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BLOOD STORM and the Changing Protagonist

When I wrote IRON AXE, the protagonist was Danr, sometimes known as Trollboy.  The book centered around him and his need to come to grips with his human and troll heritages--and with the long-ago loss of his mother.

When it came time to write BLOOD STORM, I knew things would have to change a little.  I've read a number of series books in which the author conjures up a brand new emotional or mental problem for the series hero to deal with, and it always feels forced.  I didn't want to do that with STORM, and in any case, I already knew that STORM would focus more on Aisa.

Danr is still the protagonist, make no mistake.  It's HIS story and HIS series.  But Aisa is enormously important, both to him and the world of Erda, and this time around I wanted to bring her a little more into the forefront.  A large part of Aisa's background was left in mystery in IRON AXE, and in BLOOD STORM, I explored those mysteries.  Why was her mother always so ill?  Why was Aisa's father so uncaring toward her?  What does it mean in IRON AXE when Grick tells Aisa she's "earned her face"?  How does AIsa, a newly-powerful woman who clawed her way out of slavery, deal with a government that buys and sells people?

Also, Aisa lived through a brutal battle at the end of IRON AXE.  This doesn't leave you unscarred.  I did quite a lot of research into PTSD and used it in a fantasy world.

So BLOOD STORM shifts a bit from dealing with Danr's personal problems to dealing with Aisa's.

For all the Danr fans out there, Danr still has issues to work out.  But that's another blog post.


Tomorrow is BLOOD STORM's release day! To celebrate, we have a preview of Chapter One:

  The orc woman flew backward and landed in the cave pool with a great splash. Danr didn’t even have time to shout before a great tentacle slammed into him and swept him aside like a toy. He crashed hard into the tunnel wall. Air burst from his lungs and stars danced before his eyes. Vik! It was always monsters, always fighting.

  “To the left!” Talfi shouted. “Aisa! It’s going to the left!”

  The great squid at the back of the cave pulled in its tentacles and struck again, this time to the left.
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Spotlight: a Reaction

I haven't talked to my high school friend Brian d'Arcy James face-to-face in probably 15 years.  I think the last time was way back when he was starring in TITANIC on Broadway.  Still, I follow what he's up to.  Mostly he does Broadway shows (look up SOMETHING ROTTEN to see what I mean), but every so often he makes a foray into television or the movies, and it's always fun to catch him.  So I was really looking forward to SPOTLIGHT.

SPOTLIGHT focuses on a small group of reporters at the Boston Globe as they work to uncover and report on the horrifying scope of the pedophilia crimes and cover-ups in the Catholic church.  The movie has been glowingly reviewed elsewhere, and this isn't so much a review as my own reaction, both as a movie-goer and as a person.

The main reason I wanted to see the movie was that Brian was in it.  He plays Matty Carroll, one of the reporters at Spotlight, the investigative arm of the Globe.  I told Darwin the movie had finally arrived in the Detroit Metro area, but he was clearly uninterested.  "Let me put it this way," I said.  "I am going to see this movie today.  You can come with me or you can stay home."  Darwin feels left out when I do things without him, so he elected to come.

We timed things to arrive only a few minutes before the movie started.  It was a Saturday at 5:00 on a holiday weekend.  Who was going to be there?

To our surprise, the theater was packed.  A great many audiences members were older, in their sixties and seventies.  (Later I realized many of the victims discussed in the movie would be that age today.)  Darwin and I were forced to sit in the whiplash seats way down front, and even after we found spots, yet more people filed in.  At last the movie began.

The film totally threw me, and this is hard to do.  It's hard to figure out where to start talking about it.

(I don't know if it's possible to spoil this movie.  It's based on reality, and everyone knows how the ending comes out.  However, in case you've been living in a cave on Mars with your fingers in your ears or something, what follows reveals a fair amount about the action.)

The movie stays tight with the Spotlight reporters.  It follows them through the dogged leg work of uncovering a sickening, horrifying scandal that grows bigger and bigger at every turn, but there's no action. This is a drama, not a thriller.  The movie takes place in relentlessly ordinary places--in records basements and among bookshelves and in judge's offices and at kitchen tables and on front porches.  The reporters are as far from glamorous as you can get.  Brian is a Hollywood handsome man, but you wouldn't know it in this movie.  The awful mustache and bad haircut are typical of a man who pays little attention to his appearance to focus on his work.  The camera often focuses on Michael Keaton, the Spotlight editor, and shows his face as a wreck of wrinkles.  Rachel McAdams, another reporter, usually shows up disheveled, with poorly-applied makeup.  It looks like Mark Ruffalo, the final reporter, and Brian are both carrying some middle-age spread, but if you look closely, you can see they both have athletic builds and they've created a skillful illusion using costuming--baggy khakis, bad sweaters--and carefully bad posture. These are ordinary shlubs who sit behind desks and deal with paper and telephones, not action heroes who pack pistols and punch bad guys.  Only Billy Crudup as the smarmy lawyer McLiesh is allowed to be a snazzy dresser.

