Heroic Sacrifice

This weekend, here in the U.S., we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, when we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country; when we pay tribute to all the brave men and women who have lost their lives in armed conflicts over the years. Most of us know someone (or many someones) who we thank and honor for their service on this holiday, whether we spend the day itself visiting national monuments, leaving flags and flowers at cemeteries, or just spending time with those closest to us.

It may seem strange to honor fictional characters as well as real-life heroes, but I often think about the fact that literature and pop culture act as both mirror and tribute to the real world. Books, movies, and TV give us access to stories we might not otherwise be exposed to, and teach us lessons about ourselves and the world we live in. Through stories, we learn to be brave, to be selfless, to fight for the things we hold most dear, and to always stand up to injustice. We spend this weekend honoring and remembering real-life heroes, but here are a few of the most poignant and selfless fictional sacrifices in literature and pop culture that have inspired me also.

(No big spoilers for anything released in the last 3 years.)

Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney Carton is a brilliant but depressed drunkard, full of cynicism and self-loathing for his wasted life. He falls deeply in love for Lucie Manette, but she marries Charles Darnay, Carton’s client and eventual friend who bears an uncanny likeness to Carton. When Darnay is imprisoned and set to be executed in Paris during the French Revolution, Carton smuggles himself into Darnay’s cell and swaps himself for Darnay, ensuring he will be executed in his place. I was always deeply touched by this dissipated character who trades his own life for the happiness of a woman who could never love him.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There were many sacrifices on this series *coughSPIKEcough* but none which brought on the waterworks like Buffy’s death in Season 5. In order to prevent the hell-god Glory from murdering her younger sister in ritual sacrifice, Buffy realizes her greatest gift is her ability to die for her friends, her family, and ultimately the world.

“She saved the world. A lot.”

Hodor, Game of Thrones

In one of the most affecting episodes of Season 6, we finally learn the background and history of Bran’s sweet but simple-minded ally, Hodor. When wights led by the Night King attack Bran’s hiding place, Hodor bravely holds the door to save Bran, losing his life in the process. But his heroic gesture ripples through time and space, and we discover it was this harrowing event that broke his mind many years ago.

Donna Noble, Doctor Who

Donna had one of the most inspirational character arcs as the Doctor’s companion, going from a spoiled and self-centered woman to a compassionate and empathetic time traveler. But when she develops near-godlike powers, she poses a threat to herself, the Doctor, and the world. Her mind must be wiped of all her memories with the Doctor, and all the growth and learning she did on her journeys. While Donna doesn’t technically die, her mind, personality, and growth are all erased, returning her to the person she was before she met the Doctor.

Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

Star Wars has a number of heroic sacrifices to choose from, but Obi’s always struck me the hardest. In order to give his protégé Luke time to escape, Obi-Wan faces off against Darth Vader, ultimately letting Vader kill him. Obi willingly gives his life for the greater good, but Luke has to lose his friend, guide, and surrogate father in order to achieve his destiny, which is always a heartbreaking moment.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Lily Evans, Harry Potter

Another series with so many sacrifices to choose from! Yet the selfless sacrifice at the heart of these books is the one made by Lily Potter on the night Voldemort came to murder her infant son. Her willingness to die in Harry’s place works such powerful magic that Voldemort cannot harm him. She saves her son’s life, nearly kills He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and sets off one of the most iconic stories of our time, all with the power of a mother’s love.

The Iron Giant

*deep breath* I’m getting a little weepy just thinking about this one.

A lonely boy meets an enormous robot who is being pursued by the military. As their friendship unfolds, Hogarth explains to the metal behemoth that he doesn’t have to be the villain the army paints him as–he can choose to be a hero instead. So when a nuclear missile inadvertently hurtles toward their small town, the Giant says a heartfelt goodbye to his young friend before flying into the sky to intercept the bomb. He forces the missile out into space, and it begins to detonate, smiles and whispers:

“SUPERMAN.”

Who are the heroes you honor on this Memorial Day? Real or fictional, let me know in the comment section below!

How Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Feminism Influenced Guinevere

That may be the oddest blog title I’ve ever written.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the society and culture around us impacts the work we produce as writers. What got me on this train of thought? Well, I’m working on a non-fiction book on the evolution of the character of Guinevere in literature from the Welsh triads through my own novels. My thesis is that each version of Guinevere reflects the society in which and for which she was written.

