Oct 26

Review: Jem and the Holograms (the Movie)

So this is full of spoilers. But…after seeing some of the nasty reviews I have to wonder if some of the reviewers saw the same movie that I did.

First, I am a huge, huge, huge Jem and the Holograms fan. As a kid it was one of the few female-led shows that was on television. And? The Jem crew solved their problems without violence or guns. They worked things out. But they never shied away from a challenge either. They were fearless, they were fun.

They were also preachy and always, always, saccharine nice, because it was the 80s. If I had to watch a heroine like that today I think I’d have fallen asleep.

But in every way, the new movie actually adhered to the spirit of the show I loved as a child, and in fact, having watched both of them very recently, did a great job of updating itself until I loved the movie  more than the show.

Note, I’m not the only one who feels this way. So does the original voice actor who played Jem in the first place.

In particular, I read one Forbes review which made me wonder if the reviewer had even seen the same movie as I did. And I actually want to refute that one point by point.

“The film took a source material that is over-the-top colorful and over-the-top exciting, filled with larger-than-life characters and musically-charged action sequences where Jem and her friends had to both be kick-ass rock stars and kick-ass crime fighters at the same time, and made a toned-down, muted, and overly patronizing “young girl gets in over her head due to fame and artistic success and forgets what matters” fable that basically penalized its young heroes for wanting and achieving success and power.”

That is so patently not what happened.

Jem is not penalized for wanting and achieving success and power–at all. She fails to communicate with her family because she is trying to take care of them, but in fact, the end of the movie is the very beginning of her career, and the Hologram’s careers. She does not forget what  matters even once. She is pressured into signing a bad deal in the hopes that she’ll save her home and her family. She makes that move with complete and total agency.

The reviewer also used the phrase “a bunch of attractive young women singing their hearts out and fighting off business rivals and outright criminals” to describe the original show. Wellll…guess what Jem does? She goes and fights off a business rival. In her quest to solve her father’s riddle she and the Holograms work with Rio to break into the safe at Starlight Music. In so doing, she discovers the will of Rio’s father, which gives him control of the company–and gives her the out she needs to be true to herself, her music, her family AND the success she actually wants. It was in fact a classic Jem moment.

In fact, if Scott Mendelson, the reviewer in the Forbes article had taken a look at the source material he would find that the plot of the movie actually followed the plot of the first few episodes of season 1 very closely. In the original cartoon Jerrica is running a home for foster kids along with Kimber, Aja, and Shana. It’s going broke. She needs cash. And she’s lost control of her company to Eric Raymond. (The movie’s villain, Erica Raymond, basically acts exactly like Eric did–which made her a great villain).

Fortunately, they find Synergy, launch Jem and the Holograms, play a concert and save the day. A few seasons later the band briefly breaks up because Jem is getting all of the attention and being treated like a solo act–and Jem is letting herself be treated like a solo act. She has to get out there and fix it. I was able to sit through the film going: “Yep, that happened, that happened, that happened…”

They could have kept Jem as a grown up with a foster kid house of course, but honestly? I could not take Jem seriously as a grown up today. In the 80s? Sure. The way Jem acted and dressed in the 80s was age appropriate. Big hair, colored hair, sparkly clothes…tons of rock stars were doing that. Today, mostly Lady Gaga does it. In fact, in the “Can’t Go Back to the Way it Was” sequence my daughter remarked Jem suddenly did look like Lady Gaga.

“But the proverbial powers-that-be saw this source material, itself as action packed and as exciting as She-Ra or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and chose to make a story where a young girl could only embrace her own talent and power after getting approval from her dead dad and her older male love interest.”


First, she was going to do what she was going to do. Rio was skeptical at first. Jem calls him on his bullshit with gentle good humor and continues to pursue her success with or without her. When he says, outright, that he’s sick of his mother pulling out no-talent hacks she and the band deliver a performance to knock his socks off. He admits he’s wrong. But boyfriend approval? Not at all. She does go to him for advice. That’s. Um. What you do when you have a significant other. They listen. He built her up. That was it.

Daddy approval? A father’s inspiration and love isn’t “oh, you can’t do anything without male approval.” It was a final message from a dying father–which is exactly what Synergy was in the original cartoon, by the way.

There’s only one thing I can agree with this reviewer on: it did not get the marketing, the budget, and the attention it deserved. In fact, I saw negative reviews and bitches about the fact that social  media, online presence, and identity issues would be a part of the film before the film was made–odd, to me, since the original was also about identity issues. Jerrica regularly got jealous of Jem. Jerrica in fact enlists Synergy’s help in a later episode to create a third identity named Jessica. When Rio is interested in Jessica too she realizes that he sees her heart and loves her for who she is. So sure, if you’re going to sabotage a film before it even comes out, yeah, it’s going to have a hard time succeeding.

Critics seem vested in saying how lame this whole girl thing was, as if anything with teen girls in it must by its very nature be lame. Eww! Teens! Instagram! Boyfriends! Ewww! Acting this way is in itself misogynist.

