Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The World We Live In


This isn’t the blog I was thinking of posting this week. I’ve been putting my thoughts together on my theories about alien visitation and I’ll get around to writing that at some point. But something happened this week that I need to report, because I may have dodged a bullet. Literally.

This happened at the cable TV office. I stopped in to pay my cable bill. I think I may have mentioned this in a blog a couple of years ago as one of the Things That Cheese Me Off. In a perfect world I’d hand over my check and be in and out in less than a minute. What usually happens is there’s one other customer in there, and they’ve got some kind of problem that takes forever to resolve. (This happens in bank lines a lot, too. I dare you to tell me it doesn’t.) I’m left standing there for five to ten minutes or longer for a thirty-second transaction. Yeah, it cheeses me off.

To make matters worse, I usually see the person who winds up holding up the line go in ahead of me, usually just by seconds. Which is what happened. I almost ran the woman down in the parking lot because she wasn’t paying attention. While I parked, she went inside. I knew what was going to happen before I even got in there.

I was partially right. They’d remodeled the office over the summer. Now you walk right in and they’ve got two service windows. Sadly, both were busy with people who had problems. The lady who’d gone in ahead of me was at the head of the line. I stepped up behind her.

During remodeling, the Payment window had put up a box labeled “Put payments here if you don’t need a receipt.” That box saved me a lot of waiting on more than one occasion. Pity I didn’t see it out in the new office. There’s supposed to be a drive-up window, but they’d parked a truck there, blocking it. Guess the window’s closed.

Well, I was there. Might as well wait.

Over the next five-ten minutes about four other people came in. One of the customers wrapped up her business and the woman in front of me took her place. Sure enough, she had a problem too. (The guy at the other window was there before, during and after my visit. He may still be there now, for all I know.) “How long have you been here?” the guy behind me asked me at one point. “About five minutes,” I replied.

We resumed our waiting. Two people behind me struck up a conversation. The woman who’d beaten me into the office got one question settled but then asked another one. “These people are so old they’re liable to die if they’re here much longer,” the guy behind me said (or words to that effect). I thought about giving a smartass response but didn’t bother. I just shrugged.

“C’mon, hurry up,” the guy starts growling. “Quit socializing. Wrap it up!” He’s not talking to me, or to himself. He’s getting quite belligerent, and he’s getting louder.

Fortunately the woman did wrap up her business and left. I went to the window, handed over my check and payment slip, suggested they put the box back out for people like me who just want to pay their bill, and left. I smiled and nodded at the guy behind me on my way out. Your turn, pal. Knock yourself out.

I kept an eye out while I got into the car and as I was pulling away. He didn’t come out. Guess he had a problem too. Sounds like he had several.

It didn’t occur to me until I was out of there and well down the road that he might have been armed.

# # #

We live in a strange and dangerous world today. A lot of people seem to be on edge, for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. I’ve had people go off on me for reasons I can’t determine. I’ve done the same to others. In one case I was overheated (it was summer and humid); in another I hadn’t had sufficient sleep for a couple days. The people I snapped at wouldn’t have known that, though. Want some celebrity examples? Check YouTube. You should be able to find the video of singer Bjork attacking a woman in an airport, because the woman had called out, “Welcome to England” (or whatever the country was) to her. Or Tyra Banks having a Chernobyl-level meltdown and reaming out a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Somebody says or does something—or nothing—that just hits these people the wrong way at the wrong time and they snap.

Sometimes it’s just loud and harmless. And sometimes it isn’t. More and more these incidents happen while somebody’s holding a gun. And there’s no telling who, when, or where.

The guy behind me didn’t look like a nutjob. He didn’t fit any of the usual profiles. He was a white guy, tall, maybe in his 50s, either retired, off work, or out of work. How else could he be in a cable TV office on an early Monday afternoon? I don’t know why he was there. Maybe to pay his bill, like me. Maybe he lost access to ESPN. Maybe he had to be somewhere else and was pissed at the thought he might be late.

