personally to Solomon?

JCW: This book definitely felt very personal and, at times, vulnerable to write. I tried to focus on the aspects of the story that I wanted to explore most, though, and that pulled me through the harder parts—I focused on showing the harsh reality of mental illness–and panic attacks–and making it a little technical in that way helped me process writing from such a place of experience and pain.

What has the response been so far? Is it mostly positive?
Are there critics who you disagree with?

JCW: The reviews I’ve read have all been quite humbling and kind. Why on earth would I read any bad reviews? Haha. I try to stay away from negative reviews because they don’t ultimately help me as a writer… they get into my head and make me paranoid. I trust my editor wholeheartedly, so that also helps me take criticism with a very thick skin… because if she likes it, I feel like a superhero.

Why did you decide it was time to write Solomon’s story, in today’s time and age?
Is there any underlying message you want readers to take from this book?

JCW: I’d come to a time in my life where my anxiety was really starting to affect my daily life and my relationships… so since I frequently use writing as a tool to understand myself and others better, I decided it was the right time to explore my anxiety through a story like Solomon’s. And, as someone with mental illness who has many friends who also have mental illness, I felt it was an appropriate time to add my little bit of the conversation about mental illness in the country, especially in teens. We need to talk about it more, like we talk about any disease, and we still have so much stigma to fight against. What I hope readers can take away from Sol and Lisa’s story is that a.) mental illness doesn’t look the same on everyone–it’s personal and everyone has a story and b) it can and often does control the lives of many of our friends and neighbors and we all need to understand it better… and take active steps to destigmatize mental illness. 

Do you have any upcoming projects your fans can look forward to?
What’s something you want every one of your readers to know about you and your writing?

JCW: I’m currently working on a top secret book that I can’t talk about at all… but I hope my readers will continue to be surprised and entertained by my stories and I promise to work really hard to make that so.  Something I want every one of my readers to know? Hmm… I’d like them to know how seriously I take my job–how storytelling, to me, is sacred and personal and oftentimes cathartic.  It’s my greatest honor to get to share stories with all of you.  Thank you so much for reading. 

John Corey Whaley is certainly one of the most authentic writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to, and his work certainly reflects that. I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavours and will continue to talk about the importance of work that truly matters, that talks openly about mental health, sexuality and topics that some writers purposefully avoid in fear of being “controversial”. Mr. Whaley deserves all the credit – and more – that he gets for writing such a brave book.

The CW’s “Riverdale” – Season 1 Review (SPOILERS + LONG)

The incest was more surprising than the murder.

Despite so much potential, Riverdale is yet to become the grand teen mystery show that it could be. With so many great shows ending, Riverdale has big boots to fill. But, unfortunately, the incest was more surprising than the murder. Deciding to cement the tone through the dark monologues of Jughead, depicting the show in quite frankly an off-kilter misrepresentation, is probably where I take my biggest issue. While never having read the Archie Comics, it’s my understanding that they’re vast to say the least, from superheroes to horror to romance reprints. It makes sense to want to roll off the back of previous successes, like Pretty Little Liars, but more often than not Riverdale doesn’t ground itself in the murder mystery of Jason Blossom. It’s much more layered than a simple whodunit, which works. There’s heart and chemistry on-screen and well-thought out plotlines – not to mention the cinematography is outstanding. And to keep it fresh and innovating, I understand the necessity of the murder storyline. What I don’t understand is why Riverdale believes itself to be this grandiose noir narrative.

Let’s break it down character by character.

The Great Archiekins:

Archie Andrews was my biggest annoyance at the start of the series. I couldn’t get passed the two dimensions of his character. Why exactly are we supposed to root for Archie? He’s male, straight, white, popular, buff… need I go wrong? There wasn’t any tangible substance to him, all he had to offer was a pretty face and an overtly sexualised pair of abs (which I definitely appreciate: the change of sexual focus onto a male lead instead of a female one). There just wasn’t anything real about Archie as a teenager that I could relate to, in the slightest. His parents’ divorce was peaceful, his love life is questionable and his jock-musician story line I had already gotten enough of from High School Musical. Seriously. Episode 9 where Cheryl’s family begins taking a liking to Archie and offer him more opportunities was straight up Sharpay and Troy in HSM2. I began to ignore him, mostly, until he took his shirt off or left the scene. The only moment in all 13 episodes that made me actually like Archie was in the finale, when he made his hand bleed punching the ice to get to Cheryl. In that moment I saw more than the resident chick magnet of Riverdale. But, of course, it was brushed off in a later scene to highlight his impeccable goodness and selflessness. Even his inappropriate sexual relationship with Ms. Grundy, which sheds some light on Archie’s personal insecurities on his own songwriting capabilities, was harpooned away quicker than she was. They could have easily explored the depth of his depracating self-worth and his clear issue with validation (and authority figures, to a degree) but none of that is actually seen and his romantic indecision is shoehorned into the plot while making sure at least once per episode we’re reminded of his body or his looks.