And this is true of my own version. I started writing her in 1999. The 1990s, especially the late 90s, were a time when women were coming into their own in pop culture. It’s the time that started what we now call “Third Wave Feminism.” (Buffy has even been cited at as Third Wave Feminist Icon by The Atlantic.) Here’s the brief timeline:

  • The original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (still my favorite) debuted in August 1992.
  • A novelization by Joss Whedon came a few months later (I read it like five times and still own it. I have the soundtrack on cassette, too. Obsessed much?)
  • The TV show ran from  1997-2003.
  • The show was continued on in graphic novels for two more seasons, but that’s really beyond the scope of this post.

Anyway, Buffy was really the first kick-ass female character in pop culture that I can remember. We had female superheros before (She-ra for example), but Buffy was the first woman to be both physically awesome without traditional superpowers (thought you could argue that The Slayer’s super-strength and quick self-healing abilities are superpowers) and by the end of the movie, have some depth and agency. No, Buffy would never be considered a genius – that’s what Willow and Giles are for – but especially by the time the TV show started, she had a bit of a brain and was realizing she could make her own choices, even though her overall fate as The Slayer wasn’t up to her. And the fact that she got more intelligent and strategy savvy as the series went on is even better.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but seeing (and personally embracing) this female icon left a lasting impression on my psyche. Maybe it helped that Buffy also coincided with my time at an all-girls high school (where we were taught be strong women), but regardless, I came to writing my Guinevere knowing I wanted her to be able to kick some ass like Buffy, something I hadn’t seen reflected in the Arthurian legend I’d read to that point. Plus, it is historically accurate for Celtic women, although possibly not as late as post-Roman Britain where/when my story is set.

In many ways, I think the physical toughness is related to a desire to no longer be repressed by or dependent on men. My Guinevere – the Guinevere of a new generation, if you will – was not going to be raised to sit around and await her husband to usher her into a new era of life. As a “self-rescuing princess,” she forged her own life away from and outside of her parents. Even later on, when she was subject to father’s legal control over her, Guinevere did what she could to live the life she, not her father, chose for her. Like Buffy, she eventually had to face the role destiny had in store for her, and like Buffy, she accepted what she couldn’t control and made the best of it with strength and determination. And if she kicked a little ass along the way (more so in the second and third books than the first), so much the better.

There is also an interesting tie between Buffy and the 1990s fascination with all things Wicca. During that decade, the movie The Craft (or, as many Wiccans call it, The Crap, for the lack of realism in its portrayal of their religion) was an introduction to the neo-pagan religion and/or goddess movement for many young people. Entire sections of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores were dedicated to books on witchcraft, and you couldn’t swing a cat (pun intended) without hitting a New Age Store in most major towns. (I am sad that this is no longer the case. Ahem.) Buffy has obvious ties to the supernatural (not to mention more than one Wiccan character) and it’s popularity was due in part to the culture of openness regarding all things mystical and occult.

What does this have to do with Guinevere? Well, in that same period of occult fascination, I chose to break the mold and give Guinevere a role that has been heretofore reserved for Morgan: that of priestess. This is important because traditionally in literature one of the few powerful female characters was the witch (also known as the priestess). By whatever name you call her, the priestess/witch, wields power on her own – no male intermediaries here – and uses her magic to get what she wants out of life. She also often has pre-cognitive abilities or other powers that threaten those in charge of society. In addition, witches have their covens or groves, in which they join together to become more powerful and use this community to train the young and protect the weak. For these reasons (among others) she is often viewed as a force that must be stopped. In Guinevere’s case, she has the sight, learns to manipulate the elements, and lives for a time in Avalon (which functions like a coven). For a long time she has no negative repercussions, but we all know one of the iconic images of Arthurian legend is Guinevere’s rescue from the stake…

(A powerful woman who says what she wants, does what she wants, and stands up for other women – and is persecuted for it – why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, that’s me reflecting on the culture of 2016-2017.)

