Monday, March 20, 2017

48 Hours of Hazel

I'd been hearing about Puppy Yoga for a little while, and it sounded like the best thing since sliced bread. Apparently, from time to time down at the Subaru dealership, they hold a yoga class during which tiny adoptable puppies are released to run around among the participants. I can't imagine any stronger incentive to do yoga. So when one of my friends suggested that we try it, I told her that I was totally in.

It started out inauspiciously enough. I didn't get enough sleep the night before, and I was so befuddled that I couldn't find anything that morning. I misplaced an iPod somehow and couldn't find the yoga pants that actually fit me without sliding down my body every time I moved. I also forgot my water and my hair tie, so I was painfully thirsty from the time I arrived and my hair was hanging in my face or plastered on my neck through most of the class. 

The actual yoga was . . . okay. I've done yoga before, but by no means am I particularly good at it. I usually take really easy beginner classes. This, however, was strength yoga, by about the third time we got into plank pose and held it, every muscle in my body was like, "no." I kept falling out of poses or having to lapse back into child's pose. 

However, the puppies provided the perfect distraction. The room was filled with the pitter patter of their wee feet as I struggled to force my body to hold each position. When I couldn't hold a pose anymore, I used them as cover, coming down onto my knees to pet them. From early on, they congregated around my mat, so much so that the other participants started laughing and commenting about it. I moved and twisted in a sea of wriggling, wrestling, snarly, barking, happy puppies. I thought to myself, this must be what Heaven is like. 

In the midst of my downward facing dog, an upward facing dog licked my nose. Sweet little brindle baby that she was, I couldn't even be mad at her when she started chewing on my hair. Her collar told me that her name was Hazel. All of the other puppies liked me, but Hazel seemed especially fond of me. She laid down on my mat under my belly while I was in a table top position, and on the backs of my legs while I was in child's pose. This interfered somewhat with my ability to do yoga, but hey, I wasn't doing that well at it, anyway, so who cares? 

We stayed for a second class, and Hazel and I continued to make friends. Every time I put a limb down on the ground, she positioned herself on top of it. After a while, she was chasing some of the other puppies away from me. Everything about her demeanor kept telling me that I was hers. Who was I to argue?

After the class, all the puppies were swept away for an adoption event in a different part of the dealership. It was called Pets and their People, during which there would be a buffet, mimosas, and people bringing their pets to walk around and get coupons and freebies from local pet-related businesses. My friend and I went over to see what the fuss was about. 

The event was a blast. There were dogs everywhere, plus food from Sonny's Barbecue and even two small ponies! Live music was playing as we selected a free cookie from a booth. I almost forgot Hazel in all the shenanigans.


"I kind of want to go visit her," I confessed. My friend agreed that she also missed playing with the puppies. We decided to go find them. Why not get in a few more puppy cuddles before we hit the buffet? I told myself this was a good chance to drop in on Hazel and at least say goodbye.

Famous last words.

From the moment they put Hazel back in my arms, I knew I was doomed. She made these soft, sweet little grunts as she settled, and then those breathy, whistling noises that dogs make when they're happy. Then she nestled up against me and went to sleep. That warm weight in my arms felt so right. I didn't know how to let her go. So I didn't. I let her sleep in my arms for about twenty minutes while I dithered over what to do about my burgeoning love for this puppy.

You can't afford another pet, I told myself.

You managed for quite a while to afford a $150-a-month comic book habit, a little voice inside my head responded. When you really want something, you make it work.

Yeah, but what if Bailey doesn't like her? I countered. How big is she going to get? Will I be able to handle the both of them at the same time?

As soon as I heard myself start asking the volunteers these questions, I knew I was quadruple doomed. If I was motivated enough to try and figure this out, I was probably going to end up taking her home if their answers were even halfway convincing. The people from the Leon County Humane Society told me that Bailey would probably be fine with her because she was a girl, and so young that he would be inclined to be tolerant. They weren't sure of her breed, but their best guess was bull dog and hound, and they figured she would end up being about 40 pounds. They assured me that the first 14 days of the adoption were a trial period, during which I could bring her back and get a refund if she and Bailey didn't get along. 

Moments later, I found myself handing over my card to pay the fee.

I can do this. I told myself.  I can make this work. I always have in the past. I got Molly when I was 19 and I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground. I managed to raise her by myself and keep her alive for almost 14 years. And Bailey was a lot to handle, and so sick when I first got him. He almost made me lose my mind with his stubborn beagle ways, but I got through it and now he's such a good boy. If I could do those things, I can make this work. Bailey will enjoy having another dog to play with. At 40 pounds, they'll probable play well together because they're about the same size. And because he won't give me any trouble, and I can concentrate on training Hazel.