Betty Dye-Your-Damn-Roots Cooper:

The overachieving literal embodiment of a girl-next-door (there was no subtlety in the way they wrote that: her window looks into Archie’s) with an ambiguous mental illness and controlling parents. Unlike Archie, I didn’t dislike Betty but I also didn’t love her. There’s more to her than Archie, that’s for sure, and her character arc does address a lot about her undiscovered self. She grows a spine, standing up to her mother, and even grows to be more confident in her writing, her romance and herself. I did find it interesting that The Fair Lady and The Dark Lady were subverted, revealing Betty (The Fair Lady) to be much darker than resigned mean girl Veronica (The Dark Lady). In the first episode, her scene with Cheryl, being passive in her cheerleading uniform, contrasts wildly to her scene in the last episode where she chastises the people of Riverdale for not realising how much the town has changed. Her most compelling quality as a character, for me, is the whole “Dark Betty” exploration. I understand why the writers chose to keep it ambiguous and not discern everything in the first season (it was obvious that it would garner enough attention and fans to get a second) but I hope they continue to delve deeper into her psyche. Mental illness is still a subject of taboo with a lot of stigma attached to it, seeing the typical Betty Cooper girl next door figure admit to being mentally ill, and then seeking out help for it would normalise the topic to a lot of impressionable viewers and finally connote the message that mental illness is something we shouldn’t be ashamed of.

Hispanic Caroline Channing Veronica Lodge

The embodiment of social awareness in the form of a seventeen-year-old. Sharp-tongued with masterful one-liner delivery, it’s not hard to imagine where Camila Mendes’ career will take her. The most interesting scenes with Veronica had to be the ones where she interacted with Betty – it was made clear that their friendship would be a driving force of the show, enforcing positive female friendships where they don’t fight for Archie’s attention. And while I not only condone but support this representation, there were extremely equivocal moments that left me slightly stooped. She is definitely the character with the most feminist undertones: She owns her sexuality and femininity without it defining her personality entirely and is simultaneously strong yet vulnerable. But the writers making her socially aware seemed to be used as an excuse to be… less than progressive. For example, she jokes about failing the Bechdel test when she brings up her relationship with Archie to Betty but I can’t remember the last conversation the two of them had that wasn’t driven by their respective love interests. Self-awareness is not an excuse to be able to avoid criticism for doing the exact things you’re making fun of. For the most part, Veronica’s subplot is related to her morality and guilt of being a Lodge and what her father has done in the past to land him in jail. But as progressive a character as Veronica is, I can’t help feel robbed of the full potential of having a character like Veronica be better in a sense. She calls Kevin her “best gay”, she kisses Betty for shock value at cheerleading tryouts (which was marketed way too much in trailers to not be considered queerbaiting), and while she tackles slut-shaming by getting revenge on Chuck it ultimately opens up a whole new can of worms about race. In the comics, Chuck was a sensitive artist but on the show he’s a sleazeball who lies about his sexual conquests and is taken down by Betty’s article. Despite not wanting to, I couldn’t help but see the authority a blonde woman has over an African-American man take precedence. Similarly, The Pussycats are “saved” by Archie with some words of advice and he continuously takes over their gigs with his better songs. Archie even dates Valerie, a Pussycats member, and yet we know nothing about Valerie. Veronica being a WOC and a main character is great, but it seems to come at the expense of her being the only real main character that’s not white. Veronica has depth and is a better role model than past feminist icon characters on teen shows but is arguably only one in the promised multiple fleshed-out non-white characters of the diverse cast.

