Monday, April 29, 2019

In Conversation - Avengers: Endgame (WITH SPOILERS)

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and it's my turn to do an interview. Except it's also the Monday after the biggest crossover in cinematic history came to a conclusion, and I can't not think about that. Luckily for me, fellow Across the Board blogger Karissa Laurel also saw it this weekend. So instead of a traditional interview, we're doing an "In Conversation" piece where we discuss Avengers: Endgame -- what worked, what didn't work, and what it could all mean.

And we're discussing with SPOILERS.




















All right, now that those who don't want spoilers have all safely averted their eyes, let's begin!


Since Avengers: Endgame is essentially a direct sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, it’s impossible to really talk about it without discussing a bit about its prequel (especially considering all the suspense that’s built up over the past year over how Marvel was going to bring all this together).

Personally, I loved Infinity War. It wasn’t perfect – I’m still mad about the writers basically endangering all of Wakanda over Vision – but it had a level of epic-ness that was hard to match. The sheer scale of the crossover and the stakes are hard to beat. Plus, I really liked how they divided up the cast – the teams they chose to go after the different Infinity Stones. The smaller groups played off each other well (especially Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy). And as far as Marvel villains go, Thanos was surprisingly sympathetic – the writers gave him enough character moments that I kind of felt for him even though his actions were rather despicable.

What did you think?


My MCU friends give me a hard time for not being more "in the moment" when I watched it, and I'll accept that as a fault on my part rather than as a fault of the writers, but Infinity War was perhaps my least favorite of the Avengers movies – the team up, full ensemble cast movies. I just could not get outside of my head enough to accept the full impacts of these characters deaths when I knew full well that many of them had future movies under contract. Don't tell me I'm not supposed to think about that in the moment. I know I'm not supposed to, but I did, and it robbed the "snap" of a lot of emotional impact for me.


Hah! Well, I've got to agree with you there. I didn't love the ending either. I mean, we all KNEW they weren't going to keep Black Panther dead when his movie had just busted international box offices! But what about all the stuff leading up to that?


I should start with what I did love. Like you, I loved the small teams and their dynamics. Thor working with the Guardians was a brilliant move. The Ragnarok version of Thor fit perfectly with the Guardians' dynamics, and I think that's the best version of Thor they've done so far. His character journey between Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame has been, perhaps, my favorite of all the Avengers (After Cap. My heart ultimately always belongs to Cap).


Same! Thor always had this joke-y side of him, and I loved how Ragnorak brought that out and magnified it, giving him the perfect dynamic with the Guardians.

Okay, let's talk about Endgame. And while we're on Thor...

YES. Let's talk about Thor.


This poor guy has had the toughest character arc of all the superheroes. He starts out as an arrogant prince who has to do better, actually DOES do better, and what does he get for his pains? His entire family dies, his entire world is destroyed, almost all his people are murdered – oh, and his girlfriend breaks up with him – and after all that he still tries to do the hero thing. He wins – he KILLS THANOS. But it changes nothing. DAMN that's gotta hurt.

No wonder why he decided to take five years off to be a shlub. I don't blame him!


YES!!!! If anyone deserved to be broken and wallow in self-pity… And I'm so glad they allowed him to do that. To show his "humanity".


He held up surprisingly well, all things considered! Still worthy of that hammer after all.


One of my Twitter friends was so disappointed in what they did to him physically speaking. Taking him from this beautifully chiseled specimen of an Intergalactic God to basically "The Dude" from The Big Labowski. But for me it was brilliant.

I got a whole new respect for Chris Hemsworth as an actor, too, for embracing that. For being able to laugh at himself. I can only imagine when he read the script and saw what they were going to do to Thor that he was so excited for it.


Chris Hemsworth is a very good comedic actor, and I love that Marvel recognized that.

What do you think of the team we were left with after the Great Dusting? I remember after Infinity War finding it really interesting that all the original Avengers remained while the most interesting newer characters got dusted (e.g. Black Panther, Spider-Man). And then there were the characters who were killed by other means – Loki, Gamora. That left us with a core team of the original Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow) plus Ant-Man, Nebula, Rocket, and War Machine. Did I miss anyone?


Well… There's Captain Marvel. And I'm still not totally sure how I feel about her in this movie


She wasn't part of the core team – she didn't get to go back in time. I was disappointed by her role in this film, to be frank. There was such build-up to her appearance, with Fury calling to her, her appearance in the trailer, and even her introduction in the movie – saving Iron Man, then meeting up with the Avengers to talk about their next move.

But after that, they really sidelined her. They used the handy excuse of "oh, but there's a bigger galaxy" to essentially write her out of the movie, only reappearing to be, as my friend put it, a "ball of light ex machine."


You basically took the words out of my mouth. Like, I can't really add to what you've said because those are my exact problems too.

After her performance in her own movie, I was like: This chick seems as though she could single-handedly beat Thanos without breaking a sweat. But that's not at all what happened.


Right. I was hoping for some epic team-up, but instead, she was kept in the periphery.


