Monday, March 27, 2023

Stuck on a WIP? Give it time

Hey everyone! Mary here, procrastinating on writing one thing by writing another. Back in January, I rattled off a few projects I was in various stages of, including some where I was like "I don't know where I'm going with this." One of them was for a YA dark academia novel (basically, a magic prep school murder mystery), working title Gifted and Talented, that I'd outlined, started writing, then promptly began changing my mind about... while I was writing. 

"Well, this is an unsalvageable mess," I kept thinking to myself, as I jotted down the millionth note in my "revisions to make later" file. After all, thanks to all the mind-changing I did, there were gaping plot holes and continuity errors that would surely require me to delete the whole damn thing and start over. Yet I was determined to plow ahead and just finish the friggin' manuscript. For me, a bad draft is better than no draft at all. So by the end of November 2022, I had a complete, if incoherent, novel.

Back in January, my conclusion was that this manuscript, which I'd originally promised to send my agent in "early 2023," was is such rough point that my only plan was to revisit it "at some point." Possibly this year. Or not... the thing was such a disaster, I couldn't bring myself to even consider cracking it open.

Meanwhile, as you may recall, I miraculously pumped out a second novel, working title Phantom/Fantastic, in about two weeks. This one was in much better shape. As in, the plot made sense (partially because it was just more straightforward). So I sent it off to beta readers in December, and the plan was to spend January plotting yet another novel (the conclusion to my Flynn Nightsider trilogy), reading Brave New Girls submissions, and faffing around with my hobbies (I got to sing the Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack in Radio City Music Hall!). 

Then the Presidents' Day long weekend came up, and I'd set it aside to work on a book. In my head, it was going to be Phantom/Fantastic, so I could clean it up and send it to my agent for consideration. One problem: my beta readers were busy too and hadn't gotten around to critiquing it yet.

Faced with a three-day weekend that I'd purposely cleared of plans for writing purposes (and because after running around for months, I just needed some time to chill), I did what at the time felt unthinkable: I cracked open the giant ball of mess that was the Gifted and Talented manuscript. Y'know, the one with plot holes and continuity errors and revision notes that said demanding yet unhelpful things like "need more character interactions."

Reader, I was terrified. I didn't want to face the enormity of the task that would be making this book coherent. But finally, I opened the damn file and started reading.

And it was... okay??? Sure, there were continuity errors, but they could be scrubbed by just editing a few sentences? And the plot holes only needed a paragraph here or there rewritten to be plugged???

I knew from past experience that my first drafts are seldom as horrendous as I feel like they are while actually writing them (this is why composing first drafts is my least favorite part of the writing process... I much prefer outlining, then revising, and I'm not even kidding when I say I wish an AI could write my first drafts for me). I thought it'd be worse this time, though, because I'd changed my mind so much.

But the perspective of time showed me that while there were indeed lots of changes that needed to be made, they weren't nearly as impossible as they'd felt when I'd set the thing down two and a half months earlier. And so I settled down to tackle them. And, after a few weeks, arrived at a draft I was comfortable sharing with my agent (Whether he likes it or not is another matter... hey, at least it's coherent. I think).

I know it's been said a million times before, but sometimes we have to repeat things to ourselves and trust that we were right the last time. So I'll say it again: If you're stuck on a work-in-progress, the best thing to do sometimes is let it sit for a spell.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Kingdom of Wolves (sneak preview)

Kingdom of Wolves

Chapter One

King Airell was in foreign territory. He had crossed an ocean and trekked a mountainside to find the icy land of Alzora. Beneath the bitter snow slept the fertile soil of springtime, but for now, all the land was quelled in darkness--a darkness that would last all winter. 

The towns that dotted its vast flat landscape had homes huddled together as if for warmth. The fields, in which the more inviting months grew wheat, were barren now. Wooly sheep which were hurriedly growing out their precious coats skimmed the dead fields for the bits of dry grass poking through the snow. In the springtime, relief would come to them by the shears and for some, death by the ax.