All I know for sure was that he was working himself up into a nice little tantrum. Getting to the service window probably defused him. Or not. Some people need the explosion. He could have been looking for an excuse to go off on somebody. Relieve whatever stresses were building up in his head. We can’t tell how people’s brains are wired, or miswired, just by looking.

Or maybe he was just an entitled, impatient a-hole with the emotional control of a spoiled-brat five-year-old. In which case, get over yourself. I was ticked at the long wait too, and I’ll bet so were the others in line. You didn’t see any of us getting obnoxious over it.

I haven’t heard any reports of violence at the cable TV office, so he probably just reamed out the customer service girl, stomped out the door and went home. This time. Next time it could be different. He could have a knife or a gun on him when something pushes him, or someone like him, that last inch over the edge.

The Vegas shooter didn’t fit any profiles either. He was white, older, rich. No criminal record. Nothing at all to suggest he’d smuggle a bunch of firearms into a hotel suite and open fire on concertgoers below. His own family was stunned by his actions. He suicided before the cops could get him, so we’ll never know what sent him over the brink.

Anyone. Anywhere. Any time.

I need to start paying more attention to the people around me. Just in case I have to hit the floor and roll under a desk or something. Maybe I should start mailing in my cable bill. It’s probably safer. And faster.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Update



Yeah, I know. Don't say it.

Last month I swore, on here, in public, that I was going to write a minimum of 1000 words of fiction per day, every day, for 30 days. Wellllll ... I didn't. I did okay for two weeks. During that time I hit my quota twice, and got damn close to the edge at least twice more. I was writing every day and making progress. I call that a win.

Then my old bad habits reasserted themselves. I got caught up in the paid freelance work and started to let the writing slide. Then I relapsed into my computer game addiction two weekends in a row. I should probably get professional help for that.

Anyway, I'm in remission again now, so I decided to get back into the groove by joining NaNoWriMo. That's 50,000 words committed to paper and/or screen during the month of November. I've got a project in mind, a couple scenes written, a few things plotted out...

...And then I got a massive editing assignment from the publisher. Close to 400 pages with a two-week deadline. And that's just Part I. There's a Part II looming on the horizon as soon as the first one's finished. A good chunk of November just got spoken for and it hasn't even started yet.

Ever heard that old expression, "It never rains but it pours?"

Well, pour over this: I'm tackling NaNoWriMo anyway. I'm alotting myself one hour of personal writing time in the morning, with the rest of the day reserved for the work that pays for my rent and groceries. If I have any gas still left in the tank at the end of the day, I can write longhand during commercials while I've got the TV on. Or maybe even during the show. So far my favorite is Hell's Kitchen, also known as Gordon Ramsay Angles for a Class-Action Hostile Workplace Lawsuit. That's the most entertaining show I've found on TV this season, which doesn't say much for the current crop of offerings. Though RuPaul's Drag Race is coming back, so I'll reserve judgment till then.

And you folks may get a reprieve. The stats tell me somebody actually looked at this blog of mine, so maybe I won't have to resort to clickbait in order to get attention. Although I just might anyway. Let's see how I feel once November starts next week. I can always use blogging as an excuse not to write. Especially if my topic is, "The Earth has been overrun by outer-space alien hybrids, and the real Earth people have every right to be pissed about it." What am I talking about? Here's your homework: watch some of those alien/UFO shows (my personal favorite is Ancient Aliens on the History Channel) and see if you spot the same common threads and reach the same conclusion I did. And if that's not enough, you should hear my theory on the secret of Christianity. Getting page views is totally worth going to Hell for. See you soon!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Oops. Now What?


Once upon a time there were two girls. One was named Sarah and one was named Susan. They were the bestest friends, closer than sisters. They posted selfies and praised each other on social media. They had whatever the female equivalent of a bromance is.

They were also writers. Sarah Maas created the Throne of Glass series of YA fantasy adventure books, among others. Susan Dennard wrote Truthwitch. The gushing mutual admiration continued in the Acknowledgements sections, where they sang each other’s praises in support of each other’s books. Susan even said the heroines of her book were based on Sarah and herself, and the series was inspired by their friendship.

