Character Study: Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

Dumbledore-Portrait-albus-dumbledore-2477491-593-582People have turned on Dumbledore, you guys. Since books six and seven of the Harry Potter series were released, articles and comments have gone from describing him as a lovable kook with serious skills, to an evil mastermind raising Harry for the slaughter like veal. I was recently reading the comments section on an article in which people were tearing apart every move he made, from sending Harry to the Dursleys to taking him horcrux hunting. These same commenters described Dumbledore as an irredeemable plotter even while calling him an author’s pet.

This got me thinking, what would Harry’s life have been like if Dumbledore had never become involved? I’m going to do a little inferring, and it’s bound to be riddled with spoilers. You have been warned.

Continue reading


Things That Are Black (Other Than Onyx)

tumblr_mijn3i34Uh1r1z303o1_500Okay, so I know I’ve basically been the worst blogger ever just reading book after book and not reviewing any of them. I’m sorry. I apologize. This probably will not change significantly in the future, so don’t get disappointed with more of the same. Forewarned is forearmed.

This is not a review either. What it will be is a list of things that are black, because I have begun reading an extremely popular fantasy series (with an associated premium cable show) in which every black thing is “black as onyx.” THERE ARE OTHER BLACK THINGS, author! Promise.

1. A crow’s wing.

2. A lawyer’s/banker’s/politician’s heart

3. Coal

4. Midnight at new moon

5. Pitch/tarJWA0021302023801_1

6. Melanoma

7. Marble

8. A miner’s lungs

9. Sorrow (figuratively speaking. Which writers do, you know.)

10. A raven’s eye

11. Obsidian

12. Oil (bonus points if something is as black and crude as oil)

13. An orca’s hide

14. Carbon

15. An eel

16. Squid ink

17. A hanged man’s tongue (I know that’s super gross, but sometime’s that’s called for!)¬†XXX_8564_1353208437_1

18. A sea urchin

19. A scorpion

20. Soot

21. Iron

22. Shadow

23. Cersei’s virtue

What other black things can you think of? The more unexpected the better! Tell me in the comments ūüôā

Character Study: Merits of a Maligned Mermaid

Lately I have been watching Disney movies while baby-sitting a ten-month-old and, because he can’t talk yet, I get plenty of time to think about them while stacking block towers and blowing raspberries on his feet. I’ve decided to start a series of Character Study entries based on these thoughts, and my first musing is:

Belle is not a cooler, better, or stronger princess/female character than Ariel.

Hashtag drop the mic.

Hashtag pick it back up. I have to explain why.

Stuff People Say About Ariel 

1. She’s selfish

Uh, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl. They’re all selfish. Even a not-so-selfish one is selfish by non-teenage human standards. Ariel failed to show up for an extracurricular activity organized by her father because she was immersed in her hobby.

For comparison: Belle refused to eat until the middle of the night, then only took a fingerful of gray stuff from the feast the entire castle staff prepared for her while performing a musical number!¬†Merida pestered her mother about whether or not she’d have to get married while her mother writhed in pain, possibly poisoned by Merida herself.¬†Snow White broke into someone else’s house and slept in ALL their beds at once!

2. She left her loving father to make a deal with a witch in hopes of snagging a boy she’d just met

First, she’s still a sixteen-year-old girl. A lot of sixteen-year-old girls do dumb stuff for boys. Even without considering that factor, what Ariel did is still pretty understandable:

Fact 1: From the first scenes of the movie, long before she spots Prince Eric, we know that Ariel is an explorer at heart who desperately wants to check out the world of landlubbers. She sings a whole song about it.


Fact 2: Her father comes into her room and, in a rage, destroys all of the possessions she’s spent years collecting (and takes great pride in)

Up until then, Ariel was just fantasizing about her crush.

Fact 3: Ariel runs away and accepts the only help offered.

That “help” happens to come from a sea witch. Ariel’s a teenage girl fresh off a fight with her father and having her prized possessions destroyed in front of her, meaning she’s not in the clearest state of mind, and she’s being offered the fulfillment of her greatest dream. Maybe her choice isn’t the smartest or most logical, but it just makes her more real as a character. To her credit, she does worry about never seeing her father or sisters again but has confidence in her ability to get a smooch from Eric.

Belle offers herself as a prisoner to secure her father’s freedom, but in doing so she gets to leave a town she hates and fulfill her literary fantasies while wearing fabulous gowns and singing with the furniture.

3. She’s a hipster


Okay, maybe this is a meme and people don’t really mean it about movie-Ariel, but can I just point out that Belle’s whole first song is about how her town is full of friendly assholes baking bread and saying hello every morning and she’s so over it?


Seriously. She calls them “little people.” Condescending much? She escapes that “provincial life” to live in an isolated castle with a temperamental prince and a bunch of servants, which doesn’t seem like an improvement unless one is a snob.