It’s like Hollywood is setting it up to fail so they don’t have to worry so much about female-led movies…”Oh, well, see, Jem didn’t do well so…”

Give me a break. This movie passed the Bechdel test in every way, followed the original plot in a way that was updated and believable for the 21st century, had the classic Jem music sequence insert, nicely inserted real life YouTubers in a way that really worked for me, and had my daughter and I dancing in the aisles. It played like a YA film…which was, in fact, what it was.

If you’re a Jem fan, I suggest you go see the film yourself, and make your own decision. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Aug 26

In Which I Leave a Group of Gamers Who Chose Casual Cruelty

Today I ended up leaving a page I had previously enjoyed very much. It was a D&D meme sort of page, and I’d seen a lot of funny things there.

But today the moderators decided to post a photo of a dead man wearing a goblin mask with a caption: “Every day goblins are killed by adventurers. Stop the murder! #goblinlivesmatter.”

I posted the following comment: Not at all funny. :(

That was all I said. I felt like it conveyed most everything that needed saying, a sort of quiet, “Not cool, bro” that might make people think a little bit.

I have been roasted and flamed for this. People have posted a ton of increasingly snarky memes in response, all to let me know things like: I’m too politically correct (try basic respect here) and: It’s “just a joke.” (The cry of bullies everywhere). I also got some “likes” from people who immediately got it.

Enough is enough. It is not just a joke. If you can’t understand that there’s still a vast swath of systemic racism in this country, I feel like you’re not paying attention. #blacklivesmatter is not saying that white lives don’t matter. It’s bringing attention to a problem…the vast disparity between how some races are treated by the justice system and the media vs. how other races are treated.

Look, MOST cops do a great job and are wonderful people. SOME are criminals who dishonor their uniforms. Those criminals should be held accountable.

With those things said:

It’s appalling to me that anyone would compare black people to goblins and think that’s high good humor. It’s appalling to me that people would believe their need to make a cheap joke at someone else’s expense is more important than people who have actually died, been injured, or been irrevocably changed for minor traffic infractions, for being too loud at a party, for just walking around. In at least one case, for being a baby in a crib. For being in your own home and being taken for a robber.

The issue is complex–very complex. I don’t even feel capable of diving into all the nuances. But I know people are hurting. And I know that hurt deserves a little bit more than a bunch of white gamers snickering over it in a public forum. At the very least, you’re making sure the group looks unwelcoming to any black gamer, and since it IS a public forum you can be sure plenty of black gamers saw it, and were probably made to feel just a little worse as a result.

Gamers are my tribe. My folks. My people. The gamers, the dreamers, the fiction lovers, the nerds with the Magic Cards, the folks who can quote every line of dialogue from Mass Effect, the people who secretly want to dress up in tights and fly around saving the world.

One thing that CAN make geeks such a great “tribe” to be a part of us we live in fictional worlds. This means we routinely encounter situations where we make contact with an “Other” and we see how that Other lives and feels without being threatened by it.

This SHOULD teach us basic empathy and an ability to extend that empathy out to people who are different from us in the real world. It should teach us a sense of wonder when encountering other people’s stories, a sense of compassion, a sense of caring.

I am disappointed that so many of our tribe would rather turn it into an exclusive club: for white people only, for men only, whatever. We can accept a mixed party with an elf, a dwarf, a Drow, a half-demon and a minotaur, but heaven forbid we accept the people right here on our own planet who look, act, and think differently from us. And for god’s sake, heaven forbid we put ourselves in their shoes for half a fucking minute and think before we post, right?

There are so many funny things we can post and say and bond over that don’t require us to go trampling all over other people’s painful experiences. There are so many jokes we can tell that don’t require us to hurt or denigrate other people. The page in question excelled in posting those before today.



May 16

A Writer Can Right

The other day, I accidentally wrote the word “right” when I meant “write.” At first the mistake was just a mistake, and making the correction was really the only thing that I was thinking about. Then I started playing around with the mistake, and what it meant.

It occurred to me that yes, a writer can right. There is, in fact, a long tradition of writers doing just that–writing books to right wrongs…or perhaps, righting wrongs through the powerful act of writing a book.

There are, of course, a couple of different ways to make this happen. The ones I’m listing below aren’t the only ways…they just happen to be the ways that matter most to me.

Exposing Wrongs

Harriet Beecher Stowe used Uncle Tom’s Cabin to highlight the evils of slavery. Upton Sinclair helped shed some light on labor’s plight with The Jungle.  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my personal favorites to this day, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel. These books helped to right wrongs by inspiring empathy, and by helping people see things they were blind to.

You don’t even have to do this by shining a light on a current truth. Good SF and Fantasy novels do it too. I’ll never forget the examination of power, privilege, and a society’s understanding of what’s “important” that I found in Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, for example.

Fiction is awesome because it can inspire empathy where no empathy existed before. Seriously. Science has explored this fact. It’s just one more reason why I believe writing fiction is a sacred responsibility. You’re influencing people’s minds and hearts. You could help change a whole culture, however subtly. You can do it by simply writing the kind of world you want to see.

