Playing Fast and Loose with History

It’s possible you’ve heard that after ten glorious months, “And Their Souls Were Eaten” is just about to have its final release posted. It’s an interactive serial story that ran for ten months with (roughly) weekly updates.

The total word count is around 370,000 (you get about a quarter of that per read-through) so I’m feeling QUITE pleased with myself right about now. (I’m also apologising to my kids quite a bit and promising that when I’ve finished my next two deadlines it’ll all calm down quite a bit.)

Steampunk never tries to be accurate or even plausible historical writing, although a good steampunk writer will have a solid reason for every change they make (for instance, this story has airships because airships are awesome).

While writing “Souls” I amused myself by adding a bunch of real historical people into the story. For the more famous ones, I disguised them by using their lesser-known names for a while. I happily shifted people around the world for my personal amusement, and fudged their ages a fair bit.

There are therefore very mild spoilers for these characters. Feel free to go and read the entire story first. And don’t think they’re safe from death just because they’re real people. At least two are 100% doomed no matter what. The only question is… which two? You’d have to PM or email me to find out (fellissimo@hotmail.com). Or just read the story a bunch of times, and see who doesn’t survive.

 

 

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In (VERY roughly) chronological order:

*Charles Dickens. Because how could I not include the most famous writer of serial stories?

*Genevieve Deringer (yes with one ‘r’) is a fictional member of the real Deringer family (who invented Derringer rifles).

*Thomas Molyneaux was a British Heavyweight boxer (of African descent) and extremely famous and successful. I don’t think I ever named him, but I had Nox rescue him from a soulless man in an isolated forest encounter (and then had far too many characters, so it remained a random encounter).

*The exiled King Charles X of France (yes, he was in Austria for a while, and died of cholera).

*Fairy Fay is fictional, but her name was taken from a woman who may or may not have been killed by Jack the Ripper.

*Ada Lovelace (and the Earl of Lovelace). Because steampunk. She really did try and invent a flying machine as a teenager (and wrote a book about it) and had her first child in 1836.

*Isabella Bird. Was chronically ill and told to travel “for her health”. She was a deeply Christian woman and a suffragette. After attempting to ride side-saddle up a volcano, she rode horses “like a man” forever after.

*Madame Cama. Like Isabella Bird, she was a suffragette (although her main focus was independence for India) who had at least one marriage and seemed to do rather better when it was over. Sadly, she and Isabella never actually met.

*Harriet Tubman, our third suffragette, was certainly not travelling Europe in 1836, not least because she was about 14 at the time. But one of her many awesomenesses was being a suffragette, so I borrowed her—in part to acknowledge all my North American readers (who had to suffer through British English this story, poor dears).

In fact, Michael Bay and I had a chat just last week over tea and cocaine and he apologised for stealing my idea that every work of historical fiction must include Harriet Tubman. (We’re cool now, although he still says the “Choices That Matter” app should be teal and orange instead of black and white.)

*Alexandre Dumas. When I was a teenager one of my best friends lived on “Dumas” street, and although we were aware of the writer we were rather more amused by alternate pronunciations of his name. The more I research the Victorian Era, the more I realise it wasn’t nearly as white-white-white as it is often portrayed. I only discovered last year that Dumas was a black man.

*Adah Isaacs Menken. This fascinating Creole actress and poet was one of Dumas’s many mistresses.

*Selika Lavevski was a very well-known and skilled equestrian circus performer, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. Yep, I bet you thought I made all that up. I didn’t.

That studio photo was taken from here.

*Gustave Eiffel, long before the Eiffel tower was built.

*The French Fencers: Joseph Bologne and Chevalier d’Eon really were famous late-1700s fencers; an African man and a person who switched genders at least once. They’re only in one very minor (but badass) scene. Yes, Joseph was also a virtuoso violinist!

*Coenraad Van Houten and his father, who were real Dutch chocolate innovators (and who were smart enough to guard their secrets).

*Captain Ching Shih was a real and very successful Chinese pirate with an enormous fleet.

*Princess/Queen Victoria, who took the throne just after her eighteenth birthday in 1836. She was a fan of Charles Dickens.

I’ve probably forgotten some people, so let me know if you think you noticed someone!

I absolutely recommend googling all of these complicated, successful, diverse and talented people. They are well worth getting to know.

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News about “Choices That Matter” story app.

Eep, I really haven’t written for a while.

In my defence, I am in a whirlwind of writing as I finish “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, write the sequel to “Heart of Brass” (it’ll be a trilogy by the end of next year), and research and write [redacted] for [redacted], which is terribly exciting.

First things first, the Tin Man Games story app formerly known as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (after the first story, which I also co-wrote) is now known as “Choices That Matter”. It’s still on iOS and Google Play, and the finished tales will eventually show up on Steam.

So, I co-wrote the first story, “And The Sun Went Out” (from arc 4 onwards)

I wrote the second story, “And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I shall be editing the third story, “And Their Heroes Were Lost”.

All in all, KG Tan and I have made sure our fingerprints are all over all three stories. (For those not in the know, KG Tan is the project head of both “Choices That Matter” and “Miss Fisher” and he wrote rather a lot of “And The Sun Went Out”. He’s the last line of defence when it comes to editing, especially coding errors, and he is a spectacularly gifted person as well as a genuine friend.)