The settings show much the same skilled banality.  Salt is scattered carelessly across a restaurant table.  Kitchen cupboards show wear around the edges.  Eyeglasses are smudged around the edges.  And looming over everything is the church.  Church towers glare down over tracts of houses.  Cathedrals frame parks.  Church bells ring on city streets.  A parochial school's windows stare across the street to the Globe's office.

But we never, ever see inside the church.  There are no scenes of cardinals and bishops gathered in dark spaces trying to decide what to do about these upstart reporters.  We only see the results of the church's machinations--empty files of court documents, lawyers who refuse to speak, adult abuse victims with needle tracks on their arms or who weep unexpectedly in a park after telling a reporter how a priest coerced him into giving oral sex when he was twelve.  We see the horror on Matty's face when he realizes one of the pedophile priests is now living quietly half a block away from Matty's own house.  (Matty has children of his own.)

We don't see courtroom drama, either.  The one moment it looks like we might, when Ruffalo's character is watching a Catholic judge hear arguments about releasing documents that would damage the church, the camera pulls away to Ruffalo's conversation with a rival reporter.  And in any case, the judge doesn't issue her ruling right away--it comes weeks and weeks later.  Over the phone.  This is not The Good Wife.

But the movie is never dull.  The director is highly skilled at creating tension and excitement during what were, in real life, long paperwork searches.  He and the cast show us the stakes at every moment, both personal ones and wide-ranging ones.

Each reporter has his or her own bailiwick.  Brian plays the relentless researcher who can find anything in print, and never mind the dead rat in the basement.  McAdams is the good friend who gets reluctant victims to talk (including a retired priest who unexpectedly and happily babbles about the boys he's raped).  Ruffalo thrusts and stabs at bureaucrats and lawyers who refuse to talk, using words like weapons.  And Keaton pals around with high-rollers, pulling out information and dealing threats over glasses of scotch.  Their excitement at discovering something important becomes our own.

As the scope of the crimes and coverups grows, and the reporters realize that they aren't dealing with three priests, or even 13, but 90--and that just in Boston--the largely silent audience gasped and murmured.  Their quiet question: how many monsters are living among us even now?

At the very end, the story has broken and Mark Ruffalo's character takes a copy to a lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci).  Garabedian has been working with priest abuse victims for decades and has tried to get the story into the news before, but either reporter apathy or active interference by the Catholic church got in the way.  Garabedian glances over the newspaper, thanks Ruffalo, and shoos him out of the office.  Why?  He has clients waiting--a mother and two small children.  The children were both raped by a priest, the church is offering a settlement to cover it up, and Garabedian's work continues.  Just because the story breaks doesn't mean the crisis has ended.

Brian has the only two really funny moments in the film.  One comes when he drops a pile of the newspapers that break the story on the front porch of the pedophile priest in his neighborhood.  The other is in a scene with Rachel McAdams.  He says he's working on a book to take his mind off the scandal.

"What kind?" she asks.

"Horror," he says wryly, and the audience laughed.

Just before the credits roll, the movie lists other cities that have reported pedophilic attacks by Catholic priests.  Three columns of tightly-packed text appears on the screen, and the audience gasped in shock.

And then the text was replaced by another three-column set.

And then by another.

I don't know why, but this is the point where I started to cry.  It was awful.  I couldn't stop myself.  The screen blurred and I couldn't read anymore.

When the cast credits rolled, no one in the audience moved.  Every single person remained motionless in their seats, as did I.  We were a good way into the credits before we were able to get to our feet and shuffle toward the exit.

I overheard people conversing in hushed voices.

"That was a good movie.  Harsh, but good.  More people need to see it."

"I've always been anti-New England.  Now I have a new reason to hate Boston."

We can't forget this.  We can't let this drop.  No one is doing enough to stop it--and make no mistake, it's still going on.

Go see the movie.  Forget The Hunger Games and The Good Dinosaur. This is the movie everyone needs to see.


BLOOD STORM: The Release

Blood Storm, the second of the Books of Blood and Iron, comes out Tuesday!