And then, apparently, something went very, very wrong.

I learned about the mutual admiration society these two had going when I started binge reading the Throne of Glass series. It was all Susan this and Susan that and Ours Is An Epic Friendship That Will Last Beyond The End Of Time. Well, the end of time must have arrived, because around the fourth or fifth book Susan’s name vanished from the “thank you” pages. I even went back and checked over it again. Nope, she’s gone. Curious, I found a copy of Truthwitch and turned to the Acknowledgements. Plenty of mention of Sarah. That was Book 1. When Book 2 came out, Sarah’s name had likewise been scrubbed clean from the copy. Something was clearly afoot.

Bolstered by the firm belief that fans are fully entitled to be told everything about their heroes, even when it’s none of their business, I turned to that unimpeachable source, the Internetz. Social media confirmed my theory. There were rumors of a falling-out between the duo. A story they’d been writing together online ended abruptly in the middle. A fan who saw them on a writers’ panel at a con reported they made a point of completely ignoring each other.

Details were skimpy. Sarah didn’t say anything. Susan posted a vaguely-worded Tweet referring to “toxic friendships” and “standing up to bullies.” They just don’t make epic friendships like they used to.

My first thought was: Susan’s book was inspired by their relationship. Now that the friendship’s gone bust, what’s going to happen to her series?

Because these aren’t ebooks, where (at least in my experience) each book is an individual item, even if it’s part of a series, and each one gets its own separate contract. This is Big Time Publishing, in print and in bookstores. I’m betting they signed multi-book contracts. It’s not uncommon for traditional publishers to sign an author for two or three or even more books on one contract, even if the first book was meant as a standalone. The author agrees to deliver Book 1 by a certain date, Book 2 by a later date, and so on. Which means if your inspiration dries up, or you get sick, or have a religious conversion and only want to write sonnets praising Buddha now, too bad. You’re still on the hook to produce those books you agreed to write when you signed on the dotted line. Otherwise you have to give back the advance. Dunno if interest is included.

I hope Susan didn’t lock herself in for too many books on her contract. I don’t imagine it’s fun for her writing about those characters at this point, what with all the bad feelings it must be stirring up. The character based on her former bestie might do an about-face and suddenly become the bad guy. Or die. Horribly. That’s one way to get closure.

Hey, we’re writers. It happens. Sometimes the well runs dry, with or without loss of a friendship. Conan Doyle got so sick of writing about Sherlock Holmes he killed off his most famous character. Then had to bring him back due to popular demand. Ditto for J. K. Rowling. She didn’t kill off Harry Potter, but by now I’ll bet she wishes she had that luxury. She said all she had to say on the subject, wrapped up the series, and attempted to write other things. The public, or maybe her publisher, said, “Write more Harry Potter.” So she’s back to writing about wizards and such, and no doubt grumbling under her breath all the way to the bank.

I’ve had series die out on me, for one reason or another. You get distracted by having to earn a living. Or interest fades. Or you get bored. Inspiration dies out and there’s no magic left. I was writing a long-term serial story over on the old Shapeshifter Seductions blog when a writer’s block hit. I ended up abandoning it in the middle. Maybe someday I’ll finish it; I know where the story’s going, and I’ve already written the ending. For those of you familiar with my vampire series (Belonging, Legacy, and the YA spinoff Slayer for Hire), know this: there was supposed to be a third book, about the Preacher. Then there’s a fourth book set in the future that wraps everything up. I just never got around to writing them. Dunno if I ever will.

In cases where a contract, and the publisher’s legal department, isn’t involved, I don’t know how one goes about boosting flagging interest in your own series long enough to write it, or even if you should. The boredom might be temporary, or you could be finished for good. I recall Stephen King saying something about how he was dragging his heels over continuing his Dark Tower series, until he got hit by that van. Confronted suddenly and dramatically with proof of his own mortality, he whipped out the final three books in short order. I do not recommend arranging a near-death experience to rekindle interest in your story. There’s such a thing as overkill, y’know?'

