They’re Not Your Friends

Jealous Bitchery in the YA “Book Community”

Like many of us this past weekend, I watched the shitstorm go down when new YA author Amélie Wen Zhao decided to pull her debut novel Blood Heir from publication, the first in a three-part series for which she received a six figure deal from Delacorte, after being accused on Twitter for her book’s “problematic” content. The alleged offending material depicted in her novel’s fantasy universe included the concept that oppression can be colorblind, a scene of a slave auction in which a “tawny skinned” character dies in order to advance the plot, a line lifted from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, and getting a few Russian names messed up. To read in detail how it all went down, it’s best to start HERE.

Blood Heir was slated to be released this June, but after advanced reader copies were scrutinized for “problematic” content by a bunch of literary Carrie Nations looking for anything challenging their very narrow scope of what’s appropriate, the tempest in a teapot started brewing. What’s shocking about the allegations (and they were nasty, one tweet referring to Wen Zhao as “a racist-ass writer”) is that these came from other YA writers. That’s right, her own competitors. What started as a “whisper campaign” exploded when the author wrote a classy statement explaining her decision to pull her book from publication due to the outrage.

Once the story reached the mainstream press with the Guardian and the New York Times writing stories, the Twitter boards blew up, and a very toxic “community” was exposed. This isn’t the first time a few loudmouths shouted down an author whose work didn’t measure up to their standards of acceptability, a moving target of mostly minority and LGTBQ fairness issues. Perhaps the author, a Chinese immigrant picked from a publishers’ call seeking “own voices” narratives, tried to get too creative with her retelling of the Russian Anatasia story. By coloring outside the lines, she offended the YA content police, the loudest of whom just happen to be YA authors themselves. Of course they claim they are protecting the children from hurtful narratives. Isn’t that their parents’ jobs? Sounds like the only thing they were protecting were their own self-interests.

Regarding social media, Wen Zhao advised to “Set out with good intentions. Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.”

That was her first mistakes. Writing is a solo act. It’s rare to find a truly supportive community, and one certainly isn’t going to find it on Twitter, especially in this YA cesspool of paranoia and neuroses. One tweeter offered “hugs” to Wen Zhao as a compensation for the loss of her six figure publishing deal. Others assured outraged free-thinkers entering the fray that once Wen Zhao vowed to “do better” and “to learn” she would be back and they would all cheer her on. Sounds like classic deprogramming to me. The think-speak is so convoluted one of the original accusers (formerly accused herself for a previous transgression) called Wen Zhao tone-deaf then apologized in case any hearing impaired people were offended by her tweet. She didn’t want to be seen as “ableist”, another charged leveled at the author for having only one character using a cane. You can’t make this shit up.

For a much needed voice of reason in all of this, check out BookTuber, Francina Simone’s response.

I’m hoping that Wen Zhao has an ace up her sleeve, that this is all some awesome publicity stunt. Since the story went down a few days ago, people have been fighting it out on Twitter while the original accusers’ pages have gone dark so they can presumably do some self-care in the wake of the Twitter storm now being turned toward them.

The stories and characters may change (or not, what’s with all these retellings anyway?), but jealous bitchery is one trope that always rings true.


My Favorite Virgos Part II

Sexy Earthy Women

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It took me a long time to accept my Virgo birth sign. I remember wishing if only my mother had scheduled that C-section a few days earlier and I could have an outgoing Leo personality instead of this shy, bookish Virgo one. But then I happened upon this photo of Sophia Loren and I felt instantly better about being an earth woman.

Let’s take a look at some truly sexy women, who just so happen to be Virgos. Continue reading “My Favorite Virgos Part II”

A Year of Writing Dangerously

As another birthday roles around this August (Virgo,not Leo) and I do my habitual yearly self-assessment, I observe the following: I got healthier (sobriety, meditation, diet & exercise do work), learned to filter out (some) lingering negativity in my life (about time, eh?), grew out my natural hair color for the third time, read 78 books, started a BookTube channel, helped to organize a local arts festival, and wrote like the dickens (not Charles, unfortunately).

My production for the year included: three novels in a YA series, one novella, a good rough draft of one novel and the start of another, a bunch of poems, five short stories, and nearly weekly blog posts. I also quit Facebook, got back on recently then promptly quit again, and spent a lot of time alone in nature. Through all of the ups and downs, self-recriminations, broken sobriety dates, and moments of quiet (at times despairing) contemplation, I wrote. I may have skipped my exercise date, but never my morning writing session.