Phill Berrie was the first-line editor for “And Their Souls Were Eaten” and he is the writer of “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (which is seriously excellent!)

 

So let’s talk “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, since it’s my big beautiful baby. It had forty updates over 10 months, and the final update will come out within days. The final word count is around 377,000 (which is impressive until you compare it to the 15-month “And The Sun Went Out”, which came in just over 600,000 words).

YES in case you were wondering, it is connected to my other steampunk stories (they’re all connected). It takes place in 1836 Europe, well before any of the other stories, and the central problem of the story is different to all the rest.

Whenever I write interactive steampunk, I decide one one version of the story that is the “canon” version—the least contradictory version. When it comes to “And Their Souls Were Eaten” the canon version is as follows:

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The character is male (or appears to be), and after eating the soul of Charles Dickens they ultimately “become” the Charles Dickens that we know from “real” history (minus the horrible behaviour toward women, because I want to like him and it’s my story dammit). He writes all the Dickens stories just as they exist in our real world. The character might just show up in the novels (as “Charles Dickens”). He certainly shows up in “Stuff and Nonsense”.
  2. The soulless problem is 100% dealt with and although a few people continue to build anti-soulless towers and to keep an eye out in case any soulless escaped, by the time Emmeline Muchamore (hero of the novels) is causing trouble it’s rare to hear “soulless” or “Great Ones” even mentioned. In fact, they don’t come up in the novels at all (conveniently for those who read the novels but not “And Their Souls Were Eaten”.
  3. Activated gold is discovered during “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and a few other magical metals are discovered in the 1840s, before the novels begin in 1853.

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Storytelling by Mr 2

TJ is almost 3; older now than Louisette was when he was born.

A couple of days ago he said, “I tell stories to you.”

“Oh good,” I said. “I’m listening.”

“This story called: Little-Big!” he said. “I biiiiiiiiiig dinosaur, and Mummy little dinosaur.”

“Oh!” I said. “I like this story. What happens next?”

“I eat you! I eat you all up!”

“Oh!” I said, as he acted out this grisly tale. “And then what happens?”

“You all gone.”

“I’m all gone,” I agreed. “There’s no Mummy here any more. And then what happens?”

“I spit you out, ptuey!” he said. “Now you back here.”

“And then what happens?” I asked.

“That end.”

 

 

It’s not his very first story – I think that one was, “Look! I make bridge! People walk across bridge! The end!”

Recorded here for posterity.

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Medical Money

It’s been an interesting year health-wise.

Long story short, I have diabetes now (which is terrible, but also means I’m already on meds that are helping my overall health, yay) and I just discovered that my fifth attempt at getting stomach surgery through the public system has been refused.

I will be getting the surgery privately, which will cost around $10,000 (surgeon + hospital + anaesthetist), and will most likely happen in June or July this year.

It is extremely exciting to finally know it’s really happening!

Some people on facebook offered to help with the cost, so I’ve set up a donation page here. I’m already very touched to see so many people helping out.

For those interested in knowing all the history of this journey…

My first pregnancy was very, very unpleasant. My hips and back were permanently damaged.

This is what I looked like before having kids (not my normal attire, but close enough :P):

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Louisette weighed 4.15 kilos (9.15 pounds; an average baby is 3.2 kilos, about 7 pounds).

Something in my chest was screwed up, meaning that every time I lost a couple of kilos (trying to get back to the healthy weight I started with) I got very sick, usually with bronchitis that started off acute and then hung around for months and months. The great news on that front is that I’ve recently discovered that REFLUX is the likely cause (yes, another classic pregnancy symptom that just never quite went away) and all I need is a course of pills to not just end the current round of coughing but to help heal my stomach long-term. Yay for pills! Yay for modern medicine!

When I realised I was just getting sicker as time passed, I decided to get pregnant with our second child so that I could get it over with sooner—and then get things fixed that could only be fixed after I was done having kids.

img_9950(Still worth it.)

During this period, someone congratulated me on my (non-existant) pregnancy about once a month. I also discovered that I was now intolerant of FODMAPs (ie, all sugars other than glucose—most fruit, most vegetables, dairy, and sweeteners), which made it tricky to eat healthily.

The second pregnancy gave me the gift of gestational diabetes (and firmly established that I am intensely intolerant of all artificial sweeteners, especially the “natural” ones like stevia), and intense, unrelenting pain. My hip would fall in and out of joint as I turned over in bed, and the back pain from spinal damage was so intense that it was a factor in my choice to have an epidural. (I still remember those pain-free hours with great affection. Yay for epidurals! Yay for modern medicine!)

While pregnant, I saw a nutritionist who was impressed with my sound knowledge of food groups and how to eat well. She told me to do my best within my food intolerances and physical mobility.

I exercised as often as I was able, but it was quite risky due to an irritable uterus, culminating in a hospital visit as TJ was almost born a month early. (For the record, this means my labour was four weeks long—but of course it didn’t hurt much during that early stage.)

TJ was induced (gestational diabetes babies usually are induced due to weight concerns) and weighed 4.325 kilos. He’s never shown any sign of damage from the gestational diabetes, thank goodness.

