Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Still Wanna Do Bad Things With (Most of) You

"This chemical peel did NOT produce the desired results!"

Original image found here.

All right, two episodes into season 6 of True Blood and I'm just going to say the words I never thought I'd say: I do not hate Billith. I started this season braced for the agony of seeing somber, elegant Bill Compton reduced to a bloody naked psycho. Instead, he seems like his old self as he hasn't been since season 4, only with a mysterious destiny and strange new gifts. (Hands free human-juicing! Neat!) Two episodes in, I care about what Lilith wants from him for the first time ever, and I am captivated by the relationship between Bill and Jessica. Jessica continues to dazzle as the unexpected badass one minute who becomes the sweetly vulnerable fanged girl next door the next. She keeps Bill grounded and attached to his humanity in a way that Sookie never did, and the way Bill cares for her is touching.

Jessica Hamby: bringing daddy issues to a new level since 2008.

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Although, episode two's vision of Lilith filled me with mixed emotions. As relieved as I am that Lilith finally got herself a nice dress, I don't know why her homegirls can't do the same. Nobody is ever going to take these chicks seriously if they keep slinking around with the bloody full frontal nonsense.

"Look, Ma, no boobs!"

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The other pleasant surprise for me was becoming curious about Warlow. I spent all last season out of f--ks to give about Sookie's ancestor trading her to a vampire for magic beans or what have you. After listening to her whine endlessly about how being different SUCKS and watching her throw a magical temper tantrum, I just wasn't that worried about it. I figured that even if he took her, Warlow'd bring her right back before you could say, "You're hot, but not THAT hot."

Little does Sookie know that Warlow is actually the 
lead singer of Vampire ZZ Top.

"She's got veeeeeeins... And she knows how to use them."

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The introduction of the enigmatic fairy grandfather, however, suddenly kicked this plot up a notch. Leaving aside the fact that the man is one Hell of a snazzy dresser, he makes for an dapper Yoda to Jason's clueless Luke. Their interaction in episode two was priceless as he tried to drive home to our gung-ho Mr. Stackhouse the seriousness of his predicament and to prepare him to defend Sookie from her would-be captor. And the moment where Jason enthuses about being a fairy prince, only to get completely shut down with "the gene skipped you" just about made up for the yawn fest that this plot represented last season.

I would totally watch a buddy cop show starring these two.

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The jury is still out, however, where this vampire persecution angle is concerned. @sabrinaslibrary and I were skeptical about humans having the technology to counter every magical ability a vampire might possess. I mean, come on. I don't care how many humans you have with how many fancy toys, centuries old beings with super powers should GENERALLY win the fight. 

And any time you invoke a holocaust motif, which appears to be where this is headed, you have to tread lightly. Conjuring the specter of genocide that smacks of real historical atrocities requires a clever and respectful hand, because the attempted murder of an entire race isn't something to be trotted out for kicks. Besides, this wiener of a governor hasn't been developed yet, but I'm inherently skeptical of his ability to get the jump on even one vampire, let alone several. They should so be beating him up for his lunch money about now. I am, however, on board with Eric's magical seduction of the weasel's daughter and I enjoyed the Hell out of undercover Bible salesman Eric, even if he does give me the willies.

Um, Disguised Eric doesn't look like a guy who 
wants to wear your skin while he talks to Jesus at all...

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The other question mark bordering on an emphatic "NO" is Andy's passel of giggling fairy babies. Sure, it was a hoot to see his fling spurting out offspring while moaning in sexual ecstasy last season, but as I watched his babies become 5 year-olds overnight, I thought, "So what?" This is starting to smack of more random, pointless nonsense a la Terry and the ifrit that takes up time that could be devoted to a more worthwhile plot. Besides a possible reality show about the trials of being the single father of supernatural multiples, I do not see what Andy and his kids have to offer us.

Better start that college fund now, Bellefleur. 
They graduate high school tomorrow.

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All this is time that I'd rather be spending with Pam and Tara. Pam is unquestionably my favorite character on the show. Her lines were most of what kept me coming back for more last season despite bloody naked chicks and the vampire PTA. Seeing her mentor and then smooch Tara made it all worthwhile in the end. I wait with baited breath to see her emotional development this season as we continue to learn about the vulnerable woman beneath the big-haired badass. And with even greater excitement, I anticipate the hilariously deadpan Pam remarks to come.