I thought she was going to be the "secret weapon" or something like that. She wasn't that. She was less than that. Other than busting up Thanos’s ship, she hardly made any other impact. And any woman who can tear apart a ship like that should have been able to break Thanos’s weapon at least. What the heck was that thing made out of anyway?


When the Avengers were going on about who would be strong enough to wield the gauntlet, I wanted to scream, "CAPTAIN MARVEL!" But then they went with Hulk and I rolled my eyes.


YES! I thought that too! She swallowed the power of the tesseract and not only survived but let it transform her into a super weapon. She was the ideal to wield the gauntlet. I remember thinking that during the debate.

I get that she's not a core Avenger, and the purpose of this movie was ultimately to focus on the core team, but it's like you said: They set her up to be more. So I expected more. And that wasn't delivered.


In general, Endgame felt like much more of a retrograde "white guy" movie than what Marvel's been building toward for the past few years. For all their purported progress toward racial diversity and inclusion of women, they really went backward with Endgame. I get that they were aiming to focus on the original Avengers, but dusting all their women and people of color made Endgame glaringly white and male.


You're not wrong. And even more than the dusting…

I had HUGE problems with the Thanos and Gamora dynamic in Infinty War. This also ties in with the problems with Black Widow's treatment


We had Nebula, War Machine, and Black Widow, but they were really supporting characters compared to Iron Man, Cap, Thor, and even Ant-Man (who wasn't even an original Avenger but... because Paul Rudd??)


Ha ha ha. These women who are sacrifices. SMEH!


Women as sacrifices to advance the men's stories *eyeroll*.


I knew Black Widow was going to be the one to die at Vormir. Because Clint had a family. Kids and a wife. And I hated to see her go out like that.


That line of thinking is awful – the idea that one's life only has value if one has dependents. I was also disappointed with how they treated Black Widow’s death. Where’s her big superhero-studded funeral?? She was the one holding things together during those five years after The Snap, checking in with the leftover superhero brigade, while Iron Man was off playing house!

And I'm bummed that Gamora's perma-dead. I know they brought back a version of her through time travel, but it seems the Gamora we followed through the first two Guardians films and Infinity War is just... gone.


Nat's self-sacrifice further underscored a problem I had with Thanos and Gamora in Infinity War. I believe Nat's sacrifice (or one like hers) was the toll required to retrieve the Soul Stone. That kind of sacrifice is true love in action. Her love for Clint. Her love for the Avengers. For humanity as a whole.

I don't believe Thanos love Gamora like that. The moment he tossed her off the cliff was proof that he didn't have that kind of love. His feelings for Gamora were always self-serving.


That's a very good point.


I guess, if you take the rule at its literal interpretation, that you have to sacrifice something you love to get the stone... Then Thanos probably didn't love much of anything, and Gamora might have been the "closest thing" to love he had. So maybe that was sufficient to satisfy the rule.

But regardless, that always pissed me off. Nat kills herself; Thanos kills someone else. Both result in the same conclusion?

But I'm willing to make plot exceptions elsewhere, so I guess I have to make exceptions here too. Ha!


*sigh* This is where the writers' bias comes in.


Yup. Exactly.


Endgame really felt like a send-off for the original Avengers. Iron Man, Cap, and Black Widow ended their storylines completely, and it was implied that Hawkeye, too, was done with his adventures. Thor’s still around but in a very different capacity – he’s no longer the God of Thunder or Prince of Asgard. Hulk too – he’s evolved in a way that makes him essentially Banner permanently. I was glad that Marvel was willing to close the book on these story arcs after all these years, and I really liked what they did for Iron Man and Cap. Iron Man got to go out in a blaze of glory and received well-earned honors, and Cap finally got his happy ending with Peggy. What do you think of Endgame as, well, an endgame to an 11-year movie saga spanning 20 or something films?


Yes, I 100% agree that it felt like a celebratory send-off – even with Tony's death, which I predicted. Ever since he was willing to sacrifice himself to save them all in the first Avengers movie, you knew he had the capacity for it. Didn't mean it didn't break my heart though (Oh and I was so excited to see Pepper in the final battle!!).

The end of Bruce Banner's arc was him finding peace with himself, finding balance between the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of himself. What more is there to do for him from this place? It was always his goal, and he achieved it.

Clint always only wanted his family, and he got it.

Cap got Peggy, which was the sweetest thing to me, even if the time travel aspect of it had plot holes, I had a feeling the story would end with him going back to her, and after all he's been through, I wanted to see him have that bit of normal, domestic bliss. I know some folks are disappointed there wasn't more with Cap and Bucky in this movie. (When Cap was fighting with his past self earlier in the movie mentioned Bucky to distract Past Cap long enough to defeat him, my son said "It's a Martha moment!", meaning the thing that got Batman and Superman to stop fighting in Batman vs. Superman was them realizing they both had moms named Martha *eyeroll*. My kid is so smart sometimes, LOL!) But I felt like Cap and Bucky got their resolution in Civil War and in Infinity War. Cap and Peggy was the thread that still needed tying up for me.