I owe a lot of my prolificacy to Wattpad. I joined the site just a year ago and the interaction and feedback I encountered there really spurred on my productivity.

Continue reading “A Year of Writing Dangerously”

Anatomy of a Sequence

The Exorcist

The Exorcist’s opening Iraq sequence is a masterclass in visual metaphors. By using only images and sound (the brief dialogue is in Arabic), a portending evil is introduced.

The scenes taking place in an ancient arid land (you can feel the heat) slowly lull the viewer into a hypnotic trance with its stark imagery. These symbols remain in the viewer’s subconscious and are called back in later scenes: the black cloaked women in the Iraq street scene and the white cloaked nuns in the Georgetown street scene, the demon face of the women in the carriage and “old altar boy” bum in the subway, animal images and sounds, all adding layers of complexity that the viewer absorbs and feels, but perhaps doesn’t consciously understand.

Many films today would forgo this prequel setup as being ‘too slow,’ but by taking its time and showing the ancient roots of the Pazuzu, demon of the wind, and the sense that Father Merrin has dealt with its evil before, the film gains more gravity and deep symbolic meaning that lingers in the viewer’s subconscious long after the shock values of the spinning head and silly spider-walk wear off.

Often this sequence is forgotten about by the viewer when they recall the film; but the symbols are planted, priming the mind to receive the rich and layered storytelling of a film that has stood the test of time for a reason.

A blood red sky shines down on the archeological site of an ancient spiritual temple ruins.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 8.28.08 AM Continue reading “Anatomy of a Sequence”

Great Villains Part Three

Psycho Bitches – The Borderline

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I won’t be ignored, Dan!

The best depiction of a borderline personality disordered individual ever committed to screen is Glenn Close’s Alex in Fatal Attraction. This Cluster B disorder (of which women are most afflicted) is marked by poor boundaries, impulsivity, and a violent reaction to any real or perceived rejection. At first these seductive femme fatales appeal to a man’s fantasy of the no-strings attached hot affair. The borderline’s lack of boundaries and amorality are a turn-on in the bedroom, but when the man tries to return, sated, to his wife or move on to a more appropriate girl (as in the case of Mormon boy, Travis Alexander), the borderline psycho bitch just won’t let go. She may, as in the case of Jodi Arias, at first subject herself to her lover’s diminishing returns and lack of respect (he famously referred to her as his three-hole wonder), but a girl can only take so much abuse. Her already dangerously damaged ego lies coiled like a cobra ready to strike. She shows up at his house looking cute and breezy—I drove from California to Arizona, but I just happen to be in town. He lets her in—hey, what’s one more lay? I can get her out of here in time for my trip with my new “virginal” girlfriend. Sorry lover. While you were showering off her stank, petite Jodi struck, and struck hard.

Continue reading “Great Villains Part Three”

Great Villains Part Two

The Charming Psychopath

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The Many Faces of Tom Ripley

In the 1999 Anthony Mingella film The Talented Mr. Ripley, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Marge (much frumpier in the book) knows something’s up with her missing boyfriend, Dickie Greenleaf’s weird friend Tom Ripley. But her Cassandra like prophesies are pooh-poohed as (hormonal) women’s intuition, but she knows. She knows!

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Don’t be fooled by that boyish grin.

While the Covert Narcissist must depend on the kindness of codependents (like a vulture circling wounded prey), the Charming Psychopath’s hunting grounds are much higher on the food chain, and therefore he must be in top form. Like an Olympic athlete training for the event, he prepares his body, tastes, voice, and mannerisms to blend in, ingratiate, and win at all costs. His weapons are flattery, acquiescence, sympathy and understanding. He is an expert at infiltrating, blending in, acting the part of the supportive friend, and then suddenly you realize (too late!) that you’ve let a shark in the pool. Continue reading “Great Villains Part Two”

Great Villains Part One

The Covert Narcissist

When your knight in shining armor slowly changes into an Orc (you never saw it coming) you may be dealing with a covert narcissist. We can all see those bombastic braggadocios of the classic narcissist blaring their horns from a mile away, but the subtle ones who appear so shy, so harmless, so needy…Ah! Beware those sneaky bastards.