"Come on, E, smile. I'll make jokes about my sandy cooch again!"

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Where I have to just throw up my hands and wail in frustration is with regard to Alcide's plotline. This show has developed the most unfortunate habit of building up good guys just to knock them down in ways that don't even make sense. First, Bill Compton, he of the strong moral code and eternal yearning to cling to his humanity, suddenly becomes a vampire Dr. Evil who slinks around doing unthinkable deeds on the thinnest of justifications. And now that he's rehabilitated into some semblance of a consistent character, we feast our eyes on the train wreck that they call Alcide Herveaux.

"What do you mean, I'm not a nice guy anymore?
Don't I look like a nice guy?"

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Does anybody remember a time when this guy was a gentle, good-hearted man trying to do right by everyone? Back when he was introduced and he and Sookie started shooting each other considering looks, Alcide struck me as the decent man a gal ought to pick once she's gotten over her hankering for bad boys and decides to settle down. He was the steady, loyal, dependable man, the equivalent of sexy broccoli: he's good for you and you know it, but damn it, sometimes you still want ice cream!

"Don't you wish your broccoli was hot like me?
Don't you wish your man-broccoli was a stud like Alcide?"

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The fact that his romance with Sookie ended before it began due to vomit is upsetting enough. There was so much build-up and then suddenly all prospect of this show that started as a vampire romance actually having romance in it anymore went to Hell. But when Alcide decided to have rough sex with the next trashy wolf babe he met last season and then kicked off this season by having a three-way with his new alpha bitch and a random stray, my eyes could not roll  hard enough.

"Hey, new girl. Pull my finger." 

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Really? Really??? So not only do we still not get Sookie and Alcide together, but now Alcide gets to be just another horny power-hungry douchebag? Do we not have enough of those around already, or is he just trying to fill the void left by Russell Edgington's demise? And would good guy Alcide EVER have traumatized a little girl by beating the crap out of her protectors and dragging her away into the night without at least trying to talk things through? Whatever happened to the guy trying to do right by everyone? One little three-way and suddenly he's too cool to have human decency?

It's disappointing, to say the least. I don't mind a plot that brings out the dark side of a good man, but it needs to be developed properly and it needs to have a point. What's more, we currently have a dearth of decent people on this show. Everybody's innocence is long lost by this point and most folks here seem to err on the side of naughtiness. An uncomplicated Boy Scout is a boring character, but a man of principles who struggles to do right CAN be interesting if he has layers and occasionally makes the wrong decision. What's been done here with Alcide knocks down the last shred of light in Bon Temps and leaves us all struggling around in a maze of dim bulbs.

However, on balance, this season has been a marked improvement over last season. The driving plot is interesting again, and the main characters have stopped their bitching, sulking, and random nonsensical evil and have started to make sense again. I care about almost everything that's going on, and am no longer watching strictly to stare at Alcide shirtless while laughing at Jason and Pam. Still, I want to see the love come back to this show, the emotional connection, and consistent character development. This season seems like its finally correcting True Blood's wayward course. If they can keep on making progress, I may yet find myself becoming a born-again Truebie by the season's end.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Shadow on My Mind- A Short Story

All right, I'm not typically a short story writer, but Neil Gaiman provided a prompt on the Guardian's web site and I just couldn't resist. So here's something I whipped out in under an hour just for the heck of it. I may refine a little in time, but in general, it is exactly what I had in mind. Enjoy!


It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat. Even now, the cat was watching him from across the room as she nonchalantly cleaned her paws, those golden eyes rolling up to inspect him.

Brian glanced toward the crumpled form in the hallway, from which blood crawled along the cracks in the floorboards like lines being drawn on a piece of paper. His head almost sank into his sticky hands before he remembered their state and recoiled, lurching up and going into the bathroom. He devoted fifteen minutes to the obsessive scrubbing of his fingers, soaping up every little crevice in his cuticles before he finally convinced himself that they were clean. Then he braced himself against the counter, palms splayed over its marble surface, and watched the red water spiral down the drain with a faint burbling.