During the period after TJ was born, someone congratulated me on my (non-existant) pregnancy about twice a month. I went to a family event and a man I didn’t know gave me a pat on the belly and asked when I was due.

This photos were taken before and after TJ was born:

 

 

Did I mention I have a social anxiety disorder? And depression? And of course PPD (post-partum depression) because I was and am literally afraid of my kids, since looking after them so often causes back injury or panic attacks even now.

I lost the pregnancy weight (from the second pregnancy; I still had an extra 20 kilos from the first pregnancy) but then regained it as I dealt with daily migraines, chronic bronchitis, a new set of food allergies (salicylates, which neatly removed almost all my remaining “safe” fruits and vegetables, as well as all nuts and some meats), arthritic feet, prolapsed uterus, etc.

My stomach felt wrong. Different than before. Every medical professional I spoke to told me to wait, and it would get better. (Obviously, it didn’t. It’s normal for the stomach muscles to separate during pregnancy, and then mostly close up over the months after birth.) I was given “safe” physio exercises that underestimated the amount of permanent damage, and injured me even more (only temporarily, fortunately). I was told that plenty of women have babies and don’t complain about their changed bodies like I do. I was told that most mothers have a post-partum bulge, and I shouldn’t expect a bikini body (since when was I a bikini model??? lol…)

I saw a nutritionist, who put me on an elimination diet for 6 weeks. It became clear that salicylates were a problem for me… but it also nearly destroyed me cooking up to three different meals each night (I had three “safe” meals which I just ate every night, but of course that didn’t meet the needs of the rest of the family) as I catered for myself, kids, and Chris. My habit of regular exercise was broken, and I kept getting infections (throat, tonsils, chest, etc) that prevented me swimming.

Once I’d reached a truly horrifying weight, people finally stopped asking if I was pregnant. That was such a relief. I still find clothing really difficult, as even the biggest sizes aren’t designed for an enormous stomach bulge (most maternity clothes don’t fit me either, due to already being tall at 175cm).

I was not able to return to work at the childcare centre that I’d enjoyed so much post-Louisette and pre-TJ during the two months between months-long hip and back injuries. (Having Louisette actually cured my depression, but it comes back with physical pain/illness. There is still hope that if my body starts to behave, my mind will be non-crazy too.)

I had an operation that mitigated the effects of the prolapsed uterus, and I was able to work at a new job for about six months. Unfortunately standing/walking was getting more and more painful so ultimately I had to stop. Luckily my writing really took off at just the right time, so technically I was never out of work. Obviously writing isn’t the kind of job that keeps us in caviar and champagne (and besides, I’m intolerant of alcohol now)—the average full-time Australian writer earns around $12,000.

Go on, buy my book.

heartofbrasscover

 

I began to realise that salicylate intolerance had a wider range of symptoms than FODMAP intolerance (including skin rashes, irritability, and joint pain) so I decided to try to do a salicylate elimination diet to see how much of my pain/depression could be cured by eating differently (and using special toothpaste and other products—salicylates are in a bunch of things) so I slowly drew up the courage to see another nutritionist.

She and I exchanged several emails before meeting, so she was warned about my cornucopia of physical and mental conditions, and knew that I wanted help going off salicylates. Unfortunately, she decided before we met that we should ignore salicylates entirely, since it was too difficult to deal with them and eat well at the same time. So that was  a bust.

I’ll be seeing yet another nutritionist now I’m officially diabetic. Hopefully they don’t choose to ignore things that are inconvenient about me.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence saying that fixing a separated stomach also fixes or improves a lot of food allergies. It would be awesome to be able to eat a balanced diet without it making me sick.

Another piece of good news: I am 90% migraine-free thanks to seeing a neurologist last year and working very hard to find the right medication. It’s entirely possible that with experimentation and medical assistance, I can actually reach a normal level of health for my age.

Once TJ was six months old, it was clear my stomach wasn’t going to get better, and my GP referred me to both Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital.

-Canberra Hospital lost the referral.

-I eventually got to see a surgeon at Calvary Hospital, who told me that my problem was probably too minor to fix and that it was out of his hands, but referred me to a CT scan place. The scan revealed that my stomach gap was 9cm wide. I returned to the same surgeon, who told me that it was too big for Calvary, and I needed to see a surgeon at Canberra Hospital. It was out of his hands. (We actually met in a room at Canberra Hospital, since this doctor works at both.)

-The scan also revealed a 2cm spleen abnormality, so when my GP wrote me a new referral for Canberra Hospital, she referred me to a general surgeon on the basis that maybe he’d want to operate on both things at the same time. When I finally saw the general surgeon, he told me the spleen thing was totally fine, showing me images to prove how it was centrally located and thus unlikely to burst and kill me (2-D images, despite the fact that the spleen is a 3-dimensional organ. I was never scanned from the side). By that time I’d had a second scan 6 months after the first, which showed no growth. So, not dying of aggressive spleen cancer. Yay. He told me he couldn’t sew my stomach back together (and acted as if the surgery was impossible, rather than referring me to a colleague who could do it), but could fix the umbilical hernia by adding surgical mesh over the gap in my stomach. I ultimately said no, since it would make the full stomach surgery more complicated and less likely.

