Life in a Fishbowl
Author: Len Vlahos
Publication Date: January 3rd, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Synopsis: In this hilarious and gut-wrenching story from Morris finalist Len Vlahos, a teen sabotages the reality show that has become her life.
Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Her cancer-ridden father auctioned his life off to the highest bidder—a ruthless reality TV show executive—and now everything she says and does is being broadcast across America.
Gone is her mom’s attention. Gone is Jackie’s trust in her star-struck, fame-seeking sister. Gone is the family’s dignity as the network twists their words and makes a mockery of their lives. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day soon, her father will just be . . . gone.
Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie decides to end the show and reclaim their lives, even in death.
Told through multiple points of view, acclaimed author Len Vlahos deftly explores what it really means to live in this brilliantly written tragicomedy.
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About the Author
The band broke up in 1987 and I followed my other passion, books. I’ve worked in the book industry ever since. And, of course, I write. And I write, And I write, write, write.
My first novel, The Scar Boys — it’s labeled as Young Adult, but I’ve never really liked labels — published January 2014. It is, not surprisingly, a rock and roll coming of age story. No vampires or dystopian future, just a messed up boy and his guitar. (I have nothing against vampires or dystopian futures. I loved The Passage, The Hunger Games, and The Road.)
Scar Girl, the continuation of The Scar Boys’ story, is due out from Egmont USA in fall 2015.
I live in Connecticut with my super awesome wife Kristen, and our six year old son Charlie, and three and a half year old son, Luke, and I spend my days working at a small book industry non profit.
Some Nifty Author Links
Guest Post with Len Vlahos
By Len Vlahos
Life in a Fishbowl is about a lot of things. It’s about the power of familial love, and how Jackie Stone (the protagonist) has to rise above her lack of confidence and self-esteem to save her family’s dignity. It’s about the tumor—a character in the book—that is consuming Jackie’s father’s brain. And it’s about euthanasia and whether or not we should be allowed to make our own end of life choices. But above all, this is a story about the inherent lie of media and the danger in blindly trusting what passes for truth.
Jackie’s father, Jared, has a high grade glioblastoma multiforme, a fatal and inoperable brain tumor. After a series of misadventures in which Jared tries to raise money to provide for his family, he agrees to allow the American Television Network to broadcast his death in prime time. It will be, the producers believe, the reality television show of the century.
And they’re right.
Jackie, whose world is already being shattered by the looming loss of her father, is an unwilling participant in the TV show. She watches as the editors manipulate the truth to serve their own ends, which are, of course, financial. A prisoner in her own house, Jackie, working with far flung friends, has to fight back. And fight back she does.
I’m going to stop there with the synopsis to avoid any more spoilers, but the setup is important. Reality television has hurt our culture by slowly eroding our understanding of the truth, and by appealing to our basest instincts. In a way, America has become Ancient Rome in the waning days of that empire: We wallow in our own excesses, have made cynicism an art form, and take no responsibility for the state of our culture.
Reality television, as we know it, is a relatively short-lived phenomenon in the United States. There have always been game shows, award shows, and variety hours, and those are, in a way, reality television. What I’m referring to, however, began in May of 1992 with an MTV show called The Real World.
The idea was simple. Put seven strangers—none of them actors—in a large apartment, film them twenty-four hours a day, and see what happens. The early seasons of The Real World, which aired in the first half of the 1990s, were heralded as innovative, groundbreaking television, exposing audiences to honest, unfiltered, human interactions.
Sounds good, right?
Each episode lasted twenty-two minutes. From twenty-four hours of footage, twenty-two minutes of programming aired. This meant that producers, directors, and editors made choices about what to share with their audience. Right at the outset, you can see there was an editorial voice at work. It was the very antithesis of “unfiltered.”
Now think about the motives of those editorial choices. Were they to make compelling, quality entertainment? Maybe. Were they to create educational and enriching docu-dramas? I suppose they could have been. Or were they to get more people to tune in so that those same people would see advertisements that would garner a lot of money for everyone involved? Well, duh.
Second, how honest can people be when they know they are always playing for the camera? If you knew there was a camera on you at all times, how would you act? Would you still pick your nose when no one was looking? Would you eat the worst junk food while watching Saturday morning cartoons in your underwear? (I’m not saying I do this… but I’m not saying I don’t, either.) Would you want your friends, neighbors, and the whole world to see the unvarnished you? It’s kind of like Schrodinger’s Cat; the act of observation changes the outcome. (Yes, I’m a science-geek, and proud of it.)
When we see a married couple fighting on a reality TV show, or when we see someone forced to eat bugs to survive in the wild, we should remember that there’s a human being – probably a dozen human beings – on the other side of that camera. But because it’s on television – or on the Internet – and because someone had the brilliant idea of labeling it “reality,” we accept it as truth.
The Real World went on to spawn countless other shows – Survivor, Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Apprentice, the Real Housewives of Orange County, The Jersey Shore, and yes, even Dating Naked, a VH1 show, the title of which pretty much says it all. Each of these shows is more vulgar than the one that preceded it. And I don’t mean vulgar in the sense of obscene, I mean vulgar in the sense of grotesque.
So why do we watch? (And we do watch…in droves.) Because human nature is dark. Very dark. We can’t help but slow down to look at a car accident; we obsess over stories like JonBenet Ramsey; we even gathered, in times gone by, in the public square to watch hangings or burnings. If we are given permission—and media implicitly gives us that permission—we will watch anything. And worse, we will believe anything. (Please note that I’ve included myself in this… I have watched Survivor (seasons one and two), Amazing Race (seasons one and two), and countless episodes of Shark Tank.)
We have allowed ourselves to become lazy. By accepting what we see as real without questioning it, we weaken the very concept and nature of truth.
And here’s the danger: The next time we’re faced with “truth” – a “news story” on the Internet that Pope Francis has endorsed Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney or anyone; a “news story” that millions of Americans are casting fraudulent votes in our elections; a “news story” that we’re about to experience one of the coldest years on record – we have been trained to take that “truth” at face value. If it’s on a screen, we believe it. We don’t do our homework, and neither does the media. (And by the way, none of the aforementioned examples are true.)
We have to fight back.
Question everything. If you see something on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, do not re-post or re-Tweet it unless you can verify it’s true. It’s not hard to do. My two favorite sources are Snopes.com and the “Truth-o-Meter” at Politifact.com.
And if you see something online that is false and/or hurtful, be like Jackie Stone and her friends; call it out. Otherwise it will fester and germinate and make us all just a little bit weaker. It will be a death by a thousand cuts.
If we all pitch in, we can bring reality back to not only television, but to America, too.
Jan 3—Swoony Boys Podcast
Jan 4—Ex Libris
Jan 5—Peace Love Books
Jan 6—Reading is Better with Cupcakes
Jan 9—Here’s to Happy Endings
Jan 10—WhoRU Blog
Jan. 11—Dazzled By Books
Jan. 12—It Starts at Midnight
Jan. 13—The Story Sanctuary