By the time I walked away with my armful of puppy, I was convinced that this was the best thing I'd ever done, and I was deliriously happy. She was perfect. This was going to work. 

It wasn't until I was in PetSmart buying Hazel her bowls and toys and collar that I had reason to question my decision. A lady walked by and complimented her, saying how pretty she was. She said she bred dogs like Hazel, and she could see that my girl was going to be big. Maybe 50 to 60 pounds.

I'm sure she didn't mean to sew the seeds of doubt, but there they were, and boy, did they blossom quickly. I couldn't imagine having a 50-to-60-pound dog in the apartment with my 36-pound beagle. Especially not when said beagle has a weird reaction to dogs who are bigger than him. He gets nervous and scared, and usually either barks at them or hides from them, whichever seems safest. And the thing was, nobody ever promised me she wouldn't get bigger than 40 pounds. That was just their best guess. The only way to know for sure would be to take her home and see what happened. 

Bailey will get used to her, I told myself. If he learns to love her as a puppy, he will be okay with her even if she gets bigger than him.

Only, when I introduced her to Bailey back at home, things did not go as well as I'd hoped. Beagle Bailey is a sweetheart, and not at all aggressive. That he might hurt Hazel was never my concern. He was curious when I put her down in front of him. His tail wagged as he went nose-to-nose with her, sniffing her over. For her part, Hazel showed little interest in him. As I sat down to watch them interact, she walked away from him and climbed into my lap, claiming me. He sat back to stare at her as if seeing her in a new light. It was as if a speech bubble had appeared over his head that said, "Who the Hell do you think you are? Interloper!"

Nothing that happened thereafter assuaged his concerns that this puppy was here to replace him. I tried to include him in whatever we were doing, but she was only two months old and needed a lot of attention. I tried to put her in the big bathroom so that I could play with him, but she cried, and that made him nervous and upset. He wouldn't play while she was crying, and he wouldn't play when she came out again. As soon as she was back in the living room, she'd claim me, and he would slink away. Every line in his body spelled out his feelings of dejection and defeat. 

At night, when I laid down, Hazel was right there. She was a born cuddlebug, desperate to be in contact with me at every available moment. There was never room for Bailey beside us, so he would sigh and go lay at my feet, looking forlorn and heartbroken. He didn't even try to join in the snuggling. During the day, he didn't sit beside us on the couch while Hazel was cuddling against me. He wouldn't play with me, and he wouldn't eat his food. He just shut down. He had been the center of my world for almost 4 years, my only baby, the one I sang to and lavished attention on. Suddenly, here was this new puppy, sitting on my lap watching TV with me and sleeping beside me. Hazel and I existed in this happy little bonding bubble, and Bailey was no part of it. And he wanted no part of it. He just wanted me back.

Meanwhile, while I knew having two dogs would be difficult, but the difficulty went way beyond what I'd expected. When I'd been thinking about juggling the pair of them, I had put Bailey on a mental pedestal. He's a very good boy, and after almost 4 years together, he understands what I want from him pretty well. But he's also a beagle, which means that he's crazy stubborn and a slave to his nose. It's always been the case that when I walk him, if I let anything distract me--my phone, my iPod, whatever--he takes that opportunity to try to drag me where he wants to go, be it into the bushes, down a steep hill, or over a stone wall. It sometimes takes me hauling on the leash with both hands, or throwing it over my shoulder for leverage and walking in the opposite direction to bring him back into line. I wasn't thinking about that  at the adoption booth when I imagined Hazel, Bailey, and I happily walking together.

The first time I tried to walk them both, I knew I was in trouble. Bailey was off like a shot, taking advantage of every moment I spent distracted by Hazel to pull me wherever he wanted to go. He is freakishly strong for his size, and he's not exactly slight. Without both hands to control him, I floundered. He would charge ahead, and Hazel would drag behind, and I'd be in the middle, feeling like I was being drawn and quartered. I could get him back under control, but it distracted me from her, which meant that I occasionally turn around just in time to see her  pick something gross up in her mouth or almost step on something sharp. We narrowly avoided disaster on more than one occasion, and I kept thinking, "I won't always get this lucky. Eventually, someone is going to get hurt."