-At this stage I contacted the health minister, and was told that my surgery would happen within three months. Wow! Unfortunately, that was still the hernia surgery, not the actually-fixing-the-primary-problem surgery.

-I looked up surgeons and found one who was both a private and a public surgeon (Dr Tony Tonks), and made an appointment with him. I figured a private surgeon would be honest about surgery, and then once he’d confirmed that the surgery was possible and useful, I’d let him know I needed to go through the public system. I did that. “I could tell which surgery you needed when you walked in,” he said. I told him I needed to go through the public system, and he told me that he was so frustrated by the lack of support for this kind of surgery that he no longer does it through the public system. He wrote referrals for me, to Canberra Hospital (to the right kind of surgeon this time), and to a hospital in Sydney where they had done that kind of surgery relatively recently.

-The Sydney hospital called and told me that they no longer do that kind of surgery through the public system.

-The Canberra Hospital apparently sent notice to my GP that they no longer do that kind of surgery. I waited nine months and then called the hospital to follow-up. After the phone rang for ten minutes, someone answered. That was when I found out that I’d been refused the surgery (sight unseen) way back in July last year.

-I gave up, and called Dr Tony Tonks’ office to begin the process of prepping for private surgery. I have an appointment for late May, and will have the surgery 3-6 weeks after that.

After all this time, I’m very excited to finally know that it’s really happening—and with a surgeon who treated me like a human being, which is a particular bonus.

 

So feel free to give me money to help me on that long road to recovery.

Several people have donated since I began writing this post.

THANK YOU.

Have a kitten.

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Ooh! Ooh! Shiny Shiny New Show!

I just watched the first episode of “Killjoys” on Netflix.

(Don’t worry; a review for a one-hour show is sure to be shorter than a review of a show that ran for eight season… right?)

Mild spoilers to follow!

Like Firefly? Like Joss Whedon (ie clever dialogue, strong female characters, exciting plots)?

This is the show for you.

The opening scene actually echoes the opening scene of Buffy, with a woman appearing frightened but ultimately being the strongest and most capable person around. (In Buffy, it’s Darla; a vampire – echoing the overall show theme of “fun cheerleader type is absolutely NOT the victim here”.)

The main girl (Dutch) of “Killjoys”, and her platonic BFF are bounty hunters. She is his boss.

Points for a cool job and setting (and the connections to Firefly are self-explanatory).

Then BFF boy (er… I’m not good with names) has a secret. Although he should have told Dutch right away, his reason for keeping it secret make sense. In fact, although certain narrative beats are to be expected, they’re all nicely done and the characters’ motivations and decisions are all fundamentally reasonable and intelligent. (As a writer I admire the challenge of having the characters’ situation constantly worsen WITHOUT the characters coming off as stupid.)

So the very first major plot point (the secret) already works on two levels – there’s tension between the two leads, and there’s tension in knowing that there’s a larger and more dangerous plot in the making.

Then there’s another bounty hunter with the same problematical kill order. Once again, it works on two levels. First, it’s bounty hunter vs bounty hunter (all the more delicious for the fact that Dutch clearly knows the other bounty hunter, and immediately goes and talks with him – I adore friendly enemies). Secondly, it’s a kill order that Dutch doesn’t want to fulfil, so now not only does she need to defy either her boss or her moral code (and partner at the same time), but she also now needs to actively protect the man who should be her target.

A third main character is introduced, and he is just as fascinating as the others, and is immediately emotionally entangled with both Dutch and BFF boy in a deep and complicated way.

And of course there’s a love triangle. Because Dutch and the BFF are so, so very close; closer than most marriage partners… but they’ve never been romantic. That suggests one of them is almost certainly desperately in love with the other; so in love they can’t say a word because their life would be ruined if the other person stepped away from them. Perhaps both of them are in love, and unable to risk saying so. We’ll see.

And of course the third character means there’ll be a love triangle. Sooner or later. And in this show, it will be done so well that I can’t wait to see it develop.

There’s one tiny, elegant moment when the third character and Dutch are at a party. Dutch is in an AMAZING dress (if I didn’t know I was attracted to women, I’d have found out today) and the third character checks her out… while wearing a hidden camera, which is feeding back to the BFF. The BFF tells him off in a way that could be either an extremely brotherly feeling for Dutch… or he could be the one suffering through (probably) unrequited love. I need to know how he feels! And her! And the other one!

Then there’s yet another character who is clearly very important, and very deadly, and has an extremely complex relationship with Dutch. He has power over her… and she has power over him (which she definitely wishes she didn’t have). It’s not clear if he hates or loves her, but it’s almost certainly both. There is a perfect moment at the end of the episode when we see this fantastically strong character collapse into a frightened little girl without a word spoken. And we already know she’s right to be scared.

I actually noticed the music of the show (in a good way, because the emotional mood was so delicious), which I almost never do. And even in that moment, with Dutch’s necklace, there’s another source of tension (internal moral tension this time, which is ALSO linked to the Third Main Character Guy and his past and his decisions).

So, in conclusion, we have three very compelling characters in compelling relationships with one another, and with an incredible array of challenges and secrets and enemies. I am so stressed out! I already care so deeply for all three main characters.

