Stephanie M.

Stephanie M.

I'm a content writer and novelist who loves books, writing, theater, and my cat. I have published two novels and traveled to London and Paris.

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    Latest Articles


    Latest Topics


    What Will Pandemic Fiction Look Like?

    I’m a writer, and right now, publishers and agents are warning fellow writers not to craft pandemic plotlines yet because it’s too soon and we are too close to the event. However, what might pandemic-centered fiction look like when the crisis is safely past and we are able to examine it with a distant, critical eye? Discuss the elements of the pandemic that might make the best fiction. What kind of characters might be most compelling? Are there certain tropes or plot twists that would lend themselves well to pandemic fiction? Also, consider whether pandemic fiction could fit into already-established genres or sets of titles (i.e., Camus’ The Plague, Love in the Time of Cholera, young adult titles like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793, etc.)

      Taken by iamdharmesh1 (PM) 1 month ago.

      The Best and Worst Epistolary Novels

      I recently read Things We Didn’t Say, a World War II epistolary novel by Amy Lynn Green, and enjoyed it immensely. However, it reminded me I had not encountered a good epistolary novel in several years. This led me to ask some questions about this sub-genre. Namely, what are some of the best epistolary novels? Are they classics or contemporary novels, and what are some differences between those two? Are there some things epistolary authors do that make their works less than enjoyable, and what are some of the "worst" or lowly-regarded epistolary novels? Discuss.

      • This sounds really interesting, but I think going down the good/bad road could perhaps be a little limiting. I'm more drawn to the latter part of your proposal which looks at the different ways in which various epistolary novels work. I think the nuance that this approach would allow would be more engaging and allow the author to dig a bit deeper into how they work from a literary perspective. – Hannan Lewsley 2 months ago
      • Interesting topic! Dangerous Liaison, by Choderlos de Laclos, is a French epistolary novel (published in 1782) that may be be interesting to tackle, or mention, in an article such as the one you’re suggesting! – Gavroche 2 months ago

      Analysis of the "Very Special Episode"

      In past decades, situation comedies and dramas were often known for their "very special episodes." These stories took a break from more lighthearted fare to discuss serious topics or issues, often those facing young audiences of the day. Special episodes could often be categorized thus:
      -Featuring "special" characters (often disabled), who rarely if ever appeared again but existed to educate audiences and teach the main characters lessons about compassion and tolerance
      -Analyzing the dangers of teen life (peer pressure, drugs, drunk driving, child/teen molestation)
      -Focusing on particular current events (the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, etc.)
      -Teaching young audiences when and how to give or seek help in serious situations (eating disorders, abuse, CPR, etc.)

      Pick a few "very special episodes" to focus on from sitcoms or sitcom/dramas (Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, Seventh Heaven, Full House…) How has the "very special episode" evolved? Why are they often mocked, even by those who enjoyed their affiliated shows? Is the "very special episode" still around now, and what does it look like?

      • I think that this topic can be a very interesting one. However, I think that in some ways it is too broad. I think perhaps narrowing down the focus, on one specific type of episode will help someone want to write it more. – RheaRG 4 months ago
      • Good idea. I'd lean toward drug-centric ones since drugs and drinking were so publicized in the '80s and '90s (not that they aren't now, but back then we had Nancy Reagan's campaign, the advent of DARE, etc.) I personally also love focusing on disability-centric episodes as a compare/contrast to how characters with disabilities should be portrayed and treated, but I'd leave that to someone else to write. – Stephanie M. 4 months ago

      Are Competition Shows Inherently Against Minorities?

      The impetus for this topic started because, during the pandemic, I’ve become rather hooked on Chopped and its iterations. One thing I’ve noticed about Chopped though, is a dearth of female competitors and winners. Many episodes have male chefs outnumbering females 3-1, and many episodes have the female chef eliminated in round one. Some fans have noted this happens even and especially if female judges outnumber male ones.

      Then I started noticing this trend in other competition shows. For instance, I am a huge Jeopardy fan, and have noticed that men win much more often than women. Also, women can have winning streaks–some, like Julia Collins, have won as many as 20 games in a row. But this is nothing compared to the streaks of Ken Jennings (74), James Holzhauer (30 ), and other male players.

      This got me thinking, women aren’t the only ones getting shortchanged. It’s fairly common, for instance, to see persons of Asian descent on Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but not other POCs. It’s becoming more common to see LGBTQ people in competition shows, but not as common as it could be (and those contestants also often lose). Also, while people with learning disabilities or "invisible" diseases such as celiac or diabetes do appear on cooking competitions, trivia competitions, and athletic competitions, it is completely unheard of for people with visible, physical disabilities or disabilities like autism to appear. (Of course, in the case of athletics, the argument is, "Well, we have Special Olympics/Paralympics," but that’s problematic in itself).

