A Few of My 2014 #WeNeedDiverseBooks Reads

I was going to write something about my current writing process and do a little introspection on my debut novel and the one I’m currently working on for this post, but it was going to be a little dreary for the holiday season. So instead I’ve decided since it’s the end of the year and people love year end list type thingies, why not do a little retrospective on some of the stuff I read in 2014?

One of the great happenings in the publishing world during 2014 was the rise to prominence of #WeNeedDiverseBook, a social media movement and non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the breadth and scope of diverse creators and characters in fiction. Their focus is mostly dedicated to kids books, but there has also been, and should continue, many diverse offering in adult books, especially SFF. So why not take a look back some of the most diverse books I read over the last year?

My first novel was pretty much a traditional Euro-centric fantasy, and even with that setting, I’d like to think there was decent amount of diversity in it, though. I’ve tried to be mindful in my current projects to have real meaning representation in each of them, not just diversity for the sake of diversity, but give true purpose and agency to LGBT and PoC characters.

So in that spirit – here’s four of my favorite diverse reads from the past year – two novels and two comics, because OMG there are so many great things going on in comics right now and we need to talk about them.

And I swear, really I do, every post I write here at the Scribes is not going to be a list of some kind.

Ms Marvel

MS MARVEL

One of the breakout surprises in comics this year was G. Willow Wilson’s MS MARVEL. It’s the story of Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City, who inexplicably finds herself with the power to change her size and shape. She decides to take up the mantle her favorite superhero and idol, Ms. Marvel, to defend her neighborhood against villainous elements that have taken root in her backyard.

As much a slice-of-life story as it is a superhero yarn, Kamala’s exploits are a poignant coming-of-age story about a girl trying to find her place in the world. Kamala feels like a outcast because of her Muslim faith and her overbearing parents, and at first uses her powers as a means to acceptance, thinking if she becomes a hero, she won’t be seen an outsider by her peers. But she soon discovers its not the powers that make her special, but her own love for her family and friends.

Kamala is one of the best new comic characters to come along in years. I think she’s the modern day Peter Parker. While she doesn’t have the tragedy (so far) that drove much of Peter’s transformation into Spiderman, she is an outcast like he was, trying to find her place in the world. Like him, she finds a purpose in her powers, something that can give direction and focus to a life adrift. She’s an inspiration for a new and more diverse generation of comic book readers.

Willow Wilson, a Muslim woman herself, as become one of the rising stars at Marvel because of the success of this book, and Adrian Alphona, who hasn’t done much work in the industry since RUNAWAYS in the early 2000s has found a new lease on life. His dynamic artwork, unlike anything I’ve seen in comics provides Wilson’s cast with a distinct look and livelihood apart from every other book on the shelf.

Killing Moon

THE KILLING MOON

This one was on my To-Read pile for way way too long and I finally picked it up earlier this year. I shouldn’t have waited so long, because it was fantastic. The story follows the exploits of a pair of Gatherers, an ancient guild of that kills or heals by invading people’s dreams and extracting Dream Blood from them, as they try to unravel a conspiracy within their ranks and try to prevent a war between too nations.

Jemisin’s world building is really tremendous in this novel, the diversity and scope of the society and its various faiths and peoples is truly awe-inspiring. For example, instead of the traditional Euro-centric fantasy setting, this novel takes place in a Middle Eastern and Egyptian style environment. It also features a cast of entirely PoC characters, as one would expect from such a setting, but as we’ve seen even just recently in the movie EXODUS, whitewashing is still a thing.

The main character of the story is Ehiru, a male Gatherer, but the female protagonist Sinadi is a WoC who is given as much importance and agency as he is. She’s really the bond that holds the whole story together, and unites the major plot threads together. She’s also a stabilizing element when the chaos of the novel’s event overwhelms the Gatherers and threatens to unravel everything.

Rat Queens

RAT QUEENS

One of the silliest things I’ve ever read when it come to diversity in fiction is that it’s too difficult to write diverse characters in a traditional fantasy setting because ‘that’s not the way it was back then’. Yeah, I remember the time Joan of Arc rode a dragon to battle an army of orcs at the Siege of Orleans too.

Rat Queens follows a band of female mercenaries as they hack and slash their way to notoriety in a traditional Euro-inspired medieval setting. The main characters are diverse in gender, race and orientation, making for an extremely well rounded group of representation and breaking the mold of what we usually expect from a traditional fantasy setting. And this book does not pull any punches, either. Gratuitous violence, sex and profanity are abound in Rat Queens. This is an actual quote from one of the issues:

We are hosting a party tonight. I want to get drunk. I want to get high. I want to have sex with Orc Dave. They can happen in any order or all at once. Any objections?

It revels in the boldness and the sexuality of its characters, where many times in fiction, especially in comics, female sexuality is used merely as a means of titillation or distraction to the other male characters or the reader. Not here. In Rat Queens the character’s sexuality emboldens and empowers them.

Rat Queens was an unexpected sensation in comics this year, picking up critical and fan acclaim and even an Eisner nod. Regretfully, this momentum was stunted when the former artist , Roc Upchurch, was arrest for a domestic violence incident this past fall. Writer Kurt Weibie did the right thing and removed Upchruch from the book, as it would have been completely toxic if he stayed on, in my opinion. I would have liked a female artist brought on in light of this incident, someone like Amy Reeder or Rebeckah Issacs would have been perfect, but it was announced that Stjepan Šejić would be new artist a couple weeks ago. I think he’ll do a fine job, his art really captures the sexy sword and sorcery style of the Queens.

Ancillary Justice

ANCILLARY JUSTICE

I just finished this one up a couple of days ago, and it was really unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Real Talk – I read more of the F in SFF that the SF, but all the positive buzz about this novel made me pick it up.

And wow.

The plot revolves around Breq, a wayward Ancillary (corpse soldier that’s part of an AI (!!!!!)) and the last remaining piece of the spaceship, Justice of Toren’s, AI system that was destroyed many years ago. She’s on a quest for revenge against the parties responsible for separating her from Toren. Basically the ships in this novel are comprised of multifaceted AIs, spread out across various Ancillaries, Breq being the only piece of this consciousness that survived the ship’s destruction. It’s really wild and high concept stuff.

Remarkable, aside from the big ideas presented in ANCILLARY JUSTICE about artificial intelligence and the nature of one’s self, is the fact the entire cast is female. Even Breq, who it not technically human, but a corpse reanimated with genetic and technological enhancements. What I also found quite interesting was that even though all the characters are present biologically as female, depending on the culture they’re interacting with, not always are they referred to with female pronouns.