The sheep were animals of multiple uses, and thus far were valued by the underprivileged people of Alzora. That is why when the beast began to strike almost nightly, they had finally called upon the great hunter king of Ophelia, beseeching him to cut down the beast in return for full rights to its carcass for his prize, safe passage through Alzora any time, thirty thousand gold pieces from the treasury, and the promise of willing troops should the need for war arise.

The leaders of Alzora need not know, but the king’s lust for adventure and desire for one last hunt far exceeded any yearning for rewards. He would have hunted the beast for nothing but its hide had they offered less. King Airell Agard had traveled far in his lifetime, and vanquished every manner of beast, from the eagle-headed griffin of Lukka, to the giant kraken of the Northern Sea. His trophy room was garnished with the heads and hides of his conquests, his reserves swollen with the monies paid by those who had been plagued by such monstrosities. He gathered his wealth not by plunder or by war, but by the most primitive drive of man held by peasants and monarchs alike, the drive to draw blood, to win the fight, and to bring home the spoils.

But alas, the years had worn the king’s bones down to the marrow. His quivering hands no longer held the bow as taught, nor did his eye see as clearly through the rifle’s sight. He had reached the age where vigor and fortitude began to seep from the body like sand from the upper bulb of an hourglass. His pride was tarnished, but it had not yet been destroyed. He vowed that one last hunt would satiate his lust for good, and the riches he had accumulated would prove enough to provide for his one and only heir, a daughter named Nora. 

Death had claimed his young queen, Hannah with the weapon of drowned lung a year prior, and with no suitable woman of royal blood and birthing hips available, King Airell knew that he alone would need to train his young child to rule the throne until she was of age to find a suitor to be her king. He was a concerned father, wanting for her to be married to a proper man of royal blood who would keep her and the kingdom of Ophelia in protective care. As of yet, Nora was only four years old, and far from an appropriate marrying age. Should he die too soon, she would not yet be prepared to wield the power of the title of queen and would surely be overthrown in her frailty and youth.
King Airell was fully aware of this when he and his hunting party at last tracked the footprints of the beast to its very lair. The snow railed down at them from the hateful blue-black Alzorian sky. The night was starless. Only the oil lanterns they carried and the muted beams of the full ripe moon in the sky above would meagerly brighten their path. A bitter wind nipped furiously at the only exposed flesh on their faces, the rest of their bodies draped in layers of fleece and fur. The snow was so deep, even the horses had trouble trudging through it. Their nostrils blasted clouds of steam as they struggled through the blizzard with their riders and supplies in tow. The king’s horse, a black steed named Breakneck, ahead of the other horses as usual, was the first to catch the scent of the fiend ahead. He stopped short despite his rider’s commanding kick, backing up with an argumentative whinny, and finally rearing in protest. 

“Easy now!” Airell commanded, “Steady boy!”

Breakneck’s ears swiveled to and fro, his breath heaving. His dark eyes rolled like wet marbles in their sockets. It was clear no amount of whipping or kicking would get him to go further. This was a horse that had carried the king through all terrains, desert to forest, and met nearly all of the beasts that now filled his trophy room. It was alarming to see that the veteran steed had chosen tonight to become fearful.

“We dismount here!” the king barked over the moan of the wind. 

His hunting party of six followed the order, their own animals also catching the scent of a predator in the air. The grunts and whinnies of nervous horses accompanied the tinkling of reigns and gear as their riders dismounted and attempted to calm them. The head of the Royal Guard himself, Sir Augustus Redwood II, was the first to manage his horse into a relaxed but wary stance before he approached the king. Airell was already prepping his rifle, though he had his eye on the black maw of the cave in front of them. Instead of his crown, he wore a woolen hat which wrapped around his whole head and tied firmly beneath his chin. A few wayward tendrils of his long copper hair whipped around full flushed cheeks. His eyelashes and beard were caked in frost. His nose was encrusted with frozen snot, which he hastily wiped away with the sleeve of his coat.

“Your majesty, I insist that you allow me to survey the inside first,” Redwood said tentatively, as he always said before Airell prepared for a hunt. Even though he knew what the answer would be, it was his royal duty to protect the king to his last breath.

“Nonsense,” Airell huffed back, grinning fiercely against the wind. His hazel eyes squinted forth through the blizzard into the dark cave where the beast surely awaited him, seeking signs of movement, but seeing nothing.