Ages ago, those who had the ability to change their shape lost it, leading to endless bloody battles for supremacy between the races—until one reluctant hero stepped forth to restore peace to the world.…

Even though Danr the half troll ended centuries of fighting, he still is not living the quiet life he longs for. Rumors have arisen that certain people are once again wielding the power of the shape. If Danr could learn to use it, he could become fully human and spend his life with his beloved, Aisa. But he is not the only one who craves the gift of changing form.…

Slavers have taken Danr’s friends captive, demanding the power of the shape as ransom. To obtain it, Danr must cross paths with the Fates, Death, and a giant wyrm that lives at the bottom of the ocean—before other, more dangerous parties uncover the secrets of shape changing.…

Putting a Roof

When Darwin and I bought this house, we knew the roof needed to be replaced.  The seller reduced the price of the house based on the fact.  We weren't able to do it over the summer--wedding!--but now the time has come.

This involves finding a roofer and getting estimates, of course.  The Internet makes this easier.  We have, in fact, an on-line bulletin board for our subdivision and the subdivisions around us.  I posted a notice asking for roofer recommendations, got several responses, and made some calls.

Now we've chosen a roofer and it's time to get to work.  Or rather, it's time for =them= to get to work.  It's time for =us= to pay out enormous sums of money.  Sigh.


The Trouble with Arrow

I have a tough standard for judging TV shows: they have to keep me occupied while I'm on the treadmill.  I don't like running, so a TV show that distracts me from the pain has to be =good=.

THE FLASH and SUPERGIRL keep me occupied nicely.  Good pacing, lots of action, lots of humor.

ARROW . . . has trouble. So much angst!

Seriously.  Way much.  In every episode, the plot screeches to a halt at least twice--and often more--in order to let a set of characters tear their hair out about how rotten their lives are.  Nearly all the characters are so wracked with ten kinds of guilt that it takes a third of the show to discuss it.  I could actually live with it, except IT'S BORING.  While someone wails and whines, I'm reminded that we're only on minute 13, and I have 30 minutes of pain to go.

And why is the angst boring? Because there's so freaking much of it!  Episode after episode, hour after hour, we have guilt trips, unrequited love, weeping, hair-tearing.  Come on, people!  You're bloody SUPER-HEROES!  Get your acts together!

So I find myself putting off ARROW.  Maybe I'll just let it quietly fade away.

But here's the cool thing--ARROW used to be the only live-action super-hero show on TV.  Since it was the only game in town, I had to watch it if I wanted a super-hero fix.  But now we have a number of super-powered heroes on TV.  I actually have a choice!  I can let a show go and not feel like I"m missing something.  I would have killed for this kind of thing when I was a kid.

We are in the awesome age of television.


The TV show SCANDAL just showed a woman decide to have an abortion:


Wow!  This never, EVER happens.  I mean, the right wing loves to claim Hollywood is liberal, but it ain't.  You don't put people of color in lead roles, you don't cast women who look like real women, you don't give major roles to LGBT characters, and no one ever gets an abortion.

Women can get pregnant.  Hell, even single women can get pregnant.  (Gasp!)  Murphy Brown did.  Rachel Green on FRIENDS did.  There are plenty of others.  But NO ONE gets an abortion.  No, instead there's the I'm Pregnant Pattern.  It goes like this:

1. Woman suspects she's pregant.
2. An entire episode is dedicated to the women finding out and/or telling other people that she's pregnant.
3. Woman beats her chest and tears her hair.  "What will I do?  It's so HARD to raise a child on your own!  But . . . a baby.  [sniffle] I have a choice to make."  It's always put that way--a choice to make.
4. Woman talks to trusted friend for advice.
5. Friend makes the woman realize that she's wanted the baby all along.
6. Woman accepts she's pregnant, decides it's a good thing, and announces she's keeping the baby.

The word "abortion" never even comes up.

It's partly because Hollywood is too scared of the right wing nutjobs to have a woman go through an abortion.  ("Boycott!  Boycott!")  And it's partly because whenever the writers of a show can't figure out what to do with a female character anymore, they make her pregnant to give her something to do.  (Somehow, they manage to cope with MALE characters always needing something to do, though, don't they?)

But now SCANDAL actually had a woman choose to end her pregnancy, a decision one in three women had faced in this country.  Bravo to them!

Naturally, the right wing nutjobs went splody-head.  Now that same-sex marriage is legal, apparently, they can't find anything else to do.  Well, too bad.  The show is out there, and it's not going away.

