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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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Joust Between Friends” (S2, Ep.9)

Moving right along with our episode-by-episode breakdown of The Golden Girls, we come to another of those episodes where two of the women square off agains each other. In this case, the catalyst is Dorothy’s employment at Blanche’s museum. When it looks like she is going to outdo Blanche, the latter quits in a huff, not realizing that Dorothy has been put in charge of planning a party in her honor. Meanwhile, Rose adopts a dog, much to Dorothy’s chagrin.

This episode falls squarely into that set of Golden Girls episodes that explores the fraught territory of female friendships. This time, though, there’s no middle ground, since it’s pretty clear from the beginning that Blanche is in the wrong. Dorothy, as their therapist remarks in a later episode, cannot be blamed for being competent. And, of course, Dorothy takes the high road, even when it would be easier to give in to her baser instincts and just tell Blanche the truth. It’s also worth noting that the scenes of confrontation between the two of them–including and especially when Blanche pleads for forgiveness and Dorothy tearfully responds that she doesn’t know whether she can give it. As comedic as these scenes ultimately are, they still showcase just how extraordinarily talented these women were.

And yet, one can’t help but feel at least a bit of sympathy for Blanche and her plight. As she says to Dorothy, she’s been working at the museum for a number of years by this point, and to see Dorothy come in and do her job in such a short time is incredibly disorienting. Maybe it’s just my innate sympathy toward Blanche (to say nothing of my own fragile ego), but I can see where’s coming from, even if I think that her reaction to the situation is a bit overblown.

One of the things I like most about this episode is the fact that it’s Sophia that tells Blanche that Dorothy has been planning her surprise party, thus quite thoroughly shaming her. As biting as Sophia can be when it comes to interacting with Dorothy, incidents like this show that her loyalty to her daughter is deep and true. It’s one thing for her to insult Dorothy, but when someone else does–even if it’s someone who is like a daughter–she will definitely come out swinging. It’s one of those wonderful moments when we get to see just how strong the bond is between the two of them.

Of course, there are a number of continuity questions that this episode raises, particularly in the sequence where Blanche is describing Dorothy’s experiences (this is, I think, the only time that we hear about Dorothy’s study abroad experiences). Likewise, Dorothy’s reluctance/hostility to dog ownership is somewhat at odds with what happens in later episodes but still, it is touching to know that it stems from her deep, and ultimately devastating, love for a former schnauzer that lies at the root of her current antipathy toward pet ownership.

Overall I found this to be a very entertaining episode, even if it falls more into the category of filler than some of the others in this season. As always, we emerge reassured that Blanche and Dorothy have made peace with one another, at least until the next blow-up threatens their friendship.

Next up, Blanche and Dorothy concoct a clever (if ultimately rather silly) plan to make Rose feel better about her barren dating prospects.

The Benefits of Writing out of Your Comfort Zone

Darcy and Winters

As anyone who knows us is well aware, we’re passionate fans of big, sprawling epic fantasies. We’re talking about books that could easily double as doorstops (think Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and George R.R. Martin). We love seeing the way in which they manage to bring together various narrative strands, we love the world-building, and of course we love the epic heroes and heroines. And, to be honest, we just love the sheer physicality of an epic fantasy novel.

And, of course, most of our writing to date has been located squarely within this tradition. Both The Filliquian Chronicle and our other writing adventures (which are, as of now, still in the early stages of writing) are epics, even if the former is told in a serialized form. Given how much we love reading epic fantasy fiction, it just seemed that the genre was our natural home when the writing…

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The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Vacation” (S2, Ep. 8)

Hello, fellow Golden Girls fans! Since I’ve now made a commitment to finishing up this marathon fairly soon, I wanted to jump right in with another installment. In today’s episode, “The Vacation,” Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose decide to go on a much-needed vacation to the Caribbean. Once there, however, they find that the advertisements were, to put mildly, misleading, and that they have to share their room with a trio of surly and spoiled young men. Sophia, meanwhile, takes this time to finally pursue a little dalliance with their Japanese gardener.

There are some truly funny sequences in this episode, and the sparring between the three women and the men are particularly amusing. The highlight of this portion, however, comes near the end, when the three of them are sitting on the beach, having survived the wrecking of the men’s boat. This incident brings out the best and the worst in the women, as each of them confesses some of their dark secrets that they’ve been hiding from one another (including the fact that both Dorothy and Blanche slept with Rose’s cousin). This sequence also features a very funny bit where Rose asserts her dominance over her squabbling fellows, one of those hilarious instances where Rose reveals that, beneath the midwest nice persona there’s a core of iron and badassery.

Now, admittedly, the sequences that actually take place on the island are more than a little problematic, perpetuating as they do the idea that places in the Caribbean are full of corrupt bureaucrats, decadent politics, and violent revolution. Now, I know that it’s played for laughs, but it’s worth emphasizing that, as progressive as it often was, there were times when The Golden Girls was problematic. It’s important to remember that there was substantial unrest in the Caribbean at the time, including notably the uprising that toppled the president of Haiti (an incident that Sophia alludes to in another episode), so it’s hardly surprising that this would have some impact on the series’ storylines.

As hilarious (and problematic) as the main plot is, to my mind the more significant aspect of the episode is Sophia’s little love affair with the gardener Mr. Mitsumo. The scenes between two of them are actually incredibly sweet, as they somehow manage to overcome the language barrier (he speaks only broken English and she, of course, doesn’t speak Japanese) to find that there is something deeper between them. The part of the scene where they kiss is incredibly endearing and I, for one, love seeing Sophia just as prone to feeling the prick of Cupid’s arrow as the rest of the girls.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable episode of The Golden Girls, though I would probably rank it in the bottom third overall. There’s not much significant political or emotional heft to the episode as a whole, and the humor is a little simplistic. It’s pretty average sitcom fare, and that’s perfectly okay.

In our next outing, we get to see yet another conflict between Dorothy and Blanche as they compete for accolades at the art museum.

TV Review: Carnival Row: “The Joining of Unlike Things” (S1, Ep. 4)

Darcy and Winters

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I finally got back into watching Carnival Row last night, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the fourth episode today before I attempt to watch the fifth tonight.

Having established the backstory between Vignette and Rycroft, the story switches back to the present day. Rycroft continues his investigation of the mysterious deaths plaguing the city, and he learns that the deaths might have been caused by an undead amalgam of various Fae creatures. Meanwhile, Vignette must contend with the politics of the Raven and in the process is responsible for the death of another member of the gang. Meanwhile, Imogen plots to attain the financial assistance of Puck Agreus, and Absalom Breakspear finally manages to regain his son.

The episode marked some significant developments in character development and helped to move some parts forward, though not quite enough for my taste. I’m still waiting to…

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