      Is this trend as prevalent as it appears? Is it changing in a positive or negative way? What could competitions, from sports to cooking to trivia, do to be more inclusive and welcoming? Discuss.

      • I think this is a really interesting topic to discuss. Perhaps, an article on this topic could take into account - if possible - the demographics of those who apply for such shows, are individuals belonging to minority groups applying and just not getting selected? Or are they choosing not to apply for such programmes? Is there any reason/research for this? Also - another possible angle, is this prejudice the same across several countries? For example, does the American 'Masterchef' look the same as the Australian or British iterations of the show? Is this a problem intrinsic across the globe, or just pertaining to certain countries? – leersens 8 months ago

      Toxic Love in Literature

      Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Catherine and Heathcliff. Lily Evans and Severus Snape. Besides the obvious examples of unhealthy relationships in literature, there are also some that are commonly contested, like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Despite the toxicity of these relationships though, and despite the fact that from a twenty-first century mindset, they could be called manipulative or abusive, people still love them. People still read the stories of these characters and enjoy them.

      Do toxic relationships in literature have a particular pull? If so, what is it? What makes a relationship toxic, and are any of these, or others, redeemable? Is the woman always the "victim," or can men be victimized by toxicity as well? Are toxic relationships more "accepted" with white couples (you’ll notice none of these examples contain people of color or minorities)? Why is that? What about LGBTQ examples? Discuss.

      • I feel like it's in large measure of the potential for abusive relationships to function as narcissist's fantasies, even regardless of gender. For example, in a story like Twilight a woman gets to imagine herself being the object of affections of a man who's so infatuated with her he's willing to cater to her every desire (even if he also treats her quite badly). Whereas men get to fantasize about having a weak, passive woman who loves having them in control and being their willing slave. Part of it might also be that some people really are so desperate for a partner that they're willing to do anything for one, no matter how degrading. – Debs 12 months ago
      • I should also add that, if anything, I think toxic relationships are more common in media with LGBT characters than without them, and that a big part of this is that something that anyone could recognize as creepy and awful if a man were doing it to a woman (i.e., rape, kidnapping, etc.), is more likely to be perceived as not that bad when it's a man doing it to another man, or a woman doing it to another woman. – Debs 12 months ago
      • This is a very rich topic. If you plan to write this topic, I suggest reflecting upon subtopics. In my opinion, the meaning of toxic relationship also differ from period to period, so pay attention to that, as well! – Crisia 7 months ago
      • A very interesting topic and at the same time a good question! These relationships are so timeless and have been attractive for generations. In my opinion, to desire someone and being desired by someone is a deep wish and / or a fantasy that has nothing to do with age or gender. – Guinevere 7 months ago

      Should Conventional Theater Change to Accommodate Diverse Actors?

      Musical theater is a huge and well-loved medium, and in recent years has given us some cutting-edge hits (Legally Blonde, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, etc.) Yet there are some accepted "rules" of theater culture that still feel like stereotypes or "boxing in" actors. For instance: sopranos get the leads; mezzos and altos play "witches and britches." Tenors play romantic leads; basses play villains. Actresses past the age of 30 can expect to play mothers and grandmothers, but not love interests for their own sake. If you are a white male, you cannot convincingly play a male or female of any color (although I have conversely seen white women tapped to play WOCs). Actors with disabilities can only really expect casting in disabled roles.

      Most theater aficionados will tell you there are solid reasons behind this thinking, even truth. Then again, in 2019, should conventional theater change more to suit the needs and desires of actors? Could or should a musical be written to give an ingenue role to an alto or a hero role to a bass? Is it pushing the envelope to allow actors of certain orientations to play outside of them, or for a white actor to play a POC (outside of a historical context)? In short, what would and should truly "diverse," "inclusive" theater look like?