Eating Alone

NPR is posting a series of stories about eating alone, and the series emphasizes the social stigma of it:


I've seen the "embarrassed to eat alone" phenomenon in movies and TV--heck, the latest Muppet movie did an entire song and dance number about it--but I've never encountered it anywhere else.  I love eating alone in restaurants and have never felt the slightest embarrassment.  Why on earth would I feel embarrassed?  It's no different than buying groceries alone or going to the car wash alone or going to a movie alone.  Nobody cares--or if they do, so what?  Why would I give half a crap about what a ticket taker thinks of me, or the opinion of someone who wears a dirty apron?

I enjoy eating alone.  First of all, it's QUIET.  I can sort through a day's set of thoughts or problems without interruption.  I can go through my to-do list for tomorrow.  I can untangle my reactions to what happened at work last week and what I'm going to do about them.  I can whip out a book and relax with some nice reading.  In a modern twist, I can shut my mind off and watch a few videos on my Netflix stream.  The only demands anyone makes of me come from the server, who only wants to know if I'd like a refill.  It's a delightful change of pace from most of my meals.

Also, I can CHOOSE WHERE I EAT.  Darwin, for all his other wonderful qualities, keeps to an extremely limited food palate.  This sharply limits the restaurants where we can both eat, usually to my despair.  I want to try that new INDIAN place or a THAI restarautn or some ETHIOPIAN food, but Darwin won't even cross the threshold.  When I eat alone, I can eat wherever I want and try something adventurous.  I love going into a restaurant I know nothing about and asking the server, "What's the best-tasting meal here?" or "I don't know anything about this kind of food--what do you recommend?"  Even better if I don't know how to eat it and have to ask how it works.  And right now, the only way for me to do that is to eat alone.

I can understand why restaurants--servers--dislike loners.  We take up an entire table, but the tip is based on a single meal.  I get that.  So even though it really isn't my job to ensure the restaurant fills its tables, I do tip heavily to make up the lack. But I never, ever let a restaurant seat me in a crappy table just because I'm alone, and I've never had a greeter turn me down when I say, "This table won't really work for me.  Could I sit over there instead?  Thank you so much."

Back when I was doing my grad work and I stayed in the dorms for short visits, meals were served in the cafeteria.  Never a morning person, I ate breakfast by myself, even though I could have sat with other grad students.  (I'm grouchy before lunch.)  To keep people away, I buried myself in a book while I ate.  One morning, a woman named Ellen stopped at my table with her tray.

"Could I sit here?" she asked.  "Whenever I eat alone, people stop and ask if everything is all right, or they bug me to join them, but in the mornings I just want to be alone with my thoughts.  I won't talk."

"Of course!" I said.  And we passed the meal in comfortable silence.  She sat, I read, we both ate.  It was lovely.

Even when you eat with a friend, you can eat alone.


Coming Out Over and Over

People think of coming out as LGBT as a one-shot deal, something like attending a Hollywood premiere.  You dress up, stand up in front of a bunch of people, take a deep breath, and make a big announcement.  Then you deal with the aftermath.  In a comedy or feel-good movie, everyone applauds and gives you champagne.  In a tragedy or tear-jerker, dear family and friends turn their backs and stride rigidly away.  But then the event ends, the curtain comes down, the lights come up.

But like a Hollywood premiere, this is all fiction.

Coming out is a long, drawn-out series of events.  It happens over and over and over.  And over.

In reality, there's no way to let everyone in your life know, nor would you want to.  (When you're straight, do you tell every single person in your life that you're seeing someone?)  People actually find out on a need-to-know basis.  You tell your family in segments, perhaps starting at some family gathering where it's easy to let many people know at once and where it's easy to leave if things get difficult.  Friends find out in dribs and drabs, though the gossip chain may get the news to them before you do.  Everyone's process is different.  Some people want to tell because they feel it's time, others tell when they enter a relationship, and yet others are forced into it because someone in their circle finds out.

Dealing with the reactions is stressful.  It doesn't matter if the reactions are good, bad, or a mixture (An "I don't like that you're gay, but you're family, and I love you anyway" kind of thing); it's still stressful.  The anticipation, the how-will-they-react moment, the steeling yourself for a confrontation.  It gets draining.

I've long gotten past caring what friends or family think about me.  To anyone who wants to drop a relationship over my orientation, I say, "Thank heavens! My life is full enough without keeping up a relationship with someone like you."  But it's still a strain dealing with the intial reaction and some of the angry aftermath.  Good reactions generate eustress and often a great many long conversations, which may or may not be welcome, at least for me.  My years in the classroom have made me amenable to talking about nearly any subject in front of people, but sometimes I just don't want to.  Of course, finding a way to say, "I'd rather talk about something else" is stressful, since you don't want to come off as rude, especially to people who have expressed their support.

