Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing

The Excellence You Swear You Cannot See

nicole's bookThe Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.

Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.

For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.

michael's bookEven if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.

Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.

Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.

A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.

Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.

And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …

Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.

And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!

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Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, TV

Don’t Mind Me, Y’all

Spoilers for Stranger Things Season One; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; and Game of Thrones. And Lord of the Rings if you still haven’t gotten around to seeing that one.

I realized last night I have blindly stumbled into a total asshole phase where I don’t like anything. I didn’t like the new Star Wars; I didn’t like Stranger Things Season One; I didn’t like the ending of the latest season of Game of Thrones (okay, I loved some things about it, but the overall place everybody was in when they left it made me sad and not in a wistful, angsty way but a frustrated, defeatist way). The last thing I really, really liked was Westworld. Here’s how bad it is, y’all – I’m re-reading the original William Goldman novel The Princess Bride, and all I can see is what I don’t like about it. And I adore that book; I have always adored that book. But now I find myself constantly thinking, “does Buttercup REALLY need to be THIS stupid for the adventure fantasy to work for him?” And I know it’s not the art; it’s me. I see the smart and sensitive people with the same tastes in story all around me loving this stuff; I see the looks of shocked incomprehension and, from the ones who actually give a crap what I think, disappointment on their faces when I say I don’t. And on the one hand, so what; it’s just TV and movies. But on the other, I feel myself losing that connection with people I love, and that IS important–and it makes me think that not liking this stuff is a symptom of something else.

One of the themes or plot points that has become really popular of late in science fiction and fantasy is a kind of existential defeatism played out against an enemy so powerful and so evil and so single-minded they can’t ever be vanquished, only managed for brief periods of blind joy and secret dread. I call it Borg Syndrome.

In Star Wars, even though we saw the big ewok barbecue at the end of Return of the Jedi and the fireworks over Coruscant, within the lifetime of the main characters, it all apparently went to shit–to paraphrase Don Henley, the rebels be rebels all over again; the First Order comes out of nowhere and takes control of everything and it’s like the big victory it took us three movies and almost a decade of avid movie-watching investment to achieve never happened at all. In Stranger Things, an evil lab under the auspices of the Department of Energy experiments on children, opens up a portal to another dimension and releases an apparently-mindless oogie-boogie without a face, and more children are tortured and devoured, and in the end, the good guys are just happy to have the one kid back and to hell with any accountability for the baddies who made it all happen because they’re just too powerful to be touched. The main evil scientist guy gets devoured, and that’s awesome, but the big machine rolls on–I know this; I’ve watched the first two episodes of Season Two. And in Game of Thrones, the king of the snow zombies has a zombie dragon that can take down the ultimate defenses of the good–wait, slightly-less-bad–guys in less than a minute, rendering pretty much everything we’ve seen over the course of seven seasons moot in favor of Night of the Living Dead, Medieval Fantasy Edition.

What the genuine fuck, y’all? Have we gotten so cynical and so saturated with antidepressants that we can’t even conceive of a happy ending that isn’t a sick joke, even in our most escapist fantasy? Are we making art designed to reassure us that there’s really no reason to get off the couch because we can’t accomplish anything real or lasting anyway? Am I just a wackadoo old person who’s ready to subsist on reruns of The Waltons on MeTV because I can’t handle the hard stuff any more?

I don’t think so. I keep thinking back to the end of Lord of the Rings. Frodo, with massive amounts of help from everybody else, saved Middle Earth from the darkness, but in the end, he was too broken, too damaged to live in the world he had saved. He had taken too much darkness inside to ever really purge it. So he sailed off into the west, and I bawled my eyes out, but it made sense to me; I loved it. Because his sacrifice mattered to the big picture–the rest of Middle Earth was saved for generations to come. (Yes, evil always comes back, but maybe not next week?) And broken as he was, he had a place to go. He had the self-awareness to know the rotten way he felt was not the necessary norm of hobbit psychology and the faith to know there was something left inside him that could still be healed in the west. Tolkien was a Christian and so am I, and I know that’s a big part of why that story feels right to me, and no, I don’t expect everybody else to buy in.