Including Lots of Different People in Your Stories

I want to see a world where people of all shapes and sizes are given a seat at the table and encouraged to live up to whatever potential God gave them.

I could cite any of hundreds of authors who simply quietly write outstanding female protagonists or protagonists of different races into their books, even as controversy swirls about “the right way to write a woman.” (Answer: like you’d write a person. If you’re doing it any other way, you’re doing it wrong).

You’re helping to right wrongs every time you consciously avoid stereotypes. You’re helping to right wrongs when you think outside of the box and add diversity to your novel in ways that are both large and small.

Does that mean you can’t ever, ever have a white male protagonist again? Of course not. Don’t be silly. Just try not to make every person who is not a white male dependent upon him for their very meaning, and try to make sure that other types of people aren’t totally invisible in your novel. In fact, I would say that unless you have a host of heroes showing both healthy masculine and healthy feminine traits then you’re missing something–but that is a whole other post.

Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few favorites, but I’ll stick to one. Mercedes Lackey, who has always written a wide range of heroes: male, female, straight, bi, and gay. She’s written gentle young men and bruiser women–and she’s written traditionally strong, buff guys along with women who are feminine, but who retain agency along with their femininity. In short, she writes a wide variety of people, and I’ve always loved her for it.

Later, I’ll have to do a nice big list post that talks about all of the others. It’s pretty heartening, because when I think about it, the SF and Fantasy community isn’t doing as badly as we all seem to think (though there’s always, always room for improvement). What’s more, I’m sure that I’ll leave out plenty, because the list will be limited to the people I’ve read.

With that being said, anyone who is not white, straight, young, and beautiful still has to struggle quite a bit to see people who are like them in fictional worlds. People like them who do amazing things. Women also struggle to see women doing amazing things.

I have literally made it into my mission statement to write awesome fiction which matters, and which includes people of all shapes and sizes, people who have agency and who do amazing things. I know that I will have to get better at this over time. I have to continue to spend time listening to other people’s realities, learning about issues which aren’t even on my radar, killing my assumptions and expanding my empathy. I have to do the best work I can do today, then examine it tomorrow for any harmful tropes or stereotypes which have crept inside of the work.

There are a lot of ways to make a difference, but inclusion is what I’ve chosen. I remember how painful it was, as a child, to feel invisible. To see women treated as idiots, play things, prizes. To see myself as “less” because everything I saw was telling me I was. To hear “girls can’t” and “girls don’t” in a thousand different ways. Sometimes I even heard it from my loved ones.

It also offends my soul to see anyone treated badly for their race, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, gender, or physical ability. Yes. It literally offends my soul. We are all just people. Nobody is better than anybody else. Cultures may be problematic, but people are intrinsically valuable. God loves every one of us, and commanded us all to love WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Jesus always reached out to people different from himself, and over and over again we see his followers are commanded to do exactly the same thing. Everyone deserves to see themselves as heroes.

In fact, I hope to inspire people to courage and heroism every single day. When I was a child I identified with heroes who I read about. I wanted to be more like them. I would strive to be kinder than I was, braver than I was, stronger than I was. It’s an ongoing process, and most days I feel like I’m pretty far off the mark. But imagine what would happen if more and more people were in fact so inspired. That can’t happen if we’re busy erasing 75% of the world population from our fiction just to stay comfortable. I may make mistakes along the way, but I’m willing to make them, correct myself, and move on.

Is it weird for a writer to have a mission statement? Well, it is what it is. I have one.

Changing the Script 

I keep talking about this idea because I just find it so incredibly powerful, and I really, really can’t stop thinking about it.

The “script” is whatever our culture has taught us is the appropriate response to experiences we’ve never had before. Fiction builds scripts. I’ve never been in a hostage situation myself, but I have read countless pieces of fiction which explore hostage situations. The “script” theory says that I will revert to whatever behavior was outlined for me in that script, depending on how I see myself–as a hero, victim, or whatever.

Right now the predominant script is: “Evil does wrong. Hero hunts evil. Hero destroys/kills (and, more rarely these days) imprisons evil. Order is returned to the community.”

I’ve loved countless stories like this, but it’s a problematic script. It’s all too easy to turn anyone into “the other.” To mark anyone as “evil.” Just turn on the news and you’ll hear all about it. And the moment we do that, we flip a switch and activate a script which says it’s okay to just stomp in and murder other human beings while seeing ourselves as heroes. In fact, we’re even writing some scripts which say it’s okay to commit any atrocity on these people we want–see the deplorable action show “24″ for examples. Of course, all that leads to is a bunch of horrible people doing horrible things to each other.

For the opposite example, see Once Upon a Time. It gets corny at times, but it follows a redemption script. It also talks about how everyone can do villainous things from time to time. You also get to see Regina taking the long, hard road back to becoming a good person through the love of her son and Robin Hood, as well as through the totally awesome friendship that’s developed between her and Emma. There’s a show which really flips scripts right on their tiny little heads, stomps around on them, and does a happy dance. I’ve wanted Regina and Rumple to get happy endings from the beginning of the show. My normal, scripted response? They’re villains. They’re bad. They deserve to die. I love how that show constantly makes me re-examine that response.