For a good portion of the novel, Breq and her companion Seivarden are on distant planet, where Seivardian, while presented as female to the reader, is referred to with male pronouns by some of the planet’s inhabitants. Similarly there a various points in the novel where Breq pauses to make sure she’s using the proper pronouns when addressing other characters. I found this a great way to weave awareness of present day differentiating gender expressions and norms into a far future world in a way that RAT QUEENS was able to do for modern race and sexual orientation awareness in a traditional fantasy setting.

So, my friends, what kind of diverse reads did you all enjoy this year and what ones are you looking forward to in 2015?

The Wicked & The Divine: Villainy in Supernatural

THE ROAD SO FAR…

Eariler this year, myself and fellow Scribe, the inimitable Shauna Granger, wagered on who could watch all of Buffy or all of Supernatural in the least amount of time. I made it to Season 5 of Supernatural by the time she finished Buffy. Tried. Really I did.

I loved Supernatural so much that, even though I lost the bet, I continued on and finished the series. And now. almost a year after I started, I’m happy to say I’m finally caught up.

Um wow.

What an absolutely wonderful ride it was.

There’s so much about Supernatural I’ve come to adore over the course of this year – the humor, the drama, the Cas Eating Stuff, the Racist Ghost Trucks, and so much more.

One thing I was consistently impressed with the during the entire run of Supernatural was the quality of the villains. I’ve always said a compelling antagonist is just as important to a story as compelling protagonist. One you can truly hate, but maybe at times also empathize with. I’ve tried to follow my own advice and have tired to write compelling villains in all of my stories.  So, now that I’ve seen all there is to see, I thought it appropriate to look back on the whole Supernatural series and reflect on some of the great villains the show has crafted.

And it seems only fitting that my final Supernatural vs. Buffy post be me first post on Spellbound Scribes.

SPOILERS below, so if you’re caught up with Supernatural – tread lightly.

So without further adieu, my Top Ten Supernatural Villains:

10. Eve

Supernatural_Eve_Gif

Eve, to me, was the perfect example of excellent concept, but terrible execution. The idea there was a Mother of All the different monsters the WinBros battled over the years is a really great one, and should have provided formidable foe for the boys in S6. Imagine, if you will, her leading an army of the creatures the Bros had vanquished in previous seasons – Vamps, Werewolves, and Dragons – on the march to extract revenge for there fallen brethren?

Well that’s not really what happened. Instead she killed some truckers, made some people murder each other and then was quickly dispatched by Sam and Dean well before the end of the season. I’m gonna be honest, I thought S6 was the worst on of all (though I did love Homebody Dean). It was a bit of a meandering mess – seemed to me like the new writers weren’t sure what to do after the wrap of the big Lucifer storyline in S5 and were just trying to find their feet.

A full season narravtive focused on Eve and the monsters of Purgatory, instead of muddling it up with Souless Sam and Crowley & Castiel fighting over whatever and the Raphael stuff, would have been much better, in my opinion.

9. Gordon Walker

Gordon Supernatural Crazy Gif

Gordon is another Hunter who appears throughout S2, most as a rival to the WinBros, but with methods much more severe than Dean and Sam, even killing humans . He even shows up in S3 as a vampire to further menace the Bros.

Admittedly he’s a fairly minor villain in the grand scheme of the Supernatural mythos. The reason he’s on the list is because I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hero’s Evil Mirror trope. Gordon might not have been the most threatening villain they faced, but he did provide a glimpse of what Sam and Dean might become if they became so obsessed with Hunting and lost sight of their own humanity. The episode in S2 where he challenges Sam to kill him, did well to show they would never cross that line, even so early in the series.

8. Dean Winchester

Supernatural Demon Dean gif

Okay, hear me out. I know there was only like three or four episodes in S10 with Demon Dean (though I’m not convinced, based on the last episode, that we’ve seen the last if him), but what we have seen is awesome.

I’ve been firmly #TeamDean since the beginning, but he’s always had this dudebro vibe about hie. Deanmon is that vibe turned up to eleven – he’s the ultimate arrogant douchebro villain. Drinking, carousing, just being an overall jerk to everyone around him. The way he dismantled Cole, taunting him about devoting his entire life killing Dean, only to have all of his dreams of vengeance crushed so definitively was just brutal.

Deanmon just does not give a single eff about anyone but himself. Not even Sam, who he abandoned, sold out to Cole and mocked mercilessly for lamenting their lost brotherly love. Some of it cut really deep too – like blaming Sam for the death of their mother – and even though it was the demon speaking and not Dean himself, you can tell it really hurt Sam in away that much of the physical injuries he suffered over the years did.

And how can you not love that Deanmon x Crowley Bromance?

7. Abaddon

Supernatural Abbadon GifThe would-be King of Hell in S8 and 9 after Crowley is incapacitated by Sam and Dean. Chosen by Lucifer himself to be one of the fabled Knights of Hell – who according to legend slew the other Archangels – she is much more than just another demon for the boys to slay.

What I liked so much about Abaddon was the dichotomy between her and Crowley as rulers of Hell. Crowley abided by the traditional ways of soul collecting – contracts, coercion – still evil and deceitful stuff to be sure – but in a classy old school demonic way. Abaddon was all about gaining devotion through intimidation and violence. She had no repsect for the old ways and sought to take the Throne of Hell by any means possible. Anyone so power hungry they would break even Hell’s code of honor is truly a foe to be reckoned with. As vicious as Crowley is sly, even besting him in combat at the end of S8, Abaddon would have been been higher up on this list, were she not overshadowed by the other Big Bad in S9.

But we’ll get to him later.

6. Meg Masters

Supernatural Meg Shhhh GifSupernatural’s first Big Bad holds a special place in my heart. Even though she was the henchman of Ol’ Yellow Eyes, I thought Meg was a much more effective foil to the Winbros in S1. Mostly because he lingered in the background, while Meg did his dirty work. Plus she acutally had some personality, where I found Yellow Eyes to be a much more one-dimensional baddie. With a combination of cunning and cruelty, Meg provided a plapable and sustained threat to Sam and Dean beyond the Monster of the Week creatures that were so prevalent in the early seasons.