Stuff People Don’t Say About Ariel (But Should)

1. She’s brave

As mentioned before, Ariel is an explorer with a streak of the adrenaline-junkie. She snatches treasure out from under sharks, she leaves behind the comfort and familiarity of everything she’s known for a shot at her dreams, and she’s a daredevil at the reins of a carriage. Belle might read, but Ariel gets out into the world to see and experience things for herself much like a popular princess in recent years, Rapunzel.


2. Ariel has friends

Belle doesn’t. At the beginning of Ariel’s movie, she has Flounder and Scuttle (Sebastian is more of a handler than a friend.) Even when she can’t speak, she charms everyone she meets with her enthusiasm and curiosity. Belle is admired for her beauty but thought to be strange, and she probably doesn’t help matters by being so judgey about the townsfolk. The servants at the castle are anxious to hook Belle up with the prince for their own salvation, so I wouldn’t count any of them as friends with perhaps the exception of Chip.

3. Ariel actually has a lot in common with the guy she marries

Eric and Ariel are both brave, friendly, adventurous, musical, love the sea, and will risk their lives to save someone they care about. Compare that to Belle and Prince Adam, who are both…good dancers? Adam has a lot of books in his library, but I’m guessing by the way it was closed up until he gave it to Belle that he wasn’t reading too many of them himself. Prince Adam was tasked with getting someone to love him because he was a jerk to an old woman, and with a lot of assists from animate objects he manages to marry the most beautiful girl around. What will he act like when she gets old?

4. Ariel has agency

At every turn, Ariel is the engine that drives her story. She discovers her dream guy while out exploring, she saves his life, she makes the deal with Ursula, she tracks down said dream guy and does a darn good job of wooing him without being able to speak. When her dream guy falls victim to a spell himself, she doesn’t give up. She swims all the way out to his wedding ship, even though she doesn’t know how to swim with legs, on the off-chance that she can save him from marrying an evil witch. When the witch turns her father into seaweed and steals his throne, she urges Eric to save himself and distracts Ursula while Eric takes her down. Ariel is not passive or reactive.

In conclusion: you call Ariel selfish, I answer


Character Study: Don Draper and Walter White

I’ve heard a lot of bellyaching (and accusations) that America has no culture. Sure we do! We’ve got Disney and Pixar, the American Revolution, the Gettysburg Address, McDonalds and Wal-Mart, and absolutely everyone no matter from whence they are extracted has

The American Dream



What is it? Well you’re gonna pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get a job sweeping floors or frying potatoes and in a decade or so that hard work will pay off and you’ll move up and up into middle management where you can afford to buy your own house and keep your own spouse. There will be kids. There might even be a dog.

If you’re a real success, you just might get rich. You might become a legend. You’d be the best American Dreamer of all.

Let’s put aside all of the ways this dream¬†might not be as attainable for some as for others, and look at the tall tales of two white men with more privilege than they can bear who are suffering at the hands of their American Dreams.

Don Draper and Walter White.


Don Draper, main character of Mad Men, was lacking privilege in only one way. He was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant with good looks to spare, but he was also a dirt-poor orphan. To erase this blemish, this class-based scar that could prevent his attainment of the dream, he stole someone’s identity. Like you do. No big deal. Then he worked pretty darn hard, for awhile. Schemed his way into a flashy job with serious possibilities for upward mobility. He had learned of the dream and all its trappings at the altar of American advertising, so he scooped up the Cola-ad-wife and had two children with names approved¬†by committee. He became Creative Director, he bought a Cadillac. He had everything, and so much of it.

And yet.


The poster boy for American Dreamers spent most of his time trying to run away from the picture-perfect life he’d created. Mistresses in the city, a drinking problem, flirting with the idea of becoming a kept man for a eurotrash princess years after having his offer to escape together spurned by Rachel Mencken. He lit match after match and watched his carefully crafted Dream incinerate until he lost the wife and the kids, burned through a second wife, became an embarrassment to his company, and began to see even his physical appeal fade. Don Draper thought he was too big to fail, but he was his own undoing.


As¬†Don Draper‘s fulfilled but unfulfilling dreams crumbled to wreckage there rose another, the Baby Boomer Walter White. The white, middle-class man had a¬†promising start, his first shot at glory in the form of a start-up in which he was partial owner. He had the benefit of starting halfway up the ladder, higher than Draper by far. While the start-up grew to fulfill all its potential, Walter opted out in a fit of pique on the ground floor. Instead he became a Chemistry teacher, growing bitter and small over the years nursing the feeling that he had been cheated. Until cancer hit and he was galvanized into action of his own behalf, taking another stab at the American Dream as a drug dealer, rationalized by his need for treatment and his family’s need for support should he pass.

heisenbergWalter White didn’t seem to see, or maybe value, that he had already attained the 1950s version of the dream: he had a comfortable house in the suburbs, a wife and son and a daughter on the way, a stable career, and the love and respect of his friends and family. He had it all, even if many would say he could have had more. He wanted more, like Don Draper,¬†wanted it all. To be a legend. As America grew more hyperbolic and loud, Xtreme with exhortations to follow your passion and Just Do It, so had the Dream grown from stability to excess. So he went from drug dealer to drug lord, crafting a new identity much as Draper stole one from a dead engineer in a ditch. He killed, manipulated, poisoned, he called upon people to kill for him whom he did not fully understand. ¬†Everyone he met suffered for their willingness to believe him, to show him compassion, to show him mercy. He had none.