So, yeah, that's a really long way of saying that, ultimately, I'm very satisfied with the culmination of this series, and I'm seriously impressed with these writers' abilities to bring it all together.


While I liked the resolutions the male Avengers received, I thought the overall plot could have used more tension. As far as final battles go, I wasn't that impressed with Endgame's, even though the scale of it was clearly designed for applause. I think it's because they didn't do a good enough job of setting up the tension... the Thanos they battled was a flatter version of the same Thanos they battled in Infinity War, and there was so much going on that few moments had a chance to shine. There were some parts that seemed designed for audience applause (e.g. that shot of all the female fighters in one place) that just fell flat (I mean, it's hard to applaud for their mere existence when this was essentially a movie about the white dudes).

If anything, I wish the battle could have been longer and had more of its own story arc. Kind of like the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers.


Look, even I felt that all female shot was pandering. It made me smile. But also internal eye roll. And we barely saw the women.

I have always loved Nat's fighting style. Whoever choreographs for Scarlett Johansson does such a great job taking into account her small stature. I was so sad that we didn't get to see her fight one more time. She fights with her WHOLE BODY. But she never got to do that in this film.


She wins her final fight – to sacrifice herself.

It kind of felt like 2019's Endgame suffered from being too much in service to 2012's Avengers.


I go back and forth with understanding that this is ultimately the end story of the core characters, and the focus needed to stay on them, but also wanting it acknowledged that Avengers has become so much more than that. And also understanding there was limited time and space. I mean...the movie was already three hours long.


I think a skilled editor could have pulled it off. At the very least, they could have made more space for Black Widow. Meanwhile, Ant-Man got more space than he deserved.


On that, you and I 100% agree.


Don't get me wrong – I like Ant-Man!


I do too, but he shouldn't have usurped Nat. His time travel element was crucial to the story, I get that, but once he brought in that element, he should have taken a step back.


Right. Which is what they did with Captain Marvel – had her show up to save Iron Man, then vanish.


I didn't have as much trouble with the tension as you. And I wasn't as enamored of Thanos in the first movie, so maybe that's why I didn't feel he was as flat in this one.


I just realized the root of some of my discontent. Endgame was a conclusion to the original Avengers’ movies. I wanted it to be a conclusion to all 20-whatever movies. I wanted everything that happened in Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel to come to some kind of conclusion in Endgame too, even knowing they had sequels.


Good point! And of course it's not, because so many of this characters are moving on in later movies and on the new platform. So yeah, it was just wrapping up the original core team. And they did that pretty well, I think.


I suppose. I think my views will grow kinder upon re-watches. They often do.


Mine change too. And talking it out with another person helps me work through it. (We haven't even talked about Cap saying "shit!" and him wielding Mjolnir and his "Hail Hydra" in the elevator.) Those three things had me jumping out of my seat.


I really enjoyed him wielding Thor's hammer. And Thor's reaction.


Ever since he managed to wiggle it back in Age of Ultron


That was a nice throwback.

It worked for me. It utterly worked for me.

And the elevator scene throwback was so, so smart. But when he said "Hail Hydra" I wanted to shake those writers' hands. Because I was so, so pissed when that came out in the comics a couple of years ago. SO PISSED.  And here was our chance to thumb our noses at it. It was so cathartic for me.

They took that horrible thing and turned it on its head. A big FU to the comics. Ha.


Ha! That was a cool moment.

One thing bothers me though – if Cap went back to the 1940s to live out his life with Peggy and was still in the same timeline as the current Avengers, that means he knew Hydra was infiltrating SHIELD and let it happen. He also knew that Bucky was being mind-controlled and kept on ice and did nothing about it. Which doesn't feel very Cap-like.


I know, I know. I have conveniently decided to ignore that.


Really, I thought there was a simple solution to all this: Have him come back through the machine as an old man,  implying that he came from a different timeline altogether.


I wonder how no one caught that earlier. I thought about it all night and couldn't really come to a satisfactory answer. Other than he assumed that the past version of himself that he fought earlier in the movie would ultimately do the things that needed to be done, that he'd already done, and he was willing to accept that.


I don't think there's a way to logic through this. It felt like the writers wanted their scene and didn't care what plot holes they had to create to get it.


Yes. I completely thing you're right


I don't know about you, but I've definitely bent my plot over backward just to get certain scenes I wanted at times. So I get it.


Oh no. We never do things like that. *sarcasm font*

The other thing I mentioned to you earlier that, for me, bears repeating is that I was really moved by how much "family" played an important theme throughout Endgame. It, for me, was the unifying theme. All the small individual family narratives of each character got woven into bigger narratives, such as the family of the Avengers and ultimately the family of humans on Earth. Family is sacred and worth protecting at all costs.


That's very true. The idea of the Avengers as family is really the emotional core of the whole saga.


I think most folks can relate to that. But it really struck a chord with me.