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on the YA shelves to find out what happens in the next book of Susan Dennard’s series, assuming it even gets written. If she’s lucky, she only signed up for a trilogy. Two down, one to go. Then she can move on to other things without being haunted by the ghosts of friendships past. Mostly I’m curious to see if her ex’s character meets a really nasty end. Never piss off a writer.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

New from J. J. Collins



Sometimes love comes at you fast. Answering an old friend’s call for help, hunter Dillon Royce comes to Arizona to stop a shapeshifter who’s targeting gay men. He finds himself falling for the prime suspect, cheetah shifter Kaz Genovese. Kaz insists they’re fated mates. Or is he just trying to get close to his latest victim? Dillon needs to solve this one fast, before he totally loses his heart … or his life.

EXCERPT

“Sorry, speedy. I can’t take any chances. You’re going into a holding cell until we get this resolved. If you want to call a lawyer—”
“That won’t be necessary.” Kaz shifted. The bonds meant to restrain a human fell loose on the cheetah’s form. He slid his paws free and bit through what he couldn’t slip out of.
Then he leaped at Dillon.
They fell backward, onto the narrow bed. Kaz shifted back. His teeth grazed Dillon’s throat, just a tease, before he crashed his mouth against Dillon’s in another of those soul-blasting kisses.
Dillon had his knife. One thrust and it would be over.
Instead, he accepted the kiss. How had he gone his entire life without being kissed like this? Like Kaz intended to swallow his soul. As if he already had.
His hands moved as if with minds of their own, exploring, groping Kaz. Not an inch of him was still. Every speck of Kaz’s naked body seemed in constant frantic motion. Holding him was like holding on to a primal life force. His body was the desert, spare and barren at first glance but harboring unexpected bursts of color and flavor and life. An entire ecosystem of fiery desire, all of it focused on Dillon.
So long. Too long since he’d had any relief, or so desperately wanted it.
Only when he realized Kaz was tearing at his fly did Dillon come back to his senses. This was all happening too fast.
Somehow, he got his eyes to focus. “Don’t I even get dinner first?”
“What? Oh.” Kaz slumped, all over. Even then his body still vibrated with speed. “You humans and your stupid rituals. What a waste of time. You’re my mate. We were born for each other. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“Sorry, no. I don’t have the luxury of instinct. Right now, I’ve got a set of murders to solve. That’s my first priority. You and your mating urges—” Our mating urges, he couldn’t help thinking. “—Are going to have to wait.”
“Go slow?” Kaz tested the concept and, from the lift of his lip, clearly found it distasteful. “I don’t know if I can do that. Though it would be an interesting test.”
“You’re going to have to. And you’re going to have to sit in a cell for a while. You’re the prime suspect. Can’t be helped.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Kaz said firmly. “Tell you what. I’ll go do some investigating on my own. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow night and we’ll have that dinner. And then I’m claiming you. That’s as slow as I can go.” He palmed Dillon’s cheek. “We’re going to be spending our lives together. I suppose I should ask you your name.”
“It’s Dillon. Dillon Royce.”
“Dillon.” His name sighed off Kaz’s tongue. “Until tomorrow night, my love.” He captured Dillon’s mouth again and sent his senses spinning. When Dillon opened his eyes, those delightful lips were gone, the hand at the back of his neck was gone, the scent of cat was a fading memory, and the door to his room stood open.
He went to the open doorway, although he knew it was pointless. Of course, Kaz was nowhere in sight. The ache in his groin was now joined by a more poignant ache in his soul, its one true mate discovered and abruptly torn away. Maybe there was something to the mate bond after all, even where humans were concerned.
Or maybe that was guilt he felt, that in spite of everything he was falling hard for his number-one suspect. That he’d let a possible killer go free.





Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Take That, You Skeptics!

Last Wednesday I started a new writing program, with a plan to write 1000 words a day for a month. Here’s my first week update: I did it! Twice, yet, one of which was yesterday. Putting in a thousand words is harder than I thought. If you’re in the groove, sure, you can turn out 1000 words and then some within an hour or two, no sweat. When you’re fumbling your way through a story because you’re a pantser and didn’t make an outline beforehand, it gets a little more difficult.