Almost every scene and plot beat does at least two things at once (purely from the script; the visuals, world-building, etc are all delicious too). That is simply wonderful to see, and it motivates me to strive to write so well. In fact, I’m writing this blog to analyse some of what was so clever about the show.

It also motivates me to immediately watch all ten episodes, then rock back and forwards in the foetal position until I get the rest. Then more. Then more.

As of this moment, this is my favourite TV show. Ever.

 

Edited to add: And yeah, bad stuff happens in this show… but not really. There’s supposedly an attempted rape in the opening scene, but it would take a very green viewer to think for a second it was really going to happen.

Then there’s the enslaved cage fighter… who still has all his pretty pretty teeth.

And of course the opening torture scene, with no blood and plenty of quips.

Edited after seeing the second episode: Haha! Someone did lose a tooth this episode, but of course it was just a bit character and a baddie, not one of our beautiful boys.

This isn’t a criticism! In its own way, “Killjoys” is just as much a safe & charming drama as “Gilmore Girls”, despite all the murderin’.

 

I’m hazy on copyright law, so in lieu of a proper show pic, here’s something from my own image collection.

 

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Another beautiful woman who happens to be a cold-blooded killer.

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Review of Gilmore Girls: yes, all of it

I recently watched the new “Year in the Life” Gilmore Girls mini-series. (It’s on Netflix.)

Then I had to go back and watch all of “Gilmore Girls”, from the very beginning to the very end.

Yes, there will be spoilers here.

There were three really awful things in this show that I love:

  1. There are a bunch of jokes about homosexuality (and, in the final season “Summer” episode, a bunch of jokes about fat people in swimmers). From memory, this was the era when things changed fast in TV. Just mentioning gay people, especially joking that “I” (whoever “I” is, in context) might be gay, was a little bit pro-gay at the time. On US TV shows, just acknowledging that gay people existed was a bit of a big deal. On Seinfeld, men leapt away from physical contact, then said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But… Gilmore Girls is meaner, and it ages very badly. So, after all my attempts to defend the show, I have to admit: it really sucks, and makes me wince every time (and there are a lot of times, unfortunately).

2. In general, Rory and Lorelai have a medium-level case of “main character syndrome”, ie, they are frequently selfish and awful, but the audience still loves them because they’re the hero of the show. Their main character syndrome is worse in “A Year In the Life” (season eight?), probably mainly to add drama and humour…but they’re pretty awful people. (Especially to Rory’s boyfriend of TWO YEARS, who everyone forgets the second he leaves the room. It’s played entirely for laughs, but it does feel a little like how Rory and Lorelai often treat men badly. Oh yeah, and Rory’s sleeping with Logan – who is engaged – the entire time.)

3. The infamous “last four words”. The writers were too impressed with their own structural cleverness. There’s a saying “Kill Your Darlings” which means that the parts of a story a writer is most fond of should probably be cut. This is sooooooo one of those times.

For those who don’t know (spoooooooiiiiiiillllleeeeerrrrrsssss) the last four words are:

Rory: Mum?

Lorelai: Yeah?

Rory: I’m pregnant.

The writers have been holding on to this ending for literally ten years. Structurally, it’s fascinating. But also horribly depressing. And also kind of pointless. And also very, very unsatisfying. We don’t even get to hear how Rory (or Lorelai for that matter) feels about it. Which, in a show that is all about discussing life moments, is deeply disappointing.

Looking around the interwebs, there’s a lot of discussion about how the writers could have been even crueller, making Rory fall pregnant during/immediately after her graduation. It looks like that’s what they actually wanted to do, which is just. . . eauch!

Are they trying to say that we’re all doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? What a bummer message for such an upbeat show!

So Rory doesn’t have a relationship or a job, but at least she’s 32 rather than 16. And she gets on with her mum and step-father, so she has an excellent support system in place. She’ll be okay.

The fact I have to think through “Will she be okay?” shows what a dumb ending this is. It’s not a cool, edgy ending. It’s a question mark where there should be a full stop (or at least an ellipsis!)

I was comforted by the mainstream fan theory that “Logan = Chris, and Jess = Luke”. Since the writers are so proud of their structural prettiness, that makes perfect sense, and it tells us the rest of the story: Although Logan is the father of her child, he is too weak to be Rory’s life partner. Jess, however, still loves her and always will. He and Rory are intellectual and psychological equals (now that Jess has grown up), and will eventually find lasting happiness with each other.

Despite its slightly repetitive nature, I’d love to watch that show. In my head, THAT is the end of the story.

Why do I love Gilmore Girls so much? 

It’s fun and funny. That’s pretty much it – but that’s plenty! It managed to stay fun and interesting and funny throughout, which is considerably more than many shows manage. Nothing truly awful ever happens. It’s perfect escapist TV and I’m sad my binge is over because there are very few shows that are so purely enjoyable to watch.

My current self (as opposed to my past self, who was younger and more innocent) can’t help noticing that this is a show that is led by women – two female leads (three, counting Emily), and is very much a success because of the writer (and producer?) Amy Sherman-Palladino. So it gets extra kudos for that.

It’s hard to watch sometimes, when I see characters I love heading directly for pain, but the show has an almost evangelistic fervour for “Life experiences”. The most blatant example is that both Lorelai and Lane say (regarding Rory’s attraction to Jess, who is clearly a jerk at that stage), “She’s 17. She has to fall for a bad boy.”