But I don’t see an atheistic adherence to reason and knowledge in the new fantasy or a celebration of the human spirit; far from it. Knowledge is deeply suspect or discounted or laughed at or ignored–evil scientists are evil; burn the Jedi texts and laugh; Samwell Tarly is a comic figure cleaning bedpans while the real heroes kill things and sleep with their relatives. And people, generally speaking, are either evil shitheels or stupid but nice. And the goals of the nice people are either assumed to be hopeless–like in Star Wars and part of Game of Thrones–or extend no further than their own nuclear family–like in Stranger Things and the other part of Game of Thrones. Our heroes are now either Sisyphus or Forrest Gump.

But again, maybe it’s just me. I’m not being cute when I say that; I’m absolutely serious. Maybe the one who’s having a hard time believing in the light these days is me; maybe the one who sees herself and her fellow humans as either evil or stupid is me. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry; please feel free to ignore me. I promise I’ll be better soon.

PS: Westworld rocks, and one reason is, the people being exploited ARE smart and DO make a change to their world, even though they are literally programmed into a Sisyphean loop. No wonder I loved it so much.

PPS: The Princess Bride is sexist as hell because William Goldman is a hellacious sexist. He’s also completely brilliant and so is his book.

 

Posted in Current events, Movies, Politics, Pop Culture

The Princess Defense: A Kickass Statistical Analysis

The release and box office success of Wonder Woman has feminist debate on the lips of Geek Nation once again. I haven’t seen it yet, but count me among the fans. I love the idea of a kickass female leading the charge in a summer superhero flick, even if she has to have perfect hair and a one-piece maillot with boots and tiara ensemble to do it.

But here within the happy ranks celebrating the movie, a rallying cry has emerged that is starting to get on my nerves. “My princesses are now generals! Huzzah!” writes one blogger who gets shared around the web. “Princess Buttercup is finally redeemed as an Amazon!” writes another. (I’m paraphrasing the thesis of both, of course; they’re easy to find and very nicely written.) The idea seems to be that these princesses, Leia and Buttercup and by extension every other princess in every other movie prior to the Great Climbing from the Trench was a misogynistic embarrassment to feminists—or at least no more than the sloppy seconds we clung to because popular art, particularly science fiction and fantasy, offered us no one else.

When I called poppycock on this notion yesterday, I got a short course on representation in response—we have plenty of princesses and domestic goddesses, this woman explained, but we need more kickass warrior women. When I suggested that I had noticed a lot more women kicking people in the face in popular art lately than I had non-desperate housewives, intellectual professionals, or princesses who ruled by something other than the sword or dragon, she wrote back that she was specifically referencing blockbuster movies. She’s obviously smart and made her point well, so I decided to cast an analytical eye over the top 5 movies of 2017 so far by box office, the best definition I know of “blockbuster.” (This list came out at the end of last week, just before Wonder Woman’s big weekend, and FYI, even just from presales and previews and such, she came in at Number 11.) I asked the same series of questions about each, and here’s what I found:

  1. Beauty and the Beast

Most prominent female character(s): Belle, the central protagonist. It’s her story.

And she is? A scholarly dreamer and inventor who becomes a princess.

Is she kickass? Well, no, not really. She’s willing to rip up her iconic pretty princess dress to ride to the rescue of her Beast, and she picks up a stick and whacks a wolf or two. But I’d call her more brave and practical than I would kick-ass; she’s a lover and a reader, not a fighter, and she doesn’t seem to have any kind of psychological or identity crisis about being rescued.

Does she have sex? Not on screen, but a growl and a giggle at the end suggest that if not yet then really soon.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

Most prominent female character: Gamora, one of the hero’s team of sidekicks and his love interest

And she is? A green-skinned alien hottie in a sexy leather outfit who flies spaceships and shoots people in the face.