The important thing is, I wrote every one of the last seven days. Some days I got close to the target, other days I just clipped the edges. But all of it was new words, progressing my current WIP. I didn’t even need to switch to another project. If I keep this up, I’ll have the first draft of a story done well before my 30-day deadline, with time left over to start a new one, or get back to the one that got stalled. Or work on both, at 500 words per day apiece. That should help keep things fresh and interesting.

Best of all, I haven’t touched the games in a week, either. The urge has faded, and I intend to stay busy enough so it’ll stay that way. I’ve got a story coming out in another week. If I can make that happen more often, I might be able to make a living at this.

###

Now the big question: is anybody listening? Is anyone even looking at this blog?

Apparently not. I had a tiny following when I left Title Magic, and they moved on when I went dark for the last six or seven months. I need to get some attention here. Bring the readers in.

It might be time for some clickbait.

As any spoiled brat and/or teenager knows, the best way to get attention is to scream, rant, break stuff and do outrageous things. I can do outrageous. I’m a writer. I’ve got some ideas that are sure to offend some people, maybe even get me lynched in certain parts of the South. The Internet is a breeding ground for wackadoo, and our current political climate has made it even easier to be outrageous, insulting and even hateful and get away with it. As long as you’re a rich white male, that is.

Well, I’ve got the white part down. Maybe that’ll help.

So now it’s up to you folks. Visit my blog and I’ll stay semi-sweet and only mildly insulting.  Next week I’ll be pimping a book, and the week after that I have a pre-written blog that I plan to post. If the stats haven’t changed by then, it’ll be time to get up on the soapbox and scream at the top of my lungs. Remember, I grew up on science fiction. My perceptions of reality have been warped.

I’m still waiting to see some 15-year-old kid lure the Prez into a flame war on Twitter. C’mon, you trolls. You know you’re dying to do it. Don’t let me down.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Not So Simple Math

(Note: I meant to post this yesterday. There will be an update at the end.)

The other week, while browsing the Reference section at the local Barnes and Noble, I came across a tome entitled Write a Book in a Month. I flipped through it briefly and put it back. I already know how to write a book in a month. An e-book, yeah, those only run about 30K-50K words on average, but it’s labeled a book so it counts.

Besides, I’m betting the book I put back relies heavily on the plotting aspects. If you spend the first two weeks thoroughly developing your characters and plotting out your story, then all you have to do for the second two weeks is write. Everything’s already been taken care of.

Unfortunately, I’m a pantser. Plotting doesn’t always work for me. I’ll start a story with no idea what’s going to happen or who the characters are. I fill all that in as I go. Finding it out is what makes writing fun, as well as a pain in the ass.

Whichever plan you use, there’s a mathematical formula for writing a book in a month. 1000w X 30d = 30,000b. One thousand words a day written every day for thirty days equals a complete 30,000-word story. That amounts to a book, if you stretch the definition a bit. Your book will be longer or shorter if you write more or less per day, but 1000 words makes a good standard. It only takes about an hour or two, depending on how fast you type. It helps if you know what you want to write, but that’s a pantser problem.

In theory, it should work. I’m sure it does work, for most people. The reason it doesn’t work for me is because I don’t do it. I screw off. I procrastinate. Life keeps throwing distractions at me. I sit down to type and the words dry up. I have to stop and make dinner. I just don’t have time. Well, that excuse I can shoot down pretty quick. I was (and probably still am; just had a little setback over the weekend) addicted to video games. I can sit and play games nonstop for anywhere from five to ten hours at a shot. I most certainly do have time, so we can strike that from the list.

What I don’t appear to have is discipline or motivation. I’m the fly in my own ointment.

I did take a shot at it recently. About halfway through August I resolved to write a minimum of 1000 words a day for 30 days in a row. Didn’t work out. No idea why. I couldn’t sit down and write for an hour, and I’ve got three to four things I know I could work on. I just didn’t. I’d end up doing other things.