Supernatural Meg2Meg returns in S7 to be more of an ally to the WinBros than a foe – helping them out against Crowley, who she did not take too kindly to as the new King of Hell. I liked Meg Two, more then Meg One. Even though she wasn’t so much of a villain anymore, but more just a demon looking out for her own self interest. She was funny and snarky, and had some great chemistry with Dean. Meg is also one of the few villains in Supernatural that actual had some sort of redemption, sacficing herself so that the WinBros and Cas could escape with Angel Tablet.

She actually got a full character arch over the course of nine seasons, which in and of itself is pretty impressive.

5. Ruby

Supernatural_Ruby_One_gifAnother Mid-Boss type villain like Meg, Ruby was one of the main antagonists in S3 and 4. Also like Meg, we were treated to a Ruby One and a Ruby Two.

Supernatural_Ruby_Two_gifShe was very effective in fomenting distrust between the WinBros, Dean thinking that she was manipulating them for her own ends, and Sam convinced that she was going to help them destroy Lilith and keep Lucifer from being unleashed.

What made Ruby so great is that there was some real doubt as to whether she was on the same side as the WinBros or just pulling their strings for her demonic masters. Her character had depth, because while there was always a lingering doubt over her true intentions, for most of her time on the show she seemed to have a real kinship with Sam.

Of course, she did end up betraying Sam and Dean, but the fact she and Sam had such a close relationship made that betrayal all the more painful.

4. Lucifer

Supernatutal_lucifer_point_headtiltThe first four seasons of Supernatural built up to this, the Biggest of the Big Bads, Morningstar himself – Lucifer!

Played with a simmering, tempered evil by Mark Pelligrino, Lucifer was the Big Bad I had been hoping to see since episode one. Unfortunately, I thought he was a bit underused in Season 5, appearing only for what seemed like a quarter of the episodes. But when he was there, he was commanding and threatening presence.

So why then is he at #4, if his was actually in the show so little? The parts he was in were truly magnificent. When faced with a villain as powerfully as him, there was a real doubt as to how the WinBros could emerge victorious. He was supposed to be the endgame for the series and he carried the presence of a truly unstoppable force. He was also a well rounded character, sympathetic for the fact he was cast out of heaven for not revering mankind, no truly great sin as we were led to believe, but became wicked and embittered after so many years of imprisonment.

Also, each season required Sam and Dean to acquire some sort of McGuffin to beat the Big Bad, and having to defeat each of the Four Horsemen (Death, most notably) was easily the best of these fetch quests in the series.

3. Metatron

Supernatural Metatron Stupid Angels

It was a close call between the Number Two and Three slot.

If you told me Booger from Revenge of the Nerds would be cast perfectly as a vile, conniving and manipulative Angelic Scribe, I would have called you a crazy person. His resume is pretty solid – manipulated Cas and the WinBros the get the angels kicked out of Heaven, killed Kevin (by proxy, but still), convinced the world that he was a messianic figure. Not bad. But what puts Metaron over the top is how he’s played with such perfect, sniveling creepiness by Curtis Armstrong.

He has the self-righteous smugness of a powerless man given finally the power he always desired, but gained through the most deceitful ways. He’s like a Super Angel Internet troll. But here’s the thing – he’s not entirely wrong. Heaven was a mess, abandoned by God, consumed by civil war – all good reason for someone to step up in a void of leadership to take control. His intentions would not be so bad were it not for his methods being so despicable.

Some of my love for him also come from being a writer and of course, one of my favorite episodes of the series was ‘Meta Fiction’. The way Metatron talks about the nature of stories, how he believed he was the hero of this story, not the WinBros and Co, showed a real depth to the character and he was not just another one note villain. And this one quote is just perfect:

What writer doesn’t love a good twist? My job is to set up interesting characters and see where they lead me. The byproduct of having well-drawn characters is they may surprise you. But I know something they don’t know – the ending. How I get there doesn’t matter as long as everybody plays their part.

2. Dick Roman

Supernatural Dick RomanWhen I first started watching, everyone warned me about S7. Everyone said S7 was the worst, that the show went off the rails before getting back on track for S8.

Naaaaaaw.

I thought the Leviathan storyline was a nice breather from all of the Angel/Demon stuff in the previous six seasons before delving back into it for S8. It wasn’t earth-shatteringly great or anything, but I enjoyed it. Much more than I thought I would based on the dire warnings I got about it.

The highlight was, of course, the main villain for the season – Mister Richard Roman. The personification of the evils of capitalism, Dick Roman was a ruthless businessman possessed by an ancient malevolence. Much more subtle in his wickedness than many of the other WinFoes, Roman plotted to take over the world by subjugating the populace through his company’s products and making mankind a renewable food source for the Leviathans.

Smart. Subtle. Sinister.

The meta-commentary associated with his character about the nature of business in America and the slavish devotion to consumer products people been trained to trust was just excellent,too. Roman had the perfect combination of arrogance and intelligence to be the figurehead for this particular brand of evil.

And he killed Bobby, so yeah.

1. Crowley

Supernatural Crowley King gifThe gif says it all.

Snarky. Clever. British.

As much an adversary as he is an ally to the WinBros, Crowley is one of the most complex and well crafted characters in the entire show. Malicious and deceptive when he needs to be, but also flawed and surprisingly human when you least expect it.

He’s everything a good villain should be.

He’s a legitimate threat to the heroes, still an empathetic figure at times.

He’s hateable as he is lovable.

He’s just a great character, and end of the day, hero, villain, whatever, being a great character, one that the reader or viewer actually cares about, it what’s most important.

All Hallow’s Read

Happy October one and all! This is one of my favorite month’s of the year. I just love the start of the holiday season. I know people get miffed when they see decorations popping up at stores “too early”, but not me. Me, I like the idea of stretching Halloween and Samhain and Christmas and Winter Solstice as far as possible. I mean, we’re always told we should keep the holiday spirit in our hearts all year long, right?

all-hallows-read12Anyway. A few years ago the awesome Neil Gaiman started a new campaign called All Hallow’s Read. It is the concept of passing out books on Halloween to encourage reading and literacy. Now, don’t go getting your knickers in a twist, it isn’t the idea of giving out books instead of candy, because no one wants their house to be egged, just the idea of doing it as well. The idea is to give out Halloween-ish books, but really, giving any book is good, you know?

I decided to join in on the fun two Halloweens ago in 2012. I bought so many books in a variety of age ranges. I had picture books and board books for tiny tots, I had short chapter books for small children and even had a dearth of Fear Street and Forest of Hands and Teeth for the occasional teenager I knew would show up. And of course I had copies of Coraline to pay homage to Mr. Gaiman.