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? Oh hell no. In fact, the notion that she might is one of the big running jokes of the plot.

  1. Logan

Most prominent female character: Laura, a MacGuffin

And she is? Another in the long tradition of super special damaged daughter substitutes for heroes in contemporary science fiction, fantasy and horror (see also: Firefly, The Last of Us)

Is she kickass? It is the entirety of her character.

Does she have sex? What’s the matter with you, you sicko! Of course she doesn’t!

  1. The Fate of the Furious

Most prominent female character: Michelle Rodriguez is back as the kickass love interest, but most prominent is Cipher, the villainess

And she is? The Ball Buster

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? She tries to seduce the hero ‘cause that’s what these girls do, but he ain’t having it.

  1. Lego Batman

Most prominent female character: There’s a Batgirl.

And she is? A second string sidekick

Is she kickass? As much as a Lego figure can be, yes.

Does she have sex? No. Did I mention she’s a Lego figure?

So of the five most popular movies of 2017 prior to the release of Wonder Woman, only one has a female as lead protagonist, but all of these women but one are, in fact, kickass. (We’ll get back to that sex thing and why it’s important in a minute.) But this probably isn’t a fair sample; it’s only the first week of the summer blockbuster season. So let’s look back at 2016:

  1. Rogue One

Most prominent female character: Jyn, the protagonist

And she is? A pilot and mercenary with family connections that make her the best and most motivated choice for what turns out to be a suicide mission for the Rebellion.

Is she kickass? Absolutely. She hesitates to get involved with the Rebellion, but she’s been living by her wits and her laser pistol her whole life.

Does she have sex? There’s just no time. There’s a slight suggestion that there might have someday been a romantic connection to her partner in the mission if they had survived, but they die as friends.

  1. Finding Dory

Most prominent female character: Dory, the protagonist

And she is: A sweet, goofy single gal fish with short term memory loss

Is she kickass? Not at all; it’s very much not that kind of movie

Does she spawn? No – she’s more of a spinster auntie

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Most prominent female characters: Black Widow and/or Scarlet Witch, two secondary plotlines with equal time in the background

And they are? Superheroes in sexy leather outfits, one for each side of the central, dude-centric conflict

Are they kickass? Again, that’s all they came for.

Do they have sex? Just a little mostly unspoken emo yearning. Black Widow trades longing looks and oblique dialogue with a sensitive guy who turns into a big green monster, and the red rubber consciousness that looks like Paul Bettany casts a lot of shy glances at the Scarlet Witch—but she’s also got that super special substitute daughter thing going on, so maybe that’s what his deal is. (Only a superhero movie would cast Paul Bettany as a character with no discernible penis.)

  1. The Secret Life of Pets

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

  1. The Jungle Book

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

So again, of the ones that bother to have female characters of any substance at all, only one isn’t kickass. Methinks we might be mis-defining the problem and losing sight of what makes Wonder Woman such a milestone. Wonder Woman isn’t awesome because she’s kickass in the battle sequences; you can’t swing a dead henchman without finding a woman who’s kickass in battle sequences in these movies. She’s awesome because it’s HER FREAKIN’ MOVIE. After making her do her time as the Amazon ex machina in Batman vs. Superman, DC has put her front and center in her own origin story, committing to the project enough to have a great script and great actors and the budget to carry it off. (We’ll leave the debate about how much or little they promoted it for another blog post.) And yes, that is amazing and groundbreaking, and I can’t wait to see it, and I’m so glad it’s doing so well.