The next day, I tried walking them separately. This turned out to be a spectacular failure. When I left with her, he cried like his heart was breaking. I could hear him all the way downstairs as I walked Hazel into the grass. When I came back and put her in the bathroom to walk him, she noises like she was being murdered. The only reason this didn't result in someone complaining about me to the apartment complex office is because the apartment below mine is currently empty. It won't always be. In fact, several people had been by to look at it. I became apprehensive about whether or not I could keep them from making a fuss every time I tried to single one out for special attention.

In the meantime, I had forgotten how draining it is to have a new puppy. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. to make sure she doesn't pee in the bed. Then back up at 8:00 a.m. because she needs to go again. I tried to take a shower with her closed in the bathroom with me to keep her from fussing, and she fussed anyway and tried to climb into the tub with me. I ended up getting out with shampoo still in my hair to hold her and calm her down because she started howling.

Every time I came home, I'd have to run into the bathoom pick her up and run her outside to keep her from messing in the house. Once, I was gone too long and came home to colossal piles of poo and a puddle of pee in my bathroom. While I was trying to clean it up, I left the room for more paper towels and came back to a puddle that Hazel couldn't have made. She didn't have anything left to pee out! Bailey was in the corner, looking guilty.

Oh God. This was too much. I had counted on him being good and not needing as much attention while I got her on track. I didn't think he'd start acting out. I couldn't handle it. 

I had made so many miscalculations. I hadn't thought about how difficult Bailey was to walk, and how Hazel would eventually be just as big and possibly stronger. I hadn't thought, when I was thinking about how I made it through Molly's puppyhood and Bailey's puppyhood, how much harder it is to be at your wit's end with a puppy when there's another dog who also needs you, adding another layer of anxiety to the equation. Add to that that he wasn't taking things well and was feeling left out, and basically by the end of the next day, I felt like I'd made a mistake.

Bailey did eventually start playing with her. Sometimes, I thought that he even seemed to like her. But he didn't like her with me, and the look in his eyes whenever I picked her up, sang to her, or played with her told me that this was the worst thing I'd ever done to him. And I thought, It's kind of the worst thing I've ever done to myself. I can't handle both of these dogs, and it's actually going to get harder in some ways when she gets big. I don't even know how big she's going to get. I don't know why I didn't think that through more. And I can't stop largely ignoring poor Bailey while she's so small because she needs so much attention. If I keep waiting to see if it gets better and it doesn't, it's going to be that much harder for all three of us. Especially for Hazel, who won't be as small and appealing to most prospective adopters.

So I ended up doing one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. When Hazel's foster mom called to check on her, I admitted that I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I told her my beagle wasn't adjusting well, and that I had recently realized that I wouldn't be able to take them both to Jacksonville with me once a month to visit my family. It wasn't going to work out. 

She was so nice about it. She told me it happened, and that finding the right fit for a dog was important. She told me that she cried after Hazel had been adopted because she missed her, and she still had Hazel's sister, Opal. She lives on 5 acres of land with 5 other dogs, and Hazel and Opal sleep in the bed with her at night. She reassured me that Hazel could absolutely come back to her home, and she promised that she'd find Hazel a new owner. She pointed out that Hazel was sweet, smart, cuddly, and pretty, so she had excellent prospects. 

I drove out to the Leon County Humane Society the next morning to execute the surrender paperwork. I asked them to keep $150 of the adoption fee to use toward Hazel's care. Then I went home and walked Hazel and Bailey one last time. We sat in the small dog park at my complex, and they both sniffed around and laid down in the sunlight to chew on pieces of mulch. When I got them home, I pulled Hazel into my lap, where she immediately nestled against me and went to sleep. I held her while Bailey laid on the floor some distance from us, staring at me and crying softly in a thin, nasal whine. Then I packed up Hazel's things and took her to meet up with her foster mom.

I hated that drive. I kept looking over and her, thinking that if it had just been me and her, we would've made it work. That she reminded me of Molly, who I lost to cancer four years ago. That she was the cuddliest, friendliest, smartest, sweetest little thing, and I wanted her in my life so badly. 

But I also knew I was doing the right thing. I couldn't handle both dogs. I should've realized that with Bailey being Bailey, if I ever did the second dog thing, it would need to be one that would definitely be smaller than him, one I'd know for sure I could always control while I was wrestling with Bailey. Maybe a slightly older dog so that he wouldn't be demoted from the center of the world to barely existing in it on account of the puppy needing all of my attention. And because he's always been particular about his companions, I should've taken him to pick out his sibling and not chosen her for him. If he liked the other dog enough, the way he adores his friends, Riley and Banksy, he might've been happier to share the spotlight. I should've planned this. I should've been more careful. I got swept away by a pretty face.