I also had goody bags to pass out along with the books. I was ready. I was gonna participate! But I totally sucked at it. Offering books to kids expecting candy seemed so strange to me that first year. I think I gave out five books in all. I don’t know why I got so tongue tied over it. I was so disappointed in myself.

So the year went by and I still had all these books, so many books. I think I had somewhere around fifty books total. Maybe just forty five. Whatever. I had a lot of books. I had kept them all year on a shelf, waiting for the next Halloween. So, I set them out, made new goody bags and told myself I was going to do better.

photo-31And boy did I. Once I got into the habit of saying, “I’m also giving out books, would you like one?!” it got easier and easier to do. So, by the end of the night I had seven books left over – five picture books and two Goosebumps. Not too shabby. I really thought the teens would be the hardest, but they were pretty keen too. One guy, who I’m pretty sure was close to sixteen, actually got super excited when I said, “I’ve only got Goosebumps for you.”

 

This year I’ve been going to my local comic book store a lot and I think I’m gonna give out Halloween comic books with a few others. So join the fun. Let’s help promote reading as something fun, not just something teachers make you do. Spread literacy and get kids excited. And the worst that can happen is they say “no, thank you” to the book and a tiny piece of your soul dies. But hey, the next kid is gonna say “Yes! THANK YOU!” and snatch the book out of your hand and renew your faith in humanity.

AHR13_WebBanner

 

Top Ten Reasons I’m a #Feminist

I was recently invited to participate in a new group blog project. FeminaAequalitas.com  is the pet project of SpellboundScribes blogger Nicole Evalina. The purpose of the blog is to examine issues affecting both men and women. Here’s a snippet from the blog’s About page…

We’re a group of men and women who are searching for equality among the sexes in our lives and in our world. We have opinions on things going on in the world around us – in pop culture (movies, music, books, TV, etc.), world news, politics and in our own lives. We’re here to share those thoughts in order to foster healthy discussion and grow a community of like-minded individuals. We are desirous of change, but aren’t necessarily traditional activists.

If that piques your curiosity, here’s a link to my introductory post.

There’s a definite overlap between the bloggers here at the SpellboundScribes and the people who will be creating posts for FeminaAequalitas.com, though I think the tone on the new blog will be somewhat more serious. For today, though, this is all new and fresh and fun, and I thought I’d come up with a list of reasons that I’m a feminist…

tumblr_lwvyodVfja1qdv84j

10. Because my life is good, but not every woman can say that.

9.  Because everyone needs to call the NFL on its bullshit.

8.  Because I’d earn more money if I had a Y-chromosome.

7.  Because someone needs to step up and prove there’s more going on than the #feminazi stereotype.

6.  Because by age 16, girls learn how to avoid sexual assault, but boys don’t.

5. Because ideas of hyperdefined masculinity hurt boys as much as traditional female stereotypes hurt women.

4. Because #RapeCulture  exists.

3. Because my son needs a role model.

2. Because my daughter needs a role model.

1. Because I’m old enough to remember when being a feminist was cool.

Well now, I hope you run right over to the new blog. Thanks for playing along!
Liv

Shameless Self-Promotion

This month’s post is all about the shameless self-promotion, prompted by the recent release of Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk, and the upcoming release of my contemporary novella Between the Sheets.

My story The Clockwork Monk is one of the twelve tales in Cogwheels, and if you’re wondering why a book called Ten Tales has twelve stories, I can only say it has to do with editor Rayne Hall and her cat Sulu and it’s complicated. But why complain? Bonus stories, right?

I’d never tried to write steampunk before, but I’ve read enough that I have a pretty good handle on the genre. In fact, you can jump here for my Spellbound Scribes post listing my top ten favorite steampunk books. And you can check out this blog post, put together by Rayne Hall and Day Al-Mohamed, that summarizes all twelve contributors’ ideas about what steampunk means.

My story The Clockwork Monk is a PG-13-rated m/m adventure tale that’s set right before the start of The Great War, WW1. In it, I play with gender roles and bash organized religion and generally have a good time. Cogwheels is a fabulous collection of stories, and if you like steampunk, it’s a screamin’ deal for $0.99.

The Clockwork Monk image

The Clockwork Monk

Thomas Beck is a spy. Actually, Thomas isn’t his real name, but you wouldn’t expect a spy to use his real name, would you? He reports directly to Madam Helen Taft, President of the United States, and his goal is to prevent the war that threatens to drag every country in the world into chaos. Madam President invites him in for tea, and tells him his comrade Gesualdo has sent a cryptic message about an anarchist, an Archbishop, and a Clockwork Monk.

And now his comrade is missing.

Thomas and Gesualdo have a past, and Thomas presumed they would also have a future. He sets off to investigate under the pretext of accompanying his sister Emma on an excursion. She’s a renowned lyric soprano (who has a secret or two of her own) and she’s been invited to sing a recital for the Archbishop of Chicago, which happens to be his comrade’s last known location. Steeped in steam, aided by clockworks, and distracted by a handsome young priest, Thomas must rely on his wits, his bravado, and his bone-deep toughness to solve the secret of The Clockwork Monk.

COGWHEELS Ten Tales of Steampunk Cover 2014-04-25

Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk is available from the following fine retailers…

Universal Amazon URL: myBook.to/Cogs

iTunes/iBooks

Barnes & Noble

Page Foundry

Scribd

 

My novella Between the Sheets is also a bit of a departure. It’s my first attempt at contemporary romance, which is a lot harder to write than it looks. I mean, if you’re writing paranormal and your hero is human and your heroine is a vampire, there are all kinds of life-and-death conflicts to work through before they get to their happily-ever-after. With contemporary romance, it’s a lot harder to find meaningful reasons to keep two normal, healthy, single people apart.

But you gotta make them work for their HEA, or it’s no fun at all.

I can’t post the cover art yet – though I’ve seen the draft and it’s lovely – but here, for the first time anywhere, is the blurb for Between the Sheets

Maggie’s going to choir camp, the annual music teacher’s retreat. Her best friend will be there too, and tries to convince her it’s the perfect opportunity for adventure. Caught up in the spirit of things – and maybe a little tipsy – Maggie vows to end her extended celibacy during the retreat.

At the first dinner of the event, Maggie catches the attention of the group’s token single straight guy, but she’d rather be a born-again virgin than give it up to him. She tries to blow him off, but he’s not going to bow out gracefully. She doesn’t want to spend time with him and she doesn’t want to make a scene, so Maggie chooses her third option: Run.