But let’s circle back to Leia and Buttercup and sex. In their original incarnations as princesses, they’re pretty kickass. Buttercup isn’t riding off to battle, but she is strong-willed, loyal, staunch in her convictions, and more than willing to face off shrieking eels, shove her kidnapper down a cliff, and go nose to nose with the royal asshole forcing her into marriage—when the confrontation comes, he’s the one who blinks first. And Leia might still be wearing a grotesquely impractical white gown and going by the title “princess” in Episodes IV-VI, but she’s a senator/spy who can stand up under torture, outshoot any storm trooper, and, oh yeah, lead a rebellion against the most powerful empire in the galaxy. So what’s the big evolutionary change in them that is inspiring all these tears of joy at their new empowerment? What was wrong with them before that’s right with them now? Sex—or rather, the elimination of sex. Princess Leia and Princess Buttercup are both objects of desire for men in their story, and each of them reciprocates this attraction when they find their soul mate. They fall in love. But once Buttercup becomes an Amazon general, it’s a pretty safe bet even for someone like me who hasn’t seen the movie  yet that she hasn’t got much time or patience for mawwiage or even twue love. And General Organa has given up romance to such an extent that she doesn’t even kiss Han Solo good-bye as she sends him to his death. I’ve done an informal poll, and pretty much every cis woman and gay man I know would have at least kissed Han Solo good-bye as they sent him to his death. But a nice, platonic hug is all General Organa will muster.

I love all these kickass women; I wouldn’t part with a one. And celibacy is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice. (This isn’t about boys, by the way; if some of these women had girlfriends, you’d never hear a peep of dissent out of me. Nor do I think all of these movies need that romantic element, far from it. But the fact that literally the only one that does is the Disney fairy tale movie gives me pause.) But choosing not to take a mate isn’t inherently better or more noble, and it doesn’t equate to empowerment, female or otherwise. Yet this is the message that so many of these popular movies with their celibate beauties seem to be sending, and this particular reaction to the Wonder Woman phenomenon shows that it’s not just Joss Whedon who’s infected. Since the beginning of time, there have been misogynistic jerks who think a woman is always supposed to look sexy but never supposed to have sex. If she doesn’t look sexy, she’s a hag. But if she has sex, she’s a slut. The patriarchy has been using shame to police women’s sexuality since Lilith and Eve, and the women who buy into that patriarchal model have always been their best agents on the street. But as feminists, aren’t we supposed to be better than that? Do we really want to embrace the message that any woman who takes a lover is surrendering, defining herself by that relationship and therefore lesser in our eyes? I don’t think that’s what Wonder Woman means to say; I don’t think that’s what we want for one another. Nobody has to be a princess or dream of being a princess if they don’t want to, or a housewife, or a space pilot, or an Amazon. But nobody has the right to make any of us feel less like a woman if we do.

Posted in Art & Artists, Music, Nostalgia, Pop Culture

John Lennon

So when I was three years old, my absolute favorite show on TV was the Beatles cartoon:

Note, please, the vampire theme.

abbey-roadWhen I was six, my aunt showed me the cover of her Abbey Road album and explained that some people thought it proved that my favorite Beatle, Paul, was dead because the picture was obviously a funeral procession: John in white was the minister, Ringo in black was the undertaker, Paul in bare feet (a lookalike, obviously) was the corpse, and George in denim with his scruffy beard was the gravedigger. I cried for hours.

 

sgt-pepper-movieWhen I was eleven, I met my best friend.  In addition to many other charms and attractions, she had a whole big crate of 45 rpm records that had belonged to her aunt, including all the Beatles’ early singles. We’d stack’em up seven at a time (the limit of my stereo’s spindle) and listen to them over and over and over for weekends at a time, even though by then the Beatles had been broken up for years. We bought every record Wings put out; we even dragged her poor mom to the movies to see this:

So sorry, Alice . . .

Over the course of the next few years, as I acquired most of the Beatles’ catalog on vinyl for myself (including outright stealing that copy of Abbey Road that belonged to my aunt), I slowly realized that while Paul was “the cute one,” John’s songs were more me. My adolescent yearnings were far more stirred by “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and that sexy sigh on “Girl” than by “Martha My Dear” or the hideous “Michelle,” which I loathe to this day. I even tried to like John’s solo stuff, though my first listen to “Cold Turkey” sent me scurrying, and even at my most pretentious, I couldn’t pretend to have listened to “Revolution Number 9” all the way through.