Not Asexual Jughead Jones:

The casting of Cole Sprouse as Jughead instead of Ryan Potter irks me. Asian-American representation in the media is harder to spot than a leprechaun and Sprouse’s wooden acting only added to my frustrations as I continued to watch him play the part of Juggie. For the most part, these actors don’t get to decide what their characters do. Thus, I cannot hold them accountable for not bringing compelling characters to life when the source material is so sparsely thin. The creative decision to remove Jughead’s asexuality from the story will always agitate and confuse me but even from a logical POV it takes away rather than adds layers to his story arc. On a show with young attractive people, you needs ships (relationships). It’s simple enough: ships=attention. Fans will post on social media and talk about their endgame ships and get the show more attention. But this only goes to show the necessity of an asexual character. If they really had to, they could have made Jughead have a relationship with Betty that’s not sexual (in the comics he’s aromantic as well). A non-sexual relationship hasn’t been portrayed on modern day television since Sheldon and Amy had coitus on The Big Bang Theory and taking away Jughead’s asexuality only distances it from being the progressive awe-inspiring show it so desperately wants to be. Not only that, but the show’s obvious focus on Jughead (more so because of Cole Sprouse than anything) and their insistence on making him likeable does the opposite for me. Sure, he’s sympathetic and humanised so the audience understands him but the writers’ take on his character development consists solely on Betty changing or “fixing” him. Coming from a broken home, Jughead doesn’t need a girlfriend. He needs a stable environment with healthy parental figures. Taking away his opportunity to move and be adopted shouldn’t be a dramatic montage to save him before he’s separated from his friends. That’s not what Riverdale should be telling their younger viewers. Realistically, Betty can’t be the sole light of his life and the fact that he wished to only be with her on his birthday is already telling of the co-dependency that’s bound to occur because of Jughead’s lack of stable relationships. His and Archie’s relationship is one that I cannot fault. Mostly because all they do is sit in Archie’s room, eat pizza, play video games and talk about girls. Which is, for the most part, what teenage boys do and this sense of normalcy makes Jughead less annoying… until they throw a scene of Betty calling Jughead’s alcoholic father to surprise him for his birthday to prove how thoughtful she is and make Jughead look unreasonable during their argument when F.P. does nothing out of the ordinary. I would have appreciated it more if the Bughead relationship had been allowed to blossom into a detective-styled friendship, one where boys and girls can finally be shown to be platonic without sexual undertones, instead of throwing them together for the sake of shipping drama.

Cheryl Bombshell Blossom

Cheryl was actually one of the more nuanced characters. Often times, she was able to be the show’s self-critic. I was expecting her to be welcomed into the fold by the end of the season, especially with how her story ended, like Jughead was. We see Cheryl’s perfect life crumble behind the walls she has built, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the show with heavily featured lineage and family. Cheryl’s especially is under a magnifying glass since her brother’s murder. Her, at times, abusive family life leads her to attempt to reach out to the core four, sans Jughead, on multiple occasions only to be neglected and lash out. We see this mostly with Archie and Veronica, who each have a roller coaster of a relationship with Cheryl respectively. She has public meltdowns, anxiety attacks and is cracking under the pressure of being the perfect Blossom child now that there’s only one left. Veronica is there for her until the story needs to add frenemy banter and then she’s back to hating Cheryl for what her parents did to her father. Cheryl doesn’t seem to be in control of many things. Even her Vixen cheerleaders are masterminded by her mother and so when she burns the Thornhill Mansion down, after attempting to kill herself at Sweet Water River, she finally takes action and stops asking for help all together. No one bothered to look beneath the surface of her life, and even when Veronica did all that came from it was her realising she’s lucky for having Hermione and not Mrs. Blossom as a mother. In theory, she and Jughead should have had some kind of reconciliation together. Veronica attempts to connect with Jughead when his father goes to jail, but the sentiment is hollow and short-lived. Cheryl’s support system died when her brother did. She could learn a thing or two about self-sustenance and -preservation from Jughead, but the only times she even addresses him is when she slaps him or uses a homeless slur toward him. Upon burning down her house, it’s a physical manifestation of her being free of the Blossom family (completely ignoring her mother wailing behind her as she stares at the flames engulfing the house) and in a way embracing being independent. She was forced to be by herself when Jason died but taking action against the house where she lived, where her brother, his murderer and their mother lived, depicts a gruelling decision of liberty that probably won’t be explored next season. Cheryl will be shoehorned as the occasional villainess of the show, again, or the damsel in distress and continue to never be allowed to be part of the group despite it probably being beneficial for the drama of the show.