For Randy, the retreat doesn’t get interesting until he sees a pretty blond woman getting hit on by the kind of guy whose picture is in Webster’s under pompous dork. She’s clearly not into him, but the dork’s not giving up, so Randy improvises by pretending to be the woman’s boyfriend. Sneaking up behind her, he wraps her in a hug. She turns and kisses him, which is as shocking as it is hot.

After they actually introduce themselves, they decide to continue pretending to be a couple until the dork leaves Maggie alone. And possibly also because the chemistry they share is fierce. Soon neither of them can tell where the acting ends and the real feelings begin. Maggie’s got history and Randy’s got baggage, and making good on her vow to get laid could end up being an empty victory. Can Maggie and Randy fight through their internal discord fast enough to turn their solo lives into a duet?

 

Between the Sheets is my homage to music teachers and band geeks everywhere. Who knew you all were so naughty?

😉

The title might sound risqué, but it refers to the sheet music that’s part of the cover art. I mean, music teachers, right? I’ll post the cover when I can, and you’ll see what I mean. In any event, Between the Sheets will be available on August 25th from Crimson Romance. A 22,000-word novella, it will be priced at $0.99. And I also gotta say that the writing of BtS was greatly facilitated by the members of #teamawesome, most of whom are also Spellbound Scribes. You guys sprinted me to the finish line on this one!

 

Phew! I’m much better at writing the stuff than promoting it after it’s written. Thanks for checking out my post, and if you have any snappy ideas for promotion success, please leave them in the comments!

Peace,

Liv

 

OOH! Late-breaking news!!! Here’s the official cover for Between the Sheets!

Between the Sheets_highres cover

On Subjectivity

One of the first things a writer learns is that the business of writing is a subjective one. It’s something we’re constantly told by other writers, agents, and editors, and it’s why so many rejections contain words like “this project wasn’t right for me” with the implication that it could be right for someone else. I know, at least for me, it’s often hard to accept that as a response, especially when we feel like we checked every box. Likeable protagonist? Check. Hottie love interest? Check. Compelling plot? Check! And yet…despite all that, they still say no. It’s not right for them.

I might occasionally look at the shelves in the bookstore and despair. I think, “but how did that get published! I write twice as well! My characters are three times as awesome!” or some other over-exaggeration of my writing prowess, and I don’t understand how something so objectively better can be subjectively worse.

When my mind starts down that crazy path, when I get lost in the difference between subjectivity and objectivity and how it all seems ridiculous, I stop and think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man is by all accounts a fantastic movie. It is acclaimed, embraced by fans, and the movie that launched an extremely lucrative franchise. An objective and detailed analysis of the movie reveals a complex character played be an extremely talented actor in a tight and well paced story.

Tony_JerichoMissiles
Tony Stark, nearly blown up by his own awesomeness

Despite this, I have never particularly liked the movie. The first time someone sat me down to watch Iron Man, I hated it. I didn’t connect with Tony Stark, I was bothered by the impossibility of the Iron Man armor itself, and for all its tight-paced plotting I was distracted and bored. This is a movie lauded by millions–if not billions of people–and I didn’t like it.

Though I now have a greater appreciation of the movie and the character of Tony Stark, I can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the movie. And I rarely if ever think to myself, “man, I really need to re-watch Iron Man.”

On the other hand, we have the movie Thor. This is a movie that is often panned by critics. A movie that I didn’t see for a year after it came out because so many of my friends told me how bad it was. And objectively, yes, this is not Marvel’s greatest story. Thor’s character development is too rapid and sudden to be believable. The split between Asgard and Earth is often jarring. The chemistry between Thor and Jane Foster is not strong. The plot is confusing and weirdly paced. And yet, this is my favorite Marvel movie, a movie that I have watched innumerable times. (Literally innumerable. I can’t even begin to give you an estimate of how many times I’ve watched this movie.)

Thor_another2
This movie! I like it!

Because where Iron Man fell flat for me, Thor resonated. The story of Loki felt like my own story, and for all of it’s Asgardian trappings it felt like I was watching my life unfold on the screen.

When I first watched Iron Man and the credits began to scroll by, I rolled my eyes. When I first watched Thor and the credits began, I cried.

Loki_crying
My tears probably weren’t as pretty as Loki’s

Iron Man is objectively a better movie than Thor, but if I had been an agent, and Iron Man had been a novel that had been queried to me, I would have rejected it, despite all of its objective goodness. And if Thor had come across my desk, I would have accepted it, warts and all.

It doesn’t matter how well written my story is. It doesn’t matter how awesome the characters are, how great their chemistry is, or how tight my plot is. All of those things give my story a better chance, but ultimately if my story doesn’t resonate with the reader than those things are meaningless.

And that’s what people mean when they say this is a subjective business.

I find this thought both disheartening and comforting. Disheartening because there are no amount of boxes I can check to ensure that my novel will be published. But comforting because that means my story doesn’t have to be perfect to succeed. After all, we can’t all be practically perfect in every way, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Winter Soldier, blowing up the box office like it's Nick Fury's car
The Winter Soldier blew up the box office like it’s Nick Fury’s SUV

So how about you guys? What is something you love even though you objectively recognize it’s not the best?

#BuffyWatch the Final Season

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that Brian O’Conor and I were embroiled in a battle of two T.V. series. Brian had to watch the first seven seasons of Supernatural before I finished watching the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whoever finished first get’s to decide which world we’ll use first for a spin-off game with our RPG troupe: MageTech.

And I am thrilled to announce that I AM VICTORIOUS! I DANCE THE DANCE OF VICTORY!

OY YEAH, BURN WITH FIERY ENVY BRIAN!

Poor Brian.

Okay, but seriously. It did come kinda close there. Brian was trying to be a sneaky snearkerson and finished season 6 without telling anyone and was well into season 7 over the weekend. So much so that I realized, though I only  3 episodes left, he just might finish and I’d look like that jackass hare and he’d be the cool tortoise. Couldn’t let that happen.

Now, on to my review of the last season.

So many times there have been moments where, if someone had warned me, I would have forfeited the whole damn bet. But no moment could have killed me more than the death of Anya. I realized that she is my favorite character out of the whole cast. First it was Xander, then Willow, but Anya, Anya never let me down. How? How could they kill her? I know at the end of a story like this, there should be casualties, but damnit.

I think Anya was a big reason why the show worked for me. She was funny but full of emotion and a lovely break from your average character.

