Do you love time travel? Do you love free short stories? Then hie yourself here, dear reader, to read a fabulous Quantum Leap inspired short story written by the one and only Charlie Jane Anders. You won’t be disappointed.
"It saddens me to see girls proudly declaring they’re not like other girls – especially when it’s 41,000 girls saying it in a chorus, never recognizing the contradiction. It’s taking a form of contempt for women – even a hatred for women – and internalizing it by saying, Yes, those girls are awful, but I’m special, I’m not like that, instead of stepping back and saying, This is a lie.
The real meaning of “I’m not like the other girls” is, I think, “I’m not the media’s image of what girls should be.” Well, very, very few of us are. Pop culture wants to tell us that we’re all shallow, backstabbing, appearance-obsessed shopaholics without a thought in our heads beyond cute boys and cuter handbags. It’s a lie – a flat-out lie – and we need to recognize it and say so instead of accepting that judgment as true for other girls, but not for you."
I haven’t mentioned this on the blog yet, but many of my readers are already aware that in addition to New Arcana, I’m writing an interactive-fiction romance game with Queen Guenevere as the protagonist. The first of seven planned parts is available as a draft/beta which anyone can play for free: link
NA readers may notice some similar motifs, tropes, themes, and characterization, which will continue to be the case as I work on both projects. At some point I’ll probably write a blog post about how much I enjoy recycling narrative elements, and why I think it’s an artistically valid thing to do. In any case, the more I develop NA and Guenevere, the more I realize I’m telling the same story in two very different ways, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Alternating between interactive and non-interactive fiction is the best cure for writer’s block I’ve ever found. The creative mindset is different for each, so switching from one to the other provokes exactly the mental shift that my brain needs when I hit a wall. More than that, though, I think that writing interactive fiction has had an important influence on how I write non-interactive fiction, and vice-versa. I could say tons and tons about this, and probably will eventually, but here are just a few thoughts.
Jean Townsend’s Guenevere game, currently in beta testing mode at the Choice of Games site, is an excellent piece of interactive fiction, and one which I would recommend to anyone interested in romance, historical fiction, or fantasy.
Here’s the link again. One warning though: it’s highly addictive, and as the first part of a projected seven part series, it’s probably going to be a while until it’s finished.
So, my friend Thomas and I were discussing the movie Frozen on Twitter. (You can see my review here.) He wasn’t too crazy about it either; he described it as “flat.” Then he said, “Here is the thing. We can do the Raiders of the Lost Ark test. If there’s no snowman, no ice boy, no prince, no nothing… the story would exactly end the same way. None of them have any bearing on the ending. Elsa saves Anna. Anna saves Elsa.”
Then I asked him what the Raiders of the Lost Ark test was. After expressing surprise I’d never heard of it, he said “that it posits the following: ‘If you take out the protagonist from the story, will the ending be changed?’ And in Raiders, Indiana Jones is useless.”
He went on to say:
"Take Indy out of Raiders, the Nazis will still take the ark to the island, open it, all will die. The End.”
Then he linked to me to this video:
I’m not the biggest fan of the Big Bang Theory, but this is a good summary of the problems with Indiana Jones— the protagonist has no effect on the outcome of the plot. In fact, by extension, could be said for the other characters in Frozen. Anna and Elsa, I think, are key since they affect the plot’s ultimate outcome, but it could be argued (and is, in this great Critical Hit review) the other characters are pretty much completely extraneous.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: how does the Raiders of the Lost Ark test apply to your own writing? Do your protagonists— and the other characters— play a role in the outcome? If you took your protagonist out of the story, would the ending be changed? And if it’s not where you want it to be, what can you do to make it better?
So I watched FROZEN.
There’s been a lot of buzz about it lately. There were rave reviews on io9 and the AV Club, and a bunch of folks have been talking about what an amazing, “game-changing” movie this is from Disney. I figured I should see it myself to see what the fuss was about.
So, uh… yeah. I did the above doodle at work. It more or less sums up my feelings for the movie.
FROZEN is a perfectly serviceable film. It is competently put together, but ultimately uninspired. It does a few neat things, like passing the Bechdel test with the sisters, and subverting the Love’s True Kiss trope at the end. That was cool. But it didn’t inspire love or tears or eternal devotion in my heart like WALL-E or UP. I mainly waited for it to be over.
I was dreading the talking snowman from the trailer. But truth be told, Josh Gad’s snowman was probably the least objectionable part of the movie. Because it’s Josh Gad, and he’s a great voice actor. If they’d gotten any one else, it would have been a disaster.
I think part of the problem was that the two girls (and the two guys) were really, really bland. Even their character designs were bland too. I thought of (the problematic but highly interesting) TREASURE PLANET, and holy shit I wished I was watching that movie instead.
Another problem, I think, is the really slapdash and lazy world-building. The world-building is worse than TANGLED, and way, way below classic Pixar. Why does Elsa have ice powers? Where do the troll-smurfs come from? Why was dude raised by the smurfs in the first place? None of these questions are even broached. It’s hard to feel a movie when the world just feels like a stage set for the next boffo by-the-numbers Broadway style musical number.
For the record, the “Let it Go” number is the best song in the movie, and hands down the best scene. Everything else is kind of meh. To give you an idea how involved I was, I wrote down a bunch of notes while the movie was going.