When I pulled into the parking lot to make the exchange, Hazel's foster mom swooned over her the harness I'd bought her with the black polka dots and the pink bow. She chuckled over all the things I'd bought her as she loaded them into her car--the toys, the treats, the food, the bed.

"Somebody went overboard," she said.

"I always do," I replied.

I really feel like she recognized that I loved Hazel, but couldn't keep her. She understood, and she didn't judge. She reassured me again that she'd get Hazel a home, and even told me that she'd text me with updates. "You're part of her rescue story now," she said. As I sat in my car next to hers, getting ready to pull away, I looked over and saw her holding up Hazel, nose to nose, talking to her. Then she kissed her on the nose and settled her down in the seat.

Hazel's in good hands now. And even though I drove away crying, feeling like there's a Hazel-sized hole in my heart, I'll never be sad that I had her. She was special, and I'm glad that she was mine, even for a few days. I have no doubt that someone else will one day know the joy of loving her, and this person will be able to give her everything she deserves.

Meanwhile, this guy has been positively glowing ever since I came home without the puppy. He's usually an inconsistent cuddler, sometimes wanting to, sometimes not, but he's been curling up next to me every time I sit back on the couch, his head resting on my thigh. For him, all is right with the world again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Come for the fairytale mysteries, stay for the complex and lovable characters.

Buy your copy here.

Every time I pick up a Blackthorn and Grim book, I know I'm in for a suspenseful, sometimes heartbreaking, but always rewarding ride. This book was no exception. This particular tale follows our cantankerous healer and her gentle giant of a friend as they become entangled in the goings on in nearby Wolf Glen-- the construction of a heartwood house that brings special blessings on the person who completes it, the return of a wild man who has been trapped in otherworldly servitude for years, the problems of a girl to whom the trees speak and the birds protect, and the threat of a terrible secret that could change the lives of everyone in Wolf Glen forever.

Honestly, the mystery in this book was exceptional, but I was in it, and will always be in it, for the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. There's something so powerful between them, so much love, and yet, they are both so damaged they refuse to admit it fully. It makes me bounce in my chair every time they let slip how much they care for each other. For instance, when Grim is explaining why the wild man can trust him with his story, and the wild man asks if he will tell his family, Grim responds, "No wife. No family. Only Blackthorn. My friend. My trusted friend, who I live with. And yes, I might tell her. But that's not the same. Telling her's like telling the other part of me. She'll keep your secrets, same as I will." That, right there, had me swooning.

In the end, I cannot recommend this book and the series it falls within strongly enough. The writing is beautiful, the plotting is strong, and the characters become like old friends you pine for between books. Go out and get your copy today!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Catch Your Copy of SIRENS Today!

It's heeeeere!
The Sirens anthology comes out today, stuffed to the gills with siren-y goodness. My story, "The Fisherman and the Golem," lies waiting inside to entice you into deep literary waters, and it is in some stellar company. If you're wondering where you can pick up your copy, see below for details!
Anyhow, I do hope you'll pick up a copy, and if you do, I'd appreciate you taking the time to review it on Amazon and Goodreads! It's a great signal boost for the anthology, and I'd love to hear what you all think of it!
Incidentally, Bailey the cosplaying beagle gave it 5 out of 5 stars! Even better than a slice of cheddar cheese, and at least as good as a tummy rub.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Forgive Me, I Must Take a Brief Break to Rant About Why Comcast is Literally the Worst