We’ve all been offered this other script–one where we love our enemies and seek reconciliation with them. It’s in the Bible, and it’s powerful, but most people have no idea how to apply it to most situations. It’s all very well for Jesus, we think, but back here in the real world we’ve got to slay the evil thing.

This is hard for me because I do believe in self-defense. Believe me. I’m not going to turn my cheek if you hit me. I’m going to hit you as hard as I can, if only to get away. I’ve got a lot to live for, and I’d never condemn anyone for staying safe. On the other hand, there’s this line that gets crossed between defending one’s self and hunting for trouble.

At any rate, so far at least I’ve managed to avoid making “kill the enemy” the solution in my books. Granted, in my first two books the enemies sort of did it to themselves. They still died. They just destroyed themselves in the process of trying to destroy my heroes. But I figure that’s okay–that’s kind of what happens. Turning to evil is self-destructive. Eventually you do implode, especially when confronted by principled people who stand up to you without seeking to destroy you. Someday I hope I can even manage to find a story in myself where I explore other scripts–like loving your enemy and coming to accord with your enemy–without losing the urgency, the flood of adventure, the thrill of danger. I think I’m getting there with The Maker’s Mark–Lucy’s goal is to save the planet, and she really is just trying to outmaneuver her enemy rather than destroy him, but as with inclusion I think this is an area where I’m just going to have to dive in, again and again, to confront my own assumptions and correct my own mistakes.


I’ve actually been working on this blog post for over a month, and the only reason is…fear.

Truthfully, fear keeps me from posting to this blog a lot. I’ll spin you a yarn all day long, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable talking about how I feel about things. First, because sometimes my opinions make people who I care deeply about pretty angry. Second, because I start second guessing myself–who am I to talk about all this stuff anyway? Who am I to render these long-winded opinions? Who even cares what I think?

But maybe I need to start opening my mouth more. Maybe I need to have the courage to speak up, not just in my fiction, but here on my blog as well. Because writers can right, and the times when I refuse to write could mean missed opportunities. And that would be a shame.

Oct 04

Sometimes Classic Authors Did Diversity Right

Today I was enchanted as I read this defense of C.S. Lewis. I was surprised to hear that anyone had ever thought The Chronicles of Narnia to be sexist. Indeed, when I was a child, The Chronicles were one of two pieces of pivotal work that showed me a steady stream of strong female characters. I remember getting frustrated only at Aslan’s comment that “women in war” was an ugly thing, but honestly given the time period I didn’t take that much offense.

As it was, I noted that Aslan only said it was ugly, not that Lucy and Susan wouldn’t be good at it. Which was a far cry from most of the crap that was out there at the time. And as an adult, my perspective on war is that it’s pretty much ugly for anyone at all.

I think that we have to be really careful about overanalyzing works of fiction. We have to be careful about looking for racism and sexism that don’t exist. I really want to celebrate authors that worked to do better, even if they didn’t do it perfectly.

I also think we should keep in mind that we’re all swimming around in this toxic cultural soup. None of us is going to get every aspect of this right. What we should be contemplating is whether or not people try. I’m not saying that we can’t offer a critical assessment of a work. That’s vital to a proper understanding of fiction, and part of a rich tradition of literary criticism.

I just think that we need to be careful about being hasty to take offense, or being hasty to assume that something sexist or racist is happening when, in fact, it isn’t.

Human beings are nuanced, and our portrayals are going to be nuanced. We have to be careful not to shove ourselves into one role where the only time we’ll accept a female as “strong” is if she does things exactly as a man would do them. In fact, we need to celebrate all of the different kinds of strength.

As I explained to my daughter very recently: “Certainly, kicking the ass of a bad guy can be a strength. So can keeping it together as you wipe the brow of a sick family member. So can choosing to be a beacon of love and light in a tough world. There is also strength in compassion, in kindness, in nurturing. And we should only ever admire an asskicker if they’re doing it in the defense of someone else, someone weaker then themselves.”

Lewis gave us many female characters who demonstrated many kinds of strength. And we can’t say that you’re failing at diversity if your female characters have negative traits. That’s loony. All of us have negative traits. When I made Peter Corbie a coward I wasn’t saying that all men are cowards. I was making a statemnet about Peter, and Peter alone. When I made Ava emotionally closed off and inaccessible I was making a statement about Ava…not about women or womanhood in general. Sometimes a character is just a character.

And we have a term for characters without flaws. We call them Mary Sue and Gary Stu!

Let’s be zealous in our attempts to use fiction to make a better and more just world, but let’s not be so zealous that we toss good literature out the window because we refuse to recognize the nuance.

BTW, thanks to Thea Van Diepen. She shared the Lewis defense article on Facebook, and gave me this little bit of food for thought today.