They inflict abuse by establishing a honeymoon period of  love bombing, mirroring back your every wish and desire—at last someone sees the real you and gives you the validation you crave—followed by a slow period of devaluation: withdrawal of affection, radio silence on your accomplishments, poison darts of thinly veiled hostility, silent but deadly farts of disapproval. You become crazy and they become stronger, their narcissistic supply tanks filled while you are left drained and confused. If you have the misfortune of having one of these in your life, the best recourse is to run as far away as possible. The problem is that by the time (sometimes years, even decades) you’ve realized you’ve been slowly cooked over a rotating spit of negativity, they’ve infiltrated your friend group and perhaps your bank accounts and you’ve been drained of all your juice. But as long as you’re able to get away and recharge, there is hope.

There are many examples of the gaslighting psychopath in film and literature. Here’s one of my favorites (whoever made this video is a genius by the way):

Charles Boyer is portrayed as a more overt villain in the classic Gaslight, even if poor Ingrid Bergman is the last one to know.

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Darling, you’re losing your mind.

Continue reading “Great Villains Part One”

The Horror of Aging

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I’ve Had Those Moments

As a woman in my mid-fifties, I’ve experienced the horror expressed in this classic moment of cinematic grand dame guignol. I started a YouTube channel recently, and I admit to spending as much time on my make-up, hair, and flattering lighting as I do my “content.” Like many Virgos, I’m vain. I can relate to that famous literary Virgo, Blanche DuBois, who once bemoaned about the “hard knocks my vanity has taken,” and she was only in her thirties at the time.

Vivien Leigh still looks damn good under the bare light bulb. My God, Tennessee Williams was a genius. Check in time at the Tarantula Arms. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Continue reading “The Horror of Aging”

Smutty Sundays

Reading Richard Laymon

Back in the 1970’s, my cousin and his wife lived in a run-down trailer in a rural part of the upper county where I would sometimes babysit their kids. My cousin’s wife, a dead ringer for Michelle Pfeiffer with enviable Farrah hair, loved to read, her taste leaning toward the sleaziest horror and true crime books. I spent many hours poring through her stack of paperbacks that included tales of killer kidnappings, rape scenes involving hapless pregnant hitchhikers in vast Oregon landscapes, a teenage mom whose baby was eaten by the family dog, and a fictional work (I can only hope) involving incest that was too grammatically challenged for even my thirteen-year-old sensibilities.

One memorable babysitting episode involved me reading some trashy “novel” while my cousin’s hound dog gave birth to a litter in the chair next to me, forcing me to put down the book about a family changed into demons inside a grain silo (if anyone remembers the title I’ll be eternally grateful) and play doggie midwife. Those babysitting nights alone in the trailer seeped into my nightmares and gave me a sleazy thrill, like the times I’d stay too late at the drive-in when “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was the feature presentation, and the really creepy stuff would play after midnight. There were no trigger warnings in the 1970’s, and thus Trip With The Teacher became unfortunately seared into my teenage memory.

Reading Richard Laymon  (this is my second time at the rodeo) gets me back in touch with that sick part of me that enjoys reading trash, but it also reminds me where to draw the line. I read The Cellar a few months ago, and as much as I love paperbacks from hell, the scenes from the rapist’s POV made me swear off Richard Laymon for good. But when my YouTube buddy, Peter Monn, included Laymon’s Endless Night in his popular Peter’s Book Club, I decided to give the prince of sleaze another try.

The book starts out good and scary when nubile (of course) teenager Jody’s sleepover at a friend’s house is interrupted by a crew of killers, known as the Krull, who break into the house wearing previous victims’ skins and start massacring everyone in sight. After Jody and her friend’s kid brother, Andy, manage to escape the Krull crew in a heart-stopping chase scene, the POV switches to one of the killer’s and that’s when Laymon really finds his writer’s “voice.” What follows are graphic descriptions of rapes and murders with a disturbing emphasis on the teenage victims’ suffering and lingerie. The word “panties” appears in the text a bit too often for comfort. Nipples run a close second.

I love a good, sleazy scare as much as the next horror hound, but there is something about Laymon’s work that goes too far, which is probably why he has such a loyal following.

I suppose his work gives a certain cheap thrill; I can’t say I’m a fan. Still, for the remains of this Sunday afternoon I’m reading The Endless Night till the bitter end. Then I’m taking a bath.

Postscript: I finished the book. The climax (hate to use that word) was even sleazier than I anticipated. I think I’ll pass on this author from now on.

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Rub-a-Dub-Dub-Dub, a knife in the tube.

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