Uhh….no. That’s not true at all! My philosophy as a teen was, “Why get into an obviously doomed or unhealthy relationship?” and although it was often very, very hard to resist attractive men that wanted to date me, I really didn’t need to go through the pain to figure out that a man who compulsively lied wasn’t going to be good for me.

Having said that, it’s true that bad experiences have value in terms of personal growth, and that fact makes the show very satisfying. Especially when it comes to relationships, which in the show (as in life) is where the greatest mistakes tend to happen.

Lorelai and relationships

So Lorelai dated Chris when they were teens, and when she fell pregnant Chris did the expected thing and asked her to marry him. Partly because she was 16 and partly because it was what her mother wanted her to do, Lorelai bolted in the opposite direction. She came to Stars Hollow, found work despite being a teen single mum, and ultimately became a functioning adult. For the entire period between Rory’s birth and the beginning of the show, she chose to be virtually celibate. She had rules. Those rules definitely protected Rory (and Lorelai, for that matter).

The show begins with 16-year old Rory and her 32-year old mother in Luke’s diner. Luke is clearly a close friend, and clearly in love with Lorelai, who is clearly oblivious. He is a flannel-and-baseball-cap wearing guy who has a base level of charming crankiness but clearly also has a heart as big as Stars Hollow. Fundamentally, he doesn’t always handle his emotions well, but he’s steady as a rock. Lorelai has ambitions; he does not. (That’s morally neutral, but they are clearly very different people.)

It’s interesting that the very first scene is Lorelai and Rory both getting hit on by the same guy. This is a neat plot device for introducing the “teen pregnancy” backstory, but it also accidentally foreshadows the idea that men are a disposable commodity. Yes, the guy is a bit of a creep – but I don’t generally find rejection funny, so there’s a tiny twinge there for me when the guy becomes a punchline.

Lorelai quickly falls for Rory’s English teacher, Max Medina. He is a smart, kind, intelligent man and he never does anything truly bad. Lorelai resists the attraction for a while since he’s Rory’s teacher, but in my opinion he IS worth breaking her “rules” for, especially since Rory isn’t a baby any more. The situation is awkward and mistakes are made, and Max and Lorelai try to solve the problems by getting engaged rather quickly.

Lorelai suddenly panics and breaks up with him the day before the wedding, and from then on the story is, “I wanted to love him, but I just didn’t.” (stupidest reason ever? why yes)

She even kisses him several months later, which is spectacularly selfish.

This is a relationship that hurts both Rory and Max quite badly.

In experiential terms, this is Lorelai letting down the walls she’s built up in the 16 years since she fell pregnant. She screws things up very badly, but I have a tiny amount of sympathy given that she needs to learn how to fall in love as a grown up and a mother.

The second major love story is, of course, Chris. It’s clear from the start that Rory loves him and that Lorelai has learned from experience that he can’t be relied upon even to show up for one of his daughter’s major life events. Would things have been better if Lorelai had married him at 16? No. She made a brave and difficult choice, and deserves credit for the fact that living on her own really was better than living with either Chris or her parents.

But then it seems Chris really has grown up. He has a steady job and has switched out his motorbike for a car. For a moment, Lorelai and Chris are finally both in the right place to have a mature relationship………. and at that exact moment, Chris’ ex-girlfriend calls to say she’s pregnant.

He can’t fail another child, so he leaves Lorelai and Rory and goes to be a proper father for the first time (which is a very good thing, because the ex-girlfriend snaps and leaves one day, making him a single father – a structurally beautiful/tragic moment that works very well).

Much later, he becomes very wealthy and helps pay for Rory’s education (a good thing to do, but not actually something that required long-term maturity). When Luke and Lorelai get together (and Lorelai’s parents deliberately attempt to break them up) he is a selfish jerk, and it quickly becomes clear that he still has the weak nature that he had as a teenager. They finally get together, but he’s insanely jealous of Luke and keeps pushing Lorelai to move the relationship forward quickly due to his fear of losing her. They even get married – a clearly stupid decision, and it hurts Rory since they didn’t even tell her beforehand. In some ways they’re living the dream, living together with their two children at last – but it’s not right. Chris knows it, and Rory knows it, but Lorelai is ignorant. She’s so convinced they’re meant to be (after twenty years, I’d probably make the same mistake) and is definitely on a rebound from Luke too. The relationship ends, relatively amicably, but in “A Year in the Life” Chris’ role in the story is further clarified when Rory goes to see him, telling him she’s writing a book. He says, “Please don’t make me too much of a villain.”

That line tells us that he IS the villain. He was a pretty awful father, and then very nearly caused Lorelai and Luke’s relationship to fail forever. Like most real-life villains, he didn’t mean to cause harm; he was just selfish. It’s good that he knows it, and won’t cause more harm. He’s working at a desk, representing adult responsibilities. It’s quite likely he’ll eventually have a healthy adult relationship of his own.

Luke

As I said above, Luke is a good man. There’s a lovely subplot where he listens to self-help tapes and then finally asks Lorelai out (then promptly gives the tapes to Jess, since he’s now “done” and Jess needs them to learn how to communicate with Rory).