On the morning of December 10, 1980, when I was sixteen, my mom woke me up to tell me to come watch the news and try not to be too upset–John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York. At first I told her she was crazy, that this was obviously another hoax, another “Paul is dead.” But it wasn’t a rumor spread by kids and DJs; it was an ugly truth on the morning news. I was inconsolable. I called my bestie, and we cried together. I’m not even sure I made it to school that day; I know I was at least late. My dad came home that night with a brand new, high fidelity stereo radio for me so I could listen to all the tributes, and slowly over the next few days, I pulled it together. But I grieved like I’d lost someone close to me, someone I really knew, and the world was never quite the same.

Not long after that, I discovered Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and the Smiths and my heart’s new beloved, Sting and the Police. But I never stopped listening to the Beatles. When I went away to school for the first time, one of the five albums I took with me was that same copy of Abbey Road. Years later when CDs became the thing, the first disc I bought was Revolver. I read Philip Norman’s Shout and The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. (I did NOT read the Goldman biography of Lennon.) I watched The Beatles Compleat and The Beatles Anthology, and when iTunes finally got the rights to the Beatles catalog, I busted my bank account downloading pretty much everything. But I figured I was a late model baby boomer, one of the masses of nostalgia buffs, that for younger people, the Beatles weren’t really a thing. Just last month I read another, much more recent book about the break-up of the band and their finances and lawsuits, and it read like ancient history, a cautionary tale from days of yore.

Then last week, thinking about Christmas prezzies, I asked my freshly-eleven-year-old niece, Katie, who her favorite singer was, expecting to hear some name I wouldn’t recognize but that Amazon might. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “The Beatles.” Her mom, my baby sister, is as big a fan as I am, and the music has been in the background of Katie’s life as long as she’s been alive. But just recently, as adolescence steals over her, she’s “really gotten into it.” I’m trying not to make too big a deal of it, of course. But I got her this for Christmas: beatles-one

On this thirty-sixth anniversary of your death, rest in peace, Mr. Lennon. We still can’t thank you enough.

Posted in Books, Current events, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Personal Real Life Stuff, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing, Short Story

We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality – Press Release

small-we-are-not-thisI’m lucky enough to have a story in this–“The Dark Lady” about a transgender actress in the days of Shakespeare. But even if I didn’t, I’d promote the living juice out of it. Much, much great stuff to read, all profits benefiting a magnificent cause. It’s available as an ebook right now from Amazon here, and print copies are on the way. Get a copy, boost the signal, spread the word. HB2 and the hate it represents are NOT North Carolina. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLOTTE SMALL PRESS RELEASES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY PROTESTING HB2

For Details, contact John G. Hartness
john@falstaffbooks.com

10/25/16

In an “October Surprise” for Governor Pat McCrory and members of the NC General Assembly, Charlotte-based micro-press Falstaff Books today released We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality. The anthology, a collection of 31 short stories, poems, and essays by North Carolina writers or writers who feel a strong tie to the Carolinas, was created as a response to HB2, the divisive “bathroom bill” passed by the NC General Assembly earlier this year.

We Are Not This includes stories from NY Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley, noted singer-songwriter David Childers, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jake Bible, Charlotte Observer columnist and longtime educator Kay McSpadden, Hugo-award nominated editor Edmund Schubert, and a host of other writers. The anthology is currently available as an ebook, and will be available in print within the month.

In his introduction, publisher John G. Hartness writes “We understand that people are people, and all people deserve to be protected from discrimination. We understand that insuring equal rights for one group does not take away rights from another group. We understand that laws restricting freedom and taking away someone’s chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the opposite of the values that this country was founded upon. We understand that we are stronger together, and that love is love.”

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be divided among NC-centric LGBTQ charities, non-profits, and lobbying organizations. The first group of organizations to receive funding will be Time Out Youth, Queen City Theatre Company, and EqualityNC.

