All posts by tjwest3

About tjwest3

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of English at Syracuse University, specializing in historical film and TV, gender and sexuality studies, and feminist and queer theory.

The most embarrassing thing I ever wrote

Jane Kolven

On developing talent in the pre-internet era

A recent conversation with a writer friend reminded me that before Twitter and WordPress and Facebook and direct emails, before I got sucked into the world of branding and cultivating an audience of readers and understanding market trends, I was a lonely kid who sat in her bedroom writing stories on the back of old office memos from my mom’s work.

I wrote short stories and novels. I designed covers for my books. I reimagined them as movie trailers with Don LaFontaine narrating (although I didn’t know his name and didn’t know “book trailers” were a thing). I created series and drew maps of the neighborhoods my characters inhabited. And – this was my favorite thing ever – I drew blueprints of the houses my characters lived in.

I might have done more ancillary work than actual prose writing, now that I think…

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On the Pleasures of World Building

Darcy and Winters

Ask any fan of epic fantasy what they enjoy most about the epic fantasy, and they will almost certainly tell you that they love seeing the way that epic fantasy authors create their own secondary worlds,

Certain fantasy authors have become famous for their ability to craft secondary worlds that have a level of depth and sophistication that are truly the envy of all of those who write in epic fantasy. Tolkien, of course, tops the list, if for no other reason than that he even provided his fictional people with a language all their own (and, of course, there is the fact that he created a fictional history that’s literally thousands of years long). Other, more recent authors have become giants in their own right. Brandon Sanderson is famous for his ability to create worlds that are as delightfully complex as our own, and George RR Martin has shown…

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The Great Golden Girls Marathon “‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” (S2, Ep. 11)

And so we come to that staple of most 1980s sitcoms, the Christmas episode. After exchanging their gifts, the four women are held captive by a deranged Santa while picking up Rose from her job at the counseling center. Though their plans to visit their own families out of state are ultimately foiled, they come to realize that they are more like family than they ever realized

The true highlight of the episode is, of course, the calendar that Blanche gives to the other girls, entitled “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.” Of course, we don’t get to see what is contained in said calendar, but that just makes it all the more hilarious when the women–particularly Dorothy and Sophia–respond to the…endowments of the men on display. Sophia’s remark is, unsurprisingly, very earthy (“I’m surprised you were able to walk in October,” she exclaims), and we find ourselves both vastly amused and very curious.

Despite the fact that we don’t get to see the men, there is something more than a little subversive about this moment. As most people will agree, it is typically women who are rendered into objects of spectacle for men, their bodies a source of erotic delight (the film theorist Laura Mulvery has a remarkable essay on just this subject). As they so often do, the women manage to flip the gendered dynamics that society so often relies upon, and it does so in a way that is all the more subversive for being played for laughs.

The real emotional center of the episode, however, occurs after they go to a diner to commiserate over their seemingly ruined holiday. The friendly waiter (played by Teddy Wilson, who would return in a later episode as a different character) remarks that, given how they were carrying on and teasing one another, he had assumed their family. This casual remark from a stranger forces the four women to recognize that, in reality, they are a family in all of the ways that really matter. This might seem trivial to some people, but to me it’s one of those moments in the series where you really start to realize how much these four women mean to one another. For queer people in particular–who often have a strained relationship with their families–there is something especially resonant about the way in which these wonderful women find such profound emotional fulfillment with one another.

Now, admittedly, there is something more than a little problematic in the scene that takes place at the counseling center, especially since it uses those with mental illness as the punchline. However, in cases like this it’s important to remember that, as progressive as it often is, The Golden Girls is still very much a product of its time.

Overall, I’ve always found this to be an enjoyable episode, even if it doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of the others in the second season. Next up, we’ll be talking about one of my all-time fave episodes, in which we finally get to meet Sophia’s estranged sister Angela (played by the inimitable Nancy Walker).

On Writing Queer Characters in Fantasy

Darcy and Winters

There’s no doubt that as a genre fantasy has made some great strides in terms of representation. Even epic fantasy–notoriously conservative in its depiction of gender, sexuality, and race–has begun to catch up with the times, with women and people of color (and even some queer folks) finally staking their claims. It’s really quite refreshing to see the enormous diversity of voices that have come into their own as the genre has entered into a new phase, that it’s begun to move beyond its very Euro-centric biases.

However, to our eye it’s still pretty rare to find queer people as the heroes of their own stories. There are some recent exceptions to this rule–Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur is one notable example–and of course the Kushiel books have a lot of queerness in them. However, it still seemed to us that epic fantasy needed its own queer couple to root for…

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New book preview: one scene, two ways

Jane Kolven

This week instead of analyzing some aspect of romance as I usually do, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at my current royal romance work-in-progress. The narrative is “broken” (as they say in the screenwriting biz), meaning all the beats have been plotted, and now I’m just putting the story into prose. But sometimes, even when a narrative is fully outlined in advance, the characters can take me in unexpected directions.