      • I think that, in some respects, it's easier for theatre to accommodate diversity than other media because, moreso than in any other medium, any actor who's qualified can take a particular role regardless of race, gender, or background. This is especially true of school performances, which have to work with the available students. I've seen a rendition of one of Shakespeare's history plays that featured Black actors, for example; and on YouTube I've found versions of Little Shop of Horrors where Seymour was biracial and the dentist was Asian. I've even found a theatrical version of the Screwtape Letters where Screwtape was played (really expertly, I might add) by a woman. – Debs 1 year ago
      • Hi, Debs,That sounds really cool. I'm glad your theater experience was more inclusive than mine. My schools (high and college) had GREAT theater programs I so wanted to be a part of. But, esp. in the case of my high school director, I was not given that chance and I think it was because of cerebral palsy (couldn't prove it, and if I'd said something it would've been, "Oh, you just think everybody's picking on you.") But the truth was, even after calling my acting phenomenal on more than one occasion, that director in particular would only assign me chorus or walk-on roles. The justification was, "Well, the leads have to dance," but chorus lines are basically there to *dance*, at least in my productions. There were other examples of non-diversity there too, such as the lead *always* went to a first soprano--and the year it went to a mezzo, of course, I wasn't in the running. But, this director was *also* willing to cast a white girl as a Hispanic lead (but not a girl of color as a white lead) ??????Anyway, it's only been recently that I realized the full lack of inclusivity and diversity in the world at large and the theater world, so...there you go. Again, we need more stories like yours. – Stephanie M. 1 year ago

      The Phenomenon of the Unlikable Female Lead

      Scarlett O’Hara is a selfish, stereotypical Southern belle. Julianne Potter (My Best Friend’s Wedding) made multiple attempts to break up a happy relationship out of a belief her best friend "belonged" to her. Emma Woodhouse could be considered on the fence, because while she is charming and engaging, she does meddle in others’ lives constantly, and looks down on those she considers "beneath" her.

      These are only a few examples of the unlikable female lead, in literature, film, and other mediums. These women are not inherently evil, but they are self-absorbed, gossipy, backstabbing, and at times downright narcissistic. Yet…a lot of people like them. Why? Is there a "happy medium" between perfect, Mary Sue women and evil women, and have these or other characters found it? Discuss this, as well as whether the unlikable female lead does female representation more harm than good overall.

      • As someone who studied the Mary Sue phenomenon in comparing why certain female characters are adored while others are ignored, I would like to share my findings.Female characters, like other characters are nothing more than projections of society's fantasies of what it means to be a "cool", "strong" and "powerful" woman. It may seem twisted, but if the female character is an extension of the male character, and is constantly influenced by feminist ideals, these are the type of women are portrayed. – Amelia Arrows 11 months ago
      • I feel like this isn't really a uniquely female problem--there are plenty of obnoxious, self-absorbed, horrible male leads too. If anything, the problem is that society is more accepting of this kind of behavior in men than in women, so these male leads get a pass. – Debs 10 months ago
      • And that in itself could warrant an entire, separate article. – Stephanie M. 10 months ago
      • I think it's very important to mention Elaine Benes (Julia Louis Dreyfus) from Seinfeld here. She was arguably the first "unlikable" female character on US television. She was hilarious, witty, smart, independent, successful, yet extremely cynical, self-absorbed, blunt and occasionally downright mean. I think what made her character appeal to so many was how she came across as someone extremely "regular", someone you'd know in real life or run into on the streets. As opposed to other female leads on other shows that aired along with Seinfeld, she was decidedly more "human" and realistic, in contrast to the "beautiful and shallow" Rachel Green or the "clean freak" Monica Geller from Friends, for example. Elaine was known primarily for her acerbic sense of humour and general zaniness, while Rachel and Monica, I would argue, were better known for being "perfect" girls with quirks that made them funny.I think Larry David, in one of his interviews, talked about how the writing team on the show saw Elaine as "one of the men".And if anything, I think this portrayal of women in the media is nothing but a positive example, as it calls for the audience to look at women as funny, intelligent and relatable for a change, instead of viewing women as just "pretty" and quirky, though I think there dies need to be a balance: excessive portrayal of women in this direction could definitely cause potential harm. – Aniruddha 8 months ago

      The Allure of the Strange and Unusual at Human Expense

      Centuries ago, people who were "different" in any way–those with visible disabilities, facial deformities or marks, extreme obesity, or other conditions–often found "employment" in circuses and sideshows. They were ridiculed as freaks and shut out from society, and we now look back at their plights as an ultimate example of humanity’s inhumanity. We say we are too well-informed, too "politically correct," to parade people around for entertainment any longer.

      Yet, we also have reality television. These days, the "freak show" looks more like documentaries chronicling the lives of little people, large fundamentalist families, people who have broken away from extreme forms of religion or cults, and yes, the extremely obese or thin again. We also have documentaries that place miserably failing restaurants, hotels, and other businesses on display, mostly so the hosts can be lauded for saving them and the business owners, who are implicitly understood to be careless or stupid.

      Some reality shows are much gentler than others, doing their best to present their subjects with dignity and as real, three-dimensional people. Discouragingly though, the shows that seem to pull in the ratings and the viewers are the same ones that invite viewers to gawk and ridicule.

      Why is this? Is the nature of reality TV itself to present the most unusual of humanity at people’s expense–that is, is there nothing to be done about it? What does it say about us as humans that we continue to consume and enjoy this entertainment? Discuss.