Before we go, the obligatory last question: What do you think is next for the Marvel-verse? I know they're planning two shows for Disney Plus that Endgame hinted at: one for Loki (I guess that's where he absconded to with the Tesseract), and one for Falcon and the Winter Soldier (or New Captain America and the Winter Soldier)


Maybe I'm not supposed to take this into account but… Avengers: Endgame has blasted opening weekend sales records. Which, from a business standpoint, I think the MCU powers that be have to take into account when considering whether it was worth the investment in a series this huge. I think the answer is a resounding yes. So I think they'd be smart to develop another cohesive series like the Avengers.

As you mentioned, a lot of spin offs are coming out of this. So... do they take Spider-Man and Black Panther and Captain Marvel and build a new team? Do they focus on X-Men? Do they come up with something utterly new?

Oh, and I just looked... seems like we might get a Doctor Strange 2.

I wouldn't say no to an X-Men/Avengers crossover.


That would be fun! Though it would have to be a new cast. I don't think it would work with Fox's current X-Men line-up.


Yeah... the timelines don't match up yet

But sometime in the future...


And hey, comics are known to blow apart the multiverse to get the crossovers they want, so who knows?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Google Me This: Research for a PI novel

Hello friends. Are you lounging in a post-Easter/Passover candy coma? Cuz I am.
My kids housed my marshmallow twists and candy fruit slices, but luckily for me, they don't seem to like macaroons. I have three canisters that--if I play my cards right--will last me until summer vacation.
So I am in the good position of having just started a new project. I am writing a private detective novel--super Veronica Marsy--and I am having a blast. I've penned roughly ten percent and I'm flying high. Starting a new manuscript is a bit like falling in love, isn't it? You start off smitten by the idea. You begin to plan all the wonderful things that will happen. You're eager to spend every waking minute together. You daydream about your book all the time. In the shower. In the car. At your kids' spring concert. And through it all, you just can't wait to see it again. You actually get butterflies in your stomach. You swoon.

And then you get to that middle part. You're sick of their shit. They aren't who you thought they were. You find yourself avoiding them. Dealing with them is just plain work and who wants that? The dialogue you found so cute in the beginning now sounds like nails on a chalkboard. And the cliches they dole out! Blech. And what's with these new characters coming and going? Who started the group hang?

And by the end you're just so glad to be done with it. You learned a lot. It was an experience you can take to your next They all add value.

Yeah, writing a book is like that.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a Google search post. And I'm going to do things a little differently with it. Rather than a Google autofill thing, I am going to list all the things I've googled while writing this PI novel. And just for context, my protagonist is a 24-year-old Jewish girl from Jersey (*cough*write what you know) who dropped out of college to take care of her mother who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Dark, but it has my chipper humor so it's all good.

Okay, here goes...
  1. Port in Elizabeth, NJ
  2. Port Newark in NJ
  3. Racketeering (actual definition)
  4. shtup -- spelling (it's Yiddish)
  5. East Jersey State Prison
  6. Names of Federal prisons
  7. famous Jewish delis
  8. Bugsy Siegel 
  9. Tzedakah box (spelling)
  10. Bergen County Parks
  11. How to get a PI license in NJ
  12. Do you have to be licensed to be a PI in New Jersey?
  13. Yelp reviews of strip clubs
  14. Who's on the $100 bill?
  15. Shul (again spelling)
  16. Slang for a drug high
  17. Teterboro Airport
  18. Image search for a 2005 Cutlass
  19. Docks in Bergen County
  20. Beastie Boys
And lastly

21. Stores that sell clogs (really)

So there ya have it. I'm surprised there is only 21 items on the list, but it's still early. I've only written one act. 

What's the weirdest thing you've ever googled for a book?
Sound off in the comments below.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Back Jacket Hack-Job - Bird Box

I’m back with another Back Jacket Hack-Job. You know - the posts where we write up a bad back cover copy for a book. Hope you enjoy my latest hack at a book I recently read. I haven’t seen the Netflix version yet, but I hope to get to it eventually. Check it out if you haven’t already!

~ Carrie

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

Close your eyes.

I said, close your eyes.

Seriously, keep your eyes closed.

Last warning. CLOSE YOUR EYES!

What the hell? All you had to do was keep your eyes closed, but you just couldn’t do it. Now theres no point of you buying this book. I hope reading this was worth it because it’s the last thing you will ever see.

Monday, April 15, 2019

White Rose Comic Con Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey there ghouls and goblins!

I'm a little slow in getting around to recapping last month's inaugural White Rose Comic Con, but I'm glad I waited because now I get to share it with you, the highbrow readers of Across the Board, instead of the scum that frequent my personal blog.

So, for those of you who may not know, the neighboring cities of York and Lancaster here in central Pennsylvania, like their British namesakes, are known as the White Rose and Red Rose Cities respectively. So White Rose Comic Con just means York Comic Con to us locals who are "in the know."

I had the pleasure of meeting the organizers at a few other local conventions, so I was hopeful for a good turnout at this one. Of course, I've been to some piss-poor first year cons before, and there's a reason first year cons have a reputation for being terrible, so I was naturally a bit apprehensive as well. But more on the outcome of that later.