A long, long time ago, in an apartment not so far away, I had Comcast cable and internet. It worked without a hitch for 4 years. Then I moved one street over to a new apartment. The night I moved in, I tried setting everything up, but it wasn’t working. I ended up having to call the next day and make sure things were activated properly. No big. That was to be expected. 
Then about three days later, I get a voicemail from Comcast asking if I wanted to cancel service at my old apartment. “That’s weird,” I said to myself. “I called and set that all up a week in advance.” So I called and explained this same information to a representative and made sure that the service for the old apartment was off and I was not being charged past the date I had originally arranged for it to be shut off. And that was that.
Or, well, I wish it was. I got back home from walking my dog and turned on my TV. My cable wasn’t working. Okay, seriously? When I cancelled my service, I meant for the place I USED to live, not the place I currently lived. Did they get it mixed up? Sighing, I called tech support. There was much troubleshooting. It did not work. Not only did it not work, but while I was talking to the guy, he kept asking me things about my internet. “My internet is working fine,” I told him. “Please don’t change anything about my internet.” 
Then my internet went down.
I was starting to get really annoyed. The guy I was speaking to wasn’t able to help me. He had to pass me off to someone else. That guy also was not able to help me. I had been on the phone for a long time now. My patience was wearing thin. I ended up asking to be transferred to someone who could fix my internet and just said, “Screw the TV. I need the internet more.” 
I was transferred to someone who helped me get my internet fixed. My cable was still down.
I called again later to try and schedule a technician visit. I explained that I’d had a lot of trouble with my service. I told her I did not want to pay for a technician and I’d almost rather just cancel my cable, since I mostly watch Netflix, anyhow. I was convinced to have a technician visit based upon the promise that I would not pay a fee for his visit no matter what. I was told that ordinarily, they charge a fee only if the problem is your fault, but no matter what, I would not be charged. (I may have actually been told this by more than one rep. I sort of remember that I was.) So I agreed, and they scheduled the visit for early Saturday morning. In the meantime, I had no cable for about a week.
When the cable guy showed up, it took him seconds to realize what was wrong. “They sent so many reset signals to the box that they fried the card inside,” he explained. “This box is no good. I’ll replace it and you’ll be up and running.” So he replaced it, and lo and behold, I was back in business. He also noted that the last tech had hooked up my cable with colored cords instead of an HDMI cable, which meant that I was paying extra for HD TV for all the years since that tech visited (my now 3-year-old dog was a puppy then), but I wasn’t actually receiving it.
For a while, everything was okay. Then, about two or three days later, I went to record something on my DVR. It didn’t work. I called in for technical support. After going through all the troubleshooting steps again, it turns out that this box was also defective. They promised to send me a new one in the mail. In the meantime, I was without a working DVR for three or four days.
The new DVR came in the mail. I hooked it up. I believe I had to call tech support (AGAIN) to get it working, but it worked. I was relieved. For a few days.
A few days later, I received two bills that didn’t make sense. I called to inquire, and the guy I spoke to was very nice and told me that I didn’t owe anything for the old apartment or the new. I would have no payment that month. He also fixed it so that I could see my account using my old Comcast email address to log in.
I logged in afterwards and noticed that it was showing a $67 bill coming up due. Um, okay, that’s not what he told me. Anyhow, I paid it, because whatever.
I didn’t use my cable for a while. I really don’t watch TV much, at least not outside of Netflix and Hulu. As a matter of fact, I kept trying to cancel it, and Comcast told me they’d jack up my rate for the pleasure of providing me with fewer services. I only got this “discount” because I bundled my services. Again, whatever. 
Sunday, which was about exactly a month since I moved, I turned on my cable to watch “Game of Thrones,” which is my absolute favorite show. My cable was not working. My heart racing in panic, I called for tech support. They tried to send a reset signal and my box didn’t react. They had me turn it off and on. After a friend on Facebook alerted me to the fact that I could watch online, I hung up on them. They’d left me on hold again anyhow. I went to watch my show on my computer, vowing to call back the next day and cancel my cable.
When I followed through on my plan, I was met by the usual dialogue: I could absolutely do that if I wanted to, but they were going to charge me significantly more because my services weren’t bundled. We went back and forth, and ultimately I got tired of arguing how stupid it was that I couldn’t get them to do less for me without paying them more money. Ultimately, she offered me a discount on my HD TV Fee and transferred me to tech support. 
The person I spoke to next was one of those rare people at Comcast who knew her ass from a hole in the ground. Within a few minutes, she figured out that my cable box was listed for the wrong outlet, which is why they couldn’t send it signals. She fixed it, and I was back in business.
Two days later, I get a bill in the mail. $156 dollars. I’m supposed to be paying $69.99 a month. I have no idea where the Hell this number came from. I call to ask for an explanation. While I’m on the phone, I notice a technician fee. I explain that I was promised by a customer service rep that I would not pay a fee for his visit no matter what. I also told her that the man told me the equipment malfunctioned because Comcast customer service reps sent too many reset signals and fried my box. She scoffed like she knew that wasn’t possible (I’m sure she builds cable boxes in her spare time, she totally knows more than the technician), and she said it’s their policy to charge NO MATTER WHY THE PROBLEM HAPPENED unless you pay additional fees for a customer protection plan. I pointed out how ridiculous it was that I should have to pay a fee to fix a problem Comcast customer service caused. I also pointed out that I was told that they usually didn’t charge if the problem was on their end and not mine. She told me that’s not true. THEY ALWAYS CHARGE EVEN IF IT’S THEIR FAULT.
Ultimately, I told her the charge goes away or it’s the last thing they’ll ever charge me for. She said all she could do was give me a $20 credit and put in a ticket on the remaining $30. She said they’d research my (many, many) prior calls to confirm that I was promised there would be no charge, and that they’d contact the cable guy (who apparently wrote down on his paperwork that the complaint was invalid or something). I have to wait to hear back on May 19th. 
At this point, I would sell my soul to get out of having to use Comcast. This is the worst service I’ve ever gotten from anybody anywhere. They overcharge like crazy, and only every fifth person I speak to has any freaking clue what he/she is talking about. They all tell me different, conflicting things every time I call. This is the policy, until I speak to someone else, and then it’s not. This is what I owe, until I double check on the internet and find out that’s wrong. This is the problem, until I call someone different and find out that wasn’t it. I haven’t had consistent, working service for more than four consecutive days since I’ve moved here. I’ve spent more time on the phone with Comcast than I have talking to loved ones. My stress level is through the roof, and their overriding policy seems to be to gouge money from customers in every way possible. If there is service from any other company available in your area, please, for God’s sake, take it. Don’t deal with what I’m dealing with. It’ll take years off your life. I hear Verizon Fios and AT&T uverse are good. If they were available in my area, I’d leave Comcast so fast there’d be a cartoon puff of smoke where I used to be in their customer files.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Devolution of Carol Peletier