I decided to hit the reset button and make September my 30 days. I wrote about 700 words on September 1, pretty good for me. On September 2 I discovered I had freelance work, a paying assignment with a short deadline. This was after I’d already planned on mowing the lawn and getting the ironing out of the way. That plus the paid work ate up my time. I spent the Labor Day weekend … well, laboring.

All that was out of the way by Wednesday, though. Did I write? ‘Fraid not. All of a sudden I’m blogging again. That’s what I’ve been writing instead of my thousand words. My subconscious mind is a bugger when it comes to doubling down.

The formula does work. You can write a book in a month. The key word is “write.” If you don’t write those thousand words, or any words at all, that book just ain’t gonna happen. Maybe I should have bought that book at B&N and paid attention to it. There may be more to this plotting stuff than I thought.

So I’m going public. I’m going to try it again. Write 1000 words a day and see where I am after 30 days. I’m putting that intention right here in the open for everyone to see and sneer at. I’m hoping the fear of failure and public humiliation will provide the kick in the ass I need to get said ass in gear.

To the basic formula I’m adding a couple of twists to help me along. Like I said, I’ve got maybe three or four stories already started, that I could be working on. Ideally, I should pick one project to concentrate on so it’ll get done in a month. That doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s try something else: pick one main project and use the other three as backups. If the main one fizzles, or I go on a block or something, I’ll hop over to one of the others. If the 1000 words ends up getting split between three stories on a given day, so what? It’s still 1000 words. Sooner or later something will get finished. Math’s absolute like that.

It also gives me blogging topics, as I report my ongoing success and/or failure. I could even use the 1000 words as a post. This is my page and I can do what I want with it. I’ve thought about returning to Shapeshifter Seductions, which has lain fallow of late, and finally finishing that serial story I abandoned when the writer’s block hit. Those chapters run roughly 1000 words and they’re fiction, so it counts. That’ll be my emergency plan.

As I sit here typing this, it’s Wednesday, September 20. That’s my start date, regardless of when this gets posted. Today and for the 29 days that follow, I will be writing a minimum of 1000 words of fiction, come hell, high water (been a lot of that lately, especially in the south), house- and yardwork, or writer’s block. Or even paid assignments. I used to put even those aside while caught up in the gaming addiction. If I can waste an hour or ten playing Spider Solitaire, I can damn well find the time to write 1000 words.

If nothing else, it’ll be excellent training for the upcoming NaNoWriMo, something else I’ve attempted several times in the past, only to crash and burn within a week. This year when I aim, I might just hit the target. Let’s find out together, shall we?

UPDATE: I got a late start yesterday due to lawn mowing, grocery shopping, and a set of edits that had to go out. And I still wrote 700 words. So there. I might have got all 1000 down, but Supernatural came on. Today should be easier: I wrote about 200-300 words this morning, and Project: Runway has long commercial breaks. Time to whip out the pen and notebook. To be continued ...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Same Shoes, Different World


In our last episode, I talked about YA novel The Black Witch, and the accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other non-PC themes that launched an outpouring of vitriol from people who judged it before reading it. Having read a portion of it and skimmed the rest, I personally concluded it suffered from a plot that would have been radical back in the 1960s but felt trite and worn out in the 21st century. At least it did until the GOP took over. Now that we appear to be fighting those civil rights battles all over again, the book’s right in step with the times.

I’m okay with that. What got my hackles up was another hoary theme, one I’ve been seeing in the current YA bestsellers gracing bookstore shelves.

Thanks to the success of Game of Thrones, we’re seeing a lot of court intrigue plots set in fantasy worlds, with elves and magic and the usual irredeemable bad guys lifted from Lord of the Rings. Thanks to the success of The Hunger Games, the heroic leads in these books are primarily young women. A plucky girl rises from the underclass, defeats the evil king/government/invading army and frees the people from oppression. It’s a tale as old as time, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, the classic Hero’s Journey. The last time this plot swept through the collective consciousness, it was called Star Wars and a dude was in the lead. After Hunger Games made a ton of money, the Chosen One underwent a sex change.