But I was so, so damn disappointed that they didn’t give Xander an appropriate moment over her death. It was just like, “Yep. She didn’t make it. Bummer.” I know they’d broken up and were finally able to move on, but I would think it would still be devastating for him.

In the beginning of watching BtVS I really was just watching to beat Brian, but the more the show went on, the more it worked for me. Though, not the season with Adam and Riley. I can imagine it being a show you let play in rerun while you’re doing other things, but you’d fast-forward through any Adam or Riley episodes. Except for Hush that is.

I can just hear Kristin and Emmie squeeing over hearing that I didn’t hate the show and even liked a lot of it.

The Big Bad of season 7. It was really interesting, though I found it strange they took so long into the season to introduce it. The beginning of this last season felt a little like a middle of the series season, back to Monster of the Week episodes with no main plot tying them together. But when Joyce first materializes for Dawn and Cassie for Willow, it was very diabolical. You think something wonderful is happening, you finally get to have one more moment with someone you love who’s passed on, only to learn it’s a manipulative ancient evil. That’s some good stuff.

Speaking of the Big Bad – Spike’s redemption was pretty good. I still didn’t like him like I did before THE incident, so really, I was glad he died. Not in they way I was glad that Warren died, but I thought it was the only thing that could/should happen to him after the turn they took with his character.

An unsung character: Andrew.

I’m really glad they found a way to turn him around and keep him around. Andrew and Jonathan always struck me as great characters who were unfortunate to fall in with Warren. (SCREW YOU WARREN. YOU DIE AND YOU STAY DEAD.)

 

I know, I know, Andrew kills Jonathan, but he was like the mislead, well-meaning, nerd who lost his way.

He was a lot like Anya for me.

And at the end, when they were fighting side-by-side… *takes a moment*

So yeah, that was one of the hardest things for me. I didn’t expect to find characters I liked as much as I did while watching the show and after Xander and Willow kept upsetting me, it was nice to have them and then Anya is just killed.

Moving on.

Something I hated, hated, hated, was the introduction of Kennedy. I liked that we got to meet all the potentials and they were wonderfully diverse in every way, but FFS I did NOT like Kennedy. I know we want redemption Willow to have some happiness, but Kennedy wasn’t it. She was pushy and catty and mean and in her own words: a brat. I don’t understand how, after wonderful relationships with Oz and Tara, Willow would let herself be seduced by a girl who makes fun of her powers and the core of her being. And she was just so damn big for her britches, just because she was making out with Willow she was suddenly more important than the other potentials, always pushing her way into the pow-wows with Buffy and the others. GAH! I DID NOT LIKE HER.

Anyway. I did not make any of these memes and I loved that I found them because I feel totally justified now.

Moving on!

Giles returned! I was so damn happy about this. He was my other favorite character and I loved that we got to see him again and he stuck around. And damn if he doesn’t prove again and again what a badass he is.

Dawn and Faith. I’m lumping them together because I’ve made it well known that I didn’t like either of these characters. At all. I think the writers did a good job with them at the end. This season showed us a calmer, more mature Dawn and Faith. Both had turned down their cliche personalities and felt much more human to me.

The finale. I’d heard that BtVS suffered from the “Seinfeld Curse” in that the finale was stupid or cheesy or a let down. I have to say, I didn’t get that. I did say in my last post that I was surprised this was the last season and I said earlier that the beginning didn’t feel like a final season, so I do wonder if they found out mid-filming that they weren’t getting renewed and maybe people felt it was wrapped up fast? I don’t know, but I didn’t think the end was bad. You know, other than killing characters I liked. Damn it.

So there you have it. I didn’t hate it. I liked a lot of it. There were some bumpy times and sometimes I felt like quitting and letting Brian win by default and there were choices I didn’t agree with, but over all, it was a good story.

Now for my decision. I still like Supernatural better, much better, and I would rather play a Supernatural RPG first, but I have decided to have us play Buffy first. My main reason is that our GM, Kristin, never gets to play a main character, but if we play Buffy then Drew will substitute as the GM and Kristin will get to play a character in the Buffy-verse. I think she deserves a turn at playing a character.

(P.S. I know I left a lot of stuff out, but this damn post is 1200 words already!)

Why Friends Ended Up Kicking HIMYM In the Pants

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just don’t like sitcoms), last week saw the long-anticipated end of How I Met Your Mother’s nine-year run.

why god gif

And it sucked. It blew major chunks. It bit monkey butt. It died kind of like—

Oh, wait. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers, STOP NOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. HERE BE SPOILERS FOR BOTH HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER AND FRIENDS. Though if you don’t want to be spoiled on a show that ended a decade ago, um, well, just go somewhere else.

Okay.

So, HIMYM ended with the eponymous Mother dying (offscreen no less) and the show writers undoing nine years of character development for not one, not two, but THREE characters. What started out as a grand deconstruction of the sitcom ended up being a mockery of viewers’ expectations and a cliched perpetuation of the boy-meets-girl-and-traditional-moralities-win scenario.

The day after the finale, I promptly turned on Friends, which, as it turns out, is the last great sitcom. And here’s why:

friends hug

1. The overall plot and character arcs remained fluid over the course of the show. The ultimate problem with HIMYM’s was the show runners’ commitment to an ending they wrote and filmed five years before the show actually ended. At the end of season 2, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas decided that the best, most desirable ending was for future-Ted to say, “Psych! This is the story of how I met your mom, she died pitifully, and I told you I wanted to hook up with your Aunt Robin.” While viewers might have been happy to hear that at the end of season 2, when we knew and loved Robin but hadn’t even learned a single damn thing about Tracy, the mother we would come to know and adore. On the other hand, Friends developed story arcs year by year, and, with the possible exception of the Ross-Rachel ending, cultivated endings that worked both for the characters and the audience. Which leads us to…

2. The writers worked to please the audience without compromising the show’s integrity. When Rachel and Joey finally kissed, fans hated it. HATED IT. So what did the writers do? They walked it back. The characters realize that the obstacles complicating their relationship (friendship, history, and lack of chemistry) make them better friends than romantic partners. By contrast, when Monica and Chandler hooked up, fans LOVED it… because that relationship worked and made sense. Although that relationship was intended to be short-term, the show kept that plotline because of the fan response. Generally fans ship or don’t ship for a reason, and when we hate a relationship, it’s because it either doesn’t work or it just isn’t believable. If, in season 2, HIMYM fans wanted Ted and Robin to end up together, we had seven more years to advocate for Robin and Barney, and Ted and “the mother,” a character the show made us love. Things change, and so do fan opinions.