“Stay with the men and the horses,” he ordered gruffly, “Be ready.”

“My king, if you please,” an underling soldier named Gregory Burnling uttered, marching forth to approach the king and forgetting his place until a daring stare from Redwood stopped him. The lantern in his grasp was noticeably shaking. He bowed apologetically, “Forgive me sire, but I do not think it wise to go in alone. This particular beast is said to be quite clever. It possesses the mind of a man, they say. It will have an edge over you if you are alone.”

King Airell stopped loading his rifle and looked away from the cave for a moment, a querying expression furrowing his brow as he turned to face the insolent soldier.

“Are you inferring that a mere beast is capable of outsmarting me, lad?”

The soldier reddened in the dull glow of the lantern, which he lowered as a shameful expression formed on his young face. “Oh sire! Of course not, I-“

“Then stay with the horses and wait.” The king said this to chastise, but his tone was that of mild amusement, the tone of a father listening to the wily stories of his child. 

The solider bowed down and resumed his position with the hunting party, proverbial tail between his legs. A higher ranking soldier, George Stock, squeezed his shoulder. This was Burnling’s first outing with the king. He was afraid, as they all were, although the rest of them had learned to hide their fear. They were all thankful that this would be the king’s last hunt.

This final beast-- this ultimate conquest, would be among the most elusive of the creatures Ophelia’s king would concur, for it went about in human form as it pleased, blended in with society, perverting the very idea of civility. It fed on the viscera of the innocent in the night under the gaze of the full moon each month. It was an insult to God, and a bane to man. It would be destroyed swiftly and without mercy if King Airell had luck on his side.

This particular beast had been terrorizing the meager town right at the edge of the forest. The local farmers had been losing livestock almost nightly for the past few weeks, when normally the beast only took a single animal each month, if it took any at all. It had been the same for nearly ten years. They did not know why the activity had suddenly increased, and had yet to determine who among their small town wielded the dark magic to hide amongst them. All the standard tests had been utilized, pricking each citizen’s finger with a silver needle, tying monkshood around the neck, sacrificing a lamb at the stake under the new moon, but still the curse remained unbroken, and the beast remained hidden. No one who had tried to find it had returned. King Airell would be their last hope at peace.

“Listen for the crack of my rifle,” Airell said steadily. “And be ready to fire should the creature emerge before me. Am I correct in assuming I have the only weapon with silver bullets?”

“Yes sire,” Redwood replied, “All the men have been supplied with standard ammo, as you requested. The beast will only die by your hand. Do you know for sure that this will work?” He corrected himself hurriedly “That is, has it been a proven remedy in the past?”

Airell did not answer right away. He passed the reigns of his horse to Stock. Breakneck’s manner immediately tensed again at the passage of power to one who was so full of nerves. He tossed his head and snorted in protest, and the soldier patted him still again. His gloved hand shook as he ran it over the animal’s smooth hide.

“Killing a werewolf with silver is a time honored tradition,” the king said with a snifter of a laugh in his throat. He took the offered lantern from one of his other companions and hung it from the barrel of his rifle. “Watch me old man, and learn well in this last adventure.”

The king let himself be swallowed by the darkness of the cave.


The howls of the wind behind him, King Airell found himself in the echoing silence of the cave. He slid the lantern off of the barrel of his weapon and held it up and out, taking in the shape of the walls and ceiling. Stalactites bore from the roof like teeth, dripping frigid water down upon his face as he gazed upward. The cave floor was relatively smooth, with random puddles forming in the few grooves worn by years of decay. Baby stalagmites rose up from the ground in some places, catching the sediment from their roof bound sisters. Letting his eyes adjust, the king moved forward silently. The light of the lantern barely lit his path. He could see that there was only one path to follow, that the cave did not fork, and that meant that if the beast were inside, it could only come from one direction. Airell grinned with painful chapped lips. The odds had risen slightly in his favor.