In the end, Buffy saved the world (a lot), but not without sacrifice. While I can’t promise Guinevere will do the same, she was molded by the same cultural forces, so no matter how her story turns out (and only I know for certain), you can bet she won’t end her days moldering away in a convent, subject to the whims of men. Not while this Buffy fan still breathes.

#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!)

#BuffyWatch Part Four

(I know you were expecting a Saint Patrick’s Day themed post, but I’m sorry, no lucky charms here!)

Whoa. It’s been awhile since I last posted about the great #BuffyWatch! My bad!

If you’d like to read the last installment, you can check it here. If you’re new to the #buffywatch saga, basically Brian O’Conor and I have a bet to see who can finish BtVS or Supernatural first (I’m watching BtVS, Brian is watching SPN). Whoever wins gets to decide which series we use as a one-off game for our #MageTech troupe RPG first.

So I finished Season 5 last night and that was a fantastic ending. If you’ve read my YA series, then you know I’m a big fan of killing MCs and bringing them back – if you can do it believably. I know, I know, Buffy died once already, but she died in a very mortal way and was brought back with CPR, which is something a lot of people can do. I’m talkin’ catastrophic martyrdom.

I’m glad they waited to do this until the end of Season 5 because, if they do it right, when she comes back in Season 6, I’ll buy it. Buffy has grown enough as a character and “superhero” to accomplish this and my suspension of disbelief is strong enough, that I’ll go along with it. Since my last posting, I’ve watched two seasons, that’s a bit much for one post, so I’ll just do a recap of the larger plot elements. When I last wrote, Riley was a new character and I thought a good romantic match for Buffy.

We know Riley. What I didn’t get was the sudden gusting hate for that character from my friends. People who had been relatively quiet about mine and Brian’s bet suddenly burst on to Twitter with mega Riley-hate.

So I was waiting for it. Now the whole Initiative thing was just bleh for me. I really think that’s why I didn’t write a post when I finished Season 4. I think that season matches up with the Leviathan season Brian is in store for. Basically a few good episodes in the season but a major story arc you wish would just die.

Welp, needless to say I found out why the Riley-hate was so strong. GODDAMN WHAT A JERKFACE! Listen, at the end of S4 I still was not a Buffy fan (character, not show), but that whole Riley blaming her for his deceptions and, yes, I’ll say it, CHEATING, I was fucking livid for Buffy. I was yelling at the screen for her, screaming at Riley hating his face.

GAH. And I was so angry when Xander stuck up for him, saying Buffy was treating him like a rebound because, I’m sorry, but no, that’s not true. I really think Buffy was actually being normal for this guy and really into him. He was a douche. I was so angry when she went running to catch him at the end. If she had caught him in time, I would’ve forfeit the bet. I’m glad she didn’t make it in time. Fuck Riley.

And of course we have to talk about “Hush.” Arguably one of the best episodes of the whole show. Those monsters were so creepy! And their methodology… FREAKY. Funny enough, I watched this episode not long before the Thinman: GHOSTFACERS! episode of Supernatural.

   

Yeah, this charicature is really creepy and I totally get why there is a strong argument that, as a whole, we’ve created this tulpa.

Season 5. I kinda knew Joyce was going to die. My hubs is watching with me and he really thought the tumor was going to get her, but I said, “No, I don’t think so.” And I was right but then I got the sinking suspicion that it was just a red herring and she was going to die anyway. That they were making Buffy feel a false sense of relief and then were going to shatter her. I was right. Now, I’m not saying that because it was obvious or that it wasn’t well done. I think it was. I am still not a SMG fan, but after finding Joyce on the couch and the episodes after, I really liked what she did with the character. It was some of the most believable acting I’ve seen from her. 

Dawn. Meh. I do not like this plot device. I get it, fine. But I hated how we were just supposed to buy her showing up in that first episode. It was so jarring that I Googled it to make sure Netflix hadn’t screwed up and skipped something. To know that Wedon specifically put her in to give Buffy a “strong emotional relationship that wasn’t romantic” is crap to me. She has strong emotional relationships with her mother, Willow, Xander, and Giles. So I don’t buy that. I think she was a replacement for Joyce or Faith or both. I’m so glad this wasn’t my first introduction to Michelle Trachtenberg because I would’ve hated her otherwise. I do not like Dawn or the way she’s written. And I’m glad I’m not alone in that.