Aug 12

You Go, David Mack

Star Wars writer David Mack has the perfect response to fans who think diversity in SF/Fantasy is either disgusting, or not important, or just intruding on their safe little world where a single group of people (the group they just happen to belong to) gets to arrange things to their liking.

I now intend to seek out and read every single one of Mack’s books. Lose one reader, gain one reader. Actually, since this went viral (and I’m happy to help it continue going viral) I bet he gains many, many more readers. That’s justice.

In fact, Star Wars and its very real commitment to diversity is one reason why I’m on Team Trek when it comes to the age old Trek vs. Star Wars fan debate. Star Wars doesn’t try nearly as hard as Trek always has. I can show my daughter Star Wars and she gets one Princess who gets to hold a blaster…occasionally. When she’s not busy being a damsel.

I can show her Star Trek: Voyager and give her Janeway and B’elanna geeking out over science hardcore. I can give her Deanna Troi, who learns to balance her compassion with her strength until she becomes a true force to be reckoned with. (6th Season Troi. Best Troi). I can give her Uhura, who was ground breaking in so many ways, and continues to hold her own in the series reboot. I know that she’s not stuck feeling the pain I felt as a child, where I would watch show after show after show and not find one person like me (female) who did one thing worthwhile.

I appreciate every writer, game maker, or show writer who understands these issues and makes an effort to be inclusive. They are the heroes in the front lines of a battle designed to turn all of us into better human beings.

Jul 27

Looking for Something New to Read?

I’m not much of one for “reviewing” the work of other authors. It just makes me uncomfortable.

To me, reviewing something carries the connotation of passing judgment upon it. Meanwhile, I was raised on “if you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Frankly, I’m so strapped for time these days that if I don’t really like something, or if it’s bothering me enough that I’d discuss it as a weak point in a review, I’ll just move on to something else.

But back when I was in high school I used to pester my best friend with my “you’ve just got to read this” list. And I’ve realized I’m perfectly happy to do that now, for the entire Internet.

Or at least, whatever small portion of the Internet that winds up on my website.

So here’s something you’ve just got to read. Pip Ballantine’s Phoenix Rising. You can find her books, and her partner’s books, and a mess of short stories here.

As I am working on an epic steampunk novel right now I had it on my list to sit down and read a bit more of the genre. This is the novel I picked up. The characters are charming. I love the Angel of Destruction! Hee. The story is intriguing. She uses a lot of classic tropes, but it just works.

Talk about diversity, too. The male lead and female lead are equally strong and equally matched. They are opposites in nearly every way, though sometimes I think they’re more alike than they’d admit. I also see her bringing in other nationalities, such as an agent from India who we’ve run into in the second book. It all flows naturally. Her books also matter. The adventure is a romp, the banter is high–and the social criticism is eerily relevant.

Get it, read it. You’ll have a blast.


Jul 11

Diversity is Harder than it Looks

I have always believed that people should be judged by the content of their character. I have hated sexism, racism, and any other associated “ism” for as long as I can remember. To me it is just so obvious that what is inside is what counts the most, and that under the surface we’re all the same. Our culture may be different, our training may be different, and the basic worldview programming beneath the skin might be different, but the human spirit never changes.

So you’d think that representing a diverse range of people in my fiction would be a cakewalk. Effortless. Sadly, this has not been the case.

I have learned that in order to do this I have to constantly educate myself. Otherwise, my fiction continues to run on tracks that have been programmed into me at the subconscious level. What’s done this programming? The mass media, in part. Cultural training, too, I’m sure. In the end it doesn’t matter. Some of this programming runs appallingly counter to my own highest and best beliefs, the ideals which I hold so dear, and it can be disturbing when I come face to face with it.

I started Backlash with a white male protagonist. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. In this case, that’s exactly who and what he would have been. I added strong, female characters. Ava was certainly strong, and a vital part of the story. Charlotte Corbie was intelligent and compassionate. The story cameo’d a gay man in a strong, compassionate role. I also included a massively fat man in a supporting role. In short, I felt like I was doing pretty good on the diversity front.

You’ll have to click on the spoiler below to figure out what went wrong.

I thought I was doing pretty good overall. Later, however, I learned of a trope called “women in refrigerators.” I can’t tell you how deeply disturbing–and even terrifying–it was to discover that I’d basically used that trope. I’d played it straight. I’d done it without a second thought, without ever realizing what I was doing.

This experience taught me that I have an awful lot of assumptions to dig out of my own head before I could really get to the level of diversity that I wanted to achieve.

In Dig My Grave I didn’t go anywhere with race. I only had so many pages. I had a strong, overweight, female protagonist. Not too overweight of course. I could only challenge my assumptions so far. Emmaline is about as fat as I am, which means she doesn’t need two seats or even a seatbelt extender at an airplane, but she doesn’t really look too hot in a bathing suit. Probably, in my head she was a size or two smaller, because in my head I know there’s some programming lurking around which says you can’t actually be heroic unless you’re attractive too–thanks so much for that one, Hollywood.