He thought about the tracks they had followed here. They had ended at the mouth and though the snow was working hard to cover them, they were still mostly fresh when they’d happened upon them. From the time the bait lamb they had set out at the edge of town had been taken, they had followed the beast’s trail for roughly an hour, taking themselves a solid two miles from the town. They moved slowly due to the blizzard, but had it been a spring day they would have easily found the cave in less than twenty minutes. Why, thought the king, had the townsfolk not easily found the fiend’s hideout long ago?

From outside, the scream of a horse in distress stole him from his thoughts. After it came the shouts of discombobulated men and rampant gunfire.

Airell dropped his lantern, basking himself in total blackness as he sprinted back towards the cave opening. The red stained snow under the moon’s glow grabbed his eye. It splattered out across the white like a dropped jug of wine. A horse lay twitching on the ground before him. A red geyser of blood spurted from the severed veins in the animal’s neck, first strongly, but quick to diminish as the life drained from the horse’s eyes. It was Tails, Redwood’s horse, but Airell did not see Redwood, or even his other men at this point. The tracks of panic sparred out in all direction, and he could still hear shouting from the woodland around them. Guns fired sporadically, the sounds barely cutting through the roaring wind. 

“Redwood!” Airell called through cupped hands, “Stock!”

No one answered him. The shouts petered out in dizzying directions with the wind and snow impeding the king’s ability to determine where they were coming from. His men had scattered like mice into the woods. This was unlike them, even in the worst of circumstances.

The form of the beast rose against the black background. It had been perched there by the dead horse, blending into the snow right in front of the king’s failing eyes. As its form came into focus, the gold rimmed eyes of an animal stared straight through to his soul. Blinding white fur made its features almost indistinguishable in the blizzard, but those eyes blared as brightly as any sun. The splashes of red against its chest and muzzle worked to break up the pattern of its thick fur in the storm. A wolfen form, though far too large to be any such loathsome forest creature. Thick waves of fur grew in thickets from its ruff. Its ears were high and pointed upon its canine head. Claws as long as steak knives perched upon the sullen body of Tails the horse. As its lips curled back from its yellow fangs, the moon seemed to send its beams down upon its hateful creation, bringing its face into full view.


The voice was human, but somehow not human at all. It curled around the king’s brain, prickling through to the nerves and vessels like an invasive weed, filling his head with the sound that he was not quite sure he heard at all.

“How?” he asked, though it seemed as though another being had taken over his voice when he said it.

And then he felt the presence behind him, and realized that he had been led into a trap. The second werewolf appeared as if by magic at the mouth of the cave, of a coat colored like the conclusion of a brutal thunderstorm. Airell dared to take his eyes off the white beast to glance back at the other flanking him from behind. With its grayer color, he could more clearly see the details of the beast, the body and head of a giant wolf, shining gold eyes that belonged to an animal, but twinkled with the intelligence of a human. 

It was beautiful.

Be gone, or die in this place!


This voice came from the second beast, more clearly now. The king’s body suddenly felt disconnected from his mind. He felt as though his soul was being dragged from his mortal form, down into the pits of Hell, with that cursed voice following him. A deep rage began to rise from his gullet as reality sank in. All his men had vanished, along with the horses. He was alone now. His last hunt would not end with him cowering beneath the slavering fangs of these hellhounds.

Airell fired. The rifle bucked in his arm. The white wolf roared, a sound unlike any he had ever heard, as the bullet pierced its neck. It leapt forward and the king dove beneath the beast into the snow on his belly, rolling over immediately, his rifle still in hand as he aimed it forth to take one more shot before the second beast would surely take his life. 

What he saw, was a man. A naked man, wavering in blood soaked snow clear up to his groin. He was clutching at his neck, from which a jet of red-black arterial blood spurted in heavy bursts. As he sunk into the snow face first and began to die, the gray wolf bounded from the cave into the light of the full moon. Airell raised his rifle, shaking with fear for the first time in a long time, but the creature did not come at him. Instead it went to the fallen man, circling around him worriedly like a dog around its fallen master. A whimper eked from his jowls as it sniffed around his wounds. Finding that he was dead, it lifted its head sullenly towards the moon and howled.

The mournful sound was almost too much for the king, but somehow, he willed himself to stagger to his feet, frozen to the bone from the cold snow. His fingers numb inside his wet gloves, he still managed to aim his weapon true and fire one more time.