**If you haven't watched the season six finale of "The Walking Dead," TURN BACK NOW!**

“The Walking Dead” has often struggled with its representation of women. For instance, we had Andrea, whose eharmony profile could have read, “I enjoy pina colodas, getting caught in the rain, and sleeping with psychopaths who are all about that premeditated murder.” Then there was Beth, who spent a lot of time being pretty and singing in the background like some sort of post-apocalyptic Disney princess. During her involuntary stay at the hospital, she finally began to show some real agency, only to die a pointless and inane death in order to give the other characters FEELINGS. And don’t even get me started on Lori, who occasionally took a break from being a neglectful mother and an awful wife to snap at other women for being useful in ways that didn’t involve housework. 

God image found here.

Things have gotten better. Michonne is a smart, capable woman warrior with a good heart. Maggie, who was always likable and intelligent, has come into her own over the seasons as a fighter and a leader. Rosita may be criminally underdeveloped, but girlfriend knows her way around a firearm. And Sasha is a strong character who gave us an intriguing depiction of PTSD. But the biggest saving grace for “The Walking Dead” when it comes to its portrayal of women was Carol Peletier. And believe me, those are words I’d never thought I’d say.

There was a time when Carol was near the top of the list of the people I didn't mind dying to feed the show’s body count. Shrinking and meek, she seemed to exist in those early seasons solely to feed Daryl’s character development as he transformed from surly redneck menace to gentle victim hiding his bruised heart behind manly posturing. 

Found here.
Then Carol became intriguingly complex. For the good of the group, she killed and burned two sick people to keep their illness from spreading. When Lizzie’s mental illness manifested, making it clear that she was a liability and there was no way to save her, Carol was the one who stepped up and told her to “look at the flowers.” Then Terminus happened, and Carol the battered housewife became freaking Rambo. No, actually, I think Carol Peletier might be the boogey man that Rambo checks his closet for before he can fall asleep at night. The effectiveness of her one-woman assault to save her friends from the cannibals was awe-inspiring. And just when you thought that she was going to openly embrace being the action hero goddess that her friends knew her to be, she went undercover in Alexandria, simpering, wearing cardigans, and baking cookies like a wily, post-apocalyptic Martha Stewart. By this time, Carol had learned all about the element of surprise, and nothing surprises people more than a pink-cheeked, doe-eyed housewife who can mow down ranks of Wolves without batting an eyelash. In this manner did she go from being a ho hum trope to being one of my absolute favorite characters. 

But of course, the good “Walking Dead” giveth, and then the good “Walking Dead” taketh away. Just as Carol was beginning to shine as a beacon, being one of the few, precious female antiheroes on TV, she suddenly began to dim.