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Wow, the animation is super off putting. They’re like Keane children combined with the animatronic puppets from Its a Small World.
Oh god the troll animation feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoonJesus, why is Pixar so great and Disney so lame!? There’s a montage about the parents death which is superficially similar to Up but SO NOT UP.Please stop singing.THEY ARE STILL SINGINGYou know Anna reminds me of a yappy dog. Plus the adorable comic klutziness is relentless.Let It Go is a good song. So far the only one.Is it over yet? You know, the folks who say this isn’t as good as Tangled are right."Christopher!" "No, it’s Kristoff!" You know, like the bad guy from The Truman Show!OH GOD IT’S THE FUCKING SNOWMANAND NOW HE’S SINGINGThe song is over. Well, Josh Gad’s line delivery is good at leastSo how did Elsa get her amazing Iceman powers? It’s never addressed. This is a big plot hole.Hey, the movie is getting a bit slow! I know, we can have another song! Guy A (Kristoff) gave Anna shit about getting engaged to Guy B (Hans) who she only knew for a day… So the script fixes her up with Kristoff. Who she also has only known for a day. Yup.Hey, the reveal that Hans is the bad guy! He’s not a nice guy, he’s a conniving slimeball! Who tells Anna his master plan like Goldfinger! This isn’t really that well set up.And Anna needs to be rescued by a guy! Holy shit I never saw that comingHey, wouldn’t it be awesome if this ended tragically!? Man I am so not moved by any of this.I like the small twist at the end to give the scriptwriters some credit
So bad guy Hans is pushed overboard. He’s taken off to the Southern Isles to be disciplined by his brothers. And everyone goes ice skating. OK.
I originally posted this on my other Tumblr, suburbanbeatnik, which is more art-centric.
Okay, guys— I actually wrote a new review. Of a book I loved at first, but it turned into a thing of horror by the end. This book, Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH, is highly respected in the romance community, and I went to it with high expectations. I originally posted it to Goodreads, but I figured I could repost it here (with the swearing I took out of the original GR post).
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I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently. When she asked me why I didn’t want to read John Varley’s TITAN, I told her that I’d read the wikipedia summary, and when I saw that the heroine was raped about halfway through by an ex-shipmate, I lost interest in reading it. It seems to me that having your main character getting raped is the equivalent of setting off an atomic bomb in your manuscript. It is a huge, HUGE thing that will hang over the book like a radioactive cloud— and there are not many authors who can adequately deal with the fallout. Hence— unless the author is Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou— I am going to avoid books that use rape as a plot point like the plague.
So there’s that.
Anyway, when I picked up Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH, I’d heard great things about the adorable blond beta-hero vicar hero and the bucolic early Victorian English setting. And as I plowed through the book, I ate it up. I loved the hero. I sympathized with the heroine. The plot was engaging, the prose was beautifully crafted, and it felt like an intelligent, character-driven romance. It was easily one of the best romance novels I’d read that year, and it was going to end up in my Top 10 Romance List for sure…
And then the ending happened. And Gaffney dropped Little Boy onto her bucolic English village, and Wyckerley became a second Hiroshima. Or so it felt to me at the time.
So our heroine, Anne, has this douchey husband named Geoffrey who’s an old friend of the hot vicar, and Anne and the vicar hook up because they think dude has kicked it over in the Crimea. But he’s not dead! He comes back and rapes Anne. And then he’s killed.
But it’s okay, see? Because Anne realizes this violent and horrible rape was actually an “act of love”! And she forgives him. And she decides she’s not going to tell her new husband, the vicar. For… reasons. I’m not exactly sure what they were since a red haze clouded my vision at that point.
As you can imagine, I felt so absolutely transcendently angry reading this bullshit that I would thrown the book against the wall if I weren’t reading my Kindle. It reminded me of the retrograde monstrous crap force-fed into women a few decades ago: hide your abuse! hide your rape! You’re damaged goods. You brought it on yourself. The rapist didn’t really hate you anyway. Plus, you don’t want to burden your loved ones with the shame that you must bear alone.
No. HELL NO. Fuck this shit. FUCK IT SO MUCH.
So yeah. Anyway. This excellent novel, through the miracle of shoddy plotting and half-assed characterization, by the end had turned into a post-apocalyptic landscape of twisted wreckage and toxic sludge. Gaffney can turn a deft phrase, but I can never read any other books by her now. CHERISH left a truly nasty taste in my mouth.
Okay, guys. You’ve read my interviews with Stephanie Dray and artist Alan Ayers. You’ve read my reviews of Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile: now here’s the official release of the third book in the Cleopatra’s Daughter trilogy. Behold: Daughters of the Nile has arrived! Let the trumpets sound!
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From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter.
After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?
Read the Reviews
"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray’s crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews
"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned…" ~Modge Podge Reviews
"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair
Read an Excerpt
Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I’m paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don’t notice that I’m gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death. And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, “That’s enough. We’ve seen enough of the snake charmer!” There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, “Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?” The story the world tells of my mother’s suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her. I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor’s agents or whoever else is responsible for this. If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. “Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away.” I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. “Oh, but they’re never far enough away.”
Available now in print and e-book!
Available now in print and e-book!
STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.