The howl of the second wolf tapered off with a yelp. Before it fell to the ground, the king watched in awe as its body quickly shifted into the naked form of a woman. A hole where her heart should have been oozed blood over her pale breasts as she fell on top of the man. Her body jerked, and then was still. 

And just like that, King Airell had defeated the werewolves of Alzora, though he realized there would be no trophy to bring home to his kingdom. After a moment to collect himself, he waded through the snow to stand over his kills. He nudged each one with the mouth of his rifle, and then bent down to examine them.

There were no further signs of life and no indication they had been anything but human. Both appeared to be well muscled and healthy, though it was obvious they had been living in the wild for quite some time and likely had not been members of the town. The man had a scruffy brown beard and long unkempt hair. The woman had blonde hair, tangled and littered with bits of sap and sticks. Their bodies were almost black from dirt, their hands and feet hard with calluses. No honor would come from lugging their bodies back to Ophelia. He would be a murderer in the eyes of anyone who had not lived in this land and known the dark magic behind the beasts’ abilities. It would be hard to convince anyone outside of these lands that they had been anything more than humorless beggars.

Groaning as he stood, Airell cupped his hands around his mouth once more and hollered for his men one by one “Redwood! Stock! Dellard!” His pulse had started pounding again, not from fear, but from anger. His men had deserted him, left him to die. This was a treachery punishable by immediate beheading. Airell did not expect any of them to return, but alas, from the darkness of the forest, a hunched over form rambled forward, leading a horse. Not his own horse, but Breakneck. The creature was visibly terrified, but he did not protest being lead. As he caught sight of his rider, he became calmer. Airell went to his horse first to stroke his nose, and then turned a hot glare towards the deserter.


The young soldier flinched, already on edge, even more so with the wrath of his king. 

“S-Sire!” he sputtered, “Forgive me, oh please forgive me!” He sunk to his knees, the snow burying him to his waist.

Airell reached down and snatched the man up by the hood of his cloak, taking a handful of his hair with it. “Get up you wretch! Face me like a man!” 

Burnling had begun to snivel, but he did as his king commanded and rose to his feet. His shoulders sagged and his head hung like an old dying willow. The shame radiated off of him like a fever.

“It was so sudden,” he muttered through his tears, “The monster came out of nowhere and…”  he looked to the haggard remains of Tails the horse, which was already becoming buried with snow. “Redwood started firing, but then some of the other men just went running in all directions. I-I followed Stock into the woods and then I just lost him.”

“Did you see any of them killed?”

“No sire.”

“Then surely there are men still alive in these woods!” Airell boomed, turning his head in all directions to project his voice. “Men who cowardly betrayed their king and then refused to show themselves! Is this mere boy the only man amongst you?”

There were no voices save for that of the moaning wind. The blizzard had begun to produce heavier snowfall. The chill in the air would surely kill anyone left out here in the open before the morning.

“Not today,” Airell muttered to himself. He grabbed up the reigns of his horse and smacked the shoulder of his only remaining man, who jumped like a rabbit at his heavy touch. 

“Into the cave,” the king ordered, “Now boy, unless you want to freeze!”


It was becoming more obvious that the two werewolves had been living in this cave for many years as the king and his man progressed through its one and only passage. On either side of the walls, parts of the stone had been carved out to create ledges for candles made of animal fat, most of which were melted down significantly but still burning dully. They passed a small chamber where it was obvious the woman had been keeping a pantry of sorts. The skinned carcasses of rabbits hung from animal bone hooks suspended from a wooden wrack. Among them was the fresh lamb they had used to bait the creatures earlier, still dripping. The eyes of the thing were wide open in its last expression of terror. Burnling looked away quickly, while Airell gathered up a few of the pre-dressed dead rabbits and handed them to him without a word.

The proceeded further into the cavern, and noted that the light was becoming stronger as they ventured deeper. The sound of whimpering caught their ears as they stopped just shy of the last open chamber of the cave. Airell silently placed his rifle over his shoulder and stepped soundlessly forward, motioning with one hand for Burnling to stay put, not that he would have to work hard to convince him. 