I wonder if I will ever be brave enough to create an honest-to-god heroine who might need a seat belt extender. I’d like to, because someone very important to me (someone who likely doesn’t realize her own importance to me because I’m crap at communicating the really emotional stuff to people) was always very large, and I never cared, because the amount of kindness that she showed me and the interest that she took in me transcended all that. Transcends all that, really, every time I see her. My aunt was one of a select few who accepted me unconditionally at a time when I felt awkward, unfit, and judged by many people in my life, and she was a hero in my eyes, and also beautiful in my eyes, and always will be. So I think I owe her that book someday.

The next book was a series of false starts. One was not a false start because of diversity issues: I was trying to make Ava the hero of it in all three cases. But it got increasingly implausible and fell apart. The second book was turning into a beautiful creation that I never wanted anyone to read. At first I thought it was because it might be misinterpreted as racism, but I think I was purging racism from myself, confronting it, coming face to face with it, rooting out all those little ugly programs and tossing them aside. Truthfully the symbolism was racist, and messed up, and I was appalled when I saw it. How had this come from me? But there it was. Perhaps it’s no accident that I set it in the deep south, in my home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Where better to uproot something than the place where those roots began? Still, it was not a fun journey to take. The third book was just implausible again. I might salvage it, or I might not. I’d like to, because I think Ava deserves her own story, but she’s certainly being awfully coy about letting me write it.

I do think the racist manuscript was cathartic, however, because I was able to start playing black and Hispanic role playing characters for the first time in my life. I’d always avoided it in the past out of sheer fear: fear that I’d make a mistake and play an offensive stereotype. I learned it was pretty much like playing any other character, and that I have this whole thing called “the Internet” to give me a window into what being a member of another culture looks like, as told in the words of the people from that culture. Since the “fear of getting it wrong” was what kept members of other races out of my fiction, too, I feel like this was a net positive.

Right now I’m working on The Maker’s Mark, an epic steam fantasy. I have a heroic party that consists of two white females, one black male, one white male, and one Asian male. I have already second guessed myself on a few occasions. Does this or that series of events make some statement about white men? Does this make a statement about black men? Have I turned the Asian man into a walking stereotype? Should I make one of the women a lesbian? I haven’t had any trans characters yet, oh no! I also haven’t had any disabled characters or truly elderly protagonists…but you can only do so much in one book.

There are people who would roll their eyes at the amount of thought and agonizing I put into this, I’m sure. I hear people bitching about our “politically correct” society. That makes me roll my eyes. What most people call “politically correct” I call “common courtesy.” You don’t use hurtful racial slurs. It’s really, really a good thing to be sensitive to the way that your words make people feel. But the “PC sucks” people are probably not the people who will enjoy my fiction. I feel a strong mandate to be inclusive–even if that means being imperfectly inclusive. I feel a mandate to make the world a better place with my fiction. I don’t just want to entertain. I want to challenge scripts, examine our worldview, and in some tiny ways, mitigate injustices. The mainstream may not have caught up with the idea of being inclusive, but I have, and I will. I just now have come to understand that the I can’t do this in a vacuum. It’s not enough to just pick a character and make him black. I have to continually find the scripts about race, gender, class, and privilege that are humming along in the back of my own brain. I need to examine them and keep them only if they stand up to the light of loving kindness. After all, the stories flow from me.

So it makes sense that I’ll have to work on myself, first.


Apr 10

Tried to Write Flash Fiction, Failed

Recently I tried to write flash fiction. I had a notion that I would end up with some nice super-short stories to place on my blog.

The experiment is…not going well. I ended up with at least one “flash” fiction story that is clearly the beginning of a novel. I filed it away for future use. Some of the others might make it into what they’re supposed to be (here’s hoping).

I have a lot of respect for people who can do the short format and do it will, because I’ve never successfully told any story in less than 10,000 words. Perhaps this is not so surprising–back in high school English the word “verbose” was the commentary most often written on my papers.

But that’s okay, because it gives me more time to work on the Epic Steampunk novel that I’m currently working on. It’s actually going pretty gosh darn well, too…


It’s actually the first novel I’ve had fun writing, without agonizing on, in a very long time. After three stabs at a book starring Ava Stark that turned into incomprehensible story mush each time I decided to give my brain a break on Peter’s world and go do something else. Ava is proving quite recalcitrant…I’m wondering if she just doesn’t prefer to have that kind of spotlight.

Which is why it’s been so long since I put out my last book. I wasted a lot of time trying to write a book that apparently I was either not ready to write or which didn’t want to be written. It seems that one should never, ever try to force fiction!


Apr 04

My Love-Hate Relationship with Once Upon a Time

Today I feel like talking about something just a little lighter. You know, I quit writing on this blog before because I’m a very opinionated person, and when family members started calling me because they were angry about stuff that I wrote I shied away from continuing.

I am definitely the dirty hippy in an otherwise mostly conservative family.

But today I don’t want to think about Issues. I want to think about fiction, and what better place to start than one of my basic obsessions: Once Upon a Time?