The American Dream has turned ugly for these men, who found it within such easy reach. It is no longer the squeaky-clean promise of a chicken in every pot in exchange for a life of work and dedication. It is now the monkey on their backs, driving them to accumulate and advance. Do better than the other guy, no matter the cost. Have more. Be more. Crush all who would stand in your way and use their fallen bodies to lift yourself higher. King of the mountain. Top of the heap.

Thing is, as Walter and Don could tell you, it gets pretty lonely up there.

Weekend Update

This was the original e-mail from the publisher (names removed):

Dear ArmchairAuthor,

Thank you for recently submitting your sample of VALKYRIE. We‚Äôve enjoyed what we‚Äôve read so far, and would like to read more. As such, please send the full manuscript as a Word doc attachment to your reply email. Please put ‚ÄúRequested Materials: VALKYRIE‚ÄĚ in the subject line. Once received, we will respond to your submission in 4-6 weeks. After that time, if you have not yet heard back, feel free to follow up via email. We look forward to reading more of VALKYRIE.

Submissions Editor
Swoon Romance

This was the second e-mail I got about a week later, note that I had not sent my full manuscript as I was still writing it. This was indicated in my submission, and the editor was aware when she requested my sample:

Dear ArmchairAuthor,
Thank you for your allowing us to consider VALKYRIE. We appreciate your consideration of Swoon Romance as a publishing partner. However, we do not see a fit for VALKYRIE on the Swoon Romance list at this time. We wish you great luck in placing your book with the right publisher. Should we be able to assist you in the future, please do not hesitate to ask.


Submissions Editor
Swoon Romance

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not busted up about it. As I was writing I began to feel very strongly that Swoon was not the right imprint for this book at all. I just thought this correspondence would be of some interest to the writery folks out there.

100 Things to Write Other Than a Rape

Sometimes, as a person who writes things and occasionally lets people read them, there is a deep desire to write about something in particular. That’s what we call “inspiration”.

I would not look this bemused if a swan was trying to get all up in my business, in front of a crowd no less.

I would not look this bemused if a swan was trying to get all up in my business.

Sometimes there is no inspiration, but one writes one anyway because it is expected. It is also possible to write one’s way into inspiration through diligence. At other times, a subject simply comes up on so many occasions in a short span of the time that one feels compelled to throw one’s quill in the ring.

The gratuitous rape of female characters in fiction is my number one literary pet peeve. I have abandoned one book outright because of it and soured on another that I had quite enjoyed right up until the end. A few weeks ago I was keeping my brother company during a street-sweeping shift and we were discussing the Kill Bill movies, the only Quentin Tarantino movies I somewhat enjoy. He had never made it past the opening scenes due to to the rape of the comatose “Bride”, Uma Thurman’s character. I had actually forgotten that that part even happened, because I usually fast forward or change the channel until it’s over. It’s unnecessary to the story. The Bride’s presumed loss of her child is enough motivation for vengeance, the rape of her insensible body seems like a grotesque bid at titillation.

This week, author Maggie Stiefvater expressed her disgust with the phenomenon of ¬†(generally male) authors using rape as a fallback method to damage female characters. As though being raped is the only interesting/significant/legitimate way to harm a female character or create tension. Some respondents to her Tweets/Facebook post/blog post asserted that this is because rape is “the worst thing that can happen to a woman”. Hmph. It is my feeling that traditional masculinity attaches far more importance to sex and sexual purity than the average woman does, and male writers often don’t realize that if given a choice between being raped and some other horrible thing happening, a woman might well choose to be raped. Furthermore, rape is a violent act that leaves a female character just as pretty/sexy/what-have-you as she was before, struggling internally. Ew, guys. Ew. In good books, girls get to be just as ugly as the boys. Whether that’s spiritually, emotionally, physically, or mentally.¬†I imagine the “worst thing” would vary from woman-to-woman, just like it would vary from man-to-man.

That must be what has gone wrong here! These writers, their imaginations are broken! ¬†To help these limited authors, I have compiled a handy list of dramatic events that might lead to a better story than a female getting raped just because you can’t think of anything else to do to her:

Continue reading