3. Character development was gradual, believable, and sustainable. It takes Chandler six years to become a man who was willing and able to date a woman like Monica. Through a succession of gradually improving relationships, he matures into a stable man who not only wants a relationship, but also works to make it as good as he can. Unlike Barney, he never undergoes a lightning-bolt moment of change—and, on the other hand, when he ends up committing to Monica, the show never undoes it. Barney wasn’t, in the end, capable of sustaining a monogamous relationship, but HIMYM didn’t prepare us for that U-turn. The end of Robin and Barney’s marriage was, perhaps, inevitable and realistic, but we had no reason to believe that in the build-up to the end. The divorce came like a slap in the face, and all to serve the writers’ desired ending.

ass

4. Rather than marginalizing “supporting” characters, the show built up and eventually equalized the treatment of the entire cast. While the network pushed for a “primary” plot line with two characters, and some viewers might argue that the Ross-Rachel story is the most important, most fans will argue (alongside the producers and the cast) that the show is a true ensemble. Late in the show’s run, the actors even entered collective negotiations on contracts to ensure that the “lesser” characters’ actors were receiving the same amount of pay and prestige as the “primary” actors. Joey and Phoebe ended up getting as much air time and as serious stories as the rest of the cast. HIMYM, however, had to rush to wrap up the secondary plots in the finale: Robin’s success in her career was marginalized by her sadness over losing Ted, and we never even see the mother of Barney’s child.

5. Characters were challenged but not undermined. Monica and Chandler can’t have children. Career-woman Rachel gets pregnant. Offbeat Phoebe realizes she wants to get married and breaks up with the man she loves who doesn’t want marriage. While, ultimately, this is a sitcom and everything ends happily, characters face realistic challenges along the road to reaching their individual happy ending. While HIMYM did a fantastic job with this at times (Robin’s infertility, Lily’s lack of fulfillment with motherhood and teaching, the death of Marshall’s father), in the end, the things the characters stood for ended up not mattering that much. Ted’s years-long battle to get over Robin? Apparently never happened. Robin’s desire to not be a mom? Doesn’t matter, if they’re not her kids. Barney’s gradual realization that monogamy is pretty okay? Goes away as soon as he and Robin get divorced. Why build up a character’s needs, wants, and desires if you’re just going to undo that growth in the season finale?

long hard day

6. Although the show does perpetuate a few more traditional stories (hetero-romances ending in marriage, babies, and a house in the suburbs), it also showed less stereotypical lifestyles: Ross’s lesbian ex-wife and her marriage, Joey’s continued single life, Rachel’s choice to be a single mom AND a career woman. Yes, all ends happily, with three of the six main characters married and two in a committed relationship. But the show never forces bachelor Joey into marriage or commitment, as HIMYM did for Barney (and then brutally undid in the finale). And while Robin is a successful journalist, we don’t even get to see her feeling happy or fulfilled by that life: all we see is her sadness over losing Ted. And while HIMYM showed Barney reverting back to his, erm, promiscuous ways after his divorce, his character immediately becomes prudish Super Dad Man after his daughter is born. It’s sweet, and NPH did a terrific job with that scene, it’s hard to swallow. HIMYM does get kudos for Ted and Tracy’s decision to have kids and live together without getting married until, well, they do. Ten points for realism there.

7. Friends had a satisfying ending. In spite of everything I’ve said above, the most important reason why Friends kicked HIMYM’s ass was the top-notch, heart-warming series finale. The show manages to refer back to earlier episodes without regressing, and it also includes new developments and characters (Paul Rudd as Mike, anyone?!). It tugs on the heartstrings, but not in a manipulative way (“And that’s how your mom died: OFFSCREEN!”). The finale gave us a chance to not only see our beloved characters reach happy endings, but also to say goodbye to them in a satisfying way. No one was jerked out of the world, no one suffered beyond the normal sadness of farewells, and no one was neglected for having already wrapped up their story.

friends ending

Ultimately, the producers and writers of Friends bent over backward to create and sustain character development that was believable, and they incorporated fan reactions to story lines without ever crumbling into fan service. So… if you want to watch a funny, satisfying sitcom? In the end, sometimes the classics stay popular for a reason.

Choose Friends.

NBC’s Dracula

Lately it seems like the Spellbound Scribes have been on a bit of a television kick. Shauna’s been documenting her experiences watching all seven seasons of Buffy (here’s a link to her #BuffyWatch Part Four post) and Mandy made a compelling case for watching Arrow in The Awesomeness that is Felicity Smoak. In the interest of finishing out the trilogy, I figured I’d do a post about one of my own television favorites.

dracula-nbc

NBC’s Dracula.

Hush, you. I can hear your eyes rolling from here.

(I tried not to make this post too spoiler-ish, but there might be one or two things you want to avoid if you plan on watching.) Now, I found a lot to like in the series’ first season, beyond just the handsome young man who played Dracula (ahem, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, ahem). They’ve completely reimagined the story, giving Dracula a new persona as American businessman Alexander Grayson. His overarching goal is to take down the Order of the Dragon, the nefarious group who turned him into a vampire back in the day. The only people who know his true identity are his ally Van Helsing and his man Renfield, and his biggest challenge is subduing his growing emotional attachment to Mina, who appears to be the reincarnation of his former wife.

It’s all very complicated.

There were some pseudo-Steampunk moments in Grayson’s lab, with his new electrical technology designed to make the Order’s oil resources obsolete, and there were some interesting ideas about a woman’s role in the Victorian era, as Mina struggled to be taken seriously as a medical student.  And of course, the costumes and sets were absolutely gorgeous, giving me an hour every Friday night – or more often Sunday afternoon On-Demand – of pretty fabulous visual candy.

I love the way the writers remodeled stale characters. Van Helsing becomes a fractious ally after he resurrects Dracula in order to wreak revenge on the Order, and Renfield’s a black lawyer who goes to work for Grayson after no one in America will hire him, and who is the only one his boss even begins to listen to. I also really love the honesty in their take on the vampire myth. Dracula kills. There’s blood. He drains pretty shopgirls who are innocent and good, and he makes a mess when he does it.

And no one can stop him.