Eventually, all that dies down.  It's all sorted out.  You've lost a few friends or even family members, but overall things are good.  You and your spouse are accepted within your social circles.  It's all over, right?

Well, no.  After the Big Announcement to friends family, you have a constant stream of other people who need to be told.  Every time I meet a new friend or co-worker, there's a coming out process.  I mean, you don't offer your hand and say, "Nice to meet you, Fred.  I'm Steven, and I'm gay."  Instead, after you've known Fred for a bit, eventually Fred will say something like, "It drives me crazy when my wife leaves the toilet seat down.  Women, huh?  Are you married, Steven?"  And then you say, "I am.  My husband's name is Darwin."

Often a little pause inserts itself while Fred recovers himself. Finally he says, "Oh. Then I guess you don't worry about the toilet seat, eh?"  Or Fred might flee the conversation.  Or . . . something else.  And now you've just come out again.

Or you're on the phone with the insurance company and the rep says, "If you and your wife want to increase your coverage, we can give you an excellent discount."

"My husband, actually," you gently correct the rep.

Another quick pause while the rep regains her equilibrium.  "Of course--sorry.  We can offer the two of you a nice discount . . . "  And you just came out to your insurance rep.

This happens to me all the time.  A group of us teachers were going out for coffee after work one day, and one of my co-workers turned to me while we were waiting in line and said, "I hear you're getting married!  Congratulations!  What's her name?"

"His name, actually," I said.  "It's Darwin."

Brief pause, then a quick smile.  "Oh!  I had no idea.  That's wonderful.  I hadn't heard!"  And I came out to another co-worker.

And I was on the phone with the Social Security Administration (not something I recommend for a fun afternoon).  "You can call us back," said the rep, "or your wife can."

"My husband," I corrected.

This one caught herself a little more quickly.  "Your husband can call us back, too."  And I came out to the Social Security Administration.

I was talking to my ninth graders after I got back from the four-day weekend I took for the wedding.  "Why were you gone so long, Mr. Piziks?" a student asked while I was logging into my computer.

"It was for my wedding," I said.  "I got married over the weekend."

General noises of approval from the class followed.  "What's her name?" asked one student.

"His name," I said.  By now this was becoming my standard correction.  "It's Darwin."

Long, long pause followed this time.  I was still logging in to my computer, so I wasn't "on stage" or in the middle of class, but I was aware of the class nonetheless.  At last one student said, "Can we see pictures of the wedding?"  And I came out to my fourth hour class.

This goes on and on.  And on.  Today Maksim had a particular friend over for the first time.  Maksim isn't very good at remebering to introduce people yet, so I said, "Hi! I'm Mr. Piziks.  This is my husband Mr. McClary."

The friend said hello and went to the Xbox with Maksim.  And I came out to one of my son's friends.

It's a lifelong process, and will be until we achieve a neutral society.


Bernard and Grapes

The cats Dinah and Bernard know they aren't allowed on the cupboards and tables.  We can tell they know because if one of us enters the kitchen or dining room unexpectedly and one of them--usually Bernard--is on the cupboard, said cat immediately scrambles down and bolts from the room to escape the inevitable consequences.

We get lots of other evidence of Bernard's incursions.  (Dinah is rather better behaved.)  We keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter for snacking.  Often the bowl includes grapes.  But something about the grapes just drives Bernard bananas.  He can't leave them alone.  If we leave a bunch of grapes unattended for more than an hour or two, we'll eventually return to find them scattered all over the kitchen floor with puncture marks in them.  I think Bernard likes how his claws sink into them, and the enticing way they roll across the floor.  It means we can never leave grapes out, which also means we often forget we have them and they rot in the fridge.

Water squirtings, duckings, head-thwaps, and other punishments haven't stopped the problem.  The cats know they aren't supposed to be up there, but they go anyway.  Every day I have to clean the counters several times.  Litter box paws where I prepare food?  Digusting!

Finally, I resorted to more drastic measures.  I went to the office supply store and bought a set of chair mats.  You know--the vinyl thingies you put down on the floor so your desk chair will roll around without damaging the carpet.  The underside of these mats is set with hundreds of prickly little tacks so the mat will grip the floor and not scoot around.

I turned the mats prickly side up on the cupboards and the table.  Now when an unsuspecting feline jumps into forbidden territory, he'll get a painful surprise.  The picky parts won't draw blood, but they will hurt.  We'll leave the mats out for a few days, until the cats grow used to the idea that cupboard = pain, and we can remove them.

And then we can put out grapes again.



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