Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Amazing Representation, Brought to You by... Network Television?

So, normally when I talk about a show or a movie or a book or what have you, I try to keep it to sci-fi or fantasy. Maybe horror, paranormal, wuxia, bizarro. That’s for hopefully pretty obvious reasons. I’ll never deny the power that sci-fi and fantasy has to bring people together (Perhaps I’ll go in depth on that at a later date.).

But not today. As much as I’m for SF/F, I’m also for diversity a hundred times more. With my work, that tends to cover sexual diversity, gender diversity, and ethnic diversity more than anything else. That’s my schtick, so to speak, and it’s important, and there’s a lot of room to work with in there. But there’s so much more that can be done than that. There’s religious diversity and socioeconomic diversity. But I’ve even touch on that. A lot of people have.

I want to talk about something I’ve never seen anybody have (Pardon my French) the BALLS to cover before. I certainly don’t have them. I’m sure it’s been done, but I would bet not often. And I have to hand it to Jenna Bans for not only taking this plunge, but for hitting it out of the fucking stratosphere.

I want to talk about The Family. So, if you haven’t seen it or haven’t caught up, this is your warning: Spoilers. All the spoilers. Well, maybe not all of them, but definitely spoilers. So… turn back now if you don’t want any, basically.

(And seriously, you really should watch this show. Because fucking Christ on a bike is it a head trip.)

All right, so if you’re here I’m just going to assume you’ve seen it or you don’t care if the show gets spoiled. I take no further responsibility. If you have seen the show, you can probably figure out where I’m going already: Hank Asher. He’s easily the most likable (Read: only likable) character in the entire show. He’s the moral center of the whole program.

He’s also a pedophile. And before you run for the hills, I want you to note that A: I didn’t say child molester and B: there’s a difference. There is a child molester in this show. That’s Doug Anderson, the man who kidnapped the boy who’s the center of the entire plot and kept him locked up to molest him at his leisure (Did I mention the adult themes in this show? No? Oh… well, there are adult themes.).

But Hank Asher is a pedophile. He doesn’t molest children. He’s attracted to them, and the entire show, you see him fighting against his urges at every last second. He admits to kidnapping a boy and gets sent to prison, because he knows he won’t be able to hurt anyone there. He voluntarily receives hormone injections to curb his desires. He’d rather not feel any arousal than risk doing something he knows is wrong. And sure, he has some genuinely creepy moments. He has a box of children’s toys under his bed. But you see how he got at least one of them, and can extrapolate that it’s how he got all of them. A boy left it behind. He never touched the boy, but he kept that one thing… and that’s as illegal as it gets. Technically, I think that’s theft, but it’s really just an accident that happens sometimes.

Hank Asher knows he has these urges, but he works to protect children… from himself. At least once, he attempts suicide, because that's the most complete solution to the problem. A boy comes to see his mother, a piano teacher, and he refuses to open the door. He tells another boy that he can’t come over there anymore. And in the finale, we see a brilliant scene. He almost does give in. We’ve all been there with something we know is not right, although I’m guessing to a lesser degree for most people. A twelve year old boy asks for a ride home after he takes a bad crash on his skateboard. Hank tries to resist, but he ends up giving in… and giving a false name. As the viewer, your heart just jumps up into your throat. You’ve watched him resist and fight the entire season, and he’s skirting so close to it, now. He’s missed his latest hormone injection. He’s capable of this, and his desires are back.

And you cut to them in front of the boy’s house. He’s given him a ride home, and he’s obviously having some issues. He’s saying more and more insistently that the boy needs to get out of the car. Starts yelling. The door is sticking. Tension is building. Hank’s just not holding it together, and all you can think is “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

And he reaches across and opens the door for the boy, yells at him to get out. And that’s it. He stays in control. And I don’t think that’s a narrative we see often enough. Whether or not you like the plot, I think The Family is worth watching just for the character study that is Hank Asher. You initially think he’s super-creepy, but it’s not long before you start really feeling sorry for him. And then you start siding with him, out of everyone on the show. By the end, he was the character I was most invested in.