Then there’s Luke’s daughter. She shows up as a weird & brilliant 12-year old that he didn’t know existed. Luke and Lorelai are already engaged (and already dealing with a big emotional load because Rory has been arrested, sentenced to community service, and has left Yale AND moved in with the grandparents). Luke quickly builds a healthy relationship with his daughter (it’s beautiful when he fights to keep her and wins against the odds), but there’s a lot to process so even when Rory gets her life back together he isn’t truly ready to get married (but is clearly still heading in that direction).

Lorelai feels more and more sure that the wedding is off, and finally gives Luke an ultimatum. He’s utterly thrown, so she breaks up with him. Since it’s their second break-up, she sleeps with Chris in order to make sure the breakup is real. THAT certainly ends a relationship.

The next day Luke shows up with his truck packed and ready to elope – but it’s too late.

Although the relationship should not have ended (and, indeed, they get back together at the end of season 7, and finally marry in season 8 after living together about 10 years), it’s reasonably understandable (unlike the Max Medina thing).

This is the canon, long-term relationship, and I’m glad.

Luke’s daughter:

The mother of Luke’s daughter should have included Luke in their lives from the beginning. He missed so much, and that is a tragedy. She is a weird and brilliant girl who is mature enough to seek out Luke on her own and then decide on her own to continue having a relationship with him. She and Rory are great sisters, and when she’s 22 and Rory is 32 both are struggling with the weight of expectations versus reality. Rory helps her, and is pretty much the perfect sister. I like that, and I hope Luke’s daughter finds a path that’s right for her. (Side note: Rory wants to be a journalist and Luke’s daughter probably wants to do something science-y. Both are very hard jobs to get, and very low paid. Luckily Rory knows a publisher, and both are connected to very wealthy people. I choose to assume they’ll be fine.)

Emily:

I love it when Emily and Richard get back together after their separation, and I also like how Emily ends season 8: she’s dating a nice man, gotten a job for the first time, and has built a “family” with, oddly enough, her maid. The final scene sees her alone and happy, with the rest of “her” people asleep. She doesn’t seem to be invited to the wedding, but she and Lorelai have moved past the pain of Richard’s death.

There’s no doubt that Emily and Richard always loved Lorelai (and of course Rory) but were too controlling to have a healthy relationship with them. They’re villains, but they’re also heroes sometimes. Both are very compelling characters.

Lane and her mum, and Lane:

My absolute favourite storyline is the way Lane’s extremely strict mother gradually grows to respect Lane’s choices (but remains her very fierce self as well – as an ally rather than an enemy).

Lane has this awful storyline where she has sex for the first time when married, and it’s a terrible experience that turns her off sex……and makes her pregnant. With twins. She says to Zach, her partner, that she spent her whole life trapped by her mother, then she broke free…and now she’s trapped again. Shortly after that, Zach gets a great musical opportunity, and she encourages him to take it – going on tour for months while she’s left alone with the twins.

So…she was right?

In the future the band is still playing, which is excellent—but they don’t mention touring, and they do mention that Zach now has to wear a tie to work. I sort of like that, because they’re still playing (which is where the true joy is) but they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere with their art (which hurts, but is realistic).

Way back in season 7, I was waiting for her to start enjoying sex, but that storyline was never mentioned again. So… is she a stay-at-home mum to two boys in a sexless marriage featuring a shared, failed dream?

It’s probably not that grim. Being a mum actually goes well with a lot of the artsy professions (odd hours and working from home), and the boys are definitely old enough now that touring is possible. Given that the band made $9000 from a tour organised by Lane’s mum, there’s plenty of opportunity for them to earn at least some of their living from music. And I’m sure the sex is just fine. And Zach is clearly willing to sacrifice his dreams for Lane, and is an active and involved father.

So all’s probably well in the Lane household (which still, amusingly, includes Brian – who is also a great babysitter), but I feel like the writers forgot Lane.

Lane’s mother is a stereotype in some ways, but the fact that she’s specifically Korean (rather than more generically Asian) helps, and I find the stereotype affectionate (and detailed) rather than offensive. That may change with time or perspective (I’ve been to South Korea, but I know very little about it except that there are a lot of Christians who have a reputation for pushiness…so, just like Mrs Kim).

There’s an odd line in season 8 when someone says, “Hey look! There’s Mr Kim!” and Lane waves at her father. I don’t think he was ever mentioned or seen before that instant, which makes me feel like it was some kind of fan service. But it raises more questions than it answers. Mrs Kim was clearly a single mum, so was she divorced or widowed? Is this Mr Kim her ex-husband, or Lane’s step-dad?

This, more than anything, makes me want another season: MORE LANE, and more of all of her family.

Rory’s romances:

Dean is just not her intellectual match, and everyone except Rory knows it. (He’s no dummy, but he’s not an intellectual like Rory, and he can’t move through several layers of society like she can*.)

I hate him forever for every aspect of his first marriage, especially him marrying someone when still so very in love with Rory, and of course for sleeping with Rory (not just once, but continuing until she breaks it off).