Posted in Other People's Awesome, Pop Culture, Sleepy Hollow, TV

4 Ways to Fix Sleepy Hollow Before It’s Too Late

sleepy hollowSleepy Hollow, Season 2, is driving me insane. If the damned show had been horrible from the beginning, I would have watched once and walked away. But Season 1 was flawed but fabulous; even the stuff that was stupid about it was so much fun, I couldn’t skip a single episode. So watching the people who own it systematically dismantle and discard every single good thing about it this year to add in a bunch of crap that just doesn’t work is just about more than I can stand. Since the mid-season premiere, it’s been breaking my heart so much, I find myself spending valuable time and brain energy I ought to be using on my own writing trying to figure out how to fix it. I don’t pretend for one minute that anybody cares what I think or that a post on my little backwater blog will help the actual show in the slightest. But in the grand tradition of magnolias everywhere, I’m hoping having my say will be enough.

1. How do you solve a problem like Katrina?

Love her or hate her, the character of Ichabod’s wife is the single biggest issue unraveling the fabric of the show right now. It’s time for the writers and producers to make two important decisions about Katrina: Is she good or evil? and Will she live or will she die? And they need to share those decisions with the audience sooner rather than later.

Any of these options could work. No, seriously–here, watch:

A good Katrina lives: This seems to be what they want, and they can have it; they just need to do it better. Katrina needs to stop swanning around like an undead supermodel–Morticia Addams is a great character, but she’s been done, and she doesn’t fit in Sleepy Hollow. So we soften her up, get back to more of the sweetly sexy Quaker chick she started out to be in Season One with a generous smattering of the witty girl who was digging reality TV when she first came out of Purgatory. She needs to reconnect with her coven (remember, they’re still around) and start doing more fun witchy stuff and less life or death dark magic that invariably falls short because that shit is just annoying. (For fans of Practical Magic, more Sandra Bullock, less Nicole Kidman.) Most importantly, she needs to get the fuck into the background of the story. The leads are Ichabod and Abbie; the quest (or quests-of-the-week under the new game plan) are ultimately theirs. If Ichabod is happily married, that could be totally awesome. Katrina could provide valuable information and the occasional assist, and their domestic life could add a lot to the whole “man out of time” side of Ichabod’s character–they could be cute as hell discovering the 21st century together if they weren’t constantly wading through sticky bogs of angst. If this is what we’re aiming at, we need to resolve the whole redemption of Abraham and Henry and Hitler and anybody else Katrina wants to save RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, let the Cranes be in love with one another, and move on.

Good Katrina dies: This is a quicker fix that would silence the cries of a lot of haters (and raise the wails of the small but vocal Katrina Fan Club). Let Katrina and Ichabod’s relationship stay ambivalent and angsty, have her working on some big project to prove herself to him or, better yet, save him–maybe she knows something about the spell that resurrected him that she hasn’t told us yet. In the eleventh hour, she enlists Abbie’s help, and Abbie does everything she can to help her. And the project succeeds, but Katrina dies. Maybe she always knew she would; maybe her magic can only resurrect one 18th century hottie at a time. The Abraham Conundrum could be solved as part of this same storyline–he can be redeemed and waiting for her on the other side. This would leave Ichabod and Abbie with a lot of survivor guilt to deal with and doesn’t really seem to fit in with the lighter mood the show’s producers say they want. But it could work.

But let’s say Katrina is a baddie . . . .

Bad Katrina dies: The same scenario as above, except her big project is destructive rather than redemptive. I would introduce this with a flashback from Henry’s point of view to the night Moloch was killed. At some point in the action, while everyone is focused on Irving or Moloch or whatever, Henry sees his mother do something horrible, casting some spell that takes Moloch’s force into herself or something–Henry sees Katrina become the Big Bad. And either he really has had an epiphany where he wants to save his dad and be good as it seems (and has disappeared all this time to whip up a way to beat Mama) or he’s still bad but literally mad as hell to see Mama stealing his thunder. In any case, it all builds to a huge confrontation that shatters Ichabod and kills Katrina. Less survivor guilt, but way more melodrama.