      Some examples you might use:

      -The filthiest and most rundown establishments on Hotel Impossible or Restaurant " "
      -The shower scenes of My 600-Lb Life, which viewers and reviewers often call "the obligatory shower scene" (they’re often part of drinking games)
      -The most extreme or scary-looking cults in documentaries
      -The controversy and scandal surrounding the Duggar family, including the marriages of grown daughters and resulting spin-off series
      -Places featured on documentaries like Most Terrifying Places in America, Ghost Adventures, etc.

      • As someone born with disabilities, and was going to see how how the disabled are portrayed in books and films, i support this topic! On Facebook and many channels on Youtube post these outlandish stories about the unusual or disabled people and ending the story with no possitive outcome. We are then to only feel pity for them before we move on and click on another video showing the same type of content with giving a couple hearts and crying emojis to show our support.– Amelia Arrows 11 months ago
      • Good topic. I was expecting mention of Hoarders! I'm not sure that the final item in the list at the end of your topic -- about Most Terrifying Places in America and Ghost Adventures -- fit with the other items in the list. The supernatural seems to me like a very different topic. – JamesBKelley 11 months ago
      • Hoarders, yes. :) The paranormal stuff probably doesn't fit, on reflection. I included it because, depending on how people feel about the paranormal, they might malign believers as strange and "haunted" places as gimmick-y or places "normal" people shouldn't be. But yes, Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive would fit much better. – Stephanie M. 11 months ago
      • I really like this topic! There's something about society's fascination with the "other" and how we tend to interact with it in a one-sided relationship -- think circus freak shows. How have reality tv shows and things like YouTube broadened our awareness of the "other" and what work does it do to embrace the "other" into society, or otherwise ostracize it further? Should the focus be on integration/assimilation into society, or can folks with disabilities/abilities be more celebrated for creating their own communities? How can able-bodied people respect these marginalized groups? I'm super interested in this topic, and I would eagerly read a piece about it it. – Eden 11 months ago

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      Latest Comments

      Stephanie M.

      Ah, this article made the lineup! Again, lovely work. Lady Audley is a particularly nasty, though complex, villain who needs more attention (from literary analyst circles, that is).

      Madness and Selfishness in Lady Audley’s Secret
      Stephanie M.

      Good work! I especially appreciate this because I’m letting an idea for an article “simmer.” It would be about MG/YA historical fiction, particularly examples geared toward young women.

      Historical Fiction: Understanding the Past Through Gould's Book of Fish and Wanting
      Stephanie M.

      Great and thorough article. I especially like that you talked about conservative POVs, since not a lot of articles on sites like this do. I am in fact a conservative, so I wish more people talked about the positive and negative parts of this view (not just the negative). That being said, I am open to some progressive views. For example, as a grown woman, my parents are still not my friends, and they still seem to think that their position as parents is reason to act as though everything they say and think is right. But I digress. Again, great article, especially when showing the complications of both views.

      Welcome to Night Vale: More Conservative Than It Seems
      Stephanie M.

      Lovely, thorough work. Thank you again for bringing attention to a little-known poet, and a female writing in a patriarchal world, at that (more patriarchal than the one we have, that is).

      Charlotte Turner Smith: Empowering Women with a Sonnet
      Stephanie M.

      Absolutely right. It ramps up your sympathy/empathy for Eliza too, because even though she willingly involved herself with Higgins and even though he came to “love” her, no one should be made to feel like an experiment. Also, I never bought the idea of those two in a love relationship. In the film, he’s old enough to be her father, and in the play, he’s just a jerk. Actually, I’d call him an emotional and mental abuser. Eliza should’ve run like heck.

      Roland Barthes: Love as a Language
      Stephanie M.

      Such thorough analysis! So many examples! And you used a few of my overlooked favorites, like My Fair Lady (seriously, you’d think more people would discuss it in articles like yours. The whole play/film is about language). I also loved that you put in Anne of Green Gables and Enchanted.

      Roland Barthes: Love as a Language
      Stephanie M.

      I can understand, especially as a Hibernophile (lover of Irish culture). Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible for me to get high-quality episodes on free services, and I’m not (yet) willing to pay for it on Prime (it’s a premium subscription). And yes, as I discussed in the article, there are plenty of other less-than-stellar episodes.

      The Complex Lessons of Environmentally-Motivated Animation
      Stephanie M.

      As a career writer, I identify most with the need to participate in and influence stories, and the need to find creative ways to interact with spaces. A strong story and myriad ways to participate in it, where my choices actually influence the storyline, are my top criteria for participating in a game.

      Why We Seek Out Video Games