As I was writing a scene in which our two eventual lovers are on a private jet heading to the royal one’s micro-country, the characters started getting a lot more passionate than I had anticipated. (Honestly, for a second, I began writing erotica instead of the sweet romance I have dedicated myself to!) They flew out of Boston, where they were both regular old graduate students. In our fictional country, Remy, who identifies as non-binary and uses…

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The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Love, Rose” (S2, Ep. 10)

In today’s entry, we’re going to talk about one of the more touching episodes of the second season. In this episode, Blanche and Dorothy, dismayed at Rose’s loneliness–and at the lack of success she has when placing a personal ad–decide to pose as Rose’s perfect match, Isaac Newton (played by Paul Dooley). Unfortunately, things hit a snag when Rose actually contacts Isaac and asks him to go to a dance with her. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

This episode marks one of two times that the veteran character actor Paul Dooley appears (he makes another appearance at the end of season 5, in what was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for a series starring him and Rita Moreno). Though he’s never really ascended into the ranks of top actors, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dooley (and not just because he’s from West Virginia, though admittedly that also plays a role). Somehow, he manages to imbue the character of Isaac–who is, to put it mildly, something of a tool–with some measure of humble humanity. It’s tempting to wonder what might have happened had Rose continued to date Isaac beyond the confines of this episode but, alas, that will have to remain in the space of conjecture.

Admittedly, the scheme that Blanche concocts is absurd in the most sitcomiest sense, but it’s also touching in its own way. Both Dorothy and Blanche clearly have a lot of love for Rose, and the fact that they’re willing to go to such a bizarre length to make her feel better about herself says a lot about the depth of their feeling for their friend. Just as importantly, it’s also a convenient way for the series to channel its subversive queer desires into a joke, a means of defusing queer desire in a safe way. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel more than a little verklempt at the scene in which Dorothy and Blanche confess that they met every word that they wrote in those letters.

One final, somewhat throwaway comment. My boyfriend and I were discussing the other day the fact that my sitcom scenarios from the 1980s would never happen now because the technologies and cultural practices that were their foundation no longer exist. It occurs to me that this entire episode is premised on a cultural practice that is now extinct: the personal ad. This entire episode couldn’t be written today (or, more precisely, could not take place in exactly this same way in our present moment), simply because no one reads print newspapers, let alone personal ads. Even such institutions as the personals on CraigsList have gone the way of the dodo, and hookup apps are a very different sort of creature than their print predecessors. Come to think of it, it’s actually a rather amusing game to think of how a Golden Girls episode would play out with Tinder…

Coming up, we’ll be talking about one of the series’ Christmas episodes, which is by turns infuriating, heartwarming, and sad. Stay tuned!

Book Review: “The Testaments” (by Margaret Atwood)

Darcy and Winters

Warning: Some spoilers for the novel follow.

When I heard that Margaret Atwood was writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, I have to admit that I was a little afraid. Would she be able to pull off returning to this world that she created with such piercing and devastating clarity decades ago? Would it feel a bit stale and warmed-over? These, to me, were the questions and anxieties I had going into The Testaments.

Fortunately for me, and for all of those who enjoyed the first novel, Atwood has crafted a superb sequel that answers some of the questions posed by The Handmaid’s Tale, even while it raises others.

The novel is almost breathlessly paced, drawing you in from the first page and not letting you go until the last. It toggles between three very different perspectives. Agnes is a young woman who has been raised under the…

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Identity, Sexuality, and Authenticity

These are some important friends from my very dear friend and colleague. Give it a read!

Jane Kolven

Why gender and sexual identity still needs to be more than background to a character

This week Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye revealed he is living with HIV in a candid profile that included sharing stories of his struggles with addiction and experience as a sexual abuse survivor. The interview with the New York Times was part of the promotion for his new memoir, Over the Top, which also came out this week.

Responses within the LGBTQ community to Van Ness’ revelation that he is positive were also positive. Most of the people in my circle expressed how impressed we were with his courage and how helpful it would be for other people with HIV to have such a public figure sharing his experiences. (That this was our initial reaction, rather than sadness and terror, speaks volumes about how far HIV treatments have come since those dread-filled days…

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Fantasy Classics: “Naamah’s Curse” (by Jacqueline Carey)

Darcy and Winters

Warning: Some spoilers follow.

I’ve now finished the second volume of Jacqueline Carey’s third trilogy, Naamah’s Curse. It probably goes without saying, but I really enjoyed this novel and I am, of course, hard at work reading the third.

The novel begins with Moirin setting out on her journey to catch up to her beloved Bao. Though she finds him, she is soon kidnapped and sent north into the vast country of Vralia. What follows is a series of adventures in which she meets a fanatical Yeshuite patriarch, his sensuous and sensitive nephew, a powerful witch who commands a deadly jewel, and a lord of assassins. Through it all, she must rely on her love of Bao to see her through, as well as her native powers and abilities.

Much as I wanted to savour this novel, to take my time and really lose myself in its sumptuous prose, as…

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TV Review: Carnival Row: “Grieve No More” (S1, Ep. 5)

Darcy and Winters

I’m slowly but surely making my way through Carnival Row, and I’m now over halfway done with the first season. Rycroft continues to investigate the brutal deaths, Vignette makes inroads with the Raven, and Imogen schemes with Agreus to earn his money in exchange for her introducing him to society.

I have to admit, I’m getting a little frustrated with this show. The various plot threads are still ambling along, and none of them seem to have any particular destination in mind. That’s fine for a while, but when nothing seems to ever really move forward, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about these characters in the way that we’re presumably supposed to. For the life of me, I still do not care about Imogen and her family’s struggles against poverty, and the Puck Agreus’ motivations remain as inscrutable as ever (and, much as I like David Gyasi, his overly-mannered…

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