Bad Katrina lives: This is the one that is almost but not quite impossible. Katrina is a bad witch, but not so bad that she has to be destroyed. She shows her hand, and Ichabod denounces her, but either he can’t bring himself to kill her or Abbie convinces him that he’d never forgive himself if he did. And either Katrina would go away and never come back, taking Abraham with her, or she could be a secondary villain next season, Ichabod’s evil ex living in the woods, selling magical beauty products and occasionally causing trouble. I would call this the least satisfying possibility just because it plays into the Katrina-hatred and makes it worse going into a new season – assuming there’d be a new season at all.

My point if I have one is, they can do whatever they want with Katrina and make it work; they’ve just gotta go ahead and do something.

2. So what about Hawley?

Hawley’s gotta die. There’s no hope for it; this Matthew McConaughey as the lost Winchester brother by way of Uncharted has got to go. The actor playing him is just cute as the dickens–and that’s the problem. If they wanted him to be a viable member of the team (and a viable rival for Ichabod in the affections of Abbie and the audience), they needed an Alexander Skarsgard, not a Ryan Kwanten. Edgy as a grilled cheese sandwich, mysterious as corn flakes, the best function he can serve right now is as a blood sacrifice to the plot. The Mills sisters shouldn’t be fighting over this slab of plain cream cheese.

3. Henry? Irving? Jenny? Sheriff Reyes?

All of these background characters have been nicely established, and there should be plenty for all of them to do in a story that still keeps Ichabod and Abbie at its center. Whatever the deal is with Irving, it needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible or conflated sufficiently to make him (or whatever oppresses him) a viable Big Bad for a brand new storyline. Ditto with Henry. I love Jenny; I think she could easily take on the functions of both Katrina (witchy-poo stuff and arcane magical knowledge) and Hawley (kick-ass magical weapons and a little black book full of convenient dark side contacts) while still having an emotional stake in what happens with her sister that can’t be shaken. And Sheriff Reyes has evolved from being another needless cipher to the obligatory exasperated authority figure this kind of story needs.

4. Okay, smartypants, you’re fooling no one,  you ‘shipper, you. What about Ichabbie?

I admit it; I would love to see Ichabod and Abbie become a couple eventually. They have great chemistry; they have great banter; and they look absolutely beautiful together. But with all the Katrina stuff they’ve had so far, even if they pluck Ichabod’s wife out of the equation for good before the end of this season, I think it would take at least another season to work back to that being a viable, non-skeevy plot option.  And if the show lasts and at some point there is an Ichabod and Abbie love connection, I would really, REALLY hope they would get together, stay together, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. These two could be a great couple – but that should never be what this show is about. Whether they’re lovers or friends or just fellow travelers, they’re on this journey together; they’ve got stuff to do, a world to protect, evil to vanquish. Would I like to see them having a little pillow talk between battles? Of course; I’m a freakin romance novelist. Do I think the show needs that to succeed? Absolutely not. And if that ever became the primary focus of the plot, it would kill it faster than Katrina in a little black dress. And the way to make it a non-issue is NOT to create more angst with an on-again/off-again; will they/won’t they conflict but to let them be happy in their relationship and get back to fighting monsters.

I still don’t think any of this is what’s actually going to happen on the show, but I feel better. No one can say I didn’t try. Anybody else got any ideas they need to get off their chest? My comments section is your comments section.

Posted in Personal Real Life Stuff, Pop Culture

The Internet Can’t Love You

Only people. And dogs. And cats if they so choose. And horses, of course. And guinea pigs and sugar gliders and all those other warm, fuzzy creatures people keep as pets, probably, and maybe even snakes. But not spiders.

And definitely not the Internet.