As the king rounded the corner, his eyes panged as they tried to adjust to the sudden increase in light. At least a dozen more carved out areas with candles lined a crescent shaped room which housed a small splintered bookshelf leaned against the far right wall, next to it a writing desk and quill. In the middle of the room, the floor was lined pelts of wool and straw. Upon these pelts, two naked children clung to each other and gazed up at the king with the dark fearful eyes of cornered animals. They were boys of no more than two years old, slim for children of that age, and caked in dirt. One of them had curly flaxen hair matted to his head; the other had only wisps of dark strands floating off of his. At the approach of the strangers, the dark haired child bared his tiny peg teeth and offered a runty growl. The lighter haired one squeaked as the king continued to move forward and waved the end of his rifle at them.

The king stopped a rifle’s length from the nest and stomped his foot hard on the stone floor. The darker haired boy growled louder and posed protectively in front of his brother.

“Transform, beasts,” Airell barked, stomping at them again. “Defend yourselves!”

The child’s bravery began to waver as the stranger came closer, more so when Burnling came inside as well. The fair-haired child began to sob woefully. His braver brother crouched down beside him and fell silent. With a sigh, Airell lowered his weapon and turned to Burnling, whose face had become flushed with understanding.

“Well, I’ll be! This would explain why the kills have increased,” he mused out loud, “Weanlings. Probably just starting to eat meat.”

Airell responded with a grunt, and then nudged his underling with his elbow. “Tell me lad,” he asked with a note of curious amusement, “What do you propose we do with these whelps?”

Burnling was taken aback by the question. The king had never asked advice of him before, and he hadn’t expected him to any time soon.

“What do I propose, sire?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “Shall I cull these two atrocities, or bring them back to Ophelia as living prizes?”

“Well uh,” Burnling said gulping nervously. He looked down at the two dirty boys and his heart broke for them, but he knew their innocent appearance was a ruse. Still, it seemed cowardly to kill children, even nonhuman ones.

“I think we should gather them up and bring them home,” Airell said rather excitedly, relieving Burnling of his need to answer. “I wager they can be trained if we start them off young. What a legend Ophelia will be if it houses tame werewolves! A fine end to a last hunt, wouldn’t you say?”

“Who is going to train them, your majesty?”

Airell laughed for the first time since they had set out on this journey, a sound that both caused relief and concern in Burnling.

“Why, you young man!” he said.

“Me?” Burnling’s stomach dropped. “Why me, sire?”

“Because,” the king said darkly, “You came back.”

Thursday, March 23, 2023

At the Movies

You may not have realized it, but we a coming up on an important anniversary in a little under two weeks. 

Ten years ago - on April 4th, 2013 - Roger Ebert passed away. And there has not been a critic like him since. 

For people of my generation, Ebert was THE film critic. He, along with his television partner Gene Siskel, was the go to reviewer. Newspapers and television ads would eagerly slap "TWO THUMBS UP!" on every film they could. I would religiously watch "Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies" every weekend, cursing when it got pre-empted by a dumb sports event like the Wimbledon finals. 

The show was fun and breezy, yet still informative. Over the course of 30 syndicated minutes, they'd review four or so new films. To a young boy living in Halifax, NS, it was my first exposure to foreign films, independent films, and stuff you wouldn't see at one of the whopping total of 8 screens we had in the city. (I cannot even describe how wonderful it was to get a tiny, badly-heated, arthouse theatre with uncomfortable seats in town. You kids today with your ability to stream every movie in existence on demand have no idea what it was like to sit in a drafty basement so you could watch Tetsuo: The Iron Man. RIP Wormwood's Cinema.)

Everybody knew who Siskel & Ebert were. Their reviews could make or break a movie. They appeared on late night talk shows all the time! One time, they even bumped a young Jennifer Lopez off of Conan O'Brien when their segment ran long! Can you imagine an ink-stained wretch getting airtime over freaking J-LO today? 

Siskel died in 1999 from a brain tumor. And when Ebert passed away, after his years long battle with cancer, there were effectively no national critics.