Glory. I really dug her as a villain.

And I’m glad we found out why no one noticed why Ben was always showing up in her clothes. Very Doctor Who the Silence!

I was sad that they killed the character of Sunday right off in S4, but I think Glory is very close to what she would have been had she lived.

Spike. Oh, poor Spike. I’ve always been a Spike fan and to know his backstory makes me like him even more. The Buffy-bot was a little more than creepy, but I think we can get past it. Sorta. I like that he’s a good-bad-guy now. I wonder if they ever deactivate the chip, will he stay the same? I hope so.

This got me in the feels:

Willow. I don’t know how I feel about the Willow-Tara storyline. I think I’m still trying to like Tara. The stuttering and the doe-eyes and the insecurities get on my nerves because I think it’s too much at times. And I don’t like how often Willow gets all snotty and snippy. And I really wasn’t a fan of the line, “Hello! Gay now!” That made me cringe. I like the more assertive Willow, and her new amazeballs powers, but I don’t think she needs to act bitchy as often as they make her.

I’ve been promised “evil Willow” soon and that I should dig it. I did like “Vampire Willow”…

…so I imagine I’ll like the next. I really am a fan of Alyson Hannigan – watching this and the last season of HIMYM really highlights what an awesome actress she really is.

Alright, there you have it folks. I am liking the show a lot more! I think I like the show best when Buffy isn’t in a romantic relationship. I’m actually looking forward to S6 – so long as there are no more Rileys and Crusaders (c’mon, that was stupid. Fine, an ancient order on a hunt for a relic, okay, but they can’t still be in chain mail and on horseback in the 2000’s. Nope.com). I understand this season has “Once More With Feeling” and everyone is very excited for me to see it. Though I am not a huge musical fan, so I’ll just keep my fingers crossed on that one.

BurCon: Giving Thanks

It’s rare for me to find something that fully seduces and captivates me. I’ve found that as I get older, I have a markedly finite amount of patience for things I have to try to like.

When I find something that sucks me into its snare immediately, I appreciate it like a foot rub after 12 hours on my feet.

Supernatural was one of those snares. Our own fabulous Kristin McFarland told me to watch it, and I remember when I posted a Facebook status inquiring about others’ thoughts, it quickly became the highest-endorsed show anyone had recommended since Hannibal stormed the Alps with elephants (and that was even way before he got into cannibalism and Jodie Foster’s head).

The pilot sucked me in. I’ll admit to having previously thought the premise a bit thin — two brothers fighting demons and looking for Dad — sort of like Buffy with less than 50% of the X chromosomes. Admittedly, there are a few issues in that vein, but as the show progressed, I began to feel a warm regard for it, and before too long, I was sitting it down to tell it how ardently I admired and loved it.

What Supernatural accomplishes with a fervent and zealous deliberation is best exemplified in its ability to turn a humorous episode into a soul-searching exploration of its characters and their very evident humanity. Last night Spouse and I watched French Mistake (Ep 615), which is known for its über-meta hilarity — and in that episode I saw a glimpse of some of the finest acting Jared Padalecki has ever done when they’re back home, and he’s staring at a wall.

That might not sound particularly compelling, but he slaps the wall, thumps it with his hand a couple of times, and you see a dozen emotions flicker across his face. And because of that, I felt something.

That, my friends, is why I spent eight months drooling, binge watching, and ultimately saving-scrimping-pinching to be able to attend a Supernatural convention.

It’s been my first real foray into active and contemporary fandom. Buffy — my beloved Buffy — ended before I found it. All the things I loved as a kid — Fear Street, the Nightworld, X-Men, Power Rangers, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings — all of it was pre-Twitter, pre-Internet, and without any knowledge of what cons were or how to find them. I loved those things alone, from the relative sanctity and safety of my own room.

Supernatural has been, in some ways, the first fandom I found to be a home. The actors and creators feel like genuine people. When Jared hashtags #SPNfamily on Twitter, he means it.

There’s something to be treasured in getting to see a show build itself each week, in the chance to digest each episode after a thorough chewing instead of swallowing whole seasons in one bite like some kind of…Leviathan.