While this family is dealing with stupid shit, like the upcoming election, or an affair, Hank’s the only one who notices that their son is sneaking out in the middle of the night. And it gives you one of my second favorite lines from this whole show. “Your head’s so buried in the sand, you need the friendly neighborhood pedophile to come over and tell you that you should be a better mother and keep an eye on your son.” And he tells this family even after they filed a restraining order against him, and have just generally been vile people. After it came out that Hank Asher didn’t even commit the crime in the first place.

But I think my favorite bit is what really sums up why I love this show so much, and more specifically the way Hank Asher is handled. If I could track down a clip, I’d put it here. I’ll link the whole episode if you’re interested. Just jump to 28:48. But I’ll transcribe the important little bit (It’s of note that John is the boy’s father.).

Hank: Have you ever wanted to have sex with a woman who didn’t want to have sex with you?
John: That’s rape.
Hank: Yes.
John: That’s wrong.
Hank: Yes.
John: I’d never do it.
Hank: Neither would I.

That’s why this show wins, in my opinion. In our society, we conflate child molesters with pedophiles. And yes, this is a touchy subject, but that’s why it doesn’t get talked about, and that’s why I can’t do anything but commend this show for the way it handled Hank. It’s a big fuck you to the way things “Should be.” It said, “We’re going to make you like this pedophile way more than the rest of the people on this show.” And then it delivered.

If you want to see a character done right, I can’t recommend The Family enough. And you can watch the whole run of the show for free (And legally.) on ABC’s website. So yay!


Voss

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Release: The Elf's Apprentice by Frances Pauli

She's back again! You all know by now how much I love Frances Pauli's books. Well, there's another one to add to my shelf, and maybe you'l add it to yours too: The Elf's Apprentice. Book One of the Love and Magic Series. I got the privilege to read this one early, and it's an incredible book.



A sorcerer, a rebel, and a whole kingdom under fire...

As the sorcerer's new apprentice, Kia's fiery temper is bound to get her into hot water. Evander is obnoxious, arrogant, intolerable, and undeniably the most beautiful elf alive. Even if she passes his relentless testing, working at his side just might kill her. 

Worse, her master has powerful enemies inside the palace. When their attacks turn personal, the sorcerer's apprentice becomes the perfect bait in a deadly trap set to destroy the man who has become far more than just her boss. 

Two lost souls must defend their world, but even if they save the kingdom, they risk losing each other forever.


Excerpt:
"That's a human," he said. "You're getting desperate."

"She's very good. The best I've seen yet." Lyssia's tone brooked no argument. She got one, just the same.

"And you're the expert on apprentices, I suppose. Perhaps you should stay up here and do my work, and I'll attend to your throne?"

"I am not unskilled, you'll remember."

"And I'm no diplomat." Evander sniffed and stepped away from the wall.

Kia forgot for a moment that they were debating her. The elf sorcerer moved like honey flowing. Each gesture was measured, considered, and then executed with the typical elvin grace, but melded with the deliberate intellect of a master sorcerer. He peered around Lyssia at her, and his eyes held her entranced, frozen as if they truly could cast her in ice.

"I don't need an apprentice," he said.

Kia felt the rejection like a slap that time. This room, this opportunity dangled in front of her, and he meant to snatch it away again without even giving her a chance to try for it.

"Yes you do," Lyssia said. "If for no other reason than to manage this disaster."

"What disaster?" Evander released Kia from the grip of his attention and turned the full chill of his mood on the princess. "This room is exactly in the order I prefer it."

"That book is on fire."

"What?" He spun that time, lost a fraction of his composure in the realization that one of his braziers had, in fact, caught a book on fire. His arms waved in an arc. The sleeves of the heavy red robe he wore billowed, and the flames died. A single line of smoke rippled up to the rafters. "Bother."

"You see?" Lyssia crossed her arms again and winked at Kia over her shoulder.

As if they'd won, Kia thought, but she very much doubted that they had. The way she saw it, they'd only irritated the beast.

"You bring me imbeciles," Evander complained. He kept his back to them now, as if they weren't worth noting, and he moved to the nearest table and adjusted a stack of papers. "Idiots. I can't work with them."

"You haven't even tried."

"What? This one? What does it matter? The last seven were morons. Why should this one be any better?"