Think about it... Is there a name you see in movie ads that could make you change your mind about a movie? Without googling it, who is the lead critic at the NY Times these days? (I thought it was A.O. Scott, but he literally retired a week ago.) Movie ads are as likely to namecheck random users on Twitter or Rotten Tomatoes as they are critics at actual newspapers. (A recent King Arthur film got such terrible reviews, they had to get a pull quote from someone named "Zoidberg95." Twice!)

I know, "gatekeepers bad," but part of the reason that Siskel & Ebert were so great to have around was that you knew what kind of films they liked! I have no idea what Zoidberg95 likes to watch, aside from bad King Arthur remakes. But if Ebert liked a movie, and if you generally agreed with his tastes, you'd probably like that movie, too. 

And if Ebert did get it "wrong," he at least explained why he didn't like something. Famously, Ebert panned David Lynch's film Blue Velvet. While most critics placed it at or near the top of their Best Of lists, Ebert gave it one star. He hated the contrast of stark, raw and emotional scenes that were surrounded by deadpan humor and camp. Which is kind of Lynch's whole thing, but Ebert carefully explained why it didn't work for him. 

Honestly, the last thing Ebert would ever claim to be would be a gatekeeper. He and Siskel constantly championed new voices and filmmakers. Spike Lee, Kasi Lemmons, Carl Franklin all got raves from the duo which certainly led people to their films. He loved movies and it always came through in his writing, which was full of warmth and praise.

The internet has done a lot of wonderful things for society, but it has also accelerated the rise of ironic detachment and sarcasm. Snark and quips have replaced critical insight. Ebert was never snarky, even in his most iconic pan, that of the Rob Reiner movie, North. (Direct quote from his review: "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.") Rather, the entire review is more sad. He knows Reiner is a good director, Spinal Tap is a favorite movie of his, so it's terrible that this one is so bad and unfunny.

Considering that on the internet literally everyone's a critic, what would it take to get another critic like Roger Ebert? Not just someone whose reviews are respected and well written, but someone who has a nationally prominent spot in the media. The media landscape is so fractured, could anyone bring enough people together to listen to or read a review?

As someone who likes to watch movies and writes the occasional review, I know I've drawn a lot of inspiration from Roger Ebert. His writing on the whole is beautiful, and happily is all archived at If you have a quiet afternoon, scroll through and see what he thought about your favorite movies. And maybe check out Life Itself, the documentary about his life made by Steve James (the director of Hoop Dreams, another film Ebert championed). It's a lovely tribute to Ebert, who was a lot more than just "Thumbs Up."

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, March 20, 2023

Book Review: 400 Days of Oppression

 "400 Days of Oppression" by Wrath James White 

For once I'm going to pull from the book of Rachel and I'm not going to tell you what this book is about. I'm gonna tell you how it ripped my heart to shreds instead and also suggest you go in blind and open to the storyline. 

*As always, please check triggers!* 

This story was so much more than I expected it to be. I was aware of some of the plot and what was involved, but this story is so much more than what's at the surface. You gotta dig deep and not care to get dirty. This story changed my outlook on so many things; slavery, the BDSM world, and even psychological trauma. 

In our buddy read Natasha was a character we discussed a lot and I'm still not sure how I feel about her. Her character created a wave of emotions inside of me ranging from disgust all the way to respect. Kenyatta's character was a brutal and cruel man. As Natasha stated, "he was never a slave", so his desire to torture and create chaos inside these women who loved him so much is beyond understanding to me. 

You don't have to have an understanding of the BDSM dynamics and community to read this story, though it does help. All you need to really know and understand is that everything this woman endures will never truly compare to what actual slaves endured, there's no true comparison. For me, this was the most important party of the story. The second being that love can make you act foolishly, without any self respect, at basically any time. If you find yourself ever feeling some of the emotions Natasha expresses inside these pages, take that as your sign to run. The BDSM world doesn't work this way, this isn't the dynamic they want amongst their ranks. 

I think the tattoo scene of this book is what sticks with me the most. The rage and pain Natasha feels is palpable at the end but still, it isn't any true comparison to what black women and men experience every single day. This book isn't just about kinks and sex, it's about so so much more. You just have to be open and brave enough to pick it up. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Broken Attention Span Theater
I've talked on this topic before, about how I think the Pandemic broke my brain a little. Or, if not broke it, at least rewired it some. There's probably a lot of people who feel the same. Maybe I would have arrived at the same place I am now regardless of the Pandemic, but who knows?