Worst case scenario, I figured even if I didn't sell any books I would get to hang out with some of the local Central PA horror crew. Also attending were Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Kelli Owen, Bob Ford, Chris Enterline, Somer Canon, Mike Lombardo and exactly zero others.

Myself and the Queen of Cosmic Horror, Mary SanGiovanni!



There was one other local author who was there.

So, this might be mildly amusing, or it might be dumb to everyone but me. But, in any case, you're all going to hear about it because I'm the one writing this blogpost. (Or, in the words of the legendary Joe Pilato, RIP, "I'm running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein!")

You saw how long that list of attendees just from our little clique was. So, in advertising our attendance at the con, it was pretty common for us to just list one or two of the other attendees and use the ubiquitous "and more" honorific for the rest.


On a single occasion horror ingénue Wesley Southard made a list of all the Chris Enterline. Which made Enterline very upset (not really.) So I began to refer to leaving a single member of the group out as "being Enterlined." And then proceeded to "Enterline" Wes on every occasion possible. It made for hilarity for those of us who are extremely petty.

Anyway, speaking of Enterline, he was my tablemate for the con, which turned out to be kismet because he is also the cover artist for the re-release of THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. So, even on the occasions when people were fairly disinterested in our wares, we were able to generate some nominal enthusiasm by saying, "Oh, and Chris did the cover for this one" or "Oh, and Steve wrote a novel I illustrated."

It also just so happens that I was scheduled to appear on Horror Metal Cast the Monday following the convention. The host (and my good friend) Stevie Kopas asked for any promotional art I wanted to provide.

I said, "What are you looking for?"

She said, "Anything. It can be a rat riding a dolphin for all I care."

So, after 72 solid hours of pestering Enterline, this masterpiece was born:

Nature is beautiful.

Friday I rolled up to the York Fairgrounds with Enterline in tow. I ran briefly over to the gas station with Keene to get some change. I got the impression that he invited me along because he knew the weekend was going to be hectic and this might be our only chance to have a few minutes to chat. And right enough he was!

I've done a lot of conventions in Baltimore and lately I've been starting to feel lately like I've tapped out the market. I was worried that going just an hour north I'd be seeing all of the same faces that I've pitched to ten or twenty times before with varying degrees of success. But I guess we were just sufficiently in a different area that folks didn't know me. And best of all: they were buying!

Which is not to be crass. Money's nice, but I know it's not everything. But there is a severe difference between sitting behind a table eight hours a day and playing Pokemon Go and sitting behind a table for eight hours and getting to field questions and meet new potential fans.

White Rose turned out to be the latter!

Which is not to say that I did not see a few familiar faces. Amongst the usual suspects was Steven Hager, better known as Rip the Gravedigger at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. Steven had recently purchased Wile E. Young's debut novel, but that was not something Keene or I could simply let stand.

Neither of these middle initials is correct, for those wondering.

If you're starting to get the impression that horror authors are easily amused: you can shut your whorish mouth.

Overall, it was a lovely time.  And that's without even getting into the trip to Olive Garden.  (Spoiler alert: the pastabilities were decidedly not endless.)  There's probably a lot more that happened, but I think I've tested your patience for long enough.  Here's looking forward to WRCC Year Two!

I consider absolution for Somer Canon.  Outcome TBD.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

I Left Something Important Behind

                                By Cheryl Oreglia

There are experiences in life that leave you permanently altered, rearranged, rebooted. I'm not talking getting a new puppy, tattoo, or full body massage. This is more like writing a new chapter in your life.

I recently returned from a Writer's Conference on Bald Head Island, in beautiful North Carolina. The event was hosted by a dynamic writer named Nancy Slonim Aronie, author of Writing from the Heart. 

She believes that we all have a story inside of us, and if we find the courage to write from a place of honesty it can be a tool for healing not only ourselves, but others. I've only been to a handful of workshops for writers so you can imagine my surprise when this event turned out to be one of enormous impact. 

Nancy Slonim Aronie lives on Martha's Vineyard, she teaches at Harvard University, and has been a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She used to write a monthly column for McCall's magazine, but is best known for her writing workshops at unusual and vibrant locations around the country. She is the director of the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha's Vineyard. It's difficult to categorize Nancy, she is an amazing presence, one who fills the room with an electric sort of charm. 

Her workshops revolve around the concept of validation. She developed this idea after participating in a writing group that felt destructive and detrimental to the art of writing. Her focus is on writing from the heart, complete honesty, and finding your own voice as a writer. She believes we all have an important story to tell and these narratives have the potential to heal. 

She begins the workshop in a casual manner, sharing bit and pieces from her life, poignant stories that elicit emotion from the audience.  About five minutes in she has turned the word f*ck into a lovely verb. Nancy creates an easy camaraderie with the audience. Her style is warm and inviting, you feel it, and the result is magnanimous. 

Then she assigns homework. I felt a sinking feeling deep inside. The assignment was to write for 15 minutes, no more, no less, about a dinner from our childhood. The following day we read our stories out loud to the entire group. This is completely out of my comfort zone but I did it with a shaky voice, caked in fear, and when I found the courage to look up I was greeted with applause, tears, and voices of encouragement. It was a humbling experience to say the least. 