There was no build up. No arc. No trigger. One minute, Carol’s Facebook status was, “I will totally kill Morgan for not killing people.” The next, she’s posted, “OH MY GOD, I’VE BEEN MURDERING PEOPLE ALL THIS TIME???!!? WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE TELL ME?!” (See below.)

Yes, I made this. Yes, I need a life.

I realize that a crisis of conscience is an inherently internal thing, but this is a TV show. In a novel, you could just ramble out her internal monologue so that the reader could follow her thinking. In a show, I need to see what happened to trigger the character arc so I can follow along and evaluate whether it makes sense. Otherwise, the character develops BECAUSE THE WRITERS SAY SO, THAT’S WHY, which is seldom an acceptable reason. And honestly, the only thing that’s been suggested so far as a trigger for her recent transformation is the death of Sam, the kid she threatened and bullied until he got himself killed. After all, she did leave cookies on his grave. The problem is, his death was not her fault. She also had no time to develop any sort of attachment to him. As my friend pointed out, she actually bonded more with Lizzie before she shot her in the head and still walked away without coming anywhere near the mental collapse she suffered in season six's final episode.

Ultimately, no matter why they decided to turn Carol the Badass into Carol the Whiney Crybaby, it’s not a good reason. Carol the Badass was complicated and interesting. As a rare, morally ambiguous woman who is able to use the fact that people underestimate her to her advantage, she was the TV heroine equivalent of a goddamn unicorn. As a woman whose emotions suddenly got the best of her, putting her and her friends in danger, she’s as common as a TV trope penny. “The Walking Dead” fans deserve better than tired tropes. The fans deserve Carol the Badass. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In Which the Struggle is Real, but Infinitely Worthwhile

Once upon a time (in April of 2014, to be exact), I wrote a story that I knew in my bones was good. I was feeling the characters, the dialogue was flowing like coffee in Starbucks during rush hour, and I was still grooving enough on the last Patricia McKillip book I’d read to find flinging out pretty descriptions to be relatively easy. However, by the time I finished it about a month and a half later, I also knew with the deepest, most unshakable certainty that I had gotten the ending completely freaking wrong.

I edited it and I stared at it. I edited it some more, and sent it off to beta readers. While they were reading it, I stared at it again, making half-hearted tweaks. Finally, when not even the most brilliant beta in the pool could diagnose the source of the suckage I sensed, I stuck the damn story in a drawer and flounced off to work on something else. After about five months, it began to seem more and more likely that this story was doomed to molder away in the graveyard file until it was nothing but the bones of a good idea buried under a mountain of angst and regret.

Still, there was something in that story I just couldn’t give up on. One November evening, I steeled myself enough to take the story out and tinker with it again. I reread it, and I started to remember why I loved the story in the first place. The wariness and the doubt melted away, and suddenly, the ending came crashing down on my hapless brain in a tidal wave of plot. I didn’t just know it, I saw it, unfurling like a movie in my head in full color, surround sound, rock-your-face-off detail. It took one hour to dash off the ending. One hour, after being stuck for almost half a year. When I sent it to my most trusted beta reader, the reply I got back could be summed up as “Wow.” I knew in my heart that I’d finally gotten it right this time. The ending rang true, the plot flowed naturally, and the story was exactly what I needed it to be.

Fast-forward a year and three months later, and it turns out that it works for someone else, too. Or at least so I assume, because someone offered to buy it. That’s right, my little story that could, “The Fisherman and the Golem,” is going to be published this summer in an anthology called SIRENS which will be edited by Rhonda Parrish and published by World Weaver Press. It is the perfect ending to the epic saga that began when I sat down to write so long ago in April in a world where perfect endings are often elusive. Trust me, I know.  ;)

Now, for no good reason, allow me to end this post with a picture of my dog and his new guard dog sign.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: Frostflower and Thorn by Phyllis Ann Karr