Kevin Keller:

It’s clear the writers don’t know what to do with Kevin. He’s in some very important scenes (like the discovery of Clifford Blossom as Jason’s killer) and the next minute he’s suspiciously missing. The writers attempted to tie him up to the Jason Blossom murder, with Southside Snake Joaquin as his boyfriend and even having regular updates from his Sheriff father to give to the gang. There were many times I suspected him to be the killer because of this very reason. He had one foot in, one foot out. He seemed important but didn’t get the promotional posters that Josie got, despite being in more episodes than her. As for Jason, I had theories about Ms. Grundy coming back and Polly’s babies not actually being his only to be trivially disappointed upon the anti-climactic resolution of Clifford having shot his son. I kept waiting for the twist to come, that Kevin had staged the whole thing. Having a gay character as a villain is difficult. It can be challenging to navigate, but when done well it can actually help to normalise homosexuality and people’s understanding that gays, lesbians, bisexual people, trans people are people and everyone is different. Revenge managed to use an exhausted trope of a gay guy falling for a straight guy with Tyler and Daniel and turn it into his villainous motivation but contrasted it with positive representation later on with Nolan’s exploration of his bisexuality. I wouldn’t have been angry if Kevin was the killer as it would have added to his character and completely thrown the dynamics with the other characters for a loop, something I was expecting to happen but since Clifford didn’t really have a tangible relationship with many characters, the reveal fell flat.

At this point I don’t trust the Riverdale writers to take any risk that could potentially pay-off later. Even with Fred Andrews being shot in the finale, I have no doubt that he’ll make a full recovery for season two and allow the Fred-Hermione-Hiram love triangle to come to fruition. I’m only this cynical because I was promised a show that does not live up to all of its statements. We cannot keep sitting idly by, passively consuming media and pretending it doesn’t have an effect on society. Employing a diverse cast is one thing. Not using a third of those actors in the actual episodes is another. Claiming to be the epitome of progressive teen shows only to have an underwhelming representation of anything we haven’t already seen, and expecting to be praised for it, is bullshit for lack of another word. With a fanbase as big as it already is, wanting more from a show that also wants to be more isn’t a lot to ask.

A Letter To My Stalker

I thought ours was a star-crossed romance.

My sweet,

The fluctuation of our relationship was more tumultuous than the first spacecraft to ever land on the moon. Due to a mutual fear of being lonely, we became fast friends. Your world enveloped mine. Before I knew it, I was living, breathing, thinking you every microsecond of my meagre existence. How it started was nothing like it ended. I thought ours was a star-crossed romance. Boy, have I never been more wrong.

When we first met, you didn’t have many friends. At least, it didn’t appear that way from the outside looking in. I saw you, by yourself, and thought immediately that I didn’t have to be alone anymore. So I brushed off the alarm bells, the red flags, and enjoyed the casual laughter of acquaintances at school. You were quirky, not crazy, and I understood that because I was the same. Others didn’t see it because others didn’t know what I knew. The allure was textbook: You were broken and I wanted to fix you. That’s probably what it ultimately comes down to. I wanted to pick up your tattered jigsaw pieces and put together a whole new puzzle. One of us. Together. But I didn’t challenge you, I emulated you. Too fearful that you would leave. So you ended up changing me.

And we played our games of pretend together. The cat and mouse chase that became something far more revoltingly sinister than I would realise. Obsession. Lust. Greed. I said no. No no no. But you weren’t used to hearing that, I suppose. You chalked up my suspicions, my concerns, my hesitance as something to joke about the next day. After I saw you. Lurking behind me. A shadow. A devil. A friend.

You weren’t always there, physically. But you peeled the layers of my brain and burrowed into the tissue, nestling in to call my head home. And you fucked with my head so many times, I was jarred from the reality of everyday school to this fantastical enticing of a dysfunctional toxic relationship. It’s funny. Relationship. That’s what we had, like it or not. We did everything couples did, essentially. Whether it was clandestine touches, passing secret notes, bickering. But when I fought back, be it with my words or my fists, something always came back to enforce your domain over me. Shackled to the guilt of breaking your trust, I let you break me. And now you want back in.

No.

I will never be scared of you. You’ve left seeds of mistrust that continue to be fruitful but I will never give you the power to hurt me again. Not anymore. No matter the consequences. Giving into you was one of the worse decisions I have ever made but enough time has passed for me to wake up to what you emotionally, mentally and physically put me through and know that I deserve better. I have a voice that won’t be crushed by you, or any man, ever.