What I love about this show:

Some time ago, back before I chickened out on blogging in a big way, one of my fellow writers wrote a nice review on Backlash called What Are We Teaching With Our Fiction? Lewina Solwing is the author of The Secret of Flight, a book that I adored because it so completely subverted the “combat myth”–this idea that every problem in the world needs to be solved with violence. In fact, every time her characters resorted to violence they ended up the worse for it. Her story was one in which compassion and understanding for “the enemy” defined heroism. It’s beautifully done, and if anyone is hungry for something different they should check it out.

I actually see some similar themes in Once Upon a Time. By far, the most compelling characters are Regina, the Evil Queen, and Mr. Gold, a.k.a. Rumplestiltskin. They have done terrible things, but they are also redeemable. You don’t see them as horrible monsters to be put down. You cheer like crazy when it looks like Regina might get her happy ending at last–or at least, I do. I want that woman to find true love like whoa, and I cry for her every time her heart twists over her son. I want Belle and Rumple to go off into the sunset. I want Emma to realize she loves Captain Hook so he can get his Happy Ending too. It’s not that they get off the hook for their choices. They don’t. They make their own beds in a lot of cases. But they’re just so very human, and often a lot more easy to identify with than some of the rest of the cast, who fall into the Lawful Stupid trap a little more than I’d like.

Both stories hit on something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time–this notion of “scripts.” A long time ago I read this book by a psychiatrist (I don’t remember whom) who mentioned that our culture, our media, our everything–teaches us scripts for how we think we should react in a situation. How you react in a plane hijacking, for example, will depend largely on the script that you have been taught. You don’t have any other reference for how to act in that situation, so you revert. (I think it was a book about hijacking. Maybe? I read a lot).

Anyway, our fiction teaches more scripts than anything else, and I think the predominant script that’s been taught is usually: bad guy does wrong, hero rides in, hero kills bad guy, order is restored and everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s a terrible script really, even though it’s hard to break out of. Hell, I love stories where you kick the ass of the enemy all over town. The problem is, that’s the same script that sends us to bomb civilians and children in unjust, expensive wars. It literally plugs into the violence and fear in our world. Why is that?

Because in the movies of our lives, we are all the heroes. We never, ever just up and decide we’re the villains. In fact, in Once finally acknowledging their lives as villains were major turning points for Hook, Regina, and Rumple.

I note that Jesus gave us a different script–villain wrongs you, and you forgive, because you’ve done wrong in turn. You pray and show them love, and that love draws people naturally into the redemptive light. Someday I will figure out how to put that script into my fiction without mimicking fundamentalist propaganda. I want, desperately, to figure out how to tell great stories on that script. Once provides me with a good blueprint for that, because that is what Snow, Henry, Charming, and even, to some extent, Emma, are very good at doing.

What drives me crazy about OuAT:


The inconsistent characterization is terrible. One minute Snow is a savvy badass bandit. The next, she’s this wide eyed innocent who can’t exercise even basic deductive reasoning. She is the worst culprit for not exercising her survival instincts at all. David/Charming isn’t much better.

Spoiler alert.

I’m sorry. Okay. You know that someone we haven’t identified yet cast this new curse. HMMM. And you know it’s probably the Wicked Witch of Oz. HMMMM. So this unidentified female wearing a GREAT BIG EMERALD GEM shows up and wants to be your midwife. The right answer is: “I’m sorry, until we find this witch I don’t feel comfortable letting anyone into my home or near my baby/wife.” It is NOT “Let me drink your tea, your OJ, and let me let you into my house and become besties.” David almost got it, and then he spaced out and drank the freaking tea. I mean. WHAT?

This is not the first time I have seen characters who are supposed to be savvy and smart adventurers just completely space out.

Also, Did Not Do the Research.

Spoiler alert again.

Emma is a bail bondsperson. Apparently someone with basic skip tracing skills–she’s supposedly good enough at her job to afford a very expensive New York City apartment.

Regina is the Mayor of Storybrooke.

So um…okay. You have this farmhouse. You’re sure it’s the bad guy’s farmhouse. Well, every home in the state is registered at the County Clerk’s Office. It records who holds the deed to that home and the assessed value of that home for tax purposes. Skip tracers use this all the time, either to locate assets or to locate people.

Either one of these women should have been able to think of that. They’d have had the name of that witch in about 30 seconds. They could have done that while standing in the yard on their smart phones or, if the county clerk was not online, with a simple phone call. I know Storybrooke is a special curse town, but there are indications that whenever it’s on the map it keeps records and observes the laws like any other town.

At the very least, there should have been some dialogue like:

Emma: Here, let me check the county clerk’s office. We can find out who owns the house.

Regina: Storybrooke doesn’t really do that since it exists in this kind of bubble. (Or whatever).

Something to at least explain why these women were not using what is otherwise a basic, take-10 knowledge check for either one of their professions. Sure, it’s more exciting to go riffle through her crap and to look for “magic traces,” and I certainly enjoyed the budding Robin Hood romance (I love how Robin chooses to see Regina) but…c’mon.

Of course, maybe I only notice that because I spent a year skip tracing, and it was one of the first things I thought of when they found the house.