This is where it gets interesting as the audience learns not only more of each other, bonding in the process, but it allows for feedback, validation, and genuine encouragement. The only rule is that we comment on things we liked, connected with, or powerfully responded to, no negative comments are allowed. She wants us to focuses on what we did well. That is a rare experience in life. 

It is a powerful moment to sit and listen to how your narrative was positively received. The instructor illuminates your strengths and in the process she pushes you to a higher level of writing. She says you have to feel the emotion as your are writing. This is how you connect with your audience most powerfully. If it is not honest, raw, detailed, and transparent then it falls flat, and everyone knows it. 

Our next assignment was to write about the most difficult thing we ever had to deal with. We had twelve minutes to get the experience down on paper. In between breaks and lunch she challenges us to write something your father told you in two sentences. I wrote, "My father never told me I couldn't shoot a gun, change the oil in the car, or fly a single engine plane. I was the second girl in a two kid family, the wrong sex, so I became the son he never had but hoped for."

By the third day you are writing the name of your next book and titling your first ten chapters. When it was time to pack up our supplies, suitcases, and sunscreen we have bonded with each other and our fearless leader. No one wanted to leave but all of us were excited to move forward with our writing. 

We felt validated. This is the gift, something writers desperately needs, and the confidence to move forward with the projects you've only dreamed about. 

I left something important behind at this conference, my derogatory beliefs about my abilities as a writer, but unexpectedly I found my voice. 

Nancy has published a book on writing called Writing From the Heart. The book is full of suggestions, prompts, and practical ways to sharpen your pencil, strengthen your pose, and discover your own unique voice. I suggest attending one of her workshops if the opportunity ever presents itself, if not, go out and find one. 

What has your experience been at conferences for writers? 

When I'm not writing Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, this is where you'll find the rest of the story.  

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Marie Kondo-ing Your Writing Career

I had a new release a couple of months ago and now I'm deep in the weeds of (re)writing my next book, so I've been thinking a lot about how I want the rest of the year to shape up. And I've decided there's one thing I'm looking for above all else.


It sounds hokey, right? This is my CAREER. I spend a lot of money on covers, editing and ads, and I'm not doing this because I have a trust fund somewhere for all of that. I've come a long way in redefining my version of success as it relates to money, but I still want/need to make some. But for the rest of 2019 - and maybe longer - I'm taking the Marie Kondo approach to my writing career, and I'm going to advocate that maybe you should, too.

If it doesn't bring you joy, rethink it.

Like...all that social media. 
Do you really need to be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest? More importantly, do you like being all of those platforms? I'm going to go out on a limb and say probably not. I know I don't. Twitter, especially, does my head in, (although I'm keeping my account so I can follow We Rate Dogs and Thoughts of Dog). And so I can signal-boost my author friends when they have something to shout about. Otherwise, in my quest to Marie Kondo my social media, I've decided Twitter is a passive platform for me. Is it a missed opportunity? Maybe, but Facebook and Instagram are where I like to be.

But not too often
To the surprise of no one, I've discovered that I work best when I get my words in before I dive into Facebook or Instagram. But I've also discovered my overall mental health is better too. Less FOMO, less multi-tasking, less mindless scrolling means more productive time I actually feel good about. I've started not even logging into Facebook until late afternoon and, it kind of pains me to say it, but I'm not missing much that I can't catch up on.

And sometimes the highlight reel is enough
There's a lot of noise on the internet and it doesn't always come from social media. Author chat groups, blogs, Goodreads. Checking sales/page reads and rank. Yep. In my quest for more joy, I'm marking KDP as noise. 

Question for you: How many times a day do you log in to check your sales and/or rank? I used to keep my KDP tab open in my browser and would flip over to it at least hourly, even when I didn't have a big sale or a new release. I justified it to myself by saying I always had ads running but truthfully it was another thing sapping both my joy and productivity. On a normal day, a check in the morning and another check at night are enough for me. I can still adjust ads accordingly based on the result (and my ad spend isn't crazy enough that I'm losing tons of money if my sales slide for a day), and I'm off the roller coaster of emotions that come with both a really great sales day and/or a really bad sales day. It's liberating.

So is setting work hours
I used to work all the hours I could. If I wasn't writing, I was making graphics, scheduling social media posts, reading blogs, catching up on industry news. God, it was stressful - mostly because it always felt like I would never catch up. It was only when I realized that for me catching up equaled done - and that was never going to happen - that I stopped. The truth is, there is always something more to be done. See any of the above, then add things like: updating back matter, revamping your website, finally writing that YA fantasy you keep thinking about. Oh wait, that's me. But the truth is once I acknowledged that I could work twenty hours a day and still not be done, it became a lot easier to be done for the day at a reasonable hour, to sometimes watch TV and to seldom work weekends. Weekends are my reading time and that, my friends, sparks joy.

Tell me what about your writing career sparks joy and what could you Marie Kondo?