Social media has taken passive aggression to heights the military psychiatrists who first coined the term in 1945 could never have imagined. See if this sounds familiar. Somebody is pissing you off. That meaner has hurt your feelings, stolen your happy thought, danced all over your last damned nerve. But for whatever reason, you don’t want to confront them directly. Maybe they have more power than you. Maybe a confrontation will just turn into this whole big thing, and who needs that? Maybe it’s just in your nature to be a passive-aggressive whiny-ass. Don’t be ashamed; millions share your affliction and parade it daily. In any case, telling the source of your pain to piss off directly is not an option. But even so, you cannot in good conscience allow that blight on humanity to get away with that shit even one more time.

So you take it to the Internet. Without ever actually defining the conflict or identifying your oppressor, you air your grievance. You open a vein and spill. The individual people who read your post and know you will probably hate it.  People (and dogs, etc.) who genuinely care when you’re hurting would much rather know exactly who did you wrong and how so they know where to show up and whether to bring you a nice, consoling milkshake or quick lime and a gun. Those individual people will probably send you some kind of a private message asking some version of “WTF is going on?” If they really love you, they’ll restrain themselves from adding, “You passive-aggressive whiny-ass?”

But the Internet looooooves (or”Liiiiiiiiikes”) your post. Not you; never you; but your passive-aggressive reveal of yourself as the victim of some wrong. Because that allows the Internet to feel one of its favorite things. Pity. Friends of friends you’ve never even heard of will come out of the woodwork to tell you how sorry they are, how rotten those unnamed bastards can be (they know; their lives are full up to the top with unnamed bastards), how deeply they feel your pain. Each one of those individual posts comes from an individual person who is probably quite nice and almost certainly means well. But taken collectively in response to shit they in fact know nothing about, they aren’t people; they’re the swarm that is the Internet.

Which doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel better. That spontaneous outpouring of impersonal pity  can feel like just the balm you need to get you past your pain. But be careful. Because it isn’t love or even empathy.  It’s just pity.

Pity gives the Internet a seemingly benign outlet for its most favorite thing of all:  feeling superior. “Oh, you poor baby!” spoken by a loved one means, “I feel bad because you feel bad.” “Oh you poor baby,” from the Internet means, “Maybe my life is shit and I’m a moron, but at least I’m better off than this poor bastard.”  Passive aggressive pronouncements of pain make this kind of judging effortless.  If you never say what the problem is, the Internet can assume the absolute, wickedest worst. So be careful.

This is why the Internet, for all its, “You go, girl/boy/undetermined gender and that’s your choice and yay for you!” grandstanding, loves the weak and hates the strong. The weak make the Internet feel better about itself. The strong . . . those bitches are just showing off. And it can turn on you faster than you can hit “Send.” The same endless wellsprings of kindness who succored you through your misery will stone you in the public square just as soon as you tell them you’re better.  Because the Internet doesn’t love you.  It loves pitying you. And it loves judging you even more. So be careful. Hipster. Hypocrite. Poseur. Slut.  These are all Internet synonyms for “possibly superior to me in some way.” And they’re far from the worst.

The Internet is a mob, a hive brain, specialized bits and pieces but rarely the whole of all those individuals with an IP address, banded together for the sole purpose of belonging at any cost. Every chat group, every friends list, every hashtag is a different mob with a different focus, but it all amounts to the same thing–be one of us, be no better than the median, or be the Other. The Enemy. That’s how teen-age girls get hounded into suicide. That’s how female game designers get hounded out of their homes.

And of course I know it’s not all bad.  That same hive brain, that same Internet can accomplish great things, raise huge wads of cash for charity, spread awareness of social ills, keep Firefly on the air–wait, not that, but stuff like that.  But it doesn’t do it for love.  It does it to belong. It does it to feel superior.  It does it to judge. The motives of individual people can be entirely altruistic–they genuinely want to help. But the Internet just wants to be so right that all who oppose it are wrong. Meaning it can eat them.

There are wonderful, amazing, kind, brilliant people all over the Internet. I met my husband there. He’s a person; I know him as a person; I trust him as a person. I know the bits and pieces of his character he shows to the digital world, and I know all the other stuff, too.  And I know he loves me, he himself. the individual human.  Not the Internet.

The Internet can’t love you.  Get a dog.