Is it worth it to spend money (lots of it) to fly cross-country (or cross-ocean, as many did) and see the faces of a show’s actors in person? That’s really up to you — you can be a superfan without ever having been forcibly removed from the set. The greatest thing about the experience is getting to love something together, cast and fans. And that’s what I learned this weekend.

Plus, a hug from Misha never hurt.

For me, the weekend was distinctly special. I got to meet Jared, Jensen, Misha — all of the obvious cast members. Which was really wonderful and exciting. But perhaps even cooler for me than those very brief hellos in the autograph and photo op queues was getting to spend a bit of actual time talking to Osric Chau, Travis Wester, and Felicia Day. Osric is absolutely delightful, Travis is a fellow fantasy author, and Felicia…well. Felicia is Felicia. I don’t really have words.

I also got to meet our lovely Shauna Granger in person as well as another writer I’ve known via Teh Internetz for a couple years, August McLaughlin. So as it is, these pictures…

Shauna and me! Live! In person! FOR REALSIES!
Shauna and me! Live! In person! FOR REALSIES!

August and me -- if you don't know who she is, get on that.
August and me — if you don’t know who she is, get on that.

…Mean as much or more to me as these pictures…

Yep. That's a J&J sammich made of Emmie.
Yep. That’s a J&J sammich made of Emmie.

Felicia and I are ready for battle.
Felicia and I are ready for battle.

Most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well for the weekend…but there’s always next year. And until then, the ones above (all four of them) are the ones that really count.

Oh, and this one! Which I never would have gotten without Shauna having the chutzpah to ask for:

Me with producer and writer Adam Glass.
Me with producer and writer Adam Glass.

One of the other awesome moments of the weekend — getting to talk writing shop with Adam Glass, who has been with the show for years. *Salutes Shauna*

This week, I’m giving thanks for so much. For this show and the people who make it. For getting to meet friends in person after years of knowing them online. For getting to hear Mark Pellegrino sing Sweet Transvestite. For Osric as Rapunzel.

Would I go back? I’m already planning for next year.

Who’s with me?

PS: If you want to hear more about my weekend, I posted a vlog about it. It’s a long’un, but there’s some good stuff in there!

Spin-Off City

Who are these new faces beside those familiar faces? Oh, wait, nope, don’t care…

Sometimes it seems like half the series I love end up getting a spin-off. Buffy: Angel. Vampire Diaries: The Originals. Friends: Joey. (Shudder.) And now CBS is saying How I Met Your Mother may get a spin-off/reboot in the form of How I Met Your Dad.

When we love things, we not only have a hard time letting them go, but we also want MOAR MOAR MOAR of them. Occasionally it works, but as often as not, shows and series are run into the ground by extended storylines and plots that just can’t carry the weight of an independent viewership. Shows spin out instead of spinning off, and tens of novels are written about characters we just don’t care about.

Can you tell I don’t usually go in for spin-offs?

I love Buffy, but I’ve never made it through Angel. I haven’t even tried The Originals. I only watched the pilot of the short-lived Joey show because my college friends had more loyalty to Friends than I did and insisted I should. (I regret giving in to peer pressure: that’s 30 minutes of my life I’m never getting back!) I’m only just starting to venture into the follow-up novel to Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, which I adore and am afraid can’t continue as awesomely as it began. I can take or leave all the books that follow Jacqueline Carey’s original Kushiel trilogy. That much-later Brandon Sanderson Mistborn-follow-up, Alloy of Law? Nope, nope, nope.

I just can’t do it.

Frequently I joke that I don’t have much author loyalty*: I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s other work, I’ve not read any of GRRM’s sci-fi, and I don’t have an abiding love for Lord John Grey in Diana Gabaldon’s other work. When I get into a series on screen or page, I fall fathoms deep in love with the characters and stories in front of me. If those beloved characters carry on, as in the not-so-great Buffy comics, I’ll keep slogging along in spite of my better judgement. And I am venturing into the Fever series follow-ups, because the world is rich with possibilities for new stories. But when a plot-adjacent character ventures off on his own, I won’t follow unless I really love that particular individual… and neither Angel nor Klaus was interesting enough for me want to look up after he’d moved on.

