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.