Buy your copy here.
I went into FROSTFLOWER AND THORN forewarned, so I feel compelled to forewarn in this review: this fantasy novel depicts rape and torture. I'm normally not a fan of reading novels that feature rape because it's often used to bring angst to the people around the survivor without focusing on the consequences to the survivor him/herself. There are also authors who use rape as a way to create a gritty atmosphere for their world in much the same way that one might hang up cheap paper streamers at a party to create a festive air, and with much less thought. However, this book neatly avoided both pitfalls and handled the subject with sensitivity. Oh, and it was awesome, on top of that.
The story takes place in a world where only women are warriors. This sounds like a very feminist concept, but actually, women are warriors because the religion in this world teaches that men are too valuable to risk themselves. I found the idea interesting, because it justifies women dominating the battlefield without hand-waving at the logic that women are generally physically weaker than men. Plus, to me, it is not that different from our own world-- it’s only that the manner in which men are put forth as being of greater worth manifests differently.
An older version of the cover.
In any case, it is against this background that we meet Thorn, a badass warrior with a sharp tongue and a strong sword arm. Thorn is dealing with the consequences of being a woman who enjoys sex and isn’t afraid to indulge, but lives in a medieval society sans reliable birth control: she is in the early stages of an unwanted pregnancy and looking to get rid of it. By chance, she crosses paths with a sorceron named Frostflower. Frostflower offers to use magic to help Thorn get rid of her offspring, and all she asks in payment is the child, himself. Thorn is a little unnerved by the notion of subjecting herself to sorcery, but Frostflower promises that she can make it happen in the space of an afternoon, and Thorn is desperate. She doesn’t have the coin to pay a physician or an aborter, and as a freelance warrior of sorts, she’s not in a position to keep the child even if she had a motherly bone in her body (which she doesn’t).
In this manner are we introduced to the powers of the sorcereri, Phyllis Ann Karr’s version of magic-users. It turns out that one of their abilities is to “speed time.” By tapping into the life force of a creature or a plant, a sorceron can age it forward. Frostflower uses this ability to hasten Thorn’s pregnancy along and safely deliver the child. Frostflower names him Starwind, and it is obvious from the start that she treasures him. The sorcereri take vows of truth, prudence, and purity. They cannot lie, be reckless, or have sex without losing their powers. Therefore, Frostflower had no other way to have a child of her own if she wished to keep her abilities, and it is clear that she very much wanted to have one.
The trouble is, people in this world are suspicious of sorcereri. If Frostflower is seen carrying the child to her retreat alone, people will assume that she stole him, because they know she cannot have had him the natural way. There are also those who would see the child as an abomination if they discovered that he was sorcered out of the womb, so that part is best kept secret. While she does have the power to snatch lightning bolts from the sky and age people who touch her, for the most part, her powers are no defense. The vows of the sorcereri bind them from doing harm, so Frostflower cannot defend herself directly. Grudgingly, Thorn agrees to accompany her to help deflect suspicion. Over the course of the journey, an unlikely friendship begins to blossom between the pair.
Unfortunately, they run afoul of Maldron, a farmer-priest who rules the territory they are passing through. Frostflower and Thorn manage to escape him, but become outlaws in the process. If Thorn is caught, her guts will be filled with stones and she'll be hung on a gibbet to die. If Frostflower is caught, she’ll be raped to strip her of her powers and possibly gibbeted, as well. The story follows the women’s attempts to win free of Maldron, their developing relationship, and the consequences of each having her faith challenged through her association with the other.
Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader who tends to languish over the pages to suss out every ounce of meaning and enjoyment. Well, I finished this book in a week. I couldn’t put it down, or at least not for long. I read it with my morning coffee, and on my lunch breaks. Then when I went to bed, I’d switch on a lamp, pick up my ipad, and go back to it.
The prose is solid, and the characters are well-rounded and relatable. I admired tough, blunt, capable Thorn, and gentle, thoughtful, intelligent Frostflower, appreciating both their virtues and their flaws. In particular, I looked forward to Thorn's point-of-view scenes, because there was something so unique and mesmerizing about this rough-spoken, cynical warrior that I loved being in her head. Some of the secondary characters are also unexpectedly intriguing. Spendwell, a soft, cowardly-seeming merchant, initially seems to be nothing more than one of Thorn’s bed partners. As the plot unfolds, he becomes much more, for good and for ill. And Inmara, Maldron’s senior wife, could have presented as a two-dimensional villain, but is ultimately nuanced and complex. She has her own motives and sympathies, and even when her goals run counter to Frostflower’s, it is hard to dislike her.
The pacing was at least partly to blame for while I churned through this book so quickly. I was heavily invested in the characters early on, which made it hard enough to drop in my bookmark and walk away, but every time I tried to put it down, the tension was running too high and I was too concerned to do so. The action was intense, and ultimately built up to a satisfying ending.
If I had to nitpick and find something about this book that I disliked, I suppose it would be that the mystery created by the climax was never resolved in this book. Without an explanation, it felt either like a convenient development or the setup to a sequel. Given that a sequel exists, that seems to answer that question. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a book with awesome world-building, great characters, and a fine balancing of grit and heart, this is the book for you.