His body jerked and convulsed. He collapsed to his knees beside the toilet and vomited up his eggs and toast, the chicken alfredo he’d had for lunch, and so on, emptying the contents of his stomach until he fancied he'd seen the jar of jelly beans he'd eaten that one time when he was eight go flooding past. Sagging back and propping himself against the bath tub, he tried to calm down and think things through.

It wasn't the murder he was having trouble wrapping his mind around. He regretted killing Jenny and was sickened by his own violence, but that had been coming on all day now, a growing rage that burbled in his stomach and spread through his body in a pulsating need for justice. It was more that the day's revelations still stunned him. He would have never expected his Jenny to be unfaithful. If someone had asked him yesterday, "Would your girl ever cheat on you?", he'd have said no without even pausing to think.

But all of the evidence was there. One bit at a time, he'd discovered it, lying around for him to find like the clues in a detective novel.

First, there'd been the phone number. The thin slip of paper had been next to his shoe this morning, waiting for him as he sipped his coffee and shuffled over to prepare for his jog. "Carlos," it said. "555-4701."

"Who's Carlos?" he'd muttered to Shadow, holding the scrap delicately between his fingers.

The cat went ghosting away, her spine arching as she rubbed against the doorway on her way out and vanished around the corner. If he hadn't know better, he would have sworn that she'd just shrugged.

He'd tried to shrug it off, himself, to go on about his business, but his writer's imagination kept chewing on it. As he bounced along the sidewalk, puffing to a Ramones song with his blood pumping, his mind nagged, "Well, you didn't bring that number into the house. It must have been Jenny.” It's funny though, he couldn't recall her ever mentioning a "Carlos" before.

In his mind's eye, an image began to blossom. It rippled and pulsated into a flowy-haired piece of Latin beefcake fit for the cover of a romance novel. He could hear Carlos' accented voice in his head, his R's rolling hypnotically as he complimented Jenny on her gorrrgeous drrress.

Brian had slowed to bump his ipod to the next song. He was being ridiculous. It was a phone number. It meant nothing.

Calling the number had just made sense. It was the simplest way to put his mind at ease. When he got home, he had picked up his ancient green phone— the one he'd saved from his parents' house when they'd died— and punched the digits into the key pad. He had twisted the phone cord around his fingers while it rang, remembering how he'd once fidgeted the same way as a teenager the first time he'd dialed a girl up to ask for a date.

Someone answered the phone. "Jes?" he had purred.

Brian had stayed quiet and waited.

"Jenny? Is that you? I see your number on the caller ID. Jenny, say something. I know you're upset, but we can work this out. It's not as bad as you think. There's still a way to fix it all! Jenny, it's not your fault, it's—"

The phone had disconnected. Brian's head had jerked around as the silence freed him from the spell of that husky voice. He had caught a glimpse of Shadow slinking across the counter, tail twitching, and frowned.

"You're not allowed to be up here," he had complained, slipping a hand under that soft belly and setting her on the floor.

Offended, she'd gone padding from the room, her tail twitching with irritation

He'd spent the rest of the day with that "Jes" growling through his mind. Going in to meet with his editors had proved to be a bust. He didn't care how the book turned out. He was too busy writing passionate love scenes in his mind, wherein lovely bright-eyed Jenny raked her nails down a rippling back as Carlos moaned, "Jes, jes, jes," into her neck.

He'd known it was insane. He'd almost convinced himself that it was just his overwrought imagination playing tricks on him. But then he'd come home to find a suitcase open on the bed, the bare hangers jangling forlornly on Jenny's side of the closet.

And... And then the e-mail she'd left open on the computer had crushed his will to live. 

Brian's head sank into his hands as he propped his elbows on his knees. He'd always known she was too beautiful for him. Too outgoing and fun for a pasty little nerd whose imaginary friends even found him unbearable at times. He should have seen this coming.

The ringing of the phone made his body spasm, his spine digging into the hard porcelain of the tub as he recoiled. Oh God. It was the police. They knew, knew what he'd done. It was all over. Everything was all over.

Then logic kicked in. “Calm down, Brian,” he chastised himself. “The police do not call you to ask if you've committed any murders lately. They just show up with all the yelling and the guns and the handcuffs.”

That mental image did nothing to calm the wild beating of his heart, so he discarded it, twisting to his feet to go answer the phone.