Monday, April 1, 2019

Unpacking Jordan Peele's "Us"

A post by Mary Fan
Hey y’all! It’s my turn on the blog again, but what I have to talk about today has nothing to do with books or my usual genres of sci-fi/fantasy – though I would argue that it’s tangentially related to both. I’m here to talk about Jordan Peele’s latest horror flick, Us. Mostly because I watched it recently and have spent way too much time overthinking and overanalyzing everything about it, and really it’s taken up so much brain space that I don’t know what else I could possibly write about. But from a broader cultural perspective, it’s also an interesting study in storytelling, allegory, and genre.

Also, it's April Fool's Day, so... hey, I'm not one of the resident horror writers, but I'm going to pretend to be one? Ah, whatever.



Theatrical release poster
Alrighty, let’s get into it, then. In the simplest terms, Us is a story about doubles. Jordan Peele came right out and said that the movie was about how we are our own worst enemies. And then there’s the title of the movie – Us. As in Us vs. Them. Except in this move, Them is a version of Us, and then things get really gnarly when it turns out that Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) had switched placed with her double as a child. Now, as someone who’s always consuming stories with wicked twists, I mentally called it from the moment little Adelaide encountered her double. But that’s not to say the movie’s predictable in any way – that was just me trying from the get-go to make sense of a movie packed with allegories, symbols, references, etc. etc. etc.

Interestingly, the Tethered, as the doubles are called, are not supernatural monsters. The movie emphasizes over and over that they are, in fact, human. They possess no special abilities (no super strength, no mystical powers, no ability to come back from the dead, nada). They die like humans – no garlic or divine powers required. What makes them, well, Them, is their behavior. They have creepy smiles, they don’t speak with words (other than Adelaide’s double), and they move in unusual ways. The one possibly supernatural element they possess is shared with their above-world counterparts – the tether that binds them. According to the movie, the Tethered were created to control people, but the experiment failed, and they were abandoned underground, forced to mimic the actions of those above, who lived blissfully unaware of their actions. Yet the mirroring isn’t absolute. Tethereds are implied to be capable of behaving separately from their counterparts. With the Adelaide switcharoo, it also seems that the control could go both ways, even though, for the most part, it hasn’t.

The last time I watched a movie about doubles, it was Black Swan (which I believe counts as horror). And of course, Swan Lake was referenced in Us as well. Tween Adelaide is revealed to have been a talented ballerina, dancing the white swan’s role beautifully while Red, as her double is called, is forced to dance a grotesque imitation. However, while Swan Lake depicts the black swan as the white swan’s evil doppelganger, in the dance scene, both Adelaides are dressed as the white swan, which I found interesting. It seems to be a deliberate rejection of the good/evil dichotomy. Both Adelaides are good, both are evil.

Original Adelaide (which I’m calling her for simplicity, even though both presumably came into existence at the same time) was innocent – just a little girl in a funhouse. But so was her double – just a little girl who had the misfortune of being born into a dark, twisted world. Then Tethered Adelaide attacked Original Adelaide and took her place. She went on to live as just Adelaide for the next 30+ years. Meanwhile, Original Adelaide evolved into Red, who organized the mass uprising in which the Tethereds brutally murder their unsuspecting counterparts. These were acts of villainy, sure, but were they evil? Tethered Adelaide, a child born into bondage and living a horrifying life, wanted freedom and privileges and took it at the expense of another child. Red, a woman in bondage and living a horrifying life, wanted the same things – and also was willing to take them at the expense of others. Double, double, toil and trouble.

Now, I wouldn’t think too hard about the mechanics of Us’s world-building, as some professional critics have (side-eye). Worrying about the logistics of a horror movie completely misses the point – this is horror, not hard sci-fi. In fact, it might not even be sci-fi. People have assumed it is because of the familiar imagery of the underground tunnels, which put in mind a million nefarious and dystopian “institutes” and because of the reference to the Tethereds being created. But nowhere does the movie explain how the Tethereds came into existence (and really, they don’t need to). No one said they were genetic clones or results of some kind of Star Trek-esque dimensional accident. For all we know, whoever created the Tethereds were a cabal of modern-day sorcerers, putting the world in the fantasy camp. Who. Cares. I know I’m not one of our resident horror experts, but even I know that the genre is about the emotional impact on the audience, not the logistics of how that impact is achieved.

I found it interesting that the Tethered were (according to Red) originally created to control “us”, but the dynamic seems to have been reversed, with “us” living our lives as we do and the Tethereds being forced to mimic them. Then Tethered Adelaide reverses the dynamic again when she kidnaps Original Adelaide and takes her place aboveground. Meanwhile, Jason is able to force his double, Pluto, to self-immolate – the only instance after the uprising of such mirroring (that I noticed).

What does it all mean? What do the Tethereds represent?

After reading a million thinkpieces and mentally turning it over, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re meant to represent a deliberately vague underclass (I mean, they’re literally underground). Marginalization, in contemporary American society, occurs on many axes -- rich/poor, white/non-white, male/female, cishet/queer, abled/disabled, etc. etc. ad infinitum (I could go on about intersectionality, but that would be a whole ‘nother blog post). And the movie makes it pretty obvious that it’s specifically about Americans – when asked who she and her family are, Red literally says “We’re Americans” (also – Us, U.S., duh). My take is that this is ultimately a movie about privilege vs. marginalization – in their many forms.