I hate Rory for sleeping with him, too. And I hate Lorelai a little for just saying, “Talk to me before you have sex” rather than, “Sweetie, your body is going to mess with you. Big time.” and teaching her how to resist temptation and make good choices when every instinct is saying, “Sleep with him right now now now!”

Jess is clearly desperately in love with Rory, and her intellectual equal. But he’s a jerk, and Rory is definitely influenced by his less stellar qualities. He dates another girl just to mess with Rory which is obviously not okay. Rory is a worse person because she likes him. When they’re going out, Jess is unreliable and incommunicative (which he continues for some time after they break up too). In the end, Jess does grow up into a decent human, loyal friend, and (finally) Rory’s true equal.

It’s clear in the final season that he’s utterly in love with her, with the same friend-zoned devotion that Luke showed towards Lorelai.

Logan is charming and generous and a risk-taker (which Rory needs a bit of). He grows up a LOT during the show. He learns to be monogamous; he leaves his father’s business; he faces up to his (big) financial mistake; he stops acting like a drunken college kid (mostly). Like Chris with Lorelai, he is devoted to Rory but circumstances aren’t right. Like Chris, he proposes because of expectations (Chris because Lorelai is pregnant; Logan because college is over and marriage is what you do next – worse, he proposes publicly without having talking about marriage with Rory), utterly failing to understand the girl he loves (Rory loves him too, but isn’t ready to settle down).

Like Chris, Logan is weak. By the time season 8 rolls around, he is back working for his (somewhat evil) father, and is engaged to a woman his father effectively chose for him. He’s also cheating on his fiancé. Despite all that, he’s still a loyal and helpful friend to Rory—but their friendship has soured into something that’s just wrong.

He and his friends give Rory a beautifully fun night and morning, ending the relationship in a way that’s both conclusive and friendly….and she gets pregnant.

So, Chris/Logan are the rich, privileged, weak men who make great friends but aren’t mature enough for the women they love.

Luke/Jess are the lower-class but business-owning men who aren’t fabulous at communication but are working hard to be good men – and succeeding. They ARE, in the end, mature enough and smart enough for the women they love.

Luke and Lorelai’s relationship

I really liked how Luke and Lorelai actively worked on their communication skills way back in season 6, and improved their relationship as a result. I completely understand how (in season 8) Lorelai feels she’s too selfish to make Luke happy—and how Luke actually is completely happy, and doesn’t understand why Lorelai is stressing. My own real-life marriage is between a high-maintenance, spirited, driven woman and an extremely calm and steady man. I cried a bunch in season 8, and just loved that whole storyline.

I was a little worried when Lorelai AGAIN proposed and AGAIN rushed into marriage – but a wedding is all about the friends and family, and I was fine that L&L effectively just ticked it off their to-do list.

Rory’s career

I like it that the “genius” Rory, who was so full of promise, has had some notable writerly successes, has several irons in the fire, and is ultimately not sure where her next paycheck is coming from. That’s life.

I like that she’s writing a book about her life (especially since we know Jess will publish it). It’s great therapy, and I think she needs to go through that to “find herself” in much the same way middle-aged Lorelai had to run off into the wild to find herself. It’s something spirited women in particular need to do periodically in life.

As a writer, I REALLY like that Jess wrote a book that got published by a small press and DIDN’T make him a million dollars. I like that even when he was running the publishing company he was living upstairs and barely scraping by.

So Gilmore Girls is that rare creature: fiction about writers that is reasonably realistic.

My own first novel is actually my 15th (that’s fifteen years of novel writing without getting published!) and is published by a small press (meaning it’s not stocked in every single store, and isn’t advertised much at all). Fortunately my interactive fiction pays more, because being a novelist isn’t easy (nor is making a living as a writer of Interactive fiction, but IF is much better-paid overall). I think you can forgive me for hating it when a fictional character sits down, writes their first book, and is swimming in cash and accolades six months later. Hah!

 

Well, I’m finally finished my Gilmore Girls binge + debrief. Perhaps I can get some real work done now.**

 

*Luke hates being around rich people, but he can handle himself.

**Hah!

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“Stormhunter” flounders as Satalyte falls to Earth

Most small publishers stop running within two years. Which is not surprising, when you consider that the large publishers make a loss on the vast majority of the books they produce. It’s the occasional bestseller keeping everyone afloat. People just don’t read enough books.

With that reality, small publishers deserve more credit rather than less. They know they’re probably going to fail. In my experience, publishers are greater dreamers than writers—writing, after all, costs very little.

Satalyte Publishing accepted my novel “Stormhunter” some time ago, but ultimately has just decided to close their doors. It’s not an easy choice, but I became friends with the couple running the show, and I’m glad they were smart enough to step away from their beautiful dream before it became a nightmare.

So, the fate of “Stormhunter” is once more a blank. It certainly eased my concern that I have SO much paid writing work to do already, and that “Heart of Brass” is safely published and in the hands of readers all around the world.

Despite an unfortunate end to our professional relationship, I have gained several good friends and quite a bit of useful knowledge from my journey with Satalyte. The publishing house is no more, but those friendships will last forever—and all the more because of a shared experience of grief.

Like many small publishers, Satalyte deliberately published the kind of books that are excellent, but not considered “marketable”. They made publishing better forever, and I’m grateful to them as both reader and friend.

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