"Hello?" he heard his voice say into the mouthpiece. His tone was pleasant and relaxed. Brian wondered if that was the sign of a break with reality or if, perhaps, he was merely a sociopath.

"Brian?" The weepy female voice on the other end of the line quavered his name as if it had choked her a little on the way out. "Brian, is that you?"

"Carol Anne?" Oh God. Why would Jenny's sister be calling him now? She knew. She knew!

She couldn't possibly know, though. Brian made himself calm down and listen.

"Yes, it's me," Carol Anne snuffled. "Is Jenny on her way? I don't want to pester her, but Mom keeps asking for her."

Brian glanced towards the hallway, towards staring Jenny and the rippling red lines. "Are... Are you expecting her?"

"Well, yes, didn't you get my message? I left a message on the answering machine an hour ago. Mom slipped in the shower. They think she broke her hip. I know it's not exactly life-threatening, and what with everything Jenny's got going on at work, she can't really afford to drop everything and fly out, but—"

"There's no message!" Brian insisted frantically, staring at the zero on the machine. "Carol Anne, there's no message!"

She snorted. "Well, that's technology for you. I swear, I left a message. Anyhow, listen, tell her if she can't come, I understand. I mean, she's in hot water at work as it is. I'll deal with mom if I have to."

"Hot water?" Brian echoed, seeing bloody rivulets draining down the sink in his mind's eye.

"Oh, yeah, she didn't tell you? She blew a huge deadline. Her whole team got it from the boss man. Carlos still thinks they can fix it, but she's been terrified that it's all over for her."

Brian dropped the phone. Carol Anne's voice faded to the periphery of his mind as he wandered slowly into the living room. In the corner, his screensaver was still whirling and flowing across the screen, hiding those devastating words written next to the pulsing cursor indicating a work in progress. Entranced by the drawing and redrawing of glowing lines, Brian hesitated before nudging the mouse and making them disappear. Then the words manifested, neat black letters that were like arrows to his gut, making him want to shrivel up and weep.

"Brian, I'm sorry. I can't do this anymore."

For a moment, he told himself that this was stupid, that there was nothing to be gained. Still, he leaned down, held the control key, and tapped "Z." Undo, he told his computer.

The deleted text reappeared, filling up the screen with words.

"Brian, I'm sorry. I can't do this anymore. The cat has got to go. I know how you feel about her and I really tried, but even doped up on allergy meds, I can barely breathe at night with her lurking around. And I know I said I didn't care about what she did to my nana's curtains, but it's not just the curtains. It's the leather chair and the guest bed. I can't keep replacing all the furniture, darling, I may not even have a job yet after this week is up. So I am about to fly out to Austin to look after my mom, because she apparently hurt herself and Carol Anne just can't cope, but when I get back, I'd like the cat to be gone. I'm really sorry, darling. I know you'll find her a good home."

Brian straightened slowly, scanning the room until he saw her, licking fastidiously at her paws like a feline Lady Macbeth. One golden eye rolled in his direction. He turned back to the keyboard, sliding a finger along the space between blocks of keys and shaking loose several long black hairs. Picking them up gingerly between his fingers, he turned back to stare at Shadow.

Sirens. There were sirens coming closer now. Someone must've heard the commotion after all. Brian slumped down into his desk chair, staring at his cat, and waited.

Maybe it was just his overwrought imagination again, but she looked smug to him. Like she was gloating. And right before the police broke down his door, she met his eyes, and the flash of her white teeth almost looked like a smile.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The High Cost of Prose: a Mini-Blog

You know, I had a pretty sound strategy as to how I was going to resolve my current work-in-progress. Because the final plot twist was, in some ways, a bit too neat, I figured that I had to make the tension that came before it as messy as possible. That way, the reader would be so relieved, they'd forgive me a bit of convenience in the climax. But as I write the pain, the hopelessness, and the heartbreak that comes before the moment of truth, I am regretting this strategy. One cannot write characters for this long without loving them and becoming invested in their happiness. From the moment I started ripping Flynn and Em's lives apart and sending them spiraling into disaster, I felt my guts churning with horror. There is a high price to pay to write the right words, and to do it with feeling. But hopefully, it all pays off in the end.

Original image found here.