Taking lessons back to my own fiction.

There’s really no point to being a critic of someone else’s fiction if you’re not going to take the lessons back to your own. Lesson #1 is of course in different ways that the script can be reversed or subverted without sucking the element of adventure out of your plot.

The second lesson is consistent characterization matters. Either you’re a kung-fu bow bandit who survived a man hunt or you’re a wide-eyed innocent with no survival instincts. You cannot possibly pull off both. Snow can still see the good in everyone while maintaining some basic caution. She can even be polite about it.

The third lesson is that you need to be careful about explaining how heroes solve problems. They could have called a real bondsperson to ask how they’d handle the problem, for example, just to get and write that perspective.

#WickedAlwaysWins is a pretty believable tag when the heroes are fumbling about like they just fell off the turnip truck.

Mar 26

Why Are there So Many Atheists?

MirrorBill Maher, infamous atheist, made a lot of news this week by calling God a murderer and a sociopath. There are atheists everywhere, so much so that many of the Christians that I know feel threatened by them.

But if we want to know why Maher thinks that way, we have to look in the mirror. If we want to know why there were so many people lining up to cheer him on, we need to look in the mirror even more.

Because we are the reason why so many people are turning away from God. As a movement, Christians have done a great job of misrepresenting God. Frankly, we’ve made God look like someone that no sane person would want to be anywhere near.

Most Christians are more concerned with promoting a culture than they are with sharing love.

Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.”  - Mark 7:13

Fundamentalist Christians speak louder than the rest of the church. And they speak, primarily, on attempting to impose a very particular culture on the nation. They neglect to exercise basic empathy, understanding that the puritanical culture that they are promoting was and is painful and harmful to a great many people.

They spend more time talking about how women should stay in the home and avoid speaking up in church than they do sharing the love of Christ. They shame and harm rape victims who haven’t even reached the age of majority yet. They want to make sure that nobody’s getting up to anything in any private bedroom that might offend them but turn their backs on the poor and the hungry.

They build up their mega-churches so that they can show off to one another. Many promote or tacitly support racism, because the “bygone America” that they want to see restored promoted racism. They are more concerned with whether little boys act in culturally approved ways than whether or not those boys are being being beaten up and tormented in the halls of their schools.

They lack the basic empathy to understand or care that a society which stripped women of their right to vote, or ability to work, and gave them nowhere to go when a man (who is, after all, only a fallen, temporal being) abused them was painful and harmful to the woman. They lack the basic compassion to understand or care that not everyone was created by God to fit into their tiny, pre-approved boxes. They lack the wisdom to note that God loves wonderful variety, ignoring the evidence of their own eyes by approving only tiny little portions of God’s creation.

And so everyone who does not fit into that culture thinks they are hearing what God is about. Then they reject the culture, which is so blind and indifferent to their pain, because there is no love in that blindness or that indifference. And the vast majority of Christians say, “Well, they’re just dirty sinners” and writes them off.

What is more important? The puritanical culture or the love of god?

Christians Who Treat One Another Poorly

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” -John 13:35

How much love is the modern Christian movement really showing to anyone at all? It seems to me that you can get bare acceptance if you meet the following criteria: white, middle-to-upper-class, and either male or willing to meekly bow down to the system of patriarchy.

How much love does the church truly show to the poor, when so many fundamentalists are out there demonizing the poor on our streets? How much love does the church show to victims of sexual and physical abuse, when their impulse is to cover it up, or to blame those innocents for not being pure enough, or for not being obedient enough? How much love are we showing to gays and lesbians who are Christians? Remember, even if you think homosexuality is a sin being a sinner does not disqualify you from being a Christian. We all need Christ.

Instead, the modern day church says, “These people are just sinners.” Except…we’re all sinners. The doors are supposed to be wide open to all of us. The love is supposed to be there for all of us. We are supposed to be following the man who said “judge not, lest you be judged.” So…at what point is it our responsibility to offer material help to the hurting? At what point is it our responsibility to, at the very least, not actively cause pain or make it worse for other people?

Atheists see the hypocrisy of the church, and they respond accordingly.

Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:28

God’s love is IRRESISTIBLE. We should be emulating it and showing others the way. That love reaches into us and heals us. When we respond to it we don’t need a new law in Congress to be who God wants us to be–we start to change. God works out his salvation in us. So the best thing that we can do is to show the way to that love and to be forces for that love in the world.

Instead of healing a hurting world the modern day church tries to create a cocoon of culture where they don’t have to engage with anything or anybody that offends them.

Instead of doing what is good, the modern day church is content to do what sounds good.

The modern day church outright ignores many of Jesus’ words and actions. And atheists are not stupid. They can see the differences between who we claim to serve and what we actually do.

If you’d like to be a witness to the world, if you’d like more people to love God and turn back to him, then turn back yourself. We must all reject the path of the self-righteous bully, humble ourselves before God, return to His love and then shine that Love out on the world. Then we must get out of Love’s way and let Love make the changes, affect the healing, and create the Kingdom.