The trouble is that often when a new series spins off of the original, it doesn’t have enough independent tension to hold it together, so it unravels rather quickly. I mean, Wolfram and Hart? Evil demon lawyers? Seriously? That’s not a compelling villain, at least not to me, and while I’m willing to watch a character I love fight a weak-sauce bad guy every now and then, I’m not game for watching a protagonist who leaves me cold fight a villain who doesn’t impress me.

And frequently, the characters just aren’t well-rounded enough to act as a center of gravity for an entire new cast and plot. A hollow protagonist can’t hold an engaging love interest, won’t challenge a menacing antagonist, and doesn’t attract deep secondary characters. While I enjoyed Klaus’s dynamic with some of the original characters of The Vampire Diaries, I’m not sure he’s versatile enough to act as the pivot point for a multi-year, independent series.

Clearly, though, I stand alone in not particularly caring about spin-offs, because their creation generates enough interest and money for networks and publishers to keep unraveling original plots and casts every year. The Originals started this fall and pulls similar viewership numbers to its parent show, and Angel ran for a solid five seasons.

Beats me. I’m just not that into them.

So where do you stand? Are you a spin-off lover or hater? Do you watch them on a case-by-case basis? Are there any spin-offs you’ve liked better than the original?

*Joss Whedon may be the only** exception to this statement. I’ll watch (almost) anything the man makes.

**Guy Gavriel Kay may be another exception, but his most recent books have started to test my love.

Who Do You Wanna Be?

 

When I was growing up, I always read to escape. The thing was, my escapes weren’t exactly what you might expect. I used to go to bed at night reading R.L. Stine. I devoured vampire stories the way Dracula would take down a pint of O Positive after fasting for a month. Scary stories were my escape, and the protagonists were people who fascinated me.

 

When I think about Nora Goode from the Fear Street Saga or Alisa from Christopher Pike’s Last Vampire series, they weren’t always admirable people. Half the people in Fear Street had some sort of ulterior motives, and Alisa was five thousand years old. Not a whole lot an eight-year-old kid could relate to.

 

Mummy
5000 years doesn’t look so hot. Mummy (Photo credit: seriykotik1970)

 

I read them anyway. I loved those characters. Even Daniel Fear, who had a distinctively murderous side.

 

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of less-than-desirable characters in books and watched them in movies.

 

I started writing my first serious novel when I was in high school. The characters were almost all noble, kind, and happy — or sardonic in a friendly sort of way. I got about a hundred and fifty pages into it before I realized that the whole thing felt naïve, and it was years before I figured out why.

 

People aren’t like that. The Super Shiny Folks in real life bug me just as much as they do in stories. Real human beings have inner (and outer) conflicts. They’re not perfect. Real humans have dust bunnies under the bed, skeletons in the closet, and pores that show when they look closely at themselves in the mirror.

Characters should be like real people. Sure, they might have superpowers or live in a zombie wasteland or prance about with fairies and unicorns, but they should be like people. They should have idiosyncrasies and nervous tics, soft spots for kitten bellies and saltwater taffy.

I also think that even the darkest protagonists (or the worst behaved) have aspects we can admire. Tenacity, maybe. Or the ability to speak their minds however over the top or larger than life their opinions really are. Characters can be role models even when they’re not admirable ones.

The next couple books I attempted took my characters to darker places. Gave them more nuance and depth and scuffed away at their shiny faςades. When I first finished watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wanted to BE Buffy Summers.

Here’s the kicker: Buffy goes through some serious crap. She suffers tremendously. She gives up her life — twice — to save her loved ones and the world. She also makes the occasional very selfish decision and sometimes horribly treats the people she loves. And I still wanted to be her. She may be the archetypal hero, but she’s also a very flawed human being.

My goal as a writer is to create characters readers want to continue to go back to. Characters that pull readers into their world, into the muck and the torment that awaits them at the hands of plot. The only reason this works is because there’s some part of us that connects with these flawed, fictional personages. We might not want to model our lives after them, but we might admire the way they exercise their agency where we would fear to assert ourselves. We might wish we had their candor, their courage, their ability to shut it off and do what needs to be done.

So bring on the scruffy, the world-weary, the duty-worn, the heavy drinkers and the brazen narcissists — just give me a part of them that clicks with a part of me.

Which less-than-admirable characters do you relate to? Who keeps you coming back for more?