The privileged, the above-ground “us,” go about their lives blissfully unaware of the horrors belowground. They have no idea that their actions directly impact the marginalized Tethereds, the movie’s “them”. But just being unaware doesn’t exonerate them. One of the movie’s most horrifying implications is that Adelaide’s courtship with and marriage to her husband, Gabe, led to Red’s rape by Gabe’s double, Abraham. Some theorize that Adelaide repressed memories of her belowground origins, which makes sense given her apparent confusion when the Tethered family attacks. If that’s true, then Adelaide had no way of knowing that sleeping with her husband was leading to Red’s rape. Adelaide can’t be blamed. But that doesn’t mean Red didn’t suffer. (If Adelaide actually remembered that she was born a Tethered, then things become even more horrifying.)

Viewed through this lens, it’s a powerful message about how unware the privileged are of their own advantages. For most people, privilege is an invisible thing bestowed upon us by chance. Someone who’s born, say, able-bodied and poor doesn’t think about the former as being an advantage of any kind. The focus is on how the latter is a disadvantage. The characters in Us demonstrate this behavior, most apparently through Adelaide’s bougie white friend Katie, who is unsatisfied with her life despite being very well off. Meanwhile, despite their ignorance, the actions of the privileged directly affect the lives of the marginalized. The aboveground “us” makes a move, the Tethered is forced to make the same move. The CEO makes a business decision to save money by closing unprofitable stores. The worker making minimum wage loses their livelihood, their stability, and possibly their health.

Meanwhile, the Tethered, the marginalized, don’t seem aware of their own potential power until Red leads them in an uprising to kill and replace their counterparts. It’s an act of desperation, and it comes at great cost to both sides – as with any revolution. All that red imagery, from the Tethereds’ outfits to the bloodshed to the Adelaide’s candy apple, is both ominous because of its association with blood and horror and telling because it’s the color of rebellion.

Toward the beginning of the movie, a red-and-gold Frisbee lands on Adelaide’s beach towel, perfectly aligning with one of the blue dots and literally replacing it – foreshadowing of events to come as Tethereds attempt to replace their counterparts. All the talk about replacement brought to mind the white supremacist chant of “You will not replace us” during the 2017 Charlottesville demonstration, with “you” being the marginalized people of color and “us” being white people (especially white men). Horror has always served allegory for societal fears of its time. Us seems to be a statement about how the privileged fear losing their status and being replaced, representing the worst nightmare of those born to power.

One part that seemed particularly poignant was when Red, confronting Adelaide about their encounter as children, said, “You could have taken me with you.” Adelaide chose to save only herself – at the expense of Red – which she was able to do purely because of chance. Then she abandoned and/or forgot all her peers still trapped below, entrenching herself in her new privileged life. She’s a self-made woman, and her actions are reminiscent of many-a “self-made” person who never acknowledge the lucky circumstances that allowed them to rise above, and indeed look down upon others like them who weren’t blessed by some twist of fate. Yes, she seized the opportunity when presented to her, but she didn’t create that opportunity to begin with. Events didn’t have to unfold as they did – when she encountered Original Adelaide, she could have tried to escape with her, instead of chaining her below.

Red, meanwhile, doesn’t only seek her own revenge, but is determined to bring freedom to all the Tethereds.

All this seems also to be a statement about forgotten American history. This is a nation built on genocide and enslavement, but the privileged like to forget that part and talk only about exploration and triumph. But just because you forget or abandon something doesn’t mean it goes away. The Tethered were the results of a forgotten and abandoned experiment. Long after their creators forgot and abandoned them, they remained and continued suffering.

The movie both embraces and challenges slasher-film tropes. You could watch it as a fun, gory home-invasion flick about creeps that stab people with scissors. Yet by the end, if you’re paying attention, you’re left thinking about your assumptions. Imagine if the Tethereds, instead of displaying disturbing behavior, were relatable and well spoken, and the aboveground people, instead of being normal middle-class Americans, were depicted with the excessive opulence. And Red was the POV character. The Tethereds still rise up, and they still kill those with power. You wouldn’t have a horror movie. You’d have a dystopia in the vein of The Hunger Games. Us challenges the audience to consider who they find sympathetic.

Are the Tethereds evil? The film primes the audience to think so -- they're out for blood, after all. But so were the French revolutionaries who beheaded aristocrats for the crime of being rich. When it comes to actual body count, Adelaide and her family seem to rack up more than their Tethereds. One side is fighting for freedom. The other for survival and status quo. Which is... how any revolution works, really.

Anyway, there’s far more that could be discussed in a movie as rich as Us, but I’ve already gone on for far too long. This is a film that was created to be talked about, to be analyzed, and to send a message. As for what that message is – we can only speculate at this point. My take is above. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear about your take in the comments.
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