So did the way the hero (now the heroine) is treated by the story.

For some reason, no matter how alien these fantasy worlds are, no matter what or how many magical races populate it, women in general remain second-class citizens, there to support the men, get married and pop out (preferably male) children. In The Black Witch, women are forbidden from holding high positions in government. Girls are expected to be betrothed to promising young men while in their early teens. During the course of the story the law changes and these betrothals become mandatory. No heroics for you, missy. You’re gonna get married whether you like it or not. You can save the world after you cook dinner. Our Heroine’s grandmother, the Black Witch of the title and the strongest sorceress ever, is revealed to have been a genocidal maniac. See what happens when a woman gets too powerful? That’s why we can’t give ‘em any responsibility. PMS hits and they go off the deep end. Best to leave the important work to men.

Oh yeah. This civilization, like almost every other alien/fantasy culture I’ve encountered in recent YA literature, has independently discovered the concept of high heels. For women only, natch.

There was so much more in The Black Witch that I felt like I was reading for the thousandth time. Our Heroine has special powers but she’s never been taught how to use them. She’s been raised to believe she has no magic. She ends up in a school setting where of course she runs afoul of the resident mean girl, because OH’s caught the eye of the boy the mean girl wants. OH goes to a party where she wears a pretty gown that’s described in great detail, and the aforementioned heels. And she finds a cute boy among the oppressed classes. After 600 pages of story she still hasn’t discovered her power, let alone been taught how to use it. Maybe in the next book.

These are the books being marketed to teenage girls, and these are the messages they’re sending: sure, you can have adventures, but you still have to go to school and put up with girl bullies and jerk boys who treat you like crap and still expect you to fall in love with them. Good luck finding someone to teach you how to use those special powers you’ll be needing to save the world. Be sure to go to fancy parties and wear really pretty dresses and too-tight shoes with heels. And you will find a boy. That’s the important thing. It’s the Disney Princess version of the Hero’s Journey.

It’s like the Women’s Movement never happened. Well, maybe parts of it did. Girls can aspire to save the world, as long as they remember what really matters: being pretty, being popular, wearing nice clothing, and pairing up with a boy, despite him acting like an abusive a-hole and even if he tries to kill you. He’ll change once you marry him, promise.

Might as well get used to it. You’re going to find it wherever you go throughout the multiverse, elves or no elves. Promoting outdated sexist views in worlds and societies not even remotely connected to Earth is apparently still acceptable. I’ll bet if there was a queen in these books, she’d either be the evil type, or shown vacuuming the throne room in an evening gown and a strand of pearls. And heels.

I don’t recall Luke Skywalker attending fancy balls, or lots of time devoted to what he was wearing. He was too busy getting trained in the Force so he could save the galaxy. Yeah, there was a girl, a Princess, even, but she turned out to be his sister. Good thing he wasn’t being pressured to get married so he could sire a line of new Jedis. And what about Leia? She was Vader’s offspring too. Was she ever trained, or even tested for the Force? Apparently not. She did what was expected of her: married Han Solo and had a son. He got trained as a Jedi, which didn’t turn out very well.

That was over 30 years ago. Here we are in the 21st century, and girls, even heroes, are still expected to do what’s expected of them. Maybe Rey will buck the trend. We’ll see if she gets a boyfriend in the next installment.

In short, when it comes to current YA literature, the worldview for women has barely budged beyond the image of the 1950s housewife. We’ve just dressed it up in Middle Earth trappings. This is what we’re selling to our daughters. That was my takeaway from The Black Witch. Maybe the world will change for Our Heroine, once she saves it with those powers nobody’s taught her how to use. I suspect the story’s going to end with her happily married to her boyfriend, and living in a mansion surrounded by children in a world that now has racial equality. Gender inequality will still be subtly enforced, especially for the readers.

Dammit, times like these I really miss Buffy. And Xena. They took the world by the throat and had adventures and weren't defined by their boyfriends and didn’t give a damn what anyone said. And Xena, at least, wore sensible shoes.