"You will test her." Lyssia's tone shifted now. He'd pissed her off good, and Kia held in place when the princess marched toward the sorcerer. "You'll do it, Evander, or I'll schedule a full month of diplomatic dinners."

"You wouldn't." He stopped fiddling with the papers and stared up at the wafting smoke.

"Try me." Lyssia stood taller and stuck out her chin.

They left Kia to herself, standing alone inside the door, forgotten except as a topic for their argument. She was unwanted, invisible, and he'd never, ever let her work here.

"She probably can't even cast a column of fire."

"You are the most difficult man..."

Kia focused on the slate tiles in the center of the room. Don't speak unless addressed, Lyssia had said. Well, Evander was not about to address her, and casting magic wasn't exactly speaking. She drew the symbols in her mind, pulled the ambient magic out of the ether and felt the full weight of the room's history in that flow. Sparky wild magic with a mind of its own.

It tasted of him, of charcoal and orneriness.

She drew the power into her skin, molded it with her intent backed by the magic of the sigils she'd selected. Then, she threw it outward, anchoring the package with a final symbol, to a tile in the middle of the floor.

Flame lifted from the square of stone. It rippled upward. An eruption of fire rising in a dense, dancing column. It burned under her command and made a pillar seven feet high before flickering back on itself like a fountain. Kia held the spell, kept the fire alive and waited for anyone to notice what she'd done.

"....perfectly capable of maintaining my own affairs. What is that?"

It didn't take long.

"I believe it's a column of fire," Lyssia answered. She put a little triumph in her voice, but the look she cast at Kia held a warning.

Be still, it said. Don't push your luck.

"Barely." Evander sniffed, pulled himself out of his argument with Lyssia, and focused instead on Kia. The eyes. This time when they found her they had a darker edge. "So the monkey can do a trick, I see."

Kia held the spell together, but only just. The flames at the top shot a few sparks, sputtered as if a gust of wind had snatched at them. Evander seized up that weakness. He meant to force her to lose concentration, to distract her into failure. But at least he was actually testing her now.

"Can your pet manipulate it?" He still didn't address her directly either. He kept his words for Lyssia, but he unleashed a fully self-satisfied smile upon Kia. "Can she change its form?"

Kia focused. She ignored the sorcerer, even when he stalked closer to her. The column tried to resist her, and she couldn't help but suspect his hand in that. Still, she drew the lines in her mind, imagined the form she wanted, and pressed her full desire to succeed into the weaving.

The column shifted. It branched and flowered, transforming into a burning tree in full bloom.

Evander harrumphed and stepped directly in front of her. He leaned in, and her view of the column was replaced by a fall of white hair and a pair of eyes that darkened like gems, glinting, daring her to keep going.

"Make it taller."

Kia stretched the tree another three feet.

"Now shorter."

She cut it down to half size.

"Hotter," he said.

Kia sucked in a breath and stared directly into the blue of his eyes. The fire tree blazed white hot, but Evander didn't even turn to look.

"Passable." His lips moved like honey too, making soft graceful lines. "Now make it fly."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

All Aboard Flight 442 to Way-Too-Deep-Ville

I’m going to open up to you. I feel like I can trust you. You have a kind face (Flashbacks to the episode of I Love Lucy where they do “Slowly I Turn…”).

But in all seriousness: if you don’t want to get a little deep, go ahead and move on to one of my old blog posts, or one of my books. Or watch a cat on Youtube. Because today, I want to talk about the Depression, the Unfriendly Ghost (Note to self: write a children’s book about depression, maybe… probably not. But think about it.).

Okay, if you’ve made it this far, I figure you’ve made your choice and you understand what you’re getting yourself into. If at any point you wish to evacuate, emergency exits are located toward the back of the plane. I think we stocked the parachutes back up after last time. I take no responsibility if not.

Right. Putting it off. Well, it’s not fun to talk about. But I think it’s important. Especially if we run on the assumption that a writer will have some things in common with their readers, I feel like I have to say something. And I have to say something for myself. I like to be honest with you guys, and it’s time to unload a double-barreled shotgun full of honesty.