Before 2020, I was mainly a written word consumer. Books (e-books or printed ones), short stories, magazines, etc. But sometime during the worst of the shut downs, I couldn't concentrate on books so well anymore. I still craved stories, though, so I discovered a new passion for audio media because it allowed me to consume stories AND be physically active at the same time, which is how I dealt with the lockdown, and how I've handled the stress of life-in-general ever since.

None of this is new information to anyone who knows me. So, why am I talking about it again? It's because this is a rambling lead-in for a list of recommendations. These are some stories in various formats that I've recently enjoyed, despite my broken attention span. Maybe you'll enjoy them too, broken attention span or not.

First up is a Born Again, a Dare Devil comic series by Frank Miller that was recommended by fellow ATB Blogger, Victor Catano. I just finished it, and even though I have some complaints about how Karen Page was treated (Frank Miller has made some problematic remarks over the years and is kinda notorious for being hard on his female characters), it still totally hooked me. Also, my local library had the digital version so I could read it for free. I started it during a recent trip out of town and found it easy to read in short bits and bites and even while sitting in a noisy airport. I liked it so much I've already downloaded Miller's Batman: Year One to read next (also available at my local library). I also bought Sandman: Season of Mists because I hear that's what the second season of Netflix's Sandman series is going to be based on, and I like knowing the source material before I watch the show. Also, I have loved all of three of the Sandman productions currently on Audible and look forward to spending more time with Dream and his family of the Endless.

Next on my list is a book (which I'm recommending in audio format, of course) by a long time favorite author, Deanna Raybourn.  I first became Raybourn's fan with her Lady Julia Gray series, a mixture of Victorian mystery/who-done-it and slow-burn romance. Her latest book, however, is quite different. Mostly contemporary, but with flashbacks to the main character's younger years, Killers of a Certain Age is refreshingly novel for the sake of featuring four women in their sixties. But instead of the Golden Girls, they're trained assassins who were hoping for a quiet and peaceful retirement until an attempted assassination plot (in which they are the targets) forces them back into action. 

It was so compelling, thrilling, funny, endearing, and, sadly unique, that I listened to it almost non-stop. I say "sadly unique" because really there should be more older women kicking ass books and movies out there. I hope this inspires a new trend.

Another format I have come to enjoy and really appreciate is Podcasts. Back in October I blogged about some of my favorite spooky and/or Horror Blogs:

Now, I'll share some of my favorite podcasts that have nothing to do with Halloween and are good any time of the year:

First up is "Scamfluencers". "In today’s world, the power of influence can be the quickest path to money and fame, and it often ends in ruin. These are the stories of the world’s most insidious Scamfluencers. And we are their prey." The stories are jaw dropping, but best of all are the cohosts Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi. They are funny, smart, clever, and really good at putting these episodes together in a compelling way withtidbits and descriptions that help you picture every shocking detail.

Next is "This American Life" which is, yes, the same show that appears on NPR. But I don't listen to NPR as much these days as I used to, and podcasts are a good way to get some of my favorite NPR shows in a central collection. Though, I admit that sometimes I am reluctant to listen because, I swear, there is always at lest one story (This American Life is usually a collection of real-life, real-people, true short stories that all share a central theme for each particular episode) that will make me cry.  

My last recommendation from this post, another spin-off from NPR that is also liable to make me cry but it could also make me laugh or teach me something I never new before, is Mobituaries, hosted by Mo Rocca who often appears on CBS Sunday Morning (I'm officially old now because I admit to loving CBS Sunday Morning) and as a regular guest on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (a "game show" of current events on NPR). I've always liked Mo and the way he tells stories, so it's no surprise I love his podcast: "Every Wednesday, hear fresh takes on famous legacies and uncover people worthy of their overdue moment in the spotlight. Even if you know the names, you’ve never understood why they matter until now!"

One of my most favorite epsiodes was one about Samantha Smith, a young American girl who unexpectedly charmed the people of Cold War, Soviet Era USSR and became an accidental U.S. diplomat:
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