He’s fiercely loyal. When some offshoot of the Order kidnaps and tortures Renfield, the gore’s a’flying when Dracula tracks them down. He’s tormented by his need to have revenge on the Order for turning him into a monster, and blackmails a business associate to chip away at the Order’s strength, which results in the man’s death and the suicide of his lover. Oh well. He seduces the Order’s chief hunter and imagines it’s Mina in his bed. He welcomes his long time (as in hundreds of years) right-hand guy, and then set him up to be killed in order to reach his goal.

Not a nice guy.

DRACULA24

But SO compelling.

And possibly that’s why the ratings weren’t what NBC had hoped for, and why they still haven’t committed to a second season. I mean, JRM is as pretty as they come, and I love the way he flips between a cultured English accent and a broad American drawl, but this is not your grandmother’s Dracula, and the evil almost but not quite overtakes the sympathy I felt while watching him.

It’s a fascinating study in creating a difficult hero, and for that alone I’d LOVE to see a second season. But I also want more episodes because…

  • OMG what happened to Renfield?!? The finale left him bleeding on the ground. He can’t die! He’s my favorite!!
  • Mina and Grayson finally did the deed, after an entire season of waiting, and while I admit to finding the scene a little anticlimactic, I wonder what a strong-minded young woman like Mina would do with a vampire lover. That’s if she even knows he’s a vampire, which isn’t clear from the finale.
  • Lucy the naughty lesbian – and newly turned vampire – promises to be so much fun to watch.
  • Both Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker are now enemies, and there are plenty of ways Dracula/Grayson could mess with them.
  • MORE STEAMPUNK. Instead of just hinting, bring it out more. Just sayin’…

So now it’s your turn. Did you watch Dracula? Would you like to see a second season? Or would you rather use the time to catch up on last week’s episode of Supernatural?

Peace,

Liv

Anime and Me

For what feels like most of my life, people have wanted me to watch and like anime. First it was one of my best friends in elementary school with her abiding love of Sailor Moon. Then it was my first roommate in college, the one who was obsessed with… um… well, frankly, I didn’t care and can’t remember what particular shows she enjoyed. We didn’t get along, and I have less than fond memories of her slurping ramen noodles and donkey-laughing at whatever show she was watching… at three a.m.

This what I think of your ramen and your creepy schoolgirls: BLECH.

So I made it to adulthood without ever gaining a foothold on the genre*. The strange story lines, the bright colors and alien appearances, the focus on teens and children, the often unintelligible plots that just didn’t translate into English culture, let alone language—all of it turned me off. But when I met my husband, who likes anime and whose recommendations I have a harder time ignoring, I was systematically presented with a veritable universe of characters, stories, and artwork to try on for size. Drew knew I would find something to like in a category that contains more variety in stories and subject matters than most small-town public libraries, from historical fiction to sci-fi to middle-school drama.

After a few mishaps with giant robots and creepy schoolgirls, I set him a few guidelines, meeting at least two of the three following criteria:

1. The artwork needs to be pretty.

2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.

3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.

Mushisi: Gorgeous, fantastical, and non-sexist. Too bad it once made me hurl.

With the help of these guidelines, Drew introduced me to xxxHolic (pronounced simply, and oddly, “holic”) and Mushishi, both of which are fantasy, have a few strong female characters (though their portrayal isn’t always what I’d call the feminist ideal), and have a strong connection to Japanese myth and folklore, which I can dig. We watched xxxHolic from beginning to end, though main-character Watanuki’s shrieking hysteria nearly drove me away many times, and we made a good start on Mushishi, though an incident with an entire bottle of wine and an episode about an ear-worm monster ended badly and I haven’t *gulp* managed to return to the show yet.

Enter Revolutionary Girl Utena. We told our manga-loving friend Amy about my staunch indifference to most anime, and she told me I needed to watch Utena, because the show had taught her so much about feminism and had honestly changed her life. She thrust the DVDs into our hot little hands, and we gave it a whirl.

Utena: If you get it, please email me and explain. Seriously.

On its face, Utena sounded perfect for me. Female lead wants to be a prince (better translation: knight?) and sets out to rescue “Rose Bride” Anthy from what appears to be a secret society at their school. Sounds like it makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward girl-rescues-girl! Until girl seeks mystery prince, other girl betrays girl, secret society seeks heaven, other girl has incestuous relationship and her brother, other-other girl has incestuous relationship HER brother and, well, I have no idea. Remember what I said about unintelligible plots? This show is so incomprehensible, so opaque that even Drew eventually admitted defeat, and then only after arguing that it was all alchemical metaphor for, uh, something.

Whomp-whomp. Anime fail.

kitten fail

After that, er, mishap, we returned the DVDs to our friend, and nothing more was said about anime.

Then, last week, I came home from an errand and Drew said, “You know, I just tried an episode of anime you might actually like. It’s about otaku girls—you know, the uber-fans? Well, the main character is an otaku who loves jellyfish, and she lives with a bunch of other otaku girls. It’s sort of about how they feel like they can’t fit in, and I think you might actually identify with it!”

Hmm. When I type that out, it sounds kind of insulting, but it totally wasn’t. I swear.

Anyway, it sounded interesting, so we gave it a try and… *drumroll*… I loved it!

Princess Jellyfish tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.

“It’s looking at me! Oh god! Go limp!”

And how did it do with my criteria?

Well, it’s not fantasy, and the artwork isn’t notably beautiful, so it actually rather failed. But it tells (to me) a real story about real women, and I absolutely identified with the characters. My little rules ended up getting me shows that alienated me for other reasons, and because I was so bound by my own expectations of anime as a category, I eliminated whole swathes of stories and refused to acknowledge entire groups of characters.

So floored by how much I actually liked Princess Jellyfish, I wandered into the manga section at my local bookstore recently, and the ENORMOUS selection there completely overwhelmed me. Serials about Greek gods? Check. Romances? Check. Sci-fi epics about assassin girls? Check. Fairy stories? Check. Stories about anything and everything that might possibly interest me, told with every technique from gorgeous pencil sketches to comic book-style drawings? Oh yeah.

In the end, I learned my lesson. Anime is absolutely not a well-defined term that means “silly, garish cartoons about girly superheroes and giant robots.” Rather, it’s a medium filled with rich worlds, diverse characters, and thought-provoking stories. Check it out: you won’t regret it.

Just be sure not to set yourself any silly rules… and remember that not every “Stylish” is what he—I mean, “she”—appears to be.

*Anime is more accurately called an art form or style than it is a genre, but it’s very often CALLED a genre by folks who don’t quite understand what it is—like yours truly, until very recently.