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since I was in middle school. It wasn’t because of some singular traumatic event or anything like that. It rarely is, at least as far as the people I’ve talked to. Not to say never. I don’t discount anyone’s experience with this kind of thing, because that’s annoying as fuck and totally not my place.

But yeah. I’ve dealt with these issues for quite some time, now. And you learn how to work around them in a lot of ways. I wasn’t always so good at it, obviously. I still have cutting scars on my wrists, though they’re mostly faded. It’s been a while, which is its own victory, for me.

The thoughts don’t go away. I’d like to be able to tell you that I haven’t considered self-harm in years. That would make me feel more accomplished. And up until a few weeks ago, I could have said exactly that. But it snuck up on me. That’s what no one tells you about depression. It sneaks up on you. If you could see it coming, you could maybe try to head it off at the pass. It probably wouldn’t work, but you could try (I should note, though, this is only my experience. It could very well be different for someone else.).

I don’t know if it was before Norwescon, during Norwescon, or after Norwescon. What I do remember is feeling really edgy when I was actually at the con. It was toward the end of the con, so I figured it was just me dealing with way too many people without a break. Which I went in expecting. And I was away from home longer thanks to the weather (Had to go over the Cascade Mountains to get between there and here, and it snowed. Like, it snowed a foot in a few hours.).

The very first thing I did when I got back home was completely clean my room. Clear off the floor, wash all my bedding. Make it look nice and neat and comfortable. And then I holed up in there for three weeks without even realizing it

If you’ve been through depression, you might very well be nodding your head. It’s not an uncommon story. It’s hard to do anything when you’re in the middle of it, even just getting up and leaving the room. I did it to eat and that’s about it. I didn’t even work during that span. I couldn’t. I watched Youtube videos for hours, slept a lot… and that was all. That is one good luxury of working from home. I was able to. I don’t know if it was helpful or harmful, mind you. Maybe if I had to get up and go to work, it would have been better. Or it would have been worse. I can’t say. That’s not how things went.

So about the three week mark, I realized it had been three weeks, and that I hadn’t actually seen, like, sunlight, in that long. Certainly not people. I wasn’t online. I just… wasn’t. And it’s one of the scariest things when you know that you’re feeling this way, and you know that it’s entirely irrational, but you can’t stop it. Because that’s what happens. You’re fully aware that this is ridiculous and without cause, but it still sits on your chest so you can’t get out from under it.

Even after I realized what was happening, it’s taken me several more weeks to fully pull myself free from the Swamp of Sadness (Stupid horse…). Part of that’s because some things just really have fallen badly (Found a tumor on the dog, for one.), and part of it’s because I was so damned deep into it again, without even realizing it. It’s super easy to fall into a hole. It’s a lot harder to scrabble your way out.

Why share what is objectively not a happy story? It’s not for sympathy or anything like that. I wanted to put it out there, because I think that sometimes, we need to know that other people are going through it, too. I think that’s one of the most comforting things that can happen. Knowing that you’re not the only one who has to decipher this mess. And you can know it intellectually, look at the statistics and everything, but maybe one thing that a specific person says will actually click. Maybe me. Maybe Chuck Wendig. Maybe someone else. Maybe not an author, but a celebrity. Maybe a blogger with one follower who you’ll never read again. But they aid exactly what you needed to hear to know that you aren’t alone.

It helps, it really does. And while I don’t assume that I’m going to be that one for anyone out there, if there’s a chance that I might? I can’t sit here and not talk about it. Because depression is a real problem, no matter what anyone else thinks. It’s not a matter of just cheering or just doing something. It’s pulling teeth until you get yourself out of it, and maybe you don’t. That’s the worst part, always, is “Maybe you don’t.” or your friend doesn’t. Or your favorite cousin. Your aunt. Your father. Whoever. It’s scary. Depression is scary. It’s not frightening or terrifying or any of that. It’s baseline, down deep in the core of you, scary. No better word for it in my opinion. Just scary. No pretenses or trying to filter it or gussy it up.

It’s scary, and I get it, and if you do happen to be reading this and you’re there right now, I hope it helps. And I hope you can wriggle away from it. And I hope you have someone to talk to, when you’re ready for that. And if not, talk to me. I’ll answer.

Deepness is